Sunday, March 19, 2006

'American Theocracy,' by Kevin Phillips - The New York Times Book Review - New York Times

'American Theocracy,' by Kevin Phillips - The New York Times Book Review - New York Times

Article 1 of 27 in Books
Go to a Section
Welcome, thilo - Member Center - Log Out

Books Home Sunday Book Review Best-Seller Lists First Chapters Columns
Clear and Present Dangers
E-Mail This
Save Article

Published: March 19, 2006
(Page 2 of 2)

And while this argument may be somewhat too simplistic to explain the complicated mix of motives behind the war, it is hard to dismiss Phillips's larger argument: that the pursuit of oil has for at least 30 years been one of the defining elements of American policy in the world; and that the Bush administration — unusually dominated by oilmen — has taken what the president deplored recently as the nation's addiction to oil to new and terrifying levels. The United States has embraced a kind of "petro-imperialism," Phillips writes, "the key aspect of which is the U.S. military's transformation into a global oil-protection force," and which "puts up a democratic facade, emphasizes freedom of the seas (or pipeline routes) and seeks to secure, protect, drill and ship oil, not administer everyday affairs."

Featured Author: Kevin Phillips
Reviews of Phillips's books, including "The Emerging Republican Majority" (1969), "Wealth and Democracy" (2002) and others.

The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century.
By Kevin Phillips.
462 pp. Viking. $26.95.

Forum: Book News and Reviews
Phillips is especially passionate in his discussion of the second great force that he sees shaping contemporary American life — radical Christianity and its growing intrusion into government and politics. The political rise of evangelical Christian groups is hardly a secret to most Americans after the 2004 election, but Phillips brings together an enormous range of information from scholars and journalists and presents a remarkably comprehensive and chilling picture of the goals and achievements of the religious right.

He points in particular to the Southern Baptist Convention, once a scorned seceding minority of the American Baptist Church but now so large that it dominates not just Baptism itself but American Protestantism generally. The Southern Baptist Convention does not speak with one voice, but almost all of its voices, Phillips argues, are to one degree or another highly conservative. On the far right is a still obscure but, Phillips says, rapidly growing group of "Christian Reconstructionists" who believe in a "Taliban-like" reversal of women's rights, who describe the separation of church and state as a "myth" and who call openly for a theocratic government shaped by Christian doctrine. A much larger group of Protestants, perhaps as many as a third of the population, claims to believe in the supposed biblical prophecies of an imminent "rapture" — the return of Jesus to the world and the elevation of believers to heaven.

Prophetic Christians, Phillips writes, often shape their view of politics and the world around signs that charlatan biblical scholars have identified as predictors of the apocalypse — among them a war in Iraq, the Jewish settlement of the whole of biblical Israel, even the rise of terrorism. He convincingly demonstrates that the Bush administration has calculatedly reached out to such believers and encouraged them to see the president's policies as a response to premillennialist thought. He also suggests that the president and other members of his administration may actually believe these things themselves, that religious belief is the basis of policy, not just a tactic for selling it to the public. Phillips's evidence for this disturbing claim is significant, but not conclusive.

THE third great impending crisis that Phillips identifies is also, perhaps, the best known — the astonishing rise of debt as the precarious underpinning of the American economy. He is not, of course, the only observer who has noted the dangers of indebtedness. The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, for example, frequently writes about the looming catastrophe. So do many more-conservative economists, who point especially to future debt — particularly the enormous obligation, which Phillips estimates at between $30 trillion and $40 trillion, that Social Security and health care demands will create in the coming decades. The most familiar debt is that of the United States government, fueled by soaring federal budget deficits that have continued (with a brief pause in the late 1990's) for more than two decades. But the national debt — currently over $8 trillion — is only the tip of the iceberg. There has also been an explosion of corporate debt, state and local bonded debt, international debt through huge trade imbalances, and consumer debt (mostly in the form of credit-card balances and aggressively marketed home-mortgage packages). Taken together, this present and future debt may exceed $70 trillion.

The creation of a national-debt culture, Phillips argues, although exacerbated by the policies of the Bush administration, has been the work of many people over many decades — among them Alan Greenspan, who, he acidly notes, blithely and irresponsibly ignored the rising debt to avoid pricking the stock-market bubble it helped produce. It is most of all a product of the "financialization" of the American economy — the turn away from manufacturing and toward an economy based on moving and managing money, a trend encouraged, Phillips argues persuasively, by the preoccupation with oil and (somewhat less persuasively) with evangelical belief in the imminent rapture, which makes planning for the future unnecessary.

There is little in "American Theocracy" that is wholly original to Phillips, as he frankly admits by his frequent reference to the work of other writers and scholars. What makes this book powerful in spite of the familiarity of many of its arguments is his rare gift for looking broadly and structurally at social and political change. By describing a series of major transformations, by demonstrating the relationships among them and by discussing them with passionate restraint, Phillips has created a harrowing picture of national danger that no American reader will welcome, but that none should ignore.

