Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Republic, If You Can Keep It

So said Benjamin Franklin after the Constitutional Convention, when asked what kind of a government the delegates had given them.  Today, 18 December 2011, the last American troops left Iraq and, at 6:59 a.m. EST, Secretary of Defense Panetta signed Mod 9 to EXORD 1003 Victor, formally ending Operation New Dawn—and by extension, the Iraq war.

This seems like a good occasion to write again, if only to record my thoughts.  I stared at the Defense Press Secretary’s tweet for some time (@PentagonPresSec), thinking of something substantive to add, and then simply retweeted it.  It seemed like something that shouldn’t just be a passing comment.

Which leaves us with the question, “What next?”  Last week, President Obama thanked returning troops, and in what may be the ultimate irony of his administration, praised them for leaving behind a sovereign, independent, democratic Iraq—the exact end state formulated by President George W. Bush and derided by the left, including candidate Obama.

Apologies in advance for politicizing this moment, but there are a couple things about this week that are bothering me.  I won’t go as far as some pundits who’ve said the President was trying to take credit for our success in Iraq.  (He wouldn’t say victory.)  Still, I find it interesting that he’s the President is quick to blame his predecessor for the economy being worse than he thought when taking office, but doesn’t seem to blame (or credit) Bush for saddling him with an Iraq withdrawal timeline.  I’d like to think otherwise, but I suspect we’ll hear reelection candidate Obama point out that he brought the Iraq war to a conclusion, as promised. 

That should be a mistake, because any opponent should quickly ridicule any such claim—this President withdrew the troops on the exact timeline established by his predecessor, three years after taking office, not the 18 months he kept repeating during the 2008 campaign.  The only thing substantive he can claim credit for is failing to reach an agreement to let the troops stay longer.  If I can make the argument, a Presidential candidate should certainly be able to.  (Add a couple quips about a pattern of diplomatic failure, etc., until the “time’s up” chime rings.)

But, with that off my chest, I will give President Obama some credit, on faith.  There is a reasonable intellectual argument that the only way we could ever prove to the Iraqis that we would leave—is by leaving.  Perhaps Iraq will be fine; perhaps the Iraqis will be asking us to return in 2014, but even the Sadrists can no longer claim we’re an occupation force. 

The Iraqi military and police probably aren’t as ready as we, or they, would like—but it’s their country, and they’ve stepped up, and you can’t always wait until everything is ready.  They still have to worry about Iran, but that will be a continued counterinsurgency fight.  Iraqi Freedom may not be the last state-on-state conventional land attack, but there won’t be another one for a while.  Most Iraqis may be Shia, but they don’t want to be ruled from Tehran any more than they want to be ruled from Washington, DC.  Why do you think Sadr called everyone liars when they said he was hiding in Iran?

So, while the politics of this day are inescapable, I’ll close with some thoughts of hope.

I think Iraq will be fine.  In fact, despite its rough neighborhood, I think Iraq is going to thrive.  And, I’ll stick to the prediction I made in May 2008—when Iraq looked into the abyss and stepped back—within 10 years, Iraq will be one of our “go to” partners when a coalition is needed, because of the tenacity, skill, and courage of their new army.

Some of which, I’d like to think, we taught them.  And some of which, they just needed to be shown they had, all along.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A New START for a New Year

I recently finished George Friedman's "The Next 100 Years." I recommend it, not because I agree with most of it, but because it has some excellent nuggets, and the author does a superb job walking through his logic. That makes it easy for the reader to determine where he and Friedman diverge.

Friedman's major point is that geopolitics will dominate the next century, just as it did the last.  While that initially seemed a sound point, he then makes a too-literal argument for geopolitics--that nation-state war will continue just as it did in the 1800's and early 1900's. That's where he goes wrong, and where the New START treaty comes in.

The argument most opponents of New START make is that it doesn't restrict tactical nuclear weapons. (The other argument is that missile defense is discussed in the preamble, which the Senate, in its ratification, specified is not legally binding.)  It doesn't, but the lack of limits on tactical nukes really shouldn't be a surprise in a treaty called the STrategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

While Russia can certainly invade Georgia if it wants to, it doesn't need tactical nuclear weapons to do it.  It can do so simply because of its size.  It cannot, however, invade a NATO member.  Or, more precisly, it dare not.  Russia invaded Georgia for many reasons, but not the least of which was making the point to NATO that they should choose their friends carefully.  True, but the reverse is also true--it is unlikely Russia is willing to risk war, let alone nuclear war, by challenging NATO so blatantly.  The Soviet Union never risked it.

And, if Russia won't risk nuclear retaliation, what good are its thousands of tactical nukes?  I think Friedman goes wrong when he thinks European nations will return to their pre-World War II ways because of "geopolitics." In the world he supposes, possession of nuclear weapons becomes the guarantor of national survival, and any advanced nation-state can develop a nuclear weapon in a matter of years, not decades.  But--and this is key--nukes are not a weapon that can be used to coerce.  Doing so is simply not credible. 

It is possible, however unlikely, that nation-states might risk the 21st century equivalent of a conventional "border war," but Russia threatening to use tactical nukes in any situation is simply not credible--the risk is too great.  The last thing Russia wants is NATO members abandoning the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and developing their own defensive nuclear arsenal.  So, given that, Russia's tactical nukes are a threat only as far as they are at risk of loss or theft.  That certainly has a probability greater than 0, but the logical follow-on to that concern is that anything we can do to reduce the Russian nuclear arsenal equals progress.

Russia may not see it that way, but ultimately, that doesn't really matter.  What does matter is that Russia has made clear they wouldn't be interested in a New START follow-on if they couldn't count on the US to ratify the deal they negotiated.  Geopolitics aside, that's actually a pretty reasonable position.  Would you talk to a car dealer or realtor that offered you a deal, and then reneged without good cause? Doubtful.

