October 31, 2004

Biden at State?

Oh no... say it ain't so!

THE man whose presidential ambitions were destroyed when he plagiarised Neil Kinnock is set to become America’s chief foreign policymaker if John Kerry is elected President next Tuesday. Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware has been asked by Mr Kerry to become Secretary of State in a Democratic administration, according to Kerry campaign aides. Mr Biden, the leading Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the past four years, ran for President in 1988. His campaign ended abruptly when it was revealed that a key element of his stump speech had been lifted directly from Mr Kinnock’s general election speeches in 1987.

But Mr Biden has since emerged as a leading foreign policy figure in the Democratic party and is expected to take the job offered by Mr Kerry unless political factors intervene. Were the Democrats to retake control of the Senate, he might prefer to remain as a lawmaker, but those who know him think that unlikely.

Mr Biden’s possible elevation is one of the thousands of permutations circulating in Washington in the final days before the presidential election. If Mr Biden does go to the State Department it will be a disappointment for Richard Holbrooke, the UN Ambassador during the Clinton Administration and the architect of the Dayton peace accords that ended the Bosnian war in 1995. Mr Holbrooke has lobbied hard for the Secretary of State ’s job. But in what will be seen as both an effort to conciliate the famously self-confident Mr Holbrooke, and as a signal change from Bush administration policy, Mr Kerry is likely to offer him the job of special Middle East peace co-ordinator, senior Democrats say.

Mr Kerry plans to announce both appointments soon after the election as a sign of the urgency he assigns to mending diplomatic fences.

President Bush has declined to appoint a senior level emissary to the Middle East and the Kerry move would delight European leaders, including Tony Blair, who have been urging a renewed US engagement in the region.

Other senior foreign policy positions in a Kerry administration are likely to go to three former senior officials who have been advising the senator’s campaign.

Rand Beers, who resigned from the Bush Administration’s National Security Council over the Iraq war, is likely to be National Security Adviser, although Wesley Clark, the former Nato commander, may also be considered.

James Rubin, President Clinton’s State Department spokesman and husband of the CNN star reporter Christiane Amanpour, is in line for a front line policy role, as is Susan Rice, another Clinton appointee, meaning that whoever wins next week, an African American female called Dr Rice will be a senior foreign policy figure.

One puzzle for the Democratic team is the Pentagon. Mr Kerry is understood to want his friend John McCain, the Arizona senator, to be Defence Secretary. But Mr McCain is believed to be reluctant. The confirmed maverick might fit uncomfortably even in his close friend’s administration. If the Republicans keep control of the Senate, the Arizona senator will take the powerful job of chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Another possibility is Chuck Hagel, the Nebraska senator, also a Republican. Mr Kerry is said to be intent on removing Porter Goss, who was confirmed as the head of the CIA only this month. A candidate to replace him is Bob Graham, the retiring Florida senator.

One problem with this lineup, however, for the Kerry team, is that it looks a little Senate-heavy.

Given the reputation of senators as windbags with large egos and an argumentative manner, Mr Kerry, a senator himself, may be reluctant to have former senators at President, Vice-President (John Edwards, his running mate), Secretary of State, Secretary of Defence and Director of Central Intelligence.

There is less clarity about what the foreign policy team will look like if President Bush wins, which seems odd, given that the Republicans are already in charge.

Though nothing is fixed, officials say, Colin Powell is likely to leave the State Department, as is his deputy, Richard Armitage. Both have been bloodied in the Administration’s infighting in the past four years and are not inclined to stay. But Donald Rumsfeld is eager to remain at the Pentagon and a newly re-elected Mr Bush may feel vindicated enough to keep him in place.

Possible replacements for General Powell include Condoleezza Rice, the current National Security Adviser, if she decides to stay in Washington at all, or Robert Blackwill, currently a senior director on the NSC and the man who has been in charge of Iraq policy in the past six months. Mr Blackwill is regarded as a pragmatist and problem-solver rather than an ideologue. John Danforth, the recently appointed ambassador to the UN, and former senator, is another name under consideration. There is much jockeying for the National Security Adviser post job if Dr Rice does leave. Stephen Hadley, her deputy, seems to be favourite. But other possibilities include Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defence, and leading light among the neoconservatives in the Administration, Mr Blackwill if he does not get the State job, and Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, and a key figure in administration policy in the past four years, who is also sympathetic to the neoconservative approach to foreign policy ends.

All of this is hugely speculative, of course. But a lot of it rings true which is why I've posted the whole piece. Can people in comments please point me to alternative sources on Bush II and Kerry I likely national security cabinet picks? I'm working on an analysis and need to game it with as much scuttlebutt as possible. Please post links in comments (I heard there was a lengthy National Journal article on this, for instance?) Thanks in advance for any help.

UPDATE: Thanks to reader ZH for sending in the National Journal article. Here it is. It's pretty comprehensive and well worth reading. Readers are invited to send in other sources too, however.

Posted by Gregory at 01:23 PM | Comments (7)

Why Can't Bush Admit Mistakes?

Yevgeny Vilensky sends in some cogitations on the issue here. Soundbite--the positively poisonous political climate plays a hand in Bush's retinence to do so too (particularly stemming from the aftermath of the 2000 election and concommitant attacks on Bush's very legitimacy as President). Look, Bush's stubborness and 'bubble' mentality is the bigger factor here and it would be good to get more of a Truman-like sense of the 'buck stops here' out of him (as Vilensky himself points out). But Vilensky's post is worth throwing in the mix too--particularly his musings about the impact of attacks on Bush's very legitimacy.

Another Gore-style contestation of the election, just on the heels of the last go-around, would prove quite harmful to American democracy. I hope either campaign thinks long and hard before contesting election results this time--unless there are truly legitimate reasons to cry foul. We are in danger of being over-lawyered at the very core of our most important political processes. Wouldn't it be ironic if our polity--a thriving democracy guaranteed by the most sophisticated legal regime in the world--were in danger of being consumed by legions of lawyers? We need more statesmanship from our senior lawyers if, say, Ohio is 4,000 votes apart and the electoral grievances appear more by way of 'hell let's give it a try to get our guy in'--rather than fundamental irregularities that have resulted in scuttling the people's vote materially. If the voting public begins to detect a pattern (fairly or unfairly) that their sovereignty is being denied them through judicial processes--one of the costs will be an increase in the noxiousness aimed at our leaders--stemming from an increasingly widespread belief that the power they wield is not legitimate. This is a dangerous phenemenon if it begins to become routinized. Party eminences--to the extent there are any that have broader civic horizons beyond rapacious partisanship--need to keep this in mind too early Wednesday morning if the election looks close.

Posted by Gregory at 12:00 PM | Comments (37)

October 30, 2004

B.D. Gets Results!

One of the crucial issues of this election is, Which candidate fundamentally gets the evil represented by this man? Which of these two guys understands it deep in his gut - not just in his brain or in his policy statements, but who feels it so deep in his soul that it consumes him?

-- David Brooks, writing today, in the NYT.

George Bush, in my view, understands the nature of the evil we are combating. He understands it deep in his gut, to his very core, and this is why I will be voting for him in November.

B.D., writing on October 17th.

Read all of Brooks' piece. Some money grafs:

Kerry did say that we are all united in the fight against bin Laden, but he just couldn't help himself. His first instinct was to get political.

On Milwaukee television, he used the video as an occasion to attack the president: "He didn't choose to use American forces to hunt down Osama bin Laden. He outsourced the job." Kerry continued with a little riff from his stump speech, "I am absolutely confident I have the ability to make America safer."

Even in this shocking moment, this echo of Sept. 11, Kerry saw his political opportunities and he took 'em. There's such a thing as being so nakedly ambitious that you offend the people you hope to impress.

But politics has shaped Kerry's approach to this whole issue. Back in December 2001, when bin Laden was apparently hiding in Tora Bora, Kerry supported the strategy of using Afghans to hunt him down. He told Larry King that our strategy "is having its impact, and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will. I think we have been doing this pretty effectively, and we should continue to do it that way."

But then the political wind shifted, and Kerry recalculated. Now Kerry calls the strategy he supported "outsourcing." When we rely on allies everywhere else around the world, that's multilateral cooperation, but when Bush does it in Afghanistan, it's "outsourcing." In Iraq, Kerry supports using local troops to chase insurgents, but in Afghanistan he is in post hoc opposition.

This is why Kerry is not cleaning Bush's clock in this election. Many people are not sure that he gets the fundamental moral confrontation. Many people are not sure he feels it, or feels anything. Since he joined the Senate, what cause has he taken a political risk for? Has he devoted himself selflessly and passionately to any movement larger than himself?

Fair questions, these. And ones B.D. has posed before and, I fear, the Sullivans and Adesniks have not factored into their decision-making processes enough (to put it mildly).

UPDATE: Laura says this is David Brooks at his "hackiest." Ouch!

Over in mondo-Laura (one of the very best left-of-center blogs), of course, Maureen Dowd is hitting another nail on its head...never hacky her!

Posted by Gregory at 06:55 AM | Comments (19)

October 29, 2004

Egg on My Face?


A few days back I analyzed the history of al-Q/UBL video and audio tapes and speculated UBL was pretty long dead. My analysis was picked up by Glenn--and also a columnist at the Washington Times. I don't know what to make of this new videotape just yet--it's possible that old video footage has somehow been interposed with audio from someone other than UBL (so as to explain contemporary references to Kerry and such). Or, of course, the tape could be the real thing. If that proves to be the case, apologies for giving anyone false comfort or appearing to make political hay of the fact that I thought UBL was dead (ie, that this was another Bush success in the prosecution of the GWOT). And, if it's true, I'll have to accept that I merit a "huge amount of egg on my face" as I had intially written.

All this said, what does the transcript reveal (in terms of al-Qaeda's strategic intentions rather than intel on UBL's whereabouts)? For one, it's interesting to note that UBL is channeling Michael Moore so blatantly:


We agreed with Mohamed Atta, god bless him, to execute the whole operation in 20 minutes. Before Bush and his administration would pay attention and we never thought that the high commander of the US armies would leave 50 thousand of his citizens in both towers to face the horrors by themselves when they most needed him because it seemed to distract his attention from listening to the girl telling him about her goat butting was more important than paying attention to airplanes butting the towers which gave us three times the time to execute the operation thank god.

I guess, if just by a hair or two, it's more repulsive to hear such claptrap emanating from UBL than Moore. That said, UBL wouldn't have thought to use the "My Pet Goat" line if it weren't for the publicity it got in the movie, doubtless. Perhaps Moore (not to mention his paymasters like Harvey Weinstein) is proud our arch-enemies find his cheap, cynical oeuvre so compelling.

Question: After reading the text, and given the timing of its release, can it be read any other way than as an attempt to give Kerry an 11th hour boost? And if that's the consensus view, why would al-Qaeda view it as in their interests for Kerry to win? Some, including B.D. at various junctures, believed al-Qaeda might prefer a Bush win--calculating that it might stoke the fires of full-blown, civilizational conflict more readily (ie, Bush allegedly more the Christian warrior, divisive type as compared to Kerry).

Note too, I thought that was a miscalculation and over-simplification by al-Qaeda--arguing that Bush would prosecute the war in more nuanced terms than they expected (and, thus, more effectively in terms of really beating back not only the terrorists; but also the sources of Islamic terror). But, it might appear, Kerry is the preferred al-Qaeda candidate. Why, I wonder? Simply the propaganda value of having UBL ostensibly outlast Bush? Or to try to pull a Madrid, sans explosives, but via video? Or simply, because they believe a Kerry administration will be easier for them to deal with? Or other reasons still?

MORE: Andrew thinks the tape will help Bush. And that UBL so intended. His reasoning: the release of the tape, not only serves as a reminder of the 9/11 attacks, but also serves to stir and resuscitate the "emotional bond" the American people felt with POTUS stemming from Bush's post 9/11 rallying of the nation. That's pretty complex analysis and feels a little too Freud-y and Jung-y to me.

UBL, on one level of course, was simply telling both Bush and Kerry that 'hey, I'm around guys; and either one of you will have to deal with me whoever wins'. But, of course, he could have just as easily done so on Nov 3rd. He (if it is indeed UBL) did it before the election for a reason. As in Madrid, al-Qaeda seems increasingly intent on impacting electoral processes in democracies (already weakened here after the chad madness of 2000--with much speculation it could happen again this go around).

So, this begs the question, who did UBL think would be advantaged by his release of tape--Bush or Kerry? Look, I gotta think--Kerry. He taunted Bush--the "goat" stuff. And, of course, he's taunting him by simply proving (ostensibly) that he is alive--ie, the Tora Bora meme that Kerry likes to go on about.

Note this part of the transcript too:

Although we are in the fourth year after the events of sept 11, Bush is still practicing distortion and misleading on you, and obscuring the main reasons and therefore the reasons are still existing to repeat what happened before.

These are the words of someone who wants Bush to win? Vote Bush back in and, because of his lies, it's likelier we will strike in your homeland again?

And this:

We didn't find difficulty dealing with Bush and his administration due to the similarity of his regime and the regims in our countries. Whish half of them are ruled by military and the other half by sons of kings and presidents and our experience with them is long. Both parties are arrogant and stubborn and the greediness and taking money without right and that similarity appeared during the visits of Bush to the region while people from our side were impressed by the US and hoped that these visits would influence our countries. Here he is being influenced by these regimes, Royal and military. And was feeling jealous they were staying for decades in power stealing the nations finances without anybody overseeing them. So he transferred the oppression of freedom and tyranny to his son and they call it the Patriot Law to fight terrorism. He was bright in putting his sons as governors in states and he didn't forget to transfer his experience from the rulers of our region to Florida to falsify elections to benefit from it in critical times.

