Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Friday, April 30, 2004
Peggy Noonan had a piece yesterday about going to see A Raisin in the Sun. Most of the review is a gush about the play and about most of the cast. And then there's this:

An important moment in the plot is when a character announces she is pregnant, and considering having an abortion. In fact, she tells her mother-in-law, she's already put $5 down with the local abortionist. It is a dramatic moment. And you know as you watch it that when this play came out in 1960 it was received by the audience as a painful moment--a cry of pain from a woman who's tired of hoping that life will turn out well.

But this is the thing: Our audience didn't know that. They didn't understand it was tragic. They heard the young woman say she was about to end the life of her child, and they applauded. Some of them cheered. It was stunning. The reaction seemed to startle the actors on stage, and shake their concentration. I was startled. I turned to my friend. "We have just witnessed a terrible cultural moment," I said. "Don't I know it," he responded.

And I can't tell you how much that moment hurt. To know that the members of our audience didn't know that the taking of a baby's life is tragic--that the taking of your own baby's life is beyond tragic, is almost operatic in its wailing woe.

But our audience didn't know. They reacted as if abortion were a political question. They thought that the fact that the young woman was considering abortion was a sign of liberation. They thought this cry of pain was in fact a moment of self-actualizing growth.

I remember Harper's Magazine did a symposium about a decade ago, where they asked various intellectuals, celebrities, media types and such to opine on what they would do if a friend revealed she planned to have an abortion. Most of the symposium I remember not at all, but two answers I remember well: the best, and the most horrible.

Noonan's was the best precisely because it was real, human, and true. She wouldn't hide from her friend what her beliefs are, and she would tell her about her connections vis a vis adoption and so forth. She'd do everything realistic she could for her friend to make it possible for her to have the baby. And if her friend still decided to have the abortion? Then she'd cry with her and try to help her through it.

Is that a "pro-life" response? Well, it's not quite what Marilyn Quayle said in one of her husband's campaigns (I forget which) when asked what she'd do if her daughter got pregnant and wanted an abortion. (She said, in effect, that she'd lock the kid in her room for the term before she'd let her have an abortion.) If Noonan really believes that having an early-term abortion is exactly equivalent to murdering a month-old baby, then her answer is peculiar, to say the least. How could she help her friend through a murder?

But it's not a "pro-choice" response either. Abortion isn't a "choice" in Noonan's moral universe but a tragic decision. By her own religious lights, it's always or nearly always a wrong decision; there's never a good reason to have an abortion. But the idea that it's a morally neutral choice for anyone, regardless of religion, is an appalling thought to Noonan. Whatever we believe about whether some abortions are the lesser evil (and I definitely believe they sometimes are), they are all evil, and all tragic. And so they can never be "choices."

I can't say I've been as good a friend as Noonan was. I know more than one person who has had abortions; in at least one case, I can say the decision was absolutely justified by health considerations, but in others I have real misgivings. And no, I have not done whatever I could to make it possible for these women to make the decision to have the child, and no, I have not helped them through whatever decision they ultimately made. More often than not, I withdrew, and a wall built up between us that probably cannot be got over. That just makes Noonan a better person than I am, I guess.

As I said, hers was the best response. I remember the worst response, too. It was from an old classmate of mine, Rebecca Walker, daughter of the author Alice Walker. Rebecca Walker had had an abortion herself, and was proud of it - defiantly proud. And her advice to her hypothetical friend in the symposium was: go for it. Not only is it her right to have an abortion, it is her obligation to do so, if she has any doubt about wanting her child, because if this right is not exercised then it will not be defended. She came close to suggesting that it would be a good thing if all women had abortions, just so they would feel solidarity for one another and all know the importance of having the right to have one.

John C. Calhoun had not the audacity of this woman, I thought, and still think. But there are many Rebecca Walkers in this generation, and these are the folks Peggy Noonan heard cheering in the audience. They would not cheer if a woman had her dog put to sleep for its own good, and no one seriously denies that a pet owner has the right to make that decision on a pet's behalf. They would not cheer if a woman decided to end other than palliative care for her dying mother. They would not cheer in any other instance where a healthy person made a decision that another innocent being should die, even if that death were necessary and justified. But abortion? Go for it.

Very sobering indeed.

This is excellent news. Since Pierre Trudeau's days, Canada has defined itself as the un-country - a nation perversely dedicated to the eradication of nationalism, indeed whose anti-nationalism was the essence of its national identity and the way in which it asserted its national independence from its American neighbor. Well, if the lightbulbs are beginning to go on in the heads of our neighbors to the north, that's excellent news.

The failure of the U.N. is an institutional failure, as well as a failure of an idea. The institutional failure is due to the U.N.'s structure: a fossilized Security Council that is the only organ with real hard power (however minimal), a General Assembly premised on the obviously false (that all nations are equal in significance, power or legitimacy), and a bureaucracy unaccountable to anyone. The idea that failed is world government.

We badly need international forums where the various world powers can negotiate and coordinate. Jaw-jaw generally is better than war-war, and sometimes can even prevent it. The G-8 serves a genuinely useful function. So would a similarly-constituted body designed to deal with threats to global stability that require international cooperation (e.g., terrorist financing, nuclear proliferation). Cooperation between states is very different from a supra-national government. If Canada's Liberal leader is inclining towards the former, that's excellent news for Canada.

No one should assume that a Canada more willing to think about its own national interests will be an American poodle. But I'd rather have a pricklier Canada capable of contributing to collective security than a doormat Canada who can't make trouble but also can't contribute. We want strong allies, not weak ones.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Yet another follow-up to the below: apparently, the US of A has been designing bad flags for our overseas possessions for a long time. Check out this quite funny website about the worst (and best) flags in the world. I don't always agree with this guy's judgements on the best flags, but his choices of worst flags are pretty spot-on. And a lot of them are American-designed.

Follow-up to the below: after WWII, we occupied Japan, Germany and Italy. The Japanese got to keep their flag. The Germans went back, after active debate, to the Weimar flag, also the flag of the pre-Bismarck Confederation. (Other choices were: the flag of the Second Reich, or a new German cross flag that would have looked like the various Scandinavian flags, but with traditional German colors of red, yellow and black - some examples from the CDU and Josef Wirmer.) The Italians kept their traditional colors and dropped the royal symbol with the monarchy.

