Mojo - November 2005

Strategy Word Count

Wed Nov. 30, 2005 5:48 PM EST

Word counts from the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," put out by the White House to correspond with President Bush's speech this morning.

Terrorists:      59
Kill:      9
Torture:      0

Victory:      34
Success:      17
Win:      8

Casualties:      1
Death count:      0
Backdoor draft:      0

"Our strategy is working":      2
Reality:      1
Truth:      0

Saddam:      31
Osama:      4
September 11th:      1

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Terrorist Financing is Boring

| Wed Nov. 30, 2005 4:53 PM EST

The New York Times gets wind of a soon-to-be-released GAO report on the Bush administration's efforts to crack down on terrorist financing:

More than four years after the Sept. 11 attacks, "the U.S. government lacks an integrated strategy" to train foreign countries and provide them with technical assistance to shore up their financial and law enforcement systems against terrorist financing, according to the report prepared by the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress.
That's comforting. Most of the problems seem to stem from infighting among the State and Treasury departments, who can't even agree on who's in charge. But Douglas Farah suggests there's a larger problem here:
While the report focuses on the U.S. efforts to train other countries in ways to combat terror finance, it confirms a larger problem within the administration, as described to me by people in government and those who served there for many years. There is simply little interest on following up on issues raised on terror finance, and almost no leadership provided by those who sit in the principals' meeting in funding, attacking or seriously focusing on the issue. The CIA, according to one source, still has noone dedicated to tracing terror finance issues, never mind a special unit.
And the Bush administration isn't the only one getting bored by the issue:
This lack of interest in the administration is dangerously coupled with a steep drop in the quality and quantity of the work of the UN committee tasked with following the finances of al Qaeda and the Taliban. The panel has been downgraded, the staff cut and the quality of the work is considerably diminished, as is the importance it is given within the UN Secretary General's office.

More Tea Leaves

| Wed Nov. 30, 2005 3:42 PM EST

I don't know what anyone would possibly say about the president's new "Strategy for Victory" in Iraq. There's nothing new here, besides hope that everything ends up working. But that aside, this Time piece on Iraq is actually pretty good, and has some commentary on the various Pentagon plans being floated for withdrawing troops:

There isn't one plan, but several, each containing various options for Army General George Casey, the top U.S. military officer in Iraq. Pentagon officials acknowledged last week that the number of U.S. troops could be cut to 100,000 by the end of 2006. But Casey will face two "decision points" next year--one in March, when he can fully assess the effects of the Dec. 15 election, the other in June, when major U.S. units have to be told if they will deploy.

At this stage, almost no one is talking about a rapid, large-scale troop drawdown. Inside the Pentagon, officers privately caution that troop levels could even rise if Iraqi security forces don't shape up as expected, if the insurgency grows more fierce or--of greatest concern--if civil strife evolves into full-fledged civil war. In fact, a senior Pentagon official tells TIME that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld asked his planners last week to make sure they have a contingency option if things go very badly in Iraq next year.

Even if the U.S. does decide to withdraw troops, it won't simply flee. Washington is spending millions on fortifying a few Iraqi bases for the long haul. "The challenge for us is, what is the right balance--not to be too present but also not to be underpresent. This will require constant calibration," U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad tells TIME. Indeed, last August, Army chief of staff Peter Schoomaker said that as many as 100,000 Army troops could remain in Iraq for four years.Presumably this also depends on what the new Iraqi government wants, which may be what comes up in that March "decision point." I have no idea whether it's even logistically possible to keep 100,000 troops in Iraq for the next four years, or whether a "contingency option"—sending more troops in if civil war breaks out?—is at all feasible. I assume a lot of soldiers would have to go back for fourth or fifth tours, with all the bad effects that will have. Still, Time doesn't make it sound like a big drawdown is in the cards, though admittedly it's like reading tea leaves here.

Also of interest: Elaine Grossman of Inside the Pentagon recently reported on actual debates within the military about strategy in Iraq. Officers "have complained privately that the military strategy seemed adrift, lacking clear objectives or measurable progress." Originally the strategy involved killing lots of insurgents. Then in spring 2004 the military shifted focus, making Iraqi troop training its first priority. But after that happened, insurgent attacks on civilians went up dramatically, so now the military wants to focus on protecting civilians. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad is apparently very interested in Andrew Krepinevich's "oil-spot" theory and very recently had a "Red Team" of analysts recommend a new strategy along those lines. Part of this new approach, it seems, would involve recruiting Sunni tribal leaders for security purposes—"with mixed results" so far. (They're also putting together three "provincial reconstruction teams"; why this wasn't done before, I have no idea.)

