Archive for June, 2006

Obama on Faith

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

Supposedly some in the lefty blogosphere are saying nasty things about Barack Obama’s recent speech calling for a re-assessment of the role of religious faith in public life.

I have no sympathy for such lefty bloggers. That speech kicked serious ass, and the junior senator from Illinois can be my president any time he wants to, as far as I’m concerned.

The 500 Chemical Weapon Munitions We’ve Found in Iraq

Saturday, June 24th, 2006

Heh. I’d seen a few mentions of this leaking out from the wingnut choir. But now Rick Santorum (among other right-wing politicians) is making noise about this alleged discovery of the WMD that prove that Bush was telling the truth all along about the nature of the Iraqi threat.

Jonathon Schwarz does a good job of explaining the truth of this story using small words even a child (though not a committed ideologue, sadly) can understand: Today is the day my head finally explodes.

Wolfe on the Problem with Conservative Government

Saturday, June 24th, 2006

Obviously, I read a lot of political wankery. It’s a habit that goes back to when I was in college, majoring in political science not because I wanted to go on to law school and get rich, like many of my classmates, but because I thought the assigned reading was just, well, interesting.

As with many longterm habits, I sometimes find myself wondering if I’m still indulging in it more because of personal intertia than because I’m getting anything out of it. But once in a while something comes along that reminds me of how fun it is to think about this stuff.

The latest case in point, for me at least, was this piece by Alan Wolfe in The Washington Monthly: Why conservatives can’t govern. For someone who read Hobbes and Locke and Burke for fun, this is great stuff. Highly recommended.

Contemporary conservatism is first and foremost about shrinking the size and reach of the federal government. This mission, let us be clear, is an ideological one. It does not emerge out of an attempt to solve real-world problems, such as managing increasing deficits or finding revenue to pay for entitlements built into the structure of federal legislation. It stems, rather, from the libertarian conviction, repeated endlessly by George W. Bush, that the money government collects in order to carry out its business properly belongs to the people themselves. One thought, and one thought only, guided Bush and his Republican allies since they assumed power in the wake of Bush vs. Gore: taxes must be cut, and the more they are cut–especially in ways benefiting the rich–the better.

But like all politicians, conservatives, once in office, find themselves under constant pressure from constituents to use government to improve their lives. This puts conservatives in the awkward position of managing government agencies whose missions–indeed, whose very existence–they believe to be illegitimate. Contemporary conservatism is a walking contradiction. Unable to shrink government but unwilling to improve it, conservatives attempt to split the difference, expanding government for political gain, but always in ways that validate their disregard for the very thing they are expanding. The end result is not just bigger government, but more incompetent government.

Presidential Approval During Wartime

Saturday, June 24th, 2006

I’ve been criticized for comparing the monthly death toll of US soldiers in Iraq and Vietnam. But of course, I’m not the only one who makes questionable comparisons between different wars.

Take the Bush team’s habit of trotting out comparisons to World War II whenever they’re feeling particularly defensive about Iraq. The latest example was on June 18, when Tony Snow said the following to Wolf Blitzer:

The president understands people’s impatience — not impatience but how a war can wear on a nation. He understands that. If somebody had taken a poll in the Battle of the Bulge, I dare say people would have said, ‘Wow, my goodness, what are we doing here?’ But you cannot conduct a war based on polls.

Joshua Marshall had some interesting comments on that (It’s a minor point…), and he followed up with a graphic showing the results of secret opinion polling conducted during World War II (Okay, back on Monday…).

But of course, Snow wasn’t making a serious argument about whether a president should try to direct a war based on polling data. What Snow was really doing was trying to foster a subconcious idea that our current situation in Iraq is analogous to the situation the Allies faced during the Battle of the Bulge, and that Bush’s leadership is analogous to that of FDR.

Which makes a certain limited sort of sense, at least at first glance. At this point, the Iraq war has been going on just about as long as US involvement in World War II had at that point. So in recognition of that, I prepared the following (click image for a larger version):

A few notes:

  • For the FDR numbers, I used the Hadley Cantril graph provided by Josh Marshall, doing my best to estimate the monthly values of the “per cent approving way F.D.R. handling his job” line.
  • For the Bush numbers, I used Gallup, as given at, in each case choosing the poll number closest to the end of the calendar month.