Corruption (in bed with the Saudis)! How Halliburton-esque. Dynastic decadence! The tyrannical Patriot Act! The stolen election in Florida! These could be Joe Lockhart or Bob Shrum talking points.

No, I think UBL is trying to help beat Bush so he accomplish the propaganda coup of having outlasted him (or, perhaps, he is calculating al-Qaeda's strategic situation may improve in a Kerry administration). But, of course, the tape might well backfire if that is the intended effect. Americans, whether from Guardian writing campaigns or al-Qaeda tapes--don't like people poking their noses into their own business and fundamental rights. Like picking their Presidents, for instance.

Still, if UBL is really, really smart and realize this (that his criticisms of Bush will actually prove a positive for Bush)--and calculates (erroneously in my view) that Bush's re-election could help precipitate the clash of civilizations he desires--Sullivan's analysis could be right.

But why, ultimately, do I still think it's wrong? Because, deep down, I believe UBL views Americans as hyper-secular, ultra-spoiled, porno-fed, white-trash, cowards (think Hilton sisters and their ilk--the so underwhelming L.A. trailer-chic, Von Dutch cap-clad gaggles). And that--by signaling an attack is likelier if Bush wins and criticizing him so much in his tape--it might stir the 'meek' to vote Kerry.

More; re: this passage:

Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or Al Qaeda. Your security is in your hands. Each state that doesn't mess with our security has automatically secured their security.

A neat, strategic amiguity if you will. Should Kerry win--al Qaeda gets to keep killing Americans. It's not about a specific leader--but the state writ large, of course. This is why I think all this hudna and truce talk is overblown.

Wretchard sees no mention of Andalusia so thinks UBL has given up on restoration of some glorious Caliphate spanning Alhambra to Jakarta. But how does Belmont Club think UBL defines not messing with their security? In my view, this means that the U.S. must still pull out of Iraq, Afghanistan, stop its support to Egypt and Saudi (mostly financial), stop support to Israel (both military and financial), and stop helping Musharraf in Pakistan. In a word, a total non-starter from our perspective. There is no truce offer. This is simply an attempt to look more the mellowed, statesman following up on the fake peace proffer to New Europe. Contra Wetchard, I don't think at all UBL is saying: "if you leave us alone we will leave you alone" in a manner materially different, in substance, than before. He has simply made a stylistic adaptation, theatrically, so as to appear a rational actor worth listening too. If anything, this makes him more dangerous--as more will begin to think he is someone we can deal with--a "nuisance," say--but one we can handle.

Interestingly too, as Juan Cole notes, UBL has adopted neo-Wilsonian language in his latest tape:

The talk about being "free persons" (ahrar) and fighting for "liberty" (hurriyyah) for the Muslim "nation" (ummah) seems to me a departure. The word "hurriyyah" or freedom has no classical Arabic or Koranic resonances and I don't think it has played a big role in his previous statements.

I wonder if Bin Laden has heard from the field that his association with the authoritarian Taliban has damaged recruitment in the Arab world and Iraq, where most people want an end to dictatorship and do not want to replace their secular despots with a religious one. The elections in Pakistan (fall 2002) and Afghanistan went better than he would have wanted, and may have put pressure on him. He may now be reconfiguring the rhetoric of al-Qaeda, at least, to represent it as on the side of political liberty. I am not saying this is sincere or might succeed; both seem to me highly unlikely. I am saying that it is interesting that Bin Laden now seems to feel the need to appeal to this language. In a way, it may be one of the few victories American neo-Wilsonianism has won, to push Bin Laden to use this kind of language.

Cole doesn't think this adoption of neo-Wilsonianism amounts to much--but doesn't it showcase that Bush has forced UBL to make significant adjustments, at least sylistically, in his rhetoric (as even Cole notes, because of the relatively successful Afghan elections?).

Make no mistake, however. UBL, al-Qaeda, and myriad affiliates thereto remain hugely perilous groupings intent on inflicting massive harm on us unless we were to vacate the entire Middle East region (and perhaps certain areas beyond). This battle hasn't changed. No Sweden-Kerryesque hudna is on proffer. It's simply that the rhetoric and atmospherics are being adjusted--UBL is making a bid for the Moore-wing of the U.S. polity, to a fashion.

Few will be fooled (one hopes). Today, passing through Miami International, I bought a bunch of periodicals (WSJ,NYT, NYPost and so on). The cover of the NY Post had a huge picture of UBL. A kind and sweet African-American cashier girl stated to a colleague, as she took in the picture of UBL: "Poor Saddam, he is paying for Osama." I said nothing, but thought: Isn't Osama hoping, per his latest video production, that some will start whispering: "Poor Osama, he is paying for Bush."

Regardless, and finally I guess, I hope we all agree (even that woman tending the register here in Miami!) with Andrew when he writes:

Although I suspect it will help Bush a lot, my hope is that it will have no effect either way. I don't want that murderous bastard to have any say on what this democracy decides. I just hope that whoever gets elected next Tuesday manages to find and kill him. Soon.


Posted by Gregory at 10:38 PM | Comments (54)

Sully's Endorsement

FYI, I hope to throw my two cents in and post reaction to his endorsement tonight [Don't you have better things to do on a Friday night? Er, not from my present island-bound, undisclosed location folks.] So...check back tonight if able. Oh, I should add--if any of you have strong views why Sullivan got it wrong (or right!) feel free to comment below. While I've already formed some pretty strong views re: the substance of his endorsement (and just need some time to write them up)--your comments could make my job easier or, even better, provide insights I hadn't thought of before. So comments welcome.

UPDATE: UBL and a deadline on another matter kept me from getting this done last night. Today, unfortunately, I board a series of marathon flights getting me from the Carribbean to Yerevan, Armenia-- where I'll be for a week working on behalf of a philanthropic concern I'm involved with. That means the electoral going-ons will be followed by B.D. from a rather distant vantage point. Still, I'll have late night Internet access and CNN. Blogging will continue--if at odd hours. I sincerely hope we'll have a clear winner by my Weds noonish (I'll be 9 hours ahead). Back soon.

Posted by Gregory at 02:06 PM | Comments (41)

October 28, 2004

The Great New York Times al-Qaqaa Rollback...

Let's briefly recap the NYT's handling of the al-Qaqaa chronicles.

1) First, the Times ran a big lead story saying that the explosives were definitely removed after the invasion. It was, of course, a piece that positively reeked of serving Kerry up an issue before the election. Particularly humorous, to a fashion, the language liberally employed through the article so transparently aimed at conjuring up monstrous Dr. Strangelove scenarios so as to herald the coming apocalypse ("greatest explosives bonanza in history,"It's like Mars on Earth," "easily move into the terrorist web across the Middle East", "Nagasaki,"blackened and eviscerated,", "No Man's Land.")

Shit, scared yet? The nuclear winter is here, man!

2) Mere hours after they 'broke' the story--the Times-Kerry axis had this story on tap. It was almost as if John Kerry had been holding his "great blunders" line in reserve once the Times got the piece up! (Oh, and cherub Edwards was mouthing off about the "clueless" Bushies--mining the Valley girl vote when not making sure his hair was comme il faut for the cameras).

3) Next, Krugman dutifully picks up the story. What's his op-ed called? You guessed it, a "Culture of Cover-Ups"! (Someone should tell Krugman that his credibility would be so greatly enhanced if, even just once, he had a single nice thing to say about this Administration. But, I guess, that's asking a little too much since Bush is the devil incarnate and bearded Kruggie plays ennobled dissident so well--garnering so many big awards from easily wowed Euro crowds who think him the new Sakharov or some such).

4) Next, the NYT gets into (somewhat) defensive mode. But, no repentance, just yet:

President Bush's aides told reporters that because the soldiers had found no trace of the missing explosives on April 10, they could have been removed before the invasion. They based their assertions on a report broadcast by NBC News on Monday night that showed video images of the 101st arriving at Al Qaqaa.

By yesterday afternoon Mr. Bush's aides had moderated their view, saying it was a "mystery" when the explosives disappeared and that Mr. Bush did not want to comment on the matter until the facts were known.

But others would be 'moderating' their views soon too, of course.

5) Next, the Times does its level best to distance itself from a story that, it appears, could be crumbling around them. After all, the key to this entire story (in terms of the political damage it could cause Evil Georgie) is that the explosives dissapeared after the invasion. There's quite a bit to mine here, and time is short, but here are some highlights:

President Bush addressed for the first time today the mysterious disappearance of 380 tons of explosives in Iraq, accusing his campaign rival, Senator John Kerry, of exploiting the issue without knowing, or caring about, the truth. Mr. Kerry, meanwhile, continued to hammer away on the issue.

Do me a favor. Substitute, in the graf above, the words "New York Times" where "Senator John Kerry" or "Mr. Kerry" is mentioned. Funny, huh?

Oh, and then there's this:

The very fact that Mr. Bush mentioned the missing explosives, after two days of silence since their disappearance was first reported, signaled that his campaign strategists recognized the issue's political potency in the final week of a presidential race that both sides agree could be exceedingly close.

People in the Kerry campaign clearly think too that the missing explosives may be a powerful issue...

Again, subsitute "the New York Times" for "the Kerry campaign" in the immediately preceding passage. And, note the transparent spinning in the graf above. First, POTUS was hiding for two days! Like, totally silent dude! And, now he's, you know, talking about it. So it must be a big deal! He's feeling the heat! Its got some, er, "political potency" to it...(Yawn. Can't they at least start doing all this boulot Lockhart with more subtletly?)

Then this:

The timing of the disappearance is crucial. The stockpile was found to be intact in March 2003, when United Nations weapons inspectors checked it just days before the American-led invasion. On April 10, one day after Saddam Hussein was toppled, American troops visited the Al Qaqaa depot, not finding any big cache of explosives but apparently not looking very closely either.

The troops' commander has explained that his unit was on its way to Baghdad and had simply paused at Al Qaqaa to plan the next stage of their advance.

If it could ever be established that the explosives disappeared while Mr. Hussein was still in power, Mr. Kerry's assertions that the disappearance illustrates the Bush administration's incompetence would be diluted.

Mr. Bush encouraged the idea today that the timing remained very uncertain. Accusing Mr. Kerry of making "wild charges," the president said American-led forces had seized or destroyed more than 400,000 tons of munitions in Iraq.

Note what the Times is trying to get away with here!?! It's Bush who is encouraging the "idea" that "the timing remained very uncertain." Translation: We at the Times continue to believe the timing is certain, not ambiguous, so that the explosives were removed after the invasion. But, as contrary facts are emerging, we can't say this anymore (at least not without greatly embarrasing ourselves--though we very much did in our initial 'gotcha' piece). Now, rather than accept some responsibility for all this--we are stepping back and distancing ourselves from the entire mess. See, it's now Mr. Kerry's assertions re: the administration's incompetence that "would be diluted." But, bien sur, nary a mention that our assertions (our headlined, hyped, hypebolic reporting) was perhaps innaccurate.

All pretty shameless, no?

6) Next, roll-back mode begins in earnest:

The disappearance of the explosives has roiled the presidential campaign since the report on Monday, by The New York Times and CBS News, that some of them may have been removed from an ammunition dump after American troops passed by and failed to secure the area. Officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency had warned American officials before the war began that nearly 380 tons of high explosives were hidden at the stockpile called Al Qaqaa. [emphasis added]

"Some of them may have been removed"? Sorry, but that wasn't how W. 43rd St. copy read. Again, so we don't forget, the initial story read thus: "White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished sometime after the American-led invasion last year."

So now the Times is mis-characterizing it's original story. Without, of course, even beginning to broach whether they need to prostrate themseleves into full-blown mea culpa mode. But no, Raines has been expunged, so sky's the limit! Party on folks--get out the vote!

7) Signpost moving time. This story is no longer about Bush's personal responsibility in facilitating the greatest terrorist bonanza since the advent of modern history through grotesque negligence. Now, per this Times piece, the story has become much more, er, sober:

The disappearance of the explosives -- first reported in Monday's New York Times -- has raised questions about why the United States didn't do more to secure the facility and failed to allow full international inspections to resume after the invasion.


8) Le rollback continu. Buried in this Reuters piece carried on the Times website:

Bush and Pentagon officials said the material might have been moved from the site before U.S. forces arrived.

Perkins also said it was ``very highly improbable'' that enemy forces could have trucked out such a huge amount of explosives in the weeks after U.S. forces first arrived there, considering the high level of U.S. military presence and how clogged the roads around the site were with U.S. convoys.

9) Time to play defense--but rollback now complete!

Looters stormed the weapons site at Al Qaqaa in the days after American troops swept through the area in early April 2003 on their way to Baghdad, gutting office buildings, carrying off munitions and even dismantling heavy machinery, three Iraqi witnesses and a regional security chief said Wednesday.

The Iraqis described an orgy of theft so extensive that enterprising residents rented their trucks to looters. But some looting was clearly indiscriminate, with people grabbing anything they could find and later heaving unwanted items off the trucks.

Two witnesses were employees of Al Qaqaa - one a chemical engineer and the other a mechanic - and the third was a former employee, a chemist, who had come back to retrieve his records, determined to keep them out of American hands. The mechanic, Ahmed Saleh Mezher, said employees asked the Americans to protect the site but were told this was not the soldiers' responsibility.

