San Diego Congressman Darrell Issa at the Blackwater hearings:
What we're seeing here today is a repeat of the MoveOn.org attacks against General Petraeus.
Really? Questioning the behavior and oversight of private military contractors in Iraq = taking out an inflammatory ad in the New York Times?
Once upon a time, the White House budget director estimated the Iraq war might cost $50 billion. Today, $50 billion is a mere asterisk. On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates went to the Hill and added nearly that amount to the $141 billion the president had already requested for fiscal year 2008. In other words, Iraq and Afghanistan will conservatively cost $190 billion next year alone.
Earlier this year, FP contributor Gordon Adams, a former national security budget official at the Clinton White House, examined just how much the Pentagon's books have spiraled out of control due to war spending. Here's what he has to say about Gates's most recent funding request:
The administration and the Congress are playing fiscal poker with Iraq: They're still "betting on the come' in funding the war. That's a poker term for putting incremental money on the table in the hopes that the hand will improve as you draw more cards. The administration "antes up" funding requests one at a time, with no long-term cost projection or position on how or when the war will end. And the Congress keeps "calling" the administration, matching the ante, and kicking confrontation down the road.
U.S. taxpayers have already spent at least $610 billion on the global war on terror. That's about $333 million a day. And with the new funding, the total will exceed $800 billion. So, what is this extra funding that Gates wants actually going for? The surge and safer hardware.
The big hardware piece is something called the MRAP—the Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected Vehicle. This large, lumbering armored vehicle will replace the HUMVEE in Iraq (once MRAPs start to get there this winter), and it is designed to protect against the land mines and IEDs that have cost so many lives and limbs. Gates says there will be $16 billion in the additional budget request for MRAPs, bringing the total DoD order to more than 15,000 of them. [Ed:Each vehicle costs about $1 million.]
No matter how long the surge force stays in place, any returning brigades will cost additional funds to bring back home. Without a major reduction in forces below pre-surge levels, funding requirements for the war will simply continue to mount.
We're sliding fast to $1 trillion spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For perspective, the total GDP of the United States last year was just over $13 trillion.
Yesterday, Passport noted the scathing criticism by Iraq expert Toby Dodge about the Biden "plan" for partitioning Iraq, which passed the Senate yesterday in symbolic form. Marc Lynch piled on, and so did Juan Cole. But the harshest rebuke comes from Reidar Vissar, a Norwegian scholar who has studied Iraq extensively:
[I]f his partition plans were implemented, Joe Biden would be remembered by Muslims and Arabs around the world in an altogether different way. He would be considered alongside other historical personalities who routinely are being accused by Middle Easterners for having destroyed their region completely: Arthur Balfour, Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot.
Oh, and by the way: Iraqis and the Arab League blasted the Senate bill, too.
Nicholas Rajula is running for Kenyan Parliament, and he has a pretty novel campaign strategy: He claims to be U.S. Senator Barack Obama's distant cousin.
People in Kenya love Obama, whose father was from the African country. When Obama visited Kenya last year, throngs of singing and dancing Kenyans greeted him with a hero's welcome. His Kenyan roots may be why Kenya is one of three countries that love the United States more than Americans themselves do: 87 percent of Kenyans have a favorable view of the United States, compared with 80 percent of Americans, according to a Pew Research Center poll released earlier this year.
Obama's campaign denies that Rajula and Obama are related; Rajula and Obama's father just happen to come from the same Kenyan village. To Rajula's credit, though, Obama's paternal grandmother says she considers herself a grandmother to Rajula, and Rajula is known for organizing part of Obama's itinerary when he visited Kenya (although Obama's campaign wouldn't comment on this).
It's uncertain whether Rajula's campaign strategy will be successful. During one campaign stop, villagers got upset that Rajula wasn't doling out the cash too freely, violating a time-honored custom of Kenya's parliamentary campaigns (although he did quietly give money to village leaders later on). Echoing the language of his "cousin" from Illinois, Rajula explained that he aspires to "a new kind of politics." Such rhetoric hasn't been enough for Obama to keep up with Hillary Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire, and it probably won't put Rajula over the top in Kenya, either.
It's not easy defending the Bush administration's delaying tactics on climate change, but U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson made a go of it this morning.
Asked by an aggressive Tom Brokaw about whether Republicans in the U.S. Congress are doing anything on climate change, U.S. Treasury Secretary paused for a second, and conceded dryly that there is a "wide variety of knowledge" on the Hill about the issue.
Asked about a global deal based around binding emissions targets, proposed by Tony Blair, Paulson said, "it just depends on what your expectations are."