I know from past experience that people won’t bother to read this, but for the record, I hereby stipulate that Iraq is a very different sort of war than World War II. More than 400,000 US soldiers died during WWII; during the same span of time about 2,500 have died in Iraq. But hey; it wasn’t my comparison. It was Snow’s.

Joshua Marshall already made this point, but I think the annotated timeline of the two wars makes it clearer. Bush is in nothing like the position FDR was during the Battle of the Bulge. At that point in WWII, the Allies were closing in on the Axis from all sides, with growing superiority in every area of the conflict and the only real question being whether the end would come soon (in the sense of a few months) or not quite so soon (in the sense of a few months later).

I suppose you could argue that a technological breakthrough could have turned the tide; nuclear-tipped V2s, or rocket fighters that gave the Luftwaffe overhwelming air superiority. But knowing what we know today, that wasn’t really in the cards, and in terms of the way the war was actually playing out, it was very much the endgame. And people recognized that; they’d been following the course of the war, and they knew they were winning.

Iraq is completely different. Outside the pro-Bush spin zone, there’s real doubt about how things are going to turn out, and Bush’s approval numbers reflect that. For my money, it looks more and more likely that we will end up leaving Iraq with our tail between our legs, with the best option we can hope for being the restoration of a Saddam-style dictator hostile to al Qaeda who will be able to prevent the place from serving as a breeding ground for Islamist terror.

Which, in case you weren’t paying attention, is more or less what we already had several hundred billion dollars and several thousand soldiers’ lives ago.

In the face of this catastrophe, Bush has no plan beyond “stay the course.” He would rather keep grinding soldiers into hamburger than admit his policies have failed, and he’s just going to leave it up to his replacement to figure out a solution, avoiding accountability by arguing that talk of withdrawal would embolden the insurgency, and hiding behind the (selectively filtered) judgement of military leaders.

From Bush’s March 21, 2006, press conference:

Q Will there come a day — and I’m not asking you when, not asking for a timetable — will there come a day when there will be no more American forces in Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT: That, of course, is an objective, and that will be decided by future Presidents and future governments of Iraq.

Q So it won’t happen on your watch?

THE PRESIDENT: You mean a complete withdrawal? That’s a timetable. I can only tell you that I will make decisions on force levels based upon what the commanders on the ground say.

Iraq War Dead for May, 2006

Saturday, June 24th, 2006

I’m a little late, but here are the updated graphs of US war deaths in Iraq for May.

As always, I’m comparing the military casualties to those from the Vietnam war at a similar point in each war’s political lifetime (which some have charged is misleading; see disclaimer below). The data come from the advanced search tool at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund site, and from Lunaville’s page on Iraq coalition casualties. The figures are for the number of US dead per month, without regard to whether the deaths were combat-related.

The first graph shows the first 39 months of the comparison. (Click on any image for a larger version.)

Next, the chart that gives the US death toll for the entire Vietnam war:

Disclaimer: I’ve been accused of comparing apples to oranges in these graphs. For the record, here’s what I am not arguing:

  • I’m not saying that Iraq is somehow deadlier per soldier-on-the-ground than Vietnam. For both wars, the number of fatalities in any given month tracks pretty closely with the number of troops deployed (along with the intensity of the combat operations being conducted). There are more troops in Iraq today than were in Vietnam during the “corresponding” parts of the graphs. Similarly, for later years in Vietnam, when the monthly death toll exceeded the current Iraq numbers, there were many more troops in place.
  • I am not saying that Iraq is somehow “worse” than Vietnam. I include the first graph mainly because I wanted a zoomed-in view of the Iraq data. And I include the second graph, which shows the entire span of the Vietnam war, because I want to be clear about what the data show about overall death tolls — where any rational assessment would have to conclude that, at least so far, Iraq has been far less significant (at least in terms of US combat fatalities) than Vietnam.

I was just curious how the “death profile” of the two wars compared, and how those deaths played out in terms of their political impact inside the US. For that reason, I chose as the starting point for each graph the first fatality that a US president acknowledged (belatedly, in the case of the Vietnam graph, since US involvement in the war “began” under Kennedy, but the acknowledgement was made only later by Johnson) as having resulted from the war in question.

