Sunday, November 18. 2007
WarInContext: Is War Talk Just Talk?. Post cites an Financial Times article by Daniel Dombey, Demetri Sevastopulo and Andrew Ward, "'And then what? A strike on Iran may be one problem too many for Bush," and adds an editor's comment which among other things posits a number of questions for presidential candidates to think about. This got me to writing, so I submitted the following comment:
Robert Dreyfuss: Who's the Enemy?. Subtitled: "In Iraq, It's Getting Harder to Find Any Bad Guys." This seems like a reasonable summary of the so-called good news coming out of Iraq -- the reduction in US and probably Iraqi casualties over three consecutive months. This seems to be the result of two things: US-armed Sunni tribal leaders turning on Al-Qaeda in Iraq and the truce with the Mahdi Army. Neither of these things have much to do with the Surge, which had produced markedly higher casualty rates for all sides over the past year. Indeed, I suspect that much of the improvement is the result of US forces stepping back -- i.e., that the level of violence is primarily determined by how aggressive US forces are in Iraq. The corollary is that the US could have reduced casualties at any point by acting less aggressively.
Dreyfus may be right that the lull could be used to establish a more viable political settlement, but that will only work if the Bush administration gets realistic about what it can and cannot accomplish in Iraq. Whether that can happen is something that can be debated, but there's no precedent for it: there have been times when things got so bad that Bush temporarily backed down (e.g., the first siege of Fallujah), but every time things looked up Bush escalated his ambitions back to impossible levels. Even now, we see the administration's instinct for the wild side in its escalating Iran war rhetoric. Bush's new friends among the Sunnis and Sadrists aren't likely to stick with him over the long haul. They've basically improved their position vs. Bush's old friends and bought some time, maybe until saner heads take over in Washington.
Tom Engelhardt: As the World Burns. Occasioned by the drought that is threatening to turn Atlanta dry, or is it Australia? or Albania? Actually, it's all over the map. While Peak Oil seems to me to be the most inexorable crisis that's heading down the pike, it's not inconceivable that we could run into a severe water crunch even sooner. Drought-induced water shortages are only part of the story. Increasing demand, often in locations that are poorly planned and marginally served, is another, as is depletion, whether in the form of aquifers being pumped dry, reservoirs silting up, or salinization making fresh water supplies unusable. All these things raise big and difficult questions, which as Engelhardt points out, are rarely given much recognition let alone public thought:
Jonathan Cohn: Creative Destruction. Subtitle is "The best case against universal health care," by which Cohn means the argument that private sector investment in the US leads to major innovations in health care that we'd lose if we adopted a more economical (e.g., better managed) system. Cohn works through an example, then points out that most innovation in the US is actually publicly funded before the private profiteers take over:
Cohn is the author of Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis -- And the People Who Pay the Price (Harper Collins).
Tony Karon: Benazir vs. Musharraf is Punch vs. Judy. Meaning they're both controlled by the same pupeteer. Seems about right, especially the part about how proxies have their own less than predictable interests. One of the letters points out that corruption is so endemic in Pakistan that even the Supreme Court is tainted. However, you got to start somewhere. Throughout most history the state has acted as a self-interested racket. The key idea to democracy is to flip the state, to turn it into a public servant. This rarely if ever happens in a single change. Indeed, even in well established democracies politics manages to attract the corrupt, and it takes a good deal more vigilance than America seems capable of to keep them at bay.
Frederick W. Kagan and Michael O'Hanlon: Pakinstan's Collapse, Our Problem. OK, it turns out that the real men don't just want to go to Tehran anymore. They also want to invade Islamabad. And in this case the WMD are undoubtedly real, so the stakes are far higher. So, for that matter, are the risks. The ones these geniuses concede are:
They propose New Mexico, but figure their Pakistani friends will insist on keeping the WMDs in some safe redoubt, "guarded by elite Pakistani forces backed up (and watched over) by crack international troops." (Maybe they can store them in Osama bin Laden's cave?) They go on to propose sending troops to help "pro-American moderates" in "the military and security forces hold the country's center -- primarily the region around the capital, Islamabad, and the populous areas like Punjab Province to its south."
This is way beyond nutty. It's like guys who have painted themselves into a corner, then deciding the only way out is to blow a hole in the wall, having no idea what's on the other side, what's likely to come down on them, or how they'll even take cover from the initial blast. It's what you get from people whose intellectual toykit only has guns and bombs. It never occurs them that the only sane option is to not get into such stupid predicaments in the first place. Indeed, why should they? If we avoided the problem, they wouldn't get to use all those guns and bombs, and how much fun would that be?
But even worse than their juvenile war fantasies is their presumption that even "pro-American moderate" Pakistanis will happily let us barge in and make a mockery of their sovereignty and wreck their country, with all the "collateral damage" we inevitably produce. Arrogance doesn't even begin to describe this sort of madness.