Yesterday, Sen. Joe Biden's plan to split Iraq into three semi-autonomous regions received overwhelming bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate. The non-binding resolution that passed is doubtless part criticism of Bush and part criticism of Maliki, and really just an effort to show that at least someone has a plan for the future of the war.
But Toby Dodge, one of the foremost experts on modern-day Iraq, thinks partition is perhaps the most dangerous and historically ignorant solution for the country yet. He sat down with FP recently and had this to say about the Biden plan:
People are struggling to explain failure, to apportion blame, and to try to develop a policy that gets them out of the country. The most damaging outcome would be along the lines of the proposals that recommend partition, like the Gelb-Biden plan. I think those fundamentally misunderstand Iraq.
If you look at the three communities that are allegedly going to be partitioned, go down to the supposed Shiistan in the south. What we have in the south is a low-level civil war between the two main Shiite parties led by members of the Badr Brigade and al-Sadr. So, are we going to partition the south into a Badristan and a Sadristan? When we come up to supposed Sunnistan, we have a fight between al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a largely indigenous organization with foreign leadership, and the so-called sheikhs of Anbar— that is an intra-Sunni fight. Then we have Kurdistan. The Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan fought a vicious civil war in the 1990s, where the KDP actually asked Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard to come in and help them. The idea that we have three neat communities is sociologically and politically illiterate. It has deliberately ignored the sociological complexities of Iraq in order to get a neat policy prescription that allows America to get out of Iraq. That is dangerous and reckless, and it isn’t the solution.
At the height of the drama surrounding the "Made in China" product recalls by Mattel, Passport warned against simply blaming China for product safety flaws, and urged Western companies to take some responsibility for what goes through their supply chains. In a surprising move on Friday, Mattel did exactly that—and went a step further, publicly apologizing to the Chinese. Mattel's Thomas Debrowski, executive vice-president for worldwide operations, declared in a meeting with a senior Chinese official in Beijing:
Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people and all of our customers who received the toys."
As the Financial Times pointed out, this was in stark contrast to Mattel CEO Robert Eckert's comments to the U.S. Senate last week, where he said, "We were let down, and so we let you down." Mattel obviously realized that with 65 percent of the company's toys manufactured in China, it's clearly not in its interest to blame China or its regulatory environment. A continued backlash against toys made in China would only lead to protectionism, bad news for a country with extensive overseas operations. Mattel's investors seem to have realized the same; the apology prompted a rise in the company's stock price—not a decline.
Deborah D. Avant, professor of political science and director of international studies at University of California, Irvine, and author of Think Again: Mercenaries from a few years ago, has this to say about the Blackwater contretemps in Iraq:
Is it accidental that the Iraqi government's reaction to the latest Blackwater incident comes on the heels of U.S. criticism of Iraqi progress?
The United States sent in an army of private-security contractors (PSCs) with only a whiff of controversy as the insurgency mounted in Iraq—contrasting sharply with the hoopla over the so-called surge. But this week's media frenzy demonstrates the political pitfalls of a reliance on companies like Blackwater. The Iraqi government is certainly justified in raising questions about how these companies operate, especially regarding the still unclear legal status of PSC personnel. But the Iraqi government has reacted mildly to the dozen or so previous incidents that have reached the Western press, making Maliki's outraged calls for the expulsion of Blackwater and a review of all PSCs working in Iraq seem puzzling at first. One wonders, though, if Maliki’s reaction to this incident is driven by a desire to take the spotlight off the Iraqi government's failures and buy it some bargaining room, both in domestic circles and with the Americans. Practically, the United States cannot operate in Iraq without PSCs—and Maliki knows this. The chance to point a finger at one of the more controversial elements of U.S. strategy and put the United States on the hot seat even while sticking up for Iraqi sovereignty in a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad is probably too good for him to pass up.
Two days after Barak Obama's latest foreign-policy gaffe—allowing reporters to see him reading a memo from his campaign advisors on how to spin the war in Iraq—there's a new round whispering among Washington's foreign-policy watchers as to whether the Illinois senator and presidential wannabe can really be taken seriously on these subjects. Similar chatter could be heard this summer after Obama's previous blunders on Pakistan and Israel-Palestine.
This most recent episode occurred during Tuesday's Senate testimony by Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker. To be reading a memo about how to politicize the war during their testimony showed incredibly bad taste. Regardless of what you think about their policies, Petraeus and Crocker are risking their lives every day in Iraq. While I'm not naive enough to think politics doesn't play a role in the conflict, a man who wants to be the next commander in chief should have shown more respect. As the Telegraph's Toby Harndon has noted, the screwup is enough to bring into question just how sincere Obama is about changing the culture in Washington.
