Friday, September 13, 2002
Lucky me, I hit the trifecta: I used to read The New York Times editorial pages for laughs. Now I read them because, well, someone has to do it. The sad thing is, the Times' op-ed pages are the most monolithic of any American newspaper outside the New York Post or The Washington Times.
In today's New York Times we are treated to a trio of disappointing liberal thought in the wake of President Bush's speech yesterday before the United Nations.
First, Mr. Nicholas Kristof takes Bush to task because "he cited no evidence of any immediate threat" from Iraq.
I'll walk Kristof through a little not implausible scenario.
1. Al Qaeda hates Americans.
2. Saddam Hussein hates Americans.
3. Saddam Hussein makes/acquires a backpack nuke.
4. Saddam Hussein gives the backpack nuke to Al Qaeda operatives.
5. Pundits begin drawing comparisons between Hiroshima and what happened yesterday in New York City.
Kristof goes on to compare how Bush is handling the threat from Iraq with how JFK handled the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Then Kristof makes a stupid statement that causes me to wonder what rock he's been sitting under.
Graham Allison, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government who has written a book about the missile crisis, noted that Kennedy had stipulated that the missiles absolutely had to be removed from Cuba. But Kennedy turned first to diplomacy and a blockade. He offered the Russians a graceful exit and thus saved lives and avoided a dangerous spin into the unknown.
Today as well, why shouldn't war be a last resort instead of the first tool that President Bush grabs off the shelf?
Mr. Kristof, we've had economic sanctions against Iraq for more than a decade. It hasn't worked.
Mr. Kristof, we've had no-fly zones over Iraq to prevent him from killing his people. It hasn't worked.
Mr. Kristof, we've had the oil-for-food program in order to prevent the Iraqi people from starving, but Saddam has taken that money and used it to buy arms and build places. It hasn't worked.
Mr. Kristof, we've had weapons inspectors held at the front door while Saddam's men took documents out the back door. It hasn't worked.
War is Bush's last resort. Nothing else has worked.
Kristof also has his own requirements for Bush getting his "Stamp of Approval" for invading Iraq.
Before launching a war, Mr. Bush still needs to show two things: first, that the threat is so urgent that letting Iraq fester is even riskier than invading it and occupying it for many years to come; second, that deterrence will no longer be successful in containing Saddam.
How urgent is urgent? Does Saddam have to be one year away from developing a nuke or two? Three? Four?
Second, containing Saddam? Saddam is supporting terrorism -- against Americans. If not Sept. 11 (though the Czechs still say that Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi agent in Prague), then by his support of suicide bombers in Israel -- who kill American citizens.
Our second victim is the erstwhile economic genius, but political neophyte, Paul Krugman.
Krugman starts out where he usually does, with the Bush tax cut.
The shifting rationale for the Bush tax cut - it's about giving back the surplus; no, it's a demand stimulus; no, it's a supply-side policy - should have warned us that this was an obsession in search of a justification.
So, it can't be all three? Can't a tax cut, like a tax increase, have multiple effects? Multiple basis?
But Krugman won't stop with the Bush tax cut -- it's all about the coming war with Iraq.
The shifting rationale for war with Iraq - Saddam Hussein was behind Sept. 11 and the anthrax attacks; no, but he's on the verge of developing nuclear weapons; no, but he's a really evil man (which he is) - has a similar feel.
Is it shifting rationale or an evolving, developing rational. Like as you read a book you discover more and more of the plot. Of course, how you see it depends on the biases you bring to the table. Krugman sees everything that the Bush administration does as the result of some insidious plot.
The idea that war would actually be good for the economy seems like just one more step in this progression. But one must admit that there are times when war has had positive economic effects. In particular, there's no question that World War II pulled the United States out of the Great Depression. And today's U.S. economy, while not in a depression, could certainly use some help; the latest evidence suggests a recovery so slow and uneven that it feels like a continuing recession. So is war the answer?
