Tuesday, December 21, 2004


today's wls editorial makes a point I have made myself on a number of occasions: the thing we are fighting in Iraq is the former regime. The reason we are having such trouble defeating it is that it is more like a mafia than a state.

This is something I think can't be overemphasized. The mistake that humans are prone to make is to put themselves in the opponent's shoes. That is a mistake in the case of a regime like the one we are fighting. More specifically, I think we have made a sort of category error in the case of Iraq. We have assumed that since they have a seat in UN and exist within lines on a map that it is a state. But the Baath party never governed through the organs of the state. It governed through a kinship based mafia. Taking over the government buildings and organs of state are only a slight impediment to its power. It is like the FBI thinking it has taken down the Soprano family by running them out of Satrialla's butcher shop.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

the problem

why didn't we anticipate the insurgency? because when you are figuring out how a war will go you think what you would do in the enemy's situation. In the formal war we could ask what would we do against the tank army that we sent into Iraq. Well it turns out that we think a lot like Iraqi tank commaders but we have better tanks. on that basis we out thought as well as out fought the enemy. But the next stage of the war was something that we couldn't anticipate for the simple reason that no American could put himself in the shoes of the insurgents. the situation that the iraqi insurgents are in is not one that American commanders would ever be in. American commanders can imagine facing a superior force. American commanders cannot imagine trying to impose a dictatorship on thier own country. they cannot imagine a strategy of trying to create deaths in order to frustraite the democratic will of their own people. they cannot imagine simple killing for the sake of the nightly news. even when they put themselves in the shoes of the enemy they mistakenly import some unstated and in the case of the Iraqi insurgents an incorrect assumption. they assume that their enemies are, like them, men.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

John Le Carre

just finished the latest John Le Carre novel. Lost two days of my life to it. Couldn't put it down. The thing that is so odd is that I found myself in almost complete agreement with all of his observations on politics until practically the last 10 pages when everything turns out to be an American plot. It is kind of disturbing when someone that you agree with on so much about life and politics has one point on which you just drop your jaw and say "What?" The plot by the Americans involves elaborate deception and plenty of cold-blooded murder to manipulate European and especially German public opinion. Compared to what Le Carre has the Americans doing planting a few WMD in Iraq would have been child's play.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Peace in the Middle East

All the people that are saying there is no chance for democracy in Iraq are always ready to give the Palestinians another chance. I feel just the opposite. I am quite ready to believe that the Iraqis can pull it off but really see no evidence the Palestinians are ready to do anything but give temporary cease fires on the road to destoying Israel. Of course both sides are obliged to say why they are optimists about democracy for one people and not for the other.
I can't say I have an answer that I find completely satisfying myself. The starting point must be that Democracy is only as good as the will that it reflects. Ultimately, the only thing that the bulk of Iraqis want is to have a normal country within recognized borders. Democracy can only decide things after you have drawn a line around the polity, after you have made the decision that makes it possible to answer the question, "a majority of what?" The problem with the Palestinians is that they want their country within someone else's recognized borders. The basic issue, majority of what, has not been agreed upon. And democracy offers no way to decide it.


It is quite amazing to listen to this kurfluffle about Kerrick. People seem to have agreed that he would be great for the job and that he should have told Bush earlier before his name was even put in nomination.
Now how important is it that we have homeowners checking the IDs of people that work for them? What about all the people that were willing to defend Clinton on the basis of the argument that the nation's interests are more important than some silly rule? If the nanny problem is so severe that he should not be offerred the job would it not be grounds for taking the job away from if he already had it? And if we are going to fire people on that basis from government why not from the private sector? And aren't the same people demanding the head of anyone that has employed someone who subsequently turns out to have been illegal also blocking an ID card that would make it practicable to verify someone's status?
Of course we have no intention of holding people to this standard, it is just something we do for people in really important jobs.

