Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Meetings

I knew there was a reason I hate meetings:
People have a harder time coming up with alternative solutions to a problem when they are part of a group, new research suggests.
I'm sure there are other reasons I don't like meetings, but this should be sufficient.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Leiberman: War Politics

Senator Lieberman:

Congress thus faces a choice in the weeks and months ahead. Will we allow our actions to be driven by the changing conditions on the ground in Iraq--or by the unchanging political and ideological positions long ago staked out in Washington? What ultimately matters more to us: the real fight over there, or the political fight over here?
Senator Lieberman has a insightful commentary. I think the answer has been pretty clear that what matters to most politicians is the political fight over here.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Porker Of The Year

The Porker of the Year for 2006 is:
Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) received 48 percent of the vote, with co-nominees Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) receiving 25.5 percent, and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) receiving 22.9The finalists were chosen by CAGW staff from among the 12 Porker of the Month winners for 2006.

Rep. Mollohan was named Porker of the Month in April 2006 for abusing his position on the House Appropriations Committee by securing millions of dollars in earmarks that may have benefited him personally. The New York Times(4/08/06) detailed how Rep. Mollohan directed $250 million to five nonprofit organizations that he set up.Rep. Mollohan surrendered his seat as ranking Democrat on the House Ethics Committee in April.
Now this sounds like excellence in Congressional corruption, $250 million to your own personal benefit, eh? Kind of a shame he had to surrender his ranking Democrat on the Ethics Committee status too. I suppose ethics and corruption are two ideas that shouldn't be put together.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Obama's Worn Out Economic Ideas

Tom Sowell is watching the presidential politicians. If only the politicians would pay a little attention to Tom Sowell. Here is what Sowell writes about some of Senator Obama's favorite policies to talk about in his run for president thus far:
He thinks higher teacher pay is the answer to the abysmal failures of our education system, which is already far more expensive than the education provided in countries whose students have for decades consistently outperformed ours on international tests.

Senator Obama is for making college "affordable," as if he has never considered that government subsidies push up tuition, just as government subsidies push up agricultural prices, the price of medical care and other prices.

He is also for "alternative fuels," without the slightest thought about the prices of those fuels or the implications of those prices. All this is the old liberal agenda from years past, old wine in new bottles, a new face with old ideas that have been tried and failed repeatedly over the past generation.


This might be the best summary of the Senator's presidential policies:
Senator Obama is being hailed as the newest and freshest face on the American political scene. But he is advocating some of the oldest fallacies, just as if it was the 1960s again, or as if he has learned nothing and forgotten nothing since then.


We could also hope that voters would remember that all these policies have been tried before. So many of the policies politicians run on in elections, and so many chosen by legislatures, seem to be based on ideas that are simply foreign to economic reality.

But Sowell puts this better than I:
But politics is not about facts. It is about what politicians can get people to believe.

George Washington: Entrepreneur

John Fund:
Although George Washington was born 275 years ago tomorrow, most Americans think they know a great deal about him. He led American soldiers in winning our independence from Britain. He was the nation's first president. He adorns our dollar bill and a new dollar coin. But how many people know he was also a leading businessman, probably the No. 1 whiskey producer in all of colonial America?

Indeed, Washington was a prosperous farmer and entrepreneur throughout his life. "He thought like an American businessman," says Jim Rees, the executive director of Washington's Mount Vernon estate. "He was a true disciple of the free enterprise system, and he sensed that our new system of government would encourage people to think creatively, take chances and invest."

I like that attitude.

History of Power v. History of Cooperation

Stephen Davies notes that history is typically marked through time in terms of wars and revolutions, and much of history seems to emphasize government. He suggests we might draw history's timelines in terms of what is important for everyday life:
However, because this narrative is not spelled out and its key dates are mostly unknown, we are generally unaware of it. The process it traces and its benefits are taken for granted and assumed to be natural. If we do stop and think about it, however, we will see the world and the course of human history differently from how the narrative of power would have us see it. We should realize that what is important for the everyday life and hopes of ordinary people is not power but peaceful cooperation and exchange. Not everyone welcomes this. There are those who would decry increased affluence, regret the easier movement of people, and deplore cultural mixing and exchange. We should ignore them and reject their argument.
This is a very interesting idea. I do wonder what history's timelines would look like if we emphasized the development of economic prosperity, instead of the use of power by government. Perhaps this is done by economic historians, eh?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Politics in the Courts

