Saturday, December 30, 2006

Why Posts on Individual Freedom?

I have been posting on individual freedom, individualism, etc., because this is a basic value upon which virtually all Americans from left to right agree, at least as an abstract principle. It is only when one looks into the details of political opinions that one finds that 'individual freedom' in the abstract does not translate into the same concrete set of political and social recommendations. For example, it seems to me that if one truly values individual freedom then one must endorse a pretty strong policy of civil liberties as defined in the bill of rights. In the abstract pseudo-conservatives like William F. Buckley endorse civil liberties; however, in God and Man at Yale he advocated an end to academic freedom as we know it and endorsed a policy of indoctrination for undergraduates in the 'truths' of morality and political economy as he viewed them as a Catholic and an Adam Smith lover (see documentation of this in John Judis' biography of Buckley). Moreover, Buckley's support for McCarthy and McCarthyism also demonstrated his lack of a robust view of civil liberties. Indeed, Buckley's views regarding both academic freedom and McCarthyism demonstrated that he does not at all support the free exchange of ideas in freedom of speech when it comes to matters where he believes his views are 'right', and thus indoctrination is the policy he supports in many cases. I'm not sure how this differentiates him from Stalinists who also endorsed indoctrination of the 'party line.'

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Americanism Stresses Individual Freedom

I've been reading some of the writing of C.B. Macpherson a Canadian political theorist. He is a very clear and logical writer and a pleasure to read. In 1962 he published a book called The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism. As so many writers do, he saw an emphasis upon individual freedom as central to Western liberal thought. However, he saw two different concepts of individualism: 1) where the individual wishes to be free to pursue satisfaction of needs, utility; 2) where individual freedom is seen as central because it allows the individual to develop and express all his human capacities to the fullest extent he desires. The first notion seems to characterize the nature of America and its emphasis upon consuming. The second is a broader and fuller notion of individual freedom allowing the individual to pursue whatever talents he possesses for any goals he chooses. However, the latter notion also requires that the individual have access to the means of development and expression and, although there is much lip service paid to "equality of opportunity" in America, an honest look shows that true equality of opportunity or anything approaching it does not exist because some of our citizens begin life with many resources while others begin life with little but the bear necessities. "Equality of opportunity" is a myth unless all Americans start out with at least a solid beginning and have available to them the resources necessary to developing themselves through education or other such endeavors.

Whenever equality comes up right-wingers immediately erect the straw man of differences in biologically based characteristics to argue that complete equality is not possible. Most people are fully aware that 'complete equality', whatever that might mean, is not possible and do not advocate any such foolishness. However, 'equality of opportunity' is quite another matter and to be meaningful would have to accord basic resources and opportunities for developing one's human potential.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

How a Genuine Conservative Differed From Pseudo-Conservatives

I continue here about Peter Viereck whom I've previously posted about here, here, and here. In Conservatism Revisited (Revised and Enlarged Edition, 1962, Collier Books, pp. 149-51) Viereck commented on how he thought true conservatism differed from the William F. Buckleys of the 1950s. Speaking of Russell Kirk, Buckley and the rest of their 'new conservative' group he wrote in 1962 about
that whole inconsistent spectrum of Goldwater intellectuals and right-radical magazines. Most of them are so muddled they don't even know when they are being 19th-century liberal individualists (in economics) and when they are being 20th-century semi-fascist thought-controllers (in politics). Logically, these two qualities are contradictory. Psychologically, they unite to make America's typical pseudo-conservative rightist.... [Kirk] and perhaps half of the new conservatives are bankrupt.... How can one attribute bankruptcy to a growing concern? Indeed, this new American right seems a very successful concern. On every TV station, on every mass-circulation editorial page, the word 'conservatism' in the 1960's has acquired a fame, or at least notoriety, that it never possessed before.... Which is it, triumph or bankruptcy, when the empty shell of a name gets acclaim while serving as a chrysalis for its opposite? The historic content of conservatism stands, above all, for two things: organic unity and rooted liberty. Today the shell of the 'conservative' label has become a chrysalis for the opposite of these two things: at best for atomistic Manchester liberalism, opposite of organic unity; at worst for thought-controlling nationalism, uprooting the traditional liberties (including the 5th Amendment) planted by America's founders.
These are points I have made myself: what I've called the 'witch's brew' of pseudo-conservative beliefs are in fact anti-conservative and mutually self-contradictory; the Buckleyites were simply successful in packaging this mess of contradictions and branding it as "conservatism."

Read Jay Rosen on Bush's "Retreat from Empiricism"

Jay Rosen has written a very thoughtful and important article about how little respect for 'reality' or facts the Bush administration has; they are about manipulating the beliefs of the press and public and otherwise 'reality' can take a back seat. As Stephen Colbert insists "truthiness" is what counts:
the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.
Or, if you prefer, 'reality is just a crutch.'

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Path Not Taken: Viereck’s Humane Conservatism

Reading Peter Viereck’s writings on conservatism from 1949 to 1962 I am painfully aware of what a marvelous possibility was entirely lost and instead replaced by a vicious, hate-filled, righteous, right-wing radicalism that is for the most part simply a disguised advocacy for the reigning business class. Viereck is so unusual he is hard to believe, particularly in the politically divisive atmosphere largely created by right-wing radicalism since the late 1970s (yes, I know it’s virtually obligatory to blame the current poisonous political atmosphere equally upon Democrats and Republicans but this is nonsense; just compare the prominence and effectiveness of the viciousness of the right in dealing with a relatively good president, Clinton, with the relative passivity and respectfulness accorded a singularly bad president, George W. Bush).