The accounts do not directly address the question of when 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives vanished from the site sometime after early March, the last time international inspectors checked the seals on the bunkers where the material was stored. It is possible that Iraqi forces removed some explosives before the invasion.

The Times is now busily casting about for Iraqi "witnesses." But, no witness accounts can keep them from now admitting what I've bolded above: that some of the explosives may have gone missing before the invasion. Wowser! And still--not an inkling of a retraction or apology. Hell, not even an ensy weensy clarification or such re: the initial story.

10) MoDo picks up where Krugman left off. She doesn't give one little Qa-Qaa about the facts, of course. Just spin, Cheney is Frankenstein, spin, George is hopelessly dumb, spin etc etc. You've read it all before....

11) Now, of course, and not reported in the NYT at this hour--comes this Bill Gertz bombshell from the Washington Times. Gertz is probably the best reporter at that paper--so I take it seriously (though I've always been dubious that massive amounts of Iraqi weaponry were moved to Syria or Iran).

Money grafs:

John A. Shaw, the deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security, said in an interview that he believes the Russian troops, working with Iraqi intelligence, "almost certainly" removed the high-explosive material that went missing from the Al-Qaqaa facility, south of Baghdad. "The Russians brought in, just before the war got started, a whole series of military units," Mr. Shaw said. "Their main job was to shred all evidence of any of the contractual arrangements they had with the Iraqis. The others were transportation units." Mr. Shaw, who was in charge of cataloging the tons of conventional arms provided to Iraq by foreign suppliers, said he recently obtained reliable information on the arms-dispersal program from two European intelligence services that have detailed knowledge of the Russian-Iraqi weapons collaboration....

"That was such a pivotal location, Number 1, that the mere fact of [special explosives] disappearing was impossible," Mr. Shaw said. "And Number 2, if the stuff disappeared, it had to have gone before we got there."

The Pentagon disclosed yesterday that the Al-Qaqaa facility was defended by Fedayeen Saddam, Special Republican Guard and other Iraqi military units during the conflict. U.S. forces defeated the defenders around April 3 and found the gates to the facility open, the Pentagon said in a statement yesterday.

A military unit in charge of searching for weapons, the Army's 75th Exploitation Task Force, then inspected Al-Qaqaa on May 8, May 11 and May 27, 2003, and found no high explosives that had been monitored in the past by the IAEA.

The Pentagon said there was no evidence of large-scale movement of explosives from the facility after April 6.

Look, this version of events ain't airtight either. But, one thing is for sure. The NYT won't give it as much copy as their version of events which, as it turns out, is materially erroneous in terms of any judicious preponderance of the evidence test--as and where we sit today. Just don't look for any corrections or retractions. It's the Times, after all--and they're typically above such messiness. Wild-eyed Kerry ran with their story, you see, and now it's a Bush-Kerry explosives thang.

Meanwhile, the Times regally takes in the passing show--one they erroneously hyped up and published. They could have run a more sober piece--there is still a lot for the Bushies to be embarrassed about here--even in the Gertz piece scenario (why didn't Bush get good buddy Vlado to stop the arms-shuttling out of Iraq). But, instead, the Times tried to score a mega-October surprise style gotcha and hand it over to JFK the Second. And, it looks like, they came up real short.

(thax to reader Chris Jefferson for getting my butt in gear on this story)

UPDATE: The NYT is valianty keeping the story alive! But they are moving the signposts (again) and using lots of weasel verbiage:

A videotape made by a television crew with American troops when they opened bunkers at a sprawling Iraqi munitions complex south of Baghdad shows a huge supply of explosives still there nine days after the fall of Saddam Hussein, apparently including some sealed earlier by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The tape, broadcast on Wednesday night by the ABC affiliate in Minneapolis, appeared to confirm a warning given earlier this month to the agency by Iraqi officials, who said that hundreds of tons of high-grade explosives, powerful enough to bring down buildings or detonate nuclear weapons, had vanished from the site after the invasion of Iraq.

The question of whether the material was removed by Mr. Hussein's forces in the days before the invasion, or looted later because it was unguarded, has become a heated dispute on the campaign trail, with Senator John Kerry accusing President Bush of incompetence, and Mr. Bush saying it is unclear when the material disappeared and rejecting what he calls Mr. Kerry's "wild charges."

Weapons experts familiar with the work of the international inspectors in Iraq say the videotape appears identical to photographs that the inspectors took of the explosives, which were put under seal before the war. One frame shows what the experts say is a seal, with narrow wires that would have to be broken if anyone entered through the main door of the bunker.

The agency said that when it left Iraq in mid-March, only days before the war began, the only bunkers bearing its seals at the huge complex contained the explosive known as HMX, which the agency had monitored because it could be used in a nuclear weapons program. It is now clear that program had ground to a halt.

The New York Times and CBS reported on Monday that Iraqi officials had told the agency earlier this month that the explosives were missing, and that they were looted after April 9, 2003, the day Baghdad fell.

"Apparently." "Appears." Seems the jury's still out. As I said, lots of weasel words. And, critically, note the bolded portion immediately above in the last graf. That's a flat-out mis-statement. The original Monday New York Times story stated that "White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished sometime after the American-led invasion last year"--not merely that "Iraqi officials" had so opined.

Again, moving the goal-posts. Look, the point of this post wasn't to argue that whatever went down at al Qaqaa was all just fine and dandy. It, very obviously, wasn't. But it was to showcase, pretty convincingly in my view, that the New York Times--in its so transparent rush to hand Kerry a big issue--1) rushed their copy, 2) given "1", the article in its original form was not factually provable by a preponderance of the evidence standard (especially in that it may have been factually inaccurate with regard to the Administration's reported acknowledgement that explosives vanished after the invasion; or, at best, way too thinly-sourced to convincingly make that claim), and 3) was, in general, evocative more of a NYT that feels simply like a WSJ of the Left than the much ballyhooed even-keeled, wise, ever-judicious 'paper of record.' Don't you think?

UPDATE: The always on the ball Tom Maguire adds more relevant detail. Check it out...

Posted by Gregory at 01:43 PM | Comments (107)

B.D. In the Press

My recent UBL is dead post ("Who's Zed? Zed's dead, baby, Zed's dead") got written up in the Washington Times (thanks to Jack Kelly for the props). And, somewhere in the great battleground (or not) state of Oregon, I've been deemed one of three "rational" blogs worth consulting if you're an undecided in the impending election--with Dan Drezner and Brad DeLong the other two (Ph.D-less and voting Bush--but still deemed "rational"! A near amazing feat, no?)

Posted by Gregory at 01:16 AM | Comments (14)

Arafat In Critical Condition--Some Insta-Analysis

I haven't blogged too much re: the Middle East of late (read: non-Iraq)--and feel pretty negligent about that. That said, this developing story re: Arafat is huge. Arafat's demise, assuming a credible leader emerges, will force the U.S. to re-engage more forcefully in the Middle East peace process (though much time will be lost through the election/ transition period--especially should Kerry win).

Arafat, love him or hate him, remained in pretty firm control of the organs of PA decision-making through his long confinement at the Mukata in Ramallah. Diplomats were frustrated trolling about PA precincts--because you had to spend days piecing together some "Palestinian" position through myriad interlocuters--who all nevertheless still reported to Arafat. All of this, mostly, was an elaborate fiction borne of various factors. Most prominently, of course, Bush's abject disdain of Arafat and consequent marching orders from the top-down--don't deal with Yassir under any circumstances. So no one on the U.S. (and, increasingly, EU) side of the fence would cut to the chase and contact him directly. Result? Well, aside from the obvious isolation and marginalization of Arafat from the global stage (which many were delighted about)--lots of wasted time too unfortunately.

Now, it appears, Arafat may be on his last legs. If he dies, we can be concerned about a bloody succession struggle and/or generally chaotic conditions in the Territories. Still, while Arafat has never groomed a successor, it appears he's got a committee (of sorts) teed up to handle affairs while he is incapacitated.

Ailing Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat is said to have formed a special three-man committee to run affairs in his absence, Palestinian sources said Wednesday night. The committee includes Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, his predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas, and Salim Al-Zaanoun, head of the Palestinian National Council, the 512-member Palestinian parliament.

I think the PA will end up rallying around a single successor without total chaos erupting in the Territories. And, assuming it's someone the U.S. can deal with like Abu Mazen or Qureia, we can expect a resuscitation of U.S.-Palestinian direct contact at the highest levels (or, at least, Powell)--which should facilitate forward movement on security protocols and such so as to move the road map back to life.

Bottom line: Arafat's death, which few will mourn in this country, would also likely prove a net positive for regional dynamics and the moribund peace process. Unless, of course, I'm wrong. And a bloody succession struggle erupts--perhaps with Hamas making a greater bid for popular support (arguing they were 'successful' in evicting Israel from Gaza--much like Hezbollah efforts in S. Lebanon--and will try to the same for their 'people' in the West Bank).

That said, re: the Hamas/Gaza angle, note another major potential impact of this story: Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan could be imperiled:

The claim that "there is no partner," which has formed the basis of Israeli foreign policy over the past four years and justified the refusal to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, would depart together with him.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan would lose the central justification for its existence - the lack of a Palestinian partner.

Only one day after the Knesset approved the disengagement plan and the dramatic schism took place in the Likud leadership, all the circumstances appear to be suddenly changing.

Indeed. Anyway, we hope to keep a closer eye on this part of the Middle East over here in the coming days. Very much developing, as they say.

P.S. My money is on Mahmoud Abbas succeeding Arafat. In that vein, don't miss this JPost story that touches on succession scenarios:

Veteran PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who was long considered a natural successor to Arafat, has also been sidelined. Last year, following a high-profile confrontation with Arafat, Abbas resigned as prime minister, accusing the PA chairman of maintaining an autocratic style of rule.

Abbas, who has since been boycotting Arafat and the PA leadership, on Monday night visited the Mukata in Ramallah to inquire about the chairman's health and wish him a speedy recovery. It was the first time the two had met since the angry and deeply offended Abbas walked out to protest against his boss's performance.

A source close to Abbas said the visit did not have any political implications and was not an indication that the former prime minister was contemplating a comeback. Palestinian journalists camping outside Arafat's office over the past 48 hours reacted with cynicism to Abbas's courtesy call, joking that the real purpose of the visit was to see if the rumors about Arafat's death were true. [emphasis added]

UPDATE: Not so soon; perhaps.

Posted by Gregory at 12:34 AM | Comments (29)

October 27, 2004

A Puppet in Revolt?

Why, how dare the "puppet" use the 'N' word (even appending an unflattering adjective to it)? Quick, someone call Joe Lockhart and ask him whether the "hand underneath the shirt...[is] moving the lips" today too? Or was this all just a coup de theatre to show that big boy Allawi marches to his own drummer?

N.B. I am not opining on the merits of various parties' culpability in this sad affair. As with the explosives story, let's take a couple days to see how this sorry episode plays out. But, that said, note mention (in the NYT article) that up to 5% of nascent Iraqi forces may have been infiltrated by insurgents. This doesn't surprise me at all--and, of course, might have been a (if not the) major contributing factor in allowing this brutish slaughter of guardsmen to happen.

I remember the Iranians trying to infiltrate the Bosnian Federation Army when we were assisting that 'train and equip' effort. Doubtless Iraqi insurgents (and even some Iranian agents) are trying the same with this latest U.S. led 'train and equip' effort. Folks, we cannot rush this effort (the training of Iraqi forces), falsely declare them combat ready, and cut bait with a major drawdown in our presence there. We need a good 3-5 years to judiciously recruit, adequately screen, effectively train/equip; coordinate into our force presence, ensure professionalism, etc.--if we are serious about creating a viable Iraqi Army that is professional and capable enough to really assist in stabilization and democratization of that country. Yes, that means likely beyond the term of whoever wins next week (and Kerry says he will draw our troops out by the end of his first term? What a recipe for disaster! I thought he was the candidate so keen to 'train and equip' better? Hard to do without enough trainers on the ground and some insurance (read: lotsa U.S. boots around too) in case the nascent army gets overly compromised...) This is just one critical area of many where any irresolute signals emitting from Washington will further encourage troublemaking on the ground. Sullivan and Co. haven't focused enough, in my view, on the fact that Kerry has all but confirmed our troops are to get out of Iraq by the end of his first term--a major signal of weakness to the enemy in my book.

Posted by Gregory at 02:20 AM | Comments (6)

October 26, 2004

BD Upgrade

Belgravia Dispatch is now running on MovableType 3.121 and we migrated to a MySQL Database. The process took quite some time because no reader comments would move over.
The reason for the update were massive amounts of spam. I deleted a couple of thousand casino and pharma spam messages.

Now with MT 3 and the newly integrated Blacklist Plug-In we hope to keep this blog free of annoying messages from all the (excuse my German) Vollidioten, who pollute the web.

I have to apologize to the two commenters who posted comments to "It's Kerry Endorsement Season!" and "The National Security Teams" - I have lost your contribution. I beg you pardon.

Please report any problems to teberle(at)g2e-media.com

Thank you all.

UPDATE: Greg here. Thomas, thanks for your help upgrading my MT platform, preserving data, getting rid of spam. It's much appreciated. If anyone needs a site design guy you should definitely look up Thomas (click on his company's logo on my sidebar for his coordinates). That said, apologies to all for any lost comments (and for having to delete the post on prospective national security teams because of an inexplicable loss of text in the main body of said post).

Anyway...I'm on my last legs. Blogging should resume tomorrow night. Key areas I am looking to dig into include the whole missing explosives story (read this from Roger Simon on the NYT angle thereto) as well as, finally, a thorough-going analysis of prospective national security cabinets for each of Bush II and Kerry I...more soon.