So why on earth can't we do the same with Iraq? Get some reasonable proposals on the table and let the Iraqis vote on it? The Jordanian flag is based on the flag of the Arab Revolt, with a seven-pointed star that recalls their royal family's descent from Muhammad. The Iraqi flag from the Hashemite period looks very similar, but has two stars. Why not go back to that flag, but with some new symbol instead of the star that represents the new Iraq. Maybe a yellow crescent pointing upward, perhaps? With a yellow sunburst above? Kind of like a cross between the symbol in the corner of the Mayasian flag, the symbol in the center of the Kurdish regional flag, and the flag of Mauritania? I dunno, I'm just brainstorming. This is taking me about half an hour of work. How long do you think our Iraqi satraps spent on their disastrous effort?

I just can't believe we're desperately trying to get Iraqis to fight to defend their country from the next generation of would-be slavemasters, and we ask them to die for a flag that the Bosnians would laugh at.

Hey, here's a thought: the Japanese design the best flags in the world. (Check out this cool clickable map of Japan; click on a region and get a picture of the regional flag. Am I right? Do they design the best flags, or what?) Why not give 'em a pass on donating troops, and put them in charge of vexillology for the new American Imperium?

Is it just me, or does the new Iraqi Flag look like it was designed by the Zionist conspiracy?

I mean, seriously folks. Blue and white? Is there another Arab or Muslim country in the world whose flag is blue and white? No? Might there be a reason for that?

There are a bunch of Islamic crescent flags out there; they are all (I believe) green or red. There are a bunch of Arab nationalist flags out there; the key colors are red, black and white. I can understand why we might not want to go with an Arab nationalist flag. But the new flag is ridiculous.

(Okay, maybe the new Iraqi flag isn't modeled on the Israeli flag. Maybe it's modeled on the international Chaldean flag. Better? I thought not.)

How do we manage to consistently get this stuff wrong? Who is running the show out there?

I mean, they could have copied the Jordanian flag without raising a ruckus, couldn't they? No references here to Ba'athism or to the Saddam regime. Traditional Arab flag colors. generally pleasing design. This would have been so hard? Put something other than the Jordanian 7-pointed star in the middle of the triangle, and you have a flag. Make it yellow if the Kurds like yellow.

Or they could have copied the Pakistani flag if they wanted something more Islamic and less Arab. Kurds still like yellow? Make it yellow and green instead of white and green.

Or, if they wanted something nationalist but not Arab-nationalist and Ba'athist, they could have copied the Egyptian flag without raising a ruckus. Traditional Arab colors, but put a graven image in the middle to make it clear we're nationalists, not Islamists, and make it an Iraqi image rather than a bunch of green stars like the Syrian or the old Iraqi flags.

Would this be so hard? Why on earth did we have to come up with something that looks like no other Arab or Muslim flag and whose symbolism, whatever we intended it to be, is going to read to the region as the punchline to that old joke:

Saddam calls up Bush and says, George, I've had a wonderful dream. In my dream, America had embraced Islam, and all across your country minarets rose where there were once church steeples, and green flags adorned with the words, "Allahu Akbar" were flying where once the Stars and Stripes flew, and the name of Saddam Hussein was uttered with reverence all across America, and finally our lands were at peace with one another.

So George Bush answers, gee, Saddam, I also had a dream. And in my dream, we were also finally at peace. And in my dream, there were also new flags flying, but in Iraq, not America, and they also had writing on them.

So, asks Saddam, what was the writing on the flags?

I don't know, answers George Bush, I can't read Hebrew.

I don't really disagree with anything in John Podhoretz's latest column. I always thought Kerry was a terrible candidate. I also always thought he'd get the nomination. (Well, almost always; I finally gave in and bought stock in Howard Dean pretty much right at the top of the market. I console myself that just about no one predicted the massive Dean meltdown.) But I can't help noting that it's not a terribly good sign that as fervent a Bush supporter as John P. thinks the main reason Bush could have a significant win is that people are not going to come out for Kerry.

There've been a bunch of versions of this theory out there: that Bush's support is solid at 50%, where Kerry's is softer; that Bush's base is energized positively for their candidate, while Kerry's is only energized negatively, against Bush; etc. I'm not sure I buy any of it. I'm not convinced Bush has a solid 50%, and I think Kerry has a pretty solid core of support, even if it is all negative. But more important: re-election campaigns are never referenda on the challenger. If people sour on Bush, they'll vote for Kerry even if they aren't crazy about him. In fact, they'll refuse to learn the things about him that would make them not crazy about him, because learning those things would make it harder to vote for him. Kerry is a truly lousy candidate. But this election won't be about him.

That said, it is kind of amazing what a terrible choice the Democrats made this year. And, unlike Podhoretz, I'm not convinced Edwards would have been such an amazing candidate either. What's striking about the entire 2004 primary field is that none of these guys was ready for prime time. Edwards was a smart but shallow guy trying to jump to the head of the line. Even compared to Bush in 2000 he looked inexperienced. Dean's only credential was that he had inherited the governorship of one of the smallest, whitest, least-urban states in the nation. Nominating him would have been like nominating the mayor of San Diego for President. In wartime. And Gephardt, the only actual political veteran in the bunch, was distinguished primarily for losing - over and over again.

And then there's Kerry. Two decades in the Senate and nothing to show for it. Nothing! No one can come up with a significant piece of legislation he produced. But no one can come up with a significant piece of legislation he blocked, either! For two decades, he has been a backside-covering irrelevancy. This is the best the Democrats could do?

I mean, let's just think about one contrast: John Kerry vs. Bill Bradley, the guy who didn't get the nomination last time.

Bill Bradley, as a Senator, was distinguished for his importance in grappling with and producing legislation on several key issues, none of which were popular in a grandstanding way. Among them were the 1986 tax reform act (one of the most important pieces of tax legislation in the past thirty years, and an effort we should be replicating right now), Latin American debt-relief, and policy towards the former-Communist countries of Eastern Europe and towards post-Soviet Russia. Bradley's one of the most substantive guys the Dems have ever considered nominating, he's a former sports hero, his personality seems free of demons or obsessions, he meets all the requisite liberal litmus tests, and he's a pretty good fundraiser to boot. Yeah, he's about as boring a guy as has ever succeeded in politics . . . but compared to Kerry?

