November 14, 2007
The Democrats Get A Moment
I've been meaning to link to Ed Kilgore's taxonomy of Democratic national security approaches for a few days now, but am just finally getting around to it. So here: a link. Kilgore is very trenchant on the failed strategies Democrats use, from the diversionary efforts to, as Tom Frank once said on a panel with me, refocus "national security on economic insecurity," to the attempts to extinguish the differences and win through mimicry. But I think Kilgore's favored alternative, which is essentially "find ways to compete with Republicans on national security without supporting their policies and positions," is a bit easier said than done. And we're only now reaching a point where it even can be done.
The most politically salient foreign policy fact of the past few years was that no Democrat had a visceral connection to 9/11. George W. Bush was in the White House, Rudy Giuliani running New York. Republicans owned the immediate response, and not simply because of messaging capabilities. The owned it because they occupied the relevant positions of responsibility. Had Gore been president on that day, it would have been entirely different. Democratic ineptitude played a part in their post-9/11 losses, but even a stronger, more sophisticated party would have been in the backseat. Now that Bush's policies have proven a resounding failure, and now that foreign policy authority isn't entirely contingent on proximity to 9/11, Democrats are getting an opportunity to prove their own vision. But they won't be able to cement anything until they occupy the White House. Proving yourself on foreign policy requires action, not just rhetoric, and only the executive can engage in that action. So I'd add a sixth to Ed's list -- occupying the White House and proving capable of adeptly responding to foreign policy crises. That they didn't have the Oval office doesn't excuse Democrats' failures in the opposition, but it's part of why they've been unable to distinguish themselves on the subject. When it comes to foreign policy, voters have a show, don't tell, attitude.
August 24, 2007
Give It a Rest
This is so silly. If Castro dies today, I certainly won't mourn him, but I have enough good sense to know that Cuba doesn't become a democracy tomorrow welcoming the exile community with open arms. Calm down.
August 23, 2007
I Feel Safer
Knowing that Fiorella Maza is back in Peru certainly makes me feel safer. This Peruvian track star, college student and ballet dancer was clearly a threat to our values:
Fiorella Maza, a standout student, ballet dancer and track star, had just started her freshman year at Miami Dade College when immigration agents knocked on her door.
Instantly, her middle-class American life was turned upside down.
Maza now spends most of her time inside a drafty old home in Peru's capital city. She's dislodged from her circle of friends, socially disoriented. She speaks only rudimentary Spanish.
''I never thought I could be sent to Peru,'' said Maza, 19, who was brought to West Kendall illegally as a toddler and was deported in March. ``It's like a foreign country to me.''
Don't get outraged just yet. Save your anger for this:
A federal judge dropped charges against former CIA operative and anti-Castro Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles on Tuesday, blasting what she called government "fraud, deceit and trickery" in an interview with Posada that led to the charges.
Posada, 79, was charged with seven counts of immigration fraud. He was arrested in Miami in May 2005 after entering the country illegally.
U.S. district judge Kathleen Cardone ordered Posada's electronic bracelet cut off in the courtroom Tuesday and cleared the way for him to return to Miami a free man.
Posada's attorney, Arturo Hernandez, told CNN the ruling was "an incredible legal victory."
The Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security said they were reviewing Cardone's decision.
On October 6th, 1976 Cubana Flight 455 was destroyed after takeoff by a bomb detonation that had been placed in the aircraft toilets in which all seventy-three people on board were killed, including many young members of a Cuban fencing team. Five people from North Korea were also killed on board the flight. This bombing would have been plotted at the same meeting, attended by Luis Posada Carriles and DINA agent Michael Townley, where Chilean former minister Orlando Letelier's assassination, in Washington, D.C. in 1976, was decided. Bosch was jailed in Venezuela awaiting trial for his role concerning the Cubana Flight 455 bombing, but he was never convicted of these charges.
In 1968 Bosch was arrested in Florida for an attack on a Polish freighter with a 57 mm recoilless rifle and was as a result sent to prison for a ten year term. In 1987, almost a decade after the Flight 455 incident, Bosch was freed from Venezuelan charges and went to the United States, assisted by US Ambassador to Venezuela Otto Reich; there, he was ultimately arrested for a parole violation. Bosch was pardoned of all American charges by President George H.W. Bush on July 18, 1990 at the request of his son Jeb Bush, who later became Governor of Florida; this pardon was despite objections by the then President's own defense department, that Bosch was one of the most deadly terrorists working "within the hemisphere." Although many countries seek Bosch's extradition he remains free in the United States. The political pressure to grant Bosch a pardon was begun during the congressional campaign run by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, herself a Cuban American, and overseen by her campaign manager Jeb Bush. The resultant pardon reputedly saw huge celebrations in Miami, in what was then called 'Free Orlando Day.'"
Like father, like son.
