Saturday, December 01, 2001

Subsidy Follies

President Bush defended his stimulus package in his weekly radio address today. The President's speech isn't bad, but the fact is the Democrats probably have a stronger argument when it comes to the stimulus package. I've already noted I don't believe a stimulus package is like to do a blessed thing for the economy, but if Congress is going to pass something, and they clearly feel they must, then giving the money to the newly unemployed is far more likely to inject money back into the economy than business tax cuts with no expiration date. If the bill is truly intended to stimulate (and there are two possibilities here: it is, but our elected representatives are morons, or it's not, and our elected representatives think we're morons.), every part of the bill would be focused on short-term spending, because we have no reason to believe the recession will last very long. Therefore, tax cuts with a window of only six or twelve months would induce business to take advantage of the cuts now, when the economy needs the money. A tax cut with no expiration date means businesses will wait to spend when the economy looks better, because they will then have more money and will still be able to take advantage of the tax cut. The stimulus package that will no doubt make it through to the President's desk will do nothing more than bestow various government benefits on favored groups, while the majority of us will have to sit back and wait for the economy to recover on its own.

See David Brooks' piece on the package in The Weekly Standard for a different critique of the package.
Hero Worship and Politics

Yesterday the House passed a transportation spending bill that included a requirement for the Metro system to add Ronald Reagan's name to the airport stop. This represents the culmination of one of Bob Barr's (R-GA) pet projects, forcing Ronald Reagan's name into every county in the United States.

Now personally, I have a great deal of respect for Ronald Reagan, and I suspect that he will be viewed as a very good or even great president in the long term. However, Reagan himself signed a bill during his administration that prohibited the Federal government from building monuments to people on the Mall until 25 years after their death. Reagan himself realized emotions run too high in the immediate aftermath of a public figure's life and death for any remotely objective assessment to be made. Unfortunately, Representative Barr is in too much of a hurry to let history make some sort of judgement on President Reagan; he's going to ram through monuments to his hero to validate his personal view right now, by God. Of course, that's his right, and he does have to work such things through the House, so all the blame can't be placed on him.

But I would suggest that, if you truly believe your political hero will be remembered as a great man, you should have a little more faith in posterity recognizing that.
Germs don't Kill People. Terrorists Kill People.

Also in The New Republic, Lawrence F. Kaplan dissects the current administration plan to take on Iraq. Regrettably, if the article is accurate, it demonstrates how little our government really knows about human nature and the basis of our war. Although the State Department has apparently been outvoted in its desire never to do anything to Iraq, they seem to have won the war over how to deal with the problem of Saddam. Which is to say, if their plan is implemented, we won't do anything about Saddam.

Instead of destroying the Iraqi government and ensuring Hussein is removed from power, the current plan calls for bombing of Iraq followed by strikes targeted to eliminate his weapons of mass destruction. This pleases Foggy Bottom, because it allows them to maintain 'stability,' the watchword of stasists terrified of the future. Better the devil you know is their rallying cry, and so they fight on to ensure the stability we have now, including America's vulnerability to terrorist attack, is maintained. Apparently, it has never occurred to Colin Powell that we did much of that ten years ago, and all it did was buy us a year or two of security before Saddam's thugs were detonating the first bomb in the World Trade Center.

The problem that Iraq poses is not their possession of weapons of mass destruction. There are probably at least six or seven other countries out there that possess nuclear weapons, and far more who own biological or chemical agents. But possession of weapons means nothing without the desire to kill. And that is what makes Iraq dangerous: Saddam Hussein hates us and wants to do whatever he can to harm the United States. He will use whatever he can find to hurt us; even assuming we could keep Iraq completely free of weapons of mass destruction, terrorists with state sponsorship have been able to do us great harm over the last decade. And one of the prime suspects as a state sponsor is Iraq, specifically Saddam. Only by removing Saddam can we remove the threat, because he is the threat.
More Churchill

Gertrude Himmelfarb reviews two biographies of Churchill in the New Republic, from Geoffrey Best and Roy Jenkins. Both books sound pretty good, and the real strength of the piece is Himmelfarb's own analysis of Churchill's life as she reviews the books.
At Last, a Little Introspection from the Media

Those of you who visit InstaPundit regularly, (and if that's not all of you, it should be), are probably familiar with Glenn's close following of the media's rapidly plunging popularity among Americans. For those who have not followed it, basically the media currently has a 57% negative rating, after accruing an 85% positive immediately after September 11. Although some of this can be attributed to the media attempting to do its job, Reynolds points to the press' insistence on asking stupid questions as a major factor in the public's feelings towards the media.

