Archives: 07/2006

If We Bomb Them, They’ll Like Us?

One hesitates to make it all Bill Kristol, all the time around here, but if he keeps offering up fodder of this quality, our hand is going to be forced.

Click here to watch Kristol defend his idea to start a war with Iran by deploying the logic that

the Iranian people dislike their regime. I think they would be — the right use of targeted military force — but especially if political pressure before we use military force — could cause them to reconsider whether they really want to have this regime in power. There are even moderates — they are not wonderful people — but people in the government itself who are probably nervous about Ahmadinejad’s recklessness.

Right, so once the bombs start dropping on Iran’s nuclear facilities — some of which are buried deep beneath civilian population centers — the people of Iran will — under bombardment — overthrow the regime for us!

This notwithstanding the fact that even Iranian liberal intellectuals like Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi have warned that Iranians “will defend our country till the last drop of blood.”

This notwithstanding the fact that a recent poll [.pdf] indicates that more than 27 percent of Iranians say that “developing an arsenal of nuclear weapons for defense” should be “the most important long-term goal for the Iranian government.”

And this notwithstanding the whole history of the “rally ‘round the flag effect,” whereby governments facing military crises gain the support of previously conflicted factions in the name of national preservation. Slobodan Milosevic’s popularity ticked markedly upward after NATO bombs started dropping on Serbs, to use just one example.

The American public was told before the Iraq war how easy it would be. Kristol’s fellow neoconservatives provided endless, just-so explanations for a sort of Rube Goldberg-style regime change where all we needed to do was set the process in motion (remember “shock and awe”?) and the miracle of democratic revolution would take off on its own. We can see where that’s gotten us in Iraq.

For Kristol to proffer the notion — with a straight face — that bombing a foreign country is the way for us to get its citizens to overthrow their government is nothing short of astonishing. The neocons have reached a new, dark low in terms of intellectual integrity.

Thanks to Eric Martin for the link.

Reality Sets In on Capitol Hill … Finally

A number of Republicans on Capitol Hill have come forward in recent days with a new “spin” on events in Iraq, reports the Washington Post:

Faced with almost daily reports of sectarian carnage in Iraq, congressional Republicans are shifting their message on the war from speaking optimistically of progress to acknowledging the difficulty of the mission and pointing up mistakes in planning and execution.

Rep. Christopher Shays (Conn.) is using his House Government Reform subcommittee on national security to vent criticism of the White House’s war strategy and new estimates of the monetary cost of the war. Rep. Gil Gutknecht (Minn.), once a strong supporter of the war, returned from Iraq this week declaring that conditions in Baghdad were far worse “than we’d been led to believe” and urging that troop withdrawals begin immediately.

The Post’s Jonathan Weisman and Anushka Asthana write, “Republican lawmakers acknowledge that it is no longer tenable to say the news media are ignoring the good news in Iraq and painting an unfair picture of the war.”

Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (N.C.) likened the situation in Iraq to the Bush adminstration’s initial response to Hurricane Katrina. In both instances, the White House/GOP spin was, and is, so at odds with what Americans see on television every day that the party’s credibility on a host of issues is called into question. “I still hear about that,” McHenry told the Post. “We can’t look like we won’t face reality.”

Gutknecht revised his version of reality after his most recent trip to Iraq. He was a leading opponent of a timeline for withdrawal in congressional debate last month, at one point urging, nay chastising, his colleagues, “Members, now is not the time to go wobbly.”

He appears to have come full-circle. “I guess I didn’t understand the situation,” he conceded, and he has concluded: “Essentially what the White House is saying is ‘Stay the course, stay the course.’ I don’t think that course is politically sustainable.” He therefore now supports a partial troop withdrawal on the grounds that it would “send a clear message to the Iraqis that the next step is up to you.”

“If we don’t take the training wheels off,” he went on to say, ”we will be in the same place in six months that we’re in today.”

Amen.

(Gutknecht’s new position is similar to that articulated by Cato scholars for some time. To see the full extent of Cato’s work on the subject, visit our Iraq page.)

The six House Republicans who voted against the authorization to use force against Iraq in October 2002 — Ron Paul (Tex.), Jim Leach (Iowa), John Hostettler (Ind.), Connie Morella (Md.), Amo Houghton (N.Y.), and John Duncan (Tenn.) — should wear their wisdom and foresight as a badge of honor. All other Republicans, and the remaining Democrats who voted for the war and have not yet admitted their error, can recover a shred of respectability by making an intellectual and personal journey similar to that of Shays, Gutknecht, McHenry, Jim Gerlach (Pa.), and others.

Americans can grouse, “What took you so long?”, but the more constructive response is “Thank you for coming to your senses.”

