March 19, 2013

Tenth Anniversay of the War in Iraq: History will judge George Bush a Failure.

After the American Century

Ten years after the invasion of Iraq, it should be obvious that President George Bush made an enormous blunder. Thousands of American soldiers died, but far more than ten people from Iraq died for every American who perished.  The country is struggling with sectarian and ethnic divisions, and its enormous oil wealth has yet to lift it out of economic instability. The progress is slow, if, indeed, there is any progress.

There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Bush and the Republicans insisted there were. They were wrong. Did they lie, or were they incompetent?

Democracy did not blossom in Iraq once their dictator was removed. Bush and the Republicans, particularly the neo-conservatives, insisted that democracy would emerge out of the war. They were wrong.

Millions of Americans protested.  In February, 2003, during the buildup to the War, I marched twice against it, once in Cleveland and again in San Francisco. In each case, I had been invited to give a lecture, and happened to be in town when the marches took place. There were many such protests all across the US, including Boston, New York, Washington, Chicago, and also small cities such as South Bend, Indiana. We were ignored at the time, but we were right.

Protest in Manhattan Against the Iraq War, 2006

The claim was that the Americans would win a quick victory and that the occupation would not require too many troops. In fact, more people died after the war was officially declared to be over than during the war itself, and a large number of troops were needed for most of the last decade.

The cost of the war in Iraq was not financed by tax increases. Instead, Bush and the Republicans engaged in a form of fantasy economics, assuming that budget cuts would stimulate the economy so much that deficits would decline. Instead, US debt ballooned. At its worst, the Iraq War and occupation was costing $1 billion every day. Bush and the Republicans were wrong. They squandered money that they did not have.

History will not be kind to George Bush, nor should it be. Either he lied or he was misled about why the US went into the War. In judgement, he failed. In execution, he failed. The war was waged for the wrong reasons, and the peace was lost through further incompetence, including torture of prisoners, hiring corrupt contractors, and on and on.

Bush thought he was projecting American power, but instead he projected insensitivity, arrogance, and incompetence. His war caused enormous suffering; its full consequences are still unfolding. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq probably made better relations with Iran impossible and made it easier for the hardline fundamentalists there to remain in power. The Kurds became semi-autonomous in eastern Iraq, but this created problems for Syria and Turkey, which have Kurdish minorities. Nationalism and religious fundamentalism are on the whole stronger in the region, while all the economies are weaker, except for those on the Arabian peninsula, with their oil wealth. If there is a silver lining emerging from the clouds of war, it is hard to see.

March 10, 2013

The Sequester and the Congress Are a Disgrace

After the American Century                                                                                                                                                      

The current deadlock in Washington is the result of a failed political process. In particular, the United States Senate has created rules that prevent it from getting anything done. The House is little better. The public watches with a mixture of amusement, anger, and despair. The poll ratings for Congress are so low one might think the United States had a legislature made up of appointed political hacks. Could intelligent and dedicated politicians really produce anything as inane as the Sequester?

Neither Americans nor the rest of the world can respect such legislative incompetence. A Chinese cartoonist depicted the situation this way in The China Daily:

In Britain, The Economist concluded, "The rather camp-themed scenario in which Congress tries to force itself into behaving with the spectre of whips and cattle prods ends with the US economy handcuffed to the bed and no immediate prospect of escape."  The Economist makes the spectacle sound a bit kinky, but I find it just sad. What investor or voter can be inspired by such intransigence and incompetence? The economy is improving, and the unemployment rate is falling, but the sequester threatens to undermine the recovery. European nations have tried austerity measures based on analysis, perhaps mistaken analysis, but some thought went into it, and they have failed. The US now has embraced mindless, robotic austerity measures, which one assumes are certain to fail, though the American economy is actually doing better than it should, under the circumstances.

The automatic across the board cutbacks that are imposed by the Sequester Agreement are literally mindless. Rather than take a hard look at Federal spending, the cutbacks make no distinction between programs that are working and useful, those that are pork, or those that have outlived their original purpose. Uniform cuts, in the end do not make any sense. Should the government build half an aircraft carrier or half a fighter plane? Should school children get lunch some days but not others? To put it another way: are all the things the government does of equal value? Are all of them of equal urgency? Do all of them stimulate job creation to the same degree? Do all of the government's programs have an equally beneficial effect on the environment? Clearly the answer to all of these questions is "NO."  Some programs create jobs and have a multiplier effect, and others retard economic growth. Some prevent pollution, others create it.  

The job of the legislature is to make intelligent choices between programs. Which ones should be funded, and to what extent? But Congress is in dereliction of its duty. It has ceased to function intelligently. It avoids choices. It does not engage in intelligent debate followed by compromise. It has abdicated responsibility and allowed uniform, mindless cuts in every program. 
The current US Congress is a disgrace.