Eric Burns of FoxNews has a great piece today asking what the balance should be between the media and the public. He rightly notes that the media can't simply act as an output for public feeling, cheering on the war blindly, but I don't believe the public expects that in any case. But he also recognizes that many reporters are doing things to fill column inches or air time that they know, or should know, are dumb. "Think" pieces comparing the war in Afghanistan to Vietnam after two weeks, asking Rumsfeld, Rice or Powell questions of a clear operational nature that they certainly won't answer in public, and spinning the news with labels like 'quagmire.' These tactics get those reporters attention, but they also are recognized by the public for what they are, and so lead to decreased media approval ratings. And, as Mr. Burns correctly observes, a reporter who makes him or herself so unpopular that nobody reads or watches the product isn't really doing the job.

I wonder if anyone else will note Burns' analysis, or if any other reporters are smart enough to take it to heart.

Friday, November 30, 2001

Happy Birthday, Winston

Today is the 125th anniversary of Winston Churchill's birth, or his 125th birthday if you prefer. One of the 20th century's great leaders, if not one of the greatest of all time, Churchill has had a renaissance of late with the official start of the war on terrorism, as many politicians have drawn from Churchill in their public speeches. And yet, none that I've seen have drawn on his most stirring speeches, and one that seems quite fitting in view of the heroism of the passengers of United Flight 93 and the firefighters and police who ran into the World Trade Center as everyone else was running out. Although some of the locations have changed, I think this is as appropriate today as it was on 19 June 1940.

"...If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free, and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands; but if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, and all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of a perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour'."

Unabashed Plug

I read Virginia Postrel's book, The Future and Its Enemies, last week, and wrote a review of it for Amazon.com. The review doesn't really do justice to the book, unfortunately, as the book is just that good. I strongly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in politics or technology. Also, make sure you check out Postrel's web site, Dynamist.com. She updates it frequently, and her observations are generally accurate and always interesting. Check it out for yourself.
Television's Editorial Slant

I've often felt CNN tends to slant towards the Left in its 'news' coverage, but last night my wife made a fascinating observation I'm going to share. We were talking about the liberation of Afghanistan, and we had Fox News on in the background. At some point in the discussion Amanda noted that, on CNN, the coverage of Afghanistan seems to generally involve photos of bombed-out houses and corpses. On Fox News, conversely, she says they show Afghans celebrating the fall of the Taliban, getting shaves, etc. Now I don't watch both channels enough to make an honest assessment of how true this is, but it certainly sounds accurate enough. If anyone else out there has any observations about how the war is being covered between the networks, I'd love to hear them. And I'll definitely be watch each network's coverage a little more closely from now on.
On whether to be loved or feared

Charles Krauthammer hits the nail right on the head this morning. The anti-war types insisted for two months that attacking terrorists and regimes that harbored them would simply lead to even more terrorism and even, possibly, a war with Islam. Instead, after crushing the Taliban and reducing bin Laden to Islam's answer to Fred Flintstone, the Arab street is remarkably silent. Pakistan has not throw off Pervez Musharraf to install its own theocracy. The Afghan people did not rise up to defend the Taliban against us, nor are they starving in droves. The anti-war activists should, by rights, have lost all their credibility. Instead, they're simply continuing the same arguments to try and keep the US from going any farther in its war on terror. That would be the biggest mistake we could make.

The world is on notice now that the US has the ability to take down a regime that harbors terrorists. That is a good start, but it is insufficient to ensure success in the war on terror. If we stop now, nations like Syria, Yemen, Iran and Iraq will know that, while it was a close call, they have gotten away with their continued support for terrorism despite the September 11 attacks. If that happens, there will be still worse attacks on American interests, and almost certainly worse attacks on American soil. To keep that from happening, we have to fill our enemies with fear. That means taking down a few more governments.

Iraq is the obvious choice. Hussein was probably behind the first attack on the World Trade Center, and we know Mohammed Atta met with Iraqi agents. Further, Saddam is developing weapons of mass destruction, and there's little doubt he'd provide them to terrorist organizations for use against America as long as he thought he could get away with it. Removing him from power will allow us to eliminate his stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons, keep Iraq from developing nuclear capabilities, and demonstrate to the world what happens when you threaten the United States. Most importantly, eliminating Saddam would do far more to fill our enemies with fear of our willingness to act than destroying the Taliban. The Taliban, it's now clear, was a marginal military force, and we were able to take them down with a blend of air power and proxies. Saddam will require a more decisive display of American force, and while that will inevitably lead to American casualties, it will also do far more to demonstrate our resolve.