No: World War II is a very poor model for the economic effects of a new war in the Persian Gulf. On balance, such a war is much more likely to depress than to stimulate our struggling economy.
There is nothing magical about military spending - it provides no more economic stimulus than the same amount spent on, say, cleaning up toxic waste sites.
Don't disagree with you Mr. Krugman. But when 3,000 people have been murdered by terrorists, it's a heck of a lot easier to get military spending than it is cleaning up toxic waste sites.
The reason World War II accomplished what the New Deal could not was simply that war removed the usual inhibitions. Until Pearl Harbor Franklin Roosevelt didn't have the determination or the legislative clout to enact really large programs to stimulate the economy. But war made it not just possible but necessary for the government to spend on a previously inconceivable scale, restoring full employment for the first time since 1929.
Full employment. A good thing? My grandfather told me stories of full employment. The government paid a man whose only job was to bolt in the navigator's table on B-29 bombers. Of course, that only took a few minutes. So the guy was "fully-employed" to put it in and take it out and put it in and take it out ... until the rest of the aircraft was finished and he could leave it in.
By contrast, this time around Congress is eager to spend on domestic projects; if the administration wants to pump money into the economy, all it needs to do is drop its objections to things like drought aid for farmers and new communication gear for firefighters. In other words, if the economy needs a burst of federal spending, neither economics nor politics requires that this burst take the form of a war
OK, this is it -- Krugman is here by barred from ever complaining about the budget deficit ever again. You can't decry the deficit and then say: "Spend, spend, spend!"
And in any case it's not clear how much stimulus war would provide. One assumes that the necessary munitions are already in stock, so there will be no surge in factory orders. There will be spending on peacekeeping - won't there? - but it will be spread over many years.
Assume? Idiot. You think we have the munitions already in stock? Do you remember any reporting about the lack of cruise missiles and it requiring an act of Congress to convert cruise missiles to conventional?
This report from the London Telegraph is more than nine months old, but I can guarantee that these complex weapons can't be turned out like cheap children's toys.
US missile shortage delays Iraq strike
By Sean Rayment
A SHORTAGE of cruise missiles has thrown plans for a full-scale strike on Iraq into disarray.
US strikes against Afghanistan, Sudan and in Kosovo have all but depleted ALCM stocks
America's supply of the air launched version, one of the US air force's most sophisticated and deadly weapons, has become so depleted that military chiefs are pressing Boeing, the manufacturers, to speed up their production.
Even so, the first of the new batch of missiles ordered last year is not expected for months, and it may take longer to rebuild stocks to a level that would make such an attack viable.
Strikes against Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998 and Kosovo two years ago virtually exhausted the US supply. The number of conventional [non-nuclear] air launched cruise missiles left within the inventory is believed to be fewer than 30.
So much for the necessary supplies.
Meanwhile there is the potential economic downside, which may be summed up in one word: oil.
Iraq itself currently supplies so little oil to the world market that wartime disruption of its production would pose little problem. But neither the Arab-Israeli war of 1973 nor the Iranian revolution of 1979 directly affected oil production.
Instead, the indirect political repercussions of conflict were what caused oil prices to surge. This time around, Arab leaders have warned that an invasion of Iraq would open the "gates of hell." That doesn't sound good for the oil market.
These are the same Arab leaders that told us the Arab Street would "rise up" if we attacked the radical Muslim government of Afghanistan. Apparently Krugman trusts these guys more than he does President Bush.
If we can take control of the Iraqi oil fields quickly (and I'm confident that this is part of the war planning based on the environmental havoc Saddam wreaked after withdrawing from Kuwait), and quash Saddam's army with relative speed and quickness, then I doubt there will be a peep from "Arab leaders." Nobody argues with a winner with an aircraft carrier.
What happens then? Well, we open the spigot to cheap oil. The money feeds the Iraqi people
It's worth remembering that each of the oil crises of the 1970's was followed by a severe recession - and that the milder oil price spike before the gulf war was also followed by a recession. Could rising crude prices undermine our weak economic recovery, creating a double-dip recession? Yes.