Alan Brinkley is the Allan Nevins professor of history and the provost at Columbia University.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Talking Points: 25 Key Questions on Iraq by David C. Unger - New York Times

Talking Points: 25 Key Questions on Iraq by David C. Unger - New York Times
Go to a Section
Welcome, thilo - Member Center - Log Out

Editorials/Op-Ed Home Editorials Columnists Contributors Letters New York/Region Opinions
Talking Points
25 Key Questions on Iraq

Michael Sloan
What the Bush administration and the American public should have been asking then, and what they should be asking now.
E-Mail This
Save Article
Published: March 15, 2006
David C. Unger is the senior foreign affairs writer for The Times's Editorial Board.
In This Talking Points
I. 10 Questions That Should Have Been Asked Before the Invasion
II. 10 Questions That Should Have Been Asked Since the Invasion
III. 5 Questions That Should Be Asked Now
Previous Talking Points Articles

Related Articles
"The Last Exit From Iraq," an article by Joel Rayburn in Foreign Affairs, March-April 2006, deals with the British experience.
"Torture at Abu Ghraib," Seymour M. Hersh's first article on the abuse of prisoners in Iraq.
"Abu Ghraib: The Hidden Story," a 2004 article by Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books.
Suggested Books
"My Year in Iraq," by L. Paul Bremer III, with Malcolm McConnell (Simon and Schuster, 2006)
"U.S. Policy in Post-Saddam Iraq," By Michael Eisenstadt and Eric Mathewson (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2003)
"Understanding Iraq," William R. Polk (Harper Collins, 2005)
"A History of Iraq," by Charles Tripp (Cambridge University Press, 2000)
If America had taken the trouble to learn more about Iraq before invading it in 2003, a lot of the problems we face there today could have been avoided. In fact, had the right questions been asked and answered accurately, the invasion might have been canceled before it began. For example, if the Bush administration had spent more time poring over the actual findings of American intelligence agencies, they might have realized then what almost everyone acknowledges today — that Iraq's most dangerous weapons programs had been effectively shut down by sanctions and inspections, and that Baghdad was not helping Al Qaeda and had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks.

If the United States had not invaded, Saddam Hussein would still be a headache for American policymakers and a nightmare for the Iraqi people. But in many ways, things would be much better. The United States would not have the bulk of its ground forces tied down in a stalemated counter-insurgency war. Iraq would not be teetering on the brink of a civil war that could ignite much of the Middle East. And Iran, which has emerged as the most worrisome threat in the region, would not have the benefit of client Shiite fundamentalist parties tightening their grip over Iraq oilfields and providing Tehran with the added security insurance of a friendly western frontier.

But leave aside that biggest "what if" and consider how much better the invasion and occupation could have gone if Washington had taken the trouble to find out some crucial things about the country it was preparing to remold.

Here are 25 of the most important questions about the Iraq invasion — 10 that policy makers should have asked before invading, 10 that they should have asked as it unfolded, and 5 that they should be asking themselves now.

I. 10 Questions That Should Have Been Asked Before the Invasion

1. What would Iraq look like without Saddam Hussein?

Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, but he was also just about the only thing holding Iraq together. The people planning this war should have foreseen that once the repressive lid of Baathist rule was lifted, just about everything would be up for grabs in Iraq, including national unity and the balance of power among Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds. Mr. Hussein had spent much of the preceding 35 years systematically reshaping Iraq and its institutions around his personal will. No one who had bothered to look at and understood that history could have seriously imagined that things would have fallen simply and peacefully into place by merely removing him and dissolving his army.

2. Regime change or nation-building?

President Bush has often disparaged nation-building, but given Iraq's fragility, it should have been clear that mere "regime change" — removing Mr. Hussein and his family but leaving the basic structures of public order intact — was not a realistic possibility. Once American forces invaded Iraq, it was obvious that Washington would find itself hip-deep in some pretty arduous and long-term nation-building. Obvious, that is, to everyone but the Pentagon. When Baghdad fell, Gen. Jay Garner was dispatched to organize a quick, simple regime change and American military exit. Only one week later, General Garner's mission lay in ruins and the White House had completely reversed field. Within a few months, General Garner's replacement, L. Paul Bremer, started issuing ambitious plans for a five-year phased political transition. But by then such plans seemed wholly unrealistic because Iraqis had already lost confidence in American competence and staying power. Mr. Bremer himself recognized that salvaging the situation would require many additional American troops, something the Pentagon was never willing to consider.

3. How many American troops would be needed, and for how long?

The best time to have asked this question was before the invasion, the timing of which was completely a matter of Washington's choice. If the administration had asked the right questions, it would have understood that defeating Mr. Hussein's army was only the beginning of the mission, to be followed by an extended period of peacekeeping and rebuilding political institutions.