Healthy Interstate Commerce

The judge who threw out Maryland’s Wal-Mart law (which would have required large employers to dedicate at least 8 percent of its Maryland employee compensation to health care benefits) apparently did so on interstate commerce grounds:

In yesterday’s decision, Judge J. Frederick Motz of Federal District Court ruled that the Maryland law, which was overwhelmingly passed by the Democrat-controlled state legislature in January, was pre-empted by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or Erisa.

The act sets out a national standard for company benefit plans, replacing what would otherwise be a patchwork of state regulations.

The law “violates Erisa’s fundamental purpose of permitting multistate employers to maintain nationwide health and welfare plans, providing uniform nationwide benefits and permitting uniform national administration,” he wrote in the decision.

Maybe that same judge should throw out state health insurance mandates. They have the effect of making it impossible for private health insurance companies to engage in interstate commerce. Once upon a time, the right to engage in interstate commerce free of state regulation was something in the Constitution — it did not merely depend on Erisa.

Wal-Mart Wins

Yesterday, a federal district court threw out a Maryland law requiring Wal-Mart to dedicate at least 8 percent of its employee compensation in that state to health care for its Maryland workers. The law was backed chiefly by the AFL-CIO, which has been attempting to get similar laws passed in 33 other states. Those efforts are now likely dead.

This will, no doubt, come as a disappointment to the National Education Association (NEA), which has had an anti-Wal-Mart campaign since last summer. “Huh,” you say? “What does Wal-Mart have to do with public education?” Well, all those NEA officials have to occupy themselves somehow during slow nights at the casino, or while riding around Hawaii in limousines.

No Consensus

The Wall Street Journal reports that “as gas prices again approach $3 a gallon, consumers are buying new vehicles that are faster and heavier than ever,” much to the annoyance of the EPA. Sometimes, no matter how much we hector and even tax and regulate them, the masses just persist in doing what they want to do in defiance of elite opinion. The story reminded me of several other stories that I wrote up recently at the Guardian blog:

A weekend article in the FT comes with this teaser: “A generation ago, Shin Dong-jin was trying to stop South Korean women from having babies. Now his planned parenthood foundation has the opposite problem–there aren’t enough babies being born. He must persuade the country to go forth and multiply.”

Apparently Shin Dong-jin is just the only person in South Korea who knows, at any given time, how many children people should have. But people make their own decisions.

The FT piece reminded me of some other recent articles about how stubborn people just won’t do what the planners want. A front-page headline in the Washington Post read: “Despite planners’ visions, outer suburbs lead in new hiring.” I was particularly struck by the lead:

As a consensus builds that the Washington region needs to concentrate job growth, there are signs that the exact opposite is happening.

Over the past five years, the number of new jobs in the region’s outer suburbs exceeded those created in the District and inner suburbs such as Fairfax and Montgomery counties … contradicting planners’ “smart growth” visions of communities where people live, work and play without having to drive long distances.

Maybe if tens - hundreds - of thousands of people aren’t abiding by the “consensus,” there is no consensus: there is just a bunch of government-funded planners attending conferences and deciding where people ought to live. It’s like, “Our community doesn’t want Wal-Mart.” Hey, if the community really doesn’t Wal-Mart, then a Wal-Mart store will fail. What that sentence means is: “Some organised interests in our community don’t want Wal-Mart here because we know our neighbours will shop there (and so will we).”

Similarly, another Post story reported that the Ford motor company has dropped a pledge to build 250,000 gas-electric hybrid cars per year by the end of the decade. Environmentalists accused the company of backpedalling: it seems not many people want to buy hybrid cars - even though the planners want them to.

Again and again, individuals insist on making their own decisions rather than conforming to planners’ visions and purported consensuses.

Ivory Tower Blueprint, Take Two

On Monday, the U.S. Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education released the second draft of what will ultimately become a final report, most likely sometime in September. Unfortunately, all the authors seemed to do between draft one and draft two is tone down some of their criticisms of colleges and universities—apparently, ivory tower denizens are a sensitive lot—while keeping in most of their bigger-government proposals, such as creating a “national strategy” for higher education and, of course, spending a lot more taxpayer cash.

Without question, there are going to have to be major changes between draft two and draft three to make the commission’s final report even the least bit palatable. Unfortunately, based on what we’ve seen so far, the best we can probably hope for is the same rat poison, with just a little bit more sugar sprinkled on top.

More on Military Tribunals and the Hamdan Ruling

For those interested in the Hamdan ruling and its impact on the law, check out my online debate (pdf) with John Baker, who teaches law at Louisiana State University. The Federalist Society just posted this debate on its website and it is framed in its popular “Five Questions” format, which means I throw five questions at Prof. Baker and vice versa. We then make claims and counterclaims about whether the question is actually relevant. True, this exchange does get pretty legalistic, but that sometimes happens when you’re asked legal questions about judicial rulings.