Thursday, 3 December 2009

Spurious correlation watch

Andrew Sullivan takes a break from spelunking in Sarah Palin’s reproductive tract to provide us with highly superficial social scientific analysis:

Ezra Klein asks:

Is there any evidence that financing wars brings them to a quicker close? Any papers examining this question?

From Bruce Bartlett’s column last week:

History shows that wars financed heavily by higher taxes, such as the Korean War and the first Gulf War, end quickly, while those financed largely by deficits, such as the Vietnam War and current Middle East conflicts, tend to drag on indefinitely.

How about a more plausible explanation: Korea and Gulf War I were conflicts against state actors that fought using traditional military tactics, while Vietnam and the Middle Eastern conflicts (particularly in Afghanistan) were/are conflicts mostly involving indigenous, non-state resistance movements or terrorist cells with some degree of local popular support (the Viet Cong, Iraqi Shiite and Sunni extremists and al-Qaeda, and the Taliban and al-Qaeda, respectively) that are engaged in unconventional warfare. The mode of funding would seem to have little to do with conflict length. Particularly since World Wars I and II were also funded by massive deficit spending, yet U.S. involvement in both conflicts was comparatively brief (although not on the order of Gulf War I).

Besides, the Johnson-Nixon era’s massive expansion of the deficit-financed American welfare state would be a serious conflating factor in attributing Vietnam’s success or failure to its funding approach, much as the effects of the Bush tax cuts likely dwarfed Iraq and Afghanistan spending as a source of the increased budget deficit over the past eight years and change; the liberal CBPP think-tank attributes the effects of one year (2004) of the Bush tax cuts as being $276 billion in reduced tax revenues (and thus increased debt), far more than the annualized cost to the Treasury of both conflicts combined even based on the most pessimistic estimates.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

There is a time for flip-flopping

If the Iraqi prime minister thinks we should go, we should go. If McCain has any sense (admittedly, not something in evidence so far in his campaign’s response to the Maliki remarks), he’ll pivot to underbid Obama, Name That Tune style: “16 months? I’ll do it in 8!”

Mind you, I’ve already predicted that the net effect, blogospheric bloviation aside, of McCain and Obama’s positions on leaving Iraq on the actual date of departure is on the order of milliseconds, so I really don’t care that much what domestic political games the Iraqi government wants to play to shore up Sunni-Shiite cooperation in parliament.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Pat Buchanan 2K8 can beat Hillary? Maybe in Babka's fantasies

Jim Babka, who if I recall correctly was once upon a time one of those Libertarian Party activists who turned my campaign contributions into about bupkiss, takes to the pages of Positive Liberty to advance the thesis that Ron Paul is the only Republican candidate who can win in November of next year. Commenter AMW presents the more compelling argument:

Alternative Hypothesis: Every politician represents a basket of goods to the voters, and while most voters can find at least one good in Dr. Paul’s basket that they approve strongly of, few can find enough to justify voting for him. The left may be anti-war, but I’m guessing they’ll prefer the candidate who advocates univeral [sic] healthcare, more spending on schools and a tough stance on the drug war, even if she’ll only make marginal changes to the Iraq strategy. And the knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers at Red State et al. would sooner trade in their AM talk-shows for NPR than give a “surrender monkey” like Paul the satisfaction of their vote, minimal government advocate or no.

I think the other thing that supporters of Paul are missing here is that not only are presidential candidates “baskets of goods,” they’re also strategic actors. The amount of daylight between the loophole-ridden Democratic withdrawal promises (arguably, every single American solider in Iraq is already engaged in one of counterterrorism actions, support of Iraqi forces, humanitarian projects, or stabilization operations—things that the leading Democrats all promise will continue) and the positions of the leading GOP contenders is already small, and given the progress—or lack thereof—in Iraq, any GOP—or Democratic—contender who secures the nomination can either take the tack of “the Iraqis are in control, so it’s time to bring troops home” or “the Iraqis have spent the last 9–12 months squabbling while the surge was giving them time to figure stuff out, and there’s no progress, so it’s time to bring troops home.”

2008 will be fought on energy policy, health care, trade, border security and immigration, and the foreign policy crisis of the week—which, dollars to donuts, won’t be Iraq by the time Labor Day 2008 rolls around. I have no doubt that whoever the eventual Republican nominee is will be far better positioned to capture the median voter on those issues than Paul is—America isn’t buying the Great Libertarian Offer, even when served with a side dose of Buchananite populism.

