The Four Corners

Saturday, March 22, 2003
 

ON A LIGHTER NOTE, a national guardsman, who is bound for the Persian Gulf to serve his country in "Operation Iraqi Freedom", has changed his name to "Optimus Prime", in honor of the commander of the Autobots, from the popular children's action cartoon, The Transformers. I think I have a new hero.

Friday, March 21, 2003
 

A less antiquated definition of empire, coming from Houghton Mifflin's yourdictionary.com defines empire as:

1.
a.A political unit having an extensive territory or
comprising a number of territories or nations
and ruled by a single supreme authority.
b.The territory included in such a unit.


This definition strikes me as a reasonable understanding of modern usage of the word "empire". Wouldn't a government that has installed puppet regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq and several other Middle Eastern countries be a "political unit having an extensive territory or comprising a number of territories or nations ruled by a single supreme authority"? Of course it would. Although the exponents of such a plan have vague wishes to disengage from the Middle East once it becomes stable and democratic, what they want in the interim can be described by reasonable, dictionary owning people, as an empire.

On another note, my previous post did not state that I ascribe to "isolationism" (I don't). My point is merely that paleoconservatives are right to raise the spectre of an American empire. It is a prospect that is increasingly being realized, for good (as Max Boot would have it) or ill.

 

I knew that Steve was against the current military actions being taken in Iraq. I did not know that he supports a largely isolationist U.S. foreign policy. The point of my post was clearly not to side with the neo-conservatives: on the issue of the war in Iraq, I am quite in line with the paleoconservatives, but simply for different reasons. The fear of the United States taking a greater role in world affairs not directly related to its national security, which can certainly be argued with respect to Iraq given Blix's reports that provide no clear-cut evidence that Iraq is a direct threat to the United States or any nation, for that matter, is a fear that both liberals and conservatives can share. I completely agree that the Bush administration is hell-bent on recreating the Middle East according to its own vision of democratization and regime change, but the morality of doing so is what is at the true heart of the foreign policy debate, not calls for categorical amoral isolationism.

The fear that the United States is starting on the road toward "global hegemony," a "new world order," etc. that justifies a comparison with the British empire, on the other hand, is a positively silly idea. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I managed to find a nice definition of "empire" as the word really is used: "The dominion of an emperor; the territory or countries under the jurisdiction and dominion of an emperor (rarely of a king), usually of greater extent than a kingdom, always comprising a variety in the nationality of, or the forms of administration in, constituent and subordinate portions; as, the Austrian empire." Steve needs to brush up on his history: the British empire itself lasted almost 200 years, consisting of legitimate control of vast territories extending over every hemisphere: here's a little map in case you wanted to know exactly what territories they controlled at the height of the empire, during the Victorian period (roughly 1860-1920). The State Department has made it clear that merely intends to assist in the democratization process in Iraq until the nation, which has been mired in dictatorship virtually since its inception by the British, is capable of standing on its own two feet. Whether or not the United States has a right to invade Iraq and initiate a Middle Eastern regime change in this particular instance is what is truly the issue: clouding the debate with useless historical analogies and vituperative words such as "imperialism" doesn't do anyone any good.

 

Our own columnist Anthony suggests that the paleoconservative fear of American empire is a red herring. Neoconservative Max Boot disagrees. In fact, Boot explicitly lauds the notion of an American empire, even suggesting that the "American empire has something to learn from its British predecessor". Nor is Boot alone. Consider, for example, Norman Podhoretz' claim that regime change ought to be the "sine qua non" of US policy throughout the (arab) Middle East. Though Podhoretz' column is not available online, (former Reagan economist) Paul Craig Roberts' response hits the nail on the head. What neocons like Podhoretz, Boot, Frum, Perle, Wolfowitz, Kagan and Kristol want is regime change throughout the Middle East. Podhoretz calls it "World War IV" and Kristol and Kagan call it "benevolent global hegemony". But it is, in fact, empire, as that word is conventionally understood. Whereas this lunatic cabal is currently driving American foreign policy, the paleoconservative fear of empire has become highly relevant.

