Friday, September 20, 2002

Guilt Trip. My friend Tucker, who I've mentioned once or twice, has started a blog. Follow this link. I like the blog a lot, and I enjoy reading it. Anyway, he's guilt tripping me into putting him into the "Sites I Like", which I'm not going to do. With all due respect to Tucker, I can't imagine anyone who doesn't know him personally being interested in that blog. I mean, it's littered with in-jokes. I know Tucker. I see him once a week or so. I know all the in-jokes, so I really enjoy the blog.

He posted yesterday his take on Iraq, and I was surprised at how balanced and thoughtful it was. He's usually as conservative as I am liberal, and he did basically come down on the conservative side in the end, but he was very open-minded about it. It's worth reading for a look at the other side of the argument. I don't think he has permalinks, so just follow the link about and find it under yesterday's date.

Don't worry about the in-jokes, and (again, with all due respect) prepare yourself for a blog even more in need of an editor than this one. Oh yeah, and one last thing: he really loves it when people leave comments.
War Tactics. Dana Milbank has a fascinating article today on the political tactics driving the White House push for war in Iraq. Remember, this Iraq business isn't new. It only looks like it. This White House has been agitating for war since day one. After September 11, 2001, the rhetoric got jacked up a bit. It mellowed out when everyone except William Safire concluded that there was no Iraq-Sept. 11 connection. It heated up again earlier this year when Bush announced his bold, daring, and criminally irresponsible new policy of preemption. That died down too, when reasonable people began wondering what China, Russia, North Korea, or Pakistan would do with an international precedent like that. It came back just a few weeks ago. Right after Labor Day, more or less. Hmm, why does that ring a bell? Let me think.... after Labor Day... after Labor Day... oh, right! That's when the midterm election season starts in earnest. How silly of me to forget!!

Anyway, the Milbank article centers on the series of ever-changing and self-contradictory rationales I mentioned above, all of which purportedly support the same conclusion. As Milbank points out, it's worth remembering that the same thing happened in with the Massive Bush Tax Cut for the Wealthy of 2001. That tax cut was conceived in 1999, when the economy was roaring. When the economy slowed in late 2000, the policy changed not one whit, but Bush's arguments changed completely. It went from being an affordable indulgence in 1999 to being a quick fix for tough times in 2000, and now, in September 2002, the economy still sucks. That, of course, is Clinton's fault. (Isn't it obvious?)

See through the bullshit, people. Don't just see through it. Point it out to your friends. War means death. There are many Bush blunders that the next Democratic president will be able to reverse, but death isn't one of them. War is a tool that should be reserved only for the most serious and imminent security threats. Iraq doesn't come close to that. Regime change? That's not the question. I'm not a Saddam fan, and unlike the U.S. government, I can honestly say that I never have been. Getting rid of Saddam would be a good thing, on its face. But by what means? That's the question. War has dominated the national debate, but there are viable alternatives to war that aren't being discussed. Like, for instance, containment. How many times over the last eleven years has Iraq launched a terrorist attack against this country? How many American soldiers have been killed in the last eleven years by Iraqi soldiers? It's got a pretty good track record so far, wouldn't you agree?

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Simple, Elegant, and Sensible. That's how I describe Tom Friedman's latest column, and he sums up precisely how I feel. I am not afraid of Saddam Hussein. Saddam is afraid of Bush, as well he should be, but there is no reason to be afraid of Saddam. He is small potatoes. But that is exactly why he is the target.

There is a very long tradition in politics of the party in power to pull down expectations. There are so many serious problems around the world and legitimate threats to this country that, for numerous reasons, we can't do much about. At all costs, these must not be discussed. Rather, we must focus like a laser on what is, in truth, a very minor issue, but one which we can do something about. Forget North Korea. Forget Saudi Arabia. Forget unemployment. Forget corporate corruption. Remember Saddam. Whoop him. Whoop him good. Get votes.