As ever, you are free to draw your own conclusions. And for that matter, you’re free to draw your own graphs, if you have a way of presenting the information that you believe would be better. In that case, feel free to post a comment with a URL to your own version. Thanks.

Joshua Marshall on the Current Iraq War Debate

Saturday, June 24th, 2006

Joshua Marshall gets it exactly right in his take on the current state of the Republican/Democratic “debate” over our future in Iraq: Consider this post an open letter to Senate Democrats.

For my part, I’d rather put more troops into Iraq than leave the status quo, as long as there was a clear plan for bringing the war and occupation to a satisfactory conclusion. The thing is that the status quo is morally indefensible because it just means continue to burn through men and money for a failed policy because President Bush isn’t capable of admitting his policies have failed.

He’s like an owner of a business that’s slowly going under. He doesn’t know how to save the situation. So he won’t get more money or resources to fix the business. That’s throwing good money after bad. And he won’t just liquidate and save what he can, because then he’d have to come to grips with the fact that he’s failed. So his policy is denial and slow failure. Here of course the analogy to President Bush is rather precise since he only has to hold out until 2009 when he can give the problem to someone else, just as he did in his past life with other businesses he drove into the ground.

But for the country that’s not acceptable. We don’t have a policy except for slow burn and denial. And the president’s ego isn’t enough to ask men and women to die for. We need an actual plan. And the president doesn’t have one.

Former Guantanamo Detainee Speaks

Saturday, June 17th, 2006

Mourad Benchellaili, writing in the NY Times: Detainees in despair:

I believe that a small number of the detainees at Guantanamo are guilty of criminal acts, but as analysis of the military’s documents on the prisoners has shown, there is no evidence that most of the 465 or so men there have committed hostile acts against the United States or its allies. Even so, what I heard so many times resounding from cage to cage, what I said myself so many times in my moments of complete despondency, was not, “Free us, we are innocent!” but “Judge us for whatever we’ve done!” There is unlimited cruelty in a system that seems to be unable to free the innocent and unable to punish the guilty. Podcast 20

Thursday, June 15th, 2006

It’s podcast 20, including:

  • Bush’s good week, what with rebounding polls, blowing up Zarqawi, a chance to play preznit in the Green Zone, and Rove’s non-indictment.
  • The Republican playbook for the midterm elections, in which I bone-headedly say “Republicans” (twice!) when I mean to say “Democrats”. See? The Republicans are everywhere! Aiyee!!
  • Julia’s imminent graduation from Santa Barbara Middle School, and a sneak preview of the speech I’ll be delivering in her honor tomorrow.
  • Some sailing I’ll be doing in the next month or so.
  • An extended paean to the Keith and the Girl podcast, including a description of why I think they’re so good for each other.

RFK Jr. on the Stolen 2004 Election

Tuesday, June 6th, 2006

Regardless of who you supported in the 2004 presidential election, I think you have an obligation to consider the case presented by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in the latest issue of Rolling Stone: Was the 2004 election stolen?

He presents a pretty powerful argument. At the end of the day, I think there’s every reason to believe that George Bush and the Republican party stole not just one, but two elections. That a group of people who have turned out to be such poor defenders of our democracy once in power would have been willing to subvert that democracy in order to gain power shouldn’t be surprising, I guess. But it is kind of depressing. Podcast 19

Friday, June 2nd, 2006

Here’s podcast 19, in which I talk about:

  • The Haditha massacre, and Craig and trg34221’s comments about it.
  • Moral relativism, right-wing style.
  • Blue Grosbeaks and White-tailed Kites at the Carpinteria Bluffs.
  • Audio of my real-time reaction to an almost-accident when some paintings fly off the roof of a car in front of me.
  • The odd paradox of feeling like I’m not talking to anybody, really, so I can talk about anything I want, while realizing that actually, I’m publishing my comments for the entire world to download, should the world be foolish enough to want to.
  • Apropos of that, some (possibly too personal) detail about a visit to the doctor’s office that I made this week.

Get it while it’s hot.