Krugman's right. A rise in oil prices could undermine our recovery. Which is a good reason to get more oil on the market, whether from Iraq or the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
None of this should deter us from invading Iraq if the administration makes a convincing case that we should do so for security reasons. But it's foolish and dangerous to minimize the potential economic consequences of war, let alone claim that it will be good for the economy.
But another, equally strong argument can be made from Krugman's last sentence by changing only one word.
"But it's foolish and dangerous to minimize the potential economic consequences of war, let alone claim that it will be bad for the economy."
It all depends on your point of view. It's likely we'll find out soon enough whether Krugman's right or wrong.
If he's wrong, don't expect a mea culpa, either.
Which brings us to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
While much of Albright's column is alright. Some of it is pure liberal drivel.
Although the president's speech yesterday was persuasive in many respects, he was neither specific nor compelling in his effort to link Saddam Hussein to other, more urgent threats. As evil as Mr. Hussein is, he is not the reason antiaircraft guns ring the capital, civil liberties are being compromised, a Department of Homeland Defense is being created and the Gettysburg Address again seems directly relevant to our lives.
Civil liberties being compromised? To paraphrase Shakespeare: Givest thou me a break.Albright can complain when Arab Americans are rounded up in camps a la "The Siege."
There is evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing -- which President Clinton did little about. Saddam offers bounties to the families of suicide bombers in the West Bank and the Gaza strip who kill Americans.
Saddam may not be linked to Sept. 11 (but, once again, the Czech's stand by their Atta/Iraq meeting account) in most people's eyes, that doesn't mean that he can be ignored.
In the aftermath of tragedy a year ago, the chief executive told our nation that fighting terrorism would be "the focus of my presidency." That -- not Iraq -- remains the right focus.
Once again, we have a liberal with reading comprehension problems. Bush said "fighting terrorism" would be "the focus of my presidency." He didn't say "Al Qaeda." He didn't say "Osama bin Laden." He said "terrorism." Saddam sponsors terrorism. Saddam is fair game.
During the past four years, Al Qaeda has attacked Americans here at home, in Africa and in the Middle East. We still do not know where its top operatives are or what they might be planning. There is evidence that Qaeda members are returning to Afghanistan, where thousands of Taliban supporters still live and lawlessness prevails. We have not given the government of Hamid Karzai even a fraction of the help it needs to make Afghanistan a permanent terrorist-free zone. Creation of an effective worldwide antiterror coalition remains a work in progress. Restructuring our intelligence services, law enforcement agencies and military to defeat the terrorist threat continues to be in the design stage.
I don't disagree that much has to be done, but that's no reason to put off ousting Saddam. Certainly his people will be better off without him. And how long does Albright suggest we wait? German intelligence estimates say that Saddam will have a nuke by 2005. Is Albright suggesting Bush wait until, say, October 2004 before launching a preemptive attack?
Albright then goes off into silly land.
If United Nations inspectors are again rebuffed by Iraq, we should also give notice that we will destroy without warning any facilities in that country that we suspect are being used to develop prohibited arms. Even if those suspicions are later proved wrong, the blame should fall on Iraq for denying access, not on the United States for trying to enforce the Security Council's will.
Does Albright really think that will fly? If we mistakenly bomb another baby milk factory, does she really think the French ambassador will say Saddam's to blame? How about the Chinese? The Germans?
At the United Nations yesterday, the president began the job of spelling out the what and why of our policy toward Baghdad. The wisdom of that policy, however, will ultimately hinge on when he chooses to act.
Let's just hope that Albright and her cohorts don't succeed in convincing the president of taking an overly cautious stance -- one that could lead to that backpack nuke scenario. If Bush is forced to act quickly against Saddam it is only because Clinton did little after the inspectors were kicked out.