President Bush has already said Iraq must let inspectors back into Iraq or else. He has to follow through on that, or the world will see the US once again doing what we did in Beruit, Somalia, and Yemen; talking tough, but backing down rather than take the necessary action to back up our words. New York City is an eloquent argument for what such failures inspired in the past.
Iraq--Listen for the Footsteps

Richard Cohen is now on the bandwagon calling for President Bush to go after Iraq once Afghanistan is secure. He points out that Iraq is in many ways vulnerable to the same type of attacks that brought down the Taliban, massive air strikes supporting local combatants. Unfortunately, I don't think there's a Northern Alliance equivalent anywhere in Iraq, despite Cohen's correct assertion the Iraqi people despite Saddam. Saddam has been very thorough in rooting out any forces capable of threatening him in the last ten years. Further, given what happened the last time Iraqis rose up against Saddam in response to US cries for action, it's unlikely they'll go for it again. We're going to have to put military forces on the ground in Iraq to a greater degree than we did in Afghanistan if we want to root Saddam out.

But isn't it interesting that the debate now seems to be turning from what should we do next to how should we do it?
Demoratic Stalling

The Washington Post calls on Senator Pat Leahy to start holding hearings on President Bush's judicial nominees this morning. While I doubt this will move the senator to do anything, it's nice to see the Post taking the initiative to point out the harm Leahy is doing through his partisan obstinance. The federal courts are short more than 100 judges, yet Senator Leahy shows no interest in filling the vacancies. Well, he's willing to be 'bipartisan,' and hold hearings on President Bush's compromise nominees, like the Clinton recess appointments Bush agreed to send to the Senate. But when it comes to any judge deemed 'controversial,' which to Leahy means not a judicial activist, the Judiciary Committee refuses even to schedule hearings.

It's one thing to dislike a nominee. And it's perfectly acceptable for senators to attempt to convince their fellows to vote down as many of the President's nominees as they like. But refusing to hold hearings demonstrates both a contempt for the process and a marked weakness in your own position. Orrin Hatch was wrong to not hold hearings on President Clinton's nominees, and the Democrats correctly pointed that out at the time. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, however, it appears the Democrats are unwilling to play by the rules they called for the Republicans to use. Hypocracy is certainly not rare in politics, but that doesn't make it any more pleasant to observe. Particularly given the harm these actions are causing the country by backing up the court system.

Worse, because the Democrats have now emulated the Republicans in these tactics, they've tacitly endorsed them, ensuring the Republicans can continue the tactics when the worm turns again, as it surely will. And the backlog of vacant seats will continue to grow. Somebody needs to act like an adult up on Capitol Hill, but it seems we've failed to elect any.
No right not to be Uncomfortable

Kensington, Maryland has decided not to include Santa Claus in their annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony this year. Why? Because two locals felt Santa does not belong in a secular celebration. This, to me, is a fascinating interpretation, since I had no idea Santa Claus was a religious figure. Granted, I'm not as familiar with the Bible as most, and religious history is not my forte, but I'm reasonably certain Santa has nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Even the local ACLU director admits he doesn't think a court would agree with banning Santa on the basis of the 'separation of church and state' that is the mantra for much of the ACLU.

I should be clear in saying it's certainly within the province of the Kensington town council to vote to ban Santa. And there's nothing necessarily wrong with a citizen asking the council not to put Santa in a community function. However, at the same time, I do believe this is an outgrowth of the all-too-common belief of many citizens today, that there exists some right not to be offended. Much of what governments seem to do these days is protect people from being offended, and I just can't understand that. I don't think we should deliberately go out of our way to offend, but I think people today are far too eager to take offense at anything. And, in the final analysis, it's our decision whether or not to be offended. No one can insult you without your permission, because no matter what they say, we all have the power to control our reaction to it.

So, especially now, with America at war and the holidays approaching, wouldn't it be good if we could all just step back and ask ourselves, 'Is this really worth getting worked up about,' before we fly off the handle because we've been offended yet again?
America and History

Lynne Cheney is taking the lead in promoting improved history instruction for American students, and it's about time. The forces of multiculturalism have taken such control of the curriculum in most American schools that most students have no idea what the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution really say. Personally, I think learning about other cultures is a great idea, but like many things in education, you have to have a certain level of understanding before you start learning about other cultures. If all cultures are presented to students as equal, the student doesn't really get the grounding to understand what makes America different, and better, than many other cultures. I don't think schools should be teaching jingoism, but I don't think it unreasonable to ensure students learn the fundamentals of American culture before they are exposed to other cultures. An analysis of the Constitution, in particular, would do a great deal to help develop students' ability to understand American culture and government, particularly what it was envisioned to be. And it's perfectly fair game to point out the many episodes in history where we failed to live up to our ideals, as long as time is also given to pointing out the many good things Americans have done for the world. Let's give our children a balanced understanding of America, warts and all, and help them to understand why it is so many people come from all over the world to live here.
Islam gets a pass

