Monday, September 8, 2003

A Watime Editorial

William Safire:

In Cairo today, the Arab League considers whether to invite Hoshyar Zebari, the Kurd recently appointed foreign minister by Iraq's Governing Council, to provisionally occupy Iraq's seat. He is eager to make the three-hour flight to regional legitimacy.

What's in it for Arab dictators who want no part of a democratic experiment in their region? Apparently the recent exercise of U.S. will and power has been taken to heart; to accommodate reality, the Arab nations are likely to play ball with post-Saddam Iraqis, expecting (1) to continue Iraq in the OPEC cartel, (2) to ensure Iraq's support of Palestinians against Israel and (3) to prevent export of anti-Sunni zealotry. If President Bush abdicates control of Iraq to the U.N. soon, Arabs may gain all that and more...

Some European media that had mistakenly warned of a long, high-casualty campaign, and were discomfited by the ease of our military victory, now claim vindication. They cite the present lack of proof of mass-destruction weapons, the lawlessness that followed Saddam's emptying jails of all criminals, and continued sniping and bombing. Iraqis are shown on TV blaming American troops -- not Baathist-paid terrorists-- for lack of electric power, lack of water and lack of protection...

In what is called here "the Daily Schadenfreude," the impression is being marketed that the rebuilding of Iraq is a colossal flop. That Arabs are culturally incapable of self-government. That Islamic fundamentalism will sweep away any Western notions of individual dignity. That while Saddam was admittedly a "bad guy," the hundreds of thousands of his victims who are missing are none of the West's concern, and that a cabal of neocon hawks manipulated President Bush into war.

So goes the failuremongers' pitch. Their purpose, beyond justification of their decade of appeasement, is to cast as both ignoble and doomed this most necessary long-term counter to state-sponsored and fanaticism-driven terror. To wear down our will, they emphasize the likelihood that as long as we stay to rebuild, terrorists will shoot at our service members and relief workers and will sabotage power plants and oil fields. As we return fire, inevitable pictures of bloodied innocents will be shown on home screens.

In the coming political campaigns, failuremongers in Europe and at home will exploit reactions to these costs in blood and treasure. They will beat the drums to abandon control to a feckless U.N. bureaucracy. George McGovern's slogan of 1972 will be echoed by de Villepin Democrats and some panicky Republicans: "Come home, America."

On the European prejudice ("Arabs are culturally incapable of self-government") please see our Lawrence of Arabia theory from last week.

Thursday, September 4, 2003

A Milestone

The first Vietnam/Iraq analogy that actually sounds right:

Mr. Bush would be much further along in rebuilding Iraq had he taken the advice of his Pentagon advisers and recruited more Iraqi allies well before the war. Now in a scramble to catch up, the U.S. is sending Iraqis for military training to the same place in Hungary that we sent the Free Iraqi Forces that we disbanded after the war...The strange hostility to enlisting Iraqis exists on both the left and right. On the left, it seems rooted in a belief that Arabs will never be able to govern themselves; they need the U.N. to midwife the next strongman to keep all of the religious crazies in line.

Among some on the right, meanwhile, the preference is to send more American troops to Iraq. This seems intended to prove a long-time point that the U.S. needs a larger standing Army and a bigger Defense budget. But this was also the Westmoreland strategy during Vietnam, the illusion that just another 100,000 Yanks on the ground can pacify the country. Perhaps they'll also call for 'search and destroy' missions. A million Marines won't be enough if the Iraqi people aren't on our side.

The guerrilla war the U.S. is now fighting in Iraq is winnable, notwithstanding the current media pessimism. The terrorists have to be denied foreign aid and sanctuary. Better intelligence, which can only come from Iraqis, will be needed to ferret out the Baathists and jihadis. Above all, Iraqis themselves will have to begin taking responsibility for keeping the power on and maintaining order--in short, for governing themselves.

The paradox is that this will all be easier the more determined America is to stay as long as it takes to succeed. Mr. Bush has made that pledge many times, most recently last week. But the world also watches America's political debates and it remembers Saigon, Mogadishu and Beirut. We'd like to hear the President explain that his new U.N. strategy is about strengthening America's commitment to victory in Iraq, not the first step toward walking away.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

A Modest Proposal

As we know from this and similar reports, the Saudi government is now challenging the Bush administration to prove Saudi citizens are fighting American troops in Iraq.

'We are very concerned about this issue because we would like to take action,' Saudi foreign policy adviser Adel al-Jubeir said in an interview with The Associated Press. 'But we have no evidence of Saudis crossing into Iraq and we have received no evidence from the U.S. government.'...Al-Jubeir said his government has offered to send its own team of investigators to help U.S. officials identify any possible Saudi expatriate who may have come through other countries, like Iran, or who made it through the porous, desert borders between Iraq and the Saudi kingdom...'We are willing to send a team to Iraq to look at any evidence they might have,' he said. 'Saudi Arabia is determined to fight terrorism and to prosecute terrorists regardless of where they are.'

