Friday, November 30, 2007

All balls, no brains: Retired Brig. Gen. speaks out

Wanna read something really dumb, scary, and ungrammatical from a retired USAF Brigadier General? Unfortunately, military service does not grant somebody automatic wisdom in foreign affairs. Here are some of his dumber statements, and my responses:

> "Radical Islam has been attacking the West since the seventh century."


> "Afghanistan and Iraq have both had regime changes, but are being fueled by outsiders from Syria and Iran."It's laughable to say that Afghanistan had a regime, the Taleban. It had chaos and warlordism. That's what it has today, after the (temporary) defeat of the Taleban. 6 of one, half a dozen of the other, pre- and post-NATO.

And it's a gross oversimplification to imply that Syria and Iran are keeping the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq "hot." If Syria and Iran butted out tomorrow, we would see little difference on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq.

> "Do you have any idea what will happen if the entire Middle East turns their support to Iran , which they will obviously do if we pull out [of Iraq]? It is not the price of oil we will have to worry about. Oil WILL NOT BE AVAILABLE to this country at any price."
Many Mideast states, like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt, are extremely worried about Iran's rise (thanks to our removal of Iran's neighbor and military rival, Saddam Hussein). It is certainly not "obvious" that they will support Iran once we pull out of Iraq. And for the record, America gets most of its oil from Canada and Venezuela, not the Mideast. The world price of oil will certainly go up if we attack Iran, but America's sources of oil will not dry up overnight.

> "If Iran is forced to fall in line, the fighting in Iraq will end over night, and the nightmare will be over."
Moronic. Iran is not the source of conflict in Iraq. This is a conflict among Iraqis to control Iraq's territory and oil resources.

> "By the way, it is not a war [in Iraq]. The war was won four years ago. It is martial law that is under attack by Iranian and Syrian outside influences, and there is a difference."
Well, I agree Afghanistan and Iraq are not "wars." These are foreign occupations of hostile populations who want to control their own destiny. Then why treat it like a war? Why insist exclusively, or at least mainly, on military means to "win" it? Why does Brig. Gen. Jim Cash include the final quote from Gen. Curtis LeMay: "I'll tell you what war is all about, you've got to kill people, and when you've killed enough they stop fighting"?

Afghanistan and Iraq are ugly, modern conflicts. Vietnam was preparation for low-scale guerrilla fighting, but these conflicts are much uglier because there's no organized enemy to fight: there is no VietCong, only rag-tag local militias and guerrillas. We are fighting against everyone and no one at the same time. Brig. Gen. Cash military "vocabulary" is stunted because these conflicts have no historical antecedent in his, or America's, military experience. Men like him search in vain for some war to compare these very complicated conflicts to, in order to shore up shrinking domestic support.

> "I am not a Republican."
This guy and Bill O'Reilly think there's some credibility to be gained by lambasting Democrats and liberals at every possible turn, but then declaring, "Oh, but I'm an independent, I'm not a Republican." Who do they think they're kidding? If they can't even be honest about their political affiliations, why should I trust anything else they have to say? Let's just be clear: this guy, and Bill O'Reilly, are both Republicans. Maybe he voted for his Democratic cousin for local school board; but that doesn't make him an Independent. You know what they say: If it swims like a duck and quacks like a duck....

Middle East Imperative
By Jim Cash, Brig. Gen., USAF, Ret.

I wrote recently about the war in Iraq and the larger war against radical Islam, eliciting a number of responses. Let me try and put this conflict in proper perspective. Understand, the current battle we are engaged in is much bigger than just Iraq. What happens in the next year will affect this country and how our kids and grand kids live throughout their lifetime, and beyond. Radical Islam has been attacking the West since the seventh century. They have been defeated in the past and decimated to the point of taking hundreds of years to recover. But they can never be totally defeated. Their birth rates are so far beyond civilized world rates that in time they recover and attempt to dominate again.

There are eight terror-sponsoring countries that make up the grand threat to the West. Two , Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, just need firm pressure from the West to make major reforms. They need to decide who they are really going to support and commit to that support. That answer is simple. They both will support who they think will hang in there until the end, and win. We are not sending very good signals in that direction right now, thanks to the Democrats. The other six, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea and Libya will require regime change or a major policy shift. Now, let's look more closely.

Afghanistan and Iraq have both had regime changes, but are being fueled by outsiders from Syria and Iran . We have scared Gaddafi's pants off, and he has given up his quest for nuclear weapons, so I don't think Libya is now a threat.

North Korea (the non-Islamic threat) can be handled diplomatically by buying them off. They are starving. That leaves Syria and Iran. Syria is like a frightened puppy. Without the support of Iran they will join the stronger side. So where does that leave us? Sooner, or later, we are going to be forced to confront Iran, and it better be before they gain nuclear capability. In 1989 I served as a Command Director inside the Cheyenne Mountain complex located in Colorado Springs, Colorado for almost three years [sic]. My job there was to observe (through classified means) every missile shot anywhere in the world and assess if it was a threat to the US or Canada. If any shot was threatening to either nation I had only minutes to advise the President, as he had only minutes to respond. I watched Iran and Iraq shoot missiles at each other every day, and all day long, for months. They killed hundreds of thousand of their people. Know why? They were fighting for control of the Middle East and that enormous oil supply.

At that time, they were preoccupied with their internal problems and could care less about toppling the west. Oil prices were fairly stable and we could not see an immediate threat. Well, the worst part of what we have done as a nation in Iraq is to do away with the military capability of one of those nations. Now, Iran has a clear field to dominate the Middle East, since Iraq is no longer a threat to them. They have turned their attention to the only other threat to their dominance, they are convinced they will win, because the US is so divided, and the Democrats (who now control Congress and may control the Presidency in 2008) have openly said we are pulling out.

Do you have any idea what will happen if the entire Middle East turns their support to Iran , which they will obviously do if we pull out? It is not the price of oil we will have to worry about. Oil WILL NOT BE AVAILABLE to this country at any price. I personally would vote for any presidential candidate who did what JFK did with the space program---declare a goal to bring this country to total energy independence in a decade.

Yes, it is about oil. The economy in this country will totally die if that Middle East supply is cut off right now. It will not be a recession. It will be a depression that will make 1929 look like the "good-old-days". The bottom line here is simple. If Iran is forced to fall in line, the fighting in Iraq will end over night, and the nightmare will be over.

One way or another, Iran must be forced to join modern times and the global community. It may mean a real war---if so, now is the time, before we face a nuclear Iran with the capacity to destroy Israel and begin a new ice age. I urge you to read the book "END GAME" by two of our best Middle East experts, true American patriots and retired military generals, Paul Vallely and Tom McInerney. They are our finest, and totally honest in their assessment of why victory in the Middle East is so important, and how it can be won. Proceeds for the book go directly to memorial fund for our fallen soldiers who served the country during the war on terror. You can find that book by going to the Internet through Stand-up America at www. osprey radio. us < or < On the other hand, we have several very angry retired generals today, who evidently have not achieved their lofty goals, and insist on ranting and raving about the war. They are wrong, and doing the country great harm by giving a certain political party reason to use them as experts to back their anti-war claims.

