Friday, October 22, 2004

I've made up my mind

So I'm voting for Kerry.

In my two threads on the subject (here and here), I've been amused to read suggestions by fellow Republicans that I'm overanalyzing things and should just trust my gut. If I had done that, I would have known I was voting for Kerry sometime this summer because of Iraq. To put it crudely, my anger at Bush for the number of Mongolian cluster-f**ks this administration was discovered to have made in the planning process in the run-up to Iraq was compounded by the even greater number of cluster-f**ks the administration made in the six months after the invasion, topped off by George W. Bush's decision not to fire the clusterf**ks in the civilian DoD leadershop that insisted over the past two years that not a lot of troops were needed in the Iraqi theater of operations. No, if I was voting based on gut instincts, I would have planned on voting for Kerry and punching a wall afterwards.

Reading the New York Times recap of the postwar planning by Michael Gordon just brought all of this back to the surface. The failure by Rumsfeld and his subordinates to comprehend that occupation and statebuilding requires different resources, strategies and tactics than warfighting boggles my mind:

Military aides on the National Security Council prepared a confidential briefing for Ms. Rice and her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, that examined what previous nation-building efforts had required.

The review, called "Force Security in Seven Recent Stability Operations," noted that no single rule of thumb applied in every case. But it underscored a basic principle well known to military planners: However many forces might be required to defeat the foe, maintaining security afterward was determined by an entirely different set of calculations, including the population, the scope of the terrain and the necessary tasks.

If the United States and its allies wanted to maintain the same ratio of peacekeepers to population as it had in Kosovo, the briefing said, they would have to station 480,000 troops in Iraq. If Bosnia was used as benchmark, 364,000 troops would be needed. If Afghanistan served as the model, only 13,900 would be needed in Iraq. The higher numbers were consistent with projections later provided to Congress by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, then the Army chief of staff, that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in Iraq. But Mr. Rumsfeld dismissed that estimate as off the mark.

More forces generally are required to control countries with large urban populations. The briefing pointed out that three-quarters of Iraq's population lived in urban areas. In Bosnia and Kosovo, city dwellers made up half of the population. In Afghanistan, it was only 18 percent.

Neither the Defense Department nor the White House, however, saw the Balkans as a model to be emulated. In a Feb. 14, 2003, speech titled "Beyond Nation Building," which Mr. Rumsfeld delivered in New York, he said the large number of foreign peacekeepers in Kosovo had led to a "culture of dependence" that discouraged local inhabitants from taking responsibility for themselves.

The defense secretary said he thought that there was much to be learned from Afghanistan, where the United States did not install a nationwide security force but relied instead on a new Afghan Army and troops from other countries to help keep the peace.

James F. Dobbins, who was the administration's special envoy for Afghanistan and had also served as the ambassador at large for Kosovo, Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti, thought that the administration was focusing on the wrong model. The former Yugoslavia - with its ethnic divisions, hobbled economy and history of totalitarian rule - had more parallels with Iraq than administration officials appeared willing to accept, Mr. Dobbins believed. It was Afghanistan that was the anomaly.

"They preferred to find a model for successful nation building that was not associated with the previous administration," Mr. Dobbins said in an interview. "And Afghanistan offered a much more congenial answer in terms of what would be required in terms of inputs, including troops."

Maybe, maybe someone could give administration officials a pass in making that assumption. But once they realized that the Afghanistan analogy wasn't working, they never questioned their assumptions:

General Franks's talk of being prepared to take risks alarmed General Garner, the civil administrator. Fearing that an early troop reduction threatened the mission of building a new Iraq, General Garner took his concerns to Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the chief allied land commander.

"There was no doubt we would win the war," General Garner recalled telling General McKiernan, "but there can be doubt we will win the peace."

Soon after, the Pentagon began turning off the spigot of troops flowing to Iraq.