So that seems to be where things are heading (again, tea leaves…), although not surprisingly, a number of onlookers think it's way too late for any of this to work, especially since the new plan will, it appears, rely heavily on local militias—death squads—to "protect local populations," not exactly a recipe for stability. Not to mention the fact that there are a lot of things in the country the U.S. can no longer control…

The Varieties of Corruption

| Tue Nov. 29, 2005 10:01 PM EST

This Mark Schmitt post brings up a good point. Yesterday I posted on how the defense appropriations process was heavily swayed by the $40 million spent on lobbying each year. Not that I know personally; most of that comes from reading Wastrels of Defense, by Winslow Wheeler, the former national security staffer for Pete Domenici. He's in the know, and if he's saying there's a ton of "legal corruption" going on, there probably is. (Plus, he makes a good case.)

Still, in theory it's possible that some lobbying dollars are much less insidious. In the case Schmitt mentions, Byron Dorgan (D-ND) wrote a letter requesting funds for a school desired by a Louisiana Indian tribe, and two weeks later Jack Abramoff told the tribe, a client of his, to send Dorgan $5,000 in campaign contributions. That could be corruption—i.e., Dorgan was paid to write the letter—but it might just be that Dorgan was going to write the letter anyway, seeing as how he's always done a lot of work for Native Americans, and Abramoff knew this, and so he had the tribe send some money to make it look like his lobbying efforts were worthwhile, even though Abramoff had done nothing. I guess it's inevitable that the people who hire lobbyists will be the ones getting ripped off now and again. But that doesn't mean all campaign contributions are innocent, either.

Landrieu considering blocking Senate holiday recess

| Tue Nov. 29, 2005 9:49 PM EST

Louisisana Senator Mary Landrieu said yesterday that she is giving some thought to blocking the U.S. Senate's holiday recess until the government has agreed to pay for flood protection improvements along Louisiana's coast. There has already been considerable talk of a Louisiana citizen march on Washington, which might get more attention if Landrieu prevents the Senate from going home for Christmas.

Some of the levees in New Orleans were never constructed properly, it is now clear, nor have they been inspected properly. There is also suspicion of corruption in the construction of the levees. There needs to be both a re-design of the levees and a strengthening of the levee system so that the city can withstand a Category 4 or 5 storm. Today, White House hurricane relief advisor Donald Powell announced that he has yet to decide whether New Orleans' levees should be strengthened, and he would not say when a decision will be made.

As badly as the Corps of Engineers and the engineering firms involved botched the levees, the city has also had to deal a with a federal government that has shown no interest in protecting the city from hurricanes. Louisiana's budget cannot handle a job of this size, especially since the state has been denied a share of royalties from its considerable oil and gas production, and the Bush administration has opposed making any changes in this unjust system. The Bush administration has also opposed giving the state money to rescue its eroding coastline, though Bush has relented somewhat on this matter.

As for Senator Landrieu, a conservative Democrat--she is at her best when angry. Her filibuster speeches against some of Bush's court nominees were some real pieces of work, especially her "I will not yield" excoriation of Orrin Hatch. If she decides to obstruct the Senate recess, I highly recommend you get a good seat in front of your favorite C-Span screen.

Death Squads in Iraq

| Tue Nov. 29, 2005 4:33 PM EST

Reading the New York Times' report on Shiite death squads in Iraq—which seem to have semi-official backing from the Interior Ministry and have killed or abducted a reported "700 Sunni men" over the past four months—it's hard to figure out how this all got started. Laura Rozen suggests that Pentagon officials had planned for death squads (or as they put it, the "Salvadoran option") all along. But this part from the Times suggests that everything isn't quite going according to plan:

American officials, who are overseeing the training of the Iraqi Army and the police, acknowledge that police officers and Iraqi soldiers, and the militias with which they are associated, may indeed be carrying out killings and abductions in Sunni communities, without direct American knowledge.
Praktike points out that the original Newsweek piece on the Salvadoran option wasn't exactly correct, and the United States may have never intended to create "death squads" per se. In 2003, Special Forces veteran James Steele was charged with organizing "special police commando units" that were mainly supposed to target insurgent leaders. Those units, of course, drew heavily from Shiite and Kurdish militias, including, no doubt, the Iranian-backed Badr Brigade. Meanwhile, some of the Badr militamen running a torture camp in Baghdad may have been trained by American interrogators, but that doesn't mean they were intentionally trained as death squads. (U.S. forces uncovered the torture palace, after all.)