Posted by teberle at 04:05 PM | Comments (28)

October 25, 2004

It's Kerry Endorsement Season!

Wow, it's getting lonely out there! WaPo. TNR. Drezner. Chafetz. Adesnik. Andrew, likely soon?

Oh, and the Nation and the NYT too (which endorsement is more surprising, one wonders?).

Speaking of the NYT, they are, predictably, in mega-anti-Bush-overdrive-mode right now. There was the Ron Suskind piece--all but portraying Bush as a theocratic fanatic on par with UBL--and clearly aimed at terrorizing wavering secular elites in a city or town near you! There was the Gordon series--which methodically, via three meaty installments, hammered in on many of the Administration's screw ups in Iraq. And, today, this staggeringly awful story (that rings so out and out FUBAR and, in many ways, sums up so much of what went awry with the Iraq occupation). When I read it, my first thought was: "criminally negligent." I went to Sullivan's blog and, lo and behold, that was his exact, verbatim take too. Well yeah, it takes your breath away, really.

And yet--war is a complex and hugely difficult business. What might look like the most critical site in all of Iraq to secure must, in the real world, compete with many other sites for attention (not to mention real, live insurgents trying to kill our forces). We must make sure we are not too wont to carp from the sidelines incessantly--whether from the halls of academia or the editorial rooms--about how our policymakers are so hugely incapable of handling basic tasks that we would have handled so much more swimmingly (of which more below).

Put differently, isn't there something a bit too easy about this rash of elite defections by those who supported the Iraq war? Lawrence Kaplan touches on that here. No true, as people like Dan Drezner (perhaps a wee bit self-defensively) note, this isn't a case of hindsight being 20-20. Critics were pointing out, in real time, the missteps of this Administration in Iraq (yes, B.D. included--particularly re: the fact we never had enough troops in theater--despite being mocked for so contending by 'the Rummy is always right' amen corners of the blogosphere). And, as I've often pointed out, a CFR task force report pre-invasion explicitly warned against Jacobin-like de-Baathification writ large and, more important perhaps, a full-scale disbanding of the Iraqi army.

But still, waging a war of this scope is bound to produce myriad unintended consequences. Major ones. When you support such a mammoth endeavour--you need to be prepared for major problems too. The risks of failure, miscalculation, unintended consequences--all are high. So, let's be blunt. Aren't we seeing, with all these 11th hour Bush defections from war supporters, a bit of the old adage that 'victory has many fathers but defeat is an orphan'? At least to some degree, no?

Now, going through old archives playing gotcha is a hugely lame game. And I'm certainly not going to engage in it or (heaven forbid) invite someone do the same to me. But how many of us, way back when, were so absolutely sure that major de-Baathification was a lousy idea? That a wholesale disbanding of the Iraqi army was wholly dumb (there are still smart counter-arguments about why disbanding the army was a good idea)? That our rapid initial victory may, in some respects, have proven somewhat 'catastrophic'? That the U.N. HQ would be blown up minimizing (though this is changing, of which more below) a U.N. role post-conflict? That a rash of beheadings and kidnappings would terrify NGOs and hamper reconstruction efforts? And so on.

Worth noting too, I'm far from sure Laura's right when she writes about the Iraq situation that "(t)his is one of those times when changing horses midstream is the only rational thing to do." Especially, as I've extensively detailed, when the alternative horse doesn't appear to care too much about forging a democratic Iraq.

Folks, let's all stop and take a deep breath for a second. Review Kerry's long voting record (his hyper-reticence to use American forces (or even proxies) overseas whether Desert Storm, Bosnia, Central America and so on--save the uber-safe Kosovo vote and disingenuous Iraq position). Think of how his Vietnam stance reveals much about his worldview. Think of wrong war wrong place wrong time. Ask yourself, will he see Iraq through given such rhetoric? Given his voting record over the decades? Given, as best we can espy it, his worldview? Given his snub of 'parrot' Allawi? I could go on. But I think the answer is pretty clear. It's, much more than likely, a no.

Now, of course, people like Drezner and Adesnik are asking: maybe Kerry's a gamble--but at least he's not a proven train wreck. While Adesnik think "accountability", in the main, is the issue that has gotten waverers on board for Kerry--the real core grievance appears to be best reflected, instead, in this Adesnik graf that Drezner approvingly links too:

As a professional researcher, I think I simply find it almost impossible to trust someone whose thought process is apparently so different from my own.

In theory, I am sure that Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld all believe in evaluating the relevant data and adjusting their decisions to reflect reality. Thus, when I say that I object to the way that this administration makes decisions, I am saying that I do not believe that it has lived up to the intellectual standard it presumably accepts. [emphasis added]

Let's put all this in plainer English, OK? What Dan and David are saying, I think, is: When this Bush team effs up (and they have effed up a lot), are they able to (on a bare-bones constitutive level, say): a) even recognize they have effed up and b) then move to redress the eff up?

For David and Dan (and likely Andrew Sullivan too) the answer to both "a" and "b" above appears to be no. I, contra them, think the answer is yes and yes to both (Abu Ghraib, admitedly and importantly, aside).

The greatest misstep of the Iraq war, of course, was that we never had enough troops in theater. But as even the Michael Gordon NYT series points out:

According to United States officials, Mr. Bremer raised the troop issue in a June 18 video conference with Mr. Bush. Mr. Bremer said the United States needed to be careful not to go too far in taking out troops. The president said the plan was now to rotate forces, not withdraw them, and agreed that Washington needed to maintain adequate force levels.

Still the American forces shrank, from a high of about 150,000 in July 2003 to some 108,000 in February 2004, before going up again when violence sharply increased early this year. Some of the troop declines were offset by the arrival of the Polish-led division in August 2003.

General Franks said he had sought to assure Mr. Bremer that he would have enough troops in late May. While Mr. Bremer argued that he could not get Iraq's economy going until the American military made the country safer, General Franks asserted that the slow pace of reconstruction was undermining security. [emphasis added]

A few quick points here. One, note that Bremer ulimately did get an increase from the 108,000 February low. Note too, of course, that the time for a mammoth 350,000 thousand influx of troops was likely at the beginning of the occupation. Real 'shock and awe' (read: boots on every corner) showing Iraqis that America was going to guarantee their security and stability would have been most effective then.

Later, (ie, now) a massive influx of troops could send the wrong message about U.S. intentions in the region--perhaps that we aim to have a permanent Mesopotamian garrison, for instance. Therefore, in my view, we need to focus like a laser on a serious 3-5 year 'train and equip' effort of nascent Iraqi forces--while calibrating our force posture to meet the needs posed by the insurgency, the need to secure the country, the requirements of reconstruction.

That number could yet increase, of course. But does anyone believe Kerry is more likely to increase our troop posture in Iraq than Bush? Or really 'train and equip' better (someone smart on T.V., if there are any anchors so capable, needs to dig in the weeds with a Susan Rice about how, precisely, a Kerry team will train and equip Iraqi forces better than currently underway).

Would the party of Howard Dean go for this? Would John 'wrong war, wrong place, wrong time' Kerry authorize the deployment of an extra 50,000 GIs to Iraq (recall, he explicitly mentioned that any increases to the size of our military did not entail increases to our force posture in Iraq). Bottom line: the most critical mistake of the Iraq war, namely that we never had enough forces in theater, is more likely to be effectively redressed by Bush than Kerry.

Another point. Note the fascinating snippet from Gordon's piece re: the Bremer-Franks contretemps (the latter saying slow reconstruction efforts was hampering security, the former saying the opposite). My view, of course, is that Bremer had it right. Security needs to be established first--it is the 'critical enabler' to all that must follow (reconstruction, democratization, etc etc). But here's my point: Bush has empowered John Negroponte to move funds from reconstruction to security. He's doing, to put it differently, what David and Dan think he is unable to do, namely: a) recognizing an eff up and then b) redressing said eff up.

Money quote from a Richard Armitage press conference:

Since the U.S. Embassy opened in Baghdad on June 28, our officials have worked side by side with Iraqis and Coalition forces, to implement this strategic approach. In the past 12 weeks, disbursements of U.S. assistance from the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund (IRRF) have reached $1.217 billion. During this same period, Ambassador Negroponte conducted a comprehensive six-week review of spending priorities under the IRRF to ensure that our spending is directly keyed to our objectives. The Ambassador consulted with his entire Country Team, including Multinational Force-I Commander, General Casey, as well as with the Iraqi Interim Government. The adjustments that I will now outline are based on the recommendations of Ambassador Negroponte's review.

We propose shifting a total of $3.46 billion from sector allocations outlined in the July 5, 2004 Section 2207 report into six key, high-impact areas:

$1.8 billion more for Security and Law enforcement... [emphasis added]

You might scoff that USD2B is de minimis, of course. But, for starter's, note a) it's not an insignificant amount, and, further, it showcases that b) Bush understands that reconstruction cannot proceed, willy-nilly in utopic fashion, without security and c) that he is capable of shifting course to redress such eff ups.

Another example? Drezner pointed to a lack of adequate supplies to prosecute the Iraq war effort. Yep, smells FUBAR, all right. But, in the very article Dan links, we read:

The lack of key spare parts for gear vital to combat operations, such as tanks and helicopters, was causing problems so severe, Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez wrote in a letter to top Army officials, that "I cannot continue to support sustained combat operations with rates this low."

Senior Army officials said that most of Sanchez's concerns have been addressed in recent months but that they continue to keep a close eye on the problems he identified. The situation is "substantially better" now, said Gary Motsek, deputy director of operations for the Army Materiel Command...

...Lt. Gen. Claude V. Christianson, the senior logistics officer on the Army staff at the Pentagon, said the readiness problems in Iraq peaked last fall but largely have been addressed. He said they were caused by a combination of problems in the supply pipeline and an unexpectedly high pace of combat operations as the Iraqi insurgency flared last year. [emphasis added]

Why, you ask, didn't we have enough spare parts and gear to begin with? Rummy, again? Piss poor planning? No proper preparation? Oh, doubtless such too rosy assumptions played a hand. Or Rummy's cocksure arrogance and hubris. But, as the WaPo article points out, so did things like this:

All of a sudden, at the end of July [2003], the insurgency started to do that IED business all over Iraq," he noted, using the acronym for "improvised explosive device," the military's term for roadside bombs. In response, the pace, or "operating tempo," for U.S. troops jumped, causing them to use their tanks and other armored vehicles at much higher rates than had been expected.

"The tanks are operating at 3,000 to 4,000 miles a year," Christianson said, which he noted is about five times the rate they are driven while being used for training at their home bases. The readiness rate for M-1 Abrams tanks fell to 78 percent last October, he said, compared with an Army standard of 90 percent. Because of the intensity of recent operations, said Motsek of the Army Materiel Command, the readiness rate for the tanks recently dropped from 95 percent to 83 percent.

Readiness rates also generally dipped last spring when insurgents destroyed seven bridges along the main supply route from Kuwait to Baghdad, Christianson said. In some cases, he said, supplies were cut off for "several days."

But he said the supply situation has improved since then, even as the pace of U.S. combat operations has remained intense. The waiting period for critical spare parts in Iraq is now about 24 days, about half of what it was when Sanchez wrote his letter, Christianson said. [emphasis added]

Did Dan and David know that we would face a scourge of IED attacks? Probably not. Did I? No. Should Pentagon planners have war-gamed that out when thinking of their supply/gear requirements? Probably more than was done--but who knows, really? This is a tricky business--but the point here, again is: a) the eff up was noted and kicked up the chain of command and then, b) redressed.

I could go on, of course. Everyone loves to yelp on about Fallujah. We were either a) dumb not to have razed the town to the ground (Kerry would have been tougher!) or b) dumb if we had razed the town (international opinion re: an American Jenin!). No one, it seems, stops to ponder whether a) it was smart to stop when we did (get adequate troops positioned), b) whilst wearing Zarqawi down with air attacks, to c) make a final push later in a manner that might minimize civilian casualties given more time to plan the operation and wear down hard-core insurgents. (Or not--but let's question ourselves a little bit, OK--keeping in mind that policymakers are making decisions in real time, on the ground, with real lives at stake).

Regardlesss, the point, again, is merely to showcase that Bush has shown flexibility in his war tactics. He did so with Sadr (successfully, so far). He did so in Fallujah. He's adjusted forces levels up and down via rotation schedules and the like. He's tried to remedy supply chain issues and getting enough body armor and gear to theater. He make midcourse changes too by bringing in Brahimi to help with electoral modalities. He did so by bumping Garner for Bremer and than expediting Bremer's exit. Some of these changes were forced by events. Some were thought through. Some make sense. Some might prove to have been ill advised. But, again, Bush is not some raging Messiah who believes he possesses the Truth--facts be damned! (There's some pragmatic Harvard MBA in all that born-again evangelicalism!)

Folks, I'm not trying to be a Bush apologist. Regular readers know that I've been hugely angered by some of this Administration's actions. There have been massive mistakes committed (most notably, the assumption that Iraq would be a cakewalk--where are you now Ken Adleman?-helping contribute to the troop lite issue). I've called for Don Rumsfeld's resignation, in this blog, over Abu Ghraib.

But my point here today is to query: a) don't these 11th hour Bush defections (from war supporters like Dan, Josh, and David) feel a bit too easy somehow?; b) is Bush truly incapable, per David, of adjusting his decision-making process to reflect reality in a manner that is, at least arguably, competent?; and c) has Bush's Iraq effort really proven that awful all told?

