February 29th, 2008 by Rightsideup

A phenomenal set of charts showing public perceptions of progress in Iraq over the last two years, which illustrates fantastically the impact of the surge, not just on the reality over there but on people’s perceptions of progress. In every case, the light blue lines represent negative perceptions, while the dark blue represents positive perceptions.

These come from a set of Pew surveys published here, and there’s more interesting stuff where this came from.

Great to see the surge working, and being perceived to be working. I’ve been a believer in the surge from the beginning, although I was by no means sure it would work – I just believed that it was, as Churchill once said of democracy, the worst option except for all the others. This should also provide a good boost to McCain’s campaign and also damage Obama’s ability to make hay out of his consistent opposition to the war and desire to bring troops home. The latter is addressed by this chart, from the same source:

February 8th, 2008 by Rightsideup

The WSJ’s op-ed today on Mitt’s suspension of his campaign is a little kinder on him than its previous analysis of his candidacy, although it makes some of the same points anyway:

… while he convinced various radio and TV hosts, he never made the sale about his convictions to enough voters.

The former consultant and entrepreneur also faced a stark data point: His campaign never caught fire with his party’s voters in the way he hoped. Americans often say they want a businessman candidate, but rarely do they elect one as President. Perhaps that’s because they understand the incentives are very different in the business marketplace than in Washington, and they are looking for convictions and ideas as much as technocratic competence in their candidates.

The irony here is that surely, over the last eight years, we’ve seen what ideology alone does, both when not accompanied by competence, and when not tempered by reality. While Bush’s ideology has allowed him to appoint two good Supreme Court justices, his lack of competence and over-emphasis on ideology has meant he’s failed to exercise discipline over Congress by using his veto power, and pursued failing strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Competence is exactly what we need, especially when coupled with strong principles, and perhaps what Romney failed to do was make that point effectively, which was hard for him to do when running as a Bush fan. A businessman’s analytical mind would likely have being able to grasp much more quickly that the Iraq strategy wasn’t working, and probably would have been quicker to make personnel changes too.

Some of the more positive comments were a little kinder, however:

Given that some of his more melodramatic supporters have taken to declaring their intentions to support Hillary Clinton over Mr. McCain, Mr. Romney’s statesmanship will win admirers across the GOP.

… He… showed himself to be a man of personal integrity, and he arguably made Mr. McCain a better candidate — in particular by forcing the Arizona Senator to speak more clearly about the economy.

… [McCain’s] task of unifying the party was made easier by Mr. Romney’s statesmanship.

Glad they recognise that Romney has exercised self-discipline whereas Huckabee apparently intends to continue his Quixotic pursuit of the nomination at great cost to himself, his supporters and the party.

March 23rd, 2007 by Rightsideup

The quote attributed to Andrew Jackson, “One man with courage makes a majority,” (see this link for an explanation of why we shouldn’t really attribute it to him) appears to have been both taken a little literally and distorted by his political descendants.

For the last several years (essentially since the 2000 election) Democrats and other liberals have acted as if small groups with strong enough opinions should be treated as if they were in fact majorities. After accusing George W Bush of “stealing” that election, they have since claimed that he was “not listening” on the war in Iraq, that we needed to pull out of the war, etc. even though for a long time these people did not constitute a majority. James Taranto included some comments on a recent story in his Best of the Web column this week (see Vandals for Peace).

Although the 2000 election provides a pretext (the 2004 election surely should have neutralised this, but of course didn’t), Democrats no longer even tie their civil disobedience back to the stolen election. They just act like they’re in the majority, and express disbelief when neither Bush himself nor their elected Democratic leaders in Congress are willing to adopt their extreme positions. They assume this means that they are “not listening” rather than understanding that their political leaders have listened and yet disagree with them. This must be particularly frustrating for them since Democrats now have a literal majority in Congress and yet haven’t pulled troops out yet. On the other hand, it appears the original quote (even if attributed to Jackson’s biographer and not Jackson himself) appears to have been “desperate courage makes one a majority” – so not such a far cry from the Democrats’ current interpretation “desperation makes a majority”.

Will this trend continue, or will things change if a Democrat wins in 2008? Chances are, the left wing of the left wing will continue to be unhappy with virtually any political leadership and will continue to act as if its strong opinions (not courage) make a majority.

March 22nd, 2007 by Rightsideup

Many news outlets covered the story about the attempted attack on the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon – including CNN, which had both an article and video.

So, it appears that even the UN is a target for Al Qaeda – it doesn’t make (to them) subtle distinctions between Westerners who favour the removal of dictators and Westerners who want to talk dictators down. Much as Democrats and other liberals want to suggest that the way to success in the Middle East is a UN-type approach, this is a useful reminder that Al Qaeda doesn’t think so.

Separately, Ban did remarkably well to regain his composure after the explosion hit, although even more impressive was Al-Maliki, who appeared barely to flinch.