You may be one of those who believe nothing could ever be terrible enough to support our going to war. If that is the case I should stop here, as that level of thinking approaches mental disability in this day and age. It is right up there with alien abductions and high altitude seeding through government aircraft contrails. I helped produced those contrails for almost 30 years, and I can assure you we were not seeding the atmosphere. The human race is a war-like population, and if a country is not willing to protect itself, it deserves the consequences. Nuff-said!!!

Now, my last comments will get to the nerve. They will be on politics. I am not a Republican. And, George Bush has made enough mistakes as President to insure [sic] my feelings about that for the rest of my life. However, the Democratic Party has moved so far left, they have made me support those farther to the right. I am a conservative who totally supports the Constitution of this country. The only difference between the United States and the South American, third world, dictator infested and ever-changing South American governments [sic], is our US Constitution.

This Republic (note I did not say Democracy) is the longest standing the world has ever known, but it is vulnerable. It would take so little to change it through economic upheaval. There was a time when politicians could disagree, but still work [sic] together. We are past that time, and that is the initial step toward the downfall of our form of government.

I think that many view Bush-hating as payback time. The Republicans hated the Clinton's [sic] and now the Democrats hate Bush. So, both parties are putting their hate toward willingness to do anything for political dominance to include lying and always taking the opposite stand just for the sake of being opposed. JUST HOW GOOD IS THAT FOR OUR COUNTRY? In my lifetime, after serving in uniform for President's Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush I have a pretty good feel for which party supported our military, and what military life was like under each of their terms. And, let me assure you that times were best under the Republicans.

Service under Jimmy Carter was devastating for all branches of the military. And, Ronald Regan was truly a salvation. You can choose to listen to enriched newscasters, and foolish people like John Murtha (he is no war hero), Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, Michael Moore, Jane Fonda , Harry Reid, Russ Feingold, Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and on-and-on to include the true fools in Hollywood if you like. If you do, your conclusions will be totally wrong.

The reason that I write, appear on radio talk shows, and do everything I can to denounce those people is simple. THEY ARE PUTTING THEIR THIRST FOR POLITICAL POWER AND QUEST FOR VICTORY IN 2008 ABOVE WHAT IS BEST FOR THIS COUNTRY. I cannot abide that. Pelosi clearly defied the Logan Act by going to Syria , which should have lead to imprisonment of three years and a heavy fine. Jane Fonda did more to prolong the Vietnam war longer than any other human being (as acknowledged by Ho Chi Minh in his writing before he died). She truly should have been indicted for treason, along with her radical husband, Tom Hayden, and forced to pay the consequences. This country has started to soften by not enforcing its laws, which is another indication of a Republic about to fall. All Democrats, along with the Hollywood elite, are sending us headlong into a total defeat in the Middle East, which will finally give Iran total dominance in the region. A lack of oil in the near future will be the final straw that dooms this Republic.& nbsp; However, if we refuse to let this happen and really get serious about an energy self-sufficiency program, this can be avoided. I am afraid, however, that we are going in the opposite direction. If we elect Hillary Clinton and a Democrat controlled [sic] congress, and they carry through with allowing Iran to take control of the Middle East, continue to refuse development of nuclear energy, refuse to allow drilling for new oil, and continue to do nothing but oppose everything Bush, it will be over in terms of what we view as the good life in the USA .. Now, do I think that all who do not support the war are un-American [sic] -- of course not. They just do not understand the importance of total victory in that region.

[Please define "total victory!" -- J]

Another failure of George Bush is his inability to explain to the American people why we are there, and why we MUST win. By the way, it is not a war. The war was won four years ago. It is martial law that is under attack by Iranian and Syrian outside influences, and there is a difference.

So, what do I believe? What is the bottom line? I will simply say that the Democratic Party has fielded the foulest, power hungry, anti-country, self absorbed group of individuals that I have observed in my lifetime. Our educational system is partially to blame for allowing the mass of America to be taken in by this group. George Bush has done the best he can with the disabilities that he possesses.

A President must communicate with the people. And, I would tell you that Desert Storm spoiled the people. Bush Senior's 100-hour war convinced the people that technology has progressed to the point that wars could be fought with no casualties and won in very short periods of time. I remember feeling at the time, that this was a tragedy for the US military. To win wars, you must put boots on the ground. When you put boots on the ground, soldiers are going to die. A President must make the war decision wisely, and insure [sic] that the cause is right before using his last political option. However, CONTROLLING IRAN AND DEMOCRATIZING THE MIDDLE EAST IS THE ONLY CHOICE IF WE ARE HELL-BENT ON DEPENDING ON THEM FOR OUR FUTURE ENERGY NEEDS.

Jimmy L. Cash, Brig. Gen., USAF, Ret. Lakeside , Montana 59922

"I'll tell you what war is all about, you've got to kill people, and when you've killed enough they stop fighting." Gen. Curtis LeMay

Thursday, November 29, 2007

MSM 'surge' in support of the 'surge'

Now that many of you have been persuaded by the conservative -- yes, conservative -- MSM that the "surge" is working (whatever that means to whomever is saying it...), read this and get a dose of reality.

Un-Selling the Surge
Matthew Duss | November 20, 2007 |

Despite growing disenchantment with the war in Iraq, the well-organized conservative propaganda machine has been hard at work selling the "success of the surge." After relentlessly promoting the invasion of Iraq in the wake of 9-11, then denying or shifting blame for that invasion's negative repercussions, the neocons have now begun attacking anyone who challenges their "surge success" narrative for being defeatist and dishonoring the troops. Having moved the goalposts all the way up onto the line of scrimmage, the right now condemns anyone who will not recognize a touchdown.

At The Weekly Standard, home base of the surgeniks, James Ceaser asks: "Will any of the Democratic candidates be able to summon the courage to concede an American victory in Iraq? No one, of course, can know the ultimate outcome of this long war. But the vaunted 'facts on the ground' now at least admit a trend leading to what might reasonably be called victory." Stirring.

Kimberly Kagan, whose husband Fred Kagan helped devise the surge strategy, demonstrates the right's peculiar new metric. "Clearly," Kagan writes in the Standard, "this skillful military operation has created new realities on the ground. With violence falling sharply, Iraqis are no longer mobilizing for full-scale civil war, as they were at the end of 2006." Is this the soft bigotry of low expectations?

In what must be one of the more egregious instances of projection in recent memory, an editorial in the National Review accuses Democrats of living in a "fantasyland" for ignoring the surge's success, shamefully insisting that to disagree with conservative spin is to "deny the sacrifice and achievement" of our troops.

It doesn't wash.