Once again, in their desperate effort to convince the world the United States isn't at war with Islam, the Bush administration has dropped the ball. Thursday the State Department hosted a number of American Muslims for dinner. Among those muslims were quite a few people prominently on the record as supporting terrorism, even against Americans. From blaming America for the plight of the Palestinians to stating that the US will eventually become an Islamic nation, these guys would be great representatives of the kind of mindset we're trying to eliminate if they weren't in America. Since they're here, however, and since they control political interest groups, they instead get invited to the White House and are exempted from any questions about why it is they support terrorism.

I know there are plenty of American muslims who do not support terrorism. But there are also at least some that do, and we only hurt our own cause by pretending they don't mean what they say to score political points. The odds are pretty good some American muslims helped the terrorists who executed the September 11 attacks, and there are others hiding members of al-Qaeda right now. It may not be politically correct to go after American muslims, but in some cases it will be necessary. And it is the President's responsibility to draw attention to those muslims who refuse to renounce terrorism, or who don't want to cooperate with law enforcement. Being an American carries responsibilities, not just rights, and those people unwilling to live up to their responsibilities have no real claim on the rights.

Thursday, November 29, 2001

On to Iraq?

Edward Luttwak has a fascinating op-ed in today's LA Times discussing the internal dissent of the Bush administration regarding whether or not to take on Iraq next in the war on terrorism. He points out the struggle between the Pentagon and the State Department over whether or not to take Saddam down once Afghanistan is secure is still raging, but will, in the end, come down to the question of whether or not Colin Powell will negotiate in good faith to persuade our allies to take on Iraq. Because this is a policy Powell disagrees with, there is some question whether or not he would do what it takes to garner that support even if the President decides Iraq is the rightful next target. This is a somewhat disturbing idea, that a senior cabinet member might decide to undermine administration policy he disagrees with. Luttwak does not directly say Powell would do that, of course, and one hopes that Powell will support the President's final decision, regardless of what it is, but Powell's history is not encouraging in this area. He dropped the ball on Iraq in 1991, quite probably helping to set the stage for al-Qaeda and their attacks up to and including September 11. Of course, there's plenty of blame to spread around for that decision, but Powell is on record as having opposed the Gulf War from start to finish, so he has to take at large share of it.

In any case, Luttwak points out Iraq's fate may now rest on how successful we are in Afghanistan. If the Afghanistan operation is a near-complete success, Donald Rumsfeld may supplant Powell as the President's primary advisor, in which case Iraq will almost certainly be the next target. I would argue, however, that since the President has now issued an ultimatum about Iraq and inspectors, we have little choice but to follow through on it now. Unless Iraq does allow inspectors to return, we have to take out Saddam or we're returning to the same cycle that lead to September 11--showing the Arab world we can be pushed around, and emboldening future terrorists.
Holiday Wishes

Thanks to Instapundit and Eugene Volokh for pointing out this holiday wish from Scott Adams' Dilbert newsletter.

My Holiday Message

I've written and rewritten this section a dozen times. My problem is that no matter how much I write, I keep condensing it down to the same thought: This holiday season, as we laugh and eat and shop and enjoy friends and family, our soldiers are in Afghanistan
risking everything for us. Some of them won't come back. The rest will never be the same.


Every one of them volunteered. They think we're worth it.


Let's prove them right.

As Glenn Reynolds said--let's.
The Meaning of 'Attack'

Derrick Z. Jackson is at it again with his op-ed about the Florida election problems in today's Boston Globe. I can only surmise they don't teach English at journalism school, nor require columnists to use language properly in order to be eligible for the Pulitzer Prize. Jackson calls the President a hypocrite for declaring that democracy was attacked on September 11 when, according to Jackson, Bush attacked democracy in Florida last year. His evidence for this is the fact black voters were more likely to have their votes disqualified for procedural errors, suggesting Bush was suppressing the black vote in order to advance his cause. Jackson has no evidence for this accusation, of course, but to have your op-ed published in a major newspaper, you apparently don't have to worry about having the facts on your side. Jackson confuses correlation with causation, a not uncommon error. Yes, black votes were more likely to be disqualified, and as two people noted in last week's LA Times (sorry, I don't have the link), if you were a black Republican, you had an amazingly high chance of having your vote disqualified.

