Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 24, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

AN AMERICAN IN BAGHDAD....In an article written before the bombing of the al-Askari shrine, Lawrence Kaplan writes that Iraq is hopelessly divided between Shia and Sunni:

Sheik Humam Hamoudi, one of Iraq's most powerful Shia and a leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq...likens the effect of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq to "a child when he wants to walk and you ask him to play football." Absent the Americans, he says, Baghdad would be transformed into another Beirut.

....Sheik Abdullah Al Yawar Hamoudi's mirror image in the Sunni community echoes his concern...."If the Americans leave," he warns, "there will be rivers of blood." In their own way, then, both sheiks see the U.S. military presence for exactly what it has become: a buffer between Iraq's sects and between relative order and complete mayhem.

It's worth reading the whole piece, which contains lots of telling detail. Kaplan demonstrates pretty convincingly that Iraq is corrupt, divided, and hopelessly sectarian, and takes this as evidence that the United States needs to stay. And I suppose that's the conventional way to look at it.

But it's not what I got out of Kaplan's description. Rather, his article persuaded me that the American presence is hopelessly ineffectual and increasingly pointless. Sure, it's possible that our presence can prevent Iraq from descending into an immediate, full-scale civil war, but Kaplan's own evidence seems to indicate that while we might be preventing immediate mayhem, we're not changing any of the underlying dynamics of Iraqi society, even at the margins. If we stuck around for a decade and finally left in 2016, Iraq would be a bloodbath in 2017.

It may be that I'm just reading my own prejudices into Kaplan's accounts, but I think there's more to it than that. He pretty much convinced me that Baghdad really is Beirut, and that's hardly a comforting comparison. Does anyone think the United States would have been well advised to spend a couple of decades occupying Lebanon? Would things have turned out any better there if we had?

At this point, it's impossible to say if things might have turned out differently if George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld had roused themselves to care about the messy and tedious business of nation building back in 2002. I don't pretend to know the answer for sure. But go ahead and read Kaplan's article and decide for yourself. It certainly didn't have the inspirational effect on me that I think he was aiming for.

Kevin Drum 1:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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Comments

At this point, it's impossible to say if things might have turned out differently if George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld had actually roused themselves to care about the messy and tedious business of nation building.

Nation-building would have gotten in the way of what they were trying to do, so they weren't going to do it. Chalabi would solve everything, and if he hadn't who cares. "We're flattening the Middle East, not acting like a bunch of liberals!" The real fuckup (that is, the thing they intended to do, that they screwed up) is failing to kill or catch Hussein. So they got stuck.

Now, if only liberal hawks, and quasi-hawks would catch the wave and figure out that that people who do not wish to live together can neither be bribed nor killed into doing so, UN or no UN.

When, and if, the great and mighty oz professional 'International Relations' establishment gets that idea through their thick fucking skulls, we might come up with some idea of what will actually work over the long term.

ash
['Not that I expect THAT to occur. There's no career advancement with success.']

Posted by: ash on February 24, 2006 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

WE are asking our young people to act as targets, for what purpose?

Posted by: Neo on February 24, 2006 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Sure, it's possible that our presence can prevent Iraq from descending into an immediate, full-scale civil war, but Kaplan's own evidence seems to indicate that while we might be preventing immediate mayhem, we're not changing any of the underlying dynamics of Iraqi society, even at the margins.

Your view is completely wrong Kevin because it ignores the bombing of the al-Askari shrine. After seeing the horrific images of the terrorist attack on the shrine, the bombing has strengthened opposition to the terrorists. Iraqis more than ever are willing to work together to destroy the terrorists because they attack again. This strengthening of opposition to the terrorists makes a American military presence more important than ever to help the Iraqi people set up a free and democratic state.

Posted by: Al on February 24, 2006 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

I'm beginning to think this Iraq war thing wasn't a good idea. Maybe they didn't have anything to do with terrorism after all. And isn't it costing, like, hundreds of billions of dollars?

Nah, lemme catch myself. Our leaders have good hearts. They are good men. They love Freedom. They love America. They spread Freedom.

Whew, I feel better now. That's what counts the most. You all are pathetic haters of freedom. Now I feel even better.