George Bush's America: protecting us against Peruvian teenagers, providing refuge for a terrorist. The mind reels.
August 19, 2007
Sunday Morning Happy Ending Post
By Randy Paul of Beautiful Horizons
Read this from the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Given the Reagan administration's policy of denying asylum applications to those fleeing the regimes he supported in Central America, there is little doubt in my mind that Dale Maharidge's uncharacteristic act as a journalist saved lives. In addition, he helped a young woman become a productive US citizen.
I wish that would make some of the knees stop jerking.
August 18, 2007
Coups and Earthquakes
By Randy Paul of Beautiful Horizons
For those of you who do not know my blog, I write primarily about Latin America with a special interest in Brazil (more about me here). So, while Ezrinho is revisiting his raizes brasileiras, he was kind enough to ask me to fill in.
Matt Yglesias made the following comment here about Wednesday's earthquake in Peru:
I have nothing to say about it, but it seems wrong not to recognize these tragedies and their victims.
Of course it's not wrong to recognize these tragedies and their victims. What is wrong is that so much of what we hear in the news about Latin America involves these sorts of tragedies and political upheaval.
In the early 1980's I read a book that profoundly changed my view of how media in the US report the developing world back to us. The book, Coups and Earthquakes was written by Mort Rosenblum and it was a compelling analysis of media coverage in the US of the world outside the US and Europe. The title essentially reiterates the MSM focus on the developing world.
Unfortunately, precious little has changed. Google "bus plunge" and you'll see what I mean. Do the same with "coup de etat" or "strongman dictator" and you'll get the idea. How many media outlets report the fact that Brazil is leading the way in developing smaller commercial jets via Embraer and created 247 jobs in Ft. Lauderdale? How often do we hear that Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (CVRD) is the world's leading miner of iron ore? Before Hugo Chávez, how often did the MSM mention that Citgo was owned by PDVSA, the state-owned oil company of Venezuela? Much was made of the fact that in Michael Moore's film Sicko, that the US was just ahead of Slovenia in terms of health care, but I don't recall anyone mentioning that the US was just behind Costa Rica. Has anyone heard any mention that Banco Bradesco was the third bank in the world to provide online banking to its customers in 1996?
Admittedly, much of this wonkish, but it bears pointing out. I hope in my short stay here to perhaps dispel some myths about and spur some interest in Latin America.
March 17, 2007
Addressing The Climate Crisis: US Not Leading Or Even Following
The richest and most developed nations in the world are forging ahead with plans to cut carbon emissions significantly by the year 2020. But the United States--arguably the richest and most developed of all, and inarguably the world's largest per-capita consumer of natural resources and contributor to carbon emissions--is still not on board. Worse, developing nations are citing America's poor example of stubborn isolationism as the reason for their own hesitation or outright refusal to participate and enact proactive climate-protection policies (bolds mine):
Environment ministers of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations, and officials from leading developing countries, were meeting to prepare for a June G8 summit at which climate change will be a major topic.
"On two issues, the United States were the only ones who spoke against consensus,'' German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters at the end of the two-day meeting, which he chaired on behalf of Germany's G8 presidency.
Gabriel said the U.S. remained opposed to a global carbon emissions trading scheme like the one used in the
European Union and rejected the idea that industrialized nations should help achieve a "balance of interests'' between developing countries' need for economic growth and environmental protection.
The Bush administration, which for years questioned the reliability of scientific findings showing man-made pollution was responsible for the planet's warming, has shifted its stance.
Washington now backs the conclusions in a U.N. report last month which said mankind was to blame for global warming and predicted an increase in droughts and heatwaves and a slow rise in sea levels.
"There is a strong consensus on the science,'' de Boer said. ''We can now put behind us the period when science was called into question.''
Several environmental groups criticized the United States, which in 2001 pulled out of the U.N. Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gases, for refusing to support carbon dioxideemissions reduction targets at the Potsdam meeting.
Developing countries cite the U.S. position as a reason for their refusal to commit to reduction targets.
I realize that different cultures--indeed, different individuals within each culture--are going to have widely divergent ideas about how much change is realistic or even tolerable when the benefits of living green and adopting carbon-neutral lifestyles are, in many respects, not immediate, visible, and tangible. And Big Business in all its incarnations has done a bang-up job of scaring everyone into believing that reducing America's carbon footprint will lead to all manner of economic woes, not to mention intrusions on one's very freedoms, like the right to drive a massive, gas-guzzling SUV to, say, a football stadium, the building of which required the clearcutting and dredging-and-filling of once-sensitive land. Or the right to eat beef and pork for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. Or the right to consume our way through time and space, demonstrating to the world once and for all that he who dies with the most toys wins.