Mr. Rumsfeld had started to question whether the military still needed the Army's First Cavalry Division, a 17,500-member force that was slated to follow the lead invasion force into Iraq. He and General Franks discussed the issue repeatedly.

"Rumsfeld just ground Franks down," said Mr. White, the former Army secretary who was fired after policy disputes with Mr. Rumsfeld. "If you grind away at the military guys long enough, they will finally say, 'Screw it, I'll do the best I can with what I have.' The nature of Rumsfeld is that you just get tired of arguing with him."

General Franks insisted that he had not faced pressure on the First Cavalry issue. "It was Rumsfeld's idea," he said, referring to the cancellation of the deployment. "Rumsfeld did not beat me into submission. Initially, I did not want to truncate the force flow, but as it looked like we were likely to get greater international participation, I concluded that it was O.K. to stop the flow."

General Franks also said he accepted the suggestion only after his field commanders agreed that the division was not needed. But a former staff officer to General McKiernan said the land war commander had wanted the unit to be deployed and was disappointed that he had to do without the additional division. The deployment of the division was canceled on April 21....

According to United States officials, Mr. Bremer raised the troop issue in a June 18 video conference with Mr. Bush. Mr. Bremer said the United States needed to be careful not to go too far in taking out troops. The president said the plan was now to rotate forces, not withdraw them, and agreed that Washington needed to maintain adequate force levels.

Still the American forces shrank, from a high of about 150,000 in July 2003 to some 108,000 in February 2004, before going up again when violence sharply increased early this year. Some of the troop declines were offset by the arrival of the Polish-led division in August 2003. (emphasis added)

One other thing -- reading the Gordon article, what's stunning is that the administration never solved this dilemma:

Rumsfeld, and the rest of the Bush administration's foreign policy team, face a clear choice. It can outsource peacekeeping functions to the United Nations or close allies, at the cost of some constraints on foreign policy implementation. It can minimize the U.N. role and develop/train its own peacekeeping force. Or it can do neither and run into trouble down the road.

No, it's back to thinking. In my original post on this topic, I said that, "I prefer a leader who has a good decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I don't like, over a leader who has a bad decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I do like."

I meant two things by this:

1) John Kerry is more likely to recognize during the decision-making process that his instincts might be wrong -- and therefore change tacks before making a catastrophic mistake;

2) Whatever Kerry's policy, the decision-making process and the implementation of those decisions would lead to a greater probability of success.

Some commenters have argued that a second Bush term would be different. However, ironically enough, the failure of Bush to reshuffle his team requires me to take this assertion.... on faith. And I can't do that.

I still have doubts about Kerry. Massive, Herculean doubts. His plan to internationalize the Iraq conflict is a pipe dream. However, here's the one thing I am confident about -- a Kerry administration is likely to recognize, once the multilateral diplomacy fails, that it will actually have to come up with a viable alternative. UPDATE: Kevin Drum has some persuasive points on this topic.

Like Laura McKenna, I'm not at all happy about my choice (And if the Kerry campaign is stupid enough to let Theresa continue to speak to the press, there's an off-chance that in a fit of pique I'll vote to deny her the opportunity to be First Lady.)

But in the end, I can't vote for a president who doesn't believe that what he believes might, just might, be wrong. To quote David Adesnik, "As a professional researcher, I think I simply find it almost impossible to trust someone whose thought process is apparently so different from my own."

posted by Dan at 10:45 AM | Comments (352) | Trackbacks (33)

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Hey, Tom Friedman!! Over here!!!

I see Tom Friedman is castigating conservatives over Iraq:

Conservatives profess to care deeply about the outcome in Iraq, but they sat silently for the last year as the situation there steadily deteriorated. Then they participated in a shameful effort to refocus the country's attention on what John Kerry did on the rivers of Vietnam 30 years ago, not on what George Bush and his team are doing on the rivers of Babylon today, where some 140,000 American lives are on the line. Is this what it means to be a conservative today?

