2006 - %3, March

Predicting the Insurgency

| Wed Mar. 1, 2006 6:35 PM EST

The latest scoop by Knight-Ridder's Jonathan Landay and Warren Stroebel has been linked around quite a bit:

U.S. intelligence agencies repeatedly warned the White House beginning more than two years ago that the insurgency in Iraq had deep local roots, was likely to worsen and could lead to civil war, according to former senior intelligence officials who helped craft the reports.

Among the warnings, Knight Ridder has learned, was a major study, called a National Intelligence Estimate, completed in October 2003 that concluded that the insurgency was fueled by local conditions - not foreign terrorists- and drew strength from deep grievances, including the presence of U.S. troops.

The reports received a cool reception from Bush administration policymakers at the White House and the office of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, according to the former officials, who discussed them publicly for the first time. Okay, so Rumsfeld and the people in the White House are fools. We knew that. And however wrong our intelligence agencies may have been about various things over the years, this is yet more evidence that they were always considerably less wrong than the civilians—hacks, one might call them—in the Bush administration. We've known that too.

But here's a question that doesn't really get answered in the piece. What could Rumsfeld or anyone else have actually done if they had taken the reports seriously? Was there a window of opportunity in October 2003 when the U.S. military could have shut down the Iraqi insurgency, with a change of tactics or whatnot, if only Rumsfeld had just listened to the NIE? Or was it just that the insurgency was inevitable and unstoppable and no amount of forewarning by U.S. intelligence could have changed any of that? I certainly don't know, and it's an important question, at least for those debating whether the occupation of Iraq was a catastrophe because it was a good idea that was completely bungled in the execution (as many a disgruntled hawk now believes) or because it was a bad idea that was bound to fail from the start.

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Demographics and Patriarchy

| Wed Mar. 1, 2006 6:03 PM EST

Philip Longman makes a somewhat novel argument in Foreign Policy this month. He notes that population growth rates in the industrialized world are slowing down, because families aren't having enough kids these days. Eventually populations will shrink in many countries—it's already happening in Japan. But Longman argues that, in most of these countries, what he calls "patriarchal" families will still reproduce faster than their godless liberal counterparts. So the world of the future will "disproportionately be descended from parents who rejected the social tendencies that once made childlessness and small families the norm." More kids will come from socially conservative families, basically.

Longman thinks that this explains why America is becoming more conservative; the right-wingers are having more babies. "Among states that voted for President George W. Bush in 2004, fertility rates are 12 percent higher than in states that voted for Sen. John Kerry." Well, maybe. But probably not. Even granted that conservatives tend to have more kids than liberals, that doesn't mean that the kids all stay conservative. Polls in the United States show that every generation tends to be more liberal than their parents, at least on social issues. George W. Bush may be president, but the country as a whole is far more socially liberal than it was, say, thirty or twenty years ago. (Really.) So it's not clear that demographics are necessarily going to lead to "religious revivals and a rebirth of the patriarchal family [rebirth? did it ever die?]" all around the industrialized world. But Longman's argument's worth reading all the same.

Stalemate on Darfur

Wed Mar. 1, 2006 3:06 PM EST

When we wrote last week about Darfur, the UN was talking about taking over peacekeeping duties from the African Union there. Now top UN officials are claiming that the African Union is backing away from the plan. The Sudanese government has opposed UN involvement, and has helped fuel anti-UN sentiment around the continent, with other African leaders expressing concern that outside involvement will only cause more violence in the region.

Among other things, the UN's special envoy for Sudan, Jan Pronk, said that "there has been talk" that Sudan will become the "same situation as Iraq a couple years ago"—i.e., that an insurgency will appear to fight the intervention force, or that al-Qaeda will become more active in the region. Just days ago, Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir warned that Darfur would become a graveyard for any military force entering the region without Sudan's permission.

It's questionable how long the African Union can remain effective in Darfur. A larger intervention force will be needed not only to stop the Sudanese militias that continue to carry out genocide, but also to enforce negotiations between Darfur and a president who demonstrates a lack of regard for his own citizens. Today the United States will hand the rotating Security Council presidency over to Argentina. That leaves a month before the seat goes to China, which has significant oil and trade interests in Sudan and is extremely unlikely to take any sort of lead in halting genocide there.

Under Their Thumb

| Wed Mar. 1, 2006 2:21 PM EST

Via the Guardian, the Stones sex it down.

When the [Rolling] Stones make their Chinese debut next month, they will succumb to government pressure by dropping Brown Sugar, Let's Spend the Night Together, Honky Tonk Woman and Beast of Burden from their playlist, an associate told Reuters.

The Chinese ministry of culture told the band in 2003 that these four songs -some of the most sexually explicit in the band's repertoire - were unacceptable. ...

It has been a long time coming. The British band has been in talks about playing in China since the late 1970s, when a concert was denied by a government concerned about "spiritual pollution" from western culture.