On this last, go read Chrenkoff (whom I've jokingly referred to as Pangloss!). There's meat in his regular dispatches--true blue good news. It's not all doom and gloom in Iraq. Really. And, if you think he's too rosy-colored, go read Jim Hoagland too.

Money quote:

The big but underreported news on the U.N. front is that efforts by employee unions and some senior U.N. officials to get the world body to pull out of or delay the January elections have been rejected by Secretary General Kofi Annan and his tough-minded elections director, Carina Perelli.

Perelli told me last week that she saw no technical reasons for January elections to be delayed. About 600 registration centers -- including one in Fallujah -- are scheduled to open this week in Iraq.

Cold Warriors such as George Kennan and Paul Nitze, who died last week at age 97, knew how to turn such small events into the stuff of strategy. But the nation's current strategic impatience makes that approach much more difficult.

Ancient Greeks would have seen the timing of Nitze's death as a message from Olympus. If a nation allows speed, superficiality and a quest for novelty to dominate the way it thinks about serious problems such as Iraq and Islamic terrorism, the gods will conclude that country no longer has need of thinkers like Nitze.

We are engaged in an effort in Iraq that will likely prove generational in duration and is of the utmost strategic import. There is far too much easy grousing from the sidelines and wails of despair from those who might demand instant gratification and success. To be sure, massive blunders have occurred in Iraq. But real adjustments in course, contra popular belief, have been undertaken to address them.

Reality check, including for those snidely inhabiting their so-called 'reality based communities' (showcasing a good amount of lock-step group-think in the process)--the U.N.'s top official in charge of Iraq elections sees no reason for delaying Iraq elections. Nor does Kofi Annan--whom is working the issue in conjuction with the (big, bad unilateral) United States.

Now, you can be sure, may of the 600 voter registration centers Hoagland mentions are about to become even more temping targets than Iraqi police recruitment centers for varied insurgents and/or terrorists. Have we planned for that? Will the stations be adequately protected? Or will dozens be destroyed? If so, will the elections perhaps be scuttled? Rendered illegitimate? Or, instead, will we eke out an Afghanistan scenario, if more violent, but in toto nevertheless a giant step forward for Iraq in its voyage towards a democratic future.

We don't know, really, none of us. But we do know Bush is trying, hard. And that he is capable of acknowledging errors and adjusting his policies. Will Kerry try as hard in Iraq? I doubt it. Given that judgment (it's my view, fell free to disagree and tell me why I'm wrong about Kerry), and given my further judgments that a) Bush is not some raging messianic figure wholly divorced from reality and b) he therefore can make cogent, strategic adjustments--I think Bush, at least if your main issue is Iraq and the GWOT, is your "better bet". Contra the WaPo. And, yes, contra good people like Dan Drezner, David Adesnik and Josh Chafetz.

Posted by Gregory at 12:09 PM | Comments (17)

October 23, 2004

The Lisbon Proposal

No, this isn't an Azores summit postscript or a piece on a somewhat obscure member of the coalition of the willing. Rather, it's a quick hello from a sunny Lisbon--where I just got engaged! (Did I mention she's French-Brazilian...who says B.D. doesn't believe in multipolarity!?!)

Back in London tomorrow night--blogging should resume then.

Posted by Gregory at 07:35 PM

October 20, 2004

Heidelberg Postcard

B.D. reader DL, currently based in Germany, sends in the below report on the state of U.S.-German relations (and with apologies to my always generously 'on call' German website designer Thomas Eberle!). They're bad, of course, and DL sketches out some of the whys. Not suprisingly, he's not a big fan of Gerard Schroeder. Er, I'm not either.

The Chancellor will largely be remembered as a rank panderer and opportunist. As someone unable to address structural defects in the German economy. And, most pitiably perhaps, as someone who tried to forge, unconvincingly and ineffectively, a Franco-German union in a bid for hegemony over Euro-land emitting from Berlin/Paris via proxies in Brussels. Despite theatrical summitry of late with Zapatero, this policy has proven a sad (if predictable) failure (Iraq quite apart--the Poles, Brits, Italians would never have gone for some form of Gallic-Teuton tutelage).

Put simply, Gerhard Schroeder will go down in history as a deeply mediocre Chancellor. Now, over to DL!

Understanding German Anger

At no time in the history of U.S.ĐGerman post-war relations has there been as much German anger directed at the United States as there is today. A certain amount of turbulence is normal in any bilateral relationship, especially in one that served as the foundation of the Cold War order. But even during the deployment of Pershing II missiles, when our differences were strong enough to give birth to a political party, there were voices of reason, usually within government, that cautioned against anti-Americanism. Today those voices have disappeared. The German government is now the leading critic of the United States and it has liberated German society from an unspoken taboo. The result has been an unprecedented outpouring of anti-American sentiment in the media and among the populace.

Germans would like us to believe our President is the reason. Their litany of his supposed affronts to world order is long. But underlying the criticism of American policy is a foundation of anti-Americanism that has just as little to do with our President as it does with the Kyoto Treaty, the International Criminal Court, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rather, it is the result of GermanyŐs inability to adjust to drastically changed circumstances and its loss of influence over domestic and international trends.

Anti-Americanism is not new. For anyone who has spent time in Germany listening to the talk on the streets itŐs apparent that a long-term security alliance can never rid a society of its prejudices. ItŐs understandable that defeat and occupation culminating in an alliance of necessity does not breed admiration. But compounding post-war resentment were Cold War expectations. A constant theme of the German-American relationship during the Cold War was the German desire for a partnership of equals. That was an unrealistic goal. There can be no equality when one nationŐs social and economic well-being depend on another nationŐs security guarantee.

GermanyŐs troubles start with demographics. Germans are struggling to replenish their numbers and losing ground. If the childless trend continues, the population will reach a point where no number of children will be enough to sustain ethnic Germans as a group. Baring an upswing in the birth rate Germany is faced with two choices, neither of them acceptable. It must either encourage emigration and change the definition of German-ness, or face extinction.

Germany is also wrestling with waning economic influence, a declining military, and a collapsing welfare state. It is no mystery why Germany seeks a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. It must institutionalize influence that was formerly exercised by virtue of economic power before the rest of the world realizes what every German already knows. Germany is a shadow of the nation that created the entitlement state that became the envy of socialists and refugees worldwide. When the Berlin Wall fell and Chancellor Kohl promised East Germans a flowering landscape within ten years, the conventional wisdom was that western investors would flock to the east with jobs that would finance reunification. But after conducting historyŐs largest State-sponsored transfer of wealth from one geographic region to another, Germans have come to the conclusion that no amount of money will be able to fix whatŐs wrong with East Germany. International investors headed east but they didnŐt stop until they reached Asia. The focus of economic competition in the 21st century will be between Asia and America. GermanyŐs BMWs and Mercedes come from North Carolina and Alabama and itŐs only a matter of time before its Volkswagens come from China. German companies have voted with their factories.

GermanyŐs declining military should neither be a surprise nor cause for concern. As a member of the NATO alliance, the majority of German defense costs during the Cold War were borne by the United States, freeing up valuable GDP for social entitlements. And while Germany can continue to starve its military without consequence, it cannot influence strategic events any longer by virtue of its geography. For half a century Germany was at the center of American security policy. Germany had grown used to being consulted on every nuance of Cold War diplomacy. Then came 9-11 and a strategic shift took place that Germany has still not comprehended. It is neither the focus of American foreign policy nor AmericaŐs most important ally. Military events in Pakistan and economic developments in India are of far more importance to U.S. security and economic well-being. But Germany labors under the illusion that its interests should continue to be of vital importance to the United States as if it were the natural state of affairs and any deviation from the Cold War arrangement lacks legitimacy. GermanyŐs failure to influence U.S. actions subsequent to 9-11 is cited as evidence of American unilateralism rather than a changed strategic environment where it no longer enjoys a privileged position.

These are uncomfortable facts that demand change, something Germans do not willingly embrace. Unfortunately, its Chancellor won an election by pandering to latent anti-Americanism, increasing the probability it will be used to gain political advantage in the future. While that may be a safe response to the latest opinion polls, it is no substitute for national policy.

Indeed. (BTW, readers are more than welcome to send in such pieces for posting here. I hope to do it more frequently going forward. Particularly as it makes my life easier--mitigating somewhat the (largely self-inflicted) pressures to post daily).

Posted by Gregory at 09:51 AM | Comments (74)

October 19, 2004

Wanted: Dead or Alive

Someone got to B.D. via this Google search today (too lazy to click through? The search: "bin laden has not been heard from since").

Well, since when? Since May 7th of this year when an (unauthenticated) audiotape emerged purporting to be UBL offering gold in return for Jerry Bremer's assasination. Pretty piddling fare for Osama, no? Reduced to offering grams of gold for the head of a mere American proconsul? Note that was about half a year ago.

Before that, there was that "truce" offer--ostensibly for the benefit of those baddies in 'New' Europe--back on April 15th (also, as far as I can tell, unauthenticated). And on January 4 of this year, another audiotape purporting to be Bin Laden aired on al-Jazeera. Interestingly, that was the first audio in which, according to the Guardian (ed. note: Did I just write that phrase straight-faced?], "the voice introduces itself as Osama bin Laden at the beginning of the tape." This raises my suspicion a little. After all, why must the great Sheikh explain it is He who is doing the speaking? Still, ostensibly, at least some analysts judged the audio to likely be authentic. But other reports I've seen are more cautious about confirming its authenticity [ed. note: The Beeb vs. CBS!?! I link, you decide!]

The last video (rather than audio) tape? You have to go back to October 19th, 2003--about a year ago. But there is no voiceover, no attempt to evidence the date of the footage, and UBL appears "healthy" (in sharp contrast to a gaunt-looking UBL in December of '01)

Before then? A video on September 11, 2003. But there is no real time voice on this video either:

The tape shows a figure believed to be Bin Laden, the leader of the al-Qaida network, dressed in Afghan-style robes and walking in rocky mountainous terrain, apparently accompanied by his chief lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri. It was aired on the Arab television network al-Jazeera.

The men do not address the camera. But on a soundtrack accompanying the tape Zawahiri is heard exhorting fighters in Iraq to rise up against the occupying forces and "devour the Americans". He names the US president, George Bush, and Tony Blair as the "top criminals".

Funny, just two weeks later, Zawahiri releases a tape. Solo. Why not do a joint audio since, just a couple weeks back, they were strolling through the mountains together?

Next, check out this timeline. Note that al-Qaeda released three tapes between December '02 and April '03.

None featured UBL! Why?

After that, there was the November '03 audio tape, again purporting to be UBL's voice, that claimed responsibility for Bali etc. But, Swiss scientists deem it likely a fake.

Next, continuing in reverse chronological order? A tape where al-Qaeda formally take responsibility for 9/11--on Sept 10 2002. Again, it's supposed to be UBL--but note, per the Guardian: "There was nothing to indicate that the sound-only recording attributed to Bin Laden had been made since the war in Afghanistan."

On June 23rd of '02, al-Q spokesman Abu Ghaith informs us UBL is alive. Why does he need to so proclaim? Why doesn't UBL tell us himself?

Other videos? April 15th, 2002 (again, no speaking; no confirmation this is post Afghanistan).

Folks, bottom line: we have to go all the way back to December 26th 2001 to see a video of UBL that really seems to get close to passing a smell test evidencing that's he actually, you know, alive (and he didn't look too smashing in it either).

Now, does anyone seriously believe that UBL wouldn't, if he were alive, be doing his very damnedest to release a tape, soonest, rubbing Bush's nose in it for not having caught him--dead or alive? Just as a little pre-election present, say, maybe to give the opposition a little assist in hyping the disingenous Tora Bora meme? Doubtless, he would, no? Unless, of course, he's dead. Which, I'm beginning to feel pretty comfortable concluding, may well be the happy reality as we sit here today.

What gives me a little pause? Well, here's one thing. This recent Lally Weymouth interview of Pervez Musharraf. After all, wouldn't the good general be one of the best positioned people, on the planet, to have a pretty good feel for whether UBL is dead or not?

Weymouth: Do you think Osama bin Laden can be captured? We don't know where he is. Is he alive?

Musharraf: Most likely, almost certainly. [emphasis added]

But then why, in this
, did Musharraf say: "I think now, frankly, he is dead for the reason he is a ... kidney patient."

What happened between Lally Weymouth's interview (UBL "almost certainly" alive and the old 2002 interview: "I think now, frankly, he is dead...")?

Well, I don't know, of course. But let me go out on a limb--Musharraf notwithstanding. I think Osama bin Laden is dead. And, if so, you might as well chalk that up, of course, on the positive side of the ledger vis-a-vis Bush's prosecution of the war on terror during his first term. Oh, be sure to think about that the next time you hear hysterical chiming-ons about all those myriad missed opportunities at Tora Bora and such.

Is all the above speculative, circumstantial, merely musings from the 'over here'? Yes, of course. But isn't it all pretty plausible and/or convincing? Sure, I'll have a huge amount of egg on my face should a convincing audio or video of him pop up in the next weeks and months. But, I gotta think, smart money would be betting he's dead rather than alive hunkered down in a back alley in Karachi.

(Um, guess Karl Rove is going to have to come up with a different October surprise...)

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Particularly if you are in agreement with my argument above--well, don't become too persuaded until you go read Dan Darling's near magisterial counter-argument here!

Teaser (but be sure to go read his entire post): Dan thinks UBL is sheltering in Iran. I'm skeptical--but Dan's done his homework.

MORE: Don't miss what this B.D. commenter has to say.