Victoria Toensing offers mock indictments with respect to the Libby case in the Washington Post:

THIS GRAND JURY CHARGES PATRICK J. FITZERALD with ignoring the fact that there was no basis for a criminal investigation from the day he was appointed, with handling some witnesses with kid gloves and banging on others with a mallet, with engaging in past contretemps with certain individuals that might have influenced his pursuit of their liberty, and with misleading the public in a news conference because . . . well, just because.
She also offers indictments of: the CIA, Joe Wilson, Ari Fleischer, Richard Armitage, the U.S. Justice Department, and the media.

If you want to know how things work in our system of politics, then this is probably something worth reading. It seems that cases like this are designed to present a story to the rationally ignorant public of abuse of power that will be punished by legal means. But instead, if we look at the entire picture painted by this story, we seem to be seeing a picture that suggests someone is trying to use our court system for simple, self-interested political purposes (and maybe just self-agrandizement). We should probably try to keep political trials for the court of public opinion. At least, that is one lesson I think we can draw from this case (and I think there have been many other cases like this as well).

Saturday, February 17, 2007

While Congress Was Voting

If you would like to add some perspective to your understanding of Congress and Iraq, then you might want to check out Mudville Gazette's update on events in Iraq.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bosnia Lessons?

CHRISTIAN SCHWARZ-SCHILLING:
We live in an era where the mechanics of peacekeeping and nation-building are at the heart of geopolitical debate. While Afghanistan and Iraq dominate the headlines, the experience of Bosnia and Herzegovina continues to be illuminating.

A year ago, at the start of my mandate as the European Union's Special Representative and the international community's High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, I believed that nation-building in this Balkan country had reached a watershed and that the "quasi-protectorate" was no longer viable. I argued, therefore, that more than a decade after the end of the war, it was time for the people of this country and their elected leaders to assume full responsibility for their own destiny. . . .

Yet the process of forming coalitions at the various levels of government has proceeded without international hand-holding. Electoral commitments bind the incoming local authorities to pursue pragmatic policies and prioritize economic growth.

I continue to believe in a policy of local ownership, but I also believe that the transition should take longer. There is a risk of importing instability from elsewhere in the region. And there is a risk of internal political paralysis. The local authorities need more time to adapt and the international community will have to show greater patience. It is therefore not yet time to give up the Bonn Powers.

But this extraordinary authority to impose laws and remove public officials does not provide long-term solutions. However, if held in reserve and used sparingly, it can still serve as a useful insurance policy against destabilization. This argument is gaining ground in the capitals that have to decide at the end of this month on the future of these powers and the Office I head. . . .

In charting the right course toward a viable and functional Bosnia and Herzegovina it has been necessary to differentiate between what works and what doesn't work. It has also been necessary to change a mindset, both in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the international community. Promoting local ownership is neither easy nor risk-free, but it avoids short-term fixes in an effort to create real and durable stability. It can yield success in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And it might also prove effective elsewhere.
I have not paid much attention to Bosnia and Herzegovina, so I can't really specifically assess the analysis here. I suspect counseling patience in this region and in Afghanistan and Iraq is sound wisdom from his experience.

John Burns on Iraq

Hugh Hewitt had a very interesting interview with John Burns of the NY Times. Here is some of it:

HH: Mr. Burns, in reviewing the Charlie Rose interview, as well as the one you did with Bill Maher in March of 2006, I was struck by two statements. To Bill Maher, I’m paraphrasing, yes, the Americans made a whole bunch of mistakes in the occupation, but if we fail, it won’t be because of those mistakes, and to Charlie Rose, the statement that when Iraqis sit down and talk with you in calm situations, the vast majority of people still believe they are better off with Saddam, under Saddam. Nothing was possible, it was frozen. Those two statements are extraordinary. You don’t hear them very much. Can you expand on them?