Rumsfeld vs. Bush

Everyone is praising how Bush answered the armor question in contrast to the "cold and callous" way it was handled by Rumsfeld. I have to say I disagree. I think that Rumsfeld is once again in trouble for being honest.
It reminds me of the Dukaukis debate debacle where in response to a hypothetical question about the death penalty involving the rape and murder of his wife the governor didn't miss a beat and went straight into his standard, "I don't believe the death penalty is a deterent" answer. He was faulted for not showing enough emotion, as if a professional politician is supposed to get choked up everytime he has one of the million and two variants of the "what if it was one of yours?" question thrown at him.
I was reminded of the interview with Tom Wolfe on Cspan the other night where he recounted his first meeting with Chuck Yeager. Yeager was late for the meeting because he was investigating a fatal crash that had taken place that morning in his command. Wolfe solemly made his condolences, to which Yeager replied, "Aww, you give these boys these planes and they will crack them up." That is the way a professional military man reacts to death.
I am glad that one of the people in the Bush administration is able to strut is emotions for the TV babies, but I am even more happy that the people making the real decisions (one hopes) have enough self-respect not to bother.

Sinn Fein

So Sinn Fein is balking at having its disarmerment photographed, cliaming it would be humiliating. Well, I thought that democratic parties are proud to not be paramilitary organizations? Indeed, insulted at the suggestion they have a stockpile of arms at ready for when the electoral process yeilds an outcome they don't like?

But the real sticking point is the public decommissioning of their weapons. The reason they don't want to do that is the same reason that Sadaam wouldn't, the value is the uncertainty. As long as people do not know for a fact that they don't have them then they can threaten thier opponents with them and have the benefit of having them. The free world must learn that the burden of proof must be on the terroists, not the other way around. Uncertainty favors the violent. The public demonstration of the fact is more important than the fact itself.

Libertarians' reading habits

Instapundit's reading list is out. It reminds me why I am not a libertarian. They all seem like highschool boys to me. It is all science fiction and alternative history. It is a way to structure the fantasy lives of middle-aged men. The writing is so thin, all movie script direction. That seems to me a good description of most of what passes for libertarian political thought as well. Free love, low taxes and good drugs. Aging teenage male fantasy.

real power

real power is the power to ignore. Big media used to have it, now they don't. Two terrific stories from real clear politics roundup:

How Daschle Got Blogged - John Fund, Wall St. Journal
All the News That Fits Their Spin - Chris Weinkopf, The American Enterprise

The point of the two is that media no longer is the gate keeper. They can no longer decide what is a story and what isn't. This is why all of those studies of media bias kept coming up empty. They looked for things that were said. They would count up the adjectives that came along with the names of conservatives and compared them to the ones that were paired with liberals and would hyperventilate about who was called "hard-line" and who was called a "committed activist" as if anyone out there cared who Dan Rather was telling them to like. The real power of the media was to be able to decide that Bush maybe missing a physical was news while Kerry's words coming in handy for the tortures of American POWs--the brothers that were not invited to report for duty at Kerrython--was not news. The most effective point at which to deal with political conflict is before it starts, as E. E. Shattschneider reminds us. The most effective way to bias the news it to decide that it isn't news.


I mean, really, saying something will be a turning point one way or the other is saying little more than that is will be important. Now it is one thing to say that something is important when no one else is paying attention to it is one thing, but standing out there in front of the huddle masses of the international press core and say, "I argue, that this event is important," is a little redundent.


Can't blow up those nukes, no, no. Isolate us in the world.
If the choice is between 3 billion unemployed European students accross Europe spending their weekends burning Bush in effigy and 3 guys in Teheran having a nuclear weapon I think we should, without hesitation, choose the former.


Big risk taking pundit watch, "In November, as the attack on Fallujah began, I argued that it would be a turning point, one way or another." Or, after this happens, something else will happen. Thanks, Fareed, that was very brave of you. A true disciple of Yogi, never make predictions, especially about the future, Bera. Fareed's corrallary: unless you confine yourself to the prediction that there will be a future. After all, if you are wrong, who is going to call you on it?

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


I have very firm principles, it is just hard to specify them in advance.