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Unorthodox lawmaking

I was wondering out loud in my Congress class Friday when the Democratic leadership and the president would get around to actually hammering out a supplemental instead of the kabuki theater approach that seems to have prevailed in D.C. until this point.

Tuesday, 26 December 2006

AP perpetuates Iraq-9/11 link myth

If, as my good friends on the left argue (quite plausibly, I might add), Iraq was not linked in any way to the 9/11 attacks, what are we to make of the AP consciously linking the conflict in Iraq to the 9/11 attacks in its latest ‘body count’ dispatches? Here are your choices:

  1. The AP has bought into the Bush administration’s false consciousness of a 9/11-Iraq link.
  2. The AP has a right-wing bias in its reporting.
  3. The AP had to “balance” reporting of the Saddam Hussein appellate decision in order to create the appearance of fairness.
  4. All of the above.

If you chose the last option, you too can write for

Tuesday, 17 October 2006

Lancing the Lancet

Like Dan Drezner, I’m a little late to the discussion of the latest study of postwar casualties in Iraq that was recently published in the British medical journal The Lancet, following up an earlier study published in October 2004.

Setting aside the “October surprise” approach that this journal appears to be taking to these studies, there seem to be some methodological questions about the authors’ approach that are being raised; see Andrew Gelman and David Kane, the latter of whom is skeptical of the reported nonresponse rates—which do seem abnormally high, although Iraqis may be much more interested in responding to surveys than the typical citizen in developed (or even developing) countries, perhaps due to novelty effects. As David Adesnik notes, the folks at Iraq Body Count (an anti-war outfit) believe the numbers are seriously inflated as well, although this could just be a turf war among researchers rather than a legitimate grievance.

I think from my perspective the thing that jumps to mind in this discussion is “garbage in, garbage out”—basically, your statistical inferences about a population are only as good as your ability to get a true random sample and minimize response bias; this is Stats 101. These issues are problematic in developed countries, much less in countries undergoing civil upheaval, and solving them is not easy (look at the work of Leslie Kish if you don’t believe me). Does that mean that the numbers are wrong?—no, not necessarily. But my spidey sense tingles nonetheless.

Saturday, 11 March 2006

Saddam lied, people died

Sunday’s New York Times returns to its recent modus operandi of serving as an advertising platform for its reporters’ books with an article revealing Saddam Hussein’s thinking on the eve the U.S. invasion of Iraq, derived from Cobra II by reporter Michael Gordon and army Marine Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor (Ret.).

There’s not much terribly new here if you were paying attention, and I’m not really sure it adds anything to arguments on either side of the conflict—although it does perhaps give further credence to the argument that intelligence agencies worldwide were obviously going to have a hard job figuring out that Saddam Hussein didn’t actually have WMD when he was trying his darnedest to make everyone think he did. Of course, the obvious followup question, left unanswered in the article, is why Saddam would dismantle his WMD arsenal while maintaining the fiction he hadn’t—wouldn’t it have been wiser for him to simply to keep the WMDs and stonewall the inspectors?

þ Orin Kerr.

Sunday, 11 December 2005

UK support = no discernible benefit

I realize I’m not making the tenured-law-school-faculty big bucks these days, but some of Glenn Reynolds’ analysis deserves a second look:

More importantly, the persistence of the whole [uranium in Niger] issue demonstrates the colossal folly of the Bush Administration’s effort to take the United Nations seriously in 2002, something that—like Bush’s failure to fire a lot of people at the CIA following 9/11—has led to considerable grief and no discernible benefit.

I guess the certitude that the U.S. wouldn’t have had the support of Britain, Spain, and Italy in launching the war in Iraq without the “effort to take the United Nations seriously” isn’t a “discernible benefit” in Glenn’s book. How soon he forgets the unbearably cheesy “Click Here to Thank Tony” ad that used to run on his sidebar!

Tuesday, 6 December 2005

What a gas

The president’s poll numbers appear to be recovering as of late, and there are two major competing theories to explain the change. Charles Franklin appears to attribute the change to the new PR pushback from the White House, which we might term the Feaver-Gelpi thesis (see also Sunday’s NYT), while Glenn Reynolds says it’s the gas prices and the Mystery Pollster suggests good economic news in general.

