Monday, April 23, 2007

The Costanza Administration

Michael Fullilove has written a piece in the Financial Times that pretty much sums up the modus operandi of the current administration. George Costanza, the ne'er do well friend of Jerry in the Seinfeld series, had a brainstorm one episode to “do the opposite” of every one of his impulses. He reasoned that since he has been so unsuccessful with women, his career and his relationships, that out of desperation, what would it hurt to be as counter-intuitive as possible?

Like Costanza, George W. Bush seems to be “doing the opposite”, and like Costanza, such a strategy works for a while, but then inevitably ends in disaster. Unlike Costanza, however, Bush's disaster is not just personal, but rather is lived upon our entire nation and most of the world. Fullilove writes: its geopolitical incarnation, adherents to the Costanza doctrine cast aside many of the fundamental tenets they learnt at staff college or graduate school. Let me name a few.

First, military and diplomatic resources are finite and should be directed towards your greatest priority. An example of the opposite approach would be for a country that has been attacked by a non-state terrorist group to retaliate by removing a state regime that had nothing to do with the attack.

Second, take care not to weaken your intimidatory powers through poor military performance. Aim for short, sharp victories (such as that in the 1991 Gulf war) that get your adversaries worrying about the extent of US power. The opposite would be to launch a war of choice involving the drawn-out occupation of an Arab country – the kind of thing that gets your allies worrying about the limits of US power.

Third, you get by with help from friends. Although the powerful are sometimes tempted to go it alone, international support helps determine the perceived legitimacy of an action, which affects its risk and costs. Building this support requires discussion and compromise. The opposite would be to spurn real negotiations, slough off your allies, bin multilateral agreements you do not like and declare that you are not bound by the rules that govern everyone else.

Fourth, state-building is hard. Few of the international efforts at state-building since the cold war’s end have succeeded. Luckily there are numberless reports identifying lessons learnt. The alternative would be to do the opposite of what those reports recommend, for example by deploying insufficient troops and dismantling any extant national institutions such as the army.

Fifth, democracy is a blessing that requires patient nurturing. The opposite approach would be to seek to impose democracy by force of arms on a population traumatised by decades of vicious and totalitarian rule.

Sixth, politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If two dangerous states are struggling for dominance of a strategic region, maintaining a balance between them may be the least worst option. The opposite would be to emasculate one of them, thereby greatly increasing the relative power of the other.

Finally, historians often cite the need for prudence in international relations, quoting the physician’s dictum: “First, do no harm.” The opposite would be: “Don’t think too much, just chance your arm and see what happens!”

I part with Fullilove's opinion, however, when he states that the Costanza Doctrine is based on “hope.” I would argue that nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, the “Opposite” Theory is based on laziness, ineptitude and lack of introspection; and his decisions are made out of desperation. Like Costanza, Bush has lived a life of failure and lacks the proper self-realization to correct his deficiencies.

“...and you want to be my latex salesman.”

Saturday, April 21, 2007

McCain's Inharmonious Song Stylings

That sound you hear is the McCain Straight Talk Express going “boom.”

One of the more poignant bloggers today is The Cunning Realist. Aside from his less than humble name, he/she has an uncanny way of finding the appropriate analogy to a current event. The latest flap involving Senator McCain's joke about bombing Iran left me reticent to jump on the left-leaning bandwagon of castigation. Was is merely an off-hand remark-- a joke-- served up as red meat for the faithful at a campaign event? Perhaps.

But TCR put a nice frame on it:

Scenario: China, the world's preeminent superpower, invades and occupies Canada on a false pretense and lets it descend into civil war. The U.S., a developing nation without nuclear weapons, watches from next door. Then a senior Chinese official who could soon be the country's next president starts singing songs about "bombing the U.S." at political rallies. He gets laughs and applause.

As an American, would you or would you not demand that Washington develop the ultimate deterrent against that madness?

There may have been a time when the United States had some moral authority in the world, and we can debate as to when such authority began to wane: our imperial conquests during the Spanish-American War, the displacement of millions of Palestinians in 1948, our overthrow of various popular leaders in 1953 Iran, 1960's Central America and Vietnam, our attempted coup in 1961 Cuba, or our continued misadventures in nation-building.

