Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Piling on Kyl

Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) has returned from a trip to the Middle East "with a growing concern over the pernicious role Iran plays in the region." According to Kyl, we know that Shiite militias "are clearly being armed by Iranian agents" because we've found advanced IEDs - known as Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs) - that "had Farsi writing on them indicating they were made in Iran."

Note to Jon: This is very thin gruel! First, as retired Army lieutenant general William E. Odom has noted, the idea that we need to escalate the war to counter "the pernicious role Iran plays in the region" is preposterous:
One of the president's initial war aims, the creation of a democracy in Iraq, ensured increased Iranian influence, both in Iraq and the region. Electoral democracy, predictably, would put Shiite groups in power -- groups supported by Iran since Saddam Hussein repressed them in 1991. Why are so many members of Congress swallowing the claim that prolonging the war is now supposed to prevent precisely what starting the war inexorably and predictably caused?
Secondly, Kyl's uncritical parroting of Bush administration talking points on Iranian EFPs distorts what in reality is a very complicated situation. Of course, in pointing this out I do not mean to suggest that the Iranians are a stabilizing force in Iraq - though as noted above, Kyl would do well to remember that our invasion made Iranian meddling in Iraq inevitable (for more on how the U.S. has also been throwing its weight behind less than savory Shia groups in Iraq, see here). That said, Kyl simply has no way of knowing whether (1) Iranian weapons are actually meant to be used to kill U.S. forces (as opposed to aiding the Shia groups in their war against the Sunnis, for example) or (2) if the highest levels of the Iranian government have actually authorized the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps's Qods Force to supply weapons for use against U.S. troops. What's more, Kyl's claims are further undermined by this Wall Street Journal report which shows that Iraqi insurgents and militias appear to be capable of constructing EFPs on their own!

Posted by Kingston

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Yes To Diplomacy

According to this report, it appears that the Bush administration is rethinking its ridiculous policy of nonengagement with Iran and Syria on Iraq. Though there are no plans for direct talks between the U.S. and Iran - apparently negotiations will occur in the context of a series of international meetings on Iraq planned for this Spring - this is certainly an upgrade over the current approach, which basically amounts to denying that we desire a war with Iran, but in the next breadth pursuing policies that make the war we're trying to avoid more likely.

Posted by Kingston

Assassination Attempt

The assassination attempt of Iraqi Shiite VP, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, is troubling, not least because it was carried out in the Ministry of Public works, a building with supposedly impenetrable surveilance from the time of Saddam Hussein. US troops had swept the building with bomb sniffing dogs just hours before the explosion.

This is yet another reminder that the US is incapable of creating security in the country, even in one of the most secure buildings in Baghdad.

It's time to leave.

Posted by Peter

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Cheney Strategy

Dick holds no punches in describing Pelosi as a new-aged appeaser:

"Al-Qaeda functions on the basis that they think they can break our will. That's their fundamental underlying strategy: that if they can kill enough Americans or cause enough havoc, create enough chaos in Iraq, then we'll quit and go home," Cheney added. "And my statement was that if we adopt the Pelosi policy, that then we will validate the strategy of al-Qaeda. I said it, and I meant it."

Cheney's strategy, on the other hand, is flawless: stay in Iraq so as to validate al-Qaeda's claims that the USA is an imperial power, increase terrorist recruiting, lose American soldiers in a war which makes the US weaker as opposed to stronger and perpetuate chaos in Iraq by stopping the Iraqis from dealing with their own civil war.

Cheney is incapable of admiting that the invasion was a mistake, and that our continued presence strengthens the enemy. Americans are still influenced by his irrational rhetoric, but hopefully they are learning that he can't be trusted.

Posted by Peter

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Budget Woes

Robert Samuelson has a great article over at Real Clear Politics. It asks ,Democrats in particular, to think a little harder about our budget priorities. This graph helps emaphasize the change in national priorities over the last 40 years.

In 2006, the federal government spent almost $2.7 trillion. Social Security ($544 billion), Medicare ($374 billion) and Medicaid ($181 billion) are the largest permanent, and growing, sections of that budget. Military spending was $520 billion (including Iraq). Although I believe that military spending should be about two-thirds that amount (not to mention allocated very differently), even saving $200 billion does not cover the deficit.