JB: Yeah, I need to say something about opinion polling in Iraq, because opinion polls tend to tell you something different. But I think opinion polling in Iraq is extremely misleading, because opinion is intimidation led. It was under Saddam. If CNN posed a camera in the face of somebody on the street in Baghdad in the fall of 2002, when the war was looming, and they said are you with Saddam or are you with George Bush, well of course, 100% of all Iraqis who were asked that question said they were with Saddam. What else could they do? They didn’t…they were going to end up in Abu Ghraib on the end of a rope. Of course the situation changed somewhat, but any Iraqi who is asked now a question like do you regard American troops as occupation troops, do you want them out, is wise, given the fact that American troops may be in the neighborhood for 30 minutes, but the bad guys are in the neighborhood for 24 hours, it’s wise to give a heavily, carefully calibrated answer, which does nothing to upset the bad guys. So yes, I do believe, number one, that most Iraqis still believe that for all of the price they have paid, amidst all of this chaos, that the possibility of a different kind of future for the country that was opened by the arrival of American troops was net an advantage. Let’s look at what happened after the hanging of Saddam. There were protests, but they were not very widespread, they were not very protracted. Saddam had very little legacy left at the end. The problem was not Saddam. The problem is that the Sunni minority in Iraq has not reconciled to the loss of power. That explains a great deal about the war. It was a frozen society. It was an unbelievably brutal society. And most Iraqis, and this is beyond doubt, and I include in this Sunnis, yearned to be relieved of it. And when America did that for them, it was after many, many years of Iraqis attempting to overthrow Saddam, failing, and paying an incredible price for it. So I think that we’d have to remember that in making an assessment of what happened. As for what has happened since, and the American mistakes, when I said if it fails, it won’t be because of American mistakes, what did I mean by that? Of course, if there hadn’t been some of the mistakes that were made along the way, the situation might be somewhat better. But my sense of it is that if it fails, that history may say it was mission impossible from the beginning, which is to say that when you remove the carapace of terror that Saddam had imposed on that society, what was revealed underneath it was an extremely fractured society which had never resolved the question of power, political and economic power, and how it was going to be divided between the principal communities, mainly Sunni and Shiites. That’s the situation the United States inherited, it’s the situation which continues to fuel the violence there, and it may be that history will say that the china shop rule, the power rule, you break it, you own it, might have been well to consider beforehand, not because Iraqis didn’t want him overthrown, Saddam overthrown. They did want him, and there was scenes of liberation in the streets of Iraq afterward. But you know, this is an extremely complex, extremely violence-prone society, a society that has proven to be resistant to, not yet ready for, and maybe will not be ready for a very long time, for Jeffersonian democracy of the kind that the United States hopes to install there. We’ll have to see what history’s verdict is, but my sense is that Iraqis still, in the main, are happy at least that Saddam is gone, very unhappy about other things, but happy to see him gone.

I really enjoyed the interview. It seems to me we don't get very much of the sort of experienced analysis that Mr. Burns offered in this interview. We don't seem to hear such experienced analysis from most of the news and commentary industry, and we don't seem to get it from our elected leaders inside the Washington beltway.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Inequality of Patience

This is from a report in The Economist:
Five years later, Dr Reyes-Garcia and her colleagues came back again. They re-interviewed 100 of their volunteers (the other 51 were unavailable for one reason or another) and found that those who had shown most patience in the original experiment had also seen their incomes increase more than those of their less patient counterparts. The effect was relatively small—the incomes of the patient had grown 1% a year faster than those of the impatient. Over a lifetime, though, that adds up to a significant amount of inequality.
I don't think this is going to surprise very many economists. But, given the rhetoric of those in politics who make correcting inequalities one of their mantras, it may be a surprise to some people. When we think about public policy concerning inequality it is clear that we have to recognize that at least some inequality, and maybe a lot of inequality, is the result of different choices made by different people.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Freedom & Responsibility

Edmund Phelps explores differences in the economic dynamism of Europe and the United States:
It may be that the Continentals finding, over the 19th and early 20th century, that there was little opportunity or reward to exercise freedom and responsibility, learned not to care much about those values. Similarly, it may be that Americans, having assimilated large doses of freedom and initiative for generations, take those things for granted. That appears to be what Tocqueville thought: "The greater involvement of Americans in governing themselves, their relatively broad education and their wider equality of opportunity all encourage the emergence of the 'man of action' with the 'skill' to 'grasp the chance of the moment.'"
The entire piece is well worth reading. I want to note the emphasis on economic dynamism. I think it is important when thinking about economic prosperity to keep a truly dynamic perspective in mind. Prosperity is not just a matter of a sort of static working out of present conditions. Prosperity is truly dynamic, with feedbacks long into the future arising from conditions today. I think prosperity is emergent, not deterministic. I think this is why "large does of freedom and initiative for generations" seems to me to be right on target.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Economically Literate Politicians