Posted by Gregory at 11:42 PM | Comments (90)

It's the Influenza, Stupid

What's all this ballyhoo about flu shots right now?

What's next: Condit and Chandra, Bill and Mons, NASDAQ 5000?

Posted by Gregory at 11:23 PM

In-House News

Well over 20,000 unique visitors to this site yesterday alone. Back when I started this blog in Jan '03, that was a good month! Thanks to Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Reynolds, Hugh Hewitt, Roger Simon (who has some tough commenters!) and Real Clear Politics for the linkage.

Posted by Gregory at 11:34 AM

October 18, 2004


A reader writes in:

Why We Deserve to Lose:

"By "we" I mean we of the Right, particularly those of us who call themselves, as I have called myself for twenty years, "neo-conservative". We deserve to lose this one.

We deserve to lose because we did deceive America about the reasons for Iraq. The deceit was not over whether Saddam had WMD, but why it would have mattered if he did. There were good reasons to be afraid of a nuclear armed Saddam. Reasons good, enough, I think, to justify going to war. But those reasons were not the reasons the president gave. The president said that what we had to fear was "the worst weapons in the world" falling into the hands of terrorists. But that was absurd and we knew it. After years of effort and billions spent, there was not the slightest chance that Saddam would have given his nukes to terrorists. Saddam had no interest in jihad. Saddam was interested in Saddam.

Of course, when it turned out that there were no WMDs we said, quite sincerely, that WMDs weren't the only reason for invasion. The other reason-- the real reason-- we now said, was to change the dynamic of middle eastern politics by planting a democracy in the middle of all those Arab tyrannies. And that was certainly was the vision that animated many of us. We were sickened by 9/11, sick of the Arab-Israeli crisis and sick of having to treat these oriental despotisms as modern nation states. Above all we wanted the US to be proactive. And perhaps we were right. Perhaps we will succeed in Iraq, convert it to a democracy and by its example bring democracy to all its neighbors. If that happens it will vindicate the war. But it will not excuse us, because that is not how we sold this war. It would have taken a great communicator to convey that vision to the American people. Our president's specialty is not communication it is fear mongering.

It is the relentless sounding of the tocsins of fear and dread that we should be most ashamed of . The truth is Arab terrorism against homeland targets is not hard to fight. The enemy is ill-organized, inept and incapable of operating effectively in the first world. It took billions of dollars of Saudi agitprop to create this generation of jihadis and Bin Laden spent tens of millions more to create his band of terrorist boy scout troops in the Afghani wilderness. And to what effect? In the harsh economics of real war, the spectacularly lethal stunt that was 9/11 was a poor return for a lavish investment. For comparison, Timothy Macveigh killed more, man for man, paid for it with his credit card and almost got away. The Beltway Sniper closed down much of the eastern seaboard with a deer rifle and a secondhand card. We frighten ourselves with visions of hi-tech terrorists wielding biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. In fact the actual enemy has not perfected the shoe bomb and most have never driven a car. America has not been attacked since 9/11. Bin Laden had no war plan. There were no sleeper cells. Indeed in its protracted history Al Qaeda has been responsible for far more talk than action.

As anyone who bothers to read the 911 commission report must realize, Bin Laden could have been stopped at any time in the nineties. The CIA knew where he was and had a fair estimate of his intentions. Had there been a simple policy of interdiction in place-- had the CIA been warranted to kill at least those who were known to have killed Americans abroad-- Al qaeda's leadership would have been quietly extinguished by the end of the Clinton presidency and 911 would almost certainly not have happened. Presumably that policy is in place now and, if so, we have little to fear.

Of course, no one dares now to say we need not be afraid. Where presidents once tried to calm the national mood, telling us not to fear "fear itself", our current leaders do everything they can to inflame it. Just this last week Secretary of Education Hickock issued a warning to beware of terrorists attacks against schools. What parent can have heard that warning without a moment of panic? And yet, as Hickock conceded, there was not a shred of intelligence that hinted at any real threat. Does the Secretary really think that Chechen rebels are as likely to show up in Oakland as in Ossetia or did he have some other reason in this election season, to try to scare the wits out of American mothers. This is shameful but typical.

Today John Kerry is being derided for expressing the hope that we may sometime in the future regard terrorism as a mere "nuisance". This is being offered as evidence that he doesn't "get it". "It" being that we are now in an eternal state of war and which can never won, lost or ended. No one is safe, nor should they feel safe! You can never be too safe!

This paranoia, there is no other word for it, will cripple American political discourse for decades to come. It will be our most shameful legacy."

Terrance Tomkow PhD
Los Angeles


So...have we become too paranoid post 9/11? Is the specter of nuclear terrorism blown out of proportion? All the talk about miniaturized nukes in a back-pack in a city near you? (Note that both Kerry and Bush stated in a recent debate that loose nukes were their greatest fear. What, specifically, do they fear? Rogue states with them? al-Qaeda and Co. with them? Something else?) What about chemical and biological weaponry?

If air-liners loaded with jetfuel were the last battle--well, what's the next one? Or was 9/11 some horrific one off--al-Qaeda's A-team hitting us with their best shot--the group and its affiliates now (with planes now unavailable, full of sharp-eyed Todd Beamers) not really capable of anything much more than blowing up a few train coaches and hotels?

In a word, a "nuisance." Manageable. Painful if a few hundred get killed every few months, but not a full-blown "existential" (to use a word that's been making the rounds) challenge going forward. Look, I think a massive WMD attack on a major Western city is all but inevitable in the next decade or so (and didn't one almost happen in Amman recently?) But my correspondent would likely consider me a rank fear-mongerer, I suspect.

I'd like to think I'm not peddling snake-oil and being grossly hyperbolic about the terror threat. Am I? What do others think? Comments welcome.

Posted by Gregory at 11:12 PM | Comments (42)

October 17, 2004

Why I'm Supporting Dubya

The Centrality of Iraq

The impending election, in large part, turns on whether the American people believe George Bush or John Kerry is better suited to be Commander in Chief whilst prosecuting something we've come to call the global war on terror ("GWOT"). Now fundamental to all this, the big 800-pound gorilla in the room, is the Iraq war. Some individuals believe the war in Iraq and the GWOT are one and the same--Iraq an integral part of the wider war--and that we remain right to have gone in. Others believe Iraq was always destined to be a massive blunder--not only distracting us from the real war on terror but also, tragically, actually worsening our position in the GWOT by further poisoning relations with the Islamic (particularly Arab Muslim) world. Still others accept that the Iraq war was a necessary part of the GWOT but that it has proven a net negative given strategic blunders in theater.

The pessimists make a strong case that the war was a bad idea. Over 1,000 American servicemen and women are dead. Many thousands more wounded. Britons, Poles, Italians and other coalition countries have lost personnel. USD $120B, and counting, has been spent on the war effort. The cost in blood and treasure has been dear--and it looks set to keep mounting for a good while yet. Not to mention the cost to Iraqis. Yes, they have been freed from a bloody tyrant. But perhaps well over ten thousand Iraqis have perished since the war began. Suicide bombings are daily events in certain beleaguered Iraqi cities. Fallujah is controlled by fanatical terrorists and avowed fundamentalists. I've lost track of how many new Iraqi police forces have been massacred at recruiting stations. Lately, suicide bombers have taken to infiltrating the Green Zone itself-the very seat of interim Iraqi and coalition power--killing American nationals on their own front doorstep in brazen fashion.

Put simply, the U.S. has failed in providing basic security through wide, critical swaths of Iraq. And, consequently, reconstruction has severely lagged. So Iraqis can be forgiven musing whether the previous brutishly imposed order might not be preferable to the near chaos that reigns in parts of the country today. So, one might fairly ask, and to put it bluntly, how can I support the man who dragged us into this bloody mess, this foolhardy adventure--what might well potentially prove to be the worst foreign policy blunder for America since the Vietnam War.

A small vignette. Sometime in late 2001, I was having lunch with a couple attorneys in Washington DC. One of the lawyers, who will remain unnamed, is a smart pro who knows well the ins out and out of the Beltway and has lots of Pentagon and Middle East experience. Talk quickly turned to Iraq. My lunchmate had recently been over at the Pentagon talking to people. War-planning, he told me, seemed underway. 'Can you believe they are really serious about it' was basically the vibe he was giving off. They're gonna go into Iraq! Crazy! Do they have a clue what they are getting themselves into?

Were such skeptics right all along? And were the very smartest of the elites who were pro-intervention snookered or clueless (I'm thinking of the Ken Pollacks, Andrew Sullivans, Leon Wieseltiers, Fareed Zakarias). Well, now about two years out--we have a better sense of what Iraq has wrought. No rosy-colored lens over here at B.D.--I've mentioned the difficulties we face above. But let's also look at the positive side of the ledger. The Battle of Baghdad didn't cost the lives of 3,000-5,000 G.I.s. Saddam was unseated with blitzkrieg speed. There were no massive refugee flows. The conflict didn't spill over into neighboring countries. No conflagration tantamount to civil war has occured to date. The Turks haven't gotten too panicky about Kurdish de facto deep autonomy (yet). Iran, in deep meddle-mode to be sure--has not full-blown scuttled developments in the Shi'a south. In the region generally, the House of Saud has not been replaced by UBL adherents--and no U.S. troops remain in Saudi Arabia. Pakistan and Egypt remain, on the whole, pretty stable. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict grinds on-but the Iraq war hasn't worsened the moribund peace process in any significant manner.

All this aside, and most important of all, Iraq is (if in tortuous fashion) moving towards elections come January. We do not yet know if certain parts of the Sunni Triangle will be able to participate in the voting. We can be fearful of the perils of a crude Shia majoritarianism emerging through the ballot-box--especially if many Sunnis are denied (or simply cannot) vote. Kurdistan remains, in many ways, the sleeper issue--we shouldn't forget it too can explode given Turkey's interests there. And yet. As with Afghanistan, it appears a somewhat viable election may occur in Iraq shortly--a country that had been under the yoke of a brutal, neo-Stalinist thug for three decades. This would be an historic accomplishment by any standard, would it not? One we could be proud of--provided that the election, at least in large part, was viewed by a large majority of Iraqis as enjoying a real imprimatur of legitimacy.

Why We Went In

B.D. supported the war in Iraq mostly on traditional realist grounds. Post 9/11, I believed that Saddam posed a uniquely worrisome threat. Unlike N. Korea and Iran--Saddam had started two regional wars and had used WMD against his own people in odious fashion. Perhaps he was not a madman, but he certainly was a volatile strategic blunderer (more than the Mullahs in Teheran and more than Kim Jong Il). To be sure, we had a massive intelligence failure, but the DCI told the sitting President that the case that Iraq had an active WMD program was a "slam dunk." Did Cheney exagerrate the nuclear angle? Yes, and he should have come more clean during the postmortem. But did POTUS purposefully lie to the American people on the WMD issue? I don't think a judicious examination of the evidence bears that out.

Regardless, and after 9/11, I was concerned that Saddam, inspired by UBL's dramatic success in New York, would transfer biological or chemical weaponry to a terrorist group like al-Qaeda. Was I a simpleton or a hysteric to have been so concerned given Saddam's unique track record sketched above? Given a decade of obstruction and obfuscation--flouting well over a dozen U.N. resolutions since 1991? Given that the U.K. and U.S. were involved in military operations there through the 90s? Given that the avowed policy of the Clinton team was "regime change"? Well, no, I don't think I was.

But there is more than all this, of course. 9/11 was what Hegel might have called a world-historical event. There was something prima facie epoch-shaping that happened when those two Towers crumbled to the ground. Expressions of regret poured in from all over the world. Even the Mayor of Teheran extended condolences to Rudy. Saddam, of course, extended no such regrets. But why should he have? After all, while not reportedly sharing any collaborative, operational links with al-Qaeda--he was (to a fashion) linked to them in esprit--given his use of chemical weaponry against his own population, his support to the families of suicide bombers in Israel (a cheap propaganda ploy, but revealing nonetheless of his view of how to reward those who might purposefully go about massacring innocent civilians), his harboring of Abu Nidal and other terror-masters in the past.

Nick Lemann has an interesting New Yorker piece in the current edition (of which more in another post) entitled "Remember the Alamo--How George Bush Reinvented Himself." In it, he quotes Richard Haass (formerly Head of Policy Planning at State, now President of the Council on Foreign Relations). In a revealing passage, Lemann asked Haass why we went to war in Iraq:

I will go to my grave not knowing that. I can't answer it. I can't explain the strategic obsession with Iraq--why it rose to the top of people's priority list. I just can't explain why so many people thought this was so important to do. But if there was a hidden reason, the one I heard most was that we needed to change the geopolitical momentum after 9/11. People wanted to show that we can dish it out as well as take it. We're not a pitiful helpless giant. We can play offense as well as defense. I heard that from some people. Of course, some would say that Afghanistan was enough. There are two what-ifs. One, what if there had been no 9/11--would it have happened? I think the odds are slightly against it, even though some people were for it. Two, what if we knew there were no weapons of mass destruction? I'd say no. But the urge to do this existed pre-9/11. What 9/11 did was change the atmosphere in which decisions were made. The only serious argument for war was weapons of mass destruction. [emphasis added]

Lemann portrays Haass as a mega-Iraq war skeptic--which I'm not so sure is the case. Like many of us, of course, Haass is dismayed by the dismal post-war planning. But, even if Haass is skeptical, there is something to this argument of regaining "the geopolitical momentum." Not like some mammoth, clumsy, wounded animal lashing out blindly at all comers. But in purposeful manner, in terms of attempting the hard, generational task of moving the Middle East towards modernity (the epicenter of the radical terrorist threat we face). Given a confluence of factors too lengthy to go through in any more detail here--Iraq became the place where that effort was launched. Now we must determine who between Kerry and Bush can best lead us forward from this difficult and so important place we find ourselves.