Wouldn't it prove Saudi Arabia wasn't involved in terrorist sabotage of the Iraq-Turkey pipline if it immediately agreed to an increase in oil production equal to Iraq's normal capacity? Under such an agreement, Saudis would subsequently cut back their production as Iraq gradually increased its own output of crude. Regional crude production would no longer be affected by Iraq's recovery or by ongoing economic terrorism against pipelines or fields.

This, like nothing else, could prove to the world Saudi Arabia is not practicing economic terrorism as a means of limiting regional oil output. This is a useful way Saudis could contribute to and prove their support of Iraq's economic recovery.

Monday, June 30, 2003

What does it take to define a nation?

My inexperience in matters European is criticized by correspondent "Paul." Informed by the history of New Europe, he writes my faith in the falling dollar's restorative powers is completely misplaced:

...I do not believe in the benefit of weak currencies. History shows that weak currencies have been associated with weak countries, and that this combination rarely resulted in anything good. I am for a strong dollar. As an alternative, we could consider adopting the Euro. (If nobody has yet advanced this idea, remember you heard it first from me.) This would eliminate any exchange advantages or disadvantages when trading with the EU, and we could then measure the results in purely competitive terms (price, quality, and service).

Frankly, I laughed this off. "Clearly the guy doesn't understand export prices," I thought dismissively.

But monetary union is an old idea that just won't die. It may be the next big thing. Consider what Bartley is saying in today's WSJ:

...if the euro can replace the franc, mark and lira, why can't a new world currency merge the dollar, euro and yen? The euro's recent recovery against the dollar almost certainly establishes its credibility as a permanent currency. While major eurozone economies remain troubled, practically no one so far is blaming the European Central Bank.

This suggests success for the grandest reform of all, a supra-national central bank. The ECB Executive Board and Governing Council could yet become political targets, of course, especially if much-discussed deflation actually sets in. But even with strikes in Germany and France, few politicians seek a way out in a little more inflation or currency depreciation; few complain about the loss of "monetary sovereignty."

World money, with a world central bank, seems a next logical step.

How are we to think about this? Try this approach. What is the essence the concept "nation?" If we had to list all the features of "nation," what would be left if we discarded everything that could be taken away?

Culture, language, history, all that stuff can get thrown out -- just two and only two features remain on the list.

The first is simple border -- an enforcible physical boundary. The second is currency -- an enforcible economic border.

So what must be discussed, it seems to me, is whether monetary union is genuinely "rational" or part of the irrational and highly suspect elitist European political movement that's come to be called transnational progressivism. If this makes me sound like the old wacko John Birch Society guys who ranted against the U.N. and the dangers of upcoming world government -- well, I guess I'll just have to live with it.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

And the significance is?

Those who know tell me the Boskin Report  is not as new as I seem to think.

To most of us the Report's conclusions are extremely surprising, however, so one can't help but wonder what this particular report says to current policy.

First, judging from various blogosphere discussions nobody is going to yield anything on Social Security/Medicare, and rightly so in my opinion. Face it -- discovering an unexpected bonus doesn't tell you what to do with it, nor does it change yours or others' definitions/preferences.

Second the Boskin/Bush surplus -- or discovery, or whatever you call it -- cannot help but be a victory for American capitalism's supporters and a defeat for its critics. For half a century boomers' relationship to Social Security has weighed like an incubus on economic policy discussions. Critics debited neither Security's Ponzi structure nor the population bulge for the upcoming "crisis." Rather, they placed direct or indirect blame on American market capitalism itself.

The system caused us to spend too much and save too little. Or we were selfish, unwilling to devote sufficent resources to future eldercare. And of course we listened not to the wise advocates of government, of centralized organization and planning, but to the false prophets on the side of irrational markets and greedy corporatism.

And there was an even more esoteric plane of criticism, the neo-Marxist critique. This school told us "the system," never able to generate enough economic "surplus" for us to buy back what we have produced, must ultimately fail -- as evidenced for example by the upcoming, obvious, and widely known internal contradiction of the Social Security crunch, which will leave our future elders homeless and starving in the street.

And now we learn these critics warned of yet another false quagmire. American capitalism, we now know, has already produced the "economic surplus" needed to solve the Social Security crisis. And so long as things remain more-or-less as they are today, during the next forty years American capitalism will produce enough additional economic surplus to solve the "national debt" and "Medicare" crises as well.

Once again: finding the Boskin/Bush surplus doesn't tell us what to do with it. As Business Week sums it up:

Until now [this problem] has been portrayed as an intergenerational conflict between young, working taxpayers and old, retired beneficiaries of government transfer payments. Boskin demonstrates that there may also be a conflict among retired boomers with differing levels of savings. Upper-crust boomers will control a large share of the nation's wealth. If that wealth is taxed as it's supposed to be under current law, there may not be a serious problem covering the costs of Social Security and Medicare, whose stability is crucial for middle- and lower-income retirees. Yet wealthy boomers may fight to have tax rates cut in order to keep more of their retirement savings.

The political fight over redistribution will continue, in other words, with an outcome presently unclear. What is clear right now, however, is that the system worked.