Either way, the end result was the same. The Pentagon's early attempts at a "dirty war" have pretty clearly spiraled out of control, and the death squads seem intent on going far beyond anything the U.S. ever envisioned. SCIRI leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim has been chafing at U.S. efforts to rein him in. The Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr, no longer shares information with the U.S. It never seems to have occurred to anyone that fanatical Shiite militias would be somewhat less than charitable about policing their former Sunni tormentors. (Or maybe it did, and there was nothing they could do about it.) Once again the Pentagon's discovering what a few "bad apples" can do if given half a chance.

Back when the Newsweek article on the "Salvadoran Option" was first published, Jason Vest wrote an important piece noting that military analysts have long concluded that the "death squads" in El Salvador, far from being a brutal force that just so happened to be effective, actually prolonged the conflict against the leftist insurgency there. It seems, reading the Times, that current military officers are aware that an Iraqi army filled with Iranian-backed thugs carrying out reprisal killings and running torture camps isn't going to end the violence in Iraq either. On the other hand, according to Seymour Hersh, the president sure seems enthusiastic about backing Shiite butchers so long as they "complete the mission." As one official described the president's thinking, the battle against the insurgency "may end up being a nasty and murderous civil war in Iraq, but we and our allies would still win." Lovely.

Maybe Bush will get his way, and that's how the U.S. will stake out its exit. Even if saner voices prevail, though, it's not clear that they can actually do anything about it. As the Times reported back in August, the U.S. is already wary of giving the Iraqi army heavy weaponry in part because they're worried that some of the Shiite groups will use them for "civil conflict". But if they don't arm the security forces, then there goes the exit strategy. On the other hand, Jim Lobe reports that Zal Khalilzad is going to start chatting directly, for the first time ever, with the Iranians about stabilizing Iraq. In a former age, this was known as the John Kerry policy, but I guess real men wait until the car is totaled before asking for directions.

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Messiahs and Imperialists

| Tue Nov. 29, 2005 4:15 PM EST

In the Fall issue of Dissent, John Judis revisits a perennially fascinating topic: the religious roots of American foreign policy. There are a couple ways of look at this issue. Judis spent a lot of time in his last book, The Folly of Empire discussing how America's image of itself as God's chosen nation—as Abraham Lincoln said, the "last, best hope on earth"—has inspired the idea that the United States has a "calling" to transform the world. Not only that, but American often casts its conflicts in terms of good and evil, which, as Walter Russell Mead pointed out, means that it tends to fight viciously and rarely, if ever, accept defeat.

These religious ideals certainly aren't the only thing driving American policy, but they play a part; after all, far and away most foreign policy thinkers believe that the United States does have a duty to transform the world. And sometimes those ideals do more good than folly. As Judis points out, the main differences among the different schools are tactical—liberal internationalists, for example, tend to value multilateralism and a sense of prudence, they believe in the magical healing powers of global capital, and they don't usually descend into the trance-like messianism of George W. Bush, as recently described by Seymour Hersh:

In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush's first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President's religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that "God put me here" to deal with the war on terror. The President's belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that "he's the man," the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reelection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose.
It's insane. But as Judis touches on, and Anatol Lieven really dives into, a president with a divine sense of purpose is hardly the scariest religious impulse in American foreign policy. That honor belongs to the various forms of millennialism in the United States, which can hold that it's America's duty to bring about the millennium—as the 18th century preacher Jonathan Edwards said, "the dawning, or at least the prelude, of that glorious work of God… shall begin in America"—a mentality which can incline one towards reckless and revolutionary foreign policy. Alternatively, the broad prophetic belief in the Rapture—as depicted in the Left Behind series, which has sold 62 million copies—tends to foster paranoia and national aggression of the worst sort. Here's Lieven:
Not only is this [prophetic] tradition deeply and explicitly hostile to the Enlightenment and to any rational basis for human discourse or American national unity, it cultivates a form of insane paranoia toward much of the outside world in general. Thus The End of the Age, a novel by the Christian Rightist preacher and politician Pat Robertson, features a conspiracy between a Hillary Clintonesque first lad and a Muslim billionaire to make Antichrist president of the United States. Antichrist, who has a French surname, was possessed by Satan, in the form of the Hindu god Shiva, while serving with the Peace Corp in India.
It would be wrong to think these sorts of views have no effect on shaping Republican foreign policy—or Democratic foreign policy, for that matter—although it's hardly a necessary leap from millennialism to a neoconservative foreign policy that's intent on revolutionizing the world through armed aggression. Many populists over the years have put the millennial impulse in the service of a more isolationist foreign policy—in which, as William Jennings Bryan put it, "Our mission is to implant hope in the breast of humanity, and substitute higher ideals for the ideals which have led nations into armed conflict." In other words, the U.S. will set a good example from afar. Pat Robertson has advocated something similar, although he also seems to dabble in political assassination these days.