Yes, there has been a drop in violence. This is primarily the result of two things: The completion of large-scale sectarian cleansing in formerly mixed areas, and a revolt among Sunni tribes against al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), a revolt whose origins clearly predated the surge. Gen. David Petraeus deserves credit for adapting his counterinsurgency plan to this development, but it is not clear that the surge in troops contributed in any significant way to the developments now being presented as success. Moreover, in supporting the Sunni tribes' fight against AQI, the U.S. has simply helped to contain a problem of its own creation, as al-Qaeda was not present in Iraq in any significant way before the 2003 invasion.

[Finally somebody made this obvious observation. To help clean up a mess you created in the first place is certainly not "victory." -- J ]

Furthermore, by creating a new jihad front, the war in Iraq has given another generation of fundamentalist mujahideen its own Afghanistan. In the words of one Iraqi Arab observer, "The Arabs went to Afghanistan and got a master's in violent Jihad, but in Iraq they're all getting Ph.Ds." We have given them the opportunity to develop tactical and technological expertise against the most formidable military in existence, expertise that they have transmitted around the world. This is something that will not be reversed, even if AQI is completely eradicated.

The stated goal of the surge was Iraqi national reconciliation. There is no evidence that we have moved any closer to this goal -- in fact there is evidence for the opposite. Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress states that "the current policy of supporting 'bottom up' security initiatives means that the U.S. military is actually cooperating with sectarian cleansers and in some cases serial murderers." A recent New Yorker article focused on the western Baghdad suburb of Ghazaliya. This neighborhood serves as one of Petraeus' showpieces for the success of his strategy, yet many of the former insurgents newly recruited into the U.S.-backed security service are interested in little more than using their new authority to exact revenge on Shiites -- now with the U.S.' imprimatur.

The two major Shia militias, the Iraqi Supreme Islamic Council's Badr Brigade and Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, are locked in a struggle for control of oil-rich southern Iraq. Despite a cease-fire agreement between Sadr and Abd al Aziz al-Hakim, the two factions have given no sign of reconciliation, their loyalists continue to engage in fierce turf warfare, and many believe that the two groups are preparing for a new round of more intense battle.

Grand Ayatollah Sistani's influence has waned significantly, as evidenced by the lack of acclaim for his blessing of Sunni leader Tarek al Hashemi's proposed national compact, which two years ago would have been considered hugely significant. One of the great tragedies of the botched post-war is that Sistani's recognition of the principle of popular sovereignty, which could have had revolutionary implications, was overshadowed by the unremitting violence. There is simply no overstating the significance of one of the most revered Grand Ayatollah acknowledging that legitimate political authority has a source other than the Qur'an, and there is no overstating how tragic it was that this potential reformation was cut short, drowned in the deluge of sectarian violence, as if Martin Luther had been mugged on his way to the Wittenberg church.

Despite constant charges of Iranian funding, Iraqi insurgent groups have become largely self-funded through a series of scams, extortion, smuggling, and other organized criminal activity. American officers have recognized that Iran has also seriously clamped down on smuggling through its borders, resulting in fewer IEDs, something that surgeniks again have tried to credit the surge for. But, of course, the administration's focus on Iran was always a way to draw attention from its own failures. The central problem in Iraq has been, and continues to be, the atomization of Iraqi society after decades of brutal Ba'athist rule and the anarchy following the U.S. invasion. Despite some security gains, this problem persists. Marc Lynch of George Washington University writes, "Without institutionalized control over the means of violence and a meaningful political bargain at the center, I just do not see any way to prevent a spiral into sectarian warfare. ... The current strategy is accelerating Iraq's descent into a warlord state even if violence is temporarily down."

But Iraq is no longer just about Iraq. Bush's entire Middle East policy since the invasion of Iraq has been a series of measures designed to deal with the various unforeseen and unprepared for disasters resulting from the invasion of Iraq. Even after Bush has left office, U.S. policy in the Middle East will be, for the foreseeable future, based on containing the regional fallout from the invasion.

Pointing this out is not meant to dishonor the sweat and sacrifices of American troops (or the sacrifice of the families who desperately want them home), only to make the broader point that Bush and his water-carriers in the right-wing media are clutching at anything that can conceivably help them keep the high ground in a losing ideological battle, even standing upon the already-overburdened shoulders of our troops.

By next week, there will be 175,000 American troops in Iraq -- the most since the invasion. Ironically, this comes at a time when American public disapproval of the war is at its highest. A full 68 percent of the American public disapproves of the Iraq War, so it's understandable why we're seeing this big propaganda push. To a great extent, the president and his enablers have treated the war in Iraq first and foremost as a message problem, something to be defended with clever arguments, not to be won with better policies. For them, the central front in the war on terror has always been the American media, and the near enemy has always been domestic political opposition. Neoconservatives have constructed a deeply divisive and disingenuous political narrative in which the return to merely unacceptable levels of violence in Iraq is evidence of victory, and disagreement is evidence of "not supporting the troops."

But don't be fooled: This isn't victory. It's not even close.

This year, quit the Rat Race

Winning the Rat Race by Quitting it

You may not know it, but you want to avoid the upcoming crush of Christmas consumerism. Let Thanksgiving be your guide.

Ezra Klein | November 26, 2007 |

It's always sad to see Thanksgiving finish. I don't attend Renaissance fairs, so it's the only time of year when I tear at giant legs of roast turkey. I'm also not an insane person, so it's the only time of year when I combine marshmallows and yams. And I'll just admit it: I like giving thanks. It offers an organizing structure within which to create a coherent narrative of the past year. And here's what I find, year after year: People matter. No matter how much cool stuff I purchase while waiting for the Earth to rotate around the sun, come November, all I remember, and all I mention, are people.

The emergent field of happiness studies backs me up. Richard Layard, an economist at the London School of Economics and the author of "Happiness: Lessons From a New Science," puts it succinctly. "Family, colleagues, community," he's said. "We are basically social animals, and most of our enjoyment comes from other people."

Each Thanksgiving, our litany of gratitude suggests that, on some level, we know that. But in the time between each Thanksgiving, we prove, rather decisively, that we don't know it all that well. Because so much as "people" happiness tends to rule our memories, "thing" happiness, or at least the promise of it, has a habit of governing our actions. How else to explain the ceaseless march for more hours at work, for larger incomes, for bigger houses (that, as we're rapidly finding out, we couldn't really afford in the first place)? How else to explain the fact that the United States, alone among developed nations, does not guarantee its workers even one day of compensated vacation time (France, by contrast, guarantees 30)?

We are a country obsessed with consumption, which would be fine if we seemed to be fulfilled getting bigger TVs but having less time to watch them. But, in the aggregate, that's not the case. "The things that we get used to most easily and then take for granted are our material possessions -- our car, our house," writes Layard. "But there is lots of evidence that people underestimate the process of habituation." The amount of happiness we think we'll get from a new house, and the amount of happiness we actually get from a new house, are not the same.

So why the ceaseless search for stuff? In a word, competition. It's worth it to stay ahead in the rat race. Researchers have asked people which they'd prefer: a world in which they made $50,000 but everyone else made half that; or one in which they made $100,000 and everyone else made twice that (prices are the same in both worlds). The majority preferred the first world. They would happily make less money, as long as everyone else made even less money.