Or let's think about another contrast: John Kerry vs. Bob Kerrey, one of the guys who didn't get the nomination in 1992.

Bob Kerrey, unlike John Kerry, is a real foreign-policy Democrat, deeply involved in policymaking on nuclear weapons proliferation, missile defense, and terrorism. He's a veteran who hasn't spent his entire career milking his war wounds for political advantage. He's also someone who could unapologetically grasp the New Democrat mantle on economic policy. He dated Deborah Winger, and I bet she'd have contributed to his campaign, unlike ex-Kerry girlfriend Morgan Fairchild. And he's acceptably liberal on social issues to be nominated; it wouldn't be a slam-dunk like Bradley, but he'd say the right things to get the nod.

I'm not saying either Bradley or Kerrey would have had a cake-walk to the nomination, to say nothing of the White House. But is there a good reason why any Democrat would, in the abstract, prefer Kerry to either of these guys? I can't think of one.

Look back at the intra-party contests in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, even (to an extent) 2000. The debates were (generally) substantive, and the candidates were (generally) serious guys. Carter/Kennedy was a real fight about principles as well as a referendum on a terrible President. Mondale and Hart were both substantive guys and represented a real debate about party direction. Clinton was the standout candidate from the beginning in 1992, but, each in their own way, Kerrey, Tsongas and Brown represented real and substantive challenges to him, and the jilted pro-Cuomo movement did as well. Each of these guys had done something, and represented something. Even the "seven dwarves" of 1988, none of whom was a really plausible President, represented a reasonable array of choices for the Democrats. If you voted for Gore, or Gephardt, or Jackson, or Simon, or Dukakis, you knew what you were voting for. You knew that you were voting for something.

That's just not true about 2004. All Democrats wanted was to get the primary season over with. They did not really debate anything, and they barely vetted the candidates in terms of personality and temperament. Now they're stuck with John Kerry, and their best hope is the fact that, in November, the folks pulling the lever won't really be thinking about him.

Friday, April 23, 2004
Saying goodbye to London on St. George's Day. Have a happy, everyone.

The Weekly Standard's current editorial calls for sacking Rumsfeld for not committing enough troops to Iraq. This should be a partial response to those who argue that Rummy is the leader of the neo-con faction in the Administration. Would the Weekly Standard call for the sacking of the faction leader? Unlikely. And note that David Frum has called for Cheney to run for President in '08.

Kristol and Kagan make a case, but I don't think their numbers add up. 30,000 troops has the virtue of being an actually doable number. But pre-war, the guys focused on the post-war situation and peacekeeping - like General Shinseki - were calling for 400,000 to 500,000 troops. That's a number that produces Kossovo-like ratios of peacekeepers to locals. 30,000 doesn't get us anywhere close. Whose numbers are more likely to be right?

This matters a lot. The Weekly Standard understanding of the mission of the American military is pretty expansive. We have to be able to occupy countries like Iraq (and, potentially, Syria, or even Iran) and turn them into democracies, which means a long-term occupation, not a few-months endeavor. We also have to be able to respond to humanitarian catastrophes (e.g., Rwanda) and to police our own near-neighborhood (e.g., Haiti, Colombia). We have to be able to fight contingency wars in Taiwan and Korea, to deter a rising China, and to discourage anyone else from getting ideas about becoming a world power, or even a belligerent regional power. If we need hundreds of thousands of troops for occupation duty around the world, then even a Reagan-scale military will not be able to fulfill the mission. And even that scale military looks politically difficult; something much larger is just inconceivable, politically. So these guys have a real incentive to say: just a few more troops would do it. Would they?

Rumsfeld's vision for the U.S. military - fast, deadly, precise, mobile, small-footprint - is one response to the emerging global threats. He's not interested in occupying the world. (This alone should give pause to those who think he's the leading neo-con.) He doesn't believe in nation-building. I'm not convinced he cares much about democratization. But his vision is proving to be a disaster in terms of achieving the political objective of the use of force. Yes, we can take out guys like Saddam faster, with fewer troops and with far fewer casualties on either side than most expected, including those in the uniformed military. That's good to know. But the political objective of the war didn't end with the fall of Tikrit, and Rummy has no ideas about how to achieve our political objectives.

Does anyone?

We need new ideas. We can't say that guys like Kim Jong Il and Saddam Hussein or anyone else is able to deter the American military by holding their own people hostage, but that's what it means to say that we cannot take out a guy like Saddam because of fears of the post-war environment in the country. What if Saddam had been implicated in 9-11? What if he was close to obtaining a nuke, as he was in 1981 and 1991? If we took him out, we'd be in the same place we are today: running Iraq and fighting an anti-American insurgency. But under those circumstances, no one seriously would dispute we should have taken him out. So what's the alternative strategy for dealing with these situations to what we did?

Wednesday, April 21, 2004
Blogging from the City of London, with the question that I'm sure is on all our minds: why does everyone in this town seem to be wearing a pink or lavendar shirt? Is this some new EU color-coordination directive? Seriously, you walk down the street and there are dozens of guys in blue or gray suits with pink or lavendar shirts and (if they wear ties) ties of a matching color. It's weird. Am I the last one to notice this or is it actually a new trend?

Thursday, April 15, 2004
Okay, I've said enough critical things about Bush for today. Let me say something nice: he's been an almost unimaginably good friend to Israel, and he proved it yet again this week.

I am very apprehensive about Sharon's Gaza pullout for one reason only: I worry that it's not so easy to get out of Gaza. Even if a Gaza withdrawal doesn't lead to a huge explosion of terror in the West Bank (if Palestinians interpret the withdrawal as a sign of weakness, as they did Barak's withdrawal from Lebanon), it will likely lead to chaos in Gaza. And I simply do not believe that the world will stand by and watch Gaza deteriorate into anarchy. Someone will come in to restore order, and that someone will restrain Israel's freedom of action to retaliate against attacks from Gaza - which will continue; the fence won't keep everyone out.