It may be the most simplistic thesis, but I think the “pump price” explanation is probably the most plausible; unlike other information, gasoline prices are unavoidable information for most voters and not subject to partisan spin, unlike the presidential pushback on Iraq and news of the general economic recovery—both of which can be spun negatively in a way that falling gasoline prices really can’t. In a noise-filled informational environment, I suspect clear “pocketbook” signals like gasoline prices are much stronger cues for presidential support than the world of competing, ideologically-based claims over Iraq and interest rates.

Update: Al Qaeda appears to put some stock in the pump price explanation as well.

Tuesday, 29 November 2005

Phone sux redux

I never thought I’d be asked a question about Iraq in a phone interview. Go figure.

And the fun never ends… Thursday, I get to have a phone interview with a place that will hire non-Christians, but they won’t tenure them. I get the odd feeling that after I ask the college’s position on hiring Christians who don’t buy into scriptural inerrancy or young-Earth creationism, this one’s going to be over pretty quick.

Monday, 17 October 2005

We were all yellow

The definitive history of the investigation into Iraq’s attempts to obtain uranium from Africa—including how and why Joe Wilson found himself in Niger. þ: TigerHawk

Thus concludes my weekly lack of interest in Plamegate.

Wednesday, 5 October 2005

Less hijinks, more fulfilling

As anticipated, the Iraqi transitional assembly reversed its weekend rule change that critics (including yours truly) complained might rig the outcome of the vote on ratifying the Iraqi constitution next Saturday.

An Iraqi opinion poll reported by Reuters suggests that the constitution may meet with approval anyway, according to the director of the NGO that sponsored the poll:

Although support for the constitution was particularly high in the northern Kurdish areas and southern regions dominated by Shi’ites, [Mehdi] Hafedh said it topped 50 percent even in central provinces known as the heartland of Sunni unrest—a sign, he said, that the Sunni-Shi’ite split is not as wide as many fear.

“This is exaggerated by political elites who are seeking power and by Western media and analysts,” Mr. Hafedh said. “If you go down to the streets, you can’t tell who is Sunni and who is Shi’ite. We are all mixed.”

He said most opponents of the constitution cited reasons ranging from Iraq’s lack of sovereignty to poor security, while far fewer cited explicit political concerns over the document.

þ: InstaPundit for the latter article.

Tuesday, 4 October 2005

Iraqi voting hijinks

Nice to see the Iraqis learning how to play political language games in an effort to rig the outcome of the charter referendum next Saturday. The master himself, Bill Clinton, would be proud of these linguistic gymnastics:

Maryam Reyes, a member of the Shiite alliance that controls a majority of seats in the assembly, ... said the assembly members had not changed election law, but only clarified the meaning of the word “voters” in the relevant passage. The legal passage in question states: “The general referendum will be successful and the draft constitution ratified if a majority of voters in Iraq approve and if two-thirds of voters in three or more governorates do not reject it.”

In their vote on Sunday, the Shiite and Kurdish members interpreted the law as follows: the constitution will pass if a majority of ballots are cast for it; it will fail if two-thirds of registered voters in three or more provinces vote against it. In other words, the lawmakers designated two different meanings for the word “voters” in one passage.

Neither the U.S. or the U.N. seems particularly happy with this change; both accounts suggest the decision will be “reconsidered” in the next day or two, as well it ought to be.

Friday, 23 September 2005

The Carnival of the Unserious

Nope, it’s not another weekly blog roundup… instead, it’s Matthew Stinson’s moniker for this weekend’s anti-war festivities, organized by the neo-Stalinists at International ANSWER and the anti-Jewish bigots at the Nation of Islam, and headlined by Mama Sheehan; the local branch office here at Duke decided to join in the festivities by making a 15-foot “missile” and sticking it in the middle of the West Quad on the pedastal where James Duke’s statue normally stands.

Matt proposes a drinking game for the C-SPAN coverage… which would be a nice idea, but I can’t afford that much liquor. Meanwhile, Glenn Reynolds thinks the press ought to stop whitewashing the anti-war movement; while I do actually believe there is a “authentic antiwar movement” in America (unlike, apparently, Glenn), and there are serious people I respect who disagree with me about the merits of the war in Iraq (Hi Scott! Hi Dad!), I’m not at all convinced that the “authentic” elements of the antiwar movement are doing themselves any favors by associating themselves with left-wing hate groups like the NoI and ANSWER.