Surveys have returned similar results for houses. Most individuals prefer a smaller house in a world where their neighbors have even smaller houses to a bigger house in a world where their neighbors have even bigger houses. Winning the competition is more important than having a yard, it turns out. Which is why economists call these "positional goods" -- goods whose worth is deeply tied into their position vis-a-vis your direct "competitors" (which is to say neighbors, friends, etc.).

On the other hand, not all goods are positional. Some make us happy simply because they make us happy. Another question asked whether respondents would prefer a world in which they had two weeks of vacation and everyone else got one, or a world in which they had four weeks of vacation and everyone else got eight. Here, positional concerns did not interject, and the majority chose the larger number of days off. The amount of time your neighbor spends with his family does not diminish the amount of time you spend with yours.

The problem is, positional goods tend to appear to be the most pressing purchases. Your old car may work fine and be plenty spacious, but if your co-workers see you in a 1998 Civic, you may feel embarrassed. You purchase the goods to avoid falling behind. But then you're just constantly competing with everyone else to buy more stuff in order to stay in the same place. And because money is finite, these purchases "crowd out" what you could spend on more enduring generators of happiness -- forcing you, for instance, to work more hours to support a larger mortgage than you needed, thus losing the time you could otherwise spend enjoying family and friends, and leaving you less happy.

But there's an easy solution. Stop. Pull out of the competition. Seriously ask whether you want to continue trading away your time for your stuff. And that requires ignoring what your neighbors have. It requires shutting your eyes against short-term incentives and trying to remember what actually makes you happy, what you tend to remember when each year closes out. It requires keeping a little of that Thanksgiving litany in mind, even after the meal is forgotten and marshmallows and yams again seem an absurd combination.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bush backtracks on political goals in Iraq

What do you do when achieving success is too darn hard? That's right: you lower the bar.

We've gone from Bush's Criteria -- an Iraq that can sustain, defend, and govern itself, be an ally in the war on terror, and serve as an example of freedom to the Mideast -- to a bunch of symbolic steps that recalcitrant Iraqis would have taken anyway.

Whatever. If this sets the stage for U.S. withdrawal, so be it. Let's declare "victory" any way we can and get the hell out of there!

November 24, 2007 | International Herald Tribune

With American military successes outpacing political gains in Iraq, the Bush administration has lowered its expectation of quickly achieving major steps toward unifying the country, including passage of a long-stymied plan to share oil revenues and holding regional elections.

Instead, administration officials say they are focusing their immediate efforts on several more limited but achievable goals in the hope of convincing Iraqis, foreign governments and Americans that progress is being made toward the political breakthroughs that the military campaign of the past 10 months was supposed to promote.

The short-term American targets include passage of a $48 billion Iraqi budget, something the Iraqis say they are on their way to doing anyway; renewing the United Nations mandate that authorizes an American presence in the country, which the Iraqis have done repeatedly before; and passing legislation to allow thousands of Baath Party members from Saddam Hussein's era to rejoin the government. A senior Bush administration official described that goal as largely symbolic since re-hirings have been quietly taking place already.

Bush administration officials have not abandoned their larger goals and still emphasize the vital importance of reaching them eventually. They say that even modest steps, if taken soon, could set the stage for more progress, in the same manner that this year's so-called surge of troops opened the way, unexpectedly, for the realignment of Sunni tribesmen to the American side.

A senior official said the administration was intensifying its pressure on the Iraqi government to produce some concrete signs of political progress.

"If we can show progress outside of the security sector alone, that will go a long way to demonstrate that we are in fact on a sustainable path to stability in Iraq," the senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the administration's planning.

[This senior official's statement worries me. It tells me that our "lowering the bar" in Iraq is all about PR spin back home, and shoring up domestic support for the Iraq occupation. Read between the lines: They want to keep this thing going for years to come! -- J ]

On Saturday, Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to Baghdad, said the military had created an opportunity for progress, but warned, "This is going to be a long, hard slog."

"It is going to be one thing at a time, maybe two things at a time, we hope with increasing momentum," he said. "It is a long-term process."

The White House has clearly been elated by the decline in violence that followed the increase in American forces, now totaling 162,000 troops. Public comments by President George W. Bush and his aides, however, have been muted, reflecting a frustration at the lack of political progress, a continuation of a pattern in which intense American efforts to promote broader reconciliation have proved largely fruitless.

There have been some signs that American influence over Iraqi politics is dwindling, not growing, after the recent improvements in security — which remain incomplete, as shown by a deadly bombing on Friday in Baghdad. While Bush administration officials once said they aimed to secure "reconciliation" among Iraq's deeply divided religious, ethnic and sectarian groups, some officials now refer to their goal as "accommodation."

"We can't pass their legislation," a senior American official in Baghdad said. "We can't make them like each other. We can't even make them talk to each other. Well, sometimes we can. But we can help them execute their budget."

Ambassador Crocker drew a distinction between the effectiveness of the American military buildup in quelling violence and the influence the United States could bring to bear at a political level, where the Iraqis must play the decisive role.

"The political stuff does not lend itself to sending out a couple of battalions to help the Iraqi's pass legislation," he said.

Officials in Washington and in Baghdad share the view that military gains alone are not enough to overcome the deep distrust among Iraqi factions caused by nearly five decades of dictatorship and war. And in both capitals there are leaders who continue to hold out hope for broad political gains, eventually.

"We need a grand bargain among all the groups," said one senior member of Iraq's government, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

But with that not yet in sight, Bush administration officials said that they hoped that securing approval of a few initial steps might lead to more substantive agreements next year, including provincial elections, which the White House wants to see held before Bush leaves office less than 14 months from now. The prospect of such elections has been politically delicate because of the fear that some regions, like Shiite-dominated southern Iraq, are most likely to vote for leaders who support stronger regional governments at the expense of the Baghdad administration.

While one Bush administration official called the renewed pressure on Baghdad a "political surge" after the increase in troop levels this year, most of what Washington is seeking appears to reflect a diminished and more realistic set of expectations after months of little political progress.

The troop increase at the beginning of the year was intended to create the conditions for an improvement in Iraq's political stability measured by so-called benchmarks, including a broad agreement on sharing oil revenues.

But those benchmarks remain largely unfulfilled despite a significant drop in attacks recorded by the American military from a peak in June. The administration's critics in Congress have cited the lack of progress toward those benchmarks as evidence that the White House is on the wrong track in Iraq and ought to begin a rapid drawdown of American combat forces.

Perhaps the most achievable of the administration's short-term targets, American and Iraqi officials said, is legislation that would allow thousands of members of the Saddam-era Baath Party, most of them Sunnis, to return to government positions. A senior administration official described that legislation as largely symbolic — since the Shiite-dominated government had begun to accommodate some Sunni officials in practice — but important in that it would at last signal some progress, capitalizing on the relative lull in violence.

Other immediate steps the Bush administration is pressing the Iraqi government to take include passing a budget, $48 billion for the coming year, and again renewing the United Nations mandate for the American troop presence before it expires at the end of the year.

