Saturday, July 3, 2004

Rethinking the Guard and Reserves

Thom Shanker's story in the Sunday New York Times explores how post-9/11 commitments will require a rethink of the National Guard and National Reserves in defese planning:

The National Guard and Reserves must be fundamentally revamped if they are to carry the growing burden placed on them in support of the administration's military strategy, according to many commanders, Pentagon officials and respected national security experts.

With hundreds of thousands of these citizen-soldiers having deployed in the combat zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, and others engaged in missions related to the global campaign against terrorism overseas and here at home, these concerns have broad implications for the Bush administration's plans to protect the United States....

The current Guard and Reserve system was designed after the Vietnam War, a conflict in which neither President Lyndon B. Johnson nor President Richard M. Nixon called up reservists in significant numbers, fearing greater opposition to their policies. In frustration, Gen. Creighton W. Abrams, the Army chief, shaped a post-Vietnam mix of active and reserve forces to ensure that when America went to war with its new all-volunteer force, hometown America would have to go too.

Shanker does a good job of delineating the budgetary and training disparities:

Richard I. Stark, who is analyzing reserve affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington policy research institute, said that the Army traditionally kept about half of its capability in the Guard and Reserves, yet for years devoted only 8 percent of its budget to those units.

"That huge disparity will have to be revisited because we are using them with increasing frequency," Mr. Stark said....

Military commanders in Washington and in the combat zone frequently said in private that a number of reservists arrive for duty ill-prepared for the challenges they face in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular lacking specific combat skills required even of truck drivers in the war zone. They say the reservists also do not have something more intangible but equally important: a warrior ethos, which can hardly be inculcated by training one weekend a month and two weeks a year for service in the most violent places on earth, or in the rapid weeks of accelerated training before deployment....

[N]early two months traveling in Iraq this year disclosed many first-hand examples of the disparity between active-duty troops and their Guard and Reserve comrades.

During the huge troop rotation this spring, in which nearly a quarter-million American military personnel flowed in and out of Iraq, fresh ground forces stopped first at a series of deployment camps in northern Kuwait to acclimate to the hot temperatures and focus on live-fire combat skills.

Despite spring temperatures that already pushed toward 100 degrees, and the relative safety of camps in Kuwait, commanders of active-duty units like the First Infantry Division ordered their soldiers to wear heavy helmets and flak jackets at all times except inside their tents and mess halls or en route to the showers: all part of an effort to get the troops into the combat mind-set.

In contrast, many soldiers who identified themselves as reservists walked the hot and dusty bases in shorts, baseball caps and sandals.

Even inside the war zone of Iraq, the differences were visible.

Col. Dana J. H. Pittard, commander of the First Infantry's Third Brigade, gave voice to worries about the lackadaisical approach to security shown by some reservists not under his command. On a dangerous 34-hour convoy drive north from Kuwait to Camp Warhorse, near Baquba, an insurgents' stronghold, he marched up and down a mile-long row of vehicles belonging to a mix of units, scolding scores of reservists he spotted not wearing body armor.

Read the whole thing -- and be sure to check out Phil Carter's thoughts on the matter once he reads it.

UPDATE: Here's Phil's partial response. Be sure to read the whole thing, but I thought this was a compelling point:

I talked to several Pentagon policy officials and think-tankers last week about this argument, and I am starting to see its credibility. According to this line of thought, the emergency measures cited above are not so much signs of the force breaking, as they are signs of the force working exactly as intended. That is, we are a nation at war. Our military needs extra personnel now to fight this war, and probably for the next few years. Thus, it has called up reservists and used additional temporary measures to make ends meet. But when the crisis passes (assuming it does), the military reservists will be demobilized, and the military will contract. Yes, there is some hardship for the reservists who are called up. But, this argument continues, better to call up these reservists who accept the risk voluntarily, than to conscript mass numbers of citizens and compel them to kill or be killed in combat.

Moreover, Pentagon policymakers say (and I agree) that it would be tremendously inefficient and impractical to start a draft when the personnel needs are in the thousands or tens of thousands. A draft, which traces back to Napoleon's levee en masse, is used when you need to mobilize millions of young Americans for battle. If that cataclysmic day comes, then our Selective Service system stands ready (in mothballs) to swing into action. But until then, the Pentagon argument goes, it is far more efficient and effective to use reservists.

posted by Dan at 05:47 PM | Comments (34) | Trackbacks (1)

Friday, July 2, 2004

The most profitable blog in history

Until recently, Jessica Cutler was an undeniably attractive twentysomething staffer for Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio). For most of the month of May, Cutler blogged anonymously as Washingtonienne. The posts mostly recounted various alleged trysts with various men -- some of them involved money changing hands -- some of whom were allegedly high-ranking administration officials.

In late May, DeWine fired Cutler from her $25,000 position for "unacceptable use of Senate computers," and Cutler stopped blogging. The Washington Post's Richard Leiby and (the undeniably attractive) Wonkette covered this in detail at the time.

Yesterday, the New York Times reported the following:

Ms. Cutler has taken what, for generations of young women who have become involved with the powerful, has been the next logical step. She has become a writer. Yesterday she sold a novel based on her exploits to HyperionDisney (Walt). Her agent, Michael Carlisle of Carlisle & Company, said the price was "a substantial six figures," and Hyperion would not be more specific. Not only did he sell her novel, he said, but she will also pose nude for the November issue of Playboy. Ms. Cutler's novel will be called "The Washingtonienne," after the name of her blog. Mr. Carlisle said that Ms. Cutler would not speak to the press until the book was published, perhaps a year from now.

Wonkette has more dirt:

About that Washingtonienne book deal: We hear the bidding started Tuesday at $75K, based on a 25 page proposal (described as "pretty f***ing twisted"). A dozen houses went for it, and she wound up with a cool $300-f***ing-000.

So, basically, Cutler got a $300,000 return on approximately two weeks worth of blogging.

Readers are invited to suggest ways for other bloggers to make that kind of scratch involving blogging that do not involve a) cheating on spouses; or b) committing a felony.

posted by Dan at 06:34 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (2)

AIDS update

Voice of America reports on recent research on a generic three-in-one drug to fight AIDS:

A team of French medical researchers say a single dose of an inexpensive AIDS medicine is just as effective as three doses of expensive drugs.

The French national agency for AIDS research published its findings in the British medical journal Lancet.

The generic medicine is manufactured by an Indian pharmaceutical firm.

Doctors gave a single pill containing generic versions of three separate drugs to 60 AIDS patients in the West African nation of Cameroon. The patients took the pill twice a day. Six months later, 80 percent of the patients showed no sign of the virus.

The researchers say the cheap drugs can help the United Nations reach its goal of treating three million HIV-infected people in developing countries by the end of 2005.

Here's a link to the aforementioned Lancet article -- and here's a link to Sally Satel's more pessimistic take on the quality of generics in a Los Angeles Times op-ed.