Viereck is someone you have to read to believe because he is such an unusual American political animal. He defines conservatism, as do most dictionaries, as a reverence and respect for the traditions, customs and practices of one’s own country or locality. This recognizes that in some part conservatism is relativistic; it is not simply a specific set of socio-political beliefs, like liberalism or socialism, but a tendency to support whatever has been best in the slow organic development of one’s own society. (Viereck as a Western Christian conservative does emphasize the ‘freedom’ of the individual, so his conservatism is not completely relativistic.) But to give a flavor for what is relativistic in his American conservatism here are a few quotes (from Conservatism Revisited, Revised and Enlarged Edition, 1962, Collier Books, pp. 125-143:
…romanticizing conservatives refuse to face up to the old and solid historical roots of most or much American liberalism…. In contrast, a genuinely rooted, history-minded conservative conserves the roots that are really there, exactly as Burke did…. American history is based on the resemblance between moderate liberalism and moderate conservatism…. The Burkean builds on the concrete existing historical base, not on a vacuum of abstract wishful thinking. When, as in America, that concrete base includes British liberalism of the 1680’s and New Deal reforms of the 1930’s, then the real American conserver assimilates into conservatism whatever he finds lasting and good in liberalism and in the New Deal…. [I]n America it is often the free trade unions who unconsciously are our ablest representatives of the word they hate and misunderstand: conservatism. The organic unity they restore to the atomized ‘proletariat’ is… providential…. So we come full circle in America’s political paradox; our conservatism, in the absence of medieval feudal relics, must grudgingly admit it has little real tradition to conserve except that of liberalism—which then turns out to be a relatively conservative liberalism.(last emphasis added)
So a real American conservative accepts our liberal tradition including some New Deal reforms and sees the conservative benefits of trade unions. Of course right-wing apologists for the business class like William F. Buckley would repackage 'conservatism' with their own contradictory set of beliefs and successfully sell this to the American public as 'conservative'. In a later post I'll quote some of Viereck's choicest descriptions of the Buckleyites' pseudo-conservatism; but here's one to whet your appetite: "right-wing nationalist thought control."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Shoe on the Other Foot Department?

This just in from Bill Christensen of Joe Scarborough, one of the 268 Representatives who voted to begin impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton, has apparently finally noticed the disparity between Clinton's record and Bush's.

Scarborough quoted:

Well, this is uncharted territory. And Josh Green, I want you,
if you will, to imagine, how would Republicans have responded if
President Bill Clinton had ignored the advice of all of his Joint
Chiefs, his top general in the war zone, his former secretary of
state, and 80 percent of Americans? Is it not a stretch to say that many Republicans would have considered impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton if this situation were identical?
This is something I wonder about constantly; imagine what the Republicans--who crucified Bill Clinton for firing some White House Staff or getting a blowjob and lying about it or losing $200,000 in a land deal BEFORE he was President--would do if Clinton had done one of a zillion things George W. Bush has done (usually with virtual impunity). You'd have been able to hear them screaming in Timbuktu!

Peter Viereck, A True Conservative

I'm discovering more about Peter Viereck, who died May 13 of this year at 89 and was an authentic American voice of conservatism. Viereck, to our great misfortune, was shouted down in the 1950s by the hateful, extremist rhetoric of William F. Buckley and his band of right-wing radicals. Viereck published the first book of the New Conservatism in 1949, Conservatism Revisited.

In a 1962 preface to a reissue of Conservatism Revisited Viereck wrote of himself and Clinton Rossiter (author of Conservatism in America):
we broke with the majority of current self-styled American conservatives (pseudo-conservative radicals of the right, in our view) over... issues of nationalist thought-control. The same pseudo-conservative rightists who discriminate against Negroes, despise the groping new governments of Asia and Africa, and stir up authoritarian nationalism against U.N. internationalism, these same thought-control rightists are also avowed disciples of Burke.... But Burke held a freedom-loving central position... [he] fought against the Negro slave trade and against imperialist oppression of India.
Viereck's mention of "pseudo-conservative rightists who discriminate against Negroes" is a reference to the probably no longer remembered fact that William F. Buckley wrote consistently in favor of a states' rights defense against racial integration. In the August 24, 1957 National Review Buckley wrote (John Judis, William F. Buckley, Jr., 1988, pp. 138-9):
The central question that whether the white community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically. The sobering answer is Yes--the white community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race....
Viereck's charges of 'thought-control nationalism' (McCarthyism) and 'authoritarian nationalism against U.N. internationalism' hit the bullseye; it is these baneful influences, aggressively fostored by the radical right, which have too much dominated U.S. political discourse since World War II and have unerringly led us to the 'thought-control nationalism' of the George W. Bush administration. Oh how much better off we would have been had the saner beliefs of Peter Viereck prevailed.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

John Judis' Buckley Biography

In 1988 John Judis published a biography of William F. Buckley. In reading it I am reminded of why I dislike this man. He was brought up in the lap of privilege, by a father who was a European-style Catholic defender of any Catholic-dominated status-quo and who saw almost any more democratic challenge as the march of Communism. His father defended the Mexican dictator Diaz against even bourgeois revolutionaries and was more opposed to Communism and Russia than he was to Hitler and Nazi Germany. Both father and son opposed U.S. entry into World War II until we were attacked by the Japanese. The father saw himself as a counter-revolutionary and Jr. has really been a counter-revolutionary all of his life, though the 'revolution' against which Jr. has fought was the New Deal. Jr. is from childhood described as a haughty, aristocratic, product of privilege, who was very much in his father's image. Buckley Sr. and Jr. would have been far more happy to live under a Catholic monarchy where they were members of the nobility and kept the 'rabble' in their place. Any support for democratic civil liberties on Buckley's part would be secondary to his predilection for a preferred authority's rule over all; thus, his defense of fellow Catholic anti-Communist Joseph McCarthy and his seeming less concerned about Nazisim. I don't see any reason to see William F. Buckley, Jr. as a defender of individual freedom.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Remember When America's Biggest Worry Was Fellatio?

So the press wanted to elect the guy they'd rather have a beer with, eh? Well you've got him and you've had him for six years. Had enough yet? Bill Clinton had a few very circumspect foreign initiatives in Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo; in none of them were we bogged down in some horrendous mess.

What exactly are the 'accomplishments' of the Bush administration? A Medicare Drug Benefit which is so expensive that the guy who was going to tell us how much it cost had to be threatened so he'd shut up. A benefit which truly seems to be more for the drug companies and insurance companies offering the benefit than for seniors. A Katrina emergency effort that finally convinced the American people that this administration is truly incompetent. Massive tax cuts that pissed away surpluses that Bill Clinton wanted to use to "Fix Social Security First" and saddled our kids and grandkids with a huge federal debt. If you thought 'Tax and Spend' was bad you didn't really compare it to 'Borrow and Spend'.

And a war in Iraq that threatens to be worse for America than the war in Vietnam. Costs heading toward $1 trillion, deaths of American kids heading toward 3000 (plus tens of thousands of kids injured), Iraqi deaths of between 400 and 900 thousand, a horrible black eye for American prestige around the world, another quagmire that we can't get out of because our leaders can't contemplate 'defeat' (John McCain) or 'failure', etc.

What else do you need to know to realize that these crazy pseudo-conservatives can't govern? Remember the nearly constant fuss pseudo-conservatives were making about Bill Clinton? How he had to be impeached for fibbing about fellatio? Ah, now those were the good old days.