But, while this is certainly a problem, it's a massive leap to say it's an attack on democracy. Attack implies intent, and there is no evidence President Bush or anyone else tried to suppress the black vote. By making such a suggestion, Jackson merely reveals himself, once again, as a partisan hack who will use anything he can find to lash out at President Bush and support his theory blacks are no better off today than they were two hundred years ago.
Americans approve of Tribunals

The Washington Post released a poll this morning that shows 60% of Americans support the Bush administration's proposed use of military tribunals to try suspected terrorists. 70% believe suspected terrorists civil rights are not being violated. The administration is apparently trusting this high public support to allow them to push past the objections of Congress. I wonder, however, if these numbers are fully representative of public opinion, or if there isn't a war factor here--I would guess, and this is strictly a guess, that people are a little more likely to support whatever the government is doing right now because of the war. There are limits to that support, of course, but I have to at least ask if that support isn't skewing these numbers, if only a little. And if so, the Bush administration could find itself in a difficult position sooner than it thinks. Even if the poll is perfectly accurate, public opinion can swing quickly, and with Bush acting without much support from Congress in these areas, if there is a large shift in public opinion, the President could find himself hung out to dry.

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Imperialism Good

Maureen Dowd asks why the US won't force the Afghan government forming in Bonn this week to include women, since we've already demonstrated we have the power to put whoever we want in charge of the country. On the one hand, I agree with her general philosophy, that we should do what we can to ensure women have equal rights throughout the world. After all, it's the right thing to do, and it's also the best thing countries can do for themselves: nations that treat women equally do far better economically than those that oppress women.

And yet, I wonder why Dowd thinks it's ok for us to force our views on women on the rest of the world, when for years she's argued the United States shouldn't be imposing anything on the rest of the world. We were wrong, in her view, to unilaterally withdraw from the Kyoto Treaty, and to leave Durban earlier this year. Indeed, unilateralism has been a curse word for her since President Bush was sworn in. But when it's her ox being gored, suddenly we need to act unilaterally to ensure women are treated properly, regardless of what the Afghan people decide, their cultural heritage, or even what our allies think.

Of course, none of us is ever 100% consistent in our views; our point of view almost always affects how we view a particular situation. But given Dowd's previous attacks on unilateralism by the Bush administration, her argument in favor of it now stands on awfully shaky ground.
Rush to Judgement

Rush Limbaugh attempts to defend several of President Bush's actions in the war on terror by using comparisons to FDR to undermine Democratic opposition. Although it's an interesting article, I think it fails on the merits. Limbaugh suggests Democrats are hypocrites because they rate FDR as an excellent president while attacking the Bush administration on civil liberties issues. Limbaugh does not consider the possibility FDR ranks highly among presidents despite, rather than because of the failings Limbaugh notes in his op-ed. In particular, Limbaugh points out FDR interned thousands of Japanese for the duration of the war, while the Justice Department has only detained perhaps a thousand Muslims. This is true, but Democratic support of FDR in general does not require them to support all his policies, and recent history demonstrates that, while the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II may well have been legal, very few people now consider it the right thing to have done. Similar arguments apply to Limbaugh's defense of the Bush administration's military tribunals by comparing them to FDR's tribunal used against Nazi saboteurs in 1942, or his 1937 scheme to pack the Supreme Court. While the first example does have some bearing on the Bush decision, once again the Democrats' support of FDR does not require them to support this particular decision. The second issue is simply a smoke screen, as FDR's attempt to pack the Court had nothing to do with national security.

In short, while Rush is sometimes right, in this case he's just playing a rhetorical game to try and undermine legitimate issues with President Bush. While Democratic support for FDR may be an interesting phenomonon, it has no bearing on how we fight our war on terrorism here at home. There are arguments to defend much of what the Bush administration is doing on the home front; attempting to obfuscate the real issues to win points is simply a waste of everyone's time.
The Anti-War Crowd and the Learning Curve

Michael Kelly points out some of the more obvious failings of the predictions of the anti-war crowd in his op-ed in today's Washington Post. After correctly pointing out the various predictions the anti-war crowd blew (bombing will kill thousands, there will be famine, we can't beat the Taliban, etc.), he takes on James Carroll's self-important op-ed from Tuesday's Boston Globe titled "This War is not Just." I missed the article, but apparently Carroll's three big points were that we don't really know what has happened in Afghanistan because the US military isn't letting know everything, that the collapse of the Taliban is a 'peripheral outcome' from our war on terrorism, and that we shouldn't have gone to war in the first place, that the attacks of September 11 were criminal acts and should have been treated accordingly. Kelly does a good job of exposing Carroll's commentary as little more than another attempt to justify his anti-war sentiments without resorting to actual facts.