Posted by: Free Lover of Freedom and Free Liberty on February 24, 2006 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

You may be right. If you look at this in a cruel and cold-blooded way, it may be in the best interests of the United States to see Iraq erupt in a bloody civil war that results in a break-up into three small, weakened parts - Kurdistan in the north, a Shiite part in the South, and a Sunni rump in the middle. None would be strong enough to threaten their neighbors, as Hussein's Iraq was, and the US could strike whatever commercial deals it wanted for oil with whoever comes to power.

It's a bit ironic that you would support such an outcome, but hell, realpolitik has its advantages.

Posted by: DBL on February 24, 2006 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

Does this mean there is no real point in outside forces dealing with sectarian violence anywhere in the world?

Posted by: tbrosz on February 24, 2006 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

"corrupt, divided, and hopelessly sectarian" - oh yeah, we can definitely help with that!

I hope Al is right, and that events like the bombing of the al-Askari shrine sober up enough Iraqi leaders to bring them to the table. It doesn't seem much more likely than the proposition that the Battle of Manassas would have brought all peace-loving Americans to the table, but maybe the Iraqis will prove to be better that our noble ancestors.

Posted by: dcbob on February 24, 2006 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

The US should ask Iran to help with its intervention in Iraq by having them take over some military/policing duties. It may be the only way to stop the civil war and the killing of so many more poor Iraqis. I cannot think of any other way to stop the carnage unleashed by our invasion and occupation. Inviting Iran into Iraq would allow peace keepers with a similar religion to intervene and hopefully stifle continued sectarian violence and bring the US and Iran together on common ground and prevent a future confrontation between us.

Many conservatives and liberals consider Iran to be a direct threat to the US. I do not. Although Iran has sided and provided assistance with Palestine and the Shiites of Lebanon in their conflicts, Iran itself has not exhibited a desire for increasing its territory and it has a limited working democracy, which I think even some in the Bush administration would want for Iraq.

Reaching out to our adversaries is a way to avoid continued conflict, which is what I desire. It is not a ploy to polarize anti-war advocates and have them react to accept the alternative of continued violence for the sake of national security.

Posted by: Hostile on February 24, 2006 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Leave it to Al and tbrosz to try to score points against people who opposed this war from the outset. What a pair of assholes.

Posted by: brewmn on February 24, 2006 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

The answer is to divide Iraq. Three states - Kurdistan, a Southern Shite dominated state, and a small central Sunni dominated state.

We have to stop trying to hold together a set of boundaries drawn by Europeans in the middle of the last century. The people of the region would never have "naturally" organized into Iraq as a state, they would be three states at least.

The only way you hold the current Iraq together is with force - Sadaam's success, and the lesson we are learning.

Posted by: David on February 24, 2006 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Indian independence led to the same thing. All Indians agreed that the British had to go, the Brits were out of cash and their industrial competitiveness was over, but the Indians could not agree on one country for themselves and there was bloodshed and separation. Of course, we do not wish this situation on any people but it may be inevitable and, given the bumbling ambitions of a certain faction of the American political class, things may be worse then they would have been. Even the US with reserve currency petrodollars has a limit to what it can afford and therefore what it can control. If your armed forces are funded with borrowed money how long can you last? The fate of the princes and potentates of yesteryear tells us the answer is- not long.


PS the Iranians are now the major powerbrokers in the region. There will be no stability without their input. There is no "natural state" in Iraq. The populations are intermixed in large areas and the oil resources are unevenly spread. It is far more messy than just getting the lines right. Assigning nations to states, as it were.

Posted by: bellumregio on February 24, 2006 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Regarding tbrosz's question; I don't know the-one-size-fits-all-such-situations answer, but I known what Ronald Reagan did when a suicide bomber blew up a Marine occupying force in Lebanon in l983. He cut and ran, even after repeatedly stating the importance of the mission and promising to keep forces in place until the Lebanese could restore order.

Posted by: Kit Stolz on February 24, 2006 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

At this point, it's impossible to say if things might have turned out differently if George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld had roused themselves to care about the messy and tedious business of nation building back in 2002. I don't pretend to know the answer for sure.

Oh, sure you do.

Does this mean there is no real point in outside forces dealing with sectarian violence anywhere in the world?

Kind of ironic, since your normal post generally reduces to "governments are hopelessly fucked up, so why have them try to do anything?"

Posted by: craigie on February 24, 2006 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not gonna rant, although there is a rant inside of me.

Sunnis and Shiites hopelessly divided? Really? Ya think?

Sheesh.

