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Heartbreaking Ineptitude

[ 0 ] August 12, 2007 |

The foreign policy stylings of George W. Bush:

But that skepticism had never taken hold in Washington. Since the 2001 war, American intelligence agencies had reported that the Taliban were so decimated they no longer posed a threat, according to two senior intelligence officials who reviewed the reports.

The American sense of victory had been so robust that the top C.I.A. specialists and elite Special Forces units who had helped liberate Afghanistan had long since moved on to the next war, in Iraq.

Those sweeping miscalculations were part of a pattern of assessments and decisions that helped send what many in the American military call “the good war” off course.

Like Osama bin Laden and his deputies, the Taliban had found refuge in Pakistan and regrouped as the American focus wavered. Taliban fighters seeped back over the border, driving up the suicide attacks and roadside bombings by as much as 25 percent this spring, and forcing NATO and American troops into battles to retake previously liberated villages in southern Afghanistan.

In other words, the administration diverted resources from a country that it had the responsibility to build, and let a genuine threat to American security regroup and regain effective power in large parts of the country, in order to invade a country that posed no security threat whatsoever to the United States. Brilliant! Which leads us to another edition of What Hilzoy Said:

I remember hearing those speeches and thinking: oh, thank God. Back in late 2001 and early 2002, I was giving Bush the benefit of the doubt — I hadn’t thought much of him before, but 9/11 did seem to have concentrated his attention, and it truly seemed as though he had changed. (As indeed he had; just not in ways anyone anticipated.) I had supported the invasion of Afghanistan, and I heard those words — Marshall Plan, we will not repeat the mistakes of the past, we will not abandon Afghanistan — and thinking: we are really going to do something wonderful.

I think that some of the most inspiring moments in international relations are when serious, long-festering problems are actually decisively solved. When South Africa’s apartheid government handed over power peacefully to the ANC, for instance: South Africa still has enormous problems, but the ghastly ever-present nightmare of apartheid had actually gone away. When the conflict in Northern Ireland is finally laid to rest, it will be the same sort of glorious moment. Some problems aren’t solved all at once; still, you can see points at which things turn slightly from despair towards hope, and then, if you’re lucky, a point at which the process of transforming some problem that has haunted the world for what seems like forever into history starts to look irreversible.

Afghanistan had been one of those problems for decades. We weren’t in a position to do much about it earlier — naively, I believed that you don’t just go around invading countries out of the blue, ha ha ha — but suddenly we actually had a really good reason to invade, and there we were, the Taliban was in flight, the people seemed overjoyed, and I thought: dear God, we are actually going to do try to right by Afghanistan, whose people have suffered so much for so long. And back in that era of lost hopes, what gave me real confidence that we would do our best to actually help Afghanistan to transform itself from a failed state into a normal, functioning society was that for once, making a serious effort to do this wasn’t just a wild aspiration. It was feasible, it was the right thing to do, but most importantly, as far as its actually happening was concerned, it was clearly, obviously, overwhelmingly in our interest.

It still breaks my heart just thinking about it. Read the whole article and weep.

It’s infuriating because it’s true.

Who Says The U.S. Is Losing Its Influence?

[ 0 ] August 12, 2007 |

Hey, Robert Mugabe likes the American move towards arbitrary executive power just fine!

The Invisible Women

[ 0 ] August 11, 2007 |

See Lauren and Jane Hamsher. Obviously, it’s a tough line to walk when you try to discuss the legitimate issue of the underrepresentation of women in the blogopshere without slighting the women who are there, but it seems to me that Goodman crossed the line into slighting. In particular, I think Lauren’s suggestion that “I suggest people venture out of their blogly cul-de-sacs and read some of the political blogs out there that don’t exclusively deal with electioneering” has considerable merit. But even among the more electoral politics-focused blogs, I definitely think that Jane and Christy and Joan McCarter (and the other Kos frontpagers) get overlooked in these kinds of meta-discussions.

…Commenters are right that, although she doesn’t strictly fit in the “electioneering” category, I shouldn’t have neglected the incomparable Digby.

Memo To The Indians

[ 0 ] August 10, 2007 |

Prove me wrong!

There seems to be some dissension about my claim that the Yankees will win the wildcard. And while “mortal lock” is obviously hyperbolic (if the Mariners can have a better record for 110 games the Indians are certainly capable of having a better record for 50) I think it’s obvious that the Yankees deserve to be heavy, heavy favorites. A few points:

  • As you can see, in terms of offense and defense the Yankees have clearly been the second best team in the league this year. Indeed, in terms of run differential they’ve been basically even with the Red Sox, although once you adjust for strength of schedule and other kinds of luck the Yankees are worse: they should be about 67-47 while the BoSox should be 72-42. The Indians, on the other hand, should be 62-53 and the Tigers 60-54. This isn’t surprising, since the Yankees clearly have the best offense in the league (and the gap between them and the Tigers is more likely to widen than narrow), and at least decent pitching. The Indians could be better than they’ve been, but this largely depends on Hafner, who isn’t even going to play this weekend.
  • Several people have pointed out that the Yankees don’t have a “solid” rotation, but by the definition people are using (which seems to involve having five above-average starters) nobody does (even, for most of the year, Boston.) Moreover, the biggest weakness in the rotation (Igawa) is unlikely to pitch a meaningful inning again this year. And certainly, the Indians don’t. I like Sabathia and Carmona more than Wang and Pettite, but it’s hardly a mismatch in terms of established ability, and you’d obviously rather have Mussina/Clemens/Hughes than Byrd/Westbrook/Lemon #5 starter. Even if you give a slight edge to Cleveland, there’s no way in hell it makes up for the much better offense in the Bronx. And then the Yankees have the best closer of all time recovering from a bad start to post 18 straight saves with a K/W of 50/5, while the Tribe have proof that almost any stiff can get 30 saves in the right context (and ditto the Tigers, although they might be getting setup help.) I don’t see any basis for claiming that Cleveland is better than the Yankees, and the fact that the Tigers are underachieving gives the Yanks two cracks at the playoffs. The odds are overwhelming that they’ll beat one of these teams.
  • The Mariners, as you can also see, have been pretty much a stone fluke; their expected record is under .500. I still think they have an outside shot at the division because the Angels also aren’t as good as their record, and the Mariners have the chance to improve somewhat if Jones can force the way into the lineup, Weaver gets his ERA to within at least a run of a major league pitcher, etc. But it’s pretty obvious that they’re not nearly as good as the Yankees.

Anyway, the Yankees are clearly the best team in the AL except the Red Sox, and one of the other three can get lucky and beat them and they can still make it. They’re going to the playoffs.

…I would also take the Mariners more seriously if they weren’t being run by abject morons.

The Pollack Evasion Strategy

[ 0 ] August 10, 2007 |

A classic example [via MY] of foreign-policy-writer-who-would-be-wholly-discredited-in-any-rational-universe Kenneth Pollack expressing optimism about Iraq by carefully evading the substantive issue:

Do you find the electric power is on more continuously?

We found there had been a real shift from trying to repair and defend the national power grid, which was extremely difficult to do. There now is a shift away from that toward helping the Iraqis essentially get their own local generators and bring local businesses and houses into those local generators.

Now, you’ll note what Pollack doesn’t do: actually address the question directly. Rather, he talks about the change in strategy rather than characterizing the substantive effects of the strategy, presumably because the power isn’t on noticeably more continuously. And call me crazy, but I suspect that industrialized nations generally have national power grids rather than local generators because the latter can’t generate sufficient electricity to run a modern economy.

At any rate, the key here is that Pollack is trying to put an optimistic spin on the fact that we have now essentially given up on protecting Iraq’s national power grid, with obvious devastating consequences for building a stable state and economy. This is not an analyst trying to give a sober, clear-eyed assessment of the situation in Iraq, but someone desperately trying to gin up a potential pony farm to salvage his reputation. For this reason, his subjective judgments cannot be trusted at all. (And the possibility that he could have influence in a Clinton administration is sufficient reason for me to oppose her in the primaries.)

Reverse Midas Touch

[ 0 ] August 10, 2007 |

Indeed. It really doesn’t seem to have dawned on the administration that explicit American support may not actually help more liberal factions in countries with strong anti-American sentiments, although the point seems to trite as to barely be worth pointing out.

Rudy Giuliani: Utter Fraud

[ 0 ] August 10, 2007 |

An absolute must-read article by Wayne Barrett in — I swear it, I guess for a week they decided to get away from the escort-ads-plus-Nat-Hentoff-and-Michael-Musto format they’ve been essaying for the past year — the Village Voice systematically destroying the myth of Rudy Giuliani, Terrorism Fighter (TM).

Barrett addresses several different categories of dishonesty: for example, he disposes of Giulani’s attempts to evade responsibility for the idiotic decision to put the emergency command center directly next to the city’s most obvious terrorist target, and points out in response to Giuliani’s attempts to blame the EPA for the exposure of many people to toxic air in the wake of 9/11 that “[t]he city had its own test results, of course, and when 17 of 87 outdoor tests showed hazardous levels of asbestos up to seven blocks away, they decided not to make the results public.” But perhaps most relevant to his presidential campaign os Barrett’s exposure if Giuliani’s completely inept preparation for a potential terrorist attack, which resulted in a substantial number of preventable deaths:

‘I don’t think there was anyplace in the country, including the federal government, that was as well prepared for that attack as New York City was in 2001.’ This assertion flies in the face of all three studies of the city’s response—the 9/11 Commission, the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), and McKinsey & Co., the consulting firm hired by the Bloomberg administration.