Individual Freedom and Individualism

In 1922, after World War I and the Russian Revolution, Herbert Hoover, then President Warren Harding's Secretary of Commerce, wrote a small book called American Individualism. In many ways the book was similar to other statements of American individualism; it stated
that each individual shall be given the chance and stimulation for development of the best with which he has been endowed in heart and mind; it is the sole source of progress; it is American individualism.
Hoover was a very intelligent and decent fellow who was certainly the best of the three Republican presidents leading up to the Great Depression, Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. Harding is frequently considered one of our worst presidents and Coolidge, in my opinion, was thoroughly mediocre. It was probably Hoover's bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when the stock market crash and the Great Depression hit.

Hoover emphasized equality of opportunity as essential to American individualism but it is not clear to me that he fully appreciated how large corporations and their attendant concentration of wealth and power placed significant limits on equality of opportunity.

An interesting case history of Hoover's actual implementation of his beliefs can be seen in his control over radio broadcasting as Secretary of Commerce (see Robert W. McChesney, Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy, 1993, Chapter 2). Radio broadcasting was in its infancy during the Twenties and had an extremely critical role to play in the informing and education of American citizens. In the early Twenties there was a great deal of competition and local influence over radio broadcasting which could have been fostered by Hoover and those under him. These decisions about radio would of course determine what would later happen to television. Hoover's decisions facilitated the eventual domination of radio by large broadcasting networks who depended for revenue on advertising and drove out the small local operators who were dominant before 1927. As McChesney wrote:
There was little sense prior to 1927... that private control meant broadcasting should be dominated by networks, guided solely by the profit motive, and supported by advertising revenues.
It is difficult to exaggerate the influence Hoover's radio policies would have over the quality of information, education and debate within the American polity. If you have difficulty with the pap fed you on TV and radio today and are sick of the greater and greater amount of time filled by mindless advertising, you have no one more important to thank than that great 'individualist', Herbert Hoover.

While philosophically saying many of the right things about competition and individual initiative, Hoover's policies centralized radio's control in the hands of a few network corporations, resulted in the radio waves being dominated solely by advertising for profit, and drove most of the small radio operators out of business. It's not clear to me what the use is of being for 'equality of opportunity' in the abstract while making concrete decisions that limit competition and opportunity in one of the most important arenas of life to a democracy, the provision of information, 'news' and public affairs communications to all of the democratic public.

Last year's film "Good Night and Good Luck" made clear with one example the results of these decisions in the Twenties. Even though Edward R. Murrow was the most highly respected radio and TV journalist of his times, and though his criticism of Senator Joseph McCarthy turned out to be principled and correct, and though CBS head William S. Paley was a friend of Murrow's--Paley still slowly edged Murrow out of CBS TV news programs because the criticism of McCarthy was controversial and upset some CBS advertising sponsors. The bottom line: TV news and public affairs programming could not afford to be 'controversial' in ways that might upset sponsors. How can the voting citizens of America's democracy be informed on the crucial issues of the day when the advertising revenues of sponsors has a determining effect upon the 'information' they hear?

Between the 1960s and today our major 'news' networks have decided that they no longer even have a responsibility to cover political conventions and political speeches because it's more important to their advertisers that they provide 'entertainment' instead. Thank you Herbert Hoover.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Is Central Government a Neutral Arbiter?

In yesterday's post I raised the question of what a commitment to 'individual freedom' means if the state is not a neutral arbiter, that is, if it does take sides and does not simply ensure the framework within which individuals pursue their individually defined goals. I'm reading a book by historian Leonard Richards called Shays's Rebellion: The American Revolution's Final Battle; it certainly contributes an answer to the question of the neutrality of the Massachussets State government in the 1780s. Richards discovered a list of 4000 signatures of those involved in Shays's rebellion and thus was able to do research on the actual social composition of the rebels; previously no one had gone to the trouble of deciphering the handwriting and doing this research. The book was published in 2002, two hundred fifteen years after the rebellion.

Richards' research makes it clear who the rebels were, what their motives were and how they managed to attract so many followers. The book makes it clear that the Massachussets legislature at this time was dominated by Boston merchants and speculators and their privileged allies. After the passage of a new constitution written primarily by that love object of 'conservatives', John Adams (who probably does qualify as a genuine conservative), the legislature passed laws ensuring that all the notes of indebtedness of Massahchussets would be redeemed at face value and interest would be paid. While many of these notes were issued as 'pay' to Revolutionary War soldiers they had never been redeemed and thus many if not most of the soldiers sold these notes to buy necessities for themselves and their families; the primary purchasers of the notes were more well off Boston speculators who could afford to buy them at 10-25% of their face value and wait or trade them in the Boston securities market. When the legislature, representing the interests of these Boston merchants and speculators, passed legislation redeeming these notes at a cost to state government about twice as high as any other state, the state had to figure out how to pay for this. Thus, they sharply raised taxes which regressively fell unequally onto the farmers of the backcountry of Western Massachussets. Thus, while many of the ordinary soldiers who fought in the war received relatively worthless notes as pay and were forced to sell these to speculators, these same soldiers were going to have pay a heavy burden of taxes to redeem these notes with interest so the speculators could profit. Moreover, the notes were not accepted as payments of taxes, the latter had to paid with hard money which was scarce and difficult to acquire.

These were the primary reasons that back country Western Massachussets farmers and their allies took up arms against the state government. Richards also makes it clear that the rebellion was a major motivator for the 'great men' of the Constitutional convention to get together and write our national Constitution. Most of the 'founding fathers' were relatively wealthy property holders who were made afraid by Shays's Rebellion and wanted, among other things, to be able to have a national government which could easily raise an army to put down popular rebellions. Indeed, that is precisely what President Washington did in 1794 when he amassed 13,000 troops to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania.

Does it really further the freedom and dignity of the individual to support a state if that state is not a neutral arbiter?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Who Is the Most Genuine Advocate of Individual Freedom in Today’s America?

Individualism, meaning valuing the freedom of the individual to develop to the fullest of his/her own potential and ensuring that the individual can enjoy the full benefits of these efforts, is at the heart of the American belief system. Classical liberals like Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek embrace these values. The so-called American ‘conservative’ movement begun in the 1950s also claims to see individual freedom as central to its values. Interestingly, a case can be made that much of what has passed for American radicalism also is based upon belief in the promotion of individual freedom and development. Finally, ‘modern’ liberals too found their belief system upon the bedrock of individual freedom and development.