The Existential Stakes

Today, we are at war with radical Islam. Not Islam writ large, mind you. Not all Arabs either. There is too much tut-tutting about all those towel-headed Mohameds in large swaths of the right blogosphere. I find such rhetoric repulsive and worthy of our worst racist tendencies. But, that said, we face a mortal enemy in the face of radical Islam. Its tentacles are spread in far-flung fashion; from Jakarta to Casablanca; from Bali to Madrid. Those who killed 3,000 in New York on 9/11 are only too happy to kill 3 million at their first opportunity. We can, unfortunately, not yet be confident that the 21st century will be less bloody than the 20th.

A few days after 9/11, Andrew Sullivan wrote:

THIS ISN'T TERRORISM, IT'S WAR: Besides, this enemy is not simply a band of thugs, but several regimes that aid and abet these people and have celebrated this atrocity. These regimes have declared war on the United States, and it is time we repay the favor. The precedent is not the Sudan under Clinton or even Libya under Reagan. Under Clinton, these regimes were encouraged. Under Reagan, they were scared, but, under Reagan, they had not yet launched this kind of war. Now they have - even daring to target one of the citadels of our democracy: the White House. This is the most grievous declaration of war against America in history. What Wright hasn't absorbed, I think, is that we are no longer fighting terrorism. We are at war. And we are not at war with any old regime or even a handful of terrorists. We are at war with an evil that will only grow unless it is opposed with all the might at our command. We must wage that war with a ferocity that doesn't merely scare these monsters but terrifies them. Merely murdering bin Laden is a laughable response. If this new war can be waged with partners - specifically Russia, NATO, China - so much the better. But if not, the United States must act alone - and as soon as we can be assured of complete success. There are times when it is not inappropriate or even immoral to use overwhelming power merely to terrify and avenge. Read your Machiavelli. We must shock them more than they have shocked us. We must do so with a force not yet seen in human history. Then we can begin to build a future of greater deterrence. I repeat: we are not responding to terrorism any more. We are at war. And war requires no restraint, simply massive and unanswerable force until the enemy is not simply defeated but unconditionally destroyed. To hesitate for fear of reprisal is to have capitulated before we have even begun. I don't believe Americans want to capitulate to anyone. The only question is whether we will get the leadership now to deal with this or whether we will have to endure even worse atrocities before a real leader emerges. [emphasis added]

Now three years on, that question remains as critical as it did back then.

Bush's Record

George Bush, in my view, understands the nature of the evil we are combating. He understands it deep in his gut, to his very core, and this is why I will be voting for him in November. To be sure, I am voting for him with many reservations (of which more below); but I am confident and, indeed, proud of my vote because Bush's intellectual firmament has grasped this essential truth.

A few days after 9/11; Bush movingly went to Ground Zero and rallied a nation. This was critical to our national fabric, and I will always honor him for it. To be frank and more revelatory than I may like on this blog--I still get emotional when I remember that day. To the grotesquely cheap Mooreian attacks regarding the "My Pet Goat" readings at the Florida school--I say remember the moment Bush grabbed that megaphone and rallied a profoundly wounded nation.

Bush then proceeded to go about methodically gaining Pakistan's vital support in the fight against the Taliban--through the hugely admirable efforts of Colin Powell. Next, Bush swept the Taliban from power--denying al-Qaeda their key state sanctuary. Kerry now trots out the Tora Bora meme-that we let UBL get away because we "outsourced" the effort to local Afghans. This is a risible argument, as any serious observer well realizes. The Tora Bora mountain range is massive--and even if we had sent in many tens of thousands of our troops (as if Al Gore would have done so; a laughable notion as well)--there were myriad escape routes. Not only that, as recently pointed out in an op-ed in the WSJ, local tribesmen might well have taken up arms against us in the foothills before we even got to the die-hard al-Qaeda fighters--should such a massive insertion of U.S. fighting forces have occured. And, besides, we are not even sure UBL was even in Tora Bora during that time frame. No, more realistically, better to conclude: thank God Bush was Commander in Chief during the Afghan operation rather than Al Gore! Can you imagine a Les Aspin type planning such an operation?

Out of the rubble of Ground Zero and through the advent of Afghanistan--the Bush doctrine was born--the policy that states that nations that harbor terrorists would be held just as culpable by the United States as the terrorists themselves. Afghanistan, of course, was the wholly uncontroversial enunciation of this doctrine--and Iraq the much more controversial one. But, whatever you make of Iraq, can anyone now deny that the U.S. takes the threat of terror with the utmost seriousness? Have we not proven that we are not a paper tiger? That we will fight valiantly and hard in pursuit of our security and our values? This too, is part of Bush's record--no matter how often it is poo-pooed by cynics who think this is all dumb Simian-like macho talk that doesn't matter. I'm sorry, but it very much does. To deny this is to deny reality.

Of course, there is much that is troubling about Bush's performance during his first term. Front and center, in my view, was the fact that we never sent enough troops into Iraq to create secure conditions. From this, many troubles stemmed. Massive looting. Huge resentment of an occupier that couldn't (some there, given to conspiracy, think purposefully wouldn't) stabilize the country they occupied. And, of course, Abu Ghraib--a deep stain on our national reputation that floored me.

(Note there is a dirty little secret about Abu Ghraib that often passes unmentioned. I recently spoke to a former U.S. diplomat who travels to the Middle East often. I asked him about the impact of Abu Ghraib there. To be sure, it didn't help. But the sad reality is that many Arabs, so accustomed to their myriad mukhabarat-style secret polices and organs of repression--weren't, finally, that shocked by Abu Ghraib. The real issues that infuriate Arabs, make no mistake, are 1) their frustration with the repressive polities they inhabit, with the attendant atrophied economies and 2) the perceived humiliation born of the Arab-Israeli conflict).

In short, Bush's record has been mixed--but he gets the existential stakes at play. I would only vote for Kerry if: a) he got the stakes too and b) assuming "a", that I thought he would prosecute the war in materially more effective fashion. I don't believe either.

Kerry Doesn't Get the Stakes

I don't believe, in his gut, Kerry believes that we face an existential challenge with regard to the war on terror. How else to explain the now famous quote in the Matt Bai article:

We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance,'' Kerry said. ''As a former law-enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life.'

Or, in the same article, we are told that Kerry told Bai that 9/11 didn't change him. Look, I'm not one of those crazies who caught the fever after 9/11. We all know some of these people. A switch kinda clicked upstairs and it's all gung-ho, jingo off to Mecca we go--us against a billion Muslims. But I do believe, as I said earlier in this post, that 9/11 was a world historical event. It sure changed me. It quashed the Fukuyama end of history thesis (the resurgence of nationalism in the Balkans had gone some way towards doing so already, in my view). It heralded the beginning of a new, perilous era. You're effing right it changed me. How about you?

There's more, of course, re: why I'm dubious that Kerry gets the stakes. Put aside whether Allawi's speech to Congress was vetted by the White House. It was a moving, important speech nonetheless. And Iraq is the most important conflict we face now--a critical component of the generational challenge we face to modernize the Middle East--so as to reduce the pool of prospective fanatics who will adhere to a radicalized Islamic vision. But Kerry denigrated Allawi's speech--all but calling him a liar. I'm sorry, but that's just not serious. Actually, it's worse than not serious--it's immensely irresponsible and, yes, dangerous.

Kerry also suffers from something of a Vietnam syndrome. I, like Robert Kagan has written, believe that Kerry has a deep distrust and suspicion regarding exerting American power overseas. He voted against Gulf War I, for Pete's sake (Saudi oil supplies likely to be controlled by Iraq!?! Hey, who cares!). His disregard for such a vital strategic interest has been replicated when confronted by humanitarian tragedies too. See his vote against 'lift and strike' in Bosnia (Laura Rozen would like you to forget it). Kerry says he would never send our boys into war unless it is absoutely necessary. Well, what is absolutely necessary Senator? Really, what? Too little, in Kerry's worldview, I'm afraid.

Nor am I persuaded that Kerry, tactically, will prove more impressive than Bush (even if, for argument's sake, we assumed he got the stakes). Again, from the Bai article:

We need to engage more directly and more respectfully with Islam, with the state of Islam, with religious leaders, mullahs, imams, clerics, in a way that proves this is not a clash with the British and the Americans and the old forces they remember from the colonial days,'' Kerry told me during a rare break from campaigning, in Seattle at the end of August. ''And that's all about your diplomacy.''

When I suggested that effecting such changes could take many years, Kerry shook his head vehemently and waved me off.

''Yeah, it is long-term, but it can be dramatically effective in the short term. It really can be. I promise you.'' He leaned his head back and slapped his thighs. ''A new presidency with the right moves, the right language, the right outreach, the right initiatives, can dramatically alter the world's perception of us very, very quickly.

''I know Mubarak well enough to know what I think I could achieve in the messaging and in the press in Egypt,'' Kerry went on. ''And, similarly, with Jordan and with King Abdullah, and what we can do in terms of transformation in the economics of the region by getting American businesspeople involved, getting some stability and really beginning to proactively move in those ways. We just haven't been doing any of this stuff. We've been stunningly disengaged, with the exception of Iraq.

It's always like this with Kerry, isn't it? I know Gerard. And Jacques too. We get along! There will be a summit. I've got a plan! We'll agree it amidst all the cheery summitry. Paris, perhaps? Adoring crowds will crowd the Champs for a glimpse of me! Yes, we'll all get along better if I win. After all, I know what really makes key leaders tick. How to get things moving. And we need to "do" better diplomacy. Oh, Hosni and I are buddies too--so Middle East democratization will go swimmingly should I win--even if I pull our boys out of Iraq to remedy that noxious backdoor draft thang.

Let's be honest with ourselves here, OK? Kerry has shown astonishingly little by way of real, viable policy alternatives. He's brought almost nothing new to the table. To be clear. His NoKo policy is a replication of the failed Clinton policy. The only difference between Bush and Kerry on Iran policy is that Bush will play a bit harder when it gets to the U.N. and, if Kerry wins, John Bolton won't be around to bitch about it all. On Iraq, it's all: I'll reconstruct better!; I'll train better!, I'll run the elections better! and so on. Would that Kerry had, rather than signal retreat, told us he would send more troops if needed to decisively signal to our foes we will not abandon our effort there. Instead, it's the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time.

How about the critical Arab-Israeli conflict? Kerry has big, bold plans, I've heard! Look, would I prefer that Bush more loudly proclaimed that Gaza first didn't mean Gaza last? That talk in Israeli political circles that a Gaza withdrawal means the U.S. will let the Israelis keep hold of the West Bank be more staunchly hushed? Oh, maybe. But it's an election year. And Sharon needs to get rightist Likudniks on board--so give him some breathing room to at least pull off Gaza. Our bright Ambassador to Tel Aviv (Dan Kurtzer) and Asst Sec of State for Near Eastern Affairs (Bill Burns) are admirably plugging away--trying to at least have a symbolic withdrawal from some West Bank settlements take place concomittantly with any Gaza withdrawal. Such linkage could then be used to spearhead some forward movement on the roadmap later on. The peace processers are still at work.

Would John Kerry handle this differently? There is talk of a special envoy, perhaps Clinton (who flubbed Camp David II by not backstopping with Fahd and Mubarak re: how far Arafat could go on Jerusalem concessions). Should we again cheapen the Presidential coin with late night poring over map sessions around the empty pizza delivery boxes? More 15 hour days at Sheperdstown? No folks, Kerry offers nothing compelling on how to resuscitate the peace process. Indeed, he (and, most theatrically Edwards, during his debate with Cheney) disingenuously play the 'we will be better friends to Israel than the Bush team' card.

Let me also say this. A Bush II will not be a Bush I repeat. By that, I guess, I mean that we are not rushing into Iran or Syria. The neo-cons, of course, have lost a lot of street cred. Bush might be stubborn and not wont to admit mistakes. But he's not an idiot. He knows, say, a land war in Iran would be folly. And he knows he has gotten a lot of bogus advice from the Pentagon. Bush is a hard competitor, indeed he's ruthlessly competitive. Above all, he's a survivor. He will be getting advice from a broader swath of advisors in his second term, I trust.

The Kerry team? Holbrooke would be strong--but the sub-Holbrooke swaths of Foggy Bottom, I fear, would be weak. Despite the major errors in the post-war planning of this Administration, I have more faith in the foreign policy aptitude of a Bush II team than a Kerry I. You can disagree, but I think you'd be wrong--even if you think Susan Rice and Jamie Rubin are the greatest things since sliced bread.

Substance Over Form, Please!

Finally, a quick point related to the below from Dan Drezner (explaining why he will likely vote Kerry):

Given the foreign policy stakes in this election, I prefer a leader who has a good decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I don't like, over a leader who has a bad decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I do like.

Boy Dan, you couldn't be more wrong in my book. This line of argument might have flyed in the 90's--but I think it's a dangerous outlook in the post 9/11 world. Perhaps if the policy making process were fatally flawed--I'd agree. But any occasional NSC breakdowns in brokering a coherent policy on Iran, NoKo, the Arab-Israeli peace process--while they have bothered me much over the past years--I must nevertheless conclude that such issues pale in comparison with the specter of a commander-in-chief who would view terror as something merely constitutive of a "nuisance" to be managed in routine fashion.