Meanwhile, the same issue of Lancet has an epidemiological study of HIV trends in sub-Saharan Africa that also offers a modest dollop of good news:

Recent trends in HIV prevalence in women attending antenatal clinics suggest that the epidemic has levelled off since the late 1990s in all countries in Sub-saharan Africa. In eastern Africa, there is an indication of a gradual and modest decline. In western and central Africa there is no consistent evidence of changes in HIV prevalence in recent years and in southern Africa most countries report either a stabilisation or at worst a small increase in HIV prevalence.

posted by Dan at 03:01 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

A looming Republican civil war?

As many of my ideological soulmates make grudging moves towards joining the Kerry camp, and as GOP lawmakers fail to pass a (nonbinding) budget resolution, Andrew Sullivan predicts the future of the Republican Party:

The current tussle in the Congress over the budget is just a precursor to what I think will be outright Republican civil war after this election. If Bush wins, it will cripple his ability to get anything done. If he loses, the recriminations will get vicious. The fiscal conservatives will be fighting the "deficits-don't-matter" crowd. The realists will be out to topple the neocons. The Santorum-Ashcroft axis will continue to wage war on any Republicans not interested in legislating either the Old Testament or the dictates of the Vatican. (The FMA battle now looks more and more like an attempt by Santorum to identify Republican social moderates so he can use primary hardliners to challenge them in the future.) The battle lines are deep and sharp - and the future of American conservatism is at stake. Bush has proven himself unable to unite a party that includes Tom DeLay as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger, John McCain and Bill Frist. Whether the coming civil war is about who lost the election, or who will exploit the victory, it's going to be nasty and enduring. No single party can be both for individual liberty and for theologically-based social policy; both for fiscal balance and drunken-sailor spending; both for interventionism abroad and against moralism in foreign policy. The incoherence is just too deep, the tensions too strained. And with the war on terror itself a point of contention among conservatives, geo-politics will not be able to keep the coalition in one piece.

I partly agree with Andrew but partly disagree. He's wrong about what happens if Bush wins. Nothing eases internal party divisions like winning, and I find it hard to believe that the fissures that Andrew highlights would burst open if Bush were to win re-election. Indeed, it's telling that the Bush administration has decided to award prime time slots at the GOP convention to a lot of Republicans that have had strained relations with the White House. It's also telling that they've accepted.

I agree with Andrew about what happens if Bush loses -- but if anything, I think the internecine conflict will be bloodier than he projects. The reason is that the disgruntled Republicans are a motley lot, and might be alienated from each other just as much as they feel alienated from the White House. On the foreign policy front, the realists are disenchanted with the Bush team for listening to the neocons, the neocons are upset that the realists seem to be in charge, and the remaining "internationalists" are upset with both of the other groups. On fiscal matters, libertarians are upset at the growth of the federal government while moderates are upset at the growth of the budget deficit. This doesn't even touch on social issues.

If Bush loses, there's going to be a fight -- but the battle lines are going to be very, very messy.

UPDATE: Chris Lawrence makes an interesting counterpoint:

If Bush loses, chances are many of the “moderate” Republicans will lose too—moderates tend to be in more competitive House seats—so, if anything, a Bush loss should lead to a more coherent and socially conservative party, who no doubt will be determined to make a Kerry administration the least productive administration in American history.

posted by Dan at 12:39 PM | Comments (48) | Trackbacks (2)

Josh Marshall outsources his research

I'd like to congratulate Joshua Micah Marshall for improving his productivity by recycling a John Kerry press release in his snarky post on offshore outsourcing. Sure, some bloggers might have dug a bit deeper to get more information -- like the fact that John Kerry's policy proposals on outsourcing would have zero effect on the job losses Marshall broods about. And sure, by completely outsourcing his research to Kerry's campaign, Marshall may have missed just a few of the nuances involved in the debate on offshore outsourcing -- but Marshall did post first on this. Congratulations, Josh!!

[Hey, didn't you just do this as well?--ed. Yeah, but I said it was a press release when I did it.]

More seriously, in the wake of mediocre job numbers for June, Paul Blustein has a Washington Post story that's worth checking out on the topic. The lead paragraphs look scary:

A report by an influential consulting firm is exhorting U.S. companies to speed up "offshoring" operations to China and India, including high-powered functions such as research and development.

In blunt terms, the report by the Boston Consulting Group warns American firms that they risk extinction if they hesitate in shifting facilities to countries with low costs. That is partly because the potential savings are so vast, but the report also cites a view among U.S. executives that the quality of American workers is deteriorating.

However, the story goes on to quote some interesting research findings:

Matthew J. Slaughter, a professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, pointed to research he published in March using Commerce Department data to show how offshoring can have a positive impact on U.S. job growth, as part of the "churn" in employment that constantly eliminates jobs but also adds them.

Although U.S. multinationals expanded their overseas payrolls by 2.8 million from 1991 to 2001, in moves that often involved factory closures and layoffs in the United States, they expanded their U.S. employment levels by nearly 5.5 million, according to Slaughter's study. That is partly because as such firms expand the scale of their operations abroad, they need more personnel at home to handle functions such as marketing, logistics, finance and product design. For similar reasons, McKinsey & Co., one of Boston Consulting's main rivals, has estimated that for every $1 invested abroad by U.S. companies, the U.S. economy gains $1.14, which can be plowed into job-creating enterprises.

Click here for a case study that buttresses Slaughter's aggregate data. And here's the relevant table:


posted by Dan at 11:58 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (4)

Sudan plays hide-and-seek with the UN

Sudarsan Raghavan reports for Knight-Ridder on the visit to Sudan by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to get a grip on the humanitarian disaster there. Things did not go smoothly:

Sudanese government officials emptied a camp of thousands of refugees hours before UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was to arrive here Thursday, preventing him from meeting some of the hardest-hit victims of the humanitarian crisis in the province of Darfur.

"There may have been 3,000 to 4,000 people here as of 5 p.m. yesterday," UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said as he gazed upon the empty camp at Mashtel. "Now, as you can see, no one is here. I can't imagine they spontaneously moved."

The forced removal came a day after Sudanese officials promised Secretary of State Colin Powell that humanitarian aid workers would have unrestricted access to Darfur and agreed to other U.S. demands to avoid possible UN sanctions....

As many as 30,000 people have died and 1 million more have been driven from their homes by a scorched-earth campaign carried out by pro-government Arab militias. The militias, called the Janjaweed, were recruited to wipe out a rebel insurrection that began 16 months ago, but they have unleashed their fury on civilians who belong to the same tribes as the rebels....

On Thursday, Annan, along with UN and Sudanese officials, arrived in the province to get a firsthand look at the plight of the displaced.

At the Zam Zam refugee camp, Annan talked with tribal elders. Senior Sudanese officials listened to every word.

