Thomas Friedman recently provided an analysis of President Bush's war and reelection campaigns according to the notion of the Powell Doctrine (Hit 'em hard enough to win easily and decisively) and the Rumsfeld Doctrine (Hit 'em with just enough force for us to lose). According to Friedman, the Powell Doctrine was forgone in Iraq in favor of Rumsfeld flawed ideas but is effectively being wrought against John Kerry in the reelection campaign. If only Bush had gone after anti-American forces in Iraq as voraciously as he's attacking Kerry, Friedman suggests, we might have a different situation on the ground there.
Bush's campaign plans combined with the dismal state of his war plans are combining into a domestic situation with such appallingly serious international implications that I can't believe what I'm about to say isn't the main speaking point on all the political talk shows (eh, it probably is and I'm just out of the loop). People in the United States are uneqivocably split over the war in Iraq and the general response to the threat of terrorism. This split is exacerbated by the admittedly inherent tendency for political campaigns to split the electorate. (That being said, it does seem that the era of centrist politics that Bill Clinton ushered in and GWBush ran on in his first term is dead.)
Bush, Kerry, and the American population in general is failing to distinguish the domestic and foreign situations and the result is that we are divided from inside out. A house divided against itself cannot stand.
Ponder: A house divided against itself cannot stand.
Iraq is a mess. The president failed to adequately prepare for the aftermath of the war and his conduct in the pre and actual war phases alienated (some say isolated, or even freed) us from allies who would otherwise help. Sympathy and support against Al Qaida from around the world has been squandered and since evaporated. The status quo is not on a trajectory for success. Even if elections are held in Iraq next January, there is little reason to be optimistic that they will help the situation. What is most likely is that either portions of the country will not be stable enough to conduct voting in (thus nullifying the nation-wide effectiveness and legitimacy of a vote) or the best organized parties (namely the insurgency and anti-American or Islamist groups) will win. I suppose there is a subset option to the latter scenario whereby the U.S./Interim Iraqi Government bans or blocks particular parties from running. But even granting this third option, we are left with pretty crappy post-election options.
So Iraq isn't going to be getting better any time soon, but that is simply untenable. It is as dangerous now as the bedsore that ultimately led to the unfortunate death of Christopher Reeve; it's bad, but it is going to lead to wider infection and perhaps eventually total systemic failure.
So what to make of all of this? I'd have to say that as far as the so-called war on terror is going, if we look at what our goals and what Osama Bin Laden's goals are, we aren't winning the overall strategic game. Osama wanted to destroy us, reducing our power, influence, hegemony, and effectiveness. (He has wider goals for control of Saudi Arabia, but I've digressed all over the place enough for today.) We've scored some tactical victories that have resulted in personnel losses for Team Qaeda, but they are closer to their goal than we are. It is an ideological war and they've got the momentum.
He wants us weak, fractured, ineffective, unfocused, and eventually irrelevant. We aren't close to the irrelevancy yet, but we aren't on course to avoid it either.
American effectiveness is weak right now. We have incredible capabilities and capacities that we simply are not able to use or rely on right now. Our leadership has failed us. We aren't winning hearts and minds: we are actually converting them to the enemy's side!
I'm not really all the optimistic that John Kerry is going to do much better. He would likely end up being too afraid to chart his own course and end up doing what his critics demand in order to placate criticism and deny them the opportunity to paint him in a worst case scenario. We need leadership with a much wider vision of the challenges facing us. We need an electorate willing to work together when needed. Coming together behind flawed policy isn't the right way either. We need leadership that truly understands the nature of the threat and what needs to be done to fix it.
PS: Go check out the Friedman column I linked at the beginning here, especially the comments at the end. Ha! Post your comments here.
So Russian has stepped back from the brink of democracy almost completely now. Under the leadership of ex-KGB top dog Vladimir Putin, the free press has been stymied, political opponents (at least those with enough personal wealth to be viably engaged in national dialogue) have been jailed, and now we see that democratic elections of local and regional leaders have been rescinded. Putin's analysis of democracy is that it is unstable and thus unsuited for Russia. He also claimed that democracy is not dead, just not deployed in particular areas of the country, although how democracy can be considered to be active in a nation with central selection of leaders rather than local voting is beyond me. Watch the language used.
Russia is desperately trying to hang on to Chechnya and the Chenchnian people are increasingly resorting to higher stakes asymmetrical warfare, be it theater hostage taking, apartment bombing, bus explosions, airplane bombings or school assaults. The Chechnians are clearly unhappy with being under the thumb of Russian central leadership; Russia is clearly unwilling to entertain the thought of giving them breathing room.
The specifics of autonomy vs. independence in this case are unimportant. I'm not sure if autonomy would be acceptable to either party. But in a democracy, it should be. A nation as large and diverse as Russian virtually demands a federal system that provides a stable center for political society but also allows for the diverse regions to set local policy as suits their wants, needs, and desires, be they religious, linguistic, or political.