Sarcasm doesn't work well online, so I'll just add that this is something of a known issue. I don't know if I really credit the report that Bush hadn't known of the existence of this division, but, really, who is surprised by this?

Posted by: JayAckroyd on February 24, 2006 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

Okay, I read all of Kevin's bit. No doubt I'll have another comment after I read the Kaplan article.

I have a serious problem with the argument Kevin is refuting here:

Sure, it's possible that our presence can prevent Iraq from descending into an immediate, full-scale civil war, but Kaplan's own evidence seems to indicate that while we might be preventing immediate mayhem, we're not changing any of the underlying dynamics of Iraqi society, even at the margins.

If the civil war is inevitable, then it doesn't help to stay there and delay it from happening. Perhaps there may have been some faint, folorn, chimerical hope that these deep, longstanding divisions would somehow get worked out by the Parliament. That seems unthinkable to me at this point.

If the civil war is inevitable, then the sooner US pulls out and lets them have it, the better.

Posted by: JayAckroyd on February 24, 2006 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

The brighter among us (this number apparently not including Kevin) figured this out long ago and thus knew that invading Iraq was a stupid-ass move; hell, even Georgie the Elder was smart enough.

Posted by: tavella on February 24, 2006 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Shit, there's a not insignificant portion of the white south who are two steps from grabbing their muskets and repelling the northern aggressors. And that was supposedly resolved 150 years ago.

Thanks W. Embroiling the country in the worst of worst will effectively reinforce the ideals of the isolationists while convince people to abandon any thoughts of constructive US involvement. Darfur, anyone?

Posted by: ChrisS on February 24, 2006 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

brewmn:

My question needs to be answered, and preferably other than by infantile spewings. It came up in Bosnia, it's right in front of us in Africa, and it's going to come up other places in the future.

The miserable truth is that the main way such sectarian divisions have been successfully suppressed in the past is by brutal, dictatorial force. This is how it was done in Iraq, in Yugoslavia, and in other places. If you look closely at nations like Turkey and Egypt, how are they really handling potential sectarian uprisings?

One thing we are going to be finding out in Iraq is if there really is a third way or not.

Posted by: tbrosz on February 24, 2006 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Flanders: Does this mean there is no real point in outside forces dealing with sectarian violence anywhere in the world?

Does it bother you that you have almost no consistent positions on foreign policy at all, with the possible exception of "find out what Bush will do, and support it?"

Posted by: Stefan on February 24, 2006 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

One thing we are going to be finding out in Iraq is if there really is a third way or not.

Doubtful. Already the implementation of our Mesopotamian adventure is so profoundly fucked that war advocates (like yourself) have a ready-made special plea for the next genius move: "Oh, sure, Iraq was a disaster -- but this time we won't be as stupid as Bush and Rumsfeld."

Even as a test case, the Iraq fiasco brings us precisely nothing. The best we can hope for is disengagement before we piss away two trillion dollars -- we'll certainly squander at least one trillion, there....

Posted by: sglover on February 24, 2006 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

I knew it, we have become the praetorian guards of Iraq. The pay is lousy.

I hope we build an embassy bigger than the pyriamids. Leave this 20,000 year year monument for those idiots to stare at for eternety. They will think twice before having another religious disagreement.

Posted by: Matt on February 24, 2006 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

The miserable truth is that the main way such sectarian divisions have been successfully suppressed in the past is by brutal, dictatorial force. This is how it was done in Iraq, in Yugoslavia, and in other places.

Well...I think this is one of those selection problems. You're going to look at all the countries where sectarian divisions have been suppressed by force, and then any countries where they haven't used force, you'll say the sectarian divisions aren't really that serious.

Here are a few counterexamples:

Switzerland
Belgium
Ghana
India (force, sometimes, but not dictatorial, and most sectarian divisions are handled through the political system, not force)
Austria-Hungary

The last example, of course, is a prime example of loose federalism.

Posted by: brooksfoe on February 24, 2006 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

"My question needs to be answered, and preferably other than by infantile spewings."

And it makes perfect sense that you would ask it on a liberal blog site, rather than dare question your Dear Leader about it.

Posted by: brewmn on February 24, 2006 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

..... you have almost no consistent positions on foreign policy at all, with the possible exception of "find out what Bush will do, and support it?"

Game. Set. Match.