There was at least one person who was asking the right questions at the right time — the Army's chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki. Based on the army's experiences in the Balkans and elsewhere, he publicly called for sending "several hundred thousand troops" into Iraq. But this view faced sharp opposition from higher-ups, notably Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who had rejected an initial war plan that called for using 380,000 troops. General Shinseki was publicly slapped down by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and his military career lost traction from then on. He retired from the Army in 2003.

The Pentagon sent a force about half the size of what people like General Shinseki were asking for. It was enough, as it turned out, to win the first phase of the war, but not nearly enough to secure the peace. Iraq, America and the Army have been paying for that failure to think things through ever since. More troops from the start could have prevented those first weeks of anarchy when Iraqis came to doubt the competence and the strength of the occupiers and the insurgency got its crucial first wind.

4. What about safeguarding Iraqi weapons arsenals?

The main justification offered for the invasion was the danger that Mr. Hussein would make weapons, especially the weapons of mass destruction Washington claimed he possessed, available to terrorists. Fortunately, those unconventional weapons turned out not to exist, but just about every other weapon in the Iraqi army's arsenal did seem to make its way into the hands of insurgents and terrorists. For a war that was supposed to be about weapons, it is remarkable how little planning went into locking down Iraqi arsenals. But such a lockdown would have required not only better planning, but more troops.

5. And what about sealing the borders?

If anybody in Washington was really worried about Al Qaeda getting its hands on Iraqi weapons, a top military priority should have been sealing Iraq's borders with Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Sealing those borders also would have helped prevent the infiltration of Al Qaeda fighters into chaotic post-war Iraq. This too would have required more American troops.

6. Would Iraq hold together as a unified state?

Baghdad is an ancient city, but Iraq is a modern invention. Its historical roots as a unified nation are the work of extremely shallow British colonial mapmakers who assembled Iraq in 1920 out of three quite different provinces of the defeated Ottoman Empire — Baghdad, Basra and Mosul. In doing so, they created one of the Arab world's least homogeneous countries, with large numbers of Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds.

Planting the seeds for later trouble, Britain installed a foreign king from the Sunni Arab minority, and surrounded him with a Sunni political elite and a Sunni-dominated army. That army quickly became the most powerful political force in the land. Shiites and Kurds were relegated to second-class citizenship long before Mr. Hussein was born or the Baath Party was created.

For decades before the American invasion, the only glue holding Iraq's three pieces together seemed to be Baathist terror. Mr. Hussein ruthlessly persecuted the millions of Shiites and Kurds who opposed his rule, while co-opting the few who were willing to do his bidding. To the extent that any real Iraqi national identity emerged during those decades, it did so under Baathist tutelage. In contrast, among those Kurds and Shiites who resisted Mr. Hussein, separatist regional and sectarian identities grew stronger. None of this was exactly a secret. It should have been easy to foresee that once the Baathist regime was gone, demands for regional autonomy would surge forth.

7. What could the British experience teach us?

Some of the parallels between the puncturing of Britain's delusions about Iraq in the 1920's and the rude shocks encountered by America eight decades later are so uncanny it's hard to believe nobody (not even the British) managed to learn anything useful from that earlier experience. An article in the March-April issue of Foreign Affairs by Joel Rayburn, an American military historian, recounts the essential elements of that story.

Begin at the beginning, in 1917 when the British military commander, Maj. Gen. Stanley Maude, stormed into Baghdad from the south proclaiming that his armies "do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors, or enemies, but as liberators." Whether he realized it or not, President Bush used almost identical language when he addressed American troops preparing for war in 2003, telling them, "you'll be fighting not to conquer anybody but to liberate people."

But as both occupations wore on, large numbers of Iraqis came to see it differently. By 1920 Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds were all in armed revolt against the British. Britain used air power and other state-of-the-art weaponry to shock and awe the rebels into submission. That didn't work out quite as well as the British hoped. Rising casualties on both sides turned British opinion against the war, and British officials started churning out deliberately over-optimistic reports boasting of progress in political development, stability and training of Iraqi security forces that became increasingly detached from the disappointing realities.

All this certainly sounds familiar. Either Washington didn't bother studying the British experience, or somehow could not imagine the same thing could happen to the United States. Clearly, it could happen and it did.

8. How do we get and keep the Iraqi people on our side?

The best insurance against repeating Britain's unhappy experience would have been a serious strategy for showing Iraqis that the American presence would improve their lives. This should not have been impossible. Mr. Hussein was widely unpopular. Twelve years of punishing economic sanctions had reduced the Iraqi middle class to misery. After years of dictatorship and suffering, popular expectations were fairly modest. Safe streets, longer hours of electric power, and a reviving economy, helped along by new jobs for former soldiers and the idle young men of the slums, could have gone a long way. Instead, Washington simply assumed that Iraqis would be so grateful for the end of Mr. Hussein's rule that they would rally around their American liberators, even if their lives did not get better in all the other ways that mattered.