Obviously there must be important matters upon which these otherwise very different groups disagree. The most fundamental point of disagreement involves very different views of the role of the American state. Perhaps in an ideal world these different groups could agree that the state would play the minimalist role assigned to it by writers like Adam Smith. However, disagreement enters in assessing the historical actions that the American state has actually taken and whether this role fundamentally violated the ideal of laissez faire by repeatedly favoring those with more economic power enabling them to amass undue wealth and power. If one believes the latter then advocacy of laissez faire and opposition to government intervention in the economy at this late date only helps to consolidate the inequalities of wealth, power, and opportunity that exist today and thereby stands to undermine the freedom of the majority of contemporary individuals to develop themselves to their fullest potential and enjoy the fruits of these individual exertions.

While pseudo-conservatives like William Buckley and classical liberals like Friedman and Hayek inveigh against the state as the sole threat to individual freedom they completely overlook the massive growth of large corporations as agglomerations of power that can threaten individual liberty. They also apparently overlook the fact that the state has again and again done things to favor centralization of wealth and power in the hands of the American business class. These potential contradictions of laissez faire and threats to the freedom of all individuals do not seem to concern them. (To be fair to Friedman he often has attempted to be consistent by opposing at least some actions of government that favor business or professional classes.)

The contemporary call for minimal government by pseudo-conservatives and classical liberals and their virtually sole emphasis on the threats to individual freedom from the state are conveniently similar to the ideology of privileged classes in the U.S. In other words, modern liberals believe that these individuals’ ideology is not a true defense of individual freedom but a disguised defense of privilege and serve to undermine the freedom of less privileged individuals. This is where the real disagreements lie. The question is: who really is the most genuine advocate of individual freedom in today’s America?

Modern liberals and some individual freedom-loving radicals would argue that when pseudo-conservatives and classical liberals cast the state as virtually the only threat to individual freedom they are overlooking the fact that, unlike large corporations, the state is to some degree responsive to the individual through the vehicle of bi-annual elections. As Charles Perrow has written (Organizing America, p. 8):
Most important for government, however, is the check of democratic control on governmental masters through the electorate. The check is limited, imperfect, and subject to abuse, but there is no democratic control at all in the case of private economic organizations, on which most of us depend for our living. Only governmental regulation can attempt to control private economic organizations. Because governmental organizations are somewhat more responsive to the electorate in democracies, I fear large governmental organizations less than large private ones.
Apologists for corporations might argue that there are checks on corporate power: 1) votes of shareholders to elect boards of directors and 2) votes of consumers in the marketplace. These are specious arguments because any honest study of corporate governance would note that it is the unelected top managers of the corporation that control them; directors are nominated by top management and almost always rubber stamped by shareholders; moreover, directors exercise little significant power over top management. Votes of consumers in the marketplace are utterly different than votes in a democratic election; in the latter case one election can put candidates in office or remove them on a single day and such elections occur regularly at two, four or six year intervals; the purchases of consumers may take much time to have an effect on management, if any, and they do not directly involve anything other than the details of what products are produced and how; if consumers disagree with the political or charitable contributions of management or the company's environmental policy purchase of products is no substitute for democratic elections.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mark Danner Article a 'Must Read'

Mark Danner has written an excellent article for The New York Review of Books on the decision-making background to the Iraq War. The article starts slowly but gets to some real meat in Part 4 and 5.
Anyone wanting to answer the question of "how we began" in Iraq has to confront the monumental fact that the United States, the most powerful country in the world, invaded Iraq with no particular and specific idea of what it was going to do there, and then must try to explain how this could have happened.
This is indeed the question I have asked myself again and again, how could we have gone into this without a postwar plan? I have often been most tempted to blame Rumsfeld because he was given so much control over the whole effort, war and postwar. However, Danner writes:
Irresistible as Rumsfeld is, however, the story of the Iraq war disaster springs less from his brow than from that of an inexperienced and rigidly self-assured president who managed to fashion, with the help of a powerful vice-president, a strikingly disfigured process of governing.... Ron Suskind, who has been closely studying the inner workings of the Bush administration since his revealing piece about Karl Rove and John Dilulio in 2003 and his book on Paul O'Neill the following year, observes that "the interagency" not only serves to convey information and decisions but also is intended to perform a more basic function: "Sober due diligence, with an eye for the way previous administrations have thought through a standard array of challenges facing the United States, creates, in fact, a kind of check on executive power and prerogative." This is precisely what the President didn't want, particularly after September 11; deeply distrustful of the bureaucracy, desirous of quick, decisive action, impatient with bureaucrats and policy intellectuals, the President wanted to act....

Suskind... argues that Bush and Cheney constructed precisely the government they wanted: centralized, highly secretive, its clean, direct lines of decision unencumbered by information or consultation. "There was never any policy process to break, by Condi or anyone else," Richard Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state, remarks to Suskind. "There was never one from the start. Bush didn't want one, for whatever reason."
To me this has the ring of truth. During the 2000 election the press was thoroughly preoccupied with 'who you'd rather have a beer with', Bush or Gore. Well, we got the guy the press would rather have a beer with and we got a singularly incompetent president who will likely go down in history as close to our worst. I really suspect Bush has immeasurably increased the 'decline' of America as a 'Great Power'. Read Danner's article, there's a lot more. This article focuses upon what I think are the key questions in understanding the Iraq War: 1) why was there no postwar plan? 2) who decided to order de-baathification and disband the Iraqi military and why? The article provides some of the best thinking I've seen on these key questions.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Pseudo-Conservatism Unmasked as Early as 1951

In a marvelous review of William F. Buckley’s 1950 book, God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of 'Academic Freedom' (New York Times, November 4, 1951), Peter Viereck, a true conservative, early espied Buckley’s central contradictions. Complimenting Buckley’s insistence that “man has a moral nature”, “that freedom depends on the traditional value-code of the West and that unmoral materialism results in a suicidal intolerance debunking all values as equally ‘relative’", nonetheless Viereck found much to criticize:
Yet what is his alternative? Nothing more inspiring than the most sterile Old Guard brand of Republicanism, far to the right of Taft. Is there no ‘selfish materialism’ at all among the National Association of Manufacturers as well as among the ‘New Deal collectivists’ here denounced?
Only a true conservative with the integrity of self-criticism and the desire to advocate a consistent set of principles could ask that question—and William F. Buckley, “this product of narrow economic privilege” as appropriately described by Viereck—certainly did not, and to this day does not, satisfy those criteria. (See my William F. Buckley's Courageous Fight for Principle--NOT.)