Posted by: lib on February 24, 2006 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Here are a few counterexamples:

To your list of counterexamples I would add Canada, Italy, France, Germany, Vietnam, the Philippines (force, but not dicatatorial, recently), Brazil, Britain, present-day South Africa, etc. All countries with significant ethnic/religious/sectarian divisions of one sort or another, but ones that are being held together without brutal, dictatorial force.

Posted by: Stefan on February 24, 2006 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

...but the Indians could not agree on one country for themselves and there was bloodshed and separation..

That's a anglo-centered account.

The British actually encouraged the Muslim League led by Jinnah to insist on the partition that led to the slaughter of a million people.

That's why I say that British have no moral authority in these kind of matters.

Posted by: lib on February 24, 2006 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

Well, yeah, but...a lot of these countries don't make very good analogies somehow. I think what you really want are countries where sectarian tensions have at some point led to really serious conflict, possibly violent, but which have then resolved or controlled those tensions without dictatorial force. Vietnam is frankly not a good example: the division was resolved through conquest and 10+ years of repression. Britain, similarly - a lot of bloodshed went into making the Welsh and Scots British. To say that the tensions in South Africa are overcome without violence is to ignore all the violence it took to get here (though in one way S. Africa and India seem to be a model which al-Sistani may be following: if you have massive superiority in numbers, you don't need to use violence, it's only a hindrance).

France...? Germany hasn't had serious sectarian tensions since the 30 Years' War, and that wasn't resolved nonviolently. (Or has it? Didn't the Prussian assimilation of the other states go pretty smoothly? Or am I off base here?)

I think the Netherlands and Yugoslavia may actually be the best examples, though neither is encouraging. In both places, people basically kept killing each other until they got completely fed up with it. (In Holland they stuck it out for 80 years, but then they're known for their persistence.)

Posted by: brooksfoe on February 24, 2006 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

To your list of counterexamples I would add Canada, Italy, France, Germany, Vietnam, the Philippines (force, but not dicatatorial, recently), Brazil, Britain, present-day South Africa, etc.

You forgot Belgium!

Posted by: craigie on February 24, 2006 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

I have just returned from Iraq and even though Mr. Hackett may not be from my branch of the service : I am mad as hell about what has transpired because he is a fellow soldier. The tactics that have been used against myself and other democratic candidates such as Mr. Pederson from Arizona, ever since we had announced our intentions to run for the U.S. Senate have taught me that our democracy is not always so democratic.

My family's benefits and income were threatened (and therefore they were threatened with being thrown out on the street) as well as myself being threatened with imprisonment in a federal pen for the rest of my life. Then just recently my state taxes were audited (supposedly) randomly while I was over in a combat zone and every penny was then taken straight out of my family's bank account. So, I have learned the hard way about so called American Democracy.

But I know one thing : They never should have attacked my family for now I will fight non-violently the fight to rescue the War on Terror from those who have hijacked it to enrich themselves and their corporate lackeys and who have therefore lowered the defenses of our nation. I will also demand that Mr. Murtha's plan on U.S. Soldiers being withdrawn be acted on with a quick reaction force being

I have just returned from Iraq and I still see the same lie being foisted upon you the American people. I have ridden first hand day by day either as gunner or driver in my Humvee for a year long tour of hell in Iraq where everyday you have to play Russian Roulette with your life. Imagine having someone place a 357 magnum pistol next to your head everyday and praying that it won't go off. Then you start to get a feel for what some of us soldiers feel who go out of the wire everyday in Iraq.

Of course you always hear that we volunteered to defend our country and place our lives on the line well that it is true but what we did not volunteer for was to be slaughtered like sheep. Here's an example of what I mean :

Anybody who drives down the roads of Iraq through its cities and villages will pass by whole stretches of road where slaughter markets for sheep rebound. The stench from these slaughtered sheep is so strong sometimes that it is all one can do not to vomit when passing them. The passerby will see these poor sheep writhing and twisting in pain as their throats are cut and it is truly a pitiful sight as they slowly die with no way to defend themselves as their blood drains out in the street.

Well, the reason I had to bring up that whole example is to dismiss the criticism that we soldiers should die like sheep. But that's not the way it's going to be told to you the American people. What I have just told you is only the tip of the iceberg if you knew everything you would even redouble your efforts to get my poor fellow soldiers out of this grand lie foisted on us by grand infamous liars.