 

THE GUARDIAN REPORTS that four CNN journalists have been kicked out of Iraq for being "tools of propaganda." It's good to know the Iraqi foreign ministry is taking care of what's important at the moment. With this opening for fresh meat, we are pleased to announce that we'll be sending in Dave to blog minute-by-minute for us on the front lines, armed with only a gas mask and a laptop.

 

I know you don't believe me, but I really would love to stop attacking Bush and Congressional Republicans. If there is ever something I agree with them on, I try to highlight it, like going after Saddam. But unfortunately, they seem to love and act in Orwellian thinking.

War is peace. Spend more now to constrain spending later. By going outside the U.N. we are obeying U.N. resolutions. Or so the logic goes. At about 3 AM, Majority Leader Tom Delay of Sugarland, TX and his buddies rammed through a ten-year budget that made room for the gigantic tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans without allocating or even speculating on how much the war will cost.

I am not against these tax cuts because I believe in "Class Warfare." Rather, I am against them because they serve no purpose other than to reward Bush-supporters. That is they will not help the economy. Why? Because the richer you are, the less likely you are going to blow your tax rebate or any more money you get as a result of lower taxes. The U.S. economy is not driven by investments in say, the stock market or bonds as the rich would "spend" their new money, but by consumption or spending. I am all for tax cuts when they have a simulative effect, like say a tax cut on payroll taxes. This regressive tax, if suspended, result in more take-home pay for more workers and thus more spending on all the junk that makes our economy go.

But even if the tax cuts Bush proposed were simulative, I still feel they should wait. Why? Because, if you haven't been living in a cave in Nevada, there's a war (or two) on! No time in the history of mankind as a government reduced taxes during conflict. In fact, they have raised them. Ever wonder where the income tax came from? The Civil War (thanks Rebs). Roosevelt, that liberal, raised taxes during WWII as well, in the midst of the Great Depression. And the 1950s didn't turn out that bad economically.

Not that I am suggesting we raise taxes, but rather, why not only spend what we can afford? Constrain all spending except for maybe homeland security, education, and military spending (since the Leave No Child Behind Act asks states to do a lot more these days). That way, we don't plunge into an even bigger deficit that leaves the burden on future generations and bankrupts social security and medicare even sooner.

By the way, I don't necessary buy into the argument that we must spend more and more on homeland security. More money isn't the answer, but more leadership. State and local authorities don't get any information or clue what they are supposed to be doing or looking out for to help prevent an attack. What's the point of 12 hour shifts then?


 

POLITICAL FOSSILS: With gripping headlines such as, "Valentine's Day Gift Not to Give: Mononucleosis," I rarely go back and read the daily paper of my alma mater, but when I do I usually try to catch the latest rhetoric of Stephen Beale, Brown's most outspoken conservative pundit, whom I knew briefly while still in college. Love him or hate him, Beale, whose work we will almost surely see gracing the pages of the National Review in a few years, is by far the best of the Herald's crop of far more left-leaning columnists, and his pieces are the clearest, most ideologically consistent expostulations of what could be called legitimate conservative thinking. I'm linking to his most recent piece here because it provides a really good starting point for understanding the real debate surrounding the United States' involvement in Iraq.

Beale is a self-proclaimed "paleoconservative," a term he and others like him use to distinguish themselves from the "neocons" like Bush and most of the war hawks in the administration. Like his hero, Pat Buchanan, Beale argues forcefully against any involvement in Iraq or elsewhere, taking a purely isolationist approach to foreign policy (which includes an utter disregard for the concept of free trade) on the grounds of absolute state sovereignty. Apart from using numerous historical references to ostentatiously remind us that he's a classics major, Beale does a pretty good job of explaining why genuine conservatives oppose the war.

What separates Beale and Buchanan from every other war dove, however, is that their justification for non-involvement in Iraq is heavily misguided. As expected, Beale uses the term isolationists love to sprinkle on their ideas like salt on popcorn: empire. Paleoconservatives like Beale are vastly afraid of the United States putting its hands in too many foreign cookie jars, arguing that when the Bushies are done with Iraq, they'll only further the United States' tenure as global policeman, "cycl[ing] through other axis of evil nations, including Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon."