Obama talks a lot about building consensus. But so far, his performance on the foreign-policy front suggests he and his staff spend most of their time trying to find consensus among themselves. Rumor has it Obama's got a huge cadre of people advising him on foreign policy. It shows. Yesterday in Clinton County, Iowa, he released his plan (pdf) to end the war in Iraq. "The best way to protect our security and to pressure Iraq's leaders to resolve their civil war," the plan says, "is to begin immediately to remove our combat troops. Not in six months or one year – now." Then, seven lines later, it says: "Under the Obama plan, American troops may remain in Iraq ..." Depending upon how you read it, it's either annoyingly confused or irresponsibly ambiguous.
Similar confusion can be found in Obama's thinking on Iran. In his Iowa speech yesterday, Obama asserted, "President Ahmadinejad may talk about filling a vacuum in the region after an American drawdown, but he's badly mistaken." Really? Try to find a foreign-policy expert who agrees with that statement. It ain't easy. When FP recently asked more than 100 of America's most respected foreign-policy hands what would happen were the United States to withdraw from Iraq precipitously, which is what Obama is proposing, 75 percent told us Iran would step in to fill the power vacuum left by the United States. In the absence of American forces, what's to stop them? Writing in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, Obama pronounces Bush's policy on Iran a failure, then he proposes the following solution: "Our diplomacy should aim to raise the cost for Iran of continuing its nuclear program by applying tougher sanctions and increasing pressure from its key trading partners." I could be wrong, but isn't that precisely the strategy the Bush administration is pursuing?
In a recent piece for The New Republic, Ted Sorenson wistfully asks, "Is Obama the Next JFK?" Maybe. But the real question is, which John F. Kennedy? The young dynamo remembered favorably by Sorenson and revisionist historians? Or the inexperienced son of privilege who botched an invasion of Cuba and brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation? The jury is still out.
"There is no military solution."
It has become something of a mantra for leaders discussing the war in Iraq. We've heard it from everyone from Dennis Kucinich to Gen. David Petraeus. But lately, the conventional wisdom seems to have shifted. Emboldened by optimistic reports of an "Anbar Awakening," many of the war's supporters and opponents are now supporting a "bottom up" strategy for stability, enlisting local forces to fight the insurgency and give the political process time to work. It was clear from before yesterday's testimony that Amb. Ryan Crocker had a much harder case to make that progress was being made on a political level.
In light of this, New York Times reported David Sanger predicted that Republicans would back the bottom-up strategy, while David Ignatius urged the Democrats to get behind the idea and take credit for it. Of course, the idea that all of this is leading to political reconciliation in Iraq is totally bunk. As Passport has noted, when the idea of "soft partition" was first proposed by Senator Joe Biden back in 2006, White House spokesman Scott McClellan dismissed it as antithetical to a "federal, democratic, pluralist and unified" Iraq. He was right. Colin Kahl and Shawn Brimley wrote on this Web site last week about the difficulties that empowering local militias could cause for Iraq's central government. The "soft partition" strategy is the first step in abandoning the goal of political reconciliation in Iraq. Washington's new mantra might as well be, "There is no political solution."
Still, it's easy to see the idea's appeal. Empowering and befriending local militants takes the heat off of U.S. troops, sidesteps the dysfunctional Iraqi national army and puts the Sunnis in a stronger position for after the U.S. forces leave. After all, the possibility of a post-pullout genocide is a possibility war opponents would rather not think about. There's certainly evidence that dividing a population into ethnically homogeneous units can create stability: Just look at modern Europe. Of course, it took a half century of total war and genocide to make it that way. (Tony Judt's Postwar makes the counterintuitive argument that Hitler and Stalin are more responsible for Europe's current peace and prosperity than anyone else.)
Gen. Petraeus would love to give the surge credit for decreasing casualty numbers in Baghdad. But the Mahdi Army probably deserves more credit for ethnically cleansing Baghdad's mixed neighborhoods of their Sunni residents. By accepting "soft partition," the Bush administration is essentially banking on sectarian militias to do their job for them.
In a recent column for the Financial Times, FP contributor Bruce Ackerman urges David Petraeus, the commanding U.S. general in Iraq, to stick to the facts when he appears before Congress next week:
Mr Bush is no Truman. He has used Gen Petraeus as a pawn in a game to defer congressional judgment from the spring to the autumn. Now he is transforming him into a mythic figure, scheduling his report to Congress for September 11.* As the nation pauses to remember that terrible day in 2001, the president wants his general to appear on television as the steely-eyed hero of the hour, leading the country to ultimate victory in "the war on terror".