But when all is said and done, I have to hope that even the stubbornest among us would want his children to enjoy a habitable world, as opposed to one in which draconian emergency restrictions had to be enacted and enforced lest everyone starve when arable, above-water land was in critically short supply and drowning in a hurricane-caused flood was a very real threat. Or, equally disturbing, a world in which ecosystems are so violently and precipitously thrown off-balance, deadly viruses that were once contained deep within rainforests emerge and begin to sicken the planet's already-stressed animals, including humans.
It should also be noted that some of us have already begun to view the climate challenge as an enormous economic opportunity.
Beyond the strawman arguments posited in such irresponsible statements as "Scientists disagree about how bad things will get and when we'll really notice any ill effect" or "Last year's hurricane season was tame, so I'm not buying this whole global warming thing", there really is nothing to debate at this point. We must take action, we must commit to a solid and comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse gases, and we must do it now.
It's time to put our pride in our collective pocket and take our place at the table alongside Europe's leaders. They know we're well-armed--aren't we always?--but this time, at this international sit-down, the weapons will be American ingenuity and innovativeness, two resources we actually do have in limitless supply.
September 07, 2006
Like Michael Crowley, I'm unwilling to use bin Laden's newly released tape to suggest actual collusion between George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden. Nor will I throw out accusations of cooperation between Bush and Ahmadinejad. But it does seem that, consciously or not, these three conduct mutually beneficial policies, with the actions of each amplifying and improving the popularity of the others.
To say that al Qaeda feeds on hatred for America is to speak the most banal of truths. George Bush reaffirms it every time he speaks of their hatred for us. But if such rage is what they feed off, it's not unfair to suggest that those who increase worldwide loathing for us are aiding their cause. Bush's invasion of Iraq, his plan to build permanent bases there, his unwillingness to reject torture, his international belligerence, his unquestioning support for Israel, his nuclear hypocrisy, and nearly every other aspect of his foreign policy appears tailor made to stoke resentment on the Arab Street. And that he does all of it in supposed pursuit of al Qaeda, elevating a degraded terrorist organization to superpower-threatening status, can't but enhance bin Laden's legend and recruitment pool. Were he treated as a mere irritant, deserving of little but dogged pursuit by American law enforcement, he would be greatly, possibly even gravely, weakened.
Meanwhile, as Mike notes, bin Laden seems perfectly content to release a new tape moments before each election. It's understood truth that the tighter terrorism's grip on the national agenda, the brighter the fortunes of the Republican Party. And yet bin Laden, whom the RNC would like you to believe blanches at the mere mention of their name, routinely plays deus ex machina each time their electoral outlook dims. To believe that bin Laden, whose network is largely online and reportedly sophisticated, cannot call up the New York Times and comprehend this electoral dynamic is the height of foolishness. So, for whatever reason, he appears intent on doing his enthusiastic best to improve the Republicans' prospects. Strange, given their belief that he fears them so.
Elsewhere, Ahmadinejad and Bush are similarly mutually reinforcing. By continually responding to Ahmadinejad's provocations, Bush has elevated an impotent Iranian leader (remember Khatami's effectiveness?) to spokesman of a world power. For a small country as desirous of galactic grandeur as Iran, watching the world's superpower leap and snap at every bit of bait Ahmadinejad dangles is precisely what they believe their due. That we are denying them superpower weapons while encouraging and accepting further nuclear development elsewhere simply gives them license to feel aggrieved, too.
Conversely, by musing over Jewish genocide and attacking America at every speech, Ahmadinejad keeps injecting a belligerent and possibly unpredictable Middle Eastern state into the American conversation, again giving Bush an opportunity to puff out his chest and pledge us his protection.
In all cases, our enemies requires Bush's attentions and cooperation to be heard. In all cases, their popularity relies on notoriety, and on America's willingness to promise policies and conduct responses that inflame their constituencies. In all cases, we play along. On the other side, Bush is routinely strengthened by the reemergence of terrorism or rogue states into the American debate, and our enemies invariably offer him that electoral boost. I'm not saying the three are cooperating with each other. I'm not saying they like each other. But on some level, they need each other, and their reliability in providing exactly what the other needs is so total as to, like in the case of bin Laden's latest video, astonish.
June 19, 2006
You Can Save More Lives Without Killing People
This may sound a lot like those ads for charities that make you change the channel and feel bad about doing so, but do you know how much a single dose of the measles vaccine costs? A mere fifteen cents. For the lack of enough fifteen-cent measles shots, a hundred thousand children die each year in India. Fortunately, people are trying to vaccinate more children and solve this problem. The Measles Initiative, a partnership including the UN, charities, and health organizations, has already succeeded in reducing the global measles rate by 39%. To reduce the measles rate by 90%, they say they’d need $479 million, only $147 million of which has come into their hands.
Which brings me to the price of the Iraq War.
