Sunday, 7 September 2003

Ok, who didn't see this one coming?

James Joyner links to a WaPo account of just how peachy things are going at the Department of Homeland Security. In short, it’s about as peachy as Antarctica (as opposed to, say, Georgia, which is just crawling with peaches):

Six months after it was established to protect the nation from terrorism, the Department of Homeland Security is hobbled by money woes, disorganization, turf battles and unsteady support from the White House, and has made only halting progress toward its goals, according to administration officials and independent experts.

To its (slight) credit, the administration initially resisted calls for this bureaucratic boondoggle to be implemented, which mainly came from Congress’s “Do Something” Party. Who are they? Every politician (Republican, Democrat, or whatever) who, when confronted with a problem, immediately shouts “Do Something” without stopping to think whether or not that Something is actually a good idea. The Do Somethingers brought us every executive branch reorganization since the New Deal, and I’m pretty sure they’re batting an 0-fer in terms of improved bureaucratic effectiveness. (Not that this excuses the administration’s failure to follow through on the reorganization, however.)

So now the “Do Something” gang has brought us the Transportation Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, and the PATRIOT Act, which combined have increased national security by exactly bupkiss. I guess that’s why Congress deserves that 4.1% pay raise…

Taming the blogroll

Signifying Nothing’s 155-member (and growing) blogroll has simply gotten too long to be manageable. So, rather than cut people, I’ve decided to be fairly meritocratic and just trim the displayed blogroll to the last N hours of updates, where N is currently 36 (and may drop even lower). That cut it down to a slightly-more-manageable 85 entries (as of a few minutes ago).

The full blogroll can be seen on this version of the page, which looks suspiciously similar to the old front page, and all of the blogs that provide RSS feeds will still appear in the OPML feed. However, this change means that people who don’t ping services like or will just disappear into the ether; Den Beste-land is now off the front page permanently.

I hope this change will produce a better experience for our readers.

More Saddam and 9/11

I know virtually nobody reads my blog, but you saw this AP reporting here six weeks ago. However, something odd struck me in the article:

President Bush and members of his administration suggested a link between the two [Saddam and 9/11] in the months before the war in Iraq. Claims of possible links have never been proven, however.

Bush et al. have suggested a direct link between the Hussein regime and al-Qaeda, most famously during Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations earlier in the year. To my knowledge, they have never suggested a direct link between Hussein and the 9/11 attacks (and I’ll gladly link to any credible source that contradicts this statement). Both myths—the mass public’s belief that “Saddam was involved in 9/11” and the leftists’ “Bush said Saddam was involved in 9/11“—seem to persist despite any evidence to support them. The former is explainable as voters using heuristics to fill in the gaps in their knowledge; the latter mostly seems to be a partisan screen connected to the “lefties are smarter than Bush” belief system.

What’s amazing is that the former belief is widely rejected by political and media elites, but the latter seems to have gained widespread acceptance, to the point the allegation can appear routinely in AP articles without supporting evidence. Yet exactly the same body of evidence underpins both beliefs, and it supports neither conclusion.

Iraqi rope-a-dope

This week’s Newsweek has a fairly convincing explanation for why Saddam gravely miscalculated before the war:

U.S. DEFENSE AND Security sources tell NEWSWEEK that high-ranking former Saddam aides have told U.S. interrogators that Saddam believed the only assault President George W. Bush would ever launch against Iraq was the kind of low-risk bombing campaign that the Clinton administration used in the former Yugoslavia.

Or, for that matter, the kind of low-risk bombing campaign that the Clinton administration used repeatedly against Iraq during the 1990s. Or the same kind of campaign that was waged against al-Qaeda (and unfortunate Sudanese businessmen). Why was he so confident?

Saddam was also confident that France and Germany would pressure the Americans to retreat from this course, leaving Iraq shaken but Saddam still in power.

Which, of course, nicely dovetails with Daniel Henninger’s Friday column discussing the Democrats’ foreign policy credibility shortcomings:

Democrats have been urging “cooperation” and “consultation” for 40 years. Maybe in this election we’ll finally find out what this means. Democrats strongly imply that the mere process of talking with the U.N. or even with an enemy such as North Korea constitutes success. The cardinal Democratic sin in foreign policy is to “alienate our friends.”