9. Once a post-Baathist Iraq took shape, how would it fit into the map of the Middle East?

Iraq straddles some of the most volatile ethnic and religious fault lines in the entire Middle East, some of which have been fought over repeatedly through the centuries. Turkey, the country with the world's largest Kurdish minority, has long opposed anything smacking of full autonomy or independence for Iraqi Kurds. Iran, the region's only Shiite-ruled country, considers itself a big brother to Iraq's long-persecuted Shiites. And for a long time after Iran's 1979 revolution, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni Arab-ruled states of the Arabian Peninsula viewed a militarily strong, Baathist-ruled Iraq as an essential bulwark against the Shiite revolutionaries in Iran. Washington should have understood that any significant change in the political complexion of Iraq would inevitably send shockwaves throughout the region, and it should have been better prepared to deal with the consequences.

10. More specifically, would invading Iraq make Iran more or less of a regional threat?

Some Bush administration hawks once gleefully imagined that the presence of American troops on Iran's eastern flank, in Afghanistan, and its western flank, in Iraq, would greatly reinforce America's quarter-century effort to contain Tehran's adventurist clerical regime. The reality has been just the opposite.

Iran has benefited enormously from America's military intervention in Iraq and continues to do so. The Shiite fundamentalist parties that America helped bring to power in Baghdad are deeply indebted to Iran for the years of sanctuary, training and aid they received there during Mr. Hussein's dictatorship. Now those parties are well positioned to repay those debts, while America, with much of its military tied down and its multilateral credibility in tatters, is poorly positioned to thwart Iran's advancing drive to arm itself with nuclear weapons.

It was never any secret that Mr. Hussein was Iran's most feared enemy. Nor was it any secret that Iraq's two main Shiite parties — the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Dawa Party — were Iranian-sponsored. The only mystery is why Washington never bothered to put two and two together and figure out before the war how to keep Iran from becoming the biggest beneficiary of American intervention.

II. 10 Questions That Should Have Been Asked Since the Invasion

It was bad enough to ignore so many of these seemingly obvious strategic questions before the invasion. But we've now had almost three years to learn from these and other early mistakes. Here are 10 more questions we should have started asking ourselves once things started going so unexpectedly wrong. A few timely mid-course corrections could still have made things a lot better than they are today.

Let's start with the first unpleasant surprise, which was evident by the spring of 2003.

1. Where were the flowers?

Vice President Dick Cheney predicted on television before the war that American troops in Iraq "will be greeted as liberators." Kanan Makiya, an expatriate Iraqi intellectual, personally told President Bush that American soldiers would be welcomed with "sweets and flowers." But within just a few weeks of the invasion, it was becoming clear that many Iraqis were less than delighted with the presence of a foreign occupying army.

That ought to have prompted a hard look at the military plans that had been drawn up on the basis of those over-optimistic assumptions. It was time to recognize that the occupation was going to involve a lot more than victory parades, smiling children, and toppled statues. It was time to think about ways to make American forces simultaneously less conspicuous and more numerically matched to these more demanding conditions. It was time to think about strategies for winning the hearts and minds that had been wrongly assumed to be already on America's side.

2. Where were the Chalabi voters?

Pentagon neoconservatives believed the secular Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi when he assured them that Iraqis of all persuasions would rally to him as the democratic leader of a new Iraq. But the smooth talking Mr. Chalabi, who had last lived in Iraq in 1958, proved badly out of touch with contemporary Iraqi reality. He attracted little political support after returning to Baghdad on the heels of the American invasion. Another secular exile favored by Washington, Ayad Allawi, also never won as large a following as his American backers expected.

The only exile politicians who succeeded in winning a large following were those associated with the two disciplined Shiite fundamentalist parties that spent the Hussein era based in Iran — S.C.I.R.I. and Dawa. Besides Iranian money and arms, they benefited from the support of powerful party militias and backing from Iraq's leading Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali Sistani. By failing to recognize much earlier that first Mr. Chalabi and then Mr. Allawi were not the political champions they claimed to be, Washington made it that much easier for the Iranian-backed fundamentalist parties to win dominant positions in the constitution-writing assembly and the current elected parliament.

3. What can stop the looting (and the erosion of American credibility that accompanied it)?

Nothing more fatally undermined American reconstruction and transition plans than the weeks of unchecked looting that followed the toppling of the Baathist regime. Iraqis, who were used to an all-powerful police state, watched in horrified amazement as vandals stripped everything of value from hospitals, schools, museums and ministries and destroyed the critical infrastructure that brought water and electricity into homes and oil to foreign and domestic markets.