Tory Newmyer has made a list of the 10 most economically literate members of Congress:
Senate: Bob Bennett (R-Utah), Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota), Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut), Judd Gregg (R-New Hampshire), Jon Kyl (R-Arizona)

House: John Boehner (R-Ohio), David Dreier (R-California), Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts), Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), John Spratt (D-South Carolina)
[Hat Tip: Greg Mankiw]

Congressional Corruption

Kimberly Strassel:

This budget week, there was one thing on which Democrats and Republicans agreed: It's time to do something about earmarks. And in a nod to voter disapproval with these special-interest projects, this year Congress will do its pork spending in secret.

Welcome to Congress's new and dirtier earmark game, in which the big spenders are setting all the rules. In front of the cameras, both parties claim to have found earmark religion, and are talking up a bill that would reform the way Congress asks for billions in goodies for lawmakers' home districts. Behind the scenes, they're working feverishly to keep the earmarks rolling, this time using a technique outside of the legislative process and hidden from public view.

The gears on this new underground earmarking machine started whirring late last year, when Republicans failed in a lame-duck session to pass the 2007 spending bills. The GOP pork crowd wanted to use its last weeks in power to push through 12,000 more bridges to nowhere. Saner heads noted that the party had just lost an election in part due to these corrupting payoffs and urged restraint. The standoff resulted in Republicans punting the 2007 spending responsibility to the Democrats.

That put the new House appropriations chief, Wisconsin's David Obey--a spender for our time--in the distasteful position of having to live up to his party's election promises to fix the earmark boondoggle. He begrudgingly promised a "moratorium." And last week, when Mr. Obey celebrated the passage of his $464 billion 2007 spending bill, he bragged that Democrats had fulfilled their promise and "stripped all earmarks from the measure."

"This decision doesn't come without pain," intoned Mr. Obey. "Many worthwhile earmarks are not funded in this measure, but we had to take this step to clear the decks, clean up the process and start over."

The key language here is "not funded in this measure," and it explains why Mr. Obey is still smiling through his pain. Congressional members, led by appropriators and an army of staff, have already figured out a new way to keep their favors in the money, and it might as well be called 1-800-EARMARKS (which unfortunately is already taken). All across Washington, members are at this moment phoning budget officers at federal agencies--Interior, Defense, HUD, you name it--privately demanding that earmarks in previous legislation be fully renewed again this year. There might not be a single official earmark in the 2007 spending bill, but thousands are in the works all the same.

And getting far less scrutiny than before--if that's even possible. Under this new regime, members don't even have to go to the trouble of slipping an earmark into a committee report, where it might later (once the voting is over) come in for criticism. All the profligates need now to keep the money flowing is a quiet office and a cellphone.

Well, well, well, who would have guessed, eh?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Illegal Immigration

When will illegal immigration end? Victor Davis Hanson offers an answer:

We hear all sorts of solutions for ending illegal immigration. Build a wall! Beef up border security! Fine employers, and create a massive guest-worker program. Or America could insist on tamper-proof identification cards, or detention, deportation or even amnesty for some illegal aliens -- or all of these measures somehow combined.

But ultimately the solution lies in the hope that a Tijuana might become as prosperous as a San Diego -- now a few miles away but a world apart.

After all, Hong Kong used to be a magnet for illegal immigrants who streamed in from impoverished Red China. Not so much any longer. Shanghai, for example, in two decades has become almost as wealthy as the old British colony.