In Baghdad, Iraqi officials indicated that the various parties, which like much of the country are defined largely by sect or ethnicity, remained far apart on the more difficult issues of sharing power and revenues. Some seemed surprised by the idea that the Bush administration would apply more pressure.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's political adviser, Sadiq al-Rikabi, said that it would not take any pressure from the Americans to persuade the Iraqi leaders and Parliament to approve a budget. "Every state needs a budget," he said. "It's impossible to function without a budget. It does not need any push from anyone."

At the same time, though, he expressed an appreciation for the Bush administration's effort to keep all sides talking.

Although the White House no longer faces the immediate prospect of losing crucial political support for the war effort in Iraq — because the war's opponents lack the necessary votes in Congress to force a change in policy — the imperative for political progress remains, if only because of the American elections in less than a year.

Despite the reduction in violence, with attacks now down to levels last seen in early 2006, some Democrats in Congress have continued to press for a timeline for a withdrawal. Most recently, the House tried to tie a deadline to a $50 billion war spending bill, although that proposal died in the Senate.

When Congress debated the war earlier this year, the administration pushed hard for the Iraqis to approve some of the same pieces of legislation that have yet to materialize. Several times, for example, the law on dispensing oil revenues, which are now surging because of world oil prices nearing $100 a barrel, appeared on the brink of adoption, only to stall.

One of the immediate American concerns is getting Iraq to request an extended United Nations mandate, which authorizes the American-led military presence. In Baghdad, a senior Iraqi government official said that the extension of the mandate for the American-led multinational forces would not be a problem, but that there was little progress in negotiating the longer-term agreements on a "strategic partnership" between the United States and Iraq.

"It's the status of forces agreement that we have to start on," the official said. That agreement, although not an issue until 2009 or later, is a far more delicate matter because it will frame the future military relationship between the countries.

The most important thing the Americans can do is keep the political blocs in Iraq — Shiite and Sunni Arab and Kurds — talking to each other and to help them understand legislation now being debated, several Iraqi politicians said. Only with concrete information, they said, could rumors be dispelled that specific legislation might help or hurt certain groups.

"So far the activities of the American Embassy are a bit limited in this regard," said Qassim Daoud, an independent Shiite in Parliament, who served as a minister for security in the government of Ayad Allawi before Iraq regain its own sovereignty.

Earlier this month, the White House dispatched several senior aides to Baghdad to work with the Iraqis on specific legislative areas. They include the under secretary of state for economic, energy and agricultural affairs, Reuben Jeffery III, who is working on the budget and oil law; the State Department's senior Iraq adviser, David Satterfield, who is focused on the elections and de-Baathification law; and Brett McGurk, the National Security Council's Iraq director, who is pressing for the United Nations mandate and a longer security agreement. All have been meeting with a variety of officials and party leaders across Iraq, a senior administration official said.

American officials in Baghdad appear to understand the limitations they face and are focusing on pragmatic goals like helping the Iraqi government spend the money in its budget. That, officials in both countries said, could do more than anything else to ease tensions and build support for the national government.

"I think reconciliation will eventually come," a senior Bush administration official said, but adding, "That's a long way down the path."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Buchanan: Security vs. Democracy, Or: The Post 9/11 Dilemma

"Nutso" Buchanan shows why being U.S. president is such a tough job. You have to balance your values and practical realities.

But this time I disagree with my man Pat. I have to, both because of my values, and because of practical realities. If we continue to support Arab and Muslim dictators, we're only forestalling our day of reckoning. We're only putting off the inevitable anti-America backlash that one day will come as a result of our support of anti-democratic regimes.

Right now Pakistanis are on the streets fighting for their rights, fighting for their constitutional democracy. We can't flush our values down the toilet in the hope of saving our skin
s for one more day. Either we have faith in democracy for all mankind, or we don't. And more important, I'll repeat: eventually illegitimate rulers fall, the people rise up, and vengeance is the order of the day. Do we really want all of Pakistan with its nuclear weapons out to get us? By supporting Mushafraf now, that's what we're almost certainly guaranteeing 5, 10, 20 years down the line. Our support of the Shah in Iran and its disastrous consequences should have taught us a lesson.

Either Bush meant what he said in his landmark 2nd Inaugural address, or his whole presidency is bullshit.

Does security trump democracy? I think that's a false choice. I tend to agree with Bush's 2nd Inaugural speech, that in the long run, democracies will be friendlier to U.S. interests than dictatorships. Thus spreading democracy increases U.S. security.

Democracy vs. Security
Which is more critical to the United States in the Islamic world -- that a government be democratic, or that it be a friend and ally in the war against al-Qaida and Islamic extremism?

In the Bush era, the answer has seemed unequivocal.

We are for democracy first. For democracy is the best guarantee of our security interests. As Condi Rice famously said in 2005 at Cairo University:

"For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people."

As the United States expelled the Soviet Union from the Middle East, brought peace between Egypt and Israel, and won the Cold War, Rice's statement was both false and full of hubris and condescension toward 11 U.S. presidents, who, whatever their failings, put U.S. interests above all else.

Nevertheless, democracy first became declared Bush policy.

Pursuing it, Bush and Rice demanded elections across the Middle East. What did they produce? Victories for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Moqtada al Sadr in Iraq and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran.

Why did free elections fail to advance U.S. interests?

Because the most powerful currents running in the region are populism, nationalism, Islamic fundamentalism, anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism, all of which translate into popular recoils from leaders seen as too close to the United States. In survey after survey, Arab and Islamic peoples declared Bush to be the least admired world leader and America among the least respected of nations.

[What's missing here is: why? Why do Arab and Islamic peoples despise America so? Like GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, I suggest that we listen to Arab-Muslims to find out why. At the top of their list: U.S. support for repressive dictators and monarchs.

So, it's a chicken-egg problem, a catch-22. They hate us because we hypocritically preach democracy and support and fund dictators who oppress them. And we support and fund dictators because we know they hate us, and if we gave them the chance to vote, they'd do like Iran or Lebanon. Somebody's got to break the circle, eventually. It might as well be us, the stronger party. -- J

And if the volatile peoples of this region harbor such hostile attitudes, why would we insist on elections that would bring to power regimes responsive to those attitudes?

After the victories of Hamas and Hezbollah, stability did not look so bad and the White House seemed to back away from its demand that friendly autocrats and monarchs seek the approval of the masses at the ballot box. U.S. interests, in friendly regimes, appeared to have trumped democratist ideology.

Now, however, the United States is demanding that Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf remove his uniform, end the state of emergency and hold free elections, which we anticipate will be won by the Pakistan Peoples Party of Benazir Bhutto or the Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif. Bhutto and Sharif were both prime minister twice in the 1980s and 1990s, and both were charged with corruption and forced to flee after the 1999 coup of Musharraf.

Under Secretary of State John Negroponte delivered this tough message to Musharraf and was rebuffed, though the general agreed to step down as commander in chief by the end of the month and hold elections in January, in which he intends to run again for president.