We need to reconsider who receives welfare payments and why; these are political landmines. When Roosevelt first signed The Social Security Act, poverty rates among senior citizens exceeded 50%. There are still destitute senior citizens, but the numbers are no longer comparable, nor are the problems that seniors face, or workers face in moving towards retirement. The average life expectancy has increased by about 10 years.

It's time that American citizens understand the finer points of this debate, so that populist politicians can't demonize realistic solutions.

Posted by Peter

Strong Strategy

John Murtha is advocating a bill that will forbid the Pentagon from sending additional troops "unless they have adequate training and unless they have adequate equipment." Since the Democrats argue that thousands of troops lack body armor, the bill seemingly has merit; in reality, since soldiers are always at risk, there is never enough protection from this perspective. Such a bill would curtail Bush's dangerous Surge. Extending the strategy to include bringing home troops who have been in a war zone for a single tour of duty would go a long way towards ending America's presence in the country.

This strategy has strong rhetorical value since it shifts the focus from ending the war to protecting the troops. All they need is a Republican Strategist to give the bill a catchy name (an equivalent to the Death Tax). Maybe the Soldier Defense Act, or Protect Our Soldiers Bill. Who knows. Accompany the bill with pictures of 18 year old boys coming back in body bags and the American public will broadly support of the bill.

The Democrats could never block funding for "the troops" and hence not stop the war by attacking the funding directly. Bush has done a good job of turning his $93 Billion request for funds into a litmus test for "supporting the troops".

If the Democrats can tie all Iraq war funding to "adequate" training and protection of the troops and limits on tours of duty, they might have an appealing political package that will finally get us out of Iraq. The question remains whether congress will be able to exert enough oversight to restrain the executive in this way.

Posted by Peter

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

War on Terror v. The Cold War

Question: Which is more misguided, the Domino Theory or the Iraq Theory?

The Domino Theory was the idea during the Cold War that if we didn't fight the Russians at every moment as if it were the final showdown, they would slowly conquer the world, like dominos falling, one after another.

The Iraq Theory is the current misperception that the entire War on Terror is encompassed within the borders of Iraq, and leaving would be tantamount to inviding Al-Qaeda (read: everyone who has ever been anti-American) to enter our homeland and blow it up.

Both theories are wrong, I'm just not sure which is more destructive for America.

Posted by Peter

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Thank You, GOP

Via Mike Crowley, get a load of this internal House GOP memo:
The debate should not be about the surge or its details. This debate should not even be about the Iraq war to date, mistakes that have been made, or whether we can, or cannot, win militarily. If we let Democrats force us into a debate on the surge or the current situation in Iraq, we lose.

Rather, the debate must be about the global threat of the radical Islamic movemebnt... Join us in asking our Democratic colleagues, if we do not defeat the radical Islam in Iraq, then where will we do so?
Note to Democrats: Add this to the arsenal of cudgels meant for use against the GOP in the lead up to 2008!

P.S. Aren't you glad to see that Republicans are supporting the Bush administration's escalation of the war in Iraq because they actually believe it can succeed!?

Posted by Kingston

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Executive Pay Reductions?

The Associated Press suggests that CEO pay will draw increasing scrutiny this year.

While it's true that President Bush did a little token finger wagging at executive compensation in a recent speach, I'm not holding my breath for real action. Activist investors don't have the same power as insiders, and ultimately, insiders determine the pay packages.

Posted by Peter

Friday, February 09, 2007

Politics 101

What are the chances the Maliki will actually combat the Shiite and Sunni militias equally? Based on the history of most politicians, particularly in states with civil war, the odds are unlikely. One of the fundamental lessons of politics is to support your base. Given that Maliki came to power with the help of Sadr and the very Shiite's he is now supposedly targeting, he would be an uncommon leader to honor his word on this score.

More likely, he is telling George Bush exactly what he wants to hear (as Putin has done quite successfully I might add) and carry out a few token raids against those Shiites that oppose him.

Considering that the majority of Iraqi's are Shiite, he isn't going to abandon nationalist politics now.

Posted by Peter

Surge Politics

So now that the surge is underway will Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki make good on his promise to crack down equally on all perpetrators of violence, whether they be Sunni or Shia? Not so says Joshua Partlow in today's Washington Post:
Iraqi and U.S. forces should not launch a military offensive against the militias -- most of them Shiite -- that are a major source of turmoil in Iraq, but should instead rely on nonviolent steps to bring militiamen into the political fold, according to an Iraqi report that draws largely on the views of prominent Shiite politicians.