This puts Gen Petraeus in a difficult constitutional position. Paradoxically, it is now up to a military man to defend the principle of civilian control. Gen Petraeus should make his priorities clear by immediately disciplining Gen Lynch for his thoughtless breach of constitutional principle. When his moment of truth comes, he should make every effort to avoid being a shill for either the Republicans or the Democrats - emphasising that the important questions are political, not military. He should restrict himself to an impartial statement of the facts and refuse to judge the success of the surge.
Ackerman is right that Bush is pushing Petraeus out front, hoping to capitalize on the general's greater credibility. But I have a different point to make. It's Petraeus's job to evaluate the surge within the context of Iraq. I have no problem if he chooses to do so. But it's the job of the president and Congress to evaluate policies within the context of the country's broader national interests. Even if the surge is "working," American grand strategy might still be poorly served by staying in Iraq. But making that determination is above a general's pay grade.
*Note: This may yet change, but as of today, Petraeus will actually be appearing before the joint House Armed Services/Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday at 12:30 p.m. followed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m., according to committee staff.
In light of all this, you have to wonder what Democrats, who according to The New York Times are considering a compromise that sets a “goal” for withdrawal rather than a timetable, are thinking. All such a compromise would accomplish would be to give Republicans who like to sound moderate — but who always vote with the Bush administration when it matters — political cover.
We've seen this debate before, when in February Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dismissed a bipartisan resolution by Levin and Republican Sen. John Warner as lacking teeth. It was an accurate criticism, since the resolution would merely have expressed the Senate's opinion on Iraq. But at the time, Reid was hoping to force Republicans to vote on a stronger, binding resolution. It never happened. Now it looks like Senate Democrats are going to be outmaneuvered once again, and it's because Reid is too keen on punishing the Republicans for their support of the president's policy. If he really wanted to end the war, though, Reid would give GOP senators the cover they need to call for withdrawal. That's exactly what Levin is trying to do.
U.S. President George W. Bush has apparently decided that the path to victory lies in a plan devised more than a year ago by ... wait for it ... Democratic Sen. Joe Biden.
That's right, as the Wall Street Journal reports this morning, the "bottom-up" strategy Bush was touting in Anbar yesterday, "bears some striking similarities to the 'soft partition' strategy pushed by senior Democrats." The Journal is referring, of course, to the "unity through autonomy" (Times Select) plan floated by Biden and former Council on Foreign Relations Chairman Leslie Gelb in May 2006.
Watching Republicans turn tail and support Biden's plan is as comical as it is tragic. Let's not forget just what conservatives said about Biden's plan back when he devised it.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan was certain that Biden's plan would doom Iraq to failure, saying the president supported only a "federal, democratic, pluralist and unified" Iraq. He added:
A partition government with regional security forces and a weak central government ... is something that no Iraqi leader has proposed and that the Iraqi people have not supported."
The feelings of the conservative intelligentsia were summarized by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who told the Washington Times (no longer online) that Biden's plan was "virtually certain to make things worse, not better."
The GOP's armchair pundits, meanwhile, attacked Biden viciously. "Liberal Democrats – who can figure them?" wrote 30-year Army veteran Michael John McCrae in The Conservative Voice. He added:
The terrorists see these proposals and they cheer their supporters in the American Congress."
After almost four years of fighting in Iraq, at a cost of nearly 4,000 American lives, round and round we go.
Has Harry Reid lost his mind? Why is the Senate leader allowing Gen. Petraeus to deliver his long-awaited surge report to Congress on September 11? That's the date John McCain said earlier today is the likely date for Petraeus's testimony.
Nothing says "we need to continue the surge" like reminding Americans that Saddam planned 9/11. Somewhere, Karl Rove must be laughing.
A few months ago, I predicted the U.S.-India nuclear deal would "mutate, but move forward, in the coming months." With negotiations between the United States and India completed and a draft agreement released, mutated may be too mild a description of its policy shifts.
According to Sharon Squassoni of the Carnegie Endowment, "As far as I can tell, the U.S. caved to all the Indian demands."
Among other things, the United States agreed that if it ever recalled its nuclear technology, it would reimburse India for the "fair market value thereof and for the costs incurred as a consequence of such removal." So if India tested a nuclear weapon and the U.S. government terminated cooperation—as required under U.S. law—and demanded its stuff back, American taxpayers would have to pay India for the privilege.