January 15th, 2005 by Rightsideup

It has now been announced that the search for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq has ended, without finding the weapons being searched for. This has naturally re-ignited the debate about the reasons for going to war in Iraq and the justification used at the time that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs and might use them against his enemies in the Middle East and beyond. Since the war has always been unpopular with a (sometimes very vocal) minority and there have always been those who suggested WMDs were not to be found in Iraq, this is reasonable. But the fact remains that (a) the Bush administration genuinely believed that there were WMDs in Iraq and (b) even if there were no WMDs, the war was still justified. It is worth taking each of these points in turn.

(a) The Bush administration genuinely believed there were WMDs in Iraq

This point has been so belaboured by all involved that it does not justify an exhaustive treatment here. The facts, however, are these: not only President Bush and his team, but also the UK government, the UN, previous US president Bill Clinton and many others believed that there were WMDs in Iraq. This belief was reinforced by several facts: Saddam had previously had WMDs and these were not accounted for, Iraqi dissidents and sources within Iraq continued to tell western intelligence agencies that they did exist, there was some photographic evidence of programs still going in Iraq. In addition, in the category of circumstantial evidence, Saddam and his government continued to resist the efforts of the UN weapons inspectors to certify that his previously-held WMDs had been destroyed, behaviour that is difficult to explain unless there really was something to hide.

The question then becomes, how did our intelligence services get it wrong? And why did Saddam Hussein act as if he did have WMDs and fail to comply with the UN ultimatum that would have prevented war? Several explanations present themselves:
(1) WMDs really did exist in pre-war Iraq, but they were destroyed and/or moved to neighbouring countries such as Syria before the war began. Thus, all the evidence was accurate, but the WMDs were no longer in Iraq when the search began post-war.
(2) Saddam Hussein genuinely believed he possessed WMDs, because the culture of fear he had created made his minions mislead him into believing they still existed even when they didn’t. Thus, it is not surprising that the evidence suggested there were still WMDs in Iraq because the leader of the administration himself still believed there were WMDs
(3) Saddam Hussein knew he did not possess WMDs but had to resist the advances of the UN to maintain the respect (if that is the right word) of his people. He could not be seen to be bowing to outside pressure when his whole regime was based on a show of power and intimidation. This does not explain the evidence suggesting that WMDs existed in Iraq pre-war, but does explain his resistance against inspections.

Whichever of these scenarios is correct, it does not change the fact that the Bush administration and many others genuinely believed that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs and that this posed a threat at least to Iraq’s neighbours and possibly also countries further afield including the US and the UK.

(b) Even if there were no WMDs, war in Iraq was still justified

The official justification for the war in Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs and that he therefore posed a threat to Iraq’s neighbours and others. This justification was necessary because for many citizens of the US, the UK and other countries involved in the war, the only legitimate reason to go to war was to neutralise a threat against those countries. However, there were several reasons for going to war, and this was only emphasised because it was the most compelling and because there was a need to focus on a single justification to provide simplicity and clarity for the people of the countries involved to rally around.. This justification has subsequently turned out to be less compelling than it seemed at the time, but the other justifications still hold.

Arguably the best reason for going to war was simply that the international community had issued a number of ultimata to Saddam Hussein, with which he had refused to comply, and at some stage the UN and its members were going to have to back up their threats with action to maintain any kind of credibility with dictators such as Hussein. Although the US has been accused ever since of attempting to bypass the UN, the action of the “coalition of the willing” has actually bolstered the position of the UN and its leading members in that it prevented this loss of credibility. An interesting side-effect of going to war in Iraq has been the compliance of Libya with the demands of the US and UK to dismantle its own weapons programs. Regardless of whether WMDs were found in Iraq or not, the need to maintain the credibility of the international community in meeting threats posed by rogue threats remains a compelling reason for the war in Iraq after the fact.

Among the other reasons for going to war were:

  • the need to remove a cruel dictator from power – the “regime change” argument. This argument is shaky on its own, because it is easily argued that other countries have their own dictators, which are at least as worthy of removal as was Saddam, but it adds weight to the other justifications for war when taken collectively
  • the need to establish democracy in the Middle East as an example to the rest of the region. With elections in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine, the argument that Muslim countries are incapable of embracing democracy will slowly be exposed as the myth it is, just as the same myth about Asian cultures was debunked fifty years ago
  • the need to dismantle havens for terrorists across the world. Iraq has long been a safe haven for terrorists. Although some of the attempts to link the 9/11 attacks with Saddam’s regime have stretched the truth, it is the case that terrorists have been safe in Iraq for far too long. The war in Iraq may therefore also be considered a part of the Bush Doctrine that those who harbour and aid terrorists are to be treated like the terrorists themselves.

Therefore, even when the WMD justification has fallen flat, these other justifications, paramount among them the need to maintain credibility for the leading democratic nations in their international efforts, still make the war in Iraq justifiable. All of these arguments will be that much more powerful when the effort in Iraq is finished, when power is handed fully back to the Iraqis and when the insurgency is crushed. But they still hold considerable weight now and help neutralise the argument that the absence of WMDs in Iraq removes any justification for the war.