I am not going to stand by as an American citizen and let this happen I will not be that citizen who says he was just following orders as the Nazi war criminals stated at Nuremburg. I am for fighting the War on Terror and not hijacking it to enrich my personal corporate donor friends and lackeys.

Our country is under attack from terrorist without and tyrants within.
Abraham Lincoln was right in his 1838 speech when he stated that the greatest danger that this country could face wouldn't be from the enemies outside of our country but from domestic tyrants inside it.

Of course now there are those fellow American citizens who wish to do those of us violence for telling the truth. If they carry out these acts of violence against us: the People who wish to bring back our soldiers from this lying hell in Iraq then they are no different from the foreign terrorist who tried to kill me and my fellow soldiers in Iraq. The only difference will be that they will have become domestic terrorist instead of foreign ones in the vein of Timothy McVeigh.
The people that I follow are those who made our country an even better democracy through non-violence and the fact that "Right" was on their side, people such as Dr. Martin Luther King and Caeser Chaverz.

I will be officially running for the U.S. Senate as of March 29, 2006 and I will not officially campaign for it until that date. As of now I am not a candidate but will be in 33 days. (unless of course there accidents that just happen to stop me along the way, you know what I mean : arrest, jack booted thugs at the door in the middle of the night.
my views do not represent the U.S. government nor the Department of Defense

Leonard Clark
Kindergarten teacher
and damned liberal
(always the damned liberal)

Posted by: leonard clark on February 24, 2006 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

Leonard, stop that! You're ruining the war for the 101st Fighting Keyboarders!

Posted by: craigie on February 24, 2006 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

The British actually encouraged the Muslim League led by Jinnah to insist on the partition that led to the slaughter of a million people.

That's why I say that British have no moral authority in these kind of matters.
Posted by: lib

Kinda the way the Brits poisoned the well in the partition of Palestine? Indefensible borders and what not.

The best thing that can be said about the British colonial experience is that any atrocity or outrage they visited on any overseas possession only reflected their prior dealings with the Scots, Irish, and Welsh.

Posted by: CFShep on February 24, 2006 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Al, they are not terrorists, the are the former regime, the former government looking to get their government back. I too have hopes that the two side will stair down at the black abyss of civil war and pull back.

Posted by: the fake Fake Al on February 24, 2006 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

My question needs to be answered, and preferably other than by infantile spewings

You mean, like accusing Bush's critics here of rooting for America's failure in Iraq?

You've never apologized for that loasthsome remark, but I double-dog dare you to say that again, tbrosz. Shame on you.

Posted by: Gregory on February 24, 2006 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

"stair down at the black abyss of civil war"

As opposed to, say, the escalator?

Posted by: CFShep on February 24, 2006 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK
Does this mean there is no real point in outside forces dealing with sectarian violence anywhere in the world?

What "this" are you referring to? Clearly the fact that Kaplan argues that Iraq has become hopelessly divided between Sunni and Shia doesn't mean anything like that, even if one assumes, for the moment, that it is a perfectly accurate assessment of the present situation in Iraq.

Your frequent tack of responding to issues with vague questions about, at best, tangentially relevant broad generalities is near-idiocy, and your pretense that it some kind of intelligent, thoughtful, serious challenge that deserves a response beyond derision is, itself, laughable.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 24, 2006 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz, " Does this mean there is no real point in outside forces dealing with sectarian violence anywhere in the world?"

It means that if we're going into a situation of civil war, or imminent civil war, we have to go in with overwhelming force and careful consideration of who's who, what they're looking for and the clearest way of achieving it.

In Iraq, it just won't work trying to keep the Shia and Sunnis together, and I think anyone who really wanted to try could have seen that well in advance.

Posted by: cld on February 24, 2006 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

What's that? A liberal thinks we can't succeed in Iraq?

Well wonders never cease.

Posted by: Birkel on February 24, 2006 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

Your frequent tack of responding to issues with vague questions about, at best, tangentially relevant broad generalities is near-idiocy, and your pretense that it some kind of intelligent, thoughtful, serious challenge that deserves a response beyond derision is, itself, laughable.

True of course, but it does mean one thing: It means even tbrosz has realized that Bush's policy is hopeless no matter how much he claps, and so he hopes to distract for his enthusiastic support of this disaster with vague, existential questions.

Really deep, man. Also cowardly.

Posted by: Gregory on February 24, 2006 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

I think the only good solution is to pay another country to go liberate Iraq from us. This time, they go in with a full security force, and with massive investment in rebuilding the country, using local labor.