More to the point, if (say) anti-immigration or anti-busing protests were being organized by the Klan or its front organizations, and “mainstream” folks were at risk of lending their support to those protests, I strongly suspect the media coverage would be deafening compared to the distinct lack of outrage that genuine public concern about Iraq has become a free recruiting tool for bigots and radical anti-capitalists. The sad thing is that a lot of Americans probably will join these protests because they don’t really know who’s behind them—and the press is doing these people a disservice.

Tuesday, 28 June 2005

When PR doesn't work, use PR

Although I can’t find the post now (not for lack of trying, mind you), in retrospect the decision to elect the Iraqi Transitional Assembly from a single electoral district was a mistake—one that it appears the Shiites are willing to rectify by retaining the proportional representation system, but using the 19 provinces as electoral districts, thus (in theory) guaranteeing greater Sunni representation in the government even if Sunni turnout is low in the first elections for the permanent government that are supposed to happen sometime in the next year.

Of course, this adds the complicating factor of having to reapportion the legislature every decade or so, and it probably will make it somewhat harder for national cross-sectarian parties to gain seats, but in the end I think it’s a reasonable compromise.

(Other commentary at The Moderate Voice.)

Monday, 30 May 2005

Solving Gitmo

On the recommendation of Orin Kerr and Glenn Reynolds, I read this Jon Henke post that makes a fairly compelling case that there are systematic problems with detainee abuse in the War on Terror—relying on sources that most would consider to be objective.

Henke also proposes two solutions, POW status and real trials, both of which should be familiar to longtime Signifying Nothing readers—heck, it’s been a recurring theme from Robert and I for over two years now.

Saturday, 28 May 2005

Fahd’s dead, baby

The Moonie News Service is reporting that King Fahd of Saudi Arabia is dead, although the practical implications of this outcome are somewhat up in the air: Jeff Quinton thinks there is going to be a power struggle, while James Joyner thinks Crown Prince Abdullah has already consolidated power in the kingdom.

Amusingly, CNN’s headlines on both the King Fahd story and the al-Zarqawi story (he’s allegedly ailing too) both quote people as saying the protagonists are “well.” Somehow I suspect neither assessment is accurate.

Friday, 13 May 2005

MI-6 reports the obvious, news at 11

You know, I’d be stunned by this lead graf—at least, if it were written about the CIA:

Seven months before the invasion of Iraq, the head of British foreign intelligence reported to Prime Minister Tony Blair that President Bush wanted to topple Saddam Hussein by military action and warned that in Washington intelligence was “being fixed around the policy,” according to notes of a July 23, 2002, meeting with Blair at No. 10 Downing Street.

Accurate intelligence about something everyone in the whole world already knew at the time delivered by a Western intelligence service? Who’d have thunk it? Give them a cookie. (þ: memeorandum)

Sunday, 17 April 2005

Iraq's fake hostage crisis

Monday’s New York Times reports that the Shiite hostage situation in Madaen didn’t really exist, despite yesterday’s reports of upwards of 150 captives. Truly bizarre.

Sunday, 10 April 2005

That old Ferengi legal tradition

Monday’s Telegraph carries a report that the Saddam loyalists in the Iraqi insurgency may be willing to give up their fight in exchange for Saddam not getting the death penalty. (þ: memorandum)

Meanwhile, the real Olympic bomber, Eric Rudolph (not to be confused with Richard Jewell), avoided the death penalty for his mid-90s bombing spree in Alabama and Georgia this week by revealing information, including the location of weapons caches, to federal authorities.

Of course, if monsters like Saddam and Rudolph aren’t going to get the death penalty (even if they deserve it—an argument that could easily be made for both men), I’m not at all convinced that anyone else should get it—even putting my philosophical problem with the death penalty aside.

Tuesday, 15 February 2005

Saddam torture victims denied compensation—by the USA

Marc Cooper is rightly outraged that the Bush administration is attempting to stop former American POWs during the 1991 Gulf War from collecting damages for being tortured by Saddam Hussein’s regime.

While I’m somewhat sympathetic to the administration’s argument that the new Iraqi regime needs the money to help it get on its feet, and I recognize that the law that the POWs sued under (the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996) is designed mainly to deplete the assets of anti-American regimes like Cuba and Iran rather than for the purpose of securing any meaningful “justice,” I have to say this is an incredibly boneheaded decision, one that Congress would do well to force reconsideration of.

