Sunday, September 8. 2013
Some scattered links this week (sorry, no cartoons):
Max Ehrenfreud: Flouting International Norms in Kenya:
In Nairobi this week (since I promised not to discuss Syria on this
blog this morning) the Kenyan parliament voted to withdraw from the
International Criminal Court. If Kenya follows the motion with a
formal notice to the United Nations, Kenya will be the first country
to withdraw from the court, establishing a clear precedent for leaders
in all of the courts' member states: You can commit atrocities as long
as you have the support of a a majority of the electorate and your
allies in the region. Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta is accused of
inciting his followers to violence after the disastrous election of
2007. It is true that his case hasn't gone to trial yet, so it would
be wrong to make assumptions about his culpability. In addition, the
country's withdrawal does not remove Kenyatta's legal obligation to
appear before the court, since the investigation was already underway.
Still, the Kenyan parliament's message seems clear. Perhaps in the
future, other countries where heads of state have guilty consciences
will remove themselves from the court in a more timely manner.
This is one "norm" the US is unlikely to enforce, given that the
"guilty consciences" in the US Senate refused to join the International
Criminal Court in the first place.
Paul Krugman: It Takes a Government (to Make a Market), and
Picturing the Winners and Losers from Obamacare: A couple posts
on private insurance rates under ACA, which now look to be up but
"are generally lower than expected." From the former piece:
What's going on here? Partly it's a vindication of the idea that you
can make health insurance broadly affordable if you ban discrimination
based on preexiting conditions while inducing healthy individuals to
enter the risk pool through a combination of penalties and subsidies.
But there's an additional factor, that even supporters of the Affordable
Care Act mostly missed: the extent to which, for the first time, the
Act is creating a truly functioning market in nongroup insurance.
Until now there has been sort of a market -- but one that, as
Kenneth Arrow pointed out half a century ago, is riddled with problems.
It was very hard for individuals to figure out what they were buying --
what would be covered, and would the policies let them down? Price and
quality comparisons were near-impossible. Under these conditions the
magic of the marketplace couldn't work -- there really wasn't a proper
market. And insurers competed with each other mainly by trying to avoid
covering people who really needed insurance, and finding excuses to
drop coverage when people got sick.
With the ACA, however, insurers operate under clear ground rules,
with clearly defined grades of plan and discrimination banned. The
result, suddenly, is that we have real market competition.
I think that's true as far as it goes, but how much "magic" we
get remains to be seen. Any opportunities to scam this system will
be exploited. And while a market should reduce the profit share
the insurance companies take, the entire health care system is
chock full of rent-seeking opportunists. Krugman reminds us that
"I believe that single-payer would be better and cheaper, and it's
still a goal we should seek."
MJ Rosenberg: Obama Is No JFK: I'm not a big believer in the JFK
revisionism that argues that he was on his way out of Vietnam, and
even less so that he "had decided to reach out to Castro" -- points
Rosenberg makes citing David Talbot's Brothers: The Hidden History
of the Kennedy Years, but much evidence suggests that Kennedy was
at least aware that the CIA, FBI, and DOD were untrustworthy:
Kennedy got it, not all of it or he would have survived his
term, but enough of it to begin changing the world.
There is no evidence Obama gets it at all. He is now planning to
launch an attack on the Middle East advocated by the same people who
gave us the Iraq war. He is about to appoint as head of the Federal
Reserve, the very same official whose policies gave us the economic
collapse of 2008.
If he has learned anything since becoming president, it is hard
to know what it is. Kennedy stopped trusting the system, understanding
that he didn't run it. Obama thinks he does and that, although it is
far from perfect, all it will take to fix it is some tinkering around
Gordon Goodstein's book on McGeorge Bundy, Lessons in Disaster,
makes the point that in their respective approaches to Vietnam, Lyndon
Johnson wanted to be perceived as strong, whereas Kennedy wanted to be
right. Obama, like Clinton before him, seems to share LBJ's concern,
perhaps because they have repeatedly been slagged as weak and wobbly,
and challenged to prove their manhood by senselessly killing people,
and once they've tasted blood they have more and more trouble backing
away. Has anyone noticed that this is more like an initiation rite
into organized crime than anything else?
Kennedy was a virulent anti-communist, but the most egregious
examples of that came early in his career -- such as being the last
Democrat to defend Joseph McCarthy. But Kennedy's first taste of
blood was the Bay of Pigs, and he didn't enjoy it one bit.
