Tuesday, February 11, 2003
Stick to economics: The New York Times' Paul Krugman tries his hand at foreign policy analysis and demonstrates that his cynicism, condescension and arrogance are still finely-tuned to find fault with anything relating to the Bush administration.
Some people have commented that I have this unreasoning hatred of Krugman, and that my "hostility goes over the top." The truth is Krugman is just an easy target? Why? Because his hostility to the Bush administration is "over the top." There are some reasonable liberals -- if really pressed I'll try to name some -- but Krugman isn't one of them. My last post regarding Krugman's axiom -- that everyone should pay their "proper share" of taxes -- was very unserious, but amusing. (Yes, I'm aware that the poor pay taxes -- sales, tax, excise, etc. -- but many pay no federal income taxes. Is a "proper share" of the defense spending $0? Is a "proper share" of funding for international aid $0?)
[G]eorge W. Bush's admirers often describe his stand against Saddam Hussein as "Churchillian." Yet his speeches about Iraq -- and for that matter about everything else -- have been notably lacking in promises of blood, toil, tears and sweat. Has there ever before been a leader who combined so much martial rhetoric with so few calls for sacrifice?
Krugman has been complaining for months about Bush's economic policies ignoring the poor and benefiting the wealthy. (Note: Under Bush's latest economic plan the wealthy pay an even larger share of the tax burden.) So, what is the problem now? The people aren't suffering enough. Krugman believes that it's wrong to go to war without making as many people as miserable (in the United States, at least) as possible. The upcoming war, it is true, is not requiring a great sacrifice from the American people. Why? Well, because, sacrifice -- in the terms Krugman advocates -- is unnecessary. It's not WWII all over again in that regard. We don't need victory gardens. We don't need to gather/conserve rubber for the war effort. Same with fuel.
The sacrifice that Americans are aware of, and prepared to accept, is the deaths of young men and women in our armed forces. That sacrifice is one I suspect many conservatives (or warmongers/neocons/imperialists) understand better than the anti-America liberals do. I've got two good friends (both enlisted Marines) who are either already in the Middle East or en route -- and one more who will be joining them soon. How many of these anti-war protesters -- who claim to value my friends' lives more than I do -- actually know any soldiers?
Or to put it a bit differently: Is Mr. Bush, for all his tough talk, unwilling to admit that going to war involves some hard choices? Unfortunately, that would be all too consistent with his governing style. And though you don't hear much about it in the U.S. media, a lack of faith in Mr. Bush's staying power -- a fear that he will wimp out in the aftermath of war, that he won't do what is needed to rebuild Iraq -- is a large factor in the growing rift between Europe and the United States.
And so the best way to ensure that he won't "wimp out" later on is to prevent the overthrow of a rogue regime in the first place? To use your own military (if the Franco/German plan were to actually have a prayer of being put into effect) to protect a mass murderer rivaled in history only by the likes of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot?
Besides, rebuilding Iraq may be difficult -- but it is unlikely to be as difficult as Afghanistan or even post-WWII Europe. In Afghanistan you have a truly poor nation, with few natural resources (excepting opium poppies). In Europe, you had nations decimated by nearly a decade of war that were highly-industrialized societies that depended on manufacturing. In Iraq, if we are successful in preventing the destruction of oil-production facilities -- a new Iraqi government will have plenty of money to rebuild. Will it be easy? No.
Why might Europeans not trust Mr. Bush to follow through after an Iraq war? One answer is that they've been mightily unimpressed with his follow-through in Afghanistan. Another is that they've noticed that promises the Bush administration makes when it needs military allies tend to become inoperative once the shooting stops -- just ask General Musharraf about Pakistan's textile exports.
They're unimpressed with the "follow-through" in Afghanistan? Whatever you do is not enough. As far as Pakistan and textile exports go -- it sounds like a common trade dispute to me -- but look at the overall numbers from the Pakistan Economist:
The US is the biggest trading partner of Pakistan, and in the last year the volume of two-way trade stood at $2.43 billion, followed by EU countries with annual trade volume of over $2.4 billion. Pakistan currently exports a total of $1.9 billion worth of apparel and textiles annually to the United States and is the fourth-largest supplier of these goods. The US government as stated above is in agreement that Pakistan textile should be given more accessibility in the US market, however they are also facing pressures from different lobbies and US textile industry against permission of more space to Pakistan products in the US market. The pressure against Pakistan or other country products is due to economic recession in the aftermath of September 11 events in the United States.
Krugman then suggests that it is Bush who wants to avoid the "difficult problems." Not the French and Germans who oppose any action in support of U.N. resolutions that they voted for.
But more broadly, they may have noticed something that is becoming apparent to more and more people here: the Bush administration's consistent unwillingness to take responsibility for solving difficult problems. When the going gets tough, it seems, Mr. Bush changes the subject.