Bush is by no means the first person to employ this highly cynical political tactic. It's something of a necessary survival mechanism, truth be told. But that doesn't make me any less pissed off about it when faced with the prospect of American soldiers fighting and dying in an unnecessary war. Factor in the potentially disastrous long-term effects of that war, and you've got a situation where the long-term future of this country is being bargained against the short-term future of George W. Bush and the Republican party. As if this weren't bad enough, we're still paying off previous bargains of this nature, like the one that had us funding, arming, and supporting Saddam Hussein when he was fighting his protracted war against Iran. Or the one that had us arming, funding, and supporting Osama bin Laden the freedom fighter, in his noble, pro-democratic crusade against the evils of Soviet Imperialism.

Oh damn! I've broken the rules again. I keep forgetting that no one is supposed to mention Osama bin Laden. Shame on me.

Monday, September 16, 2002

Double Standards: A Case Study. It's truly heartbreaking to witness anyone struggling with a severe chemical addiction. Somehow, when the victim is a young woman born of privilege, it seems all the more tragic. This is, in itself, a double standard. But a far more diabolical double standard can be seen in the differences between how affluent white people and poorer minorities are treated for drug offenses. Arianna Huffington takes the Noelle Bush story and uses it to show just how unjust the justice system is when it comes to the war on drugs.

The argument here is so obvious it doesn't need repeating, but Huffington does a marvellous job of bringing the scope of the problem home. It should be noted, though, that the problem here is not that Noelle Bush should be treated as badly as everyone else is. It's that everyone else should be treated with the same care and compassion that Noelle Bush has received. I certainly hope that with a supportive family, plus lots of medical help and psychological counseling, Ms. Bush is able to beat her addiction.

Sunday, September 15, 2002

Peace, Free Markets, and Democracy. Tom Friedman has a very optimistic column in today's New York Times. It argues, basically, that the American model of government has beaten all of its serious rivals and emerged as a global consensus. This, more than anything else, is what makes the U.S. the most powerful nation. The argument is provided by a new book by a chap called Michael Mandelbaum. It's exactly the kind of long-term trand argument that I really love. But this one isn't ringing true for me. I haven't read the book, so I'm just going on the strength of the column here.

I am skeptical about just how loyal we are to these three concepts of peace, free markets, and democracy. Looking back at our recent political history (going back to, let's say, the Reagan Administration), one wonders if those ideas mean anything at all. Peace has always been a cardinal internal value, no doubt. But this country has exported bloodshed on a grand scale. The Reagan Administration is a wonderful place to look for examples. One could argue that these situations were part of the greater Cold War with the Soviet Union, and it's only since the Soviet Union collapsed that the United States has been this recognized leader, so maybe it isn't fair to go back that far. But now, we've got an administration pushing for an unnecessary war when peaceful means will suffice. I'm talking, of course, about Iraq. Since the Gulf War, Iraq has not threatened the United States in any way, except through a failed assassination attempt on a former President. That is to say, Saddam has theatened Bush's family, he hasn't threatened mine. And I shouldn't like to have to go and fight in the desert to protect Bush's father. It isn't necessary. It is necessary that we deal with Saddam Hussein, that we keep him boxed in and powerless. But we've been doing that for a decade without an all-out war, and Bush has failed to articulate why that's no longer adequate.

As for democracy, that is not a principle value of the current government. I'm not just talking about the 2000 election, but it can be seen in its "Terrorism Trumps Everything" foreign policy which forces us to remain neutral in a conflict between India and Pakistan. India is the world's largest democracy, if I'm not mistaken. Pakistan, on the other hand, has actually used its new found friendship with us to move further from democracy and to further entrench its military dictatorship.

And no one seriously believes in free markets anymore. The left believes that the government must intervene in markets to protect the interests of the poor and unfortunate. The right believes that the government must intervene in markets to protect the wealthy and powerful (they're just not honest enough to say so). No one seriously believes in free markets anymore.

Other than that, it's an interesting thesis.