Ahmed Noor Mohammed, one of the elders, was asked if women were being abused in the camp. He rattled off a long sentence in Arabic.

"Some women face some difficulties. Masked men, even soldiers ..." Annan's translator began. Before he could finish the sentence, Sudanese government minders and officials cut him off, saying he had translated it wrong.

"They are afraid, but they don't have any problems," said Ibrahim Hamid, the minister of humanitarian affairs, who was seated next to UN leader.

After Annan's entourage left, Mohammed said women were scared to leave the camp because of the Janjaweed.

posted by Dan at 11:10 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 1, 2004

Your web site for the day

The American Museum of the Moving Image has launched an online exhibition today entitled "The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2004." This is from their press release:

The exhibition includes such landmark ads as the groundbreaking "Eisenhower Answers America" spots of 1952, the notorious "daisy girl" ad from Lyndon Johnson's 1964 campaign, Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America" ads from 1984, and the controversial attack ads run by George Bush's 1988 campaign. The exhibition will be completely up to date, with a selection of commercials from 2004, and a sidebar exhibition The Desktop Candidate, about the rapidly growing medium of Web-based political advertising.

It's a must for politics and media junkies. Go check it out.

UPDATE: Also worth checking out is Nick Anderson's piece in the Los Angeles Times about how Kerry and Bush are differentiating and deploying web-based video ads from TV-based video ads.

posted by Dan at 05:48 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (1)

Why Michael Moore is doomed

I haven't posted much on Fahrenheit 9/11 -- unless you count my Tech Central Station column that questions one of Moore's underlying theses involving the Bush administration and Saudi Arabia. Richard Just does an brilliant job of deconstructing the film itself [Full disclosure -- Just is my editor at TNR Online], so there's no point going there.

More interesting has been the media response to Moore and his own counter-response. David Adesnik appears to be correct in pointing out that:

In my own discussions with journalists, I've found them to be at least as annoyed by leftists' accusations that they are conservative mouthpieces than by conservatives' accusations that they are inveterate liberals. So don't expected Moore's bumpy ride to end anytime soon.

And bumpy it has been. David Brooks had a column that highlighted some of the zestier comments Moore has made about the U.S. in overseas venues. Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball rip to shreds one of Moore's flimsier allegations in Newsweek (link via Glenn Reynolds).

That last story mentions a fact that strongly suggests Michael Moore's public support is about to take a major hit:

In light of the extraordinary box office success of “Fahrenheit 9/11,” and its potential political impact, a rigorous analysis of the film’s assertions seems more than warranted. Indeed, Moore himself has invited the scrutiny. He has set up a Web site and “war-room” to defend the claims in the movie—and attack his critics. (The war-room’s overseers are two veteran spin-doctors from the Clinton White House: Chris Lehane and Mark Fabiani.)

Lehane? Lehane??!! Yeah, let's review his impressive achievements at spin:

1) Was Al Gore's principal spokesman during the 2000 campaign -- 'nuff said. [UPDATE: Well, check out this February 2000 Jewish World Review story by David Corn that's partially about Lehane.

2) Was Kerry's spokesman in mid-2003 -- when Kerry started to get clobbered by Howard Dean (here's a link to one example of his work from that era);

3) Then moved on to Michael Moore's favorite Democrat, Wesley Clark -- another whopping success;

4) In the last days of the Clark campaign, Lehane appears to have played a role in spreading rumors about a Kerry affair with former reporter Alexandra Polier. Polier provides the following account of her efforts to ascertain Lehane's role:

I called Lehane himself, who, having backed the wrong team, is now running his own political PR firm in San Francisco. I asked him where he’d first heard the rumors about Kerry and me. He blamed political reporters. I asked him if he had used the rumors to try to help Clark. He denied it. “There are just so many media outlets out there now, Alex, that these kind of baseless rumors can easily get turned into stories,” he said smoothly, and then the phone went dead.

I called him right back, but he didn’t answer. I called again less than an hour later, and this time his outgoing message had been changed to, “Hi, you’ve reached Chris. I’m traveling and won’t be able to retrieve my voice mail.” I wondered how he was able to run a PR company without retrieving voice mail.

Well, that sounds like a clean bill of health to me.

Michael Moore hired this guy to protect his reputation? His reputation is toast.

UPDATE: Thanks to Brennan Stout, who links to this Daily Kos post about Lehane from September 2003.

Also, I see that Michael Moore is planning to start a blog. No posts yet, however.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Some free advice to Lehane -- go read Ted Barlow's disturbing post about Focus on the Family's efforts to harrass Moore and run with that for a while. Of course, that raises some vexing questions about Moore's tactics as well.

posted by Dan at 01:24 PM | Comments (53) | Trackbacks (5)

Jacob Levy asks the right questions

Before Operation Iraqi Freedom, I posted about the presence of Al Qaeda fighters in the parts of Iraq outside Saddam Hussein's control, and suggested that, hey, maybe the U.S. should take some action there (as well as challenge Europeans to honor their commitments to combat terrorism).

A year later, Kevin Drum highlighted this post in response to a disturbing NBC story:

NBC News has learned that long before the war the Bush administration had several chances to wipe out his terrorist operation and perhaps kill Zarqawi himself — but never pulled the trigger.

In June 2002, U.S. officials say intelligence had revealed that Zarqawi and members of al-Qaida had set up a weapons lab at Kirma, in northern Iraq, producing deadly ricin and cyanide.

The Pentagon quickly drafted plans to attack the camp with cruise missiles and airstrikes and sent it to the White House, where, according to U.S. government sources, the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council....

“People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president’s policy of preemption against terrorists,” according to terrorism expert and former National Security Council member Roger Cressey....

Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawi’s operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam. (emphasis added)

At the time, my response was the same as Jacob Levy's: "At first I assumed that it was so extreme and appalling a claim that there was almost certainly a credible counter-story or at least contrary interpretation to be offered. But I never saw it."

Jacob now has two in-depth posts on this -- here and here. Go read them.

The disturbing allegation, which remains unanswered, is whether the administration chose not to take out these camps -- and possibly Zarqawi -- in order to prosecute a war of choice. Like Ramesh Ponnuru, I find this deeply troubling.

It would be nice to see this story get the journalistic attention that, say, the impending nuptuals of Britney Spears... or the sudden weight loss of Anna Nicole Smith... or [You're drifting off point! Focus!--ed] anyway, you get my drift.

posted by Dan at 11:44 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

Where's AAA when you need them?

Michael Kilian reports in the Chicago Tribune that there are a few bugs in our Afghanistan maps:

The secretive National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency acknowledged Wednesday that it has made numerous mistakes in topographical maps issued to U.S. troops in Afghanistan since 2002.

The maps cover Afghanistan and portions of Pakistan, and they are being used by ground troops as well as combat commanders and engineers....

The mapping mistakes involved omitting place names as well as putting place names in the wrong locations, according to agency spokesman Howard Cohen.