Regardless, from any perspective outside of our own jingoist self-aggrandizement, the current US foreign policy is a disaster of epic proportion. This may be how empires end. I'm not a historian, but I can imagine some Roman Senator in 300 or 400 CE joking about the perceived ineptitude of the barbarian Visigoths to the loud guffaws of his civilized constituents. Administration apologists, of which McCain is one, are quick to show much feigned concern for how dissent will play into our enemies' hands. How do jokes about pointless aggression and murder play?

John McCain's past history puts him clearly in the category of hero. He has my respect for his past service to our country, his unquestioned loyalty and bravery so many years ago. But a President McCain? I think not.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

ACE !!!!

White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle threw a no-hitter tonight against the Texas Rangers as fans cheered on the cold Southside. The only base runner for the Rangers was Sammy Sosa who was walked and then was promptly picked off by the Sox southpaw.

Sox hitting, moribund thus far this season, finally came through with Jim Thome hitting two solo home runs and Jermaine Dye adding a grand slam. Great fielding saved the day with no errors and a couple close calls picked up by Juan Uribe at shortstop and Joe Crede at third base.

The Rangers, once owned by George W. Bush, looked as hapless tonight as the president has these past few years, and were unable to mount any type of offensive surge against the Sox hurler. This was the first no-hitter for a White Sox pitcher since Wilson Alvarez threw an ace in 1991.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sadrists Reload as Virginia Mourns

For anyone who still thinks that the Iraq war is going swimmingly, yesterday we learned that Moqtada al Sadr (pictured at right, in poster) has effectively pulled out of the government. The militia leader, who reportedly has a 60,000 man armed force, ordered his six of the 38 Parliament representatives to leave and go home.

I realize that this news may have been lost in the horror at Virginia Tech, but for the average Iraqi, disasters like VT's occur daily in every province. Now, with the Sadrist secession, we have ensured that more violence will be directed at US forces and anyone who cooperates with us. Just yesterday, 51 Iraqis were killed or found dead, and for a country one-tenth the size of the US, that would be comparable to over 500 in the US. Where's the outrage?

As terrible as the killings at Virginia Tech are, Americans are confident that they are an aberration which will be corrected with awareness and added security. The likelihood of this incident spinning into a regional war is zero. In Iraq, such violence has become a way of life, and is increasing with no end in sight. At some point, a tipping point is reached with such violence. The factions avenge old grudges, demagogues appeal to the basest instincts, armies are created to grab land and resources, civilians are killed in spite and the educated middle class leaves. And Bush sends a few more soldiers to stoke the flames.

I don't know the answers for Iraq. But I also know that Bush doesn't either. Every day that goes by, we are dug in even deeper and every decision made the last five years has been the wrong one. Every single one. So I'm pretty confident that the next one will be wrong, too.

We mourn our dead in Virginia (at left) and try to gain some insight as to how this could happen so we can prevent another such incident.

In Iraq, they are still in the midst of an escalating firefight and our leaders have no clue.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Abstinence Goes Out of Style

I am shocked (shocked !) to hear that Paul Wolfowitz (shown at left, sans wedding band), the head of the World Bank, is having sex!?! After all, the President's (recently discredited) program for sex education says that birth control is not appropriate and abstinence is the only option outside of marriage. Maybe there is a special dispensation for sex with postmenopausal women, which would likely get Wolfowitz off the hook.... and... in which case Condi Rice must be getting ready to bust her move pretty soon. I'll have to read the official White House guidelines on that.

Several years ago, comedian and future Senator Al Franken asked administration officials to give their “abstinence testimonials”, explaining how they remained celibate before marriage, as a public service to promote a healthy lifestyle for teens and young adults. I'm not sure if he had any takers, but certainly this most recent news from Wolfowitz will set back the practice of abstinence decades. I had visions of entire towns and states with virginal young people dutifully heeding Dear Leader's mandate and saving themselves for marriage: just imagine, no sexually transmitted diseases, no unwanted pregnancies. None.

Ahh the rapture of it all. But now this! The horrors! What will the kids think? And who will explain it to them?