But Putin appears to believe that it is the people's job to please the government by accepting whatever the government imposes rather than the government's job to please the people by fulfilling their desires. Apparently in his view, the government commands people to live a certain way rather than the people demand the government to execute itself in certain ways. He rejects democracy because of this. He doesn't seem to understand how the government is accountable to the people. He forces the facts to fit his worldview.
This is ideology trumping reality.
Sadly, we have it in our own country. The current US president is intent on forcing his perception of the world, the ideas of what he wants the world to be, onto the reality of what it really is. President Bush sees no utility in intelligence gathering as reflections of reality. Intelligence information is to be used when it fits his preconceived notions and rejected when it doesn't. There is nothing that can reach inside Bush and get him to change his mind or adjust his thinking. He rejects and ignores anything that challenges him and embraces anything that supports him, even if it doesn't have any merit or validity. It is horribly depressing that we cannot produce a leader that actively seeks to understand more and aims to constantly refine their conception and preception of the world.
I'm not saying that President Bush is the same as Putin in their notions of governance. I think that the threats to the democractic process in Russia is in severe danger and that their governor doesn't really understand or believe in democracy as a system. I think that George Bush does appreciate democracy but he might not understand the value of vibrancy and robustness in democracy and the vital need for wide discussion of views. Of all of his shortcomings however, President Bush's insistence that adjusting one's perception according to new information is a sign of weakness and that by consistently parroting one's positive position everything will work out okay is his worst. It says to me that it is a person out of touch with reality and afraid to deal with it.
Conviction and leadership, compunction to stay the course, and a willingness to bear the costs of difficult decisions are the hallmark of a good leader. But ignoring reality for the sake of appearances, especially when it continues to weaken and push one out of position to deal with the problems, is shameful and weak. And that is the biggest indictment of all for the leader of the most powerful nation on earth.
Please post a comment here.
Speaking of endorsements, I've had mine pulled from the illustrious rolls of Suckful. Good old psh was the only blogger to have commented on my site (I've had a few, like 2, trackbacks since), and it was a positive comment at that. Granted it was in the early salad days of my blogging before I started taking it seriously (it's gone to shit since that happened). He was responsible for getting me into blogging and he was likely just being nice.
But those days are over! He bailed on movable type and now has a plain vanilla page that looks worse than this does, if you can believe it. He purged us from his links (although we had been relegated to "bathroom reading" for about a year) and that's that. The lack of updates for the last half of the summer and the overall uninspiring just-like-every-other-blog aspect of my posts lately had nothing to do with it. No way.
What a fucker. I hope he forgets to renew his domain again and a porn site crops up in its place. If PSH himself reads this, you know you only dropped my link because I was stealing your traffic. I've been getting close to 15 hits a day (A DAY!) lately, and I know he's envious. Don't be surprised to see his site turn green soon.
Everyone but PSH or Jet Powers are invited to sound off here. If PSH gets wind of my little diatribe here and thinks he can sweet talk his way out of it, best put on the asbestos pith (get it? psh with a lithp) helmet before sashaying this way.
I'm really not interested in keeping up the political focus on the blog but since it is such a pressing issue, I can't avoid coming back to it. A friend of mine pointed out three substantial newspaper endorsements for John Kerry that independently offer concise and substantial critiques of George Bush. The Seattle Times endorsed GWB in 2000 and the Iconoclast is from Crawford, Texas (yes, THAT Crawford, TX). Check them out, maybe even print them out and share them with people. They do a good job of putting it all in perspective.
Crawford, TX's Iconoclast endorsement I like this one the best, maybe.
Lastly, it is kind of old news, but 10 Nobel prize winning economists endorsed Kerry too. If money means anything to you, they're opinions ought to count for something.
Please feel free to post any comments here.
To me, the most refreshing thing about the first presidential debate was John Kerry's vow to secure the nuclear material currently rocking loose in the world. Bush rhetoric about WMD in the run up to the Iraq war was unfortunately used solely to justify the war in Iraq, but a lot of what was said is obviously accurate: the world is less safe with WMD in the hands of people willing to use it. George Bush's failure to embrace this as a principle and follow through with the implications of such a principle as a guide indicate to me that his true priorities were war in Iraq first, non-proliferation second, rather than a belief that non-proliferation is the goal and the war in Iraq follows from that priority.
The September 11, 2001 attacks made it instantly obvious that there were people who were willing to do anything they could to inflict damages on the United States and other nations actively plotting and executing their plans in the world today. The only successful strategy for dealing with this newly recognized (but long existing) threat must include an immediate response to those currently engaged in attacking us but must also involve, perhaps to a greater degree, plans to reduce the appeal of such an ideology and to increase the difficulties surrounding attempts to attack. Reliance on any one of these elements or failure to adequately and appropriately deploy them in an integrated assault will at best prolong the conflict and at worse exacerbate it.