It needs to be somebody new though, someone the Iraqi's have no experience with. I wonder what China would charge? They've got a ton of manpower. Does Iceland have a standing army? Sure, not a lot of troops, but there's not a lot of historical anti-Iceland bias in the region.

Posted by: Mysticdog on February 24, 2006 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

It may not be too late for the US military to start working directly toward helping them create separate secure societies.


The problem in the Sudan is actually not as difficult because the ethnic and geographical questions aren't as complex, and the Sudanese military isn't nearly on the par with what they have in Iraq.

If we landed even a fraction of the forces into Darfur as we have in Iraq that would pretty much end it over night.

Posted by: cld on February 24, 2006 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK
My question needs to be answered, and preferably other than by infantile spewings.

Your question is an infantile spewing.

It came up in Bosnia, it's right in front of us in Africa, and it's going to come up other places in the future.

I think that the first example is debatable; while there were sectarian divisions, one can argue whether they were the principal source of the strife or whether they merely happened to corrolate strongly with the nationalistic divisions which were what had principally been suppressed and erupted with the collapse of the ability of the central authority in Yugoslavia to control the centrifugal forces there.

Whatever the source of strife there, though, the intervention there has not been pointless, nor was it as fraught with failure as Iraq, so it would seem to stand against the position you are attempting to suggest that all such missions are fundamentally equivalent and the appearance of collapse in Iraq must, if accepted, imply that all such missions are doomed and pointless.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 24, 2006 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

To your list of counterexamples I would add Canada, Italy, France, Germany, Vietnam, the Philippines (force, but not dicatatorial, recently), Brazil, Britain, present-day South Africa, etc.


Heh, heh. You forgot Poland. Heh.

Posted by: George on February 24, 2006 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

But I don't think we should intervene in Darfur, or stay in Iraq. It would be great if Europe, or even China, could intervene in Darfur, but I don't think we should, because I've just read this,

http://www.weedenco.com/welling/lilogo.asp


"Real unemployment right nowfigured the way that the average person thinks of unemployment, meaning figured the way it was estimated back during the Great Depressionis running about 12%. Real CPI right now is running at about 8%. And the real GDP probably is in contraction. . . .

during the Clinton Administration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, on its own, changed the weighting method for the CPI. It had been constructed using arithmetic weightings, which meant doing things the way most people would add and subtract and divide. The BLS changed it to a geometric weighting, which has the benefit that if something goes up in price, it automatically gets a lower weight, and if it goes down in price, it automatically gets a higher weight. That change was implemented over a period of several years. The rationale was that it was a way of approximating the substitution effect. But it isnt. I mean, it is just a pure mathematical game. In the second Bush Administration, they introduced what they call the chained, or C-CPI-U, as an alternate CPI measure. And this measure, the C-CPI-U, is a direct measure of the substitution effect. It is running a half a percent-to a percent below the official CPIwhich itself is running, oh, about 2.7% below where it was before the weighting changes were made in the Clinton Administration. All in all, if you were to peel back changes that were made in the CPI going back to the Carter years, youd see that the CPI would now be 3.5%-4% higher. The difference that it makes is significant: if the same CPI were used today as was used when Jimmy Carter was President, Social Security checks would be 70% higher. . .

if you look at 2005, the official deficit was reported at around $319 billion. Using generally accepted accounting principles, the 2005 Financial Report of the U.S. Government published by the U.S. Treasury, showed a deficit of $760 billion. Thats without considering Social Security and Medicare. However, in the 2004 reports management discussion and analysis section, the Bush II Administration basically said, Hey, guys, youd better be aware of how these numbers work. Where the official federal deficit in 2004 was reported at about $412 billion, and the GAAP-based deficit was around $616 billion, they said that if you added in the net present value of the underfunding of Social Security and Medicare, the one-year deficit in 2004 was $11.1 trillion. Thats trillion, not billion. That amounted to almost 100% of GDP at the time. Now, that $11 trillion included a one-time spike of about $8 trillion, to account for what Congress and the President did in setting up the Medicare drug benefit without funding it going forward. But you can see that if you back out that one-time charge, that on a GAAP basis, accounting for Social Security and Medicare, in 2003 the deficit was around $3.7 trillion; in 2004 it was $3.4 trillion; and in 2005 it was $3.5 trillion. Weve had three years in a row here where the GAAP deficit has been basically $3.5 trillion. So the deficit and the total obligations of the federal government are increasing by roughly the amount of GDP every three years. In fact, the fiscal 2005 statement shows that total federal obligations at the end September were $51 trillion; over four times the level of GDP. . . ."