The idea, of course, is preposterous: the United States has no intentions of turning from superpower to global mommy, spanking other nations with heavy artillery and 2,000-lb bombs whenever we think they're acting up, and we are far from a nation on which the sun never sets. Even Virginia Postrel, an editor at Reason, points out the absurdity of the United States as an empire: "A 21st-century representative democracy with a large regulatory bureaucracy and many overseas involvements may be problematic. But it isn't an 'empire' unless that term just means 'a government I don't like.'"

The real problem with this war is based on an argument coming from the Left, not the Right: U.S. involvement in Iraq is a flawed foreign policy decision because military action is, for the first time in our nation's modern history, a preemptive, aggressive attempt to neutralize a potential deadly power, as opposed to a defensive stance taken to ensure national (or even international, which becomes national) security. Buchananites are pumping their fists at the Bush administration for having any involvement at all in the Middle East, while liberals are far more concerned with the precedent war sets in terms of deciding when and where to exert our military strength with no regard for the fingers being wagged by international institutions. In 1991, Iraq was the aggressor, and our involvement in the Gulf could have been justified as a moral call to arms, rushing to the aid of the tinier, more helpless nations of the world. In 2003, without any sort of legitimate proof of Saddam's intentions to inflict whatever weapons of mass destruction he may have on the rest of the world, the United States has become the aggressor. And it is the attempts of the Bush administration to dress the conflict up as the former that should really make us worry.

 

While I am far and away the least economically knowledgeable among our contributors, I thought that the jump in CPI is due largely to crude oil prices, correct?

Despite the fact that Saddam Hussein has decided to set fire to dozens of his oil wells, U.S. and British forces just took control of more fields near the important port city of Basra in southern Iraq, causing oil prices to sink from what would appear to be artificial highs.

I guess since Bush just lost the ANWR vote in the Senate 52-48 (thanks to 8 Republican Senators), he had to make up for the loss of potential oil that the U.S. controls.

On a separate note, congrats to the troops in southern Iraq and those who took over the western airfields, but I am looking forward to a northern front, with or without Turkish help. I would prefer we avoid the Turks for the primary reason that their human rights record with their Kurdish populations is seconded only by Iraq in terms of how deplorable it is.

Better to make nice with Kurds and work with them like we did with bribable Afghans to rout Hussein and control the oil in Northern Iraq as well. From the pictures I was seeing on CNN this morning, spring is in full bloom up in "Kurdistan" but I don't think I will be vacationing in that imaginary land anytime soon. Nevertheless, our troops should be there and making a move on Kirkuk, to make sure the Kurds don't get into a bloody battle of annexation between the PUK, KDP, and Republican Guard.


 

OOPS, LOOKS like the Bush tax cut is even bigger than I originally thought: as of this morning, we've paved the way for a whopping $726 billion cut, part of a $2.2 trillion budget. How much of that accounts for non-peacetime military expenditures (i.e., our current Iraqi endeavors)? A much simpler number: $0.

 

Thus far, a presidentiall election debacle, a stubborn recession, the most devastating foreign attack on American soil since the War of 1812, the collapse of the mideast peace process,and a bizarre, ideologically driven war against Iraq have not quite been enough to tarnish the first term of America's King George II. But, fear not! There are more crises to come--including, but not limited to (drumroll, please)--stagflation.

Yes, you heard that correctly. The Department of Labor has announced that, in February, Food and energy prices led a massive 0.6 percent (7.4% annualized) surge in the CPI. Meanwhile, the federal government racks up $400 billion dollar deficits and Alan Greenspan pushes the limits of monetary stimulation. Yet, despite all of this stimulus, umemployment keeps rising! It seems that America has a classic, 1970s style supply shock in its hands. That means George can spend as much as he wants, and Alan can cut interest rates as low as he wants; but unemployment and rising prices is all they'll get.

Thursday, March 20, 2003
 

The war "started" last night. I don't know about you, but I was disappointed. I know it sounds a tad sadistic, but I was really hoping to see some booms and action. It seems like the U.S. war strategy could be summed up as "Pych! Pych! Double pych!"

