Thursday, June 30, 2005

Iraq's President on Iraq

A few highlights from a Der Spiegel interview with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani:

SPIEGEL: But many Iraqis say that while Saddam was a gruesome dictator, the air-conditioning worked from morning to night during his dictatorship, and they were able to send their children to school without having to fear for their lives.

Talabani: You paint a misleading picture. By the time we lost the Kuwait war, there was no power in many parts of the country, and Baghdad's untreated sewage was flowing directly into the Tigris. Living conditions were catastrophic. A doctor earned $15 a month; today he makes several hundred. Police officers' salaries have also increased by more than tenfold. Iraq doesn't just consist of Ramadi and Fallujah. We have many successes to show for ourselves.

But Sean Penn said:
Last year I went to Iraq. Before Team America showed up, it was a happy place. They had flowering meadows and rainbow skies, and rivers made of chocolate, where the children danced and laughed and played with gumdrop smiles.
Moving on...

SPIEGEL: But not when it comes to security. There are about 70 attacks a day now. 900 people were killed in May alone. The situation is become more and more menacing.

Talabani: But that doesn't prove that the terrorists are successful. It's just evidence of their barbaric gruesomeness. We do in fact have a big problem with car bombs, but it's not a phenomenon that comes from Iraq. Last Wednesday, the terrorists were bragging that they had put together the first purely Iraqi unit of suicide bombers. This proves that this form of terrorism is being forced upon us.

SPIEGEL: Do you have any more specific information about where the foreign mujahedeen are coming from?

Talabani: It's difficult to give you numbers, but we have arrested people from various countries, including Pakistan and Egypt, Palestine and Algeria. Many come from Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia's extreme Wahhabism is a major source of terrorism.

But the "surrender-now" crowd is telling us Iraq is in the middle of a civil war. How do you have a civil war when the attacks are being conducted by foreigners and there's no formal opposition trying to split away or take over? Civil war suggests much larger divisions and a much more formal structure opposing the current government. "Insurrection" or "insurgency" is clearly more appropriate.

SPIEGEL: There's also been a great deal of debate over how much longer US troops should remain in the country. General John Vines has said that 20,000 soldiers could be withdrawn after the election, while some politicians in Washington favor increasing troop strength.

Talabani: I'm in favor of reducing the number of American troops. In return, we should build up the Iraqi army. If the Americans want to stay longer, they could withdraw to individual bases -- the way it is in Germany. Security in the country is the Iraqis' business.

Hmmm. So who should we listen to? Some collection of professional politicians or the Commander-in-Chief, Secretary of Defense, and the President of Iraq? You have to balance the "footprint" with the task at hand and ultimately get Iraqis to be responsible for their own security (like Vietnamization, but backed-up).

On postwar plans:

SPIEGEL: Even US officials are now complaining that Washington never had a comprehensive plan for the time after Saddam.

Talabani: Yes, but we shouldn't be unfair. We Iraqis have also made mistakes. Immediately after the war, General Jay Garner said to us: Put together a government and we'll recognize it tomorrow. But we were unable to come to terms with one another. Or look at the Sunnis, who ruled this country for centuries: They boycotted the elections.

Besides the fact that any plan is no longer good once the battle has begun, most criticism has been of the form "you need a better plan" instead of actually suggesting reasonable alternatives. Maybe we should have taken the Yalta approach and just asked Iran to administer half the country for the next 50 years?

For the record, I supported a plan to divide Iraq, attaching part of it to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, part to Kuwait, and leaving an independent Kurdistan. This would have addressed the problem so common in the Middle East and Africa of arbitrary borders that only made sense to colonial powers. However, as I have discussed before, world leaders are far too reluctant to redraw even the most ridiculous borders.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Why No American Should Be UN Secretary General

There's been talk, probably among people with too much time on their hands, about the fearful prospect of Bill Clinton as Secretary General of the UN. This would be bad for several reasons, most of which still apply to any other prominent American.

Why no American should be UN Secretary General:
  • Traditionally, representatives of the permanent UN Security Council members cannot become Secretary General. This preserves some appearance of neutrality while managing the bureaucracy.

