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The Iraqi Civil War

As I say in today's column, civil war isn't a possibility, it's a reality:

The rising tensions spilled over last week as the corpses of Iraqi soldiers, many of them Kurds, continued to pile up in the streets of Mosul. Most of them were killed by single gunshots to the head. Some were beheaded. The prime suspects are Arab Islamists allied with local Ba’athists, operating in the Old City on Mosul’s west bank.

Just across the Tigris River, a battalion of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters mustered before their commander in Kurdish-controlled east Mosul, presenting arms and bellowing assent.

"We are here to defend our people. We will fight, and we will win," their commander, Sadi Ahmed Pire, shouted at the 150 fighters crammed into the courtyard of his headquarters. "The Kurds of Mosul will not be second-class citizens."

"We are ready to defend our brothers!" the soldiers chanted in unison.

I don't know what else you call that. The fact that the ostensibly pro-American Kurds are, as highlighted by Juan Cole, actually deeply opposed to what America is trying to do in Iraq and increasingly angry at a Bush administration it believes to have sold them out is one of the great undernotived ill-tidings for this venture. So far, the very lack of success we've had at creating a stable situation and a functioning government has prevented the Kurdish issue from ripening, but now the scope of the violence seems to be forcing the question to some extent. It's obvious, moreover, that the Bush administration does not have a plan for coping with this and never did. They were happy to use Kurdish suffering in the 1980s as a propaganda point for their war, and now are happy to use Kurdish troops to put an Iraqi face on military operations (purely for domestic consumption, you can't trick Arab Iraqis like that), but they haven't thought this through. As ever, hope was the plan.

November 30, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (130) | TrackBack

Military Recruitment

Via Julie Saltman I see that the 3rd Circuit has struck down the Solomon Amendment that would have prohibited law schools that receive federal money from barring military recruiters from campus on the grounds that the armed forces discriminate against gays and lesbians. I won't try and speak to the legal issues here, but I don't think the law schools' policy in this regard makes much sense. Faced with an issue like this, you need to look at two questions. First, is this an effective method of bringing an end to the objectionable policy? Second, if not does it preserve some important point of principle in a "clean hands" sort of way?

On the first question, I think it's clear that the answer is no. Whatever hassles this may cause for the military are pretty trivial in the scheme of things. What's more, there's every reason to believe that this policy is going to get reversed in the pretty near future irrespective of the policies of elite academic institutions, probably the next time a Democrat gets into the White House. It's hard to imagine the stance of Harvard Law School (or whomever else) is going to move the ticking clock on this topic one minute in either direction.

On the second question, I think that again the answer is "no." The clean hands move would be to refuse federal funding. It's a federal policy, set by civilian elected officials, after all. More to the point, this kind of clean hands thinking is odd for, of all places, law schools. A huge proportion of the firms recruiting graduates of top law schools are asking their associates to engage in defenses of morally questionable behavior, especially from a progressive point of view. The viability of the whole legal enterprise is pretty much founded on the premise that everyone -- and everyone's cause -- deserves quality legal advice, irrespective of what they're trying to do. Would a law school refuse to allow a firm to recruit if one of the things it did was argue that various pieces of non-discrimination legislation are unconstitutional? I doubt it. Do they bar recruitment by all employers who've failed to adopt gay-friendly employment policies? Also seems doubtful. The military is wrong on the merits here, but they seem to be being singled out among a vast cast of wrong-on-the-merits employers. Meanwhile, the schools want to get cash from the very same federal government that set the wrong-on-the-merits policy. I'm not exactly up-in-arms about all this, but the liberal view here seems pretty incoherent and doesn't do much of anything to substantively advance gay rights.

November 30, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (61) | TrackBack

Democracy-Promotion

Authentic dialogue between someone trying to hire a consultant to go to Iraq and a consultant who doesn't want to be hired to go to Iraq:

"We really need a strong elections expert."
"Frankly, I'm a little concerned about security."
"We have our own security service. Plus, you can bill six out of seven days a week!"
"Um. Yes. I don't know if this is very realistic, timewise."
Yep, these elections are going to solve all our problems.

November 30, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (44) | TrackBack

Mmm...Goat

Not a lot of food-blogging on this site, but since Dan Drezner mentioned it, it seems worth noting that goat is not only healthy and popular with immigrants, it's delicious, too. Though, sadly, I must admit that I don't know any goat recipes, I've only picked it up at various Outer Boroughs eatiers during my NYC days. Certainly, it's a preferable alternative to the starvation diet popular in some of the city's other wards. Based on my DC experiences, though, I think I need to take issue with the Tribune's contention that "If you want to know who eats goat, it's anybody but white people, descendants of Northern Europe" as the District's plentiful Salvadoran restaurants don't appear to serve any goat.

November 30, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (25) | TrackBack

What's The Product?

Kevin Drum has a good post up listing some successful liberal efforts at framing in the past. What struck me about the list was that both of his examples pertain to areas where liberals had some pretty clear, positive goals in mind. This latter bit, rather than any failing of framing, is, I think, what's really ailing liberalism. The main topic area where liberals are basically agreed amongst ourselves on a fairly clear goal is health care. There's a wide variety of programmatic and tactical disagreement, but at the middle level of analysis liberals think that all Americans should have health care and that the government should spend and/or regulate in necessary and proper ways to achieve this goal. And I don't think it's a surprise that health care is consistently the Democrats' strongest issue. At times, this very strength has become a source of trouble for the party, as in 2002 when there was an effort to make the election "all about" health care even though the dynamic in the real world essentially precluded that possibility. But where there's clarity, strength follows. Not because framing is irrelevant, but because when you've got a clear and reasonably compelling goal in mind, a good frame tends to follow over time, by trial and error if nothing else.