So I worried that, as in Lebanon, Israel would be getting rid of one problem (defending indefensible settlements like Netzarim) only to inherit a worse one (an Islamist terror-state in Gaza, or anarchy and a UN peacekeeping force in Gaza, or a continued IDF presence in Gaza and an explosion of terror in the West Bank).

Well, now at least Israel is getting something for the risk it's taking. Israel is getting diplomatic acknowledgement from the U.S., explicitly, that the 1949 Green Line is not the presumptive border between Israel and occupied territory, and that any repatriation of Palestinians living in Lebanon, or Egypt, or elsewhere will be to a future Palestinian state, not Israel.

These are big statements. They should not be minimized. America has always maintained a "constructive ambiguity" about the precise meaning of Resolution 242, neither explicitly affirming nor denying that it meant what the Israelis said it did. America has now explicitly endorsed the Israeli interpretation (which I also believe to be the correct one, based on my understanding of the negotiations that took place to come up with that wording).

The settlements that Israel is going to retain inside the fence are mostly unproblematic and are all within the "consensus" that a wide spectrum in Israel assumes would be incorporated into the state in any peace deal. The Ezion bloc, Ma'ale Adumim and the seam line settlements encompass between them the majority of Jewish residents of the territories, and they can be incorporated on the Israeli side of the fence without significant damage to contiguity in the Palestinian areas. Ariel adds another 25,000 souls, and can be incorporated with a little more difficulty, but it must be; Ariel is an important location for security reasons, standing as it does on the heights of Samaria. There will be suffering on the Palestinian side in areas where Palestinian villages lie close to the Green Line and the fence cuts through their land. These people deserve proper compensation on an individual basis. But the question of whether Israel has the sovereign right to build the fence where it needs to is now, from the American perspective, settled: it does. (Israel will also presumably retain control of the Jordan Valley, which is also strategic but has little population; this is not a plausible stance long-term in the context of a peace negotiation, but in a context of a unilateral withdrawal it's essential that Israel stay put there, for security reasons.)

Is Bush's support for Sharon something that will boost the chances for peace? No. Nothing will boost the chances for peace. We are not going to see peace in our time. But Bush's support for Sharon will boost Sharon's chances for implementing his plan, and will also create an obligation on Sharon's part to follow through and actually implement what he has proposed. And that's a good thing for America, not just for Israel, because the volatility of the situation in the territories is bad for America, and an Israeli withdrawal, for all the risks it poses to Israel, opens the possibility of reducing that volatility.

Bush has been astonishingly firm and consistent in his support for Israel's legitimate security needs. He, more than anyone, has created the political conditions within which Israel can take the risk of withdrawing unilaterally. Clinton had a lot of detailed knowledge of the area, its geography and demography and the political sensitivities of all sides. But he profoundly misjudged Yasser Arafat, and he presided over a process that produced political conditions among the Palestinians that were profoundly opposed to peace with Israel, and within Israel that created a dangerous utopian flight from reality. Sometimes, having the right instincts and the right values really is the most important thing. This is one of those times. Kudos to Bush.

There remain huge issues to be worked out about a withdrawal, and if Sharon did uproot the indefensible settlements in Judea and Samaria these issues would become even greater. Who is going to be the recognized authority in the areas that Israel withdraws from? What will be the sovereign rights of that entity? We have no idea, and we need to find out - soon.

And what would be left to negotiate when the Palestinians finally get around to coming back to the table, in good faith? If Sharon evacuates not only Gaza but much of Judea and Samaria, and retained only areas in the "consensus" then what is left to offer as a carrot?

Well, there's always the possibility of monetary compensation to the Palestinians, individually or collectively, for property lost in 1948, or 1967, or subsequently. There's the status of the IDF's presence in the Jordan Valley and Palestinian rights to that area. But no, basically, there's no territorial carrot to offer anymore. Unilateral separation is the end of "land for peace." And good riddance. It would be the beginning, one day, of "peace for peace" - a far more promising formula.

A Palestinian entity isolated from Israel's economy, surrounded by fences and by IDF bases, with an unclear degree of sovereignty and limited international recognition will not be something to brag about. A Palestinian state with full sovereignty in its territory, trade with its neighbors, and access to the wider world would be a far greater achievement. The Palestinians will gain a lot when they finally decide to make peace with a sovereign Jewish state. If they decide to wait another hundred years to do so, the idea of separation is that Israel will be able to afford to let them wait. Israel will no longer have any claims on territory in Palestinian control, and will no longer control any territory that it intends to hand over to someone else. Israel will have defined its own borders to its own satisfaction. The benefits of peace will then have to stand on their own merits.

So here's my question: who should take the fall for the mess we're in?

I should start by saying that no one will. Bush is not going to fire anybody. He never fires anybody, at least not for incompetence.

Moreover, the overall strategy for the war on terror will not change. Bush is going to continue to oppose subordinating the U.S. war effort to the U.N. He's going to continue to focus on anti-proliferation efforts. He's going to continue to work with unsavory and two-faced regimes like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. He's going to continue to support Ariel Sharon's hard line against Palestinian terror groups. And he's going to remain engaged in Iraq, trying to build a stable and relatively free society there.

And it's not obvious to me that the overall strategy should change. The notion that states like Pakistan or Iran are irrelevant to the war on terrorism strikes me as obviously stupid; yes, Madrids will happen without state sponsorship, and yes our war in Iraq has clearly increased the likelihood of "independent" attacks on Americans and our allies such as happened in Madrid. But it's not either-or. It's also true that al Qaeda could never have grown to the strength it has without the Taliban, who in turn were the creation of the Pakistani regime. And it's true that our most dangerous opponents in Iraq are backed by Iran, who is also the principal supporter of Hizballah and has provided transit and support for other anti-American terrorist groups, including al Qaeda. And no terrorist is going to get his hands on a nuclear or biological weapon except with state support.

But there is no question that we went into Iraq unprepared for the difficulties we faced, and we are paying for it - on the ground in Iraq and in terms of greater terrorist blowback worldwide. And someone should pay for that.