Monday, 14 February 2005

A tale of two Shiites

Is my brain malfunctioning or is this New York Times account of the Iraqi election outcome actually less pessimistic than this WaPo account?

Of course, the WaPo account spends most of its first half trying to play up the idea that Iran and Iraq (two countries that had a bloody decade-long war in the not-too-distant past) are about to become buddy-buddy, with a generous assist from Juan “Stopped Clock” Cole, then undercuts it completely with this paragraph:

U.S. and regional analysts agree that Iraq is not likely to become an Iranian surrogate. Iraq’s Arabs and Iran’s Persians have a long and rocky history. During the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq war, Iraq’s Shiite troops did not defect to Iran.

On the other hand, the Times finds not an anti-American front emerging between the “pro-Iranian” Shiites and Kurds, but instead a recipe for weak government:

The razor-thin margin apparently captured by the Shiite alliance here in election results announced Sunday seems almost certain to enshrine a weak government that will be unable to push through sweeping changes, like granting Islam a central role in the new Iraqi state. ...

The vote tally, which appeared to leave the Shiite alliance with about 140 of the national assembly’s 275 seats, fell short of what Shiite leaders had been expecting, and seemed to blunt some of the triumphant talk that could already be heard in some corners. The final results seemed to ease fears among Iraq’s Sunni, Kurd and Christian minorities that the leadership of the Shiite majority might feel free to ignore minority concerns, and possibly fall under the sway of powerful clerics, some of whom advocate the establishment of a strict Islamic state.

As a result, some Iraqi leaders predicted Sunday that the Shiite alliance would try to form a “national unity government,” containing Kurdish and Sunni leaders, as well as secular Shiites, possibly including the current prime minister, Ayad Allawi. Such a leadership would all but ensure that no decisions would be taken without a broad national consensus.

I tend to think that the Times is more accurate here, but only time will tell.

Update: On the other hand, Steven Taylor thinks the Times is making too much of “problems” that are really Comparative Politics 101, while Dan Drezner tries to wrap his head around the WaPo piece as well.

Monday, 31 January 2005

Word abuse of the day

Somehow, the departure of William Safire from the New York Times has led to the gratuitous misuse of language:

Participation varied by region, and the impressive national percentages should not obscure the fact that the country’s large Sunni Arab minority remained broadly disenfranchised – due to alienation or terror or both.

The word “disenfranchised” literally means deprived of voting rights. Southern blacks were disenfranchised under Jim Crow. Women were disenfranchised prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment.

By contrast, Sunni Arabs in Iraq were not disenfranchised; nobody stopped them from voting. Instead, they chose not to drag their sorry asses to the polls, for whatever reason.

Sunday, 30 January 2005

Signified Elsewhere: Iraq elections edition

I don’t normally do the link round-up thing, but today seems like a good day to make an exception:

  • Steven Taylor rounds up posts on the Iraqi election, as well as providing a bit of perspective of his own:
    The bottom line is: not every event in the world is part of a game between Reps and Dems where one side scores and the other side falls behind. Too many people treat the world like one football game where their team can do no wrong, and the other team must lose.
  • Leopold Stotch writes:
    Obviously the new Iraqi government has a Herculean task ahead of it, but this is a major turning point in modern history. The Iraqi people are the true winners, but the secondary winner is the American voter, who once again put US foreign policy on the right side of history. The losers: the jihadists, old Europe, and most of the Democrat party.
  • Joe Gandelman looks at Auschwitz and the Iraqi elections in light of the current conflict with Wahabiism.

I have to say that the scenario as things have played out has been at the “optimistic” end of my general thinking about this process, but there’s a rather long road ahead. I tend to think this election is an important—and necessary—first step, both for the Iraqis and for the Arab world at large. Now the hard work of building a democratic and inclusive constitution begins.

Tuesday, 11 January 2005

Death Squads

Go away for a weekend and you miss the fun and excitement of some dopes at the Pentagon floating the idea that what Iraq needs is some anti-insurgent death squads, which has got to be about the stupidest counterinsurgency plan I’ve ever heard of. For every El Salvador where it sorta-kinda “worked”—if you ignore all the indiscriminate killing—there’s a Colombia where it only made things worse. Granted, this is the Pentagon, where they pay people to come up with off-the-wall ideas, but recycling off-the-wall ideas that didn’t work is pretty asinine.

Kriston at BTD is apoplectic while Glenn Reynolds wants to complain about media bias, but you knew that before I even linked them.