Had conservatives spoken up loudly a year ago and said what both of Mr. Bush's senior Iraq envoys, Jay Garner and Paul Bremer, have now said (and what many of us who believed in the importance of Iraq were saying) - that we never had enough troops to control Iraq's borders, keep the terrorists out, prevent looting and establish authority - the president might have changed course. Instead, they served as a Greek chorus, applauding Mr. Bush's missteps and mocking anyone who challenged them.

Conservatives have failed their own test of patriotism. In the end, it has been more important for them to defeat liberals than to get Iraq right. Had Democrats been running this war with the incompetence of Donald Rumsfeld & Friends, conservatives would have demanded their heads a year ago - and gotten them.

Andrew Sullivan concurs, confessing, "I'm guilty as well. I was so intent on winning this war and so keen to see the administration succeed against our enemy that I gave them too many benefits of the doubt."

By now I'm used to admitting error on a fairly regular basis -- but I'm not copping to this one. Click here, here, and here for some posts written more than a year ago on this topic.

[Yeah, how could Friedman have missed these posts -- oh, wait, maybe he doesn't read your blog?!--ed. I still say Friedman is engaged in a bit of historical revisionism here. One of the points I made in my Slate piece from last December was that conservatives -- Newt Gingrich, George Will, Max Boot, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, and Charles Grassley -- were criticizing Bush over these mistakes. You can say that those criticisms fell on deaf ears -- but you can't say that principled conservatives didn't make these points in the first place.]

posted by Dan at 06:02 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (1)

Who gets the libertarian vote?

You can find out by clicking over to Reason's survey of "a variety of policy wonks, journalists, thinkers, and other public figures in the reason universe" on their voting preferences. Among others, Eugene Volokh reveals his preferences.

Each of the respondents was also asked to provide their most embarrassing vote. The modal response to the first one seemed to be voting for Dukakis in 1988.

More intriguing was fact that the favorite president of six of these libertarians was.... Abraham Lincoln. I certainly concur that Lincoln was the greatest president of them all -- but he's pretty far from the libertarian ideal.

posted by Dan at 04:31 PM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (1)

Do you believe in comebacks? Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


YEAH, BABY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Last year hurt [So did 1999. And 1986. And 1978--ed. Yes, yes, I get your point.] And seeing the Red Sox on the cover on Sports Illustrated this September was also disturbing. But being the first team to come back down 0-3 to win a best-of-seven playoff series in baseball and to do it by beating the Yankees in The House That Ruth Built.... oh, yes, that does feel good.

And props to Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who stuck with Johnny Damon and Mark Bellhorn even though they struggled, who was smart enough to get Keith Foulke in there early and often, and who survived his one truly idiotic decision -- bring Pedro Martinez in to start the seventh inning of game seven.

And congratulations to the Yankees -- despite some suspect starting pitching, despite Jason Giambi having no impact whatsoever, despite having George Steinbrenner as a boss, Joe Torre managed to get this team to Game Seven of the ALCS, within three outs of advancing to the World Series.

Still, this is going to sting a little for Yankee fans -- as Baseball Crank put it, "The Sox have extracted revenge for last season; the Yankees, gigantic payroll, stacked roster and all, have choked in a way no baseball team has ever choked." So..... go read these wise words from Adam Smth. All I can say as a Sox fan is, I feel your pain, and you should have a fine time rooting for the Astros or Cardinals.

Eight days ago I wrote:

This may sound like the head of the U.S. Patent Office back in the 1890's who allegedly said that there was nothing left to be invented, but I find it hard to conceive of how this series can top what's happened in the past two years.

Down 0-3, coming back against Mariano Rivera -- twice -- and then Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke and Derek Lowe pitching their hearts out.

Yeah, this tops what's happened in the past two years.