There were also some place-name errors in the computerized Geographic Names Data Base maintained by the aerial intelligence-gathering agency, formerly known as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. The inaccuracies in the database led to the misinformation being printed on the maps, Cohen said.

The same agency also was involved in the accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, capital of the former Yugoslavia, by a high-flying U.S. B-2 stealth bomber during the 1999 Kosovo war. Three Chinese civilians were killed and more than 20 others injured in that bombing, and U.S.-Chinese relations were badly strained for months.

Then-Deputy Secretary of State Susan Shirk attributed that accident to "a bunch of serious errors and mistakes." It later was revealed that targeting was predicated on two out-of-date Yugoslavian maps and a 1997 American map. None of the three showed the location of the Chinese Embassy, which had moved to the site in 1996.

As for the latest snafu, "I can't tell you how the errors were discovered, but it happened while agency mapmakers were making new maps for one of our customers," Cohen said.

David Burpee, another agency spokesman, said military leaders have been notified, as well as others who use the agency's maps.

Cohen said the agency has begun producing corrected maps. The first of these will be available within a few weeks, but it will take longer to replace all the maps in use. It will take even longer to redo the database, he said.

To be fair, Jim Garamone reports for American Forces Press Service that the current mapping problems has not had much of an effect:

There have been no reports of real troubles due to the place name anomalies, officials said. They do present the potential for confusion, but no service member has reported a serious issue with the maps. In fact, aside from the place-name discrepancies, other information on the maps - such as grid- coordinate data, topography and road networks – "is the best available and continues to be used by customers," Burpee said.

posted by Dan at 11:20 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The personal prejudices of Daniel Davies

Over at Crooked Timber, dsquared has some issues with my recommendation of William W. Lewis' The Power of Productivity . You should read his post in full, but -- since this deals in part with management consultants -- here's the bullet-point executive summary version:

  • The Power of Productivity was written by a management consultant, and management consultants are incompetent gits;

  • Lewis conducts the typical management consultant mistake of extrapolating from individual cases, particularly Wal-Mart;

  • The role of Wal-Mart in the general increases in retail productivity are grounds for suspicion, since there are lots of reasons why their productivity might be overestimated -- for example:

    [I]f the boutiques on King’s Road were to get rid of the dolly assistants, free coffee and assorted perks and bijouterie, and move to a model where they piled the Prada high in fluorescent-lit barns, then they would presumably be able to shift more units at a lower price, at the expense of taking all the joy out of shopping for the Sex-in-the-City crowd.

    Later, Davies commented on his own post, "I dispute that it is any quicker to get your shopping done in a big-box retailer than on the high street."

  • I share Davies' leeriness with regard to management consultants. Some years ago I had to review former McKinsey consultant Kenichi Ohmae's The End of the Nation State and was appalled by the sloppiness of the argument. More horrifying were the footnotes -- Ohmae cited something written by himself 93% of the time.

    Management consultants also tend to use the method of comparison to analyze the secrets of business success (i.e., looking at world-class firms to identify the commonalities as the recipe for success) when in fact the method of difference would prove more reliable (i.e., looking at successes and failures and identifying what the successes had in common that was not present among the failures).

    Now, Davies appears to have extrapolated the tropes common to management consultants onto the Lewis book without, like, having read any of the book. I shared Davies' bias, and was wary about seeing typical management consultant mistakes in the analysis, but all I can say is that The Power of Productivity was a pleasant exception -- hence the recommendation.

    It's also worth pointing out -- and my apologies if I didn't do so in the previous post -- that the analysis in the book is not at the firm level so much as the sectoral level. Furthermore, the sectors he looks at are reasonably important to the macroeconomy. For example, in retail, the key thesis for Lewis is not just Wal-Mart increasing retail productivity, but the market response to Wal-Mart increasing productivity. The following comes from p. 92-96:

    Starting in 1995, accelerated its productivity growth rate from 3.3 percent per year to 5.1 percent per year. The competition, however, increased its productivity at an even higher rate of 6.4 percent per year. When Wal-Mart captured 27 percent of the market in 1995, it could no longer be ignored. The race for survival was on. By 199, Wal-Mart had increased its market share onlu slightly, to 30 percent. One-third of the productivity growth jump in general merchandising retailing came from Wal-Mart's accelerated rate of improvement. Two-thirds came from the competitive reaction of Sears, Costco, Target, Meijer, Kohl's, MacFrugals, etc....

    The Wal-Mart effect goes beyond retailing into wholesaling.... Thse modern retailers saw an opportunity to bypass the efficient, monopolistic wholesaling sector and acquire goods much more cheaply. Wal-Mart set up its own distribution centers, which bought directly from manufacturers. Modern food supermarkets did the same thing. A few wholesalers noticed and realized that they were going to have to compete.

    I'm not going to go into depth on Daniel's last assertion, as his commenters are taking him to task on it. I am struck, however, that he seems to assume it's a lifestyle choice question -- that the introduction of Wal-Marts threatens the joys of shopping for sophisticates. This neglects the millions of Americans who cannot afford the high street stores but now have the opportunity to purchase cheaper and more varied goods courtesy of the big box stores and their enhanced productivity. For Davies, the deadweight loss of eliminating these transactions appears worth paying to preserve high streets. I don't think it's quite such an either/or choice, but I'm intrigued by the revealed preference.

    UPDATE: A few additional thoughts:

    1) Even in this post, I'm not sure I've adequately spelled out the fact that in contrast to much of the management consultant literature, Lewis does have a compelling theory to guide his argument -- simply put, the value of competition in goods markets has been undervalued relative to labor and/or capital markets. This is a big reason why markets that directly interact with consumers -- retail and housing -- explain both the growing produictivity gap and GDP per capita gap between the U.S. and most other OECD countries.

    2) Both Davies and Brad DeLong state that the productivity numbers might be misleading because it masks costs that are passed onto the consumer via the reduction of "ancillary (but valuable) services."

    This is a fair point -- and one that Lewis addresses in comparing retail productivity in the U.S. and Europe. The thing is, contrary to assumption, it's European retailers that have sacrificed many of these ancillary services, due in no small part to minimum wage laws. From p. 44-5 of The Power of Productivity:

    France and Germany have minimum wage levels of about twice the U.S. level. The sophisticated French and German retailers have found that they make more profits by not hiring the bag packers and paying them the high minimum wage....

    In the mid-1990's, when we measured retailing productivity, we found that productivity in France and Germany was at least as high and maybe higher than in the United States. There is a problem, however, with the measurement of retailing productivity when the service levels are not the same. The OECD purchasing power parity exchange rates cannot capture the differences in services when stores with the same service level do not exist in both economies. The services provided by low-skilled workers in the United States are therefore likely to be missed by the OECD. We corrected for this factor by calculating the productivity of the French and German retailing industries if they employed similar numbers of low-skilled workers to provide the "bag-packing" services found in the United States. The result was a reduction in productivity in French and German retailing by about 15 percent, to a level somewhat below the United States.