Buckley raised concerns about excessive ‘materialism’ but only the alleged materialism of “New Deal collectivists” while conveniently ignoring the primary source of American materialism, the consumerism of those like the National Association of Manufacturers. In other words, Buckley takes arguments often dear to American conservatives (e.g., importance of traditional morality, anti-materialism, individual freedom) but transforms them to suit his own ideological prejudices and utterly ignores the blatant contradictions underlying his own tortured usage of ‘conservative’ positions. Buckley, from the beginning really had no principles, he merely cunningly used what he alleged were positions of principle to advocate for a group of interests to which he personally subscribed. Viereck: “[T]he author irresponsibly treats not only mild social democracy but even most social reform as almost crypto-communism. He damns communism, our main enemy, not half so violently as lesser enemies like the income tax and inheritance tax.” Buckley, like his oil baron father, was avidly pro-capitalist and out to protect in every possible manner the prerogatives and privileges of businesspeople who had benefited from American capitalism—thus the attacks upon the income and inheritance taxes (and today's pseudo-conservative attacks on the 'death tax'). He was ferociously anti-New Deal and wished to tear down its edifices and engaged in typical right-wing Cold War hyperbole identifying not only “mild social democracy but even most social reform as almost crypto-communism.”

Buckley posed as a great champion of individual freedom but when it suited his ideological agenda he quietly switched to authoritarian thought control to ‘banish from the classroom’ those ideas he deemed heretical. Viereck: “Words will really fail you when you reach the book’s final ‘message’: [Yale]trustees and alumni should violate the legally established academic freedom to ‘banish from the classroom’ not merely Communists but all professors deviating far from Adam Smith!”

Viereck: “And why is this veritable Eagle Scout of moral sternness silent on the moral implications of McCarthyism in his own camp?” Buckley was a rabid anti-communist willing to blink at the attacks upon civil liberties of those such as Senator Joseph McCarthy. On the one hand he’s against communism for its attacks upon Western freedoms, on the other he undermines these freedoms in the very battle to save them. As the writers of The Authoritarian Personality wrote: “The pseudo-conservative is a man who, in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions.., consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition.”

Viereck went on to identify more fatal contradictions: “Is it not humorless, or else blasphemous, for this eloquent advocate of Christianity, an unworldly and anti-economic religion, to enshrine jointly as equally sacrosanct: ‘Adam Smith and Ricardo, Jesus and St. Paul?’” This is a contradiction too infrequently noted: Christianity as preached by Christ is not compatible with the secular worship of the pursuit of wealth, though the 'protestant ethic' may have been twisted to fit 'the spirit of capitalism'.

Viereck, an excellent writer, concluded: “Not for economic privilege but for ethical and anti-materialist reasons, some of us have preached a conservative ‘revolt against revolt.’ If the laboring mountain of the new campus conservatism can turn out no humane and imaginative Churchill but merely this product of narrow economic privilege, then we might need a revolt against the revolt against revolt.”

Many of Peter Viereck's books are still available. For an evaluation of Viereck's conservative credentials see George H. Nash's The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, (1996, p. 60): "[Conservatism Revisited, Viereck's 1949 book] was the book which, more than any other of the postwar era, created the new conservatism as a self-conscious intellectual force." If that was so, Viereck certainly disagreed with Buckley's 'conservatism', as published only a year later.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

What True Conservatism Would Dictate in Foreign Policy

Two posts ago, in A Cogent View of Why Iraq Is So Divided I wrote:
How much evidence do our policymakers need that intervening in a foreign culture is an extremely difficult thing to do with any success; there are just too many unintended consequences and unforeseen outcomes.
Any truly conservative government could never have lost sight of this idea. John Adams is almost universally celebrated as one of America's most distinguished conservatives and he fully understood this. Writing about taking the step of declaring independence from England he wrote:
All great Changes are irksome to the human Mind, especially those which are attended with great Dangers and uncertain Effects. No Man living can foresee the Consequences of such a Measure [independence], and therefore I think it ought not to have been undertaken until the Design of Providence by a Series of great Events had so plainly marked out the Necessity of it that he who runs might read (quoted in Y. Arieli, Individualism and Nationalism in American Ideology, 1964, p. 70).
But the radical pseudo-conservative government of George W. Bush of course showed no such caution, patience or acute understanding of the difficulties of their Iraq adventure; Bush, opposite to his father in 1990, rammed his war resolution through Congress less than one month prior to a Congressional election and couldn't have seemed more anxious to invade Iraq and turn it into a "beacon of democracy" in the Middle East. How absolutely opposite of conservative do radical rightists like Bush have to be before Americans recognize the con game being run on them when these radicals cloth themselves in the garments of 'conservatism?'

Bush Considering Three Iraq Strategies

The Washington Post reported that the Bush administration is rushing to come up with their own Iraq strategy, i.e., NOT the Baker-Hamilton recommendations, for a speech by Bush before Xmas:
The major alternatives include a short-term surge of 15,000 to 30,000 additional U.S. troops to secure Baghdad and accelerate the training of Iraqi forces. Another strategy would redirect the U.S. military away from the internal strife to focus mainly on hunting terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda. And the third would concentrate political attention on supporting the majority Shiites and abandon U.S. efforts to reach out to Sunni insurgents.
I'll bet they choose option 1 because it is the closest thing to 'Stay the course'. They'll boost troops in Baghdad, say its a 'new' strategy and buy more time to try to pull off a 'victory'. Unless the Congress is VERY watchful this 'new' approach could drag on for another year before national discouragement sets in again and we are currently rapidly approaching 3000 American troops dead. As the WaPo said:
While one of the options involves a surge of U.S. troops, there is no agreement on what the mission of those forces would be, sources say. Discussions center on accelerating the training of Iraqi forces and helping secure Baghdad before turning it over to the Iraqis. The goal generally could be to improve Iraq's defense capabilities so U.S. combat troops could begin to withdraw faster.
But of course the usual 'blame the victims' strategy is being used too:
But the growing undercurrent of discussions within the administration is shifting responsibility for Iraq's problems to Iraqis. Sources familiar with the deliberations describe fatigue, frustration and a growing desire to disengage from Iraq. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the deliberations.
Option 2:
The second idea is the "al-Qaeda option," which would transform the U.S. mission to focus on fighting terrorism and would disengage forces from domestic aspects of the multisided conflict. U.S. troops would take a backseat on the Shiite-Sunni conflict and instead hunt down al-Qaeda operatives, the sources say. On the ground, for example, that could mean a shift away from operations in Baghdad's volatile Sadr City slum, or from efforts to stop car bombs and sectarian attacks. The administration is increasingly resigned to the fact that it can neither prevent nor intervene in Iraq's sectarian war, which has begun to supersede both the Sunni insurgency and al-Qaeda's operations, the sources say.
Option 3:
On the political front, the administration is focusing increasingly on variations of a "Shiite tilt," sometimes called an "80 percent solution," that would bolster the political center of Iraq and effectively leave in charge the Shiite and Kurdish parties that account for 80 percent of Iraq's 26 million people and that won elections a year ago. Vice President Cheney's office has most vigorously argued for the "80 percent solution," in terms of both realities on the ground and the history of U.S. engagement with the Shiites, sources say. A source familiar with the discussions said Cheney argued this week that the United States could not again be seen to abandon the Shiites, Iraq's largest population group, after calling in 1991 for them to rise up against then-President Saddam Hussein and then failing to support them when they did. Thousands were killed in a huge crackdown.
Does Cheney or anyone else realize that this option simply increases Iran's influence and alienates our Sunni allies in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia? I guess it's foolish to expect rationality from Cheney. See my previous posts on this tilt to the Shia, e.g., Tilting Toward SOME of the Shia.