East Berliners used to risk their lives to cross the wall into the West. Now billions of dollars are being invested in restoring the eastern half of a united Germany's capital. . . .
I suspect this is the case because people seem to be seeking better chances of becoming prosperous by coming to the United States. Our government can make greater efforts to "close the border," or greater efforts to catch and punish employers who break the laws against hiring illegal workers, or each of these and even more. And, I suspect such efforts will reduce the flow of illegal immigration to our country. After all, such efforts will increase the price of choosing to immigrate illegally to the United States. But such efforts will probably cannot end illegal immigration because it seems to me the bottom line is that the governments of Mexico and of many other countries to our south are simply not very good at providing the institutional necessary conditions for economic prosperity [see Mancur Olson, Power and Prosperity] in their countries. These governments are not very good at enforcing contracts and private property rights, they tend to be characterized by much corruption and by many forms of economic predation.

Can't Trust Politicians

James Taranto:
When NBC's Tim Russert asked John Edwards on Sunday if he, as president, would accept a nuclear-armed Iran, the silver-tongued lawyer got tongue-tied: "I--there's no answer to that question at this moment. I think that it's a--it's a--it's a very bad thing for Iran to get a nuclear weapon. I think we have--we have many steps in front of us that have not been used. We ought to negotiate directly with the Iranians, which has not, not been done. The things that I just talked about, I think, are the right approach in dealing with Iran. And then we'll, we'll see what the result is. . . . I think--I think the--we don't know, and you have to make a judgment as you go along, and that's what I would do as president."

Less than two weeks earlier, Mr. Edwards had spoken by satellite to Israel's annual Herzliya Conference. "Let me be clear: Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons. . . . To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep all options on the table. Let me reiterate--all options must remain on the table."

Why did Mr. Edwards's views morph so quickly from hawkish to weaselly? Probably because confrontation with Iran is very unpopular among the Democratic antiwar base. Last week Ezra Klein of The American Prospect, a left-liberal magazine, confronted Mr. Edwards about the Herzliya speech, and the candidate waffled. Although allowing that "it would be foolish for any American president to ever take any option off the table," he offered this criticism of President Bush: "When he uses this kind of language 'options are on the table,' he does it in a very threatening kind of way." Does Mr. Edwards mean to be docile?

Mr. Klein asked if America can live with a nuclear Iran. "I'm not ready to cross that bridge yet," Mr. Edwards answered. There's a world of difference between the unequivocal "under no circumstances" and the coy "I'm not ready." And that "yet" suggests it is only a matter of time before he does cross the bridge.
Once again we see an illustration that politicians seem to have heard what public choice assumes, i.e., voters are rationally ignorant. Even in a world with audio and video, even in a world with left and right bloggers watching every appearance, we find politicians (read about Senator Clinton in this piece as well) saying one thing before one group, and another thing before another group.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Totten's View From Lebanon

Michael Totten writes about a very interesting conversation concerning the situation in Lebanon. The entire piece is worth reading. But, what I want to point specifically to here is his summary of our policy these days:

The problem with all this is that it’s purely intellectual and theoretical. None of it is going to happen. Like it or not, the United States is retreating for now into a “realist” posture where tyrants and the status quo are frozen in place. Many Republicans and even most Democrats are behind this even though it’s the old right-wing position the left used to hate.
I think this is well put. The US is seemingly retreating to a policy stance "where tyrants and the status quo are frozen in place."

Bash Bush

Tim Graham:
On Friday night's edition of Inside Washington airing locally on Washington PBS station WETA, the first topic was whether the media's been unfair to President Bush, given his abysmal approval ratings. NPR reporter Nina Totenberg said Bush received a "free ride" for years, so now the worm has turned and the coverage is fierce. Then the host turned to Newsweek's Evan Thomas, who was frank in his assessment of the media's role:

Gordon Peterson: "What do you think, Evan? Are the mainstream media bashing the president unfairly?"

Evan Thomas: "Well, our job is to bash the president, that's what we do almost --"

Peterson: "But unfairly?"

Thomas: "Mmmm -- I think when he rebuffed, I think when he just kissed off the Iraq Study Group, the Baker-Hamilton Commission, there was a sense then that he was decoupling himself from public opinion and Congress and the mainstream media, going his own way. At that moment he lost whatever support he had."

The message in that is very simple: the president must never "decouple" himself from the "mainstream media," because they are the key players in maintaining public opinion.
Is a media that thinks its role is to "bash" President Bush playing a useful role in our system of political economy? I wonder if Thomas would have considered saying instead that the media's job, in general, was to "bash" every President, or was to bash all elected officials? Why isn't the role of the media to provide accurate reporting on the events of the nation?

