Wednesday, November 21, 2007

How Are Services in Baghdad?

There has been a lot of press about how well the surge is working in Baghdad and how many people are returning from Syria and Jordan. But how well is the reconstruction of the Iraqi infrastructure going? Until now, a major problem has been security. We couldn't build things like sewage plants, electrical generation stations, etc., because people kept getting killed working on them. Now what's it like? How many hours do Baghdad residents have electricity? Do they have water?

The other question is what has happened to the neighborhoods? Has violence dropped because the neighborhoods have been ethnically cleansed, because neighborhoods that were once mixed Sunni and Shiite are now only one or the other?

And, has the violence dropped because we defeated al Qaeda and other opponents, or have they just faded into the woodwork until the surge is over? It appears that the surge is about over. Troops are coming home that are not being replaced, because there are no troops to replace them.

It looks like the surge proved that we needed more troops than we had for most of the war. Why did it take us four years to learn that? Just how bad are our military planners and leaders?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bush Lessens US Standing in the World

The Financial Times had an excellent editorial saying that the US needs to make some more friends in the world to help it achieve its objectives. Bush loves to stick his finger in other countries' eyes and call for regime change, but it doesn't work that well, as Iraq illustrates. This editorial is apparently based on a a report by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. It says, "One of the chief casualties of the Bush administration's foreign and security policies has been US standing in the world. This loss of reputation matters. In testing the limits of its 'hard power', the administration has sacrificed precious 'soft power' resources too. It hurts the country that so many people around the world no longer trust it to act responsibly, and that (according to a recent BBC poll of 26,000 people in 25 countries) one in two says the US is playing a mainly negative role in the world."

It adds, "Dethrone the 'war on terror' as the organising principle of US action - not because containing terrorism is unimportant, but because subordinating everything to that aim makes it harder to achieve."

But in general, even of the this report, the FT says, "there is a whiff of hubris about it."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Send the State Department to Change Regimes

The op-ed in the NYT on "Send the State Department to War"

  1. Criticizes the State Department for a reorganization that was mandated by Sen. Jesse Helms, a Republican who hated State, and
  2. Implies that the main job of State should be regime change.

On both counts it is misguided. Helms mandated that USIS (the public affairs diplomatic arm) be merged into main State, along with AID and ACDA (which he doesn't mention). No doubt merging them into State has made them somewhat less desirable, but that's what the Republicans wanted because they generally hate State and what to see it stymied in whatever it's doing. But I doubt that separating them out again will make much difference in the short term.

He complains that State has not been involved enough in Iraq and Afghanistan, but part of that is due to Rumsfeld and his colleagues at Defense, who fought hard to keep State out of Iraq and to make Defense responsible for things that would normally be done by State. Only after Defense failed at these tasks did insiders start to call for State to take up the tasks and to criticize State for not having done it earlier.

Without specifically mentioning regime change, Max Boot calls for State to aid moderate Muslims, flex our political and diplomatic muscles to achieve vital objectives peacefully, gather intelligence, and build the rule of law in ungoverned lands.

I am one of those, who as he says will "object that to build up these capacities will encourage reckless 'imperialism' or 'militarism.' But improving our abilities in nation-building, strategic communications, security advising and related disciplines will actually lessen the chances that we will need to mount a major military intervention such as the one in Iraq."

Who Hates More - Republicans or Democrats

The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed called, "The Insanity of Bush Hatred." Apparently the author forgot that the Republicans tried to impeach Bill Clinton for an offense unrelated to governing the country. He didn't lie to us about invading another country. Plus, Ken Starr followed Clinton around like a little dog with a death grip on his ankle. In any case, I don't think that any Democratic hatred of Bush can be more irrational than the Republican hatred of Clinton. And now it looks like they are going to get another Clinton, because Bush has been such a bad President that he makes Bill Clinton look like George Washington by comparison.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Few Veterans in New York

On Veterans Day, the NYT noted that New York has the lowest percentage of veterans of any state in the union.

I would have thought this, but I would have thought that I was prejudiced for thinking it. I think Wall Street is one of the most unpatriotic streets in America. It's a street of greed, a street that says, "Send some rednecks to die in Iraq and Afghanistan for us." And as a further note of prejudice, New York is full of Jews. Jews did fight in World War II -- Norman Mailer is an example -- but they don't fight so much now. They pay Anglos and other ethnics to go fight for them, while they stay on Wall Street and get rich.

They don't have a monopoly on this attitude; Mitt Romney did the same thing. Being a Mormon missionary in France is not equivalent to being an infantryman in Vietnam. Sorry, Mitt, I'm prejudiced on this issue, too. But Mitt's the exception for Mormons, many of whom did and do serve in the military. Jews tend to fight for Israel, not for America, even if they are born in America. Mitt, of course, has another problem, which is that after he got back from France, he went into the private equity business with Bain Capital, where he did not pay a tax rate as high as most working men and women, while he was becoming a millionaire. Romney does not love America enough to pay his fair share of taxes.

So, the leading presidential candidates for both parties come from New York -- Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, with Mike Bloomberg waiting in the wings -- but their state is the least patriotic state, despite Rudy's claim to 9/11 fame. More and more there seem to be two (or more) Americas who don't talk to each other.