Mr. Rumsfeld dismissively declared at the time that freedom was untidy and that "stuff happens." That sent precisely the wrong message to Iraqis, who were starting to conclude that the American authorities were not all that powerful or competent — and that their lives had gotten worse since the invasion. Halting the looting should have been a top priority for the Pentagon. But that would have required sending more troops.

The unchecked looting was not the sole reason for the insurgency. Baathist diehards and radical Islamists might have risen up anyway. But they would not have attracted anywhere near the level of popular sympathy and support that they did after those appalling weeks of American policy paralysis.

4. Once the original game plan for political transition collapsed amid the looting and growing Iraqi ill-will , what might have been a more realistic Plan B?

Plan A was the ill-fated Garner plan for a fast-paced hand-over to Iraqi administrators and an early American withdrawal. That strategy was in ruins by May, 2003 and the White House dispatched L. Paul Bremer to take over and organize a new transition. But while the Garner timetable had been unrealistically short, and not backed up by enough troops, the timetable that Mr. Bremer produced in July 2003 was unrealistically long and backed up by too few American troops.

In the abstract, a staged five-year transition to elected Iraqi government, might have been long enough to allow the creation of real national institutions and a democratic political culture. By the fall of 2003, however, neither the Iraqis nor Washington had the patience for that long a period of American military and political tutelage. The White House abruptly insisted on a much shorter timetable. What resulted sometimes seemed to resemble the worst of both possible worlds — a half-baked political transition combined with an indefinite American military presence.

5. What's more important, on-time elections or inclusive elections?

Once the new electoral timetable was announced, based more on Washington politics than Iraqi preparedness, it quickly became untouchable. Firm deadlines can sometimes be helpful at forcing compromise. But as Iraq's first free elections approached, in Jan. 2005, the only hope for coaxing estranged Sunni Arab parties and voters to take part would have required reaching a consensus agreement between all groups, and that the only realistic chance for achieving this would have involved delaying the vote for a few months. Washington stood firm against any delay. The result was a badly skewed constitutional assembly and a badly skewed constitution that has contributed to the alarming drift toward civil war. Iraqis had waited all their lives for free elections. Why was Washington so unwilling to think about waiting a few months more for elections that were not only free, but inclusive enough to build a nation around?

6. Who are America's natural allies in Iraq?

Faced with a political map as complicated as Iraq's, Washington should have tried to figure out early on which Iraqi constituencies had a self-interest in building an inclusive, secular democracy. Washington early on allied itself with the Shiites and the Kurds, who suffered most at the hands of Mr. Hussein. But the main Shiite parties turned out to be far more interested in imposing fundamentalism and carrying out vendettas against their former oppressors than in building a free and united nation. And the Kurdish parties have so far shown themselves to be almost exclusively interested in autonomy for the Kurdish northeast and almost indifferent to what goes on in the Arab areas of Iraq.

Obviously, Washington should not have turned its back on the Shiites and Kurds, who together constitute more than three-quarters of the Iraqi population. But it could have done a better job, early on, of convincing Sunni Arabs that they could benefit from American protection against Shiite vengeance. Washington could also have handled the Kurds better, reminding them that in return for the American support they had come to count on, Washington expected them to play a more constructive role in Iraqi nation-building. These are precisely the messages that America's current ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, has begun delivering over the past few months. But it is now awfully late in the day and the threat of civil war has become awfully real.

7. What would it take to get more international support?

Incredibly, the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon seemed to have assumed at first that America's Western and Arab allies, and the United Nations, would practically trip over each other to get right with the new order by sending peacekeeping troops and conferring international legitimacy on the political transition. By late 2003, it was increasingly evident that wasn't about to happen. To those not hypnotized by blind self-righteousness, it was no surprise.

Washington had spent much of the previous year generating international ill-will and undermining the United Nations by bypassing Security Council opposition and pulling the plug on international weapons inspectors. President Bush's harsh with-us-or-against-us rhetoric also created a poor climate for multinational cooperation.

The administration might have attracted more nations to help with the hard work that lay ahead in Iraq by offering substantial political and economic concessions. But it never wavered from its insistence on controlling all political, military and contracting decisions itself. In recent days, President Bush has begun to talk more about the difficulty of going it alone, not just in Iraq, but in all of America's dealings. But this represents a turnabout that comes very late in the day and that many will find hard to fully credit.

8. What could be done to minimize the damage from the Abu Ghraib torture scandal?

Every top business executive learns about damage control strategies, and every good one learns that a successful strategy has to go beyond managing the bad news to managing the problem itself. Yet in the case of the Abu Ghraib scandal, President Bush, the first business school graduate to occupy the White House, did just about everything wrong.