What I find most interesting about all this is that I have yet to see an anti-war missive that actually presents an argument, rather than simply throwing out observations and emotionalisms and hoping they'll be enough. I wonder, and this is pure speculation, but is this a result of the clampdown on the Left of all dissent on universities? Most left-wingers haven't had their ideas challenged in decades, thanks to the ideological makeup of most universities. Has this left them unable to articulate their ideas as anything more than personal beliefs? Or is this just a result of the moral bankruptcy of the anti-war Left?

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

Attacks on Cloning

David A. Prentice argues for a total ban on cloning in today's National Review Online. His argument, in brief, is that because the British do not currently have a complete ban on cloning in place, and are rushing through a bad bill to make the practice illegal before anyone can go ahead with it, we simply need to implement a total ban on human cloning.

I suppose it isn't surprising, given that NRO is generally planted on the right side of the spectrum, that Prentice doesn't bother to address the basic premise of his argument, which is that human cloning is wrong. It is his right not to explain why he feels human cloning is wrong, and recommending we avoid the problems the British appear to be having in banning human cloning. However, by avoiding questions about his basic premise, Prentice isn't going to convince anyone that cloning should be banned quickly unless they already believe human cloning should be banned. Perhaps Prentice believes he's only preaching to the choir, but given that I am a regular reader of NRO but not currently in favor of banning human cloning, his article is utterly irrelevant to me. And, given that debate is ongoing on the question of human cloning, I'm clearly not the only one in this situation, and therefore, I would argue, Prentice wasted a valuable opportunity to make a real case for his argument in lieu of simply providing new information to those who already agree with him.
The Real War

I'm not a big fan of the New York Times, and their op-ed page is usually a paean to the idols of the Left, but Thomas Friedman has a very good column this morning. He points out that this war is not truly against terrorism per se, since terrorism is a means rather than an end. This is a war against religious fundamentalism in general, and Islamic fundamentalism in particular. This doesn't mean it's a war on Islam, but Friedman correctly points out that Islam, in general, has yet to adapt to the modern world with respect to tolerance for other religious points of view. While the majority of Christians and Jews have modified their religion to include what Friedman calls multiple correct methods for reaching God, Islam has not yet reached that point. And until it does, we will have people like bin Laden running around trying to take the world back to the 15th century, when they erroneously think life was somehow better for Muslims.

Check out the article for yourself, it's well worth reading.
Richard Cohen and Rhetoric

Someday I hope to learn how it is certain people become pundits. I've already noted EJ Dionne's inability to back up his theses with anything approaching a good argument, but Richard Cohen remains the champ. Today he argues against the Bush administration's attacks on civil liberties, a topic that could be argued on many levels.

Bush's argument for military tribunals, for example, is legally questionable at best, and he has failed to articulate a better reason for such tribunals than 'they might be found innocent in a regular trial,' which is one of the risks we face in any legitimate legal system. Or the intent of the Justice Department to listen in on privileged conversations between defendants suspected of terrorism and their attorneys, an action that has no justification, since I believe they can monitor such conversations if they simply take the time to get a warrant--another protection of our Constitutional system that, while sometimes creating problems for law enforcement, hasn't shut down police work in the past. Why do we need to circumvent it now?

Unfortunately, Mr. Cohen chooses a different rhetorical tack; since Bush is in favor of capital punishment, and didn't do anything about the flaws in Texas' capital punishment system, he must be bad towards civil liberties as well. This is what passes for an argument? While I don't personally believe in the death penalty, I find Cohen's argument against it laughable: "Under any circumstance, executions serve no purpose." Those are pretty bold words, and one might think Cohen has an interesting argument to back them up. If so, he's keeping it to himself, however.

Cohen must have some ability to make an argument; I have too much respect for the editors of the Washington Post to believe they just gave him a column because they couldn't think of how else to fill a few column inches. But he's hurting his cause when he makes arguments without providing anything more substantial than his personal beliefs to back them up.
The Fiction of Stimulus

EJ Dionne continues to mindlessly chant his mantra of bipartisanship in his op-ed in today's Post. I'd be more convinced of that argument if he could point to a concrete example of the Democrats actually giving in to the Republicans on something, but I won't hold my breath waiting.

