Monday, April 28, 2003
Like oil and water...: New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and politics don't mix.
Paul Krugman, apparently isolated from news reports, is still fighting to prevent the United States from going to war against Iraq.
Krugman refers to an ABC News report where a "Bush administration official" (not even "senior"?), apparently responding to a question about whether the administration had lied about the threat Saddam Hussein posed to the United States, said "We were not lying, but it was just a matter of emphasis."
Well, the fact of the matter is that the U.S. wasn't (isn't) lying, and Krugman backhandedly acknowledges it.
Sure enough, we have yet to find any weapons of mass destruction. It's hard to believe that we won't eventually find some poison gas or crude biological weapons. But those aren't true W.M.D.'s, the sort of weapons that can make a small, poor country a threat to the greatest power the world has ever known.
Oh, we'll find banned weapons, but those aren't real banned weapons. No one could die from those weapons.
As far as what constitutes a threat to the people of the United States, I'll trust the government, with its wealth of intelligence information, to a columnist who ofttimes displays a dearth of it.
It's amazing, as many have pointed out, that Krugman and his starry-eyed doves were willing to give U.N. weapons inspector many more months (or years) to find banned weapons, but want the U.S. armed forces, which were until very recently fighting a war, to have these things found yesterday.
Remember that President Bush made his case for war by warning of a "mushroom cloud." Clearly, Iraq didn't have anything like that - and Mr. Bush must have known that it didn't.
As far as the "mushroom cloud" statement, Krugman (predictably) takes it out of context.
A transcript of Bush's Oct. 8, 2002, speech reveals the context of the statement:
If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy, or steal an amount of highly-enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year.
And if we allow that to happen, a terrible line would be crossed. Saddam Hussein would be in a position to blackmail anyone who opposes his aggression. He would be in a position to dominate the Middle East. He would be in a position to threaten America. And Saddam Hussein would be in a position to pass nuclear technology to terrorists.
Some citizens wonder: After 11 years of living with this problem, why do we need to confront it now?
There is a reason. We have experienced the horror of September 11. We have seen that those who hate America are willing to crash airplanes into buildings full of innocent people. Our enemies would be no less willing -- in fact they would be eager -- to use a biological, or chemical, or a nuclear weapon.
Knowing these realities, America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.
If...then... it's a simple construct that seems to befuddle Krugman. Krugman continues:
Does it matter that we were misled into war? Some people say that it doesn't: we won, and the Iraqi people have been freed. But we ought to ask some hard questions — not just about Iraq, but about ourselves.
First, why is our compassion so selective? In 2001 the World Health Organization — the same organization we now count on to protect us from SARS — called for a program to fight infectious diseases in poor countries, arguing that it would save the lives of millions of people every year. The U.S. share of the expenses would have been about $10 billion per year — a small fraction of what we will spend on war and occupation. Yet the Bush administration contemptuously dismissed the proposal.
Ummm...I'm not sure about you Mr. Krugman, but I'm not counting on the WHO to protect me from SARS. I'm also not counting on the U.N. to protect me from terrorism. We have a government agency here, called the Centers for Disease Control. Maybe you've heard of it?
And then we get more opportunity cost examples. What about the Bush administration's funding of $15 billion to fight AIDS in Africa? Krugman has all sorts of plans for spending our tax dollars -- it's not often you hear about a non-military program that Krugman doesn't think should be fully funded.
Or consider one of America's first major postwar acts of diplomacy: blocking a plan to send U.N. peacekeepers to Ivory Coast (a former French colony) to enforce a truce in a vicious civil war. The U.S. complains that it will cost too much. And that must be true — we wouldn't let innocent people die just to spite the French, would we?
First, Krugman has a strange definition of "major." U.N. peacekeepers to the Ivory Coast? Readers who tend to take what Krugman tells them at face value would be disturbed to learn that the U.N. didn't want to send peacekeepers in the sense that we all know them -- blue-hatted soldiers carrying automatic weapons. Nope, according to Reuters, the French plan "proposed setting up a U.N. operation with 255 military and civilian staff in the West African nation, which has divided along ethnic lines after months of civil war despite a peace deal reached in January. But the resolution stalled after Washington objected to the projected $27 million one-year price-tag for the mission."
Let me get this straight. According to Krugman, the presence of 255 military and civilian staff, will prevent the deaths of innocent people. Not really, because there are already several thousand French troops on the ground.
Let's do a little Krugman-math. $27 million. Divided by 255. Average U.N. pay for employees at the Ivory Coast peacekeeping office works out to $105,882.35.
So it seems that our deep concern for the Iraqi people doesn't extend to suffering people elsewhere. I guess it's just a matter of emphasis. A cynic might point out, however, that saving lives peacefully doesn't offer any occasion to stage a victory parade.
Maybe Krugman should start writing for the "cynics" over at Indymedia.com. Of course, when Clinton was president, the strongest condemnation he could muster for not going in to stop the genocide in Rwanda was in Slate: "A few thousand Marines could probably have saved 800,000 lives in Rwanda--but we did nothing."
The 1999 article referenced above also shows that Krugman is all for using the U.S. military -- when a democrat is president.
The truth, I think, is that the very success of America--our emergence as the world's overwhelming superpower--creates a set of moral dilemmas for the left. (The Right--which at a fundamental level believes that man is not his brother's keeper--does not suffer to the same degree). There are now very few clear and present dangers to the United States itself; for the most part Realpolitik does not compel us to intervene in other countries' affairs. On the other hand, there is a great deal of evil in the world, and the United States often could do much to limit the damage. Doesn't this mean that we have a moral obligation to do so?
Apparently not when they have oil.
Krugman, oddly, after earlier in the article acknowledging that we would likely find some prohibited weapons (but not the lethal kind), proclaims that we won't.
One wonders whether most of the public will ever learn that the original case for war has turned out to be false. In fact, my guess is that most Americans believe that we have found W.M.D.'s. Each potential find gets blaring coverage on TV; how many people catch the later announcement — if it is ever announced — that it was a false alarm? It's a pattern of misinformation that recapitulates the way the war was sold in the first place. Each administration charge against Iraq received prominent coverage; the subsequent debunking did not.
Yeah, right. As evidence of that, the ABCNews.com site, at the very time Krugman's column was published on the Web, led with this article: "Tests Cast Doubt on Chemical Find in Iraq."
Thanks to this pattern of loud assertions and muted or suppressed retractions, the American public probably believes that we went to war to avert an immediate threat — just as it believes that Saddam had something to do with Sept. 11.
Now it's true that the war removed an evil tyrant. But a democracy's decisions, right or wrong, are supposed to take place with the informed consent of its citizens. That didn't happen this time. And we are a democracy — aren't we?
Is Krugman suggesting a voting test of some sort? If people willfully refuse to become informed about what's going on in the world, does that mean that the government can't do anything. Must a majority of the American people be able to understand Rep. Dick Gephardt's health care plan before they are able to vote in the Democratic presidential primaries?
The implications of such a "Krugman" requirement is disturbing. But, then again, Krugman knows what's best for you.
*UPDATE* Donald Luskin has tons more on Krugman's math, economics and even skills as a college professor. Check it out.
*UPDATE #2* More on Krugmania over at Just One Minute.