The U.S. Congress, which must approve the deal before it can go forward, still seems interested, but has so far reacted cautiously. As expected, Pakistan has expressed strong displeasure, citing a "nuclear arms race in the region" as one possible outcome of the deal. But goodwill toward Pakistan is at an ebb in Washington, and the U.S. administration brushed this claim aside.
In fact, it may be in India where the critics are loudest. There, opposition to the deal is wide-ranging, based on nonproliferation concerns as well as national sovereignty; coming from the Left parties as well as the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which controlled the government when India tested nuclear weapons in 1998. So it's no surprise that on Monday, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed India's parliament on the deal, he faced a maelstrom of anger.
So why is this tortured agreement still moving forward? Aside from the oft-mentioned strategic concerns (grand alliance of democracies, counterbalance China, etc), the business communities in both countries have been lobbying hard for the deal. According to the U.S.-India Business Council, the planned expansion of India's civilian nuclear industry could generate $150 billion in commercial opportunities for U.S. companies. And India's third-biggest electric provider, Tata Power, has already lined up "major nuclear equipment suppliers and is ready to go." Remember Ike's famous warning about the danger posed by the military-industrial complex? Perhaps he was on to something.
Last week, presidential candidate-in-waiting and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich eloquently likened himself to the great French statesman Charles de Gaulle, holed up in the tiny French village of Colombey-les-Deux-Églises awaiting a call from his countrymen to lead them into the breach. Then he called the current field of Republican canidates a "pathetic" bunch of "pygmies."
The Republican Old Guard is having none of this name calling. Herewith, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole's reaction:
I don't know how he has set himself up as the spokesman for the world."
At a high level, U.S. officials are working with their Turkish counterparts on a joint military operation to suppress Kurdish guerrillas and capture their leaders. Through covert activity, their goal is to forestall Turkey from invading Iraq.
While detailed operational plans are necessarily concealed, the broad outlines have been presented to selected members of Congress as required by law. U.S. Special Forces are to work with the Turkish Army to suppress the Kurds' guerrilla campaign. The Bush administration is trying to prevent opening another war front in Iraq that would have disastrous consequences. But this gamble risks major exposure and failure.
Gee, who might possibly expose this secret mission? Reading further, it looks like Novak's source was someone in Congress who wants to torpedo the plan:
What is Washington to do in the dilemma of two friends battling each other on an unwanted new front in Iraq? The surprising answer was given in secret briefings on Capitol Hill last week by Eric S. Edelman, a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and now under secretary of defense for policy. [...]
Edelman's listeners were stunned. Wasn't this risky? He responded he was sure of success, adding that the U.S. role could be concealed and always would be denied.
So much for that. But let's give Edelman some credit here. Surely, a graduate of the Dick Cheney school of congressional relations would know this would leak. So perhaps the plan was simply being floated in order to buy more time with the Turks, and Congress was used in order to kill it.
I must admit, I don't lose sleep worrying about what's inside the 11 million containers that arrive at U.S. ports every year. But with the new anti-terrorism bill being debated in the U.S. Congress, container security has become a (relatively) hot topic. Today, only the containers deemed high risk get separated and scanned, but Democrats are pushing to screen every piece of cargo in case there is a bomb packed somewhere among all those sneakers and DVD players.
According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, this 100-percent scanning plan will only disrupt the flow of commerce and raise transportation costs for U.S. importers. And it makes no sense for a terrorist to smuggle in an explosive this way, argue James Jay Carafano and Robert Quartel of the Heritage Foundation, since it would be much easier to assemble it once it arrives. They add:
If terrorists had a nuclear weapon, it's not at all clear why they would risk allowing it leave their control. After all the time and trouble required to build a bomb, would they really wave good-bye and hope it gets to the right place?
Carafano dismisses the comprehensive-scanning proposal as just another form of "feel good security." That sounds about right to me.
An interesting question came up during last night's CNN-YouTube Democratic presidential debate: Would candidates, if elected to the White House, be willing to forgo the president's annual salary of $400,000 in exchange for the federal minimum wage, which just went up to $5.85 an hour?
Edwards? Sure. Hillary? Yep. Obama? No problem. Sen. Chris Dodd? No way.
DODD: I have two young daughters who I'm trying to educate them. [Ed: On the basis of that sentence, you may not want to home school them.] I don’t think I could live on the minimum wage...