The problem is that in most other topic areas, I don't think liberals have this kind of clarity and consensus. I've written about this on the national security front several times but I think it generalizes. On education policy, all liberals want "good schools" but that's obviously far too generic a goal to build a compelling message around. At the programmatic level there's plenty of disagreement (about standardized tests, about various forms of school choice, etc.) but most damaging of all is the mid-range disagreement bordering on incoherence. What kinds of things do we want the school system to accomplish?

Part of the problem is that, as Kevin wrote in an earlier most, liberals have achieved most of what we set out to achieve when contemporary American liberalism (as distinct from both classical liberalism and socialism) began to take shape in the first half of the twentieth century. Health care is a major exception and, as a result, we maintain clarity and consensus. Gay equality isn't something we set out to achieve at the beginning, but it follows pretty logically from prior commitments, so liberals have a pretty clear consensus, and even though this isn't a great electoral issue at this point the trends have been going our way and almost certainly will continue to do so in the future.

This, at any rate, is what worries me a bit about the trend toward what Ruy Teixeira calls "newer Democrats". Like Ruy I'm glad to see the tiresome New Dem/Old Dem disputes calm down, and like Ruy (and an increasingly large number of people on both sides) I think it's vital not to engage in self-destruction intra-factional disputes while the demented New Model GOP wrecks the country. But at the same time, I think it's important to remain aware of the fact that such unity as exists is largely driven by fear and loathing of the other side rather than a positive agenda. Fear and loathing of the other side is, in my view, an excellent basis for a political coalition but it's not at all an excellent basis for expanding the size of a coalition. That requires appealing frames and that, in turn, requires you to have a rough, but real, agreement about what you're trying to do. Now if we fail to effectively combat the Republicans they may well dismantle enough of what previous generations of progressives have put in place to make it easier to think of forward-looking goals (since the more there is to accomplish, the easier it is to think of the proverbial "big ideas") but that would be a pretty crappy way to win elections.

November 30, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Play The Course

Anthony Cordesman is one of the great masters of ascerbic prose in the foreign policy community. I thought I would just quote one line from his new report (PDF) about which there will be more later. "The CPA will be a lasting model of how not to do things." So, at least we can say that the war has been a learning experience. But has the Bush administration learned anything? Probably not. I tend to think at this point that the sort of thing Cordesman is doing here -- trying to offer pragmatic suggestions for improving policy that entail abandonning some tenets of Bushite ideology -- is basically pointless, since the administration obviously isn't interested in what outsiders think, but I suppose that if you're paid to write earnest reports on things that's what you've got to do. Political considerations may well convince Bush to change course, but simple analysis of the policy merits certainly won't.

November 30, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

O Canada

Bush takes a step near and dear to my heart, an effort to improve relations with Canada, especially now that our curiously large and empty neighbor to the north is under the leadership of the Americaphilic Paul Martin. But can it really be true that this is "the first official visit to Canada by a U.S. president in nearly 10 years." Wasn't Bush in lovely Québec City just a few years ago for the FTAA summit? That sounds like official business to me.

November 30, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (40) | TrackBack

Moping

Phoebe Maltz suggests that these political blogs should talk more about moping. Perhaps. I was moping a little before, but was cheered out of it by my successful illegal acquisition of the new Le Tigre album. Then I started looking for an explanation of how Kathleen Hannah came up with something so bizarrely different from Bikini Kill. This isn't much of an explanation:

WHY DID YOU START LE TIGRE?
We wanted to make a new kind of feminist pop music, something for our community to dance to. In our scene, the notion of "community" had been so problematized by postmodern theory and identity politics gone haywire, that it was easier retreat to irony or purely oppositional self-definitions. Instead we wanted to be sincere and take risks. For example, it had been a long-standing dream of Kathleen's to write a song like "Hot Topic," a celebration of the people who give us strength as feminists and artists and with Le Tigre, that song finally happened.
That hardly explains how we got from "White Boy" to "Deceptacon" now, does it?

November 29, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (34) | TrackBack

Hm...

...Max Sawicky set out to shut down loose talk of privatizing Social Security, and I must say that I find this rather convincing, especially that first chart. Obviously in the real world you'd never implement a policy that had that weird spiking effect (around 2040 or 2050 according to which set of estimates you use) but you could smooth that out with some combination of modest tax increases and modest cuts in the rate of benefit growth, neither of which I would find especially objectionable.

November 29, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (44) | TrackBack

Staying the course

Via Kieran Healy, Brian Gifford argues that the burden of the war in Iraq is much higher than the death rate seems to imply. Gifford seems to take it for granted that the unsustainability of staying on the present path for much longer implies that we should start leaving soon. I agree that we should start leaving soon, but the issues he raises don't seal the deal. As I wrote on Tapped, judging by historical GDP shares for defense expenditures, the US could pretty easily afford to spend much more on the military, pretty greatly increase recruiting, and up the quantity of supplies available for training and combat. This raises the question for the hawkbloggers of how much, exactly, you want to sink into this enterprise and for how long. My strong suspicion is that the answer to that question will turn out to be that whatever quantities Bush proposes to spend will be judged adequate, whatever share of that spending he chooses to turn into debt will be judged appropriate, and whenever he chooses to leave will be the perfect moment.

I think we ought to start getting out very quickly after the January elections (it will take some time to count the results, put the new government in place, and work out something orderly, but I have in mind something in the vein of late-February early-March for the beginning of a pullout) a view that, I suspect, will be denounced as cowardly defeatism. If Bush starts pulling troops out in late February or early March (which I think is certainly possible) this will be lauded as a brilliant victory for American arms. Such is life.

November 29, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (74) | TrackBack