The Congressional Budget Office has calculated that the war costs about $9 billion per month. That’s about $300 million per day. In other words, saving 90,000 Indian children, and goodness knows how many kids in other parts of the world, would cost less than two days' expenditures from Iraq. It makes you think -- if we'd spent our money on saving lives in the cheapest ways possible, rather than by replacing Saddam with Shiite fundamentalists, how many lives would we have saved? And -- for those who always think of the national interest -- how highly would America be regarded in the world?
I'm not a radical enough pacifist to say that wars are always unjustified. Sometimes wars need to be fought for self-defense. Also, if there's a genocide going on, and we can use our military to stop it at a low cost in lives, we should give serious thought to doing so. Because of my utilitarian view of just warfare and the badness of Saddam, I had to seriously consider the humanitarian justification for the Iraq War in early 2003. But it's amazing how expensive it is to save lives through war, and how cheap it is to save lives through peaceful foreign aid. Another nice thing about saving lives by vaccinating children, as opposed to saving lives through war, is that it doesn't actually involve killing anybody.
To quote Matt Yglesias, who provided the measles information above,
Recent years have seen an admirable increase in the American elite's commitment to "idealism" in foreign policy, the rejection of the view that morality is and should be irrelevant to a nation's conduct on the world stage. Bizarrely, however, this has been paired with an increasing sense that the true measure of one's high ideals is one's willingness to kill people.
As Matt asks, "why not help the wretched of the Earth by finding the easiest ways to be helpful?" Really, why not?
June 18, 2006
When Intimidation Backfires
You get these right-wingers claiming that the American demonstration of "resolve" is a good consequence of the Iraq War, the idea apparently being that we'll be better able to intimidate bad countries into changing their ways. If we actually were getting these benefits, I'd be impressed -- there's plenty of ways I'd want to make North Korea and Iran change their behavior. But look what's actually happened. North Korea looks to be test-launching long-range missiles, breaking a moratorium on launches that started in 1999, and Iran has moved ahead with its nuclear program. There's still plenty of hope for diplomacy in Iran's case, but we're in a much worse bargaining position than we were in three years ago.
Rather than frightening other countries into knuckling under, we scared them into improving their nuclear defenses against future American aggression, making the world a much more dangerous place. Just one more reason to avoid wanton invasions.
May 02, 2006
Things That Don’t Work
It’s easy to understand why people support the Star Wars anti-missile program. It promises to save us from deadly missiles by using exciting technology to shoot them down in midair. This sounds really awesome, and would be a significant reason for trying to set it up, if it worked. The trouble is that it doesn’t work, and there’s no sign that it’ll ever be close to working.
Fred Kaplan summarized the state of anti-missile technology in a 2004 article:
In the past six years of flight tests, here is what the Pentagon's missile-defense agency has demonstrated: A missile can hit another missile in mid-air as long as a) the operators know exactly where the target missile has come from and where it's going; b) the target missile is flying at a slower-than-normal speed; c) it's transmitting a special beam that exaggerates its radar signature, thus making it easier to track; d) only one target missile has been launched; and e) the "attack" happens in daylight.
Beyond that, the program's managers know nothing—in part because they have never run a test that goes beyond this heavily scripted (it would not be too strong to call it "rigged") scenario.
Kaplan italicizes “can” because even under these favorable conditions, anti-missile systems still don’t always work. Several months after Kaplan’s article, the Missile Defense Agency attempted a test that had been postponed several times because of equipment problems and bad weather. (And yes, it is kind of worrisome that the system is so finicky that it can’t be tested in bad weather.) The test failed, with the interceptor failing to even get off the launch pad. In a retest three months later, the intereceptor failed to launch again.
And then there’s the problem of decoys. As Josh Freiss describes, it’s cheap and simple to confuse missile defense systems by shooting off several mylar balloons as well as a warhead. If the warhead itself is placed inside another balloon, there will be no way for the missile defense system to tell the difference between the real warhead and the decoys. (Since the warhead and the decoys spend a lot of time flying above the atmosphere, where there’s no air resistance, the different weight won’t cause them to fly differently.) In the words of Nobel Prize winning physicist Stephen Weinberg, “We may know the nature of the nuclear warhead. But we will not know what other things are sent along with the warhead in the form of decoys that will exhaust our defenses. I don't see how that problem can ever be solved.”
Rather than letting defense contractors swindle us into spending billions of dollars (currently around $10 billion a year) on a system that doesn’t work and won’t meet the real challenges it faces, there’s plenty of good things we could do to make ourselves safer from missile attack. For example, we could buy up loose nuclear material from poorly guarded facilities in the former USSR. We could provide jobs in America for unemployed Soviet nuclear scientists, so that poverty doesn’t force them to sell their talents to our enemies. There’s also the possibility of using foreign aid to encourage other countries to do what’s right on nuclear proliferation issues. But buying things that don’t work is no solution to our problems.