A new Supreme Court, the previous justices having been ousted by Musharraf before they could rule against him, has declared that the general is eligible for a new five-year term.

Thus, we now have a nation of 170 million Muslims with nuclear weapons in political chaos. Tribal leaders in the border regions have been giving sanctuary and support to the Taliban, and Islamist warriors have taken over the Swat valley, 100 miles from the capital. There are reports of army and police surrendering to the Islamists, even of defections to their ranks. The roadside bomb that almost killed Bhutto and did kill and wound hundreds of her followers on her return is indicative of the insecurity in the cities. Pakistan could come apart.

What the situation in Pakistan tells us is that there are more important considerations than how leaders or governments are chosen. In the case of Pakistan, the first imperative is that the government in control of those nuclear weapons, be it autocratic or democratic, be stable, reliable and not hostile to the United States.

A pro-American general in charge of the army and nuclear weapons may be preferable to having custody of those weapons turned over to a coalition government of politicians brought to power through a plebiscite in a country where anti-Americanism is pandemic.

Indeed, given our failure to anticipate or predict election results in Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, how can we be sure that Islamists will not win a share of power in Islamabad?

Not only in Pakistan, but in other Muslim nations like Egypt and Turkey, military men willing to intervene to prevent their countries from falling to Islamism are surely preferable to elected Islamists like Ahmadinejad or elected leaders who may feel compelled to bend with the prevailing radical winds.

Order comes first -- for without order, there is no true freedom.

When one considers that today Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and the sheikdoms of the Gulf are ruled by monarchs, and Iran's president was democratically elected, we ought to recognize that while free elections are nice, national interests come first.

Was Perot right, and Clinton wrong?

Was Ross Perot Right?
By David Sirota | Creators Syndicate

"Ross Perot was fiercely against NAFTA. Knowing what we know now, was Ross Perot right?"

That's what CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked Hillary Clinton at last week's Democratic presidential debate. It was a straightforward query about a Clinton administration trade policy that polls show the public now hates, and it was appropriately directed to a candidate who has previously praised NAFTA.

In response, Clinton stumbled. First she laughed at Perot, then she joked that "all I can remember from that is a bunch of charts," and then she claimed the whole NAFTA debate "is a vague memory." The behavior showed how politically tone deaf some Democratic leaders are.

To refresh Clinton's "vague memory," let's recall that Perot's anti-NAFTA presidential campaign in 1992 won 19 percent of the presidential vote — the highest total for any third-party candidate since Teddy Roosevelt. That included huge tallies in closely divided regions like the Rocky Mountain West, which Democrats say they need to win in the upcoming election.

A Democrat laughing at Perot on national television is a big mistake. Simply put, it risks alienating the roughly 20 million people who cast their votes for the Texas businessman.

But Clinton's flippant comments and feigned memory lapse about NAFTA were the bigger mistakes in that they insulted the millions of Americans (Perot voters or otherwise) harmed by the trade pact. These are people who have seen their jobs outsourced and paychecks slashed thanks to a trade policy forcing them into a wage-cutting war with oppressed foreign workers.

Why is Clinton desperate to avoid discussing NAFTA? Because she and other congressional Democrats are currently pushing a Peru Free Trade Agreement at the behest of their corporate campaign contributors — an agreement expanding the unpopular NAFTA model. When pressed, Clinton claims she is for a "timeout" from such trade deals — but, as her husband might say, it depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is, since she simultaneously supports the NAFTA expansion.

Of course, this deviousness is precisely why it is worth asking about Perot's predictions: to make sure America has an informed and honest discussion about impending new trade policies before they are enacted.

And so without further ado, let's answer the question Clinton ducked: Was Ross Perot right?

In 1993, the Clinton White House and an army of corporate lobbyists were selling NAFTA as a way to aid Mexican and American workers. Perot, on the other hand, was predicting that because the deal included no basic labor standards, it would preserve a huge "wage differential between the United States and Mexico" that would result in "the giant sucking sound" of American jobs heading south of the border. Corporations, he said, would "close the factories in the U.S. [and] move the factories to Mexico [to] take advantage of the cheap labor."

The historical record is clear. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reports, "Real wages for most Mexicans today are lower than when NAFTA took effect." Post-NAFTA, companies looking to exploit those low wages relocated factories to Mexico. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the net effect of NAFTA was the elimination of 1 million American jobs.

Score one for Perot.

What about immigration? In 1993, the Clinton administration pitched NAFTA as "the best hope for reducing illegal immigration." Perot, by contrast, said that after NAFTA depressed Mexican wages, many Mexicans "out of economic necessity" would "consider illegally immigrating into the U.S."

"In short," he wrote, "NAFTA has the potential to increase illegal immigration, not decrease it."

Again, the historical record tells the story. As NAFTA helped drive millions of Mexicans into poverty, The New York Times reports that "Mexican migration to the United States has risen to 500,000 a year from less than 400,000 in the early 1990s, before NAFTA," with a huge chunk of that increase coming from illegal immigration.

Score another one for Perot.

Clinton may continue to laugh at Perot and plead amnesia when asked about trade policy. And sure, she and her fellow Democrats in Washington can expand NAFTA and ignore the public's desire for reform. But these politicians shouldn't be surprised if that one other Perot prediction comes true again — the one accurately predicting that Democrats would lose the next national election if they sold America out and passed NAFTA.

Foreshadowing that historic Democratic loss in 1994, he warned, "We'll remember in November."

Yes, indeed, Ross. America probably will.

David Sirota is the bestselling author of "Hostile Takeover" (Crown, 2006). He is a senior fellow at the Campaign for America's Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network — both nonpartisan research organizations. His daily blog can be found at

Friday, November 23, 2007

Subprime CEOs: Cash in, melt down, cash out

Banks Gone Wild
By Paul Krugman
November 23, 2007 | New York Times

"What were they smoking?" asks the cover of the current issue of Fortune magazine. Underneath the headline are photos of recently deposed Wall Street titans, captioned with the staggering sums they managed to lose.

The answer, of course, is that they were high on the usual drug — greed. And they were encouraged to make socially destructive decisions by a system of executive compensation that should have been reformed after the Enron and WorldCom scandals, but wasn't.

In a direct sense, the carnage on Wall Street is all about the great housing slump.

This slump was both predictable and predicted. "These days," I wrote in August 2005, "Americans make a living selling each other houses, paid for with money borrowed from the Chinese. Somehow, that doesn't seem like a sustainable lifestyle." It wasn't.

But even as the danger signs multiplied, Wall Street piled into bonds backed by dubious home mortgages. Most of the bad investments now shaking the financial world seem to have been made in the final frenzy of the housing bubble, or even after the bubble began to deflate.

In fact, according to Fortune, Merrill Lynch made its biggest purchases of bad debt in the first half of this year — after the subprime crisis had already become public knowledge.

Now the bill is coming due, and almost everyone — that is, almost everyone except the people responsible — is having to pay.