First, Bush pretends to go to bed. We all know he was too excited to go to sleep, even if it was past his nine o'clock bedtime. And then the big Oval Office speech...another non-plused effort, more scary than encouraging, if you ask me. I bet Bush said to his buddies, "Didn't we make them sweat for two hours?" Only to "shock and awe" them by droping like three "decapitation" bombs on "a target of interest" whatever the hell that means. Could we have more people on TV that sound like Gen. Clark?

Sure I am biased, but can anyone who saw him last night say he wasn't clear and helpful in his analysis? No more military speak. And could we please tell Senator John McCain to stop prostituting himself out to any network that will carry his mug? We all know Senators love being on TV, and McCain especially so, but come on this was embarrassing. I mean, I would have voted for the guy over Gore, but have you no same Senator?

Also, why is the U.S. military taunting the Iraqi military so much? Just get it over with already. This is the equivalent of "Iron" Mike Tyson dancing around Screech for ten rounds...knock him out already, Mike! But whatever you do, don't bite off part of an ear or threaten to eat his children and then praise Allah.


Wednesday, March 19, 2003
 

While the U.S. braces for a terrorist attack to interests abroad (read Indonesia) and domestic (read Washington, New York, and Los Angeles), some Idiot tobacco farmer from North Carolina has decided it his patriotic duty to make an ass of himself. He and his tractor are now parked in a pond near the reflecting pool on the National Mall in D.C.

Instead of being able to prepare for terrorists, authorities have shown themselves unable to deal with this nincompoop. At least it gives commuters something else to whine about and to distract them from the imminent danger we face from Muslim extremists.

All this makes me sleep well knowing that I don't work near all the biggest terrorist targets in the world...oops never mind. Pass the duct tape as we go to code Magenta.

Yet another 2004 White House candidate took Bush to task for leaving states holding the open bag when it comes to Homeland Security. Senator John Kerry argued that we should enlist the National Guard and AmeriCorps to defend the nation and overhaul the domestic intelligence system, much like Senator John Edwards has proposed. The idea is akin to President Clinton's COPS program but for terrorism instead of just normal crime.

Last time I checked, Republicans were for state's rights. Why are all the president's men trying to undermine Oregon's assisted suicide law? Or California's Clean Air Laws? Or its Medical Marijuana Laws? And how come states aren't being helped with Homeland Security, Medicaid, Leave No Child Behind, or virtually any other of the many unfunded mandates the Bush Administration has proposed and passed? I guess states have the right to twist in the win, unless of course, their governor's name is Bush.


 

BEATING THE DRUMS: Ok, so we're going to war. Despite the fact that every major U.S. news source, from Fox to CNN, has treated the conflict in Iraq as a fait accompli since at least December, the initiation of hostilities is all but official, save Saddam's last-minute attempt to book a flight to St. Helena. Exactly what sort of timescale are we looking at for this war? Nobody knows, of course, but Krugman gives us the numbers: the most recent U.S. military budget stands around $400 billion, with Iraq's a paltry $1.4 billion. Saddam and Son can hold their ground rhetorically for the next day or so, but the fact remains that we have what Gen. Tommy Franks calls "the military capacity" to get the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible, with minimum bloodshed to both sides.

This all sounds good and well, even for those vehemently opposed to the war. Now that we have no choice but to sit back and watch Baghdad get pummeled, we might as well wax patriotic and cheer for a speedy resolution. Unfortunately, just like lunch, there's no free military victory.

According to today's Washington Post, the 1991 Gulf War cost an estimated $80 billion (most of which was paid by our allies), a conflict that lasted, ironically, well longer than we expect the impending one to transpire. Based on that projection, the 2003 Gulf War (do we actually have a name for this one yet? Probably by Sunday...) could require at least $62.5 billion in the initial months alone. And again, we don't know how long this will take.

Yale economist William Nordhaus' extended projections from December of the overall costs of the war, furthermore, total a staggering $1.9 trillion, regardless of whether or not we follow the State department's reconstruction plan of extended military occupation or the Pentagon's proposal for greater Iraqi autonomy in a post-Saddam regime, with the United States merely an outside consultant. On top of this, we expect a $674 billion tax cut, as outlined in the most recent State of the Union address, to comport nicely with all of these projections. Unless Bush's calculator is stuck in scientific notation mode, I don't see how this could possibly work. The result? A budget deficit in the trillions for at least another decade, and sky-high interest rates to boot. Does anyone have a TI-83 on hand?