Since abstinence is the only option in the sex ed curriculum espoused by the President, I find it hard to believe that Mr. Wolfowitz would actually shake his groove thing with another human being. If we expect that overtly hyperhormonal teens can be abstinent, then why can't we expect the same from a responsible government official? And head of the World Bank, no less. What will the rest of the world think?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Peeking Over The Precipice

Logging on to Google News today, these are the top six stories. Perhaps Google is a participant in the Great Liberal Media Conspiracy (TM).

No embellishment. The stories speak for themselves:

Large anti-US rally held in Iraq

Iran 'closer to nuclear weapons'

Commentary: Immigration plan unites far right and far left

Gingrich urges Gonzales to quit

U.S. Senator calls for engaging Syria

New Book Shows Bleak Outlook for Iraq Because of US Mismanagement

Each of these stories is representative of some aspect of the Bush administration's rank incompetence on various issues: occupation, diplomacy and immigration. And this is a random sample on a given day.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Fred Upton Drifts Off to Sleep Again

I knew Fred Upton couldn't stay awake.

A while ago, Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) was showing some signs of lucidity by recognizing that George W. Bush's “surge” is a recipe for continued disaster. In February I praised Upton when he said: [Bush's] surge strategy will fail and only prolong the day that the Iraqis will finally pick up the baton and lead their own government.

He continued in his Congressional floor speech:

Let's face it, this is a civil war, it is real anarchy. And, in fact, the Iraqis don't want us there. Nearly 80 percent of them in Baghdad say that American troops provoke more violence than they prevent. And those same polls show that Iraqis overwhelmingly want U.S. troops gone within a year. In fact, we know that a majority of both sides, Shia and Sunni, believe that it's okay to kill our troops.
So imagine my surprise when Mr. Upton inexplicably voted against the latest war funding bill last week and cited the provision to reduce troop numbers as the source of his discontent. Most recently, Upton said:
"Setting goals for success is one thing, setting a date in stone for withdrawal is another. I firmly believe that such a date not only puts our troops in grave danger, it also allows the insurgents to plot their strategy."

What would you be in favor of? The Iraqis have missed every goal set for success, every single benchmark over the past four years. Their soldiers are not trained, their government is not stable, their streets are not safe, their neighbors are not supportive, their police force is corrupt. In short, there are no signs that the US presence has done anything but add to the chaos.

Mr. Upton, if this is “real anarchy”, and if the Iraqis “overwhelmingly” want us out, and if you agree that “American troops provoke more violence”, then why would you oppose a redeployment of our men and women out of that hell-hole?

If you don't agree with a troop increase and you don't agree with a troop decrease, then what do you agree to?

Stay the course?

Go back to sleep, Fred, you're embarrassing yourself.

Unemployment Should Start Here

I'm all for asserting Constitutional rights and protection against self-incrimination certainly should be respected, but I also find it somewhat odd that an aide to the Attorney General, a woman who works as liaison to the White House, cannot answer a few simple questions from the people who pay her salary.

Perhaps Monica Goodling should exercise her Fifth Amendment right as a civilian and not as a government employee and certainly not as an officer of the Justice Department.

Maybe Pat Robertson can hire her back at her Alma Mater.

UPDATE 4/6/07: She's gone. Time to grab some pine and wait for Pat's call.

Mr President, Shut Up and Sign This Bill

Let's be clear. The Congressional bill to fund the Iraq war would do exactly that: fund the war. The president needs to thank Congress for the favor and sign it.

Let's be clear. Previous war funding bills all have had outside appropriations, i.e., “pork.” The last one was written by Republicans and was chock full of bacon. There is no such thing as a “clean bill” and there never will be.

Let's be clear. The Iraq Study Group called for a draw down of troops. Every poll in the last 8 months has shown that up to 70% of Americans are in favor of a troop reduction. Three-quarters of Iraq's population want US troops out of Iraq. For the president to act shocked shocked that a Congressional funding bill would include a redeployment provision is the ultimate in disingenuousness. If the president were truly concerned with funding the war, he would have engaged Congressional leaders long before the bills were signed and delivered to his desk.

The argument over funding the war is begging for a compromise with some timetable and concrete benchmarks for the Iraqis to follow. For the president to ignore this reality and then become petulant only after he doesn't get his way puts our nation's credibility, whatever shreds may remain, at risk.