UPDATE: One final thought -- with all the great divisional series last year, I was worried that this year's baseball playoffs would be anticlimactic. As Brendan Roberts points out, that fear was misplaced:

In case you missed it, the championship series have brought us police in riot gear, a 19-run game, a Game 7 hero (Johnny Damon) who came into the game batting .103 in the series, the best closer in the AL — if not all of baseball — blowing two saves, Curt Schilling getting bombed in Game 1 then shutting down his nemesis in Game 6 with a bloody ankle (cue The Natural soundtrack), a nearly blown 8-0 lead, five-hour games, a controversial play at first base, the Astros' aces pitching awfully in team wins, an unheralded rookie (Brandon Backe) holding the best offense in the NL to one hit in eight innings in a hitters park, an LCS-record 21 homers between the Cardinals and Astros, chants of "Who's your daddy!" from Yankees fans, a Game 7 gem from a terrible road pitcher (Derek Lowe) throwing on two days' rest ... and the best four teams in baseball on display for us all to see.

This series also achieved something I had thought was impossible -- it made my non-sports-watching wife understand at some level why people care about sports.

posted by Dan at 12:27 AM | Comments (39) | Trackbacks (2)

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Management tips for academics

John Quiggin posts some time management tips for academics, and because my time management skills are horrible, I decided to read them instead of tackling the mess that is my desk. Here's his first one:

First, the best way to avoid a piled-up in tray is to deal with jobs immediately, either by doing them, or by deciding never to do them. This won’t work for every kind of job, but the more types of jobs you can handle in this way, the better. So to implement this tip you need a way of classifying jobs. One way is by the time they are likely to take (see tip #2). IF you take this approach you can decide to do all 5-minute jobs immediately, or not at all. I prefer to focus on discretionary jobs where an immediate decision not to take the job is feasible. For an academic, refereeing for journals is like this. I try to deal with requests for referee reports in the same week I get them. If I have free time, and the job looks straightforward on a first reading, I try to do it within two days. Editors who are used to waiting for months really love a quick turnaround like this, and I live in hope that it will build up good karma for my own submissions. If I can’t manage a report within a week then, unless the paper looks to be very important, or I am obligated to the journal in question, I reply immediately that I’m not available. Editors usually don’t mind this, especially if I can suggest someone else.

Excellent advice.

Now back to that overdue referee report.

posted by Dan at 04:54 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Spitballing the election

With the election so heated that crack cocaine is being used as an inducement to register voters (hat tp to Orin Kerr) and with the polls bouncing around all over the place, predicting the outcome is fraught with peril (for more on the polls, check out Mark Blumenthal -- a.k.a., Mystery Pollster). The conventional wisdom says that if the polls are even going into election day Kerry will win, because the undecideds always split in favor of the challengers. On the other hand, it's clear that Bush's strategy is to motivate as many evangelicals that are of voting age in this country to go to the polls, and I have to wonder if the polls are picking up these voters.

Soooo..... here's some half-assed speculation that's perfect for this blog. What if both of these outcomes take place? Kerry might win a lot of the states Gore won, but by smaller amounts (see Tom Schaller for more on this). He'd lose the Red states by an even bigger margin than Gore did in 2000. However, in the battleground states like Ohio and Florida, Kerry would eke out enough votes to win them.

This leads to an intriguing possibility -- what are the odds that Kerry loses the popular vote but wins the Electoral College? If that happened, how would both parties react? Would the Electoral College survive in its current form?

I really don't know the odds -- but I invite readers to speculate.

UPDATE: At Slate, Richard L. Hasen of Election Law Blog postulates five possible election snafus that would prompt even more hysteria than the one I just discussed.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's an even more hysterical possibility -- the prospect of "Faithless Electors." This appears to be a live possibility in West Virginia (hat tip to uh_clem).