Fair enough, Senator. That's why people distinguish between the minimum wage and a living wage. And you've done admirable work on this issue in the past, seeking to raise the minimum wage to more than $7. But what surprised me most was your next comment, which suggested that you consider your Senate salary a little spare:
OBAMA: Well, we can afford to work for the minimum wage because most folks on this stage have a lot of money. It's the folks... on that screen who deserve -- you're doing all right, Chris, compared to, I promise you, the folks who are on that screen.
DODD: Not that well, I'll tell you, Barack.
Really? In fact, Sen. Dodd, you make $165,200 a year as a senator; your net worth has been reported to be between $1.5 million and $3.5 million; and you own a vacation cottage in Ireland. What's more, you can anticipate a nice retirement thanks to your Senate pension, which averaged about $50,000 a year in 2000. Would that the rest of us could be so fortunate.
You may have thought that the U.S. economy was in good shape after the subprime mortgage debacle failed to have us all living in cardboard boxes and eating grass. That's an unlikely scenario, but the latest news suggests that we're hardly out of the woods. Investment house Bear Stearns set off warning bells on Wall Street yesterday when it announced that two of its hedge funds, heavily invested in subprime mortgages, are pretty much worthless. Even the top-rated subprime-related bonds are beginning to be affected by the crisis, worrying investors.
One risk to the outlook is that the ongoing housing correction might prove larger than anticipated, with possible spillovers onto consumer spending."
But the Wall Street Journal's Greg Ip looks on the bright side, noting that the overall tenor of Bernanke's remarks and the accompanying Fed report (pdf) on monetary policy was upbeat. And the stock market was humming yesterday, reaching new heights. Perhaps Bernanke is just hedging his bets?
Relax, folks, you can all go back to brushing your teeth with Chinese toothpaste: The government in Beijing has just outlawed juicing the stuff with diethylene gylocol (DEG), an industrial solvent. DEG-laden toothpaste has yet to kill anybody, but the Chinese have been feeling cautious lately. In addition to the recent ban, Beijing is gearing up to institute national food safety checks, and just executed the former head of food and drug safety. You know, just to be on the safe side.
Just when I thought the coast was clear, however, I came across the disturbing news that two new phony products have cropped up in China: Dumplings stuffed with cardboard shavings, and bogus Rabies vaccines. Talk about putting the "dim" in dim sum.
But before anybody goes back to shrieking about how China is out to kill us all, take a look at this interesting report from the New York Times. It compares the number of food shipments the United States has turned away from various foreign countries over the past year, and it turns out that China is surpassed by both India and Mexico. And if you think Chinese seafood is bad (391 shipments rejected), you'd better stay away from Danish candy (520 rejections).
So if Beijing isn't all the devil incarnate, then what's behind the hype? Sure, China has exported a few particularly nasty products in the last few years, but the "ChiComs" are no worse than some of the other top U.S. trading partners. I'd say all this hullabaloo has a lot to do with the sad fact that Americans just love to hate China. It's not a new phenomenon, but it has been magnified by China's dramatic rise. At this point, Americans (and their congressmen) will take any shot they can get at Beijing. The ultimate goal? To control the Chinese while that's still even remotely possible.
The Congressional debate over withdrawal is coming to a head faster than anyone expected, but the quality of discussion is far from impressive. The White House is terrified about the rising number of Senate Republicans defecting to the Democratic position on withdrawal in one form or another. One prominent bill under consideration in the Senate is the Iraq Study Group (ISG) Recommendations Implementation Act of 2007, known as the Salazar amendment because it was introduced by Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar as an add-on to the Defense Authorization Act. It failed a procedural vote yesterday, but the bill has an appealing bipartisan sheen and could thus make a comeback. Like its House equivalent, it would turn the 79 recommendations of the Iraq Study Group into official U.S. policy. In announcing the legislation last week, cosponsor Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander declared, "The Iraq Study Group report is a strategy for tomorrow."
Actually, it's a strategy for yesterday.
The Iraq Study Group report is now eight months old, yet it just won't die. A lot has changed since it was introduced in December 2006, most notably the Iraqi central government's slide into irrelevance. Gen. David Patraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has mostly ignored the administration of Shiite leader Nuri al-Maliki and cut deals with local Sunni potentates to isolate al Qaeda. The few genuine successes touted in today's White House progress report are due to Petraeus's pragmatism, not to anything Maliki has done. Which is why the debate in Congress over "benchmarks" for the Iraqi government is so absurd. As military expert Anthony Cordesman notes today in his scathing critique of the White House's progress report, "It was all too clear that [the] Iraqi central government still remained too weak and divided to make the agreements and compromises required." Too bad Cordesman isn't writing Congressional legislation.