No one will. Bush is going to present us with a choice in the next election between a guy with basically the right orientation in terms of how to prosecute this war but a severely limited grasp of the complications of the real world and, worse, a basic refusal to admit that he or his team has ever made a mistake, or to learn from same; and, on the other hand, a guy who shows every sign of being an intelligent, sophisticated, informed guy with absolutely no political courage, who has never made a difficult political decision and has spent 19 years in the Senate compiling a record so thin as to be nonexistent. If you think that absolutely no tough decisions need to be made in the next four years, vote Kerry. If you think good values are all you need, and information is irrelevant to making the tough decisions that we will face, then vote Bush. If you think we'll have tough decisions to make, but you'd like them made by an informed and savvy person, then you - we - have a problem.

But it's comforting to fantasize about what could increase my confidence that the Bush Administration is capable at least of learning from their mistakes, even if they don't admit to them. It's not like Bush has never reversed course: he agreed to create the Department of Homeland Security, installed Bremmer to replace the hapless Garner as Viceroy of Iraq, abandoned Ahmad Chalabi when his purported popular support turned out to be nil, etc. But I think if the country is going to have the confidence to stick with him for another four years, we need to know more than that he (or his team) can react to events. We need to know that they can learn, and the best way to prove that would be to fire someone who seems incapable of learning.

So who should he fire?

It would have to be someone very senior. Firing a guy like Wolfowitz or Feith wouldn't cut it. The point is not to purge the Administration of neo-cons, and anyhow these guys don't make the decisions; their bosses do.

There are only 5 players senior enough and important enough to the war that their departure would be noted and weighed as significant. They are: Powell, Rice, Tenet, Rumsfeld, and Cheney. Let's look at each in turn.

Powell: this guy should've been fired long ago. His role in this Administration is either (a) to present and argue for an alternative policy approach to the neo-cons, or (b) to sell Bush's policies, whatever they are, to skeptical Europeans. He's failed by any measure at either job. Powell certainly has argued with guys like Cheney and Wolfowitz, but he hasn't actually won any arguments of substance, and I think the reason is that Powell doesn't actually have an alternative perspective. He's not a sophisticated realist like James Baker or Zbigniew Brzezinski or Henry Kissinger. He just a cautious bureaucrat. He's loyal to Bush, does his best to make his case and, if he loses, is a good soldier. But really providing Bush with a robustly argued alternative set of policies, just words of caution. I'm not surprised Bush rarely decides his way. And I'm not surprised he's utterly failed to sell Bush's policies in European salons. Whether someone else would do a better job is open to question, but it's worth giving someone else a try.

But firing Powell accomplishes nothing in terms of convincing us Bush can learn from mistakes, because Powell isn't the one who made the mistakes. Powell wasn't an Iraq pollyanna, and Powell wasn't the big advocate of basing the case for war almost entirely on WMD (that was Tony Blair, and Bush can't fire him). Firing Powell, and Powell alone, would read like Bush was doing the opposite of what he needs to do: purging his staff of dissenters. That's both the wrong thing to do and the wrong thing to convey. So while Bush should fire Powell, that only increases the need for him to fire someone else as well, someone much more inside the loop.

(Who should replace Powell? Armitage could probably do the job fine. I would have liked Bush to find a place in his Administration for the only Clinton Democrat worth anything on national security, Dick Holbrooke, who's tough as nails and a firm internationalist, but it's too late now, partisanship is too fierce on both sides. Larry Eagleburger, the old Bush I hand, is probably unacceptable to the neo-cons, so that's an argument in his favor. And then there's Paul Bremmer who, if he's able to extricate himself from Iraq, would potentially be quite an interesting choice. But probably the job is Rice's for the asking, and I bet she asks for it. Which brings us to . . .)

Rice: I actually think Rice has done her job reasonably well. Her rise all the way to National Security Advisor was only slightly less precipitous than Bush's rise all the way to the Presidency. But she's got a lot of what it takes to do well at the job. She's highly organized and articulate. She understands her boss's mind. She has credibility with and understanding of a wide range of foreign policy factions (she trained under Scowcroft, remember), and can present their arguments to the President. She has no independent agenda or loyalties (she owes pretty much everything to Bush, after all). So she definitely shouldn't be fired.

Unfortunately, she's about to fall victim to the Peter Principle and be promoted beyond her level of greatest effectiveness. If Bush picked her for Veep for a second term, she'd basically keep the same job she has now, but I don't think she'd bring anything to the ticket, nor would she be any use in negotiating with Congress (something the Veep can sometimes help with). If Bush picked her for Secretary of State, she'd no longer be an advisor but master of a huge bureaucracy, with its own agendas and factions, and would have to represent Bush and his policies to the world. I think she'd be strikingly ineffective at both jobs: at the former, because she's a brittle control freak who will terrify the folks at State into silence or anger them to the point that they undermine her actively, and at the latter because she's viewed - correctly - as such a Bush creation that she won't be able to pretend to play honest broker between the Administration and the rest of the world, something a good Secretary of State can do. (I stress that the Secretary is supposed to pretend to be an honest broker; a truly lousy Secretary actually does behave as an honest broker, and so forgets who he actually works for.)

So: no reason to fire Rice, no reason to move her either, but expect her to move.

Tenet: among the neo-cons, Tenet is probably #1 on the hit list. He's a Clinton holdover, he presided over a CIA that failed to kill bin Laden, failed to anticipate 9-11, etc., etc. To me, this is a lot of inside baseball. I have no idea if Tenet's been a particularly good or bad CIA chief; I do know that the CIA has been pretty impotent for a long time before Tenet came on board. The last CIA chief who really tried to shake the place up was wild man Bill Casey, and look what that got us.

Knowing nothing as I do, I can say with confidence that Bush did the right thing not to fire Tenet right after 9-11. Blaming him specifically for missing 9-11 is silly, and the Agency didn't need a slap in the face right when we needed it to gear up for war in Afghanistan, a war in which the Agency would figure prominently. But enough time has passed since then. If Tenet's not a strong leader ready to rebuild the CIA into the effective instrument it was in the early days of the Cold War, then Bush should find someone else.

But this has nothing to do with the question at hand. Tenet is not an architect of the Iraq war; he's not the architect of anything. Firing him would send no signal at all, about anything.