Friday, December 08, 2006

A Cogent View of Why Iraq Is So Divided

Laura Rozen cited some writing from Anthony Cordesman that is, I think, quite accurate:
the Iraqi government is weak as much because of US action as Iraq's inherent problems. The US destroyed the secular core of the country by disbanding the Ba'ath. The US created a constitutional process long before Iraq was ready, and created an intensely divisive document with more than 50 key areas of "clarification" including federation, control of oil resources and money, control of security, the role of religion, the nature of the legal system, etc. The US created an electoral system that almost forced Iraqis to vote to be Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Kurds and divided the nation on sectoral and ethnic lines.
I believe this is somewhat overlooked: the US actually inadvertently exacerbated the sectarian strife in Iraq by decisions it made regarding the political process in Iraq. Thus the Bush administration didn't simply bungle the post-war but it positively contributed to the problems that are rending Iraq today. How much evidence do our policymakers need that intervening in a foreign culture is an extremely difficult thing to do with any success; there are just too many unintended consequences and unforeseen outcomes.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Fatal Catch-22 in Iraq?

Michael Gordon of the New York Times underlined what may be the Iraq Study Group’s primary recommendation:
Ever since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States has struggled in vain to tamp down the violence in Iraq and to build up the capacity of Iraq’s security forces. Now the study group is positing that the United States can accomplish in little more than one year what it has failed to carry out in three. In essence, the study group is projecting that a rapid infusion of American military trainers will so improve the Iraqi security forces that virtually all of the American combat brigades may be withdrawn by the early part of 2008 [emphasis added].
This strategy may involve a fatal Catch-22:
Catch-22 is a term, coined by Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22, describing a general situation in which an individual has to accomplish two actions which are mutually dependent on the other action being completed first…. In moving from school to a career, one may encounter a Catch-22 where one cannot get a job without work experience, but one cannot gain experience without a job.
Michael Gordon of the NYT continued:
In June, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander in Iraq, developed a plan that called for gradually drawing down the number of American brigade combat teams by December 2007, to just 5 or 6 from the 14 combat brigades that were deployed at the time. In keeping with this approach, American troops in Baghdad began to cut back on their patrols in the capital, calculating that Iraqi security forces would pick up the slack. But no sooner did General Casey present his plan in Washington than it had to be deferred. With sectarian violence soaring in Baghdad, the United States reinforced its troops there. More American soldiers are now involved in security operations in Baghdad than Iraqi troops… since it is American forces that have often worked to curb the sectarian killings — and since many of the Iraqi forces have been infiltrated by sectarian militias — there is reason to believe that the civil strife will grow if the American combat forces soon begin to leave [emphasis added].
In one of Juan Cole’s reports we find this:
via satellite from Washington David Newton, a former US ambassador to Iraq… says that the US training of Iraqi soldiers to assume security command in Iraq will be useless if these soldiers "continue to behave on behalf of one side or another" after they finish their training [emphasis added].
Finally, Spencer Ackerman, in an American Prospect article wrote:
The bottom line, the commission says rather aptly, is "there are many armed groups within Iraq, and very little will to lay down arms”…. The commission is right about this. Where it goes wrong is in its recommendation that we should be actively supporting an Iraqi political process that is hostage to such dysfunction and sectarian chaos… it's because of this very deeply felt sectarian distrust that the training of Iraqi security forces has only served to equip and prepare more and more combatants for the civil war [emphasis added].
So here’s the Catch-22: we need to beef up our efforts to train Iraqi Security Forces so they can police and control sectarian violence in Iraq; but, to a significant degree, training these forces serves to equip and prepare more and more combatants in the sectarian violence; Catch-22.

If there is no “Iraqi Security Forces” purified of sectarian combatants and committed to a national unity government one cannot carry out the strategy of “rapid infusion of American military trainers… [to] improve the Iraqi security forces [so] that virtually all of the American combat brigades may be withdrawn by the early part of 2008.” To continue to train a sectarian-infiltrated “Iraqi Security Force” will only contribute to the very problem one is trying to solve.

What Can Be Done in Iraq?

I'm not sure what it was about August 2005 but two wise observers of our Iraq policy made suggestions then that are worth looking at again today. On August 21, 2005, current professor and former military man Andrew Bacevich spoke out in a Washington Post Op-Ed, "Call It a Day".