    3) Davies wants to attribute productivity gains ascribed to the market response to Wal-Mart to ""the general diffusion of technological improvement". It's far from clear to me that's this is an either/or proposition. As dsquared is undoubtedly aware, it's not just technology per se that increases productivity, it's how firms and markets reorganize themselves to fully exploit that technology that increases productivity. The diffusion of Wal-Mart's organizational innovations to the rest of the retail sector -- spurred by market competition -- is key here.

    4) Finally, Daniel's suggestion that big box stores locate where they do because of supply and not demand considerations omits any mention of zoning/land use restrictions that prevent stores like Wal-Mart from locating themselves closer to urban customers. Click here, here, here, and here for my posts about Wal-Mart's efforts to open up stores within Chicago's city limits. And, as always, be sure to check out Always Low Prices, a blog devoted to the best and worst of Wal-Mart.

    All this said, I do hope that Daniel takes the opportunity to peruse The Power of Productivity, and I look forward to further debate on this stimulating (to me) topic.

    posted by Dan at 06:54 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (1)

    The Supreme Court's international influences

    "Should foreign or international legal decisions ever be considered relevant to United States Supreme Court rulings?" That's the question over at Legal Affairs magazine.

    Vicki Jackson is enthusiastic about the proposition.

    Richard Posner is not so enthusiastic about it.

    Go read both and them post your own thoughts.

    posted by Dan at 10:40 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

    July's books of the month

    If the United States can transfer sovereignty to Iraq a few days ahead of schedule, then I can recommend July's books in June. Both books this month fall under the nebulous category of comparative political economy -- but they were really interesting to me.

    The first book is The Power of Productivity: Wealth, Poverty, and the Threat to Global Stability by William W. Lewis. Lewis was the founding director of the McKinsey Global Institute, and the book largely consists of what Lewis learned in analyzing the performance of various sectors in key economies of the world. You can read a brief precis of what he found by clicking here. A few excerpts stand out in particular:

    [B]eyond macroeconomic policies, economic analysis usually ends up attributing most of the differences in economic performance to differences in labor and capital markets. This conclusion is incorrect. Differences in competition in product markets are much more important. Policies governing competition in the product markets are as important as macroeconomic policies....

    At a conference of global business leaders in Washington in 1992, I presented the results of our service sector case studies. The CEO of Siemens at the time, Karlheinz Kaske, said he was puzzled about the role of service industries in an economy and wondered why we paid so much attention to them. I showed the group some recent results from our analysis of the interconnectedness of the U.S. economy. We had found that for the economic value reflected in the sale price of a consumer good, two-thirds of that value was created by the consumer good manufacturing firm and one-third of the value was generated by the transportation, wholesaling, and retailing functions that got the good from the manufacturer's loading dock to the hands of the consumer.

    Moreover, of the total value produced by the manufacturing firm, one-fourth of that value was created by accounting, banking, legal, consulting, janitorial, and other business services. Thus, services accounted for one-half of the value to a consumer from the purchase of a good such as a CD, a can of beans, or a car. On top of this, one-half of all services are delivered directly to consumers and not to firms. From this light, it's easy to see why services make up about 75 percent of the total value created in an economy. Germans were not taking their performance in service industries into account in forming their perception of the performance of their economy....

    In every sector in which productivity accelerated in the United States in the second half of the 1990s, competition intensified. Sometimes the increased intensity was triggered by regulatory changes, as in mobile telephone services and the reduction of the price per trade in securities. Other times, it came from business innovation like Wal-Mart's. Information technology was just part of the story. The bigger story was competition causing more productive business enterprises to replace less productive ones. This conclusion is of course reassuring to those worried about the health of the U.S. economy. However, it provides even more reason to worry about all the people living in economies where protection and distortion of competition allow unproductive enterprises to persist and cause these people to fall further behind, but even more importantly, to remain in poverty.

    Virginia Postrel is curently reading Power of Productivity and is also a big fan -- which counts as a big endorsement to me.

    The Power of Productivity suffers from some of the same flaws endemic to management consultants (Kenichi Ohmae, Daniel Yergin, etc.) when they write big books. A lot of points are repeated and repeated and repeated yet again. And what's the deal with management consultants and their abhorrence of footnotes? Lewis also fails to appreciate the lagged effect of technological innovations, so I strongly suspect he's underestimating the long-term effect of the information revolution.

    This is small beer, however. Lewis gets the big picture of what causes economic prosperity by painting a pointillist picture of why different sectors in different economies have such variable levels of productivity, and how policy decisions can affect these levels. After reading this book, I have a much greater appreciation for the importance of the retail sector as a driver of affluence. To get a sense of the impact that improved productivity in the retail sector has on the aggregate economy, click here for the McKinsey Global Institute paper that forms the basis of Lewis' conclusions. His key point is worth repeating:

    The purpose of economics is consumption. We realize the benefits of an economy when we use goods and receive services. We want to use goods o do things we could not do without them. We want services to have other people do things for us that we cannot or would rather not do. We can choose to consume everything right now or save to consume later. Of course, production and work are necessary for consumption. We cannot consume what we have not produced. Thus, production and wok are a means to consumption. They are not a final objective themselves.

    Many societies get this wrong. They see production as the creation of value. However, they fail to make the link between production and consumption. The goods produced have value only because consumers want them. (emphases in original)

    The general interest book looks more closely at the one significant economy that Lewis did not analyze -- China. Elizabeth Economy's The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future examines the environmental externalities of China's current economic growth. She cites one figure estimating that the environmental side effects of China's factories exact a toll equal to 8-12% of China's GDP. Just as interesting is Economy' portrayal of the political lay of the land in China. First, China's central government has much less control over provincial and local leaders than is commonly believed. Second, because of its weakness, the Chinese government is counting on Chinese civil society to assist in the ratcheting up of environmental protection. This sounds very odd, as Economy correctly observes that the environmental movement was a harbinger of democratization in other post-Communist societies. The Really Big Question over the next two decades is whether China's leaders can effectively control the behavior of Chinese environmental NGOs -- or vice versa.

    Go check both of them out.

    [Er, doesn't the second book suggest that the first book's emphasis on how to make countries rich overlook environmental costs?--ed. Au contraire, my good editor. Lewis is concerned with increasing productivity, which comes from increasing outputs relative to inputs. Furthermore, most of the improvements in productivity can be garnered in services, which generate much less pollution than manufacturing.]

    posted by Dan at 01:53 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (2)

    Tuesday, June 29, 2004

    The large residual of political skill

    Man, is the left half of the blogosphere going to town on Richard Gephardt. Guest-posting last week at Talking Points Memo, both Ruy Teixeira and John B. Judis say that picking Gephardt would be a mistake. Belle Waring is even less enthusiastic:

    Gephardt? Gephardt??!! Please, God, don’t let the Democratic party snatch certain defeat from the jaws of potential victory by choosing Dick Gephardt as the VP candidate. Pleasepleaseplease. Anybody but Gephardt. If the DP makes me cast a vote for a Kerry/Gephardt ticket I’m going to…well, crap, just put out like a straight-ticket ho. They could put a can of processed cheese food on the ballot against Bush, and I would vote for it. But I’m not going to enjoy it! And no ticket with Gephardt on it is going to win, ever in a million years!