This isn't just semantic nit-picking. Kerry has hinted (often without realizing it), and too often in my view, that he would go back to the days that terrorism was treated as basically a law enforcement issue. He and his supporters will vehemently dispute this, of course. But, if you read between the lines, there's a lot there to make you strongly suspect that to be the case. In my view, that's just not acceptable in a post 9/11 world. And, more important, it shows a fundamental misunderstanding about the existential stakes at play given the long-term nature of the struggle we face against radical Islam.

This isn't just a matter of "foreign policy instincts." It's a matter of core conviction regarding the nature of the struggle we find ourselves in. About the broad direction that American foreign policy will move in vis-a-vis responding to these very real challenges during the next so critical years. Give me, even with flawed policy execution, a leader who gets the stakes deep in his gut--above one who will have a better process (which, incidentally, I doubt) but has shown (repeatedly) a worrisomely sanguine view of the perils we face at the present hour.

P.S. Drezner also writes: "If Bush gets re-elected, he and his team will view it as a vindication for all of their policy decisions to date. Whatever groupthink occurred in the first term would pale besides the groupthink that would dominate the second term."

Does Dan really believe that a Bush victory will have Doug Feith feeling "vindicated" so that group-think would prevail via some Libby-Bolton-Feith axis? Er, I think not. Nor do John Negroponte or Zal Khalilzad, I suspect. Regardless, some of these folks, I'd wager, aren't even going to be around in a Bush II.

MORE: Kerry's Senatorial work is being trotted out to make him appear almost eerily prescient re: the perils of non-state actors in terms of the terror threat. Matt Bai's piece is an (inadvertently) humorous example:

More senior members of the foreign-relations committee, like Joe Biden and Richard Lugar, were far more visible and vocal on the emerging threat of Islamic terrorism. But through his BCCI investigation, Kerry did discover that a wide array of international criminals -- Latin American drug lords, Palestinian terrorists, arms dealers -- had one thing in common: they were able to move money around through the same illicit channels. And he worked hard, and with little credit, to shut those channels down.

In 1988, Kerry successfully proposed an amendment that forced the Treasury Department to negotiate so-called Kerry Agreements with foreign countries. Under these agreements, foreign governments had to promise to keep a close watch on their banks for potential money laundering or they risked losing their access to U.S. markets. Other measures Kerry tried to pass throughout the 90's, virtually all of them blocked by Republican senators on the banking committee, would end up, in the wake of 9/11, in the USA Patriot Act; among other things, these measures subject banks to fines or loss of license if they don't take steps to verify the identities of their customers and to avoid being used for money laundering.

Through his immersion in the global underground, Kerry made connections among disparate criminal and terrorist groups that few other senators interested in foreign policy were making in the 90's. Richard A. Clarke, who coordinated security and counterterrorism policy for George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, credits Kerry with having seen beyond the national-security tableau on which most of his colleagues were focused. ''He was getting it at the same time that people like Tony Lake were getting it, in the '93 -'94 time frame,'' Clarke says, referring to Anthony Lake, Clinton's national security adviser. ''And the 'it' here was that there was a new nonstate-actor threat, and that nonstate-actor threat was a blended threat that didn't fit neatly into the box of organized criminal, or neatly into the box of terrorism. What you found were groups that were all of the above.''

"Immersion in the global underground". Heh. Is that in Davos? With apologies to Mr. Bai--but this whole part of his article reeks of B.S. Contra Richard Clarke, I don't think John 'Nostradamus' Kerry was "getting it" in '93. This all smells like inspired spin to make Kerry seem like the right guy to go after all those non-state actor meanies. Don't believe the hype. The apercu that terrorists need money, regardless, isn't particularly breathtaking. And from investigating BCCI to prosecuting a war against al-Qaeda--well, they're different kettle of fish entirely. Relatedly, the argument that the Bushies are still Politburo-watching and state-actor obsessed is just bunk. Certainly, it's now a moot point post 9/11. No one in the Bush administration can be accused, certainly at this juncture, of ignoring the perils of non-state actors. Oh, note, pace Clarke, that groups like al-Qaeda are both terrorist and criminal groupings (certainly let's never be accused of putting things in overly neat boxes!). So, er, make sure you've got process servers ready too in case court summons need to be served up in Wazirstan...I'm being facetious, of course. But I think you get my point.

UPDATE: Dan Drezner (whose post reminded me how to spell Richard Haass' name--I always drop that second "s"!), remains "unconvinced" that "Bush's foreign policy has been a greater success than commonly thought, and [he's] not convinced that [Bush] would ever be able to recognize the need for policy change." But hey, he's a tad more concerned about Kerry's "bad foreign policy instincts." Progress!

And blogger Eric Martin, who often keeps me on my toes, takes me to task too. His thoughts are well-worth reading.

STILL MORE (and with apologies for the simply ridiculous length of this post): David Adesnik, my first blog-friend (on the basis of a quick coffee in my London offices many moons ago!), looks set to vote Kerry. I won't pretend that Drezner and Adesnik's likely votes for Kerry don't give me pause--they are two of the very brightest foreign policy minds in the blogosphere. But I think Drezner, among other things, is too caught up in process; and I think Adesnik is overly generous to Kerry re: the latter's commitment to democracy.

After all David, this is pretty thin gruel you serve up, no?

Finally, I believe there is an ethical core to Kerry's foreign policy that can be put into the service of democratization. In the 1980s, Kerry's concern for human rights led him to denounce Reagan's support for anti-Communist rebels in Nicaragua known as 'contras'.

Indeed David--in the very post announcing Kerry as his likely choice--is forced to concede in the very next sentence:

Like his fellow Democrats, Kerry failed to recognize that the price of abandoning the contras was the destruction of any hope for democratic reform in Nicaragua. On a fundamental level, liberal Democrats opposed American intervention in other nations' domestic affairs, even if those nations were being held hostage by Communists.

Le plus ca change David. Kerry and Co. (ie, broad non-Lieberman swaths of the Democrat party), in my view, do not truly care about whether Iraq becomes a democratic polity or not. Now, of course, you might argue that Bush is so 'in the bubble', stubborn, clueless, and divorced from reality that--even though he might care more about forging democracy there--it doesn't mean squat on the ground because he's incapable of addressing reality square in the face.

But balancing Bush's worrisome tendency to be something of a 'Propellor President' (as Sully puts it); against Kerry's lack of true committment to forging democracy in Iraq--well, I come out on the Dubya side of the fence. Not least because I think that Bush is capable of staring reality in the face and making mid-course policy adjustments. Indeed, he has repeatedly done so in Iraq (Fallujah, Brahimi-brought-on-board, how Sadr was handled, ditching Garner for Bremer, empowering Negroponte and State over civies at the Pentagon, and more).

Posted by Gregory at 10:26 AM | Comments (245)

October 16, 2004

Drezner's Long Fence-Sit Is Coming to an End

Dan Drezner is all but set to vote Kerry (Hat Tip: Andrew). Too bad! Dan's foreign policy acumen is second to none in the blogosphere. It's regretable to see him end up voting Kerry--particularly as I feel our worldviews aren't too far apart. Anyway, I'll address some of his issues in my post explaining why I am voting for the other guy.

Oh, don't miss the retired diplomat who tries to sway Drezner back to the Dubya camp towards the end of Dan's post. He's spot on in many respects (I've heard much of the same from worried former Foggy Bottom-ites). More on all of this, including the Matt Bai piece and much more, hopefully Sunday.

And Dan, it's not too late!

P.S. Does Dan really want John Mearsheimer to disapprovingly scowl at him in the faculty cafeteria come November?

UPDATE: A commenter (somewhat rightly) takes me to task for intimating (jestfully, of course) that Mearsheimer might cast a disapproving glance in Dan's direction should he vote Kerry. I respond in comments--but please note, by way of general context, as follows: a) I'm not a huge fan of uber-realist Mearsheimer (I plead more neo-Wilsonian stripes--supporting U.S. intervention in the Balkans, for instance, contra Mearsheimer); b) that said I think he's one of the most intelligent realists out there; c) yes, he's rightly criticized Bush for not fully understanding the ethnic/religious/tribalistic complexities of Iraq (and, even, not using alliance structures more efficaciously); but d) for reasons I begin to sketch out in the comments I think he's nevertheless more likely to vote Bush than Kerry.

Maybe I'm wrong on this one (Mearsheimer's electoral orientation) but I don't think so. Anyone with more info on this or (even) an inside scoop is urged to comment below. Not that Mearsheimer's selection for President is some kind of Holy Grail--but given Robert George's recent defection it would be interesting to get a better feel for Mearsheimer's outlook. Put differently, how many rightist or right-leaning, seasoned academics of top caliber are jumping ship and voting Kerry?

IMPORTANT UPDATE: I stand corrected. Mearsheimer is voting Kerry. Thanks to the commenter for pointing it out. And please accept my apologies.

Posted by Gregory at 12:51 AM | Comments (23)

October 15, 2004

Howdie from the Road

Apologies for this continuing blog hiatus. I know a lot has happened over the past couple of weeks. And I've been AWOL. There are a lot of reasons for this. For one, I think I've crossed the Atlantic 6 times in something like 14 days. It has been real busy. On top of that travel, and long, long work meetings, some of the hotels I've stayed at had no Internet access late night. So, those are some of the reasons why blogging hasn't been happening (and, trust me, there are more!). Anyway...sorry!

But let me say this. I was somehow able to see all the debates. With the possible exception of the first one (those regretable grimaces and scowls!) I think Bush carried (or, at very least, put in very solid draws) for all of 'em! Not only that--so did the people I saw the debates with. And I wasn't with a crowd of Bush lovers (I so rarely am...I, er, live in London).

Two debates I saw with a quite Democrat-leaning senior partner of a top-five New York law firm whom I'm working on a deal with. He, I think it's fair to say, thought Bush won (or, at worst, struck a draw) for both debates we saw together (the first and third). Indeed, we would commisserate about how shocked we were about the so pro-Kerry post-debate spin on the networks (though, perhaps alas, we didn't have Fox in our hotel lounge)! The second Bush-Kerry debate, well, let's just say I saw it at 3 AM after groomsman duties for an old high school buddy in Paris. Blurry and late--it felt a draw (which, all told, translates into a Bush victory given that cretinous chimp Georgie showed he can go toe to toe with the steely (war-leader ready!), sententious (so Presidential!) Senator from Massachusetts).

True, Kerry did pull something off that was critical. He performed well enough to revitalize his base and have undecideds take another good look at him. On that level, you could say he was successful--that he was likely able to achieve having the critical center of American politics view him as an acceptable alternative to Dubya as Commander in Chief (albeit often still with real reservations re: his War on Terror resolve--of which much more in going forward posts). But to argue that the debates were some Kerry blow-out is just bunk.

Oh, the Veepstakes. I saw the Cheney-Edwards debate in New York with someone who is something of a family friend of Kerry's. Both our judgments, basically: Cheney manhandled Edwards who, at one juncture (when not shamelessly pandering or appearing something of a babe in the woods) seemed incapable of doing anything other than nervously swigging at his glass of water, taking frantic notes, and then tearing into a new sheet of paper as the Tolstoyan note-taking tome proceeded apace).

Bottom line: After Debate 1 and Karen Hughes cooling POTUS off--I thought Bush was OK on substance, looked at least as Presidential as his opponent, and pretty much got through the debates just fine thank you. There were no knock-out blows, Bush more than held his own, and now the final sprint to November. Sure, as Bush was riding pretty high until the first debate--one speculates that, had he performed like a debate champ in Round 1, it might have been an early TKO with Bush sailing to victory. But I doubt it. This race was always going to be tight to the finish. No real surprises here. Except that Bush, in my view, bested or equaled Kerry in all the debates (again, with the possible exception of the first one because of all the facial ticks).

Look, I just read Sully's blog about the last debate last night and almost feel like we didn't see the same debate. Kerry won the discussion on immigration (and attendant discussion about safe borders)?!? Was Sullivan impressed by Kerry's ridiculous assertions about some Middle Easterners allegedly having gotten across the border (and wasn't the rumor about Chechens, regardless--who, er, aren't Middle Easterners, at least last time I checked)? Does Andrew really believe so tough Kerry is going to get those dastardly borders into the appropriate level of lock-down--all because hapless, weak-kneed Bush expressed flexiblity re: some work permit facilitation for some classes of aliens? And Andrew is impressed that Kerry so ingeniously introduced AK-47s to showcase how his gun control views will contribute to a more effective prosecution of the global war on terror! You mean better gun control laws are what's gonna win this war? C'mon! And the Tony Soprano line was enough to "dispense with the President"? You gotta be kidding me. From where I sat, it fell flat and felt like a pretty lame and transparent attempt to connect with some perceived comme il faut HBO constituency that likes to channel the Jersey intrigues. Whatever.

Well, I'm ranting a bit. There will be more sober, substantive posts aplenty in the days ahead (including regarding the Sunday Times magazine Matt Bai article). But look--I guess it's no big surprise--I will be voting for George Bush. I do this with major reservations--but I have now firmly concluded it is the best choice as between imperfect choices. I will be posting about all the whys soon (Sunday, perhaps?). But, no surprise, of course, the reasons are all foreign policy related. Domestic policy, as regular readers of my blog know, isn't my forte or focus. So, as I say too often, more soon. Sunday London time, with any luck. And please keep coming around. We'll get back to normal production over here sometime in the not too distant future.

NB: In fairness to Sullivan, I should note he gave Bush some points for his performance last night too.

Posted by Gregory at 12:55 AM | Comments (20)
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