Many people on the conservative side of the commentary isle have asserted that the media, in general, is biased against Republicans and against conservatives. Doesn't "my job is to bash Bush" fit this assertion? Or, is it just that the media is biased against this particular President?

Many insights from public choice economics follow from the assumption of rational ignorance on the part of voters. It seems to me that most politicians behave in ways that take advantage of that rational ignorance. I wonder if many in the news industry have also learned to take advantage of the rational ignorance of voters?

Have people in the news industry learned, just as politicians seem to have learned, that because of rational ignorance voters won't really notice that what is said and written can change from week to week and month to month? Have they learned that because of rational ignorance people don't really make much effort to discover whether what is reported is true or not? Have many in the news industry learned that because of rational ignorance they can pick a side and say many things that are inaccurate and untrue in an effort to get their favored side in politics elected?

[via Instapundit]

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Governor Richardson on Iraq

Governor Richardson of New Mexico is running for President. He said this yesterday:
"The reality is, we have done in Iraq what we said we would do. We have rid the world of a brutal dictator. We have brought about free and fair elections three times over," he said. "The Iraqis now have a constitution, over 200,000 armed soldiers and they have oil revenue. It's time for our troops to leave with honor."
I don't agree that it is time for our troops to leave Iraq, but it seems to me there is an important perspective expressed in the rest of the Governor's statement. I think in some ways that we should consider saying that our war in Iraq is over. After all, our war was against the dictatorial government of Saddam Hussein, and that government was defeated. Today the government of Iraq is not at war with us, nor are we are war with it. It seems to me that our efforts in Iraq at this time are to help the government of Iraq provide the necessary internal security as well as national security against outside agents that are supported by other countries such as Iran.

I think it is important for the United States to support the government of Iraq in these ways for as long as that government seeks such support. But, perhaps this relationship should be formalized by terms of a treaty that both governments agree to. Instead of debating whether "an escalation of the war" is good or bad policy, I think the policy discussion should accept the idea that our war with Iraq was finished with the formation of a constitutional government of Iraq. Now, both the government of the United States and the government of Iraq should formally negotiate a treaty by which we agree to aid Iraq in internal security matters as well as national security matters. If the government of Iraq no longer wants the presence and help of the US, then certainly we should withdraw. Here at home, assuming Iraq wants us to continue to help with security, Congress and the President should be discussing the terms and obligations of a formal treaty to aid in specific ways.

It seems to me that the conceptual idea that is the premise of Governor Richardson's comment, should be accepted because I think it would provide a more sound basis for our own discussion of our foreign policy with respect to Iraq.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Taheri On Iraq

Amir Taheri takes a look at the situation in Iraq. He seems well informed, but his analysis seems very little like what so many in Washington and in our news industry believe about Iraq these days:
If it is a civil war, we should identify the two camps and decide which to support. If it is a sectarian war, the only way to end it is either by geographical separation (as was the case with Croatia and Serbia) or through massive foreign occupation, as in Bosnia.

What is happening in Iraq, however, is neither a civil nor a sectarian war (although elements of both exist within the broader context). This war is a political one - between those who wish Iraq to succeed as a new democracy and those who want it to fail.

Those who want the new Iraq to succeed represent the overwhelming majority of Iraqis of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. Those who want it to fail are made up of Saddamite bitter-enders, some misguided pan-Arab nationalists, death squads financed by Tehran - and a variety of non-Iraqi terrorist outfits who have come to Iraq to kill and die in the name of their perverted vision of Islam.

In short, the war in Iraq is part of the broader war against terrorism and its many dark forces.

Read his entire analysis. He seems to understand the elements and the details of what has been happening in Iraq. Our political leaders in Congress, who have been rather loudly debating what our efforts in, or out of, Iraq should be, don't seem to be talking in terms of such details as Mr. Taheri brings to bear in his analysis. Could it be that Mr. Taheri has it wrong?