    Waring links to this post from Fafblog, which provides the most honest assessment I've ever read about Richard Gephardt's political magnetism:

    Gephardt would have an amazing pull with loser voters, voters who like losing the House to opposing parties, voters who have a long history of being supported by decrepit and dying labor institutions in failing political campaigns, just people who generally like to lose. He could swing loser states, such as Wyoming or Rhode Island, or put states with a large loser population, such as Nevada or Alabama, into play. The upside to having a Kerry-Gephardt ticket is it would take all those people who go into shock in the voting booth thinkin' "Oh dear god we nominated Kerry?!" and push them just far enough over the edge with "Oh dear god we nominated Kerry and Gephardt?!" that it would sort of jar them into a feeling of complacent somnambulism that would render them susceptible to voting for Kerry-Gephardt anyway. The downside to this is that such a hypthetical waking sleepstate could also get them to vote for Nader.

    So who do these people prefer? If you read Judis, Teixeira, and Waring, it's John Edwards.

    Here's the thing, though -- just how different is Edwards from Gephardt? On policy positions, both of them lean strongly protectionist, and both of them voted in favor of the war in Iraq. Both of them championed the down-and-outers during their primary campaigns. Edwards is from the South and Gephardt is from the Midwest, but I'm betting the reason Gephardt is still in play is because Kerry thinks that the Midwest will be the key battleground, while the South doesn't matter. If one were to choose based on political experience, even Edwards would have to concede that Gephardt's twenty years in DC outranks John Edwards' single term in the Senate.

    So is there a difference? As one of those still on the fence, yeah, in my mind there's a difference. If Kerry picks Gephardt, there's no chance in hell I'm pulling the donkey lever. If he picks Edwards... I dunno. When I see Richard Gephardt on television, all I can think of is, "idiotic protectionist." When I see John Edwards on television, I think, "Hmmm... seems like an OK guy, maybe he's not as much of a protectionist as I suspect."

    Why is this? Policy is not the only thing that matters in making political choices. There is such a thing as political skill. For example, the most important gift in campaigning is the ability to say something a voter disagrees with while making that voter think you're still a good guy.

    Reagan had it. Clinton had it. Edwards has it.

    Gephardt doesn't have it.

    UPDATE: Thanks to Howard Kurtz for serving up an approving link to this post.

    posted by Dan at 06:22 PM | Comments (94) | Trackbacks (2)

    Allawi, Zarqawi, and the Iraqi man on the street

    Thanassis Cambanis files an illuminating man-on-the-streets story from Baghdad for the Boston Globe. The good parts version:

    Sa'ad Saddam, a merchant in the Iraqi capital's notorious Thieves Market, normally has nothing polite to say about his country's rulers.

    So he was surprised yesterday to find himself hopeful about interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's new Iraqi government -- not because he cared about the symbolic passing of sovereignty, but because he was thrilled to see Iraqi police officers pistol-whipping suspected carjackers near his clothing stand the day before.

    ''Allawi is a strong, powerful guy," Saddam, 35, raved. To him, the raid on two carjacking and kidnapping rings in the downtown Betaween neighborhood meant that Iraq's new leaders were starting to impose concrete order on the streets. Most Iraqis are withholding judgment on the new government, which officially and unexpectedly took the reigns of power yesterday -- two days before the scheduled transfer; they want to see results, first and foremost in the field of security.

    But so far, many like what they see. Allawi has spewed tough talk, dismissing a televised assassination threat by the Al Qaeda-linked terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as a ''cowardly" attempt to intimidate all Iraqis.

    The 58-year-old prime minister already survived an assassination attempt in the 1970s, when ax-wielding assailants attacked him in his bed.

    Unlike occupation officials and members of the now-defunct Iraqi Governing Council, Allawi has stepped outside the security bubble to visit the scenes of deadly suicide bombings and tell Iraqis not to surrender to fear....

    Around noon yesterday, Al-Arabiya satellite television reported that Iraqi police had arrested Zarqawi in the southern city of Hillah. Within seconds of the report, word spread onto the streets of the Thieves Market, passed by word of mouth and by cellphone text messages.

    The report, which proved false, generated far more excitement than the transfer of sovereignty.

    ''We will fire our guns in the air tonight to celebrate," said Ali Abbas, 19. ''Zarqawi is a dog."

    Minutes later, television reported Zarqawi's capture was a false rumor. ''When they do catch him, they should strangle him to death on live television," Abbas said, shrugging.

    Many of the same Iraqis who have professed anger and frustration at the slow pace of reconstruction during nearly 14 months of American-led occupation have now assumed the same optimistic wait-and-see stance they once took toward the United States.

    Baghdad residents sounded more hopeful about the fight against terrorism and crime than they had in recent months.

    ''The Americans are very strong on the battlefield, but Iraqis can deal with the terrorists more effectively because they have better intelligence," said Naseer Hassan, an architect and poet who is translating the work of Emily Dickinson into Arabic. (emphasis added)

    One can draw three oh-so-tentative conclusions from this kind of report:

    1) As I blogged last week, Iyad Allawi has accomplished the first necessary step to govern -- he's earned himself a measure of legitimacy.

    2) The hostility to Zarqawi suggests that Iraq might not be as hospitable a place for Islamic fundamentalism as many have feared -- because the sources of either Sunni or Shia fundamentalism emanate from foreigners (Saudi Arabia and Iran). This would make David Petraeus' task much easier.

    3) That bolded paragraph is key -- this is window of opportunity. In transfering sovereignty, the Bush administration has successfully created the perception of a fresh start for Iraqis. The question is whether the administration will provide the necessary resources for the Allawi government to succeed in restoring security and, yes, fostering democracy.

    UPDATE Joe Katzman has a round-up of Iraqi blogger reactions at Winds of Change.

    posted by Dan at 11:37 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (2)

    Monsieur Chirac, quel est votre problème?

    The transatlantic relationship is one of those topics that provokes a lot of furrowed brows and tony conferences. I've been invited to my fair share over the past year, and the core question that inevitably pops up is, "How much of the transatlantic rift is due to clashes of style and how much is due to clashes of interests?'

    The hip answer to give is the latter. According to this narrative, the important date in the relationship was not 9/11 but 11/9 -- the date the Berlin Wall fell, and the Cold War glue that held the U.S. and Europe together disintegrated. That was the date when NATO jumped the shark.