Although the Pentagon first learned about the abuses by early November 2003, it took no serious steps to get out in front of the problem until graphic photographs from Abu Ghraib were published in the New Yorker nearly six months later, in its April 30, 2004 issue. The president never demanded accountability from the cabinet official ultimately in charge — Mr. Rumsfeld — or from the senior commanders and officials responsible for the brutal interrogation policies at the prison. Instead, the administration kept repeating that all the blame belonged to a few bad apples, and only pursued court-martials or serious punishments against low ranking soldiers.

That struck at the core principle of command responsibility on which the professionalism of any military force depends. It also encouraged Iraqis, and the rest of the world, to see the United States as a country that practiced and tolerated torture — and as all too similar to Mr. Hussein, the man who first made Abu Ghraib famous for torturing innocent Iraqis.

In the recent blow-up over the sale of American port operations to a Dubai-based company, President Bush spoke passionately about the bad message it would send to the Arab world if the deal were blocked. He should have made precisely this sort of statement when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, and taken swift and stern action to make sure that the Arab world did not equate the events that occurred there with the American army, or America.

9. What kind of Iraqi security forces should we be building?

The theory of the current occupation is that the United States army has to remain in place until the Iraqis develop the capacity to preserve order themselves. As early as 2003, the Pentagon was regularly reporting rapid progress in building the necessary Iraqi security forces. But anyone who looked at the details could see that the Pentagon's numbers were puffed up by including security guards hired to protect building sites along with actual soldiers and police.

Mr. Bremer's recent memoir makes clear that the Pentagon was flogging these inflated numbers to try to deflect his urgent pleas for more American troops. As it turned out, even the much smaller number of new Iraqi army recruits listed in the Pentagon totals was not entirely real. Most of these purported recruits later melted away when sent into battle against Iraqi insurgents.

The Pentagon also managed to avoid the other key point about these recruits — where they were coming from. As it turned out, many were members of sectarian and party militias, mainly Shiite fundamentalist enforcers or Kurdish former separatist guerrillas incorporated wholesale into the new "national" force. The result was that instead of being a unifying nation-building institution, the Iraqi army and interior ministry police were themselves becoming a particularly acute source of divisions. The torture of Sunni prisoners in interior ministry prisons and the appalling refusal by Iraqi troops to protect Sunni neighborhoods and mosques from mob reprisals after last month's bombing of a sacred Shiite shrine are now fueling the dangerous drift toward civil war.

10. Again — how many United States troops will be needed, and for how long?

First, American troops were supposed to be withdrawn within three months. Then, as the insurgency exploded, the target became early 2005, as Iraqi forces became large enough and capable enough to take over. Then, American troops were temporarily increased for the recent elections, with promises of significant withdrawals later this year.

Clearly, what is driving this timetable is American politics, not Iraqi progress. And the American people clearly seem to be running out of patience. In a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll this week 67 percent of those asked felt that President Bush "does not have a clear plan for handling the situation in Iraq," an all-time high. Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces now look less capable than ever of holding the country together. And American forces are still too thin on the ground, which forces them to put their own security first, and keeping Iraqi civilians out of the crossfire second.

That is not a mission that can end happily. If American forces are to have any hope of building anything positive in Iraq, their numbers need to be increased and their mission reshaped. And they will only be granted enough time to try if President Bush finally masters the essential task that has clearly eluded him for the past three years — convincing the American people that his administration knows what it is doing in Iraq.

III. 5 Questions That Should Be Asked Now

Now it's your turn.

Just as there were vital questions that weren't adequately thought through before the invasion and vital questions that haven't been adequately thought through over the past three years, there are also vital questions that are not being adequately thought through today. Here are five that Americans ought to be deliberating right now.

There are no obviously "right" or "wrong" answers. This time we are talking about an uncertain and largely unpredictable future, not a known past. Still, how America chooses to answer these questions will have enormous effects on its future role in Iraq, in the Middle East, and beyond.

With this in mind, we invite readers to send us their own answers to these five questions. We intend to publish a selection of them, to get the discussion started.

1. Where should the United States draw the line on giving full military support to an Iraqi government that insists on being sectarian, vengeful and non-inclusive?

2. What can Washington to do to mitigate the advantages it is handing Iran by aligning itself with Iraq's most pro-Iranian parties?

3. Should Washington give up on the idea of holding Iraq together as a single nation and accept an equitable partition of territory and resources as the best remaining hope for avoiding civil war?

4. If civil war cannot be avoided, should American troops stay in Iraq and risk getting caught in the crossfire in the hope of limiting the carnage, the regional repercussions and the effects on world oil markets?

5. In the long run, would the United States be better off holding out for something it can call "peace with honor" or would it be better to cut our losses by announcing an exit strategy and brokering the best deal we can?

Lela Moore and Elizabeth A. Harris contributed research for this article.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

About That Rebellion ... - New York Times

About That Rebellion ... - New York Times
March 11, 2006
About That Rebellion ...