The losses suffered by shareholders in Merrill, Citigroup, Bear Stearns and so on are the least of it. Far more important in human terms are the hundreds of thousands if not millions of American families lured into mortgage deals they didn't understand, who now face sharp increases in their payments — and, in many cases, the loss of their houses — as their interest rates reset.

And then there's the collateral damage to the economy.

You still hear occasional claims that the subprime fiasco is no big deal. Even though the numbers keep getting bigger — some observers are now talking about $400 billion in losses — these losses are small compared with the total value of financial assets.

But bad housing investments are crippling financial institutions that play a crucial role in providing credit, by wiping out much of their capital. In a recent report, Goldman Sachs suggested that housing-related losses could force banks and other players to cut lending by as much as $2 trillion — enough to trigger a nasty recession, if it happens quickly.

Beyond that, there's a pervasive loss of trust, which is like sand thrown in the gears of the financial system. The crisis of confidence is plainly visible in the market data: there's an almost unprecedented spread between the very low interest rates investors are willing to accept on U.S. government debt — which is still considered safe — and the much higher interest rates at which banks are willing to lend to each other.

How did things go so wrong?

Part of the answer is that people who should have been alert to the dangers, and taken precautionary measures, instead blithely assured Americans that everything was fine, and even encouraged them to take out risky mortgages. Yes, Alan Greenspan, that means you.

But another part of the answer lies in what hasn't happened to the men on that Fortune cover — namely, they haven't been forced to give back any of the huge paychecks they received before the folly of their decisions became apparent.

Around 25 years ago, American business — and the American political system — bought into the idea that greed is good. Executives are lavishly rewarded if the companies they run seem successful: last year the chief executives of Merrill and Citigroup were paid $48 million and $25.6 million, respectively.

But if the success turns out to have been an illusion — well, they still get to keep the money. Heads they win, tails we lose.

Not only is this grossly unfair, it encourages bad risk-taking, and sometimes fraud. If an executive can create the appearance of success, even for a couple of years, he will walk away immensely wealthy. Meanwhile, the subsequent revelation that appearances were deceiving is someone else's problem.

If all this sounds familiar, it should. The huge rewards executives receive if they can fake success are what led to the great corporate scandals of a few years back. There's no indication that any laws were broken this time — but the public's trust was nonetheless betrayed, once again.

The point is that the subprime crisis and the credit crunch are, in an important sense, the result of our failure to effectively reform corporate governance after the last set of scandals.

John Edwards recently came out with a corporate reform plan, but it didn't receive a lot of attention. Corporate governance still isn't regarded as a major political issue. But it should be.

Two damning reports: Whither Afghanistan?

Don't forget about our other overseas adventure-turned-horror flick: Afghanistan. Dems have a point is arguing we've taken our eye off the ball there, where the Taliban is resurgent, attacks are increasing, and aid is being wasted.

Over Half of Afghanistan under Taliban Control

November 22, 2007 | SPIEGEL ONLINE

In war-torn Afghanistan, the Taliban is gaining ground again as it continues its insurgency. A report released Wednesday by the Senlis Council, an international security and development policy think tank, concludes that more than half the entire country is now under Taliban control.

"The Taliban's ability to establish a presence throughout the country is now proven beyond doubt," the report says, adding that "54 percent of Afghanistan's landmass hosts a permanent Taliban presence, primarily in southern Afghanistan, and is subject to frequent hostile activity by the insurgency."

The report, entitled "Stumbling into Chaos: Afghanistan on the Brink," is not merely a litany of depressing statistics. It also offers ideas to halt the spread of Taliban influence including a troop "surge." NATO forces, for example, should be doubled from 40,000 to 80,000 "as soon as logistically possible." It also recommends that all present caveats constraining troop deployment be removed and that Muslim countries should supply an additional 9,000 troops to supplement Western forces. And military efforts against the Taliban should extend their reach into Pakistan, with that country's permission.

More than 6,000 people have been killed in insurgency-related violence in 2007 as NATO forces continue to battle against the Taliban, particularly in the volatile south. On Thursday Secretary General Japp de Hoop Scheffer, in Kabul for talks with the Afghan government, admitted that the alliance needed to provide more troops for Afghanistan and more trainers for Afghan forces.

Some members of NATO's coalition forces disagree with the assessment set forth by the Senlis Council. Canada's Defense Minister Peter Mackay told reporters on Wednesday that the report was simply "not credible."

The report was released on the same day as an Oxfam assessment critical of the spending efforts inside Afghanistan by Western powers. "As in Iraq," the report claims, "too much aid is absorbed by profits of companies and subcontractors, on non-Afghan resources and on high expatriate salaries and living costs."

Both reports are grim. Oxfam notes that "the absence of community participation, or association with the military, has led to projects which are unsuitable, unused or targeted by militants." And the Senlis report concludes that "it is a sad indictment of the current state of Afghanistan that the question now appears to be not if the Taliban will return to Kabul, but when this will happen and in what form."

Meanwhile on Thursday Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that Taliban leaders were increasingly contacting him to try to find ways of making peace. "We are willing to talk," he told reporters in Kabul. "Those of the Taliban who are not part of al-Qaida or the terrorist networks, who do not want to be violent against the Afghan people ... are welcome."

Too Much Aid to Afghanistan Wasted, Oxfam Says

by Jon Hemming
November 20, 2007 | Reuters

KABUL - Too much aid to Afghanistan is wasted — soaked up in contractors' profits, spent on expensive expatriate consultants or squandered on small-scale, quick-fix projects, a leading British charity said on Tuesday.

Despite more than $15 billion of aid pumped into Afghanistan since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001, many Afghans still suffer levels of poverty rarely seen outside sub-Saharan Africa.

"The development process has to date been too centralised, top-heavy and insufficient," said a report by Oxfam.

By far the biggest donor, the United States approved a further $6.4 billion in Afghan aid this year, but the funds are spent in ways that are "ineffective or inefficient", Oxfam said.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) allocates close to half its funds to the five largest U.S. contractors in Afghanistan.

"Too much aid is absorbed by profits of companies and sub-contractors, on non-Afghan resources and on high expatriate salaries and living costs," the report said.

A full-time expatriate consultant can cost up to $500,000 a year, Oxfam said.

More money needed to be channelled through the Afghan government, strengthening its influence and institutions.

Aid also needed to be better coordinated to avoid duplication, it said.

Only 10 percent of technical assistance to Afghanistan is coordinated either with the government or among donors.


Spending on development is dwarfed by that spent on fighting the Taliban. The U.S. military is spending $65,000 a minute in Afghanistan, Oxfam said.

The report called for the 25 provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) run by the armies of 13 different nations across the country to withdraw where the security situation is stable enough and carry out relief work only where there is a critical need.

The PRTs, Oxfam said, "being nation-led are often driven more by available funding or the political interests of the nation involved rather than development considerations". The result was "a large number of small-scale, short-term projects".

"Given the historic suspicion of foreign intervention, such efforts to win 'hearts and minds' are naive. It is unsurprising that the huge expansion of PRT activities has not prevented the deterioration of security."