Saturday, December 04, 2004


Gid Powers, talking about the FBI, mentions that child porn is so addictive that the agents monitoring have to be examined every 6 weeks to see that they aren't becoming dependent on it themselves. What does this tell us. I think that kiddy porn is one of those things that I, at least, just don't get. It is one of those moral wrongs that seems so abberant that we are inclined not to think of it as a moral wrong since to have the desire to see it in the first place is prima facia evidence of a disorder. But if people like the kind of people that the FBI has in the job can be susceptable to this then what can the regular exposure to pornography to average people lead to?

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

There is a simple solution and its wrong

People think that it is odd that the proposed solution to the problem of group think is to put people in a bigger group. That is true but the real worry about the 9/11 commission report is the people that it leaves out of the big box it is trying to draw around intelligence collection. The people that didn’t communicate are the ones that are left out of the reorganization. The FBI.

This is no accident. The reorganization fails for the same reason that the reorganization was necessary in the first place. The structure is mean to ignore problems, to make them go away. The whole set up of our bureaucracy is an instance of what James March would have called solution of a problem by flight, by not solving the problem.

What he meant by that was that there are some trade-offs that we don’t want to face. The trade-off between security and personal privacy is one of them. The trade-off is avoided by putting the two goals in two different organizations. The FBI pursues security with maximum solicitude for personal privacy and without worrying about the effects on privacy, the CIA pursues security without worrying about privacy. The organizations are meant to not cooperate. They have different goals. We don’t think of it this way. When something goes wrong because of the trade-off we have institutionalized in the form of our bureaucracies we blame the bureaucrats for not doing their jobs when in fact the whole problem is that they have been doing their jobs, as those jobs have been defined by policy makers, all too well.

The reorganization ploy is one of a family of political arguments that come under the rubric of arguments that we use to avoid facing up to problems. To solve them by flight. Blaming things on government waste, foreign aid. The idea is to find some problem that everyone can agree upon that does not force us to face up to a trade-off we don’t want to make. Deficit politics are the most obvious example. Making unpleasant trade-offs, explicitly saying how many of one thing are you willing to give up for a given number of the other, is exactly what budgets make you do and exactly what people do not want to do. That is the reason for the perennial appeal of cutting foreign aid and government waste. It does nothing to solve the problem but it provides an excuse for ignoring it. I wouldn’t have to think about this thing if you would just stop doing X. Remember that the trade-off is being made whether people are admitting to it or not. In the end we have a fixed number of dollars and the things we spend them on are not the things we don’t spend them on. Behaviorally we make the trade-off and don’t mind making the trade-off as long as nothing forces us to make it mentally.

The whole pitch of the 9/11 commission is to find a non-partisan solution to what went wrong. This is a virtual guarantee that we will not address, let alone fix, what went wrong on 9/11. The non-partisan parts of the problem are the purely technical parts of the problem, the parts of the problem that don’t call for making a choice between fundamental goals, that don’t ask us to specify how much of one goal are we willing to give up for a given amount of the other. Those questions, the value trade-off questions, are the political questions.

That accounts for much of the mendacious tone of the hearings. Everyone talks about the way the partisans attacked the members of the other party in the televised portions of the hearings, but what was really hard to take was the way bureaucrats were attacked. The people that were attacked on competence grounds. The commission didn’t have a lot of complaints about competence of the bureaucrats because that was a leading cause of 9/11. They, as members of the political class, had an incentive to make it a competence question. If it had been a value trade-off question then it would have been a political class question and they would have been the ones at fault. The political class as a class has an incentive to avoid these value conflicts in the face of disaster (though at other times they may have an incentive to play them up as mobilizing tools).

Michael Barone

Points out that the democrats were the ones that relied on paid workers to get out the vote. When I was in Texas it was always the republicans that used paid people, we used union members, real people, unemployed people that were pissed off and passionate. The democrats and the billionaire friends outspent the party of the rich but the rich were the ones that could produce people to work the phones. It is a new day.