When I listen to our representatives in Congress talk about Iraq, almost none of them provide such details as the basis for their conclusions. Consequently, it is difficult for me to believe any politician who is not talking about continuing to provide security for the new constitutional government of Iraq, and who is instead talking only about what sounds like retreat. I think if the retreatists would just pick one of Mr. Taheri's choices between (a) it is a civil war and we must pick a side, or (b) it is a sectarian war and we must partition on the basis of religious belief, then I could at least conclude that they were being sincere, even though I tend to be persuaded by Mr. Taheri's conclusion. Instead, I conclude that most of those in Washington today who are saying they won't support the Commander in Chief are simply playing politics with national security issues. That is not good, but what can we do, eh? This is pretty much exactly what I tell my students the study of public choice theory says we should expect from our elected leaders.

Iran: Between State and Revolution

Amir Taheri in the WSJ ($$):
"Mizanan, ya na?" (Will they hit or not?) In Tehran these days, this question is the talk of the town. The "they" is seldom spelled out. Yet everyone knows that it refers to the United States. . . .

The bulk of the Khomeinist leadership, including the "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei, however, take the threat seriously and are preparing public opinion for a climb-down by the Islamic Republic. The American naval build-up in the Persian Gulf, the new U.S. offensive against Iran's agents and armed clients in Iraq, Tehran's failure to seize power in Beirut through its Hezbollah proxy, and plummeting oil prices are all cited by Ayatollah Khamenei's entourage as reasons why a climb-down might be necessary.

Sometime in the next few weeks, Iran is likely to offer a "compromise formula" under which it would suspend its enrichment program, as demanded by the Security Council, in exchange for a suspension of sanctions. This will be accompanied by noises from Tehran about readiness to help the U.S. in Iraq, plus possible concessions in Lebanon and over the Palestine-Israel issue. . . . .

So, what should the Bush administration do when, and if, the mullahs unveil their compromise formula? First is to see the mullahs' move as deja vu all over again. Each time the mullahs are in trouble they become the essence of sweet reasonableness. They deploy their traditional tactics of taqiyah (obfuscation), kitman (dissimulation) and ehtiat (caution) to confuse the "infidels" and divide their ranks. The Iranian leadership did this in the early days of the Khomeinist revolution in 1979 by persuading the clueless Jimmy Carter that the ayatollah was the only force capable of preventing Iran from falling into communist hands. In 1984 and '85, they seduced the Reagan administration with an offer of releasing the American hostages in Beirut in exchange for the secret U.S. arms deliveries Iran needed to stop the Iraqi advance. In 1987 they stopped their attacks on Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf after an American task force sunk the Revolutionary Guard's navy in a 10-hour battle.

In 1988, fear of an even bigger U.S. military attack persuaded Ayatollah Khomeini to "drink the cup of poison" by agreeing to end his eight-year war with Iraq. In 1998, the mullahs offered a "grand bargain" to the Clinton administration as a means of averting U.S. retaliation for the Iranian-sponsored killing of 19 American soldiers in an attack in Khobar, Saudi Arabia. . . .

The Khomeinist revolution has not succeeded in destroying the plurimillennial idea of Iran as a nation-state. But each time the Khomeinist revolution found itself on the defensive, the Western powers, including the U.S., helped it restore its legitimacy and regain its breath. The same illusions that produced the d├ętente, which arguably prolonged the life of the Soviet Union, have also helped the Khomeinist revolution survive long after its sell-by date.

Today, Iran is once again facing the schizophrenia imposed on it through the conflict between state and revolution. A majority of Iranians, including many in the ruling elite, wish Iran to re-emerge as a nation-state.

The U.S. has no interest in helping the Khomeinist revolution escape the consequences of its misdeeds. This does not mean that there should be no diplomatic contact with Tehran or that pressure should be exerted for the sake of it. Nor does it mean that military action, "to hit or not to hit," is the only question worth pondering with regard to the Islamic Republic.

No one should be duped by a tactical retreat in Tehran or a temporary modification of the regime's behavior. What is needed is a change in the nature of the regime. The chances of setting such change in motion have never been as good, and the current showdown should be used to communicate a clear message: As a nation-state, Iran can and will be a friend. As a revolution, it would always remain a foe.


This is very interesting. Perhaps we should not be duped by a Tehran retreat, but that does seem to be what has happened in the past. I don't think the politics being played in Washington these days gives me any reason to think that our national political leaders will not be duped this time around as well.