Violent incidents are up at least 20 percent since last year, according to U.N. estimates, and have spread northwards to many areas previously considered safe.

More than 200 civilians have been killed in at least 130 Taliban suicide bombs and at least 1,200 civilians have been killed overall this year — about half of them in operations by Afghan and international troops.

Oxfam called on the 50,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan to take greater care not to hurt civilians, particularly in air strikes. The lower number of troops in Afghanistan than in Iraq — less than a third as many in a much bigger country with a larger population — leads to a greater reliance on air power.

There are four times as many air strikes in Afghanistan as in Iraq, Oxfam said.

The NATO-led force in Afghanistan says it takes every effort to avoid civilian casualties and has already modified procedures for launching air strikes resulting in fewer civilian deaths.

Mysterious overseas contracts worth $ billions in Iraq, Afghanistan

Uncle T.:
Ha! I knew you'd say that!

You get to have it both ways, you lucky dog! On the one hand, big gov't spending is bad and wasteful, and the private sector can do a better job; but when big gov't decides to outsource its functions to the private sector to increase efficiency, you're "not shocked" when that money is wasted, because it's still "big gov't" doing the spending.

Come on, that's not fair, or intellectually honest. You can't have it both ways.

As I've said before, if you want America to act like an empire and spend $ billions on nation-building in corrupt and conflict-ridden countries thousands of miles away, then you'd better expect there to be a big price tag. There's no getting around it. And the bigger the price tag, and the farther away it is, the more waste, fraud and abuse you can expect. You should expect even more waste, fraud, and abuse if "big gov't" fails to make the necessary investments in contracting oversight to ensure that contractors deliver what they were supposed to, on time and at cost. (Same as you wouldn't hire a contractor to build your house and then never check on him to make sure it was done right.) Oversight demands TIME and MONEY, which you must understand. It's not simply a matter of the gov't writing a check to some contractor to perform some task, and having dumb "faith in the market" to be honest and effective ("big government conservatism," in a nutshell).

Uncle T. replied:

Although I am not shocked because I know that it is govt doing the spending, I am truly disillusioned and angry


This is shocking to read:

"Over the three years studied, more than $20 billion in contracts [in Afghanistan and Iraq] went to foreign companies whose identities—at least so far—are impossible to determine."

If you care about fiscal responsibility and government accountability, read this:

MoDo: Hillary is no Morgenthau

She's No Morgenthau
By Maureen Dowd
November 21, 2007 | New York Times

Most of the time, Barack Obama seems like he's boxing in the wrong weight class. But Monday in Fort Dodge, Iowa, he delivered an unscripted jab that was a beaut.

At a news conference, the Illinois senator was asked about Hillary Clinton's attack on his qualifications. Making an economic speech in Knoxville, Iowa, earlier that day, the New York senator had touted her own know-how, saying that "there is one job we can't afford on-the-job training for — that's the job of our next president." Her aides confirmed that she was referring to Obama.

Pressed to respond, Obama offered a zinger feathered with amused disdain: "My understanding was that she wasn't Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, so I don't know exactly what experiences she's claiming."

Everybody laughed, including Obama.

It took him nine months, but he finally found the perfect pitch to make a trenchant point.

Her Democratic rivals had meekly gone along, accepting her self-portrait as a former co-president who gets to take credit for everything important Bill Clinton did in the '90s. But she was not elected or appointed to a position that needed Senate confirmation. And the part of the Clinton administration that worked best — the economy, stupid — was run by Robert Rubin. Hillary did not show good judgment in her areas of influence — the legal fiefdom, health care and running oppo-campaigns against Bill's galpals.

She went on some first lady jaunts and made a good speech at a U.N. women's conference in Beijing. But she was certainly not, as her top Iowa supporter, former governor Tom Vilsack claimed yesterday on MSNBC, "the face of the administration in foreign affairs."

She was a top adviser who had a Nixonian bent for secrecy and a knack for hard-core politicking. But if running a great war room qualified you for president, Carville and Stephanopoulos would be leading the pack.

Obama's one-liner evoked something that rubs some people the wrong way about Hillary. Getting ahead through connections is common in life. But Hillary cloaks her nepotism in feminism.

"She hasn't accomplished anything on her own since getting admitted to Yale Law," wrote Joan Di Cola, a Boston lawyer, in a letter to The Wall Street Journal this week, adding: "She isn't Dianne Feinstein, who spent years as mayor of San Francisco before becoming a senator, or Nancy Pelosi, who became Madam Speaker on the strength of her political abilities. All Hillary is, is Mrs. Clinton. She became a partner at the Rose Law Firm because of that, senator of New York because of that, and (heaven help us) she could become president because of that."

The Clinton campaign in Iowa is in a panic. Obama has been closing the gap with women and her ginning up of gender has lost her male votes. Speaking around Iowa this week, Obama made the point that his exotic upbringing, family in Kenya and years as an outsider allow him to see the world with more understanding, and helped form his judgment about resisting the Iraq war.

"I spent four years living overseas when I was a child living in Southeast Asia," he said. "If you don't understand these cultures then it's very hard for you to make good foreign policy decisions. Foreign policy is all about judgment."

President Bush is not so enamored of Obama's foreign policy judgment. He gave a plug to Hillary on ABC News last night, calling her a "formidable candidate," even under pressure, who "understands the klieg lights."

Asked by Charles Gibson about Obama's offer to meet without preconditions with the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea, W. declared it "odd foreign policy."

Laura Bush also gave Hillary a sisterly — and dynastic — plug when she told the anchor that living in the White House and meeting people everywhere would be "very helpful" to a first lady trading up.

[At first glance, it seems odd that George and Laura Bush would be praising Hillary. But then, they have two very good reasons to want Hillary to be nominated: (1) her Iraq and Iran policies do not look much different than Bush's, hence her nomination will not introduce anything new or disruptive into the 2008 presidential campaign, or if she wins, into U.S. foreign policy; and (2) the Bush's, contrary to what they say, do indeed pay attention to polls, and they know that Hillary's nomination all but guarantees a Republican President in 2009. It is odd that MoDo doesn't offer up these obvious observations.... -- J ]

Though he did not mention the quick "color me experienced" trip Hillary took with some Senate colleagues to Iraq and Afghanistan just before she started running, Obama might have been thinking of it when he mocked Kabuki Congressional junkets:

"You get picked up at the airport by a state convoy and a security detail. They drive you over to the ambassador's house and you get lunch. Then you go take a tour of some factory or some school. Children do a native dance."

Hillary pounced, knowing that her chief rival's foreign policy résumé is as slender as his physique, once more conjuring a childish Obama. She brazenly borrowed Republican talking points, even though she accused John Edwards of "throwing mud" that was "right out of the Republican playbook."

"With all due respect," she told a crowd in Iowa. "I don't think living in a foreign country between the ages of 6 and 10 is foreign policy experience."

But is living in the White House between the ages of 45 and 53 foreign policy experience?