This is as good an excuse as any to recommend Jeff Greenfield's The People's Choice, a satirical novel about the media, politics, and.... the Electoral College. It also happens to have lots of useful tidbits about faithless electors.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: A new Harris Poll suggests the possibility that "the
popular vote and the electoral college vote may divide differently, as they
did in 2000." (link via Ndegrees)

posted by Dan at 01:10 PM | Comments (86) | Trackbacks (10)

Monday, October 18, 2004

A long, winding, and long-winded response

My previous post on my probability of voting for John Kerry generated a lot of feedback – and most of it was civil and respectful, a pleasant surprise given the tenor of the current political season.

It would be impossible to respond specifically to all of the arguments made by all the commenters and e-mailers, so I'm going to distill them into a few short bullet points:

1) I've underestimated Bush's foreign policy successes -- evicting the Taliban from Afghanistan, eliminating that country as a base of Al Qaeda operations, and finally dealing with Saddam Hussein. I've also overestimated the costs of Operation Iraqi Freedom -- that even with the acknowledged reverses, it's only been 18 months and things are getting better in that country;

2) I've overestimated John Kerry's decision-making process. Kerry's record -- and, parenthetically, the management of his current campaign -- suggest that his foreign policy instincts aren't just wrong, they're dreadfully, appallingly wrong. According to this argument, Bush gets that we're at war with radical Islam, and Kerry doesn't get it.

3) I've overestimated the caliber of Kerry's appointments as well -- do I really want Madeleine Albright's "Team B" minding the foreign policy store?

4) Kerry's domestic policy proposals in areas such as health care and possible Supreme Court nominees are so bad that even if he's marginally better on foreign policy grounds, the domestic policy ramifications are too grave to be easily dismissed.

Let's respond to these in reverse order. The last point I find really unpersuasive for three reasons. First, a President Kerry would be unable to implement any major domestic policy proposal without the consent of Congress, and there is no chance that Kerry will be able to command disciplined majorities in both houses. Which means Kerry will have to deal with the Republicans. And here, Kerry's weak Senatorial record is actually an argument in his favor, because I'm happy to have some gridlock in DC for a while (a related point: Daniel Patrick Moynihan's observation that it's impossible to enact major policy without a rough 2/3 consensus makes it highly unlikely that George W. Bush will be able to get Social Security privatization through, should he become president. So while I'd like to see that -- provided the transition costs could be funded -- it's an underwhelning reason to vote for Bush). Second, the details of the latest massive porkfest tax bill makes me none too sanguine about one-party control of anything at this point. And third, foreign policy (including foreign economic policy) is what I care about, and it also happens to be the policy bailiwick where the president has the greatest control.

The critique of Kerry's foreign policy team gives me greater pause. I do wonder whether people like Susan Rice would wind up being the Douglas Feiths of a Kerry administration, having to be "consistently bailed out of trouble by career diplomats," as my secret correspondent phrased it.

However, I have two rejoinders to this objection. The first is that the people who spark objections are second-tier appointments. The people at the top -- Richard Holbrooke, William Perry, and Robert Rubin in particular -- tend to command greater respect (though not love) among policy cognoscenti. But I can't guarantee that Holbrooke would be named Secretary of State if Kerry wins, and so that is disturbing.

Second, at least Kerry's second-tier people would actually talk to the career staff. One of the biggest problems with the Bush administration has been the tendency for people like Feith and Wolfowitz to simply ignore expert advice. Indeed, Feith in particular went so far as to create his own little intelligence shop to bypass DIA. Again, I'll take a group of medocrities who actually listen to their staffs than supposedly brilliant men like Feith who simply block out any information that contradicts their assumptions.

The critique of Kerry's own record of decision-making gives me the greatest pause. Kerry was on the wrong side of the nuclear freeze debate in the early eighties on the wrong side of the first Gulf War debate in the early nineties, and on the wrong side of the "lift-and-strike" optiuon put forward by Bob Dole on Bosnia in 1995. This Washington Post story by Dale Russakoff and Jim VandeHei from last week makes me feel even less sanguine. Key part:

This is the paradox of Kerry as a manager. When he has a clear vision of where he wants to go -- as he did in the prosecutor's office and in the signal achievement of his Senate career, investigating long-standing allegations that the Vietnamese had been holding American POWs and laying the groundwork for normalizing U.S. relations with Vietnam -- he has used information and advice to become more focused and persuasive, according to colleagues and longtime aides.