    Me, I'm not so trendy, and think that the clash of styles is pretty important.

    Part of this is due to George W. Bush. You could not have asked central casting for a better epitome of everything about the United States that Europe loathes -- Texas, conservatism, directness, religious devotion, and a lack of facility with most European languages -- including English.

    That said, a very healthy dollop of the current clash of styles is due to Gerhard Schroeder and Jacques Chirac. The former appalled his foreign policy establishment by making Iraq the centerpiece of his re-election campaign, and by adopting a position that was more unilateralist than the United States. Mention Schroeder's campaign behavior to European foreign policy experts, and they tend to look down and shuffle their feet.

    However, the real piece of work on the European continent is Jacques Chirac. His latest exhibit of pique comes in response to the official NATO statement on Iraq -- which is broadly supportive but pretty bland.

    This, however, was too much for Chirac to stomach -- according to Judy Dempsey's account in the Financial Times:

    Jacques Chirac, the French president, yesterday held out against Nato playing any role in Iraq, in a move that could tear apart a modest, if vague, agreement forged by the 26-member alliance to train the Iraqi security forces....

    Mr Chirac said Nato had no role inside Iraq.

    "I do not believe it is the purpose of Nato to be in, or intervene in Iraq," he told journalists in Istanbul's military museum.

    "I believe there would be tremendous negative consequences of this."

    The French president suggested that members or non-members of the coalition forces could instead train the security forces inside or outside the country.

    "As far as we are concerned, we are talking about Nato supporting those member states who are involved in training activities. France has no need to oppose that," he said.

    "A Nato foothold on Iraqi soil would not be relevant. It would be unwise. Nato could train officers in its excellent training headquarters in Rome."

    Mr Chirac said France was ready to train military police, but outside Iraq.

    Germany will continue to train police in the United Arab Emirates and train senior army officers outside as well.

    Gerhard Schröder, German chancellor and Mr Chirac's closest ally on many issues, said Berlin would support a Nato role inside Iraq but would send no personnel.

    This sort of behavior does nothing but weaken NATO -- something that Chirac did in spades last year. If the French president really had a problem with the language of the statement, he shouldn't have agreed to it -- which would have been better than his current course of action, which is erratic in the extreme.

    Glenn Reynolds has more on Chirac's obstinacy -- including this tidbit from the Observer:

    [T]he increasingly volatile Chirac is in no mood for pandering to the British.

    'He's tetchy, unhappy, doesn't quite know which way to go - his officials are all frightened of him and nobody's giving him any advice,' says one Foreign Office source.

    The Bush administration has contributed its fair share to the lack of transatlantic comity -- but powerful Europeans are behaving even worse.

    UPDATE: Greg Djerejian has further thoughts on just what NATO will do in Iraq.

    posted by Dan at 01:06 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (3)

    Monday, June 28, 2004

    Open Gitmo thread

    Feel free to comment on the implications of today's Supreme Court ruling on the Guantanamo detainees here. Before commenting, it might behoove you to check out:

    1) The actual cases -- Rasul v. Bush, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld v. Padilla.
    2) The media coverage -- The Financial Times, Washington Post, New York Times, and Slate.
    3) The blog coverage -- particularly Larry Solum, Marty Lederman (SCOTUSblog), Jack Balkin, Pejman Yousefzadeh, and all of Moday's posts from the Volokh Conspiracy.

    I haven't processed much of this yet, but so far Stuart Benjamin's point about formalism vs. pragmatism and Eugene Volokh's point about liberal and conservative iconoclasts on the court seem the most interesting to me.

    posted by Dan at 09:22 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (1)

    Open sovereignty thread

    Feel free to comment on the surprise decision to transfer Iraqi sovereignty two days early -- the Washington Post and the Economist have some nice background.

    posted by Dan at 09:07 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

    Al Qaeda and Saudi Arabia

    With all the debate about the 9/11 Commission's finding regarding Iraq's dormant relationship with Al Qaeda, anothe finding has been ignored -- the relationship (or lack thereof) between Al Qaeda and the House of Saud.

    I discuss this in my latest Tech Central Station essay, "About That Commission Report..." Go check it out.

    UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds kindly links to my essay but has the following cavil:

    Of course, the force of this point depends to some degree on how much faith one has in the Commission, and I have very little. In addition, the finding that "we found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior officials within the Saudi government funded al Qaeda," strikes me as rather carefully worded.

    On the second point -- it's tough to prove a negative statement. If I had been writing the report, that's exactly how I'd have phrased that finding. It's true that some evidence could surface that elements of the Saudi government bankrolled Al Qaeda -- just like some evidence could emerge linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11.

    On the first point, a lot of the criticism directed at the 9/11 commission staff report was that it was, well, a staff report, but had the imprantur of the 9/11 Commission. William Safire wrote last week (link via Jeff Jarvis):

    The basis for the hoo-ha was not a judgment of the panel of commissioners appointed to investigate the 9/11 attacks. As reporters noted below the headlines, it was an interim report of the commission's runaway staff, headed by the ex-N.S.C. aide Philip Zelikow.

    I haven't paid too much attention to the "runaway staff" allegation, so I can't comment on it one way or the other. I can say that claims that the interim report was a partisan hit job would have to explain the fact that Philip Zelikow was a co-author of Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft with current National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice -- a book that remains the definitive account of how Germany was reunified, by the way.

    Zelikow might not be everyone's cup of tea, but he's a meticulous scholar, and I do trust his rendition of the facts.

    posted by Dan at 09:05 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, June 27, 2004

    The big test for David Petraeus

    Dexter Filkins has a front-pager in today's New York Times on the challenges facing Lieutenant General David H. Petraeus (about whom I've blogged here, here, and here) in reconstituting Iraq's security forces. The highlights:

    The magnitude of the task that confronts General Petraeus was made clear two months ago, when revolts in Falluja and in cities across southern Iraq led to the widespread collapse of the 200,000-man, American-trained Iraqi security forces.

    The uprisings were eventually brought under control, but the Iraqi forces hardly played a role. In Baghdad, half of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, a national militia trained by the Americans, either quit or sided with the insurgents; in Karbala, the corps disintegrated entirely. In Falluja, when American commanders ordered Iraqi soldiers into battle, they mutinied, with some 200 armed Iraqis refusing to board American helicopters.

    Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who oversaw the training of Iraqi forces until General Petraeus took over earlier this month, said the Americans tried to do much too fast, and missed the degree to which the country's various ethnicities and religious groups had failed to jell into a coherent nation.