Rumsfeld: you know, a lot of folks blame Rumsfeld for Iraq. I don't. Rumsfeld set out to achieve something, and by gum he's achieving it. If someone's to blame for letting Rumseld set the agenda, that's the President, not Rummy himself.

Rumsfeld's prime objective is to turn the American Army into the Wehrmacht. He wants Americans to learn to make blitzkrieg, to fight fast and smart and overwhelm the enemy not with massive force but with speed, maneuverability and accuracy. He wanted to take out Iraq with the absolute minimum number of troops for one reason: to prove it could be done. To show America's enemies and America's armed forces how much they could do with much less than they thought they needed. This would enhance America's deterrent and point the way to further transformation of the military into a far more dangerous and useful tool than it has been historically.

And you know what? Rumsfeld won his war. We had enough troops - even without opening another front through Turkey - to take out the regime, in record time, with astonishingly low allied casualties and with much less collateral damage than was assumed would follow our assault. If I were a general in the People's Liberation Army, and I saw what Rumsfeld achieved in Iraq, I would be much more cautious about assuming I could win, or even fight to a draw as in Korea, against the United States.

Of course, Rumsfeld's war plan was utterly insufficient to police Iraq post-war; that much we now know. Did Rumsfeld know that beforehand? Hard to say. He certainly heard it from his generals, but he also heard from guys like Feith and Wolfowitz that the post-war would take care of itself. But whether Rumsfeld drank the Kool-aid or just served it to others is kind of beside the point, because for Rumsfeld the post-war was beside the point. Rumsfeld has never had any interest in holding onto Iraq or making it a democracy or the rest of it. Rumsfeld was the envoy to Saddam in the Reagan years, sent to encourage him to step up the war with Iran, and Saddam was just as much of a brutal, mass-murdering thug in 1983 as he was in 2003. So my guess is Rumsfeld didn't really care whether Wolfowitz was right or not about Ahmad Chalabi or Iraq's democratic potential; what he wanted to do was take out the regime quickly, with the maximally precise application of minimal force. Mission accomplished.

(Rumsfeld also doesn't care if we have bases in Iraq for years to come, something some war advocates have touted as an objective. Why? Because Rumsfeld envisions an integrated American armed forces that relies to a decreasing extent on a significant footprint in-theater. He wants to figure out how to do without bases, not how to produce political conditions for a greater number of bases. Yet another reason why Rumsfeld doesn't care much about the post-war situation in Iraq.)

Now, you all know that I think the post-war situation in Iraq matters an awful lot. We can afford another dictatorship in Iraq, but we cannot afford anarchy or civil war, we cannot afford an Iranian-dominated Iraq, and we cannot afford an Iraq determined to support America's enemies. If post-war Iraq looks as free and democratic as today's Egypt, or Algeria, or Tunisia, but is also as friendly to America as these countries, we've scored a major win - and a major win for Iraq's people, too; Egypt is a lousy place to be, but it's a whole lot better than Saddam's Iraq. So given that I think this, and that it's clear that Rumsfeld's war plan made it harder for us to achieve the desired post-war outcome in Iraq than would otherwise have been the case, why do I think Rummy should keep his job?

Because that call was the President's. I am not going to blame Rumsfeld for setting objectives and achieving them. I even agree with his objectives. If the President had other objectives, he needed to overrule Rummy. He didn't. If he got bad advice that led him not to do so, the giver of that advice is the guy to fire.

And who's that?

Cheney: the Vice President has got to go. I say this reluctantly, because I think Cheney did a marvelous job in his one debate with Joe Lieberman, and convinced me on the basis of that one performance that he was a brilliant pick for the ticket. He's cool, calm, organized, has good relations with the GOP Congress and with the party faithful, and he brought a wealth of experience to the table that Bush was sadly lacking. Bush trusts him, and Cheney appeared to have no independent agenda.

But he is the single most senior figure most to blame for the failures of the Iraq war. It was Cheney who systematically intervened to bias intelligence assessments to play up the danger from Iraq. It was Cheney who most strongly advocated the urgency of war and Cheney who most strongly believed in the potential for the Iraqis to rapidly rebuild their country as a democracy under American tutelage. Cheney is most prominent among senior government officials for being unwilling to admit that Saddam was not involved in 9-11, or that the assessment of the WMD threat was strikingly wrong.

These, though, are not the biggest problems with Cheney. The biggest problem with Cheney is that his hold on the President is too strong. If Cheney were an honest broker without a strong agenda, and presented options fairly to Bush, I could live with their "co-Presidency." But that is not the case. We have every reason to believe that Cheney has repeatedly distorted the information that Bush receives in order to achieve the policy outcome that he (Cheney) advocates. That is unacceptable.

We all understand the President's limitations. He has his strengths - self confidence, decisiveness, ability to think big-picture and to plan long-term, generally good political instincts, strong insight into individual character; but he also has profound weaknesses - laziness, incuriosity, an over-willingness to trust loyal subordinates, refusal to admit error, a general difficulty coping with the idea that reality might not conform to his expectations of it. Bush, given his limitations, is not going to function well without a very strong and loyal #2 who "organizes" the world for him, does the reading, lays out the options and presents them to him for a decision. Get rid of Cheney, and you'll have to find a replacement; we certainly don't want Bush relying on Karl Rove to do this job. But he has to get rid of Cheney, if only to make it clear to the world and to his own staff that he's his own man, that the loyal #2 serves at his pleasure, and he is under no one's control. Cheney has not only brought about a significant policy failure; he has abused his position. There must be a consequence.

Who could replace him? Well, Rice is trusted, loyal, and already has the job of "organizing" the world for Bush, albeit only one part of that world. But Rice's experience is narrower, she has less credibility outside her narrow world, and she brings substantial political liabilities to the position which I've detailed before. And almost anyone else you could name that Bush could pick would have ambitions of his or her own, which would be a real liability in this job. Is Bill Frist really going to be satisfied as Bush's factotum, even assuming he's up to the job?