We keep hearing that the Republicans in Congress are in revolt against the president.

Some rebellion.

Yes, the Republicans defied President Bush on the United Arab Emirates ports deal. But it wasn't over a major principle, like the collapse of Congressional supervision of the executive branch or the incredibly lax security in the nation's ports, or even the security issues posed by this particular deal.

The Republicans dumped the ports deal into the harbor because of xenophobia and electoral tactics. Republican pollsters have been saying the president could be a liability in the fall elections, so lawmakers posed as rebels for voters who, they think, want rebels. They know those voters are unhappy about globalization, and specifically hostile toward Arabs.

The idea that a happy few are charging the White House ramparts is ridiculous. Republican lawmakers don't just turn a blind eye when they learn that the president is making profoundly bad choices, like cutting constitutional corners, abrogating treaties and even breaking the law. They actually legalize the president's misdeeds.

Take domestic spying, held up as another area of Republican revolt. The program violates the law. Congress knows it. The public knows it. Even President Bush knows it. (He just says the law doesn't apply to him.) In response, the Capitol Hill rebels are boldly refusing to investigate the program — or any other warrantless spying that is going on. They are trying to rewrite the law to legalize warrantless spying. And meanwhile, they've created new subcommittees to help the president go on defying the law.

Over the last couple of years, Republican lawmakers have been given proof that American soldiers and intelligence agents abused, tortured and even killed prisoners, or sent them to other countries to be tortured. Without hesitation, the Republicans did nothing — no serious investigation, no accountability.

Congressional and White House negotiators then watered down the new anti-torture law, which Mr. Bush said did not really apply to him anyway. And they passed another law actually encouraging the abuse of prisoners by allowing the use of coerced evidence at hearings on the prisoners' status.

After 9/11, Mr. Bush created a network of prisons outside the American legal system so he could hold people indefinitely without any hearings. When the Supreme Court said twice that he was reaching beyond his powers, the Republicans in Congress were determined not to let this assault on the rule of law continue. So they rose as one, and legalized the president's actions. In case there was any confusion about its resolve, Congress told the courts that they could no longer rule on these matters. Mr. Bush got the message, loud and clear. He sent his lawyers right out to inform the judges, including the Supreme Court, that they had to drop all the cases that were already before them.

And all this does not even include the act of open rebellion by which the Senate is helping the White House cover up the hyping of intelligence on Iraq.

With rebels like these, who needs loyalists?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Feeling No Pain - New York Times

Feeling No Pain - New York Times
March 6, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist
Feeling No Pain

President Bush's main purpose in visiting India seems to have been to promote nuclear proliferation. But he also had some kind words for outsourcing. And those words help explain something that I know deeply puzzles the administration's political gurus: Mr. Bush's dismal polling on economic issues.

Now the American economy isn't doing as well as Bush partisans think it is. In fact, since the end of the 2001 recession, the recovery in jobs, output and especially wages has been unusually weak by historical standards. Still, the economy is expanding, so it's impressive just how large a majority of Americans disapproves of Mr. Bush's economic management.

Why doesn't Mr. Bush get any economic respect? I think it's because most Americans sense, correctly, that he doesn't care about people like them. We're living in a time when many Americans are feeling economically insecure, but a tiny elite has been growing incredibly rich. And Mr. Bush's problem is that he identifies so totally with the lucky, wealthy few that in unscripted settings he can't manage even a few sentences of empathy with ordinary Americans. He doesn't feel your pain, and it shows.

Here's what Mr. Bush said in India, when someone raised the question of the political backlash against outsourcing: "Losing jobs is painful, so let's make sure people are educated so they can find — fill the jobs of the 21st century. And let's make sure that there's pro-growth economic policies in place. What does that mean? That means low taxes; it means less regulation; it means fewer lawsuits; it means wise energy policy."

O.K., so you're a 50-year-old worker whose job has just been outsourced, and Mr. Bush tells you that you should go get a 21st-century education and rejoice in the joys of a lawsuit-free economy. Uh-huh.

Actually, Mr. Bush's remarks were even more off-key than they seem, coming during a visit to India. India's surge into world markets hasn't followed the pattern set by other developing nations, which started their export drive in low-tech industries like clothing. Instead, India has moved directly into industries that advanced countries like the United States thought were their exclusive turf. When Business Week put together a list of areas "where India has made an impact ... and where it's going next," that list consisted almost entirely of high-technology activities like software and chip design.

What this means is that American workers whose jobs are threatened by Indian competition are, in many cases, people who thought they already had acquired the skills to "fill the jobs of the 21st century" — but have just discovered that Indians, who are paid about a tenth as much, also have those skills.