Tuesday, March 18, 2003
 

OK this is the first (and probably last) time I will link directly to the Bush White House, so enjoy it: Bush's Address last night gave him and his family only 48 hours to get outa Dodge. After that, the world's Sheriff will go get him with everything we've got. I guess now that Hussein has dismissed that offer, we could go to war at any moment. In all likelihood, the war is set for primetime Wednesday night.

So I guess NCAA will have to wait a week or so. In the meantime, we can all mourn the passing of the multilateral international institutionalism that was U.S. policy since 1945 and dread the coming of neo-con dream of ad-hoc "coalitions of the willing" rather than, oh say ALLIES.

Despite the fact that the U.S. lived in great peace and prosperity for nearly 60 years under this international system seems to be of little consequence to the likes of Perle, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, who wouldn't mind seeing the British go away either.

While I am all for state sovereignty and a state's unalienable right to defend itself, neither are under attack by these international institutions, or Iraq for that matter . Sure, Iraq poses a potential threat to the U.S.'s gas-guzzling way of life and safety via WMD, the potential has yet to be realized and we did have that menace in a box...as much as I would have liked him to go, it wasn't the highest on my priority list.

By contrast, people in North Korea are starving now and have been suffering under the Kim's reign of terror for over half a century. Just look at how successful South Korea is to see what North Korea could have been. Oh and by the way, they actually have a few Nuclear weapons now, and are capable of taking out friends, South Koreans and Japanese.

Nevertheless, lets take one at a time and rally around our commander-in-chief during this time of war. Here's to hoping that he does a better job at managing the war and securing the long-term peace (and democracy) in Iraq that he failed to do diplomatically or in Afghanistan.


Monday, March 17, 2003
 

First off, I hope all my readers (all 3 of you) had a a happy St. Patrick's Day weekend.

Now, on to a more serious note, and something we have been expecting more or less since August: Bush announcing a international-body-endorsement-free war against Iraq. I am all for getting rid of all these endorsements, but couldn't we start with Pennzoil at the Half?

Believe it or not, but it didn't have to be this way. Back when they rightly wanted to rid the world of Saddam, they could have made a different case from the beginning. Instead of focusing on the imagined Al-Qaeda connection, the Bushies should have named all the U.N. resolutions and parts of their peace treaty that Hussein has violated since 1991, a substantial list. Add on top of that its horrible human rights record dating back to the time the Ba'th party seized control of Iraq, and you have got a case that even France can't deny.

Instead, we got grumblings from VP Cheney that inspectors don't work, immediately undermining a route through the U.N. even after Bush's September 12th speech. Our Allies and enemies rightly felt that Bush was half-heartedly going along with the U.N., hoping to get an eventual rubber stamp for war and not really trying to build a coalition or avert war. In fact, why was a vote in the Congress taken in October, instead of January or February, when negotiations at a second resolution had failed? Oh that's right, Bush wanted Republicans to win in November.

Meanwhile, our thinly veiled threats to Mexico for their second thoughts on the second resolution played right into France's argument that the U.S. is a big super power bully rather than a leader among allies.

But that is just the attitude and approach of the Bush administration: all smirk and no substance. Shortly after September 11, 2001, NATO for the first time in its history evoked article 5 declaring that the attack on America was an attack on all member nations. But instead of using this to their advantage to quickly remove Al-Qaeda cells from Europe, Turkey, and of course Afghanistan, the Bushies chose to use only nominal help from the UK? Why? Because it would be inconvenient to work closely with others and have group decision-making and, more importantly, that's what Clinton would have done.

As General Wesley K. Clark points out, this would have made peacekeeping in Afghanistan much easier and cheaper, as well as the war against Iraq. But of course, this Administration, which claims to think long term, was very short sighted.

The result? Bush will be pre-empting not only Iraq, but Everybody Loves Raymond, not to mention the first (and best) round of the NCAA tournament. What does Bush have against CBS? I guess they didn't donate as much money to the Republican party as the duct-tape lobby.