Also, a few links for further study:
Sasha Abramsky: Shake a Stick in Post-Financial Collapse America, and
One Hits Poverty: Intro to Abramsky's book, The American Way
of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives (Nation Books).
Leslie H Gelb: Bomb Scare: The doyen of American foreign policy
hacks reviews Kenneth M. Pollack's newbook, Unthinkable: Iran, the
bomb, and American Strategy. Pollack, a CIA veteran and Brookings
Institute pundit, argued for invading Iraq in his influential 2003
book, The Threatening Storm, but in his later book on Iran,
The Persian Puzzle, politely stepped back from the "real men"
who yearned to invade Tehran. It now looks like, having considered
Iran's "nuclear program" further, he's backed off even further --
to the point that he'd rather coexist with Iran having nuclear
weapons than risk all the mayhem that could result from trying to
prevent those weapons with military interventions. But Obama has
already proclaimed a "red line" against that, and Congress has
already committed at least to supporting any act of war Israel
takes against Iran. Gelb goes even further than Pollack, urging
If negotiations fail, they fail, and that, of course, would be tragic.
But Obama's current path is already heading toward war, and Pollack's
position of containment may not be able to prevent it. Only negotiating
all the hot-button issues offers the hope of reconciling two enemies --
enemies who should be friends.
Rachel Maddow: Overcommitted: Book review of Andrew J Bacevich:
Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their
What is successful is the persuasiveness of Bacevich's argument --
through this and his last several books -- that we try to use the
United States military against problems that have no military
solution, and in ways that exacerbate our inclination to overuse
it in the first place. In Breach of Trust, with prose that
is occasionally clunky but always unsparing, Bacevich dismantles
the warrior myth we civilians and politicians so enjoy worshiping
from afar, and replaces that idol with flesh and blood, vulnerable
humans, who deserve better than the profligate, wasteful way in
which we treat them.
John Perr: Health Insurance "Coverage Gap" Coming to a Red State Near
You: The tally of Republican rejection of expansion of Medicaid
under the Affordable Care Act.
Corey Robin: Jean Bethke Elshtain Was No Realist: A review of
the late hawk's life and work.
Matt Taibbi: The Last Mystery of the Financial Crisis: Explores
the ratings agencies, like S&P, who were paid handsomely to
certify toxic securities as AAA.
And today's reading on Syria:
Andrew J Bacevich: The Hill to the Rescue on Syria?: A conservative
who blames it all on the Carter Doctrine wants a definitive answer on
America's "30 years war" in the Middle East:
A debate over the Syrian AUMF should encourage members of Congress --
if they've got the guts -- to survey this entire record of U.S. military
activities in the Greater Middle East going back to 1980. To do so means
almost unavoidably confronting this simple question: How are we doing?
To state the matter directly, all these years later, given all the
ordnance expended, all the toing-and-froing of U.S. forces, and all
the lives lost or shattered along the way, is mission accomplishment
anywhere in sight? Or have U.S. troops -- the objects of such putative
love and admiration on the part of the American people -- been engaged
over the past 30-plus years in a fool's errand? How members cast their
votes on the Syrian AUMF will signal their answer -- and by extension
the nation's answer -- to that question.
No reason Congress will be forthcoming, in large part because so
many have so much vested in the mistakes of the past, but if we had
not seen one misjudgment after another, one fiasco after another,
for so long this wouldn't be happening. In retrospect, a clear sign
that their war fever had broken was when the Republicans let the
sequester eat away at the military budget.
Juan Cole: When Syria was a US Ally (or at Least Helpful): Recently
I've made several comments about Syria's efforts to ally, or at least
curry favor, with the United States. Cole has a checklist here. Of course,
the US has mostly taken its cues on Syria from Israel, so that limits
the list -- as does Syria's dependency on Russia for arms. And there's
much more to Syria's involvement is Lebanon: the US invited Syria in, and
eventually insisted that Syria leave, and in between their role wasn't
always to our liking, although for the long period when Israel occupied
southern Lebanon (1982-2000) Syria's presence elsewhere in Lebanon was
more often than not a stabilizing force.
Conor Friedersdorf: President Shouldn't Be Able to Credibly Threaten
Wars That the People Oppose: You keep hearing that we have to bomb
Syria so people (in Iran, no less) will realize that they have to take
him seriously even when he makes an ill-considered offhand comment
that virtually no one in America actually agrees with.