For example? What? Going after an imminent threat in Saddam when there is still a mop-up action in Afghanistan? Let's flash back about 60-odd years to the aftermath of Pearl Harbor -- does Krugman suggest that we just ignore Germany for several years until we have taken care of the Japanese? Not only defeated them militarily, but until we've decided we no longer need to station any troops there?
Last week's budget is a perfect example. The deterioration in the long-run budget outlook is nothing short of catastrophic; at this point a fiscal train wreck appears inevitable once the baby boomers retire in large numbers. Should we be reconsidering those tax cuts? Should Mr. Bush tell the American people how he plans to cut Social Security and Medicare?
Scare the old folks! Actually, I found Krugman's statement regarding Social Security to be most interesting (he said with a devilish grin). Social Security's in trouble? That's not what Krugman was saying when the issue was whether or not to offer younger people private accounts.
I hope this satisfies readers who, when I criticize bogus arguments for privatizing Social Security, demand to hear my answer to the crisis. There isn't any crisis: the system looks good for 40 years, and with a bit of extra resources can survive indefinitely.
Which is it Paul? Is Social Security in trouble or not? You've been saying for months that the deficit was bigger than was advertised -- why no word about the danger to Social Security until now? Just a few months ago Social Security was good -- as is -- for 40 more years. Now it's not.
The White House has an easier solution. First, it has conveniently decided that budget deficits are not a bad thing after all. Second, it has stopped making long-run projections, and now looks only five years ahead. And even those projections don't include any allowance for the cost of an Iraq war.
Yes, the Bush administration agrees with Krugman that budget deficits are not a "bad thing after all." Krugman and Bush just differ on how to create the budget deficits in an economic downturn. Krugman wants aid to the states, Bush wants to speed up tax cuts. Same destination, different routes.
Isn't it a good thing that they've stopped with the long-term projections? They weren't worth the paper they were printed on anyway. When was the last time a 10-year projection was accurate? ("Never" is the correct answer.)
What comes next is perhaps the most inane part of Krugman's piece -- his defense/recitation of the French anti-American point of view (though Krugman likely sees it only as an anti-Bush point of view.)
The Europeans don't think so. In fact, they view Mr. Bush's obsession with invading Iraq as a demonstration of why he can't be trusted to deal with what comes next.
In the United States it is taken as axiomatic that America is a country that really faces up to evildoers, while those sniveling old Europeans just don't have the nerve. And the U.S. commentariat, with few exceptions, describes Mr. Bush as a decisive leader who really gets to grips with problems. Tough-guy rhetoric aside, this image seems to be based on the following policy ? as opposed to political ? achievements: (1) The overthrow of the Taliban; (2) . . . any suggestions for 2?
2. Pushing a tax cut that's unpopular with Krugman.
2a. Forcing the U.N. Security Council to deal (semi-)honestly with regard to Iraq.
2b. The return of inspectors to Iraq in a last-ditch effort to get Iraq to comply with U.N. Resolutions.
2c. Filing a brief urging to abolish the University of Michigan's quota programs.
2d. Nominating conservative judges that get the Times editorial page in a tizzy.
2e. Forming a coalition with numerous European countries in an effort to oust Saddam Hussein.
Just because Krugman can't think of any, doesn't mean there aren't any.
Meanwhile, here's how it looks from Paris: France was willing to put ground troops at risk ? and lose a number of soldiers ? in the former Yugoslavia; we weren't. The U.S. didn't make good on its promises to provide security and aid to post-Taliban Afghanistan. Those Americans, they are very brave when it comes to bombing from 10,000 meters, but they expect other people to clean up the mess they make, no?
France is willing to put ground troops at risk? Yeah, to protect Saddam Hussein from us. But seriously, how many French troops are helping us out there in Afghanistan? Well, according to this old report: 300. According to this, more recent report, the number has grown to 500.
Krugman also chooses his words very carefully. No, U.S. troops are not providing security in Kabul -- we're hunting terrorists. Which is more dangerous? Aid? Never enough. As far as ground troops in Bosnia -- our troops are there. Not helping with security? Hardly.
And French officials have made no secret of their belief that Mr. Bush wants to invade Iraq not because he is truly convinced that Saddam Hussein is a menace, but because he'd rather have an easy victory in a conventional war than stick to the hard task of tracking down stateless terrorists. I'm not saying they're right; I have no idea what Mr. Bush is really thinking. But you can understand their point of view.
In the days ahead, as the diplomatic confrontation between the Bush administration and the Europeans escalates, remember this: Viewed from the outside, Mr. Bush's America does not look like a regime whose promises you can trust.
Tell that to the Taliban.