In any case, the more important issue Dionne addresses is the question of the 'stimulus' package, or packages, being debated by the Senate to help the US out of our recession. The Democrats want to tilt the stimulus to provide better unemployment benefits and payments to lower income people, while the President prefers accelerating the tax cuts passed as his first major initiative back in the Spring. Personally, I think the most likely real stimulus would be a bill that provided incentives to spend now, which would mean tax breaks for businesses that would expire in six months, as an example. The Democrats and Republicans are both just trying to hide their business as usual in bills marked 'stimulus,' not unlike what was crammed into the cleverly titled USA Patriot Act a few weeks ago. I don't really mind that, however, because I'd argue the government can't stimulate the economy out of a recession anyhow.

Let's look at the past decade. What fueled the massive economic growth, especially in the last year or so, was consumer spending. That's a basic economic fact: if people don't buy stuff, the economy doesn't grow. Most of the tax rebates touted by both the Bush administration and Democrats from last summer went directly into people's savings, rather than triggering renewed spending (although I did my part, spending mine immediately). The reason for that? People were concerned about the future, and so chose to save the money rather than spend it. Conversely, during much of the 1990s, people saw the pie growing endlessly, and so were willing to go deeper and deeper into debt to buy things. Above all, it's a mindset that drives the economy as much as reality, and the mindset now is recession. The only way we're going to come out of the recession is when people change their minds, which generally does not occur for some time after a recession is actually over. Look at President Bush in 1992: the economy was already growing throughout the election year, but the mindset hadn't changed yet, allowing Clinton to sweep into power with his "It's the economy, stupid," slogan.

It may be argued, however, that the government passing a stimulus package might help consumers' mindset. That's possible, I suppose, but I don't see it as being likely. Government spending is not sufficient to drive the economy out of recession, and consumers, as a group, are unlikely to change their mindset until there are concrete signs the recession is over. So any government 'stimulus' is likely to do little to actually help the economy, either in reality, or in perception. Now, if the government wants to accelerate the tax cuts and call it stimulus, I'm all in favor of that just to keep some more money out of the hands of the federal government, but any other stimulus bill deserves to be shot down, as it will only line the pockets of a particular interest group.
Democracy vs. Autocracy

R. James Woolsey, former Director of Central Intelligence, points out the obvious in an op-ed in today's Washington Post: democracies are our friends, while autocracies cannot be counted on. There are four nations with significant Muslim populations where Osama doesn't appear to be making a great deal of progress in setting Islam against the West: Turkey, India, Indonesia and Bangladesh. All these countries have one thing in common; they're democracies. Yes, they each have their own problems, as we do here in the US, but they're arguably the only true friends the US has in the Muslim world. But instead of arguing for more democracy, and the right of all peoples to self-rule, we support the Saudis, who are Osama's primary fund raisers and who also subsidize the hatred of the West seen to be prevalent in the Muslim world. Or the Kuwaitis, who are so grateful for our liberating them from Iraq a decade ago they're cheering Osama on in his battle with the West. Granted, the US probably shouldn't be imposing democracy on other countries, with the possible exception of Afghanistan, but why do we refuse to even support democratic reforms in the world? What was the last democracy to declare war on the United States; Great Britain? No, we don't always get along perfectly with other democracies, but our disputes with democracies are settled peaceably, without resorting to terrorism or war. Isn't this a lesson we ought to have learned by now?
Shutting Down Saddam

Although it's not yet time to launch the second phase in our war on terrorism, Robert Kagan has a good op-ed in today's Washington Post about the options facing the US in Iraq. He notes senior officials' recent statements about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and contacts with al-Qaeda, which he points out provide an excellent casus belli for the United States. However, he also points out what appears to be the Powell approach to Iraq has not necessarily been eliminated either: improved sanctions to hurt Saddam while helping his people coupled with a renewed set of inspectors to root out Saddam's weapons programs. Given the past failures of such inspections, I would question such an approach being used in the future, but it's not unlikely the Bush administration will choose that route rather than trying the far more difficult task of taking Saddam down permanently. Given Saddam's past activities, however, as well as evidence he may have been behind the first attack on the World Trade Center, I'd argue for eliminating him once and for all once the Afghanistan situation has been settled, rather than risking his acquiring nuclear weapons a few years down the road, when destroying him would be far more difficult.
Do it to Them Before They do it to You

The uprising by several hundred foreign fighters in Mazar-e-Sharif looks like the best thing that could have happened as far as US goals are concerned. Before the revolt, we probably would not have been able to justify trying and executing so many people, even with the use of President Bush's military tribunals. Now, however, the Northern Alliance, with a little help from our Special Forces and the Air Force, are wiping out every last one of them. I don't revel in the deaths of hundreds of people, but we should face the facts here: every one of these people who lives to fight another day is a potential terrorist who may someday arrive here on our shores to continue his little 'jihad.' Given that, I don't believe we have any option but to take advantage of every opportunity we can get to kill them before they can kill us.
Enter the Marines