Among other things Bacevich wrote:
Rather than producing liberal democracy, our meddling in Iraqi politics has exacerbated political dysfunction. And by signaling the importance that it attributes to satisfying the core interests of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds alike, Washington has encouraged all three factions to increase their demands. Convinced that the Americans will never permit a cataclysmic collision, each faction is committed to playing a high-stakes game of chicken. If Iraq in August 2005 qualifies as the political equivalent of a clapped-out, self-abusing dependent, then the Bush administration ought to be recognized as being an enabler.... Stability -- defined as preserving a unified Iraq and reducing the insurgency -- cannot be imposed. It can only be negotiated by the various factions constituting the Iraqi polity. The issues dividing those factions are by no means trivial. But their common interest in maintaining the integrity of the state is also great. Announcing the U.S. departure will concentrate the minds of Iraqi leaders of all stripes. It will clear away any misconceptions regarding the consequences of secession.In addition to assuming that Iraqis require American supervision, the Bush administration's insistence on staying the course also implicitly assumes that a U.S. withdrawal would leave a dangerous political vacuum in the region. But this assumption too is suspect. More likely, the American departure would foster a political dynamic in which Iraq's neighbors would exert themselves to keep Iraq from spinning out of control -- not out of any concern for the well-being of the Iraqi peoplebut out of sheer self-interest.
On August 22 Juan Cole, current professor and former military brat, offered a 10 point plan for disengaging from Iraq. Today on his blog Professor Cole has dusted off this plan and suggested comparing it to the Iraq Study Group's recommendations 17 months later. Cole wrote today:
Alas, I no longer think that the US military can plausibly play the role I suggested for it below, and I had no idea of how vicious the civil war could get with nighttime death squads. They don't need set piece battles to kill 60 a day in the streets of Baghdad. But, it seems to me that these suggestions track pretty well with those of the Baker-Hamilton commission.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Iraq Study Group Report, Part 2

I just saw an interesting interview with James Baker and Lee Hamilton on The Lehrer News Hour and the two were surprisingly candid and not just blowing smoke with a lot of politician-speak. One thing emphasized, especially by Hamilton, was how important it was that our support of the Iraqi government be conditional on their making progress on specific milestones rather than unconditional. Making rewards, support, etc. conditional on work, achievement, etc. is a fundamental part of the American Ideology. How many times have we heard that if say, workers are 'given' unemployment insurance this will create the 'moral hazard' of their not wishing to work! But the Personal Responsibility Crusaders (thanks to Jacob Hacker for this phrase) of the Bush administration seem to entirely forget this fundamental principle of the American Creed when it comes to the Iraqi government. The American taxpayer is being asked to support them to the tune of several billions of dollars per month until they are successful and secure, no conditions or strings attached. Apparently there's no 'moral hazard' or 'perverse incentive' that Iraqis will get used to our money and support and continue to squabble among themselves indefinitely and fail to be motivated to solve their own problems. This is just another example of how thoroughly inconsistent pseudo-conservatives are, their only principle is remember your 'talking points' and repeat them at every available opportunity.

Iraq Study Group Report

Okay, the long awaited Iraq Study Group Report is out and this will begin a phase where it's very important to watch carefully what actually happens besides talk. Not to put too fine a point on it, George W Bush is a liar and one who feels entirely justified in lying: this was clearly demonstrated, for those who need more evidence, when he lied about whether he'd replace Rumsfeld a few days before the election and then after he'd dumped Rummy after the election and was asked about this contradiction he blithely said that he believed political campaign tactics justified his lying. So now that he's lost the election the Rove-Machiavelli spin is how much he wants to come together and cooperate. Do not believe a word of it.

According to the Washington Post the report lays emphasis on "substantially expanding the American effort to train fledgling Iraqi security forces while pulling U.S. troops back from combat and patrols." The key is the latter part: will Bush/Cheney pull troops back out of harm's way so we are less likely to have more US kids killed? I tend to doubt it. I heard pseudo-con Kagan (Frederick?) on NPR call for 50,000 more troops. And yet the ISG report says: "The American military has little reserve force to call on if it needs ground forces to respond to other crises around the world."

Iraqi "Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki said Tuesday that he would send envoys to neighboring countries to plan a conference on Iraq, adding momentum to calls for a regional approach to quell the increasingly anarchic war here." (See New York Times.) This is apparently a change of mind for Maliki and may be a positive sign. The ISG report also places major emphasis about talking to at least Syria about Iraq but I'm not sure the pseudo-conservative generated hostility toward Syria hasn't already made this next to impossible: when James Baker advocated this today he felt the need to make all sorts of bows to the crazy pseudo-con nonsense, saying this wasn't "talking for the sake of talking" and we would be very tough with Syria in any talks having a whole list of things we'd ask of them. These are clear signs of the pseudo-conservative distortions that have been injected into US foreign policy: who in the world would advocate "talking for the sake of talking", this is one of those crazy strawmen erected by the pseudo-cons which everyone now seems to feel they must knock down. It's fascinating how the 'toughest' right-wing nonsense tends to set the terms of debate; no one will stand up and say the pseudo-cons have no clothes, that all the stuff they say about not 'talking for the sake of talking' is simply idiotic rhetoric that should simply be ignored.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Bad Signs Concerning Iraq War

We know al Maliki is saying the US troops should remain in Iraq. Now we have another significant Shia leader, al Hakim, saying the same thing. Al Hakim is also telling Bush to hit Sunni guerrillas harder so apparently no reaching out to Sunnis there. Apparently al Hakim does not want a regional conference of Arab nations on Iraq because he is close to Iran, Iran already has strong influence in Iraq, and a regional conference would mean Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other Sunni regimes would gain control and Hakim opposes that.

To me this sounds like Vietnam all over again: our government leaders have become entwined with local leaders with their own local interests, the latter make them want to encourage us to keep our troops there while also opposing other potential paths to peace because these threaten their local power ambitions. The Bush administration can play these forces to keep us there till he leaves in 2009. Only a strong, courageous American leader determined to extricate us could get us out. And there are so many essential things we could do with the money being squandered in Iraq that would truly strengthen us here at home. This makes me think again of Paul Kennedy's warning in his The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000:
Most of the historical examples covered here suggest there is a noticeable ‘lag time’ between the trajectory of a state’s relative economic strength and the trajectory of its military/territorial influence…. An economically expanding power… may well prefer to become rich rather than to spend heavily on armaments. A half-century later, priorities may well have altered. The earlier economic expansion has brought with it overseas obligations (dependence upon foreign markets and raw materials, military alliances, perhaps bases and colonies)…. In these more troubled circumstances, the Great Power is likely to find itself spending much more on defense than it did two generations earlier, and yet still discover that the world is a less secure environment—simply because other powers have grown faster, and are becoming stronger…. Great Powers in relative decline instinctively respond by spending more on ‘security,’ and thereby divert potential resources from ‘investment’ and compound their long-term dilemma (emphasis added).
I believe there is a likelihood that the United States today is a "Great Power in relative decline" that is "spending more on ‘security,’ and thereby divert[ing] potential resources from ‘investment’."