At any rate, religion—especially crazy religions—won't leave the United States anytime soon. So Judis argues that the most successful American policymakers will "focus on America's objectives, as given by the millennialist framework, while still retaining a complex and non-apocalyptic view of means and ends, capabilities and challenges." Or, as the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr put it, one must have a sense of irony towards the "pretentious elements in our original dream."

That may be. On the other hand, the standard bearer of a "non-apocalyptic view of means and ends, capabilities and challenges" tends to be the "realists" within the foreign policy establishment—those, like Jeanne Kirkpatrick or Condoleeza Rice, who believe that America must remake the world in its own image, but should be cautious about how to do so. These include the officials who dissuaded George W. Bush from pushing a hard-line, neoconservative stance against Russia and China in early 2001, and who convinced the president to adopt a more pragmatic approach towards Iran, North Korea, and Syria—stepping back from messianic talk of "evil" regimes—in 2005. But even if these "realists" don't drink from the same millennial Kool-Aid as the neoconservatives, they very much serve their own master: namely, American militarism. Lieven again:

This relative caution on the part of Realists in the U.S. establishment reflects in part the nature and interests of the U.S. military-industrial and security elites. These elites are obviously interested in the maintenance and expansion of U.S. global military power, if only because their own jobs and profits depend on it. Jobs and patronage also ensure the support of much of Congress, which often lards defense spending bills with weapons systems the Pentagon does not want and has not even asked for, to help out senators and congressmen whose states produce these systems. And as already noted, to maintain a measure of wider support in the U.S. media and public, it is also necessary to maintain the perception of certain foreign nations as threats to the United States and a certain minimum and permanent level of international tension.

But a desire for permanent international tension is different from a desire for war, especially a major international war which might ruin the international economy. The American generals of the Clinton era have been described as "aggressive only about their budgets." The American ruling system is therefore not a Napoléonic or Moghul one. It does not actively desire major wars, because it does not depend on major victorious wars for its own survival, and it would indeed be threatened by such wars even if the country were victorious. Small wars are admittedly a different matter.(Needless to say, an approach that fosters a "minimum and permanent level of international tension," with, say, China, without intending to go to war can still lead to war—even by accident.)

So these seem to be the broad constraints on American foreign policy. On the one hand, there's the widespread, quasi-religious idea that America is the chosen nation called on to transform the world, with all the genuinely noble and appallingly ugly impulses that brings. On the other hand, there's a security establishment that doesn't buy into these millennial fantasies, but still remains committed to the endless "maintenance and expansion of U.S. global military power." Zbigniew Brzezinski, who is held in high regard by the Democratic establishment, sees the world as a "Grand Chessboard," which gives a sense for what that's all about. If this is all correct, then any hopes for a sensible foreign policy in the near future are probably foolish. A lot will have to change before then. Fortunately, Barbara Rossing's book on why the Rapture is bad theology is now out in paperback. A good stocking-stuffer, for sure..

U.S. farmers ignore international treaty on methyl bromide

| Mon Nov. 28, 2005 6:09 PM EST

Methyl bromide, a pesticide, fungicide, and herbicide used primarily in the growing of strawberries, tomatoes, and bell peppers, has been found to rapidly deplete the ozone layer, and is toxic to humans and animals. Because of the harm done by methyl bromide, the Montreal Protocol Treaty--signed by the United States--to phase out its use, except in the most extreme cases, by 2005. But here it is, almost 2006, and methyl bromide use in the United States is still going strong. In fact, the Bush administration plans to protect its use at least through 2008, and will not commit to a termination date.

Growers say that substitute chemicals are not as effective, and organic methods are too expensive. In California, there have been attempts to regulate the use of methyl bromide, but these attempts do not satisfy families who live near the toxic fields. Two farmworkers reported that when they went to remove the plastic sheeting from fumigated fields, there were dead dogs, deer, and birds lying about nearby. One neighborhood in southern California sued a strawberry grower because of a flu-like illness whose onset coincided with the spraying of the fields.