The arrival of US Marines on the ground in Afghanistan is a good sign for the end stages of this phase of the war on terrorism. Reports said they fired up a convoy with Cobra helicopter gunships yesterday, and I suspect their mere presence will be a key factor in demoralizing the remaining Taliban forces and running them to ground. Morale is a critical factor in combat, and the sweeping success of the Northern Alliance coupled with the presence of such an impressive combat force as a Marine Expeditionary Force should allow us to break the Taliban's morale once and for all, which sets the stage for us to finish tracking down Osama and his remaining buddies.

Monday, November 26, 2001

Questionable Priorities from the Administration

As yet another example of how the Republican Party, ostensibly the party of smaller government, has fallen into hypocracy, Mike Krause and Dave Kopel have a good article in National Review Online discussing the Bush Administration's war on medical marijuana in California. Recently the DEA has not only seized the marijuana at various facilities, but has also grabbed patients' records and destroyed such trivial items as brownie mix used for creating marijuana brownies. Now personally, I'm not certain about the validity of medicinal marijuana, but it seems to me that this is an issue that is of questionable concern to the federal government during peacetime, and should be the last thing John Ashcroft should be worried about right now. Yes, the DEA has work to do even in peacetime, but since al-Qaeda makes money selling heroin, not marijuana, shouldn't they focus their efforts on the heroin trade and other, more obviously dangerous drugs, rather than padding their stats by seizing marijuana intended for medicinal use?

Thanks to Instapundit for spotting this article.
Cloning and Nature

InstaPundit's Glenn Reynolds offers an excellent rebuttal to opponents of cloning. As he rightly points out, theraputic cloning has the potential to extend life. Since very few people would argue death is a good thing, and since theraputic cloning is simply using a person's own cells to prolong his or her life, there's no good reason to oppose it. Slippery slope arguments are almost always bad ones, whether used by pro-choice activists to defeat any limitations on abortion or by pro-gun forces who think any limits on the right to bear arms violates the Second Amendment. The same is true here; theraputic cloning is not the same as reproductive cloning, and arguing against theraputic cloning simply because it might lead to reproductive cloning is a bad argument that does not hold water. Reproductive cloning may or may not be a good idea, but cloning organs to prolong life is simply another means of improving our medical technology, and it should be allowed to continue without interference.
The Panacea of Air Power

Fareed Zakaria has an op-ed in Newsweek extolling the virtues of air power and arguing that American air power is so powerful now we don't really need ground forces to be successful in combat. This is an amazing argument, but it undoubtedly pleases the Air Force, as they've been arguing for strategic bombing's ability to win wars for at least thirty years now. Zakaria is not completely wrong in his assessment; air power is far more effective today than it was even ten years ago, although Afghanistan isn't a great test case when you consider we may someday have to fight a nation with significant air defense capabilities. Air power alone, however, will almost never be sufficient for us to reach our goals. Yes, air power eventually forced Milosevic out of Kosovo, but how many Kosovars was he able to kill before he decided to withdraw? More to the point, the decision to withdraw was always in his hands as long as we chose to use air power alone. Air power can inflict amazing damage on enemy forces, but it can't force them off of any ground unless they choose to leave. A war fought strictly with airpower, therefore, gives the enemy the initiative, and ensures we will only accomplish our mission objectives when the enemy agrees to them. Only by placing forces on the ground, either our own or proxies, can we take the initiative in war and actually force the enemy to march to our tune. Zakaria suggests the Northern Alliance forces only occupied areas abandoned by the Taliban, but he ignored the fierce fighting that raged around Mazar-e-Sharif just a few weeks ago, or the fighting for Kunduz and Kandahar that continues today.
Of course, the Northern Alliance would not have been able to sweep across Afghanistan at all without the assistant of air power, and its effectiveness should not be ignored. But, as someone observed a few weeks ago, air power is necessary for military success, but it is not sufficient. Had the Northern Alliance not put the pressure on Taliban ground forces, we would not have been treated to the sights of Afghan women removing their veils and children in Kabul flying kites. Our success to date in the war is to be celebrated, but it is important we don't draw the wrong conclusions from it.
Back

After a long hiatus, I have returned. I can make no promises as to how well I'll be able to keep up posting in the future, but I'm going to give it the old college try, if nothing else. If anyone's reading this, drop me an email and I'll be far more likely to continue, as it's easier to convince myself to write when I think I have an audience. On that note, let's get started.