"In the short-term at least, there can be no military offensive against the militias. Military confrontation, in the current climate, will only strengthen their appeal and swell their ranks," the Baghdad Institute for Public Policy Research concludes.

The institute said the 18-page report, "Dismantling Iraq's Militias," was based on a round-table discussion by six Shiite politicians, two Kurds and a Sunni Arab. Government officials said Thursday it would be considered in setting policy, but some here saw it as reflecting the private thinking of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as more U.S. troops arrive to try to end the violence.

Maliki has publicly declared that the joint effort will target all lawbreakers equally, regardless of sectarian affiliation. But late last year, his advisers said the prime minister was urging the Americans to combat Sunni groups while Iraqi forces focused on Shiite militias.
Or to put it another way, Maliki and his supporters want American troops to do the dirty work of sidelining the Sunnis while he consolidates Shia hegemony over Iraq. Anyone else think American troops shouldn't be dying for this?

Posted by Kingston

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Gambling on '08

One of my favorite sites on the internet is, eventhough I've never bet on a sporting event there. That's because TradeSports also has a market for political bets, including the US primaries and 2008 presidential election. For finance lovers, you can sometimes find arbitrage opportunities for easy money (we spent a good deal of time in a finance seminar at Dartmouth one spring making arbitrage profits off Pope contracts).

I've been following the contracts for the Democratic nominee since 2005. Hillary Clinton has topped the list for 2 years, with a current ask price of $49.9 and a volume of 89,500 contracts (this means the market believes that Hillary has roughly a 49.9% chance of winning). Barack Obama contracts are selling for $18.7.

For someone who worries about the rise of the royal presidency and the triumph of cold political calculation, these are not happy numbers.

On the bright side, contracts for Democrats winning the Presidency in 2008 are selling for $55.9.

The market is often wrong, and to make a little money proving my point, I'm going to sell some Hillary contracts short and go long on Barack Obama.

Posted by Peter

Monday, February 05, 2007

Blame the Democrats

Back in January I wrote about how many of those supporting President Bush's escalation of the war in Iraq were at the same time beginning to lay the groudwork to blame the Democrats in the event that the troop surge were to fail. That effort is now in full swing. As Noemie Emery puts it in the most recent issue of the Weekly Standard,
If...the surge is seen to fail, [the Democrats] will be the ones who made it more difficult, demoralized the armed forces, kneecapped the commander, and telegraphed to the enemy that our will was cracking, and we would shortly be leaving.
I don't want to spend too much time on Emery's smear because it borders on McCarthyism. I will say, however, that rants like this demonstrate just how desperate and unhinged the neocon's position on Iraq has become.

Posted by Kingston

Budget Bonanza

Don't sell your equity in military contractors quite yet; Bush just asked for at least $624.6 Billion for defence spending. This money could do great good for domestic programs, or even for more intelligent foreign affairs. Instead, Bush wants to waste it in a quagmire.

Posted by Peter

Saturday, February 03, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth

For those who haven't seen the movie, I recommend that you watch it here.

It is compelling and shocking. A couple of points.

1) That the US has lower emission standards than China, or any other developed nation is embarrassing and stupid. The weak laws may have caused complacency in Detroit and exacerbated the decline of US automakers relative to Japan.

2) The pictures of melting in Greenland and Antartica, followed by models of flooding around the world (20ft) are powerful.

3) The comparison of Big Tabacco media denials with those of Big Oil make me even more concerned that Mr. Gore is correct.

This is more than just an incovenient truth.

Iraq Chaos

More grim news from Iraq today as a suicide truck bomber slaughtered more than 100 people in a Shiite area of Baghdad. How should this news be interpreted? One would expect most rational people to come to the conclusion that the inability of US/Iraqi forces to protect ordinary Iraqis from being regularly blown up on the streets of Baghdad nearly four years after the toppling of Saddam suggests that our mission is failing rather than succeeding. Not so says Powerline. Paul Mirengoff has frequently argued that things in Iraq are not nearly as bad as the Democrats and mainstream media make them out to be (see here). Unfortunately, mass casualty terrorist attacks like the one that occurred today in Baghdad "help persuade Americans that our mission is failing." If only I could take refuge in the world of purposeful obfuscation as comfortably as Powerline. Then I would realize that the problem with all the bad news from Iraq is that it deludes Americans into thinking that we may actually be losing.

Posted by Kingston