But in his presidential race, the approach has bogged down his campaign in indecision or led to jarring changes in direction -- even if the result, so far, is that Kerry remains in contention with President Bush. "Things you thought you resolved a week ago pop up again because he's had another four conversations," a former adviser said.

The more I contemplate this argument, the more disconcerting I find it. It doesn't help that whenever I bring up John Kerry's name to Democrats based either in Massachusetts or DC, I don't feel a lot of love in the room. Their attitude towards Kerry is reminiscent of the disgust many of them felt towards Al Gore after the 2000 election.

The only response I can find to this argument -- and it's not a great one -- is that the John Kerry of 2004 has learned a little bit from his past mistakes. This is the essential thesis of Thomas Oliphant's much-cited essay on Kerry from this summer -- that because Kerry has screwed up, and because he knows he has screwed up and been forced to face the political ramifications, he is unlikely to adhere to a disastrous policy choice for very long.

Still, I find that this is the hardest point to rebut -- so I invite Kerry supporters to do so in the comments.

The final argument boils down to whether I'm misjudging the outcome of Bush's foreign policies. Which really boils down to Iraq.

Why did Bush invade Iraq? Three reasons are generally given. The first is the WMD issue. The second is the neocon argument -- to which I'm sympathetic -- that the Middle East was the region of the globe that seemed most hostile to liberal democracy, and it was also the region responsible for the growth in global terrorism, and that these two facts were not coincidental. If Iraq could be transformed into something approximating a democracy, it would put pressure on all the other regimes in the region to quit diverting domestic attention towards the Israeli/Palestinian issue and promote genuine reform. The third argument comes from Greg Djerejian's must-read post on why he's voting for Bush -- it's a quote from former Bush administration official Richard Haass in The New Yorker about why Iraq was invaded:

I will go to my grave not knowing that. I can't answer it. I can't explain the strategic obsession with Iraq--why it rose to the top of people's priority list. I just can't explain why so many people thought this was so important to do. But if there was a hidden reason, the one I heard most was that we needed to change the geopolitical momentum after 9/11. People wanted to show that we can dish it out as well as take it. We're not a pitiful helpless giant. We can play offense as well as defense.

Djerejian adds:

[W]hatever you make of Iraq, can anyone now deny that the U.S. takes the threat of terror with the utmost seriousness? Have we not proven that we are not a paper tiger? That we will fight valiantly and hard in pursuit of our security and our values? This too, is part of Bush's record--no matter how often it is poo-pooed by cynics who think this is all dumb Simian-like macho talk that doesn't matter. I'm sorry, but it very much does. To deny this is to deny reality.

OK, to date, has Operation Iraq Freedom achieved any of these three goals? On WMD, yes, although I'm not sure anyone wants to trumpet that as a resounding success for the administration. On democratization, the jury is definitely out, and I hope I'm wrong about this, but it's very, very difficult to claim that current situation is a hospitable one for creating the kind of model state necessary for the grand neoconservative argument to work. As Djerejian acknowledges:

Put simply, the U.S. has failed in providing basic security through wide, critical swaths of Iraq. And, consequently, reconstruction has severely lagged. So Iraqis can be forgiven musing whether the previous brutishly imposed order might not be preferable to the near chaos that reigns in parts of the country today.

The third argument rests on perception -- does the Arab world now recognize that the U.S. is not a paper tiger? And this is where I firmly disagree with Greg. The mere existence of an insurgency able to explode bombs in the Green Zone eighteen months after the end of "major hostilities" makes the United States look weak. The escalating number of U.S. casualties makes the United States look vulnerable. The failure to properly police Iraq's borders makes the United States look incompetent. And as for what Abu Ghraib makes the United States look.... let's not go there.