Am I saying that we should try to stop outsourcing? No. But if you don't feel conflicted about the effects of globalization, if you don't worry about the many losers from the process, you aren't paying attention. And American workers deserve a better answer to their concerns than yet another assertion that a rising tide raises all boats, because that's manifestly untrue.

The fact is that we're living in a time when most Americans are seeing little if any benefit from overall income growth, because their share of the economic pie is falling. Between 1979 and 2003, according to a recent research paper published by the I.R.S., the share of overall income received by the bottom 80 percent of taxpayers fell from 50 percent to barely over 40 percent. The main winners from this upward redistribution of income were a tiny, wealthy elite: more than half the income share lost by the bottom 80 percent was gained by just one-fourth of 1 percent of the population, people with incomes of at least $750,000 in 2003.

And those fortunate few are the only people Mr. Bush seems to care about. Look at what he had to offer after asserting, in effect, that workers get outsourced because they don't have the right education: lower taxes, deregulation and fewer lawsuits. Funny, that doesn't sound like "pro-growth" policy to me. Instead, it sounds like a wish list for wealthy individuals and big corporations.

Mr. Bush once joked that his base consisted of the "haves and the have-mores." But it wasn't much of a joke. His remarks in India show that he really can't imagine what it's like not to be a member of a privileged economic elite.

Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Graduates Versus Oligarchs - New York Times

Graduates Versus Oligarchs - New York Times

February 27, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist
Graduates Versus Oligarchs

Ben Bernanke's maiden Congressional testimony as chairman of the Federal Reserve was, everyone agrees, superb. He didn't put a foot wrong on monetary or fiscal policy.

But Mr. Bernanke did stumble at one point. Responding to a question from Representative Barney Frank about income inequality, he declared that "the most important factor" in rising inequality "is the rising skill premium, the increased return to education."

That's a fundamental misreading of what's happening to American society. What we're seeing isn't the rise of a fairly broad class of knowledge workers. Instead, we're seeing the rise of a narrow oligarchy: income and wealth are becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of a small, privileged elite.

I think of Mr. Bernanke's position, which one hears all the time, as the 80-20 fallacy. It's the notion that the winners in our increasingly unequal society are a fairly large group — that the 20 percent or so of American workers who have the skills to take advantage of new technology and globalization are pulling away from the 80 percent who don't have these skills.

The truth is quite different. Highly educated workers have done better than those with less education, but a college degree has hardly been a ticket to big income gains. The 2006 Economic Report of the President tells us that the real earnings of college graduates actually fell more than 5 percent between 2000 and 2004. Over the longer stretch from 1975 to 2004 the average earnings of college graduates rose, but by less than 1 percent per year.

So who are the winners from rising inequality? It's not the top 20 percent, or even the top 10 percent. The big gains have gone to a much smaller, much richer group than that.

A new research paper by Ian Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon of Northwestern University, "Where Did the Productivity Growth Go?," gives the details. Between 1972 and 2001 the wage and salary income of Americans at the 90th percentile of the income distribution rose only 34 percent, or about 1 percent per year. So being in the top 10 percent of the income distribution, like being a college graduate, wasn't a ticket to big income gains.

But income at the 99th percentile rose 87 percent; income at the 99.9th percentile rose 181 percent; and income at the 99.99th percentile rose 497 percent. No, that's not a misprint.

Just to give you a sense of who we're talking about: the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that this year the 99th percentile will correspond to an income of $402,306, and the 99.9th percentile to an income of $1,672,726. The center doesn't give a number for the 99.99th percentile, but it's probably well over $6 million a year.

Why would someone as smart and well informed as Mr. Bernanke get the nature of growing inequality wrong? Because the fallacy he fell into tends to dominate polite discussion about income trends, not because it's true, but because it's comforting. The notion that it's all about returns to education suggests that nobody is to blame for rising inequality, that it's just a case of supply and demand at work. And it also suggests that the way to mitigate inequality is to improve our educational system — and better education is a value to which just about every politician in America pays at least lip service.

The idea that we have a rising oligarchy is much more disturbing. It suggests that the growth of inequality may have as much to do with power relations as it does with market forces. Unfortunately, that's the real story.

Should we be worried about the increasingly oligarchic nature of American society? Yes, and not just because a rising economic tide has failed to lift most boats. Both history and modern experience tell us that highly unequal societies also tend to be highly corrupt. There's an arrow of causation that runs from diverging income trends to Jack Abramoff and the K Street project.

And I'm with Alan Greenspan, who — surprisingly, given his libertarian roots — has repeatedly warned that growing inequality poses a threat to "democratic society."

It may take some time before we muster the political will to counter that threat. But the first step toward doing something about inequality is to abandon the 80-20 fallacy. It's time to face up to the fact that rising inequality is driven by the giant income gains of a tiny elite, not the modest gains of college graduates.

Copyright 2006The New York Times Company