It is the hawks who threaten American credibility most in the long run,
both because they'd make us subject to any chance comment from the series
of fallible politicians who make it to the White House, and because waging
an ill-conceived war, with all the attendant negative consequences, hurts
the credibility of a nation a lot more than any mere rhetoric. When we
look back at blows to American credibility, we think of Vietnam and Iraq,
not some bit of rhetoric and the way the world interpreted our follow
through. If an American intervention in Syria goes badly, our credibility
will suffer profoundly, and hawks will once again bear blame for weakening
America more than any other Americans.
America Has Little to Fear From Congress Rejecting Force in Syria:
For some time, we've known that the Iraq War will cost trillions of dollars,
that almost 5,000 Americans lost their lives there, that their families are
devastated, that tens of thousands of combat veterans are wounded due to
the war, some with missing limbs and others with traumatic brain injuries,
and that PTSD is epidemic and suicides are epidemic. But Galston says we're
only now reckoning its full costs -- now that the "costs" include reluctance
to enter another war of choice. If you compare the actual costs the United
States and its people bore from Vietnam and Iraq to the costs we've born as
a result of a reluctance to intervene, it becomes clear that interventionists
are the ones with a "syndrome."
MJ Rosenberg: The Education of Congressman Van Hollen: From Mensch to
AIPAC Hack: Recounts how Van Hollen (D-MD) criticized Israel for
its 2006 war on Lebanon and felt the political fury of AIPAC. "Two
years later, when Israel smashed Gaza killing 1400 civilians including
400 children, Van Hollen not only didn't criticize, he applauded. And
now he supports bombing Syria."
David Sirota: Narcissists are ruining America: "We're on the verge
of bombing another country -- because a few conceited people want to
feel good about themselves."
Many Americans supporting a new war in the Middle East want to feel
good about themselves. Many want to feel like we did "the right thing"
and didn't stand by while chemical weapons were used (even though we
stand by -- or use them ourselves -- when we're told that's good for
America). But, then, many war supporters desperately want these
heartwarming feelings without the worry that they may face
any inconvenient costs like higher taxes or body bags at Dover Air
What emerges is a portrait of pathological self-absorption. That's
right -- despite the pro-war crowd's self-congratulatory and sententious
rhetoric, this isn't about helping the Syrian people. Channeling the
zeitgeist of that famous quote in Broadcast News, this is all
about us. To the pro-war crowd, if both feeling morally superior and
avoiding any real sacrifice mean having to kill lots of Syrians without
a chance of actually stopping their civil war, then it's worth the
carnage, especially because it's half a world away.
A classic example of this was Madeleine Albright's comment, when
asked about reports that US sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s had
resulted in up to a million deaths of Iraqis while not in any serious
way undermining the regime, insisting that the sanctions were "worth
it." Easly to be callous when all you think about is yourself.
Max Weiss: Diplomacy is the best way to intervene in Syria:
For lack of a compelling legal, moral or humanitarian argument, the U.S.
administration seems to be ramping up for what might be called Operation
Save Face. Obama wants to drop bombs because he once said he would. Such
a callous calculus is hardly grounds for a just and viable Middle East
Key figures in the Syrian opposition abroad and inside the country
reject negotiations with the regime; they want al-Assad's head on a
pike. Yet there is good reason to believe that military escalation in
Syria will likely only result in further military escalation in Syria.
Bashar al-Assad is unlikely to respond without a credible threat, but
a stick-heavy approach devoid of carrots is a policy bound to fail.
Rory Stewart draws the same conclusion, although he writes more
about Bosnia, recalling the negotiations that ended the war, where
most hawks point to the bombs that preceded the negotiations. There
is no necessary correlation between bombing and negotiation, and the
differences between Bosnia and Syria are daunting: Milosevic had the
simple option of retreating to Serbia (although the deal wound up
more generous, giving Serbs a slice of Bosnia); Assad has no other
country to retreat to.
Stephen Kinzer goes even further, arguing
To resolve the Syria crisis, the US must negotiate with Iran.
Kinzer, you may recall, wrote the book on the the CIA's 1953
plot against democracy in Iran (All the Shah's Men: An American
Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, which he followed up
with Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change From Hawaii
to Iraq). Nor is Syria the only thing the US should negotiate
with Iran over.