So, ultimately, New START simply restarts old START, and shaves a few more warheads off the Moscow Treaty limits negotiated under the Bush administration. Yes, there are some limits on launchers, but those are questions the military has dealt with since the original SALT talks.  There are many good questions about whether we negotiated the best deal possible, but that's a separate issue.  The Senate can certainly address that later, if they're really interested.  Secretary Clinton will certainly testify next year on many things, and that might be an excellent question.

But, ultimately, ratification was an easy choice--little downside, a necessary step to further progress, and lays the foundation for the real conversation yet to come.

Happy New Year.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Rivera and Steele: You're Missing the Point

In keeping with my rule to blog only when my thought isn't yesterday's news, memo to Geraldo Rivera and Michael Steele:  your argument on whether to raise taxes on the "rich" completely misses the point.  (Some would say you're accepting their premise, but that's not my point, either.)

This isn't about philosophy; it's about economics.  Philosophically, we can argue all day about whether the "rich" can "afford" to pay more, and where the line should be drawn.  Wrong argument.  Cutting taxes on the middle class increases demand, because they'll spend the money (or so the theory goes).  Ditto for cutting taxes on the poor. (Oops, they don't pay income taxes.  Withdrawn.)  Cutting taxes on the "rich" increases investment.  And, no, I don't mean, "Let's go buy some stock."  I mean capital investment, as in, "I think I'll open that new store this year.  I think I'll buy that new machine this year.  I think I'll invest in Bob's new idea.  I hope there's labor available, because we'll need five more workers."

It's an old saw, but I really never have seen a poor person create a job.  You need "extra" money for capital investment--you have to pay your rent, pay your employees, pay yourself, and pay your taxes.  Then, if you have some income left over, you can expand--and create jobs.

Republicans haven't made this argument yet, but they need to.  When the President says, "We can't afford to give this money to the rich!" they need to cut them off with economics, not ideology.  The ideological response is, "Mr. President, it's not your money.  It's theirs.  You're not giving them anything; you're choosing not to take it.  Let's cut spending, instead."  Good answer, but not the winning one.  The correct, winning response is, "We can't afford not to.  Your idea, sir, is that government spending will create jobs.  We've tried that.  It failed (again).  The only way to create jobs is for the private sector to do it--and they can't do it if you take away their capital."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Still Here; Just Busy

Just a note to anyone looking; I haven't stopped blogging, just been a bit busy.  Unfortunately, that means every time I see something interesting, it's been analyzed to death by the time I get back here.  And who wants to read a fresh blog about yesterday's news?  (Or, equally important, who wants to write one?)

I would like to point out one item, now that President Obama has discovered there's no such thing as a shovel-ready project.  Really?  I'm pretty sure I said that about a year ago.  I can't help but wonder if that says something about real-world experience having some value.

That said, it's going to be a very interesting election.  (No, I haven't been busy campaigning.  Interesting idea, though.)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Undocumented Pithiness

If I were to sum up the Left's recent comments decrying the vitriole, hate speech, and incivility of the Right, I think it would be, "Nothing says hypocrisy like one journalist accusing another of sedition."  Following his remarks on Chris Matthews' show, Klein has tried to justify his remarks, claiming that "dissent" isn't the same as "sedition," conveniently ignoring all the claims from the Left that George W. Bush was illegitimate--so, I suppose he would argue that those remarks were also seditious?  (Let's recall the Supreme Court settled that issue in a Consitutional manner, so if you don't like it, your recourse is to vote four years later, not to insist that he's not your President.)

But, the real reason for this post is to recognize true pithiness (with a nod to Mr. O'Reilly) when I read it.  I found this on (see "My Blog List"), but the quote is Mark Steyn in National Review:

"Nothing says sedition like citing the U.S. Constitution and quoting Thomas Jefferson."

Mrs. Clinton couldn't have said it better herself.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Nuclear Posture Review: A Whole Lot of Nothing

From Charles Krauthamer on the right to Newsweek on the left, everyone seems to be freaked out over the Nuclear Posture Review. President Obama has either given away our safety or made the greatest strides towards world peace since nuclear weapons were invented.

I think the NPR is a bunch of nothing. In the NPR, President Obama commits the United States to not using or threatening to use nuclear weapons any non-nuclear state that uses chemical or biological weapons against us, as long as they are in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Special exceptions are carved out for Iran and North Korea.

Seriously? And, which countries, exactly, are we worried about that 1) don't have nukes, 2) are in compliance with the NPT, and 3) might attack us with chemical or biological weapons? Oh, let's not forget the caveat that we might change our mind.

By my count, we're talking Syria now, Iran in the next few years, and maybe Burma (excuse me, Myanmar). Does anyone seriously think we'd attack Syria with nukes because they attack Israel with chemical weapons? I think Israel might solve that little problem. Iran? Self-solving. They either aren't a threat, or aren't in compliance with NPT. Burma? Same deal. So, the NPR actually says absolutely nothing that couldn't be said by the most right-wing President ever. That also means it's as meaningless as could be--it doesn't change our actual policy one whit. It sounds nice. But, re-read the Bush 2002 National Security Strategy, and ask whether it could have just as easily been written by President Clinton.

Let's not get overly excited, disappointed, or emotional about the NPR. It doesn't really change anything.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Health Care Redux

I'm still pondering what to say about the health care bill that's now law. Plenty of pundits have weighed in, and I'd rather not repeat what they've said. That said, I can't help but note 1) no one cared when Congressman Stupak received threats when he was voting against the bill, 2) if this is such a great idea, why does the majority of the American people oppose it, 3) how on Earth can spending a trillion dollars decrease the deficit? (Unless, of course, we're massively increasing taxes...?)