Of course, this is all fantasy. Bush is never going to get rid of Cheney. But he should. I do not believe that the negative fallout would be significant, and I think the upside in terms of perceptions of his character by those who, in 2002, were sure they'd vote for him in 2004, but now have drifted away from worry or disgust, could be significant. Most important, for the wellbeing of the Republic and for the prosecution of the war, Bush needs to get Cheney out of his current role, even if he retains him in some capacity elsewhere in the organization. Cheney has many talents, but he cannot be trusted to control access to the President, or to be in the position of final arbiter of policy. He's abused that position, and made too many bad calls.

That's my view, anyhow. What's yours?

Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Okay, I'm back. Struggling to catch up from missed time at work, and preparing for another trip to London starting Sunday night, so I can't promise to be the uber-blogger I was born to be. But I'll do what I can.

I wish I could say that sitting in shul on Passover miraculously gave me unique insights on the situation in Iraq. But the only special perspective I got was that of distance: I wasn't reading the paper regularly, wasn't logging on to the internet, and so I generally was out of the loop. So don't blame me that the whole place has gone to hell in a handbasket.

Hasn't it gone to hell in a handbasket? Yeah, this Sadr guy seems like a pretty lame character, propped up by his Iranian backers and generally unsupported by his fellow Shiites. Yeah, Fallujah has been simmering for a while, and now that it's boiled over we're actually offing the guys who've needed killing for some time.

But that's not the important fact. If anyone thought the Iraqis could wage brilliant guerilla warfare, they were giving credit where it was emphatically not due. No one should fear that we will lose a guerilla war in Iraq. What they should fear is not that we will lose, but that we won't win.

I'll explain, but to do so I'll need to digress and talk about Israel. For coming on 60 years, the Israeli Defense Forces have been beating Arab armies and Arab guerillas alike pretty much every time they have faced each other. They won in 1948 (except in the battle for Jerusalem against the Arab Legion, and that was a uniquely British-led and British-trained force). They won in 1956 in the Sinai and, spectacularly, in 1967 on three fronts. They were caught off-balance in 1973 and, in truth, that war can't be easily scored because each side was saved from utter disaster by timely superpower intervention, but the best that can be said for the Arab side is that they achieved strategic surprise when they should not have, and that the Jewish state has never had the margin of error to survive a battlefield loss. Once they recovered from that initial blow, though, their recovery was absolute and their victory total.

But Israel also won the Lebanon war, usually scored a loss. It drove the PLO out of the country, and could have eliminated Yasser Arafat if President Reagan had permitted it. It also crushed the first (not terribly violent) intifadeh. It also was successful in Operation Defensive Shield, retaking essentially all of the Palestinian territories in Judea and Samaria and making Arafat a prisoner in his compound, where he could have been arrested or assassinated at will. You cannot name a military objective that Israel has set for itself that it has failed to achieve.

What it has failed to achieve are its political objectives. Yes, Israel expelled the PLO from Lebanon. But then it couldn't figure out how to get out, and now it faces Hezbollah across that border. Yes, Israel crushed the Palestinians, but they can't seem to crush them enough to get them to stop sending suicide bombers into Israeli shopping malls. Israel has won essentially every battle, but it can't seem to win the war. Their Arab opponents are, or should be, dead. But they won't lie down.

Israel's fundamental objective is peace within defensible borders. Yes, there is a substantial and politically powerful minority that seeks control of the historic Judean heartland for ideological reasons, but they have never commanded a majority among Israeli Jews. What Israel has been fighting for in its various wars is, fundamentally, peace.

But peace is not something that can be achieved on the battlefield. Peace is something that requires action on your enemy's part. And, in general, Israel's antagonists - particularly the Palestinian Arabs - have been unwilling to take that action.

The fundamental objective of the Oslo accords from the Israeli realist perspective - and Rabin was a realist - was to extricate Israel from a no-win situation in the territories. Yes, Israel could hold on by force, but Israel could never hold on and have peace. Rabin bet that Arafat was ready to show some concrete achievement for his people before he died, and that he would prevent the emergence of the ultra-rejectionist Hamas as the leading power among the Palestinian Arabs. Rabin lost that bet - badly. But since it has become manifest that Arafat has no intention of achieving peace, Israel has been fighting to create the conditions to make it possible for some other Palestinian leader to do so.

There is no such leader. There is no one with any political clout among the Palestinian Arabs who is both interested in a settlement with Israel and willing to fight for that achievement. Israel could certainly talk to a Sari Nusseibeh, but Nusseibeh is utterly without credibility. Israel could talk to a Mahmoud Abbas, but Abbas declared publicly that he would not use the Palestinian security forces in any way to fight terrorists among the Palestinians, because he was not going to start a Palestinian civil war. In other words: Israel could talk to him, but those who preferred to fight could continue to do so with impunity.

Israel's political objectives cannot be realized without change on the other side. And while Israel can defeat the other side any number of times, Israel cannot change the other side. That's why Sharon, architect of the expanded settlement policy implemented in the 1980s and designed to make it impossible to disgorge Judea and Samaria, is now proposing a unilateral withdrawal to more defensible lines, with President Bush's blessing.

And now, to return to Iraq, the irony. Even as we facilitate the Israeli retreat, America is fighting the kind of war against Arab guerillas that Israel is trying to give up on. America has a very powerful military, the most powerful in the world, far more powerful than the IDF. America can defeat anything the Iraqi insurgents throw at us with eminently tolerable losses. Every death is a tragedy, and no American President should contemplate the loss of American life without good cause. But if the cause is good, no one can pretend that the losses we have suffered are unsustainable.

But we cannot achieve our political objectives on the battlefield, any more than Israel can.

We are also fighting for peace. The avowed reason we are in Iraq is to remake that country into a friendly, pro-Western, reasonably free and democratic state that will oppose rather than supporting anti-Western terrorist groups and other threats to our security. But we cannot do this ourselves. Only the Iraqis can make Iraq such a country, if anyone can. Beating the thugs and the bandits and the jihadis only makes it possible for the Iraqis to seize that opportunity. It doesn't assure that they will seize it.