In a major blow to the Bush administration, U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici just endorsed a plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.
This is big. Domenici is a senior ranking and stalwart Republican, with 36 years in the Senate under his belt. He sits on the defense appropriations subcommittee. He's also up for reelection in 2008.
Come September, I suspect we'll be hearing a lot more Republicans sounding like this:
I want a new strategy for Iraq.... I am unwilling to continue our current strategy.
I have carefully studied the Iraq situation, and believe we cannot continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the Iraqi government is not making measurable progress to move its country forward. I do not support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq ... but I do support a new strategy that will move our troops out of combat operations and on the path to coming home."
The former chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee fired a subtle shot across the bow of the White House this week. His message? President Bush must revise his Iraq policy now, or face mass revolt within his own party come fall. The warning was delivered in a floor speech by Sen. Richard Lugar, who has apparently now decided that President Bush's troop surge is a failure and the that U.S. must begin withdrawing some troops from Iraq immediately. Here's how to read Lugar's comments:
Lugar: The prospects that the current “surge” strategy will succeed in the way originally envisioned by the President are very limited within the short period framed by our own domestic political debate.... Unless we recalibrate our strategy in Iraq to fit our domestic political conditions and the broader needs of U.S. national security, we risk foreign policy failures that could greatly diminish our influence in the region and the world.
Translation: Come January, Democrats will probably have the 60 votes necessary to pass legislation that would cut off funding for the war and bring troops home.
Lugar: In my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved. Persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term.
Translation: Most folks on the Hill believe that the assessment of the Baghdad security plan to be delivered by Gen. David Petraeus in September will say little or nothing other than "some progress has been made but more time is needed." But the status quo is not sustainable.
Lugar: Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari has told me that various aspects of an oil law and revenue distribution could be passed by September. But he emphasized that Iraqis are attempting to make policy in a difficult environment by broad consensus -- not by majority vote. He believes other policy advancements will take considerable time....
Translation: Setting benchmarks for the Iraqi government is all well and good, but it's anyone's guess as to when they will be met.
Lugar: We do not know whether the next President will be a Democrat or a Republican. But it is certain that domestic pressure for withdrawal will continue to be intense.... In short, our political timeline will not support a rational course adjustment in Iraq, unless such an adjustment is initiated very soon.
Lugar: Our security interests call for a downsizing and re-deployment of U.S. military forces to more sustainable positions in Iraq or the Middle East.
Lugar: The United States has violated some basic national security precepts during our military engagement in Iraq. We have overestimated what the military can achieve, we have set goals that are unrealistic, and we have inadequately factored in the broader regional consequences of our actions. Perhaps most critically, our focus on Iraq has diverted us from opportunities to change the world in directions that strengthen our national security.
Translation: This has been a fiasco. And if you think you're going to have an Iraq redux in Iran, Mr. President, think again.
CNN apparently decided that Paris Hilton's hearing was the bigger story, so I missed this until just now: U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced today that General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. military, will be stepping down. If all goes according to plan, Pace will be replaced by Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chief of naval operations, when the former leaves office on September 30. Vice Chairman Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr., will also be replaced.
Gates's press conference and statement were unusual because the defense secretary was seemingly transparent about his motives in letting Pace go. No excuses about "spending time with his family":
Gates said he intended to re-nominate Pace and Giambastiani but after consulting with senators of both parties came to the conclusions "that because General Pace has served as chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the last six years, the focus of his confirmation process would have been on the past rather than the future."
He said the confirmation process would have the possibility of being quite contentious. "I am no stranger to contentious confirmations, and I do not shrink from them," Gates said. "However, I have decided at this moment in our history, the nation, our men and women in uniform, and General Pace himself would not be well-served by a divisive ordeal in selecting the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."
In other words, Democrats threatened to turn Pace's reconfirmation hearings into a hearing on Iraq, and Republicans told Gates they'd rather avoid that. Another explanation raised by the New York Times is that Pentagon and White House officials believe the U.S. military "needs a new direction after years of being strained by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Interestingly, both the combatant commander for U.S. Central Command, William J. Fallon, and the prospective nominee to replace Pace, Michael G. Mullen, are Navy admirals. Fallon is rumored to be dovish on Iran, but it's worth noting that the U.S. military's two highest profile jobs will soon be held by guys who know a thing or two about protecting sea lanes such as ... the Straits of Hormuz.