Instead of being the best-prepared city, New York’s lack of unified command, as well as the breakdown of communications between the police and fire departments, fell far short of the efforts at the Pentagon that day, as later established by the 9/11 Commission and NIST reports. When the 280,000-member International Association of Fire Fighters recently released a powerful video assailing Giuliani for sticking firefighters with the same radios that “we knew didn’t work” in the 1993 attack, the presidential campaign attacked the union. “This is an organization that supported John Kerry for president in 2004,” Giuliani aide Tony Carbonetti said. “So it’s no shock that they’re out there going after a credible Republican.” While the IAFF did endorse Kerry, the Uniformed Firefighters of Greater New York, whose president starred in the video, endorsed Bush. Its former president, Tom Von Essen—currently a member of Giuliani Partners—was the fire commissioner on 9/11 precisely because the union had played such a pivotal role in initially electing Giuliani.

The IAFF video reports that 121 firefighters in the north tower didn’t get out because they didn’t hear evacuation orders, rejecting Giuliani’s claim before the 9/11 Commission that the firefighters heard the orders and heroically decided to “stand their ground” and rescue civilians.

On the other hand, he looked good carrying a megaphone after the fact!

[Via The Plank.]

The New Narrative

[ 0 ] August 9, 2007 |

As a predictable outgrowth of the O’Pollahan “fierce war critics who have always supported the war still support the war” useful idiot-ed, the “even war critics see progress in Iraq” narrative is gaining steam. The fact that most of the cherry-picked individuals either aren’t war critics or don’t see substantial progress in Iraq will be beside the point.

As Of Now, It’s Romney

[ 0 ] August 9, 2007 |

What I took to be the banal claim that Mitt Romney is the Republican frontrunner generated a lot of dissension in comments recently. But while this is fairly trivial in itself, it accurately reflects the underlying dynamic. McCain is obviously DOA. (And while Kerry’s win may tempt some to think that it’s possible to come back from the dead, in addition to the fact that it’s the exception that proves the rule I would note that there was no faction of the Democratic Party who hated John Kerry. Kerry’s comeback was predicated on him being vaguely acceptable to most Democrats after Dean imploded.) The argument for Giuliani seems to be that authoritarianism and militarism are far more important to the GOP base than anything else. The problem here, however is that 1)among GOP primary voters I think that’s actually quite questionable, and 2)Romney can also give them authoritarianism and militarism without being pro-choice. I think Romney is also a better campaigner. At any rate, social reactionaries are very powerful within the GOP primary, and they’re just not going to accept a social liberal. If a pro-choice Republican won, this would be particularly devastating, particularly given the shallow commitment of the GOP pro-business elite to these issues. If Giulani is the alternative, Romney’s Mormonism won’t be a major factor (except that it makes his conversion to social conservatism more credible.)

So I repeat that while Thompson might beat Romney, those are the only two serious candidates. Giuliani’s national poll numbers don’t mean much more than Leiberman’s lead in the last cycle.

I Predicted This! (OK, in 2002, but still…)

[ 0 ] August 9, 2007 |

I suppose the fact that the Mariners are, for one fleeting moment, are first in the AL wildcard race. As Dave Cameron implies, the key win being driven by Ibanez, Vidro and Guillen is sort of winning the battle and losing the war, but what the hell. I still think the division is the only real possibility; the Mariners are over their heads, but I also, stubbornly, remain manifestly unimpressed by the Angels. The real upshot of the Indians’ and Tigers’ recent runs of suckitude is that the Yankees are now a mortal lock to make the postseason…

On Subways

[ 0 ] August 9, 2007 |

Eric Martin makes a good point here. Given the poor level of funding, mass transit in the United States involves tradeoffs, and given these tradeoffs New York’s is plainly better than the alternatives. D.C.’s subway is cleaner, but its coverage is more limited and is shuts down early. New York’s wider coverage and (more importantly) 24/7 operation makes it very much preferable. Having to pay for cabs if you stay out much after midnight is a pain in the ass. (The El in Chicago is 24/7 too, right?) Having said that, Paris — which combines NYC coverage and times of operation with D.C. cleanliness — is on a whole other level.

Although, of course, it would be nice if large parts of New York’s system didn’t shut down for nearly a day because of a rainstorm. (And, to be parochial, can someone explain why the G train has been effectively eliminated as a useful alternative at precisely the same time that western Queens and Brooklyn are producing an ever-expanding variety of economical alternatives for conviviality? Does the V train accomplish anything you couldn’t do about as well by restoring the fully restoring G train service and having the F stop at Queens Plaza? I don’t get it.)

The New Aesthetic Stalinism

[ 0 ] August 8, 2007 |

A good summary from Reed and Edroso. (The “liberal” Fletch versus the “conservative” Animal House remains my favorite.)

I see that Fox, knowing where to find Republicans with no taste but not when to stop throwing good money after bad, has started to advertise the 1/2 Hour News Hour on Al-Yankeezera. The thing is, even the ads (which presumably try to cherry pick the best material) aren’t nearly as funny as the endlessly repeated ad where some company tries to sell some kind of hair paint because, hey, why would Gary Busey’s hairstylist try to sell you a shitty product? (“I’m Giuseppe Franco!”) 1/2 Hour is so bad it’s not even capable of being unintentionally funny.

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