  • Either the President or Secretary General would be weakened by the other.

  • At least in Clinton's case, it would create an apparent power struggle between himself and the current US President. For those hoping for world government through the UN, one president would appear to outrank the other.

  • It would be easier for non-Americans to view the UN as a US pawn. The Secretary General would be forced to oppose US interests to appear independent or else he would be considered a US puppet, lessening his freedom of action. Neither of these are desirable outcomes.
American interests would be well served by having a friendly Secretary General, but an American in that role would simply be too controversial. (At the moment, my vote goes to the Czech Republic's former President, Václav Havel.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Trink Coke!

From the BBC:

Coca-Cola has formally agreed to change its sales practices in Europe after an EU investigation found that its business methods stifled competition.

Agreements with shops and bars to stock Coke drinks exclusively will now end as will its practice of giving stores rebates for hitting sales targets.

The European Commission said the legally binding agreement would give consumers more choice of fizzy drinks.

The deal, first outlined in October, followed a six-year competition probe.

Coke has about a 50% share of the European soft drinks market.

I would have sworn it was more than 50%. I guess there must have been people buying those weird little products like "American Cola" and "American Orange" (neither of which tasted very American). I was quite surprised at the dominance of Coke in Europe, having only found Pepsi products in Prague (where I enjoyed a Mountain Dew from a vending machine outside the Texans' favorite internet cafe) and Ulm (where I came across a Pepsi compound while wandering about).

The European Commission found that Coke, the world's largest producer of carbonated drinks, had used its corporate muscle to stifle competition through a series of sales agreements.

These required shops and bars selling Coke to also stock less popular brands such as Sprite and Vanilla Coke.

Yet I could never find Cherry Coke...

I enjoyed Coke in Europe - that's where I learned that McDonald's has the best Cokes - so the only changes I would have asked for would be the occasional Cherry Coke and colder refrigerators (I finally found these at the SPAR). Oh, and how about selling some Wild Berry Fanta in the US?

For more on expanding EU regulations, check out The European Union: Marketing Consultant.

And, in I'm-glad-this-never-happened-to-me-in-Europe news, Swiss Rail Network Grinds to a Halt.

Finally, for your viewing pleasure, a giant Coke can from Austria:

Monday, June 20, 2005

The UN Insecurity Council

From The Guardian:

The US threw its weight behind an expansion of the UN security council that would take in Japan as a permanent member yesterday but not the other prime contender from the developed world, Germany.

Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, said Washington backed a limited expansion from 15 members to about 20, with "two or so" new permanent ones, including Japan.

The secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, confirmed American support for Japan's permanent council seat in a telephone call to the country's foreign minister.

The UN Security Council is already incapable of solving crises where the interests of the "major" powers diverge (hence the Iraq War, neither endorsed nor condemned, along with numerous examples throughout the organization's history). The only major action was the Korean War - and that action was only pulled off because Stalin was boycotting the UN and Taiwan was still recognized as an actual country. How is making the council bigger going to help?

According to the BBC:
Japan, India, Brazil and Germany have put forward a plan for adding 10 seats to the council - six of them permanent, including two from Africa, and four of them non-permanent.
Now setting aside the problem of giving votes to non-democracies, what good can come of this?

An expanded Security Council with additional vetoes will be more incapable of reaching decisions than the current arrangement.

An expanded Security Council without additional vetoes will also make it harder to reach decisions, but it also reeks of tokenism. For example, one of the biggest questions is essentially: "who's the best African?"

The current Security Council arrangement may seem dated, but at least it has a real historical basis. While we're adding seats, how about giving one to each American state?

For more commentary the issue, check out Reforming the U.N.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Legislating Morality

Texas Governor Rick Perry has a good quote on the old you-can't-legislate-morality nonsense:
(AP) "One of the great myths of our time is that you can't legislate morality,"...

"If you can't legislate morality, then you can neither lock criminals up nor let them go free. If you can't legislate morality, you can neither recognize gay marriage nor prohibit it. If you can't legislate morality, you can neither allow for prayer in school nor prevent it," he said. "It is a ridiculous notion to say you can't legislate morality. I say you can't NOT legislate morality."
Well said.