And it gets worse. Can anyone refute this?

Posted by: cld on February 24, 2006 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

And it gets worse. Can anyone refute this?
Posted by: cld

Nope. Check out this:

"He notes that with the U.S. current account deficit running at about $900 billion in 2006, "in a matter of a few years foreigners may end up owning most of the U.S. capital stocks: ports, factories, corporations, land, real estate and even our national parks." Until recently, he writes, the United States has been financing its trade deficit through debt -- namely, by selling U.S. Treasury securities to foreign central banks. That's scary enough -- as it has given big T-bill holders such as China and Saudi Arabia the ability to punish the U.S. dollar if they decide to unload their reserves.

But as Roubini says, foreigners may decide they would rather hold their dollars in equity investments than in U.S. Treasury debt. "If we continue with our current patterns of spending above our incomes, by 2013 the U.S. foreign liabilities could be as high as 75 percent of GDP and an increasing fraction of such liabilities will be in the form of equity," he explains. "So, let us stop whining about the dangers of unfriendly foreigners owning our firms and assets and get used to it."

Here's how bad it is: The worst thing that could happen to the United States, paradoxically, would be for Arab and other foreign investors to take us at our xenophobic word and decide that America doesn't really want foreign investment. If they pulled out their money, U.S. financial markets would plummet in a crash that might make 1929 look like a sleigh ride."

washingtonpost.com http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/23/AR2006022301412_pf.html
Taste of the Future

By David Ignatius
Friday, February 24, 2006

Posted by: CFShep on February 24, 2006 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

Birkel,

In your sarcastic post about a liberal, you remind me of a scene from "All Quiet on the Western Front" - The young German soldier, Paul Baumer, has returned to his old classroom. When asked by the teacher to tell them about the front, he proceeds to convey the horrors of the bloodbath. The teacher becomes enraged, accuses him of not being a True German, and tells him to get out.

"The truth - You can't handle the truth"

Posted by: thethirdPaul on February 24, 2006 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK


I understand the economic argument is that fereners own everything, our current account deficit is in the gazillions, and Bush spends fat Teddy on a drunk?

Is that it?

OK, question. If the fereners own everything, so what, we buy from the Chinese.

Posted by: Matt on February 24, 2006 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

keith, above, when you say that "Iraq is corrupt, divided, and hopelessly sectarian" -- couldn't we just as well say that about the U.S.?

Posted by: brkily on February 24, 2006 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

Matt, you must rent.

Posted by: cld on February 24, 2006 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

aldo optimistic is Victor Davis Hanson:

http://www.nationalreview.com/hanson/hanson200602240629.asp

Posted by: republicrat on February 24, 2006 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

Hmmm, let me see - Someone not very knowledgable about current events, blurry on events from 30 to 40 years ago, not very informed about the American Civil War of over 140 years ago.

BUT, I'm to supposed to believe his word as Gospel for the Pelopponesian War from 431-401 B.C.

Another reason Dead-Eye Dick is so ill informed.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on February 24, 2006 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

" Can anyone refute this?"

I can. Under the old additive CPI system, if, say, oranges went up 100% and later went down 50% - leaving the price the same, for the mathematically challenged multitude - the CPI registered inflation. When there wasn't any. Lettuce, oranges, peaches, every seasonal commodity was generating inflation out of nothing. So they fixed it, and you complain.
Pfui.

Posted by: gcochran on February 24, 2006 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't read the Kaplan piece. However, it might be worth having 10 years breathing space before yet another crisis, even if it's unavoidable. And a lot can happen in 10 years, so maybe it isn't. Which isn't to say we should do it. But it can't be discounted as an argument in favor as simply as you have.

Posted by: larry birnbaum on February 24, 2006 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK
Under the old additive CPI system, if, say, oranges went up 100% and later went down 50% - leaving the price the same, for the mathematically challenged multitude - the CPI registered inflation.

That's not right. An arithmetic mean system and a geometric mean system will both register no inflation between any two points when all components have the same prices, no matter what fluctuations happen in between. Neither system is path-dependent in a way that intermediate fluctuations would create phantom inflation.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 24, 2006 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

It might have been helpful had there been - you know - a single high-ranking official in the Bush administration or on the civilian side of the Pentagon that understood a damn thing about the forces shaping the post-Cold War World.