The so-called Environmental Protection Agency refuses to disclose the size of the U.S.'s methly bromide inventory, but it is estimated to be 11,000 tons.

Is Duke a Symptom?

| Mon Nov. 28, 2005 4:53 PM EST

This Duke Cunningham story, I'm guessing, will mostly focus on the corruption angle. Here you have a congressman on the Appropriation Committee's defense subcommittee taking bribes in exchange for helping a defense contractor win contracts. What a sleazeball, etc. For shame, etc. In an ideal world, though, the attention would focus on the much larger problem of the defense appropriations process in general, which makes this sort of thing inevitable.

Defense contractors literally live or die on the contracts that Congress decides to hand out. Most of them have grown up under the mini-command economy that is the annual defense appropriations bill, and wouldn't know how to survive in the free market. Not surprisingly, contractors tend to put a lot of effort into lobbying and influencing legislators. Between 1997 and 2004, the top 20 defense contractors made $46 million in campaign contributions, and spent $390 million on lobbyists—and were rewarded for their efforts with $560 billion in contracts. Then there's a permanent revolving door between government and the defense industry, which is laid out in gory detail by the Project on Government Oversight. A lot of money gets sloshed around. Under the circumstances, what happened with Cunningham was bad and illegal, but not completely out of step with the larger trend here.

Even more interesting than Cunningham, perhaps, is MZM Inc., the company that bribed the Duke. The Los Angeles Times reports that the company has received "$163 million in federal contracts, mostly for classified defense projects involving the gathering and analysis of intelligence." Just to be clear, a firm that bought a house for a corrupt Congressman is doing "classified" intelligence work. Okay, then.

The Divided Welfare State

| Mon Nov. 28, 2005 1:55 PM EST

Via Mark Thoma, a good counter-intuitive point by Paul Krugman about the American welfare state:

We like to think of ourselves as rugged individualists, not like those coddled Europeans with their oversized welfare states. But as Jacob Hacker of Yale points out in his book "The Divided Welfare State," if you add in corporate spending on health care and pensions - spending that is both regulated by the government and subsidized by tax breaks - we actually have a welfare state that's about as large relative to our economy as those of other advanced countries.

The resulting system is imperfect: those who don't work for companies with good benefits are, in effect, second-class citizens.Since I have Hacker's book on my desk, here are the numbers: In 1995 Germany and Sweden spent about 27 percent of GDP on after-tax social welfare expenditures—and two percent of that was "private" spending (i.e., by employers). The United States, meanwhile, spent 25 percent of GDP—and 8 percent of that was private.

Certainly the American "divided welfare state" is better than Swedish-style socialism for workers who have stable jobs with good pensions, 401(k)'s, and plum health care benefits, but for everyone else, it's inequitable, regressive, and a source of uncertainty for those increasingly at risk of losing their jobs. (Indeed, it's becoming a worse deal for many workers with stable jobs, as they face greater cost-sharing for health care or as companies default on their pension funds, or what not.) In the old days, though, businesses loved it, and some of them even backed the creation of entitlements like Medicaid and Medicare as ways of reinforcing the status quo.

But now many companies look ready to shift more of the welfare burden onto the government, and move towards a European-style welfare state, although Daniel Gross has noted that there are two types of companies here—those that, like GM, want the government to pick up its health care and pension costs, and those, especially newer, high-tech companies, who still want tiny government. Meanwhile, 60 percent of workers still get their health benefits through their company (although that number's declining), so it's not clear how many voters actually want to shift to a European-style welfare state, at least right now. Change won't be easy, although the opportunity is certainly there. Also, those companies that no longer want to be on the hook for, say, health care costs aren't necessarily going to push for single-payer, or France-style health care. They could just as easily be convinced to agree to the Bush administration's horrible HSA proposal, which would shove people onto the open insurance market. That, I think, is going to be a major fight.

One other miscellaneous point: It's worth noting that most of the legislation that expanded the employer-centered "private" welfare state was passed with very little public debate. The Revenue Act of 1978, for instance, slipped in an obscure provision to create 401(k) plans, which was estimated to have a "negligible effect on budget receipts" by the CBO—today it costs the government over $100 billion a year, for a program that mostly benefits the well-off. It would be naïve to pretend that public opinion has an all-powerful effect on public legislation, but even by those standards there's been a breathtakingly small amount of oversight on the expansion of the private welfare state.