We would also welcome comments from anyone who can say why Governor Perry may face a primary challenge in next year's election. Has there been a notable problem with his administration or is Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison just trying to set herself up as a stronger (more executive) presidential candidate?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Premature Polls

From MSNBC/Newsweek:

Conservatives will have to decide who they hate more in 2008, Hillary Clinton or John McCain. That’s how a veteran of the Reagan White House sizes up the current field. The religious right loathes Hillary, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and they love Virginia Sen. George Allen, an amiable, Reagan-like figure whose father once coached the Redskins.

Allen will do well in the Republican primaries, but polls will show him losing by 7 percentage points to Hillary at the same time they show McCain handily beating her....

In 2004, polls showed all three Republican candidates for the 5th Congressional District's open seat losing to the officially unopposed Democrat. Then, after running one of the most incompetent campaigns I have ever seen, State Rep. Cathy McMorris won the election by twenty points.

So here we are, almost three and a half years from the next presidential election. Entire articles are devoted to how Republicans need to support McCain or other media favorites because he does well in hypothetical polls. What they don't mention is a fairly important question: name ID. How many people knew who Bill Clinton was in 1989? Or George Nethercutt in 1991? Hillary, however, is essentially universally-known (as is McCain), while Allen is probably best known in more politically active circles.

Seven points down, three and a half years out, everyone has an opinion about Hillary, but they haven't met George Allen- it doesn't sound so bad for him anymore.

And for that all-important name recognition, who is George Allen?
  • Senator from Virginia (2001-present)
  • NRSC Chairman during 2004 election (GOP expands majority by 4 seats)
  • Governor of Virginia (1994-1998 - term limited)
For more information:

Slightly-Related Update, June 29:

(Fox News) Even though it was recently reported that Bush had slightly higher grades than Kerry did at Yale University, a 43 percent plurality of voters still think Kerry is the one with better grades. About a quarter (27 percent) got it right and say Bush had better grades in college.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Rational Foreign Aid

From Nairobi, Kenya:

Kenya will pay the price of an estimated Sh1.2 billion in withdrawn military support for its unwillingness to shield American personnel from prosecution at the International Criminal Court, it has been revealed....

Details from Washington show that the Bush administration may deprive Kenya of Sh616 million ($8 million) in funds for fighting terrorism, building democracy and resolving conflicts in the Horn of Africa and a similar amount in military aid.

The loss would be a result of an amendment added last December to the American Service Members' Protection Act to prohibit US military assistance to countries that have signed up to the formation of the ICC unless they have entered into no-surrender agreement with the US.

The law restricts US participation in any peacekeeping mission and prohibits military assistance for those nations that ratify the ICC Treaty, with the exception of Nato member countries and other major allies such as Australia, Egypt, Israel, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

The so-called Nethercutt Amendment, named for its chief Republican sponsor, intensifies US efforts to coax developing countries into signing bilateral immunity deals with the United States.

Thank you Congressman Nethercutt, for reminding the world that they don't have a right to American tax money. Of course, this is just a drop in the bucket, but it's a good start:
The pending loss of Sh1.2 billion in military and economic support funds, however, represents less than 10 percent of total US assistance to Kenya.
Later in the article, we learn it isn't even a rigid rule. The Nethercutt Amendment exempts Millennium Challenge Accounts ("an aid programme that rewards compliance with anti-corruption, human rights and economic-reform standards.") Furthermore, it "gives President Bush the authority to waive the military aid reductions for other countries."

So not only does the Nethercutt Amendment only apply to a fraction of foreign aid, it exempts performance-based aid, and the President can waive the reductions to reflect American interests.

Diplomatic success to date is demonstrated:
A total of 100 countries, including 36 in Africa, have signed Article 98 agreements with the United States. The Bush administration argues that these bilateral immunity pacts are needed to protect American personnel from frivolous or politically motivated prosecutions.
After years of foreign policy abuses, we're glad to see foreign aid openly linked to foreign policy objectives and its effectiveness on the ground.