Reducing the availability of highly lethal weapons is imperative. Establishing a complete registry and secure repository of existing nuclear weapons material is essential, the sooner the better. President Bush may have increased funding for securing Russian stockholds of nuclear and radioactive materials, but if his plan means that it will take 13 years to fully secure those materials, it obviously is inadequate. His response in the first debates of the 2004 election campaign to Kerry's pledge to lock up the material in 4 years was to tout his own increased spending and question how Candidate Kerry would pay for it. One easy answer is that the costs would be borne internationally. President Bush doesn't like that solution because he can't get any help from the rest of the world after he thumbed his nose at them.
But locking up current materials is not enough. Candidate Kerry went further and pledged to end the current plans to develop new nuclear weapons in the United States. I wish he would go further and pledge to get rid of our entire nuclear arsenal. There is no need for nuclear weapons any more, not even as deterrents. It is impossible to deploy nuclear weapons, even so called "small" tactical weapons. What, are we going to drop nuclear warheads on Pyongyang if they were to launch at us or allies (or provide weapons for someone else to detonate)? I do not see how vaporizing thousands or even hundreds of thousands of North Koreans (or Iranians or Syrians or Saudi Arabians or Russians or ....) is going to make things better and thus I don't see them being used. The money that would be saved from developing and maintaining nuclear stocks could be reinvested in conventional weapons and forces that could be used in devastating response to a nuclear attack. Besides, it is highly unlikely that a nuclear event is going to be initiated against the United States by another nation-state; if it happens it is probably going to be an Al-Qaeda-esque organization, an organization that by its nature makes responding tit-for-tat impossible.
The United States needs to decide what the priorities are and then lead based on those priorities. President Bush felt that invading Iraq was a priority and set about creating policy based on that priority. That was a mistake. Securing and reducing weapons is a plausible and realistic priority that would serve to guide policy. The United States could easily take the lead in ending all research, development, and maintenance of weapons of mass destruction. This would earn the respect of allies and make a powerful statement to enemies who fear our hypocrisy. We would make the statement that we don't need nukes to defend ourselves and that we'd be able to deal with any threat without them.
I'd like to hear any comments you may have.
Back in the saddle, back to the grind, back in black. However you sing it, vacation is over. I like living in Japan and intend to be here for a substantial time, but it would be insincere to say that summer weather here is anything but intolerable. The humidity necessitates changing my clothes three or four times a day, perferably with showers each time. Electricity is expensive but it is simply not possible to work without air conditioning. In summers past, I passed the time in the cool back room of my apartment, parked in from of an electric fan. Now that I have a job and a second floor apartment with comparatively poor airflow, that isn't an option. Japan is expensive and uncomfortable at times.
Idaho, on the other hand, was perfect. Wide open skies (Japan's skies are clogged with power lines to a degree that must be experienced to truly comprehend how deplorable it is) surrounded by green amidst low human populations. Houses are built with more space, permitting more relaxed motion and the ability to flop down on the floor easily. Most of all, there is no humidity to speak of.
To be fair, living permanently in Idaho has its disadvantages. Houses may be 3 times larger for half the price I'll pay in Japan, but there are no jobs for me and my wife. It may take an hour to drive 20 miles in Japan, but the density of Japan means that the environment can be radically different in such a short space. And there is always a train for getting somewhere quickly. In Idaho, you may be able to travel distances quickly, but the distances you have to travel to get to anywhere are so much greater that you are effectively isolated. Professional sports, specialty local cuisine, IMAX, China- and Korea-towns, aquariums, all within two hours by train in Japan. There are alternatives available in Idaho (fishing, camping, hunting) but neither locale offers what the other specializes in, which means that no matter where I'd live, I'd miss the other side.
I would love to live in Idaho and take advantage of its natural bounty. I'm envious of my dad who spends his two week R&R (after working 28 days straight inside the Arctic Circle) running all over the mountains in their Jeep. But he wouldn't be able to do that if he wasn't working thousands miles of away. Perhaps I'll be able to retire in Idaho; I know that I'll be spending at least a couple weeks every summer there.
As for this blog, I've neurotically wondered if its worth it, since it doesn't seem that anyone reads it. But I've realized I'm not writing for anyone, I write it for me. I would love to have people read it and comment on it and I'd like to think that the topics I write about offer something to readers. But that isn't a necessity and I'll keep writing it regardless. I may be moving to a new domain in a few weeks or months, if for no other reason than to further isolate myself from the normal traffic I may otherwise garner. I'm hoping to move more into discussion about ideas that transcend there here and now of immediate politics, but its unavoidable that current events get attention. If anyone has read this far, thank you. I do appreciate your time spent here.