There is a good chance our pseudo-conservative 'tough' leaders are running this country into a ditch and few will notice until it's too late. Through policies of failing to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, starting a terrorist-producing war in Iraq, spending vast sums of money on useless war and starving investments that need to made at home (see Jacob Hacker's The Great Risk Shift), increasing the resources of the wealthy while advising working Americans to 'eat cake'--these pseudo-conservatives are destroying a great country while at the same time succeeding in convincing many that they are the true patriots. They are certainly masters of Madison Avenue PR, 'packaging', propaganda and 'spin'; you have to give them that.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

And Now a 'Leaked' Rumsfeld Memo

The New York Times obtained a leaked memo Rumsfeld wrote about possible 'new' directions in Iraq; the memo was written two days before Rummy resigned. Here is NYT analysis of the memo. Here is Washington Post analysis. Finally, here's Juan Cole's interesting analysis.

Here are some thoughts of mine: Rumsfeld, the brilliant beureaucratic manager, former CEO of major drug companies, presumably a fellow who knows how to make strategic plans and determine methods to judge whether those plans are producing desired results, is apparently endorsing, after 3 years and 9 months of an unimaginably expensive war, some ideas that others have been calling for since nearly the beginning of the war:

1) "Publicly announce a set of benchmarks agreed to by the Iraqi Government and the U.S. — political, economic and security goals — to chart a path ahead for the Iraqi government and Iraqi people (to get them moving) and for the U.S. public (to reassure them that progress can and is being made)."

It's taken this brilliant manager 3 years and 9 months to recommend the setting of benchmarks with which to judge whether we are succeeding or not!! Joe Biden and Richard Lugar were calling for those years ago.

2) Put "one or more Iraqi soldiers with every U.S. and possibly Coalition squad, to improve our units’ language capabilities and cultural awareness."

Frankly, I am simply appalled. How in the world could it possibly take nearly 4 years to suggest that our troops need to be able to have Arabic speakers with them and be more culturally aware of Iraqi beliefs and customs. This is so amazing I am left speechless; how do you explain this monumental blindness?

3) "Initiate an approach where U.S. forces provide security only for those provinces or cities that openly request U.S. help."

As I've pointed out in several previous posts, this seems like a fairly obvious idea when you are being seen as an occupier and want to change that and be seen as an invited helper. Brzezinski has been suggesting something like this for at least a year.

4) "Withdraw U.S. forces from vulnerable positions — cities, patrolling, etc. — and move U.S. forces to a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) status, operating from within Iraq and Kuwait, to be available when Iraqi security forces need assistance."

Hmmmmm. John Murtha? Who's John Murtha?

5) "Begin modest withdrawals of U.S. and Coalition forces (start “taking our hand off the bicycle seat”), so Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country."

Aren't Republicans the ones who are always FIRST to tell us that placing responsibility upon those who benefit most from action is the golden path to fostering "individual initiative"? Aren't they the FIRST to warn of 'moral hazard' and 'perverse incentives' when people are provided too easily with aid? (See Jacob Hacker's marvelous new book, "The Great Risk Shift", for more on these topics.)

I've thought a good deal about how a smart guy like Rumsfeld could make so many stupid mistakes and, so far, the main cause I've been able to come up with is arrogance. This guy is perhaps one of the most arrogant of a notably arrogant group: politicians. He seemed to feel his judgment was close to infallible and thus if he thought it up it must be great; there was no real reason to respect anyone else's opinion. And, surrounded as he was by true believers like Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Feith, Perle, Wurmser, Rove, et al., there certainly was no stimulus to press him to come up with alternative ideas.

How Bad a President is George W Bush?

Today's Washinton Post Outlook Section features a discussion of how bad a president George W Bush will be judged by history and historians: first, second, third and fourth.

Whether he's fifth worst or, as Eric Foner argues, worst ever, I suspect he'll definitely be down in the basement somewhere. And to think he did not even win the popular vote in 2000 and only became President through a series of accidents (butterfly ballots, Katherine Harris) plus a politically divided Supreme Court.

Tilting Toward SOME of the Shia

Here are two excellent articles on the latest in Iraq War strategy: one from Robin Wright of the Washington Post, and another from Laura Rozen at American Prospect. I think the Laura Rozen piece is perhaps the best summary of the options under consideration by the administration.

I want to raise one question about the ‘tilting toward the Shia [plus Kurds]’ strategy. Wright said that “some insiders call the proposal the ’80 percent’ solution” because the Sunnis only number 20% of Iraq’s population. Wright’s article doesn’t mention the significant minority of Shia committed to Moktada al Sadr. Sadr controls 30 seats in the Iraqi 275 seat parliament and the support of these was necessary for al Maliki’s success in becoming Prime Minister. But many articles have recently made it clear that the ‘tilt’ strategy involves SPLITTING the Shia into al Maliki’s government plus followers of Abdel Aziz al Hakim’s Shia followers in SCIRI (Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq) on the one hand, and Sadr’s followers and his Mahdi Militia on the other. I’m not sure how to estimate Sadr’s following but Newsweek’s latest alarmist coverage of Sadr suggests he has wide support.

How would tilting toward SOME Shia actually work? Even if al Maliki and al Hakim’s groups could get together (and they have competed in the past), what would come of pitting some Shia against other Shia while the Sunni insurgency was free to roam? One of al Sadr’s consistent and central demands has been for the U.S. to withdraw; this demand is shared by “91 percent of Sunnis”. There was some temporary cooperation between Sunnis and Sadrists in the first battle over Falluja. Might Sadrists and Sunni insurgents not join against the U.S., at least temporarily?

Juan Cole recently wrote:
The al-Maliki government would be given "another chance" to crack down on Shiite militias such as the Mahdi Army and would be given greater freedom of movement in confronting them militarily. In other words, Bush is trying to set al-Maliki up for a confrontation with the Sadr Movement…. If Bush gets his way, we could see substantial Shiite on Shiite violence in the coming months, of which it is likely the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement will take advantage.
The notion that somehow siding with the al Maliki government plus al Hakim's SCIRI followers against Sadr and his Mahdi militia raises the question of what the actual likely consequences of such a tactic would be. It is important to think about this because I think it's clear from the recent US media bashing of al Sadr that something like this is afoot.

Friday, December 01, 2006

So You Don't Believe in the Authoritarian Personality Huh?

This just in from the New Haven Advocate thanks to Bill Christensen: a study "found a correlation between the severity of a person’s psychosis and their preferences for president: The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.... 'Our study shows that psychotic patients prefer an authoritative leader,' Lohse says. 'If your world is very mixed up, there’s something very comforting about someone telling you, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’”