America, so goes the conventional wisdom, is the land of opportunity. The land of self-made men. The land where the best and brightest can rise through nothing but their ability and will. The United States, however, could soon lose that reputation. In a little-noticed article in last Saturday's Washington Post, Anthony Faiola and Robin Shulman reported:
For years, foreign-born Nobel Prize winners, corporate officers, and top talents in sports, arts and sciences have had a fast track to permanent residency, and eventually citizenship, in the United States.
According to the current draft of the immigration bill, however, foreign nationals of extraordinary ability will have to queue up with everyone else for a work permit. This is because the bill does not provide anything like the EB-1 visa, a special track that currently allows talented applicants to bypass the ordinary immigration process.
Should the bill pass in its present form, even individuals of extraordinary abilities like John Lennon or Albert Einstein would instead be subjected to a complicated point system that judges them according to their level of education, English proficiency, and a few other factors. (Being a superstar is only worth eight out of 100 points, less than the 10 points for having a degree from a community college.) Philippe Legrain raised some important problems with this point system in a recent web exclusive for FP. But to my mind, it's the elimination of the EB-1 visa—and the possibility that rare geniuses who want to come to the United States might be rejected—that is most troubling.
It's the beginning of the so-called summer driving season in the United States, which means gasoline prices are going up. And that means it's time for U.S. politicians to pander to popular ignorance about energy prices. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the "Federal Price Gouging Protection Act," a bill that would make it illegal for gas companies to charge "unconscionably excessive" prices at the pump. A similar effort is underway in the Senate.
"Price gouging" is not a legal term in the United States, and the bill does not change this fact. What's an "unconscionably excessive" price? Presumably, as with pornography, the courts will be able to identify this phantom menace when they see it. Maybe they'll have better luck than the Federal Trade Commission. After Hurricane Katrina, the FTC investigated (pdf) allegations of price gouging and found none, concluding:
Based on well-established economic principles, the price increases were roughly in line with increases predicted by the standard supply and demand paradigm of a competitive market.
But the most idiotic part of the bill is that the same groups pushing for action on "price gouging" also rightly believe that the United States needs to reduce its demand for oil on national security and environmental grounds. Yet as Robert Samuelson points out in a spot-on column in today's Washington Post, only the pain of high gasoline prices will actually move significant numbers of Americans out of those Hummers and into Priuses and plug-in hybrids. The politicians surely know this, but knowing better has hardly stopped opportunistic lawmakers before. Why start now?
At a discussion yesterday featuring U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman on the global economy, U.S. Congressman Barney Frank had this to say:
The most influential economic spokesman in America today is Lou Dobbs, who regards the rest of the world somewhat suspiciously in terms of the negative impact he believes it has on America's middle class and working Americans.
Granted, Frank was only trying to make the point that Americans are starting to feel like the global economy is a losing proposition for U.S. workers and therefore are now taking on a more protectionist stance. Though Frank admitted he doesn't agree with most of Dobbs' positions, it's still a stretch to think that one CNN anchor holds so much sway over the American public.
That's Thomas Friedman's take as well:
I would greatly dispute Barney Frank's statement that Lou Dobbs is the most important economic voice in this country … People aren’t stupid. They want the truth. They understand the world they are living in.
Since the 2004 campaign, more and more U.S. politicians have latched on to YouTube as a way to "go viral" and reach the increasingly powerful "netroots". Witness Democratic presidential long shot Bill Richardson's clever new job interview ad, which has already been viewed over 50,000 times since Tuesday. And as Kevin Drum cynically observed yesterday, the real prize for the attention-starved New Mexico governor will be when the New York Times writes "another thumbsucker about the power of new media, complete with chin scratching quotes from [new media gurus] Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis."
Well, here's something altogether new for the gurus to ponder: politicians who wish to be journalists. Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey recently debuted his own YouTube channel, where he has so far advertised not himself, but ... YouTube. Here's Markey's interview with YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley:
This was former Bush State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson speaking on NPR's "On Point" today:
[O]ur founding fathers, Hamilton, Washington, Monroe, Madison, would all be astounded that over the course of our short history as a country, 200 plus years, we haven't used that little two to three lines in Article II of the Constitution more frequently, the impeachment clause. I do believe that they would have thought had they been asked by you or whomever at the time of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia 'Do you think this will be exercised?' they would have said 'Of course it will, every generation they'll have to throw some bastard out'. That's a form of accountability too. It's ultimate accountability.... The language in that article, the language in those two or three lines about impeachment is nice and precise – it's high crimes and misdemeanors. You compare Bill Clinton's peccadilloes for which he was impeached to George Bush's high crimes and misdemeanors or Dick Cheney's high crimes and misdemeanors, and I think they pale in significance."
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