In his announcement address, Sen. Kerry said: “I voted to threaten the use of force to make Saddam Hussein comply with the resolutions of the United Nations. I believe that was right—but it was wrong to rush to war without building a true international coalition.” What does this mean? Faced with a real threat to American security, will John Kerry wait, talk and consult, no matter how many months or years it takes until Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder and Kofi Annan are standing with him on the bridge?

I don’t doubt that a President Kerry or even a President Dean would deploy the U.S. military on relatively modest missions—a Haiti or Liberia, or Somalia. But an Iraq war? A strike and follow-through against North Korea? After Vietnam and no matter that September 11 happened, and no matter what the merits, Mr. Kerry and the others (perhaps excepting Sen. Lieberman), give the impression they would not act, or not act in time. They would consult, specifically with France, Russia, Germany and the U.N. secretary general.

There is no way to know with certainty whether any of them would act on the scale of the Iraq war on behalf of American security. But Mr. Kerry has usefully raised the issue. It won’t be sufficient to say they would have “done things differently.” The real question is whether they would do it at all.

No matter how much discussion Washington is willing to engage in with “allies” and “partners,” the fundamental fact remains that Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong-Il and Saddam Hussein are perceived to be less of a threat by most other countries than they are by the United States. Subordinating U.S. security interests to those of less threatened states (or at least countries that think they are less threatened; France and Germany are probably more at risk from attacks by Islamic fundamentalist terror groups than the United States is) is not a sound foreign policy—as the behavior of Saddam Hussein, emboldened by nearly a decade of the U.S. engaging in that sort of foreign policy, clearly demonstrates. In other words, a Saddam that took U.S. threats seriously might actually have been containable.

OpinionJournal link via Econopundit.

Virginia and Tony

Virginia Postrel’s appearance with Tony Snow this afternoon was quite enjoyable. One thing that struck me—in addition to the fact her nail polish matched her blouse again (both were red this time)—was her noticeable (but slight) Southern accent; most Southerners who go on to non-political success in the wider world seem to lose theirs, or perhaps never had them in the first place—an interesting sociological theory worth testing.

Toilet brushes were discussed, but there were no props on-set.

Since Dan Drezner has linked to this post (thanks Dan!), perhaps I should post a more extensive reaction. I do think one thing Dan picked up on is that the non-opinion programming on Fox News tends to be more “hard news” oriented than CNN’s; granted, there's considerable fluff on the schedule (hence why it’s wise to switch to Olbermann and the like on MSNBC during primetime), but Brit Hume and Tony Snow more than compensate for it, and there isn’t as much “fairness and balancing” on those shows.

As for Virginia’s presentation, I think she did a good job, and it seemed like Tony Snow had been well-briefed beforehand, which always helps. I really don’t have too much else to say about it, except that I’m looking forward to reading the book (I have a $20 gift certificate that expires next month, so I’d best order it soon).

Rationality and taxes

Steven Taylor of PoliBlog uses rational choice theory as a jumping-off point for a discussion of Tuesday’s tax reform referendum in Alabama. It’s an interesting piece, and it’s a shame that no dead-tree media picked it up for publication.

Link (now fixed) via James Joyner.

Connecticut roadgeeks get some love

The Hartford Courant has an article in today’s edition featuring three Connecticut roadgeeks (Scott Oglesby of Kurumi, Douglas Kerr of, and Owen McCaughey of Nutmeg Roads); if you have some interest in this unusual hobby, it’s probably worth a read (free registration required).

Bad Headline Day

The University of Memphis football team beats Ole Miss for the first time since 1994, confounding my co-bloggers prediction, and here’s what the Memphis Commercial Appeal came up with as a headline:

Great Leap Forward

Yes, some brilliant headline writer has compared U of M’s 2-0 record (the first time they’ve been 2-0 since 1976!) with Mao Zedong’s disastrous attempt at industrialization from 1958-1960, during which some 30 million people starved to death.

Is Evanescence a Christian band?

Ok, this is something that’s been bugging me the past week: someone I ran into at APSA (I forget who) said that Evanescence is a Christian band. I don’t see it. I suppose you could read the lyrics of some of the songs on Fallen that way, but then again you could read “Big Yellow Taxi” as a pro-environmental song too—even though the feeling it engenders in me is to go to the radio station and set fire to all of their copies of the song, which would probably release all sorts of industrial chemicals into the atmosphere. And it hasn’t given me the irresistable urge to go to church or anything. So I’m just very confused.

Anyway, here’s a Rolling Stone article that didn’t clarify the situation for me in the slightest.