Democracy was not going to be troublesome thing in Iraq because Arabs or Muslims are incapable of it, but because Iraq was a young geographical and historical fiction that hadn't yet cohered around a set of national institutions, a national identity, and culture. Successful democracies tend to grow out of successful nation-states and Iraq was never a successful nation-state.

The process of nation building took centuries in the European West, involving some combination of turning Lords into Earls, unifying wars against other nation-states (England and France weren't really countries until the 100 Year War), the often brutal (but successful) suppression of ethnic and religious minorities, and the creation of national institutions and a common national culture.

The Arab-Muslim world is dotted with other Iraqs, and while we ought not be surprised to find that the present political order is unsustainable, we also ought not be surprised if other countries descend into anarchy and sectarian violence.

Posted by: The Blue Nomad on February 24, 2006 at 8:12 PM | PERMALINK

Part of the function of a prospective third branch of Congress as described by cmdicely a few weeks ago would be to keep numbers, such as described in the above cited interview, straight.

Posted by: cld on February 24, 2006 at 8:47 PM | PERMALINK

Rather, his article persuaded me that the American presence is hopelessly ineffectual and increasingly pointless. Sure, it's possible that our presence can prevent Iraq from descending into an immediate, full-scale civil war, but Kaplan's own evidence seems to indicate that while we might be preventing immediate mayhem, we're not changing any of the underlying dynamics of Iraqi society, even at the margins.

I must be frickin' Nostradamus, because apparently unlike Kevin, I knew all this would be the case back in February 2003. Seriously, did it really take a genius or some Iraq expert to anticipate that this would become a nightmarish national boondoggle? I don't think so, because I sure as hell ain't one.

Then again, I did play "Iraq" in the mock UN in my high school international relations class, so maybe I learned a thing or two that stuck with me from 1986.

Posted by: Irony Man on February 25, 2006 at 12:35 AM | PERMALINK

"WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The only Iraqi battalion capable of fighting without U.S. support has been downgraded to a level requiring them to fight with American troops backing them up, the Pentagon said Friday."

http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/02/24/iraq.security/index.html

So now that the Iraqis are standing down, its time for us to . . . uh . . . nevermind.

Posted by: Joel on February 25, 2006 at 8:06 AM | PERMALINK

>Absent the Americans, he says, Baghdad would be transformed into another Beirut.

I have no stomach for the normal hawk swill, but it's interesting that this pull-quote picks Beirut as an example... did any of you who slogged thru it see if he mentioned how Beriut's civil war ended?

'Cause there you are, Tbrosz, your example: an external power stopping an internal civil war. Of course, since said power was Syria (go ahead as you've been trained: boo!! hiss!!) you guys can't face it. One of those damn shades of gray, worse, that whole "march of history" in which there are no answers that can be fixed in time. Syria in Beriut then, somewhat a good thing, to be there this long, somewhat a bad thing.

Shakes the right wing to its core: nothing is simple enough for their sluggish brains to process throughly. Better go back to watching John Wayne movies, guys. The real world has no scriptwriters. It just follows its own brutal logic: no Deus Ex Machina, sorry.

And the reason Kaplan brings this up is at least his subconcious is screaming that the highest-probability end game is looking pretty clear at this point: We clear out, and in the next act Baghdad takes the part of Beriut, and Iran takes the part of Syria.

And 20 years later they have to pull out as Iraqis march around with pictures of (safely deceased) Saddam making him sound like he was their Reagan or something.

The point of the entire exercise? There will be no point. Nobody will learn shit from it despite the fact that the whole thing will make WWI look like a sensible exercise.

Posted by: doesn't matter on February 25, 2006 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

Well, on the bright side a world-wide Shiite, Sunni clash might distract them from everyone else.

I'm still not sure that the US's position as critical to both sides to prevent a bloodbath, isn't something it can use to bargain for turnover of foreign fighters.

It just needs to demonstrate it can delicately stay out of the way of Sunni-Shiite violence if the Sunni's treat them like shit.

In Game Theory (and the British Raj), being the third party between two implacable opponents gives you the balance of power. As long as you can shift - you own the game.

Posted by: McA on February 27, 2006 at 6:12 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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