    "In America, we have this national ethos; you identify with the Pledge of Allegiance and the flag, the stars and stripes," General Eaton said. "In Iraq, that is overshadowed by tribe, imam, family and ethnicity. I talked to countless young soldiers who said, `My name is Muhammad, and I am a Turkoman' or `I am a Sunni' or `I am a Shiite.' "

    General Petraeus acknowledges the obstacles but believes he can transcend them. A 1974 graduate of West Point, he is a veteran of operations in Haiti and Bosnia, but not in a combat zone until he came to Iraq last year.

    He has a doctorate in international relations from Princeton University, where he wrote his dissertation on the lessons of the Vietnam War.....

    Even before General Petraeus arrived, American commanders had already begun a vast overhaul of the Iraqi security services, based on the experience of the April uprisings. With the new Iraqi leadership, they have taken the country's most important internal security unit, the civil defense corps, and begun turning it into a branch of a revamped 100,000-man Iraqi Army.

    The locally recruited corps officers will be taken out of their homes and cities, away from their families and tribes and mosques, and turned into regular soldiers who live on bases and train and fight together. To make that happen, the Americans have committed $3 billion to building training sites and regional headquarters and to better equip Iraqi soldiers.....

    To set up an effective Iraqi Army, General Petraeus believes that the most important change is already happening — putting Iraqis in charge of the army and the government.

    Part of the problem last April, he acknowledged, was not just that Iraqi soldiers were refusing to fight other Iraqis, it was that the people who were ordering them to do so were Americans.

    To that end, the Americans have installed a veteran Iraqi general, with a history of independence from Saddam Hussein, as the army chief of staff. Already, that general, Amir Hashemi, said he had found the America training of Iraqi troops to be woefully inadequate.

    "I am not satisfied with the training provided by the Americans," General Hashemi said. "We must do this the Iraqi way."

    General Petraeus says he is cheered by that kind of independence, since it is the Iraqis, ultimately, who will have to do the fighting.

    Yet at the same time, General Petraeus is trying to impart Western notions on the armed forces here, particularly the idea that the army, and the Iraqi nation, must transcend loyalties to tribe and religion.

    "This is your new tribe," he said to an Iraqi soldier, an ethnic Kurd, who stood in line as General Petraeus inspected the troops.

    "These are all your new brothers," he said to another.


    UPDATE: Petraeus and Hashemi might want to peruse Michael Ware's essay in Time about the make-up of the Iraqi insurgency. The opening graf:

    The safe house lies on the outskirts of Fallujah in a neighborhood where no Americans have ventured. Inside, a group of Arab sheiks has gathered to discuss the jihad they and their followers are waging against the U.S. The men wear white robes and long beards and greet each other solemnly. They are all Iraqi, but their beliefs are those of the strict Wahhabi strain of Islam repressed under Saddam Hussein. Unlike most Iraqi sitting rooms, this one has no pictures adorning its walls or a television or radio nestled in a corner. Such luxuries are forbidden, just as they were under the Taliban in Afghanistan. At the back of the room are a few men from Saudi Arabia, who stand silently as one of the sheiks, the group's leader, addresses me in Arabic and stilted English. The war in Iraq, he says, is one of liberation, not just of a country but of Muslim lands, Muslim people, Islam itself. There is no room for negotiation with the enemy, no common ground. What he and his men offer is endless, righteous resistance. "Maybe this war will take a long time," he says. "Maybe this is a world war."

    Read the whole thing.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Edward Cody's Washington Post front-pager today encapsulates the battle currently being waged in Iraq between the forces of nationalism and the forces of Islamic radicalism:

    Key Iraqi opponents of the U.S. occupation expressed unease Friday over the wave of insurgent attacks that killed more than 100 Iraqis a day earlier, and rejected efforts by foreign guerrillas to take the lead in the insurgency and mate it with the international jihad advocated by Osama bin Laden.

    The objections -- from anti-U.S. Shiite and Sunni Muslim leaders, including rebellious cleric Moqtada Sadr, and even from militia fighters in the embattled city of Fallujah -- arose in part from revulsion at the fact that victims of the car bombings and guerrilla assaults in six cities and towns Thursday were overwhelmingly Iraqis. But they also betrayed Iraqi nationalist concerns that the fight against U.S. occupation forces risked being hijacked by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian whom U.S. officials describe as a paladin in bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

    "We do not need anyone from outside the borders to stand with us and spill the blood of our sons in Iraq," Ahmed Abdul Ghafour Samarrae, a Sunni cleric with a wide following, declared in his Friday sermon at Umm al Qurra mosque in Baghdad.

    Since they were appointed three weeks ago, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and members of his U.S.-sponsored interim government have railed against the car bombings and other attacks. But Friday's show of disgust -- expressed in mosques and, in Sadr's case, with fliers calling for cooperation with Iraqi police -- marked the first time anti-occupation clerics and fighters sided against violence associated with the insurgency, for which Zarqawi has increasingly asserted responsibility.

    In that light, it could be an important moment in the U.S. struggle to win acceptance for the military occupation and for the interim government scheduled to acquire limited authority next Wednesday. While far from embracing the U.S. occupation or the new government, the anti-occupation leaders seemed to disavow the bloodiest edge of the violence and Zarqawi's attempt to make it part of al Qaeda's vision of international jihad.

    posted by Dan at 12:05 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (1)

    What the f@#% is in Dick Cheney's coffee?

    The Vice President has not been the epitome of good manners in recent days. There's the use of the f-word to Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont on the Senate floor. Then there's the complete lack of contrition about the use of that word in that place in a Friday interview on Fox News. Here's his explanation:

    It was partly — also, it had to do with — he is the kind of individual who will make those kinds of charges and then come after you as though he's your best friend. And I expressed, in no uncertain terms, my views of the — of his conduct and walked away....

    What — part of the problem here is, that instead of having a substantive debate over important policy issues, he had challenged my integrity. And I didn't like that. But, most of all, I didn't like the fact that after he had done so then he wanted to act like, you know, everything's peaches and cream.

    And I informed him of my view of his conduct in no uncertain terms. And as I say, I felt better afterwards.

    So, Cheney's beef is that Leahy doubted Cheney's integrity publicly and then tried to play nicey-nice in the Senate floor.

    Three thoughts on Cheney's little tamptrum:

    1) While I understand getting upset when someone questions your integrity, there are better ways of responding than the admittedly economical "f--- you."

    2) Hey, Mr. Vice President, you say that an elected official exhibited one demeanor in public and another in private? Welcome to politics. You've been in this business for how long?

    3) While this was bad, Ron Reagan describes behavior by Cheney in today's New York Times Magazine that seems far, far worse to me:

    How did your mother feel about being ushered to her seat by President Bush?

    Well, he did a better job than Dick Cheney did when he came to the rotunda. I felt so bad. Cheney brought my mother up to the casket, so she could pay her respects. She is in her 80's, and she has glaucoma and has trouble seeing. There were steps, and he left her there. He just stood there, letting her flounder. I don't think he's a mindful human being. That's probably the nicest way I can put it.

    posted by Dan at 11:53 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (1)