And it sure looks like they won't. Mark Steyn said in a recent column that "in the Arab world, the indifferent are the biggest demographic" - and he thinks this should encourage us, because, wanting to go with the "strong horse" they'll back us if we show that we are that horse. Show determination, kill the thugs, and all will be well. Well, that's all fine and dandy if we intend to remain in Iraq forever. But we don't intend to stay there forever. We intend to turn the place over to them. And them - the 99.9% of indifferent Iraqis who just want not to get shot - will not make the country a democracy. The tree of liberty must be watered by the blood of patriots. Who are these Iraqi patriots eager to water their tree? Ahmad Chalabi? Don't make me laugh.

There are Iraqi Kurds ready to die for their freedom - their freedom to get the heck out of Iraq, that is. But among the Iraqi Arabs there are no significant number ready to do so. And without them it is inconceivable that Iraq will be free, democratic or stable. There will always be thugs. Someone has to keep them from power. If Iraqis won't do it, it'll have to be us. Forever.

Okay, maybe not forever. Maybe only as long as we were in the Philippines. Or maybe longer; while Iraq is more educated and has a larger middle class than the Philippines did in 1898, the political context is much more difficult now than it was then, and Iraq is more durably divided than the Philippines was.

I do not blame the Administration in principle for getting us into this war. The opponents of the war like to say that it was unnecessary. In the wake of the WMD fiasco, that's certainly a defensible position, though I think the war itself is still eminently justifiable, an argument I've made many times and don't need to reiterate again (well, not now anyhow). But it's also not a wholly germane argument. Even if the nation-building exercise were going well (which it isn't), if the war was unjustified by prudence or moral obligation then it would remain unjustified. It would be a lucky accident, not a just war. And even as the nation-building exercise going south, that doesn't directly refute the reasons for going to war. If those reasons were good then, they should be good now - maybe not good enough to justify the cost, but they should still weigh on their side of the ledger.

Here's my question for the anti-war right in a nutshell: what if we'd gone to war after Iraq tried to assassinate President Bush? Or if Laura Mylroie had been right about Iraqi connections to the first World Trade Center bombing, which would certainly have not only justified but demanded war as a response? What if President Clinton had gone to the mat, as many thought he should have, in 1998, and made war on Iraq after Saddam threw out the weapons inspectors? Does anyone think that we'd be having a cake-walk nationbuilding in these circumstances? Does anyone think that fear of guerilla war, or the costs and burdens of occupation, should have deterred us from war if war truly was necessary?

If not, then we have to answer the question of how to win the post-war in Iraq - and places like Iraq - separately from the way we have to debate whether the war was justified or not. The latter is a good and important argument to have, but it is driven by the former only to the extent that part of the justification of war is always a cost-benefit analysis, and the worse and more expensive the occupation is, the more than weighs on the cost side of the equation.

No, what I blame the Administration for is for believing all the garbage they fed themselves about the glorious potential for democracy in Iraq. The only thing - the only thing - Iraq had going for it as a test case for this new theory of bringing democracy at the point of a bayonet is that we had ample justification for pointing the bayonet at them. In pretty much every other way, Iraq was a lousy candidate. All this was clear pre-war, and even some supporters of the war - myself, for instance - pointed out these problems, and worried about them. (And I wasn't entirely alone: Stanley Kurtz was another worrier-but-supporter, and I'll think of others with a little time.) But it has become obvious post-war that the war's most prominent supporters, inside the Administration and in its "amen corner" were wilfully blind to the potential for trouble, even catastrophe. I didn't pay a lot of attention to Ahmad Chalabi before 2002, but as soon as I started to pay attention to him it was obvious he was a charlatan. Why was he ever given the time of day, much less treated as the most trusted confidant and the most reliable source by those who did the most to advocate and plan this war?

We planned for victory, assured that we would be met with garlands of flowers. This was foolish unto madness from the beginning, and our boys are paying for that folly now. Someone in this Administration must pay for that. Someone must, and publicly, if we are to have confidence that this Administration can learn from its mistakes, something I cannot in good conscience believe at this point.

We have not lost Iraq. And we cannot afford to lose Iraq. But we cannot get out of Iraq - not for a long, long time. This is not just about will, though we will need the will to see this through. But to the extent it is about will, we will only muster the will if we believe there is a way. Expressions of confidence will not inspire confidence. This Administration cannot continue to simply redouble its efforts and hope for good news. We need some signs of intelligence, some signs that the bubble can be pierced, and facts let in. Iraq cannot be a faith-based initiative, and for too long it has been that.

After 9-11, we were told that "we are all Israelis now" and to some extent we were. But now, in a different way, we are all Israelis now. We have beaten an Arab army decisively, yet again. We are fighting an Arab insurgency, and I have total confidence that we can crush it if we will. But our political objectives depend on more than good will and a willingness to use force. They depend on a transformation of an Arab people into something it has never been. I don't know if that can be done. I wish, desperately, that we had talked honestly about this before the war, but we didn't, and so we must do so now. The Israelis, after years of war, are retreating behind a wall, hoping the Arabs on the other side will content themselves with fouling their own nests. Should we retreat from Iraq with the same hope, we will do so in vain.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004
In case anyone's been wondering where I've been, in a word: Passover. Cleaning the end of last week, cooking Sunday and Monday, seder Monday night (for seventeen people). (Tuesday night was seder with friends; I don't think I could've stood cooking for another night.)

Here's the menu from Monday night. Recipes available upon request:

- Shaved fennel and parsley salad with figs marinated in balsamic vinegar (served early in the evening as the "karpas course")
- Sephardi-style charoset (made with fresh and dried dates, golden raisins, walnuts, almonds and pistachios, orange zest, red wine and spices; served with the bitter herb right before the meal)
- Tarragon eggs
- Celery-parsnip soup with green onion matzoh balls
- Codfish with sweet red pepper sauce
- Roast prime rib crusted with roast garlic and horseradish, served with beet relish
- Chicken baked with lemon and herbs served with a pine nut, herb and lemon zest gremolata
- Portobello mushrooms stuffed with a mix of white potatoes and Japanese sweet potatoes, garlic, mushrooms and herbs
- Leeks braised in vinegar and oil, garnished with roasted grape tomatoes
- Roasted vegetable medley
- Sponge cake
- Flourless chocolate brownie cake
- Pears and dried fruit poached in Earl Grey tea

I'm still full.