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:
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:
One other thing -- reading the Gordon article, what's stunning is that the administration never solved this dilemma:
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:
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."
Thursday, October 21, 2004
Hey, Tom Friedman!! Over here!!!
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."
[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.]
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.
Do you believe in comebacks? Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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.
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:
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.
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:
Now back to that overdue referee report.
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.
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.
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:
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
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.