What's so frustrating about this is the evidence that had things gone well, the U.S. would have reaped significant policy dividends. The invasion did help compel Libya into abandoning its WMD programme, and there's evidence it could have swayed Iran to do the same. However, as the occupation has proven more and more difficult, the desired bandwagon effect stopped with Libya.

For the Bush administration to have achgieved its policy goals in the region, it wasn't necessary that things go perfectly, but it did require that the U.S. respond as quickly as possible to adverse circumstances with an unstinting flow of men and materiel. Instead, there was apparently no real plan for the post-war phase (click here for more) and there has been a profound reluctance to increase troop levels or increase the supply of necessary materials.

I found most of Ron Suskind's New York Times Magazine story on Bush to be overblown (see Matthew Yglesias on this point), but here are the quotes that rung true:

The circle around Bush is the tightest around any president in the modern era, and ''it's both exclusive and exclusionary,'' Christopher DeMuth, president of the American Enterprise Institute, the neoconservative policy group, told me. ''It's a too tightly managed decision-making process. When they make decisions, a very small number of people are in the room, and it has a certain effect of constricting the range of alternatives being offered.''

....In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

....Machiavelli's oft-cited line about the adequacy of the perception of power prompts a question. Is the appearance of confidence as important as its possession? Can confidence -- true confidence -- be willed? Or must it be earned?

George W. Bush, clearly, is one of history's great confidence men. That is not meant in the huckster's sense, though many critics claim that on the war in Iraq, the economy and a few other matters he has engaged in some manner of bait-and-switch. No, I mean it in the sense that he's a believer in the power of confidence. At a time when constituents are uneasy and enemies are probing for weaknesses, he clearly feels that unflinching confidence has an almost mystical power. It can all but create reality.

Any international relations expert will tell you that the perception of resolve is a source of power. But it's far from the only source, and any measure of power that relies solely on perception is fragile to changes in the situation on the ground. At the present moment, I think Bush's perception is off and he can't and won't be comvinced otherwise -- this showed up in his poor foreign policy performances in the debates. Indeed, Bush's ability to articulate and persuade others of the rightness of his own foreign policy positions is shockingly bad. In the end, all he an say is "trust me." Well, I don't trust him anymore.

Kerry, for all of his flaws, has at least acknowledges that the U.S. is going to have to expand the size of its military to meet the current demands of U.S. foreign policy. Bush does not -- and the effects on America's armed forces will be deletrrious for the long run.

Some commenters have suggested that Bush secretly recognizes that mistakes have been made, and there will be changes after the election. I'm glad they're confident of that -- this David Sanger story in Sunday's NYT makes it clear that even insiders aren't sure about this:

"Honestly, I can make a more reliable prediction about what Kerry's foreign policy would look like than I can about our own,'' said one senior American diplomat who has spent considerable time with President Bush over the past three years. "I could argue that you'll see Dick Cheney's revenge, or that the President will determine that the hawks got him in deep, deep trouble, and he'd better turn this around.''

So where am I now? I'm unpersuaded by arguments saying that Bush's foreign policy has been a greater success than commonly thought, and I'm not convinced that he would ever be able to recognize the need for policy change.

However, the responses to the previous post have fed my doubts about Kerry's bad foreign policy instincts -- enough to slightly lower my probability of voting for Kerry to 70%. So it's now up to Kerry's supporters to make their case -- how can I trust that John Kerry gets the post-9/11 world? How can I be sure that Kerry's policymaking process will be sufficiently good so as to overwhelm Kerry's instinctual miscues?

UPDATE: David Adesnik and Megan McArdle are also deliberating and asking questions (Megan has a lot of questioning posts up -- do check all of them out). Stuart Benjamin makes the libertarian case for Kerry.

posted by Dan at 12:49 PM | Comments (241) | Trackbacks (10)