January 16th, 2004


The Atlantic Magazine & Rummy Amok

I was desparate for reading matter yesterday and went into the Hospital gift shop. The only thing I could stomach reading was "The Atlantic," something my parents subscribed to in the 70s, after the demise of the totally awesome "Saturday Review."

Even in the days of the Internet, sometimes it pays to read an actual magazine; the current issue has an exhaustive study by James Fallows of how the White House and the Defense Department not only did not plan for what happened after they deposed Saddam Hussein, they willfully ignored a lot of careful work done at the CIA, the DOD, and by NGOs to plan for the war's aftermath.

Every major problem since the "end of fighting" in April -- the looting, the chaos, the difficulties with infrastructure, the ongoing insurgency -- were predicted, and reasonable suggestions were made about how to avoid or minimize them. To quote the article, "The National Intelligence Council, at the CIA, ran a two-day exercise on postwar Iraq. The Office of the Secretary of Defense forbade Pentagon representatives to attend." Rumsfeld ignored all reasonable estimates on the troop strength needed to maintain order after the collapse of the Baathist government. Despite warnings from many quarters, L. Paul Bremer disbanded and sent home the Iraqi Army, creating a huge population of pissed-off guys with automatic weapons and time on their hands.

The Democratic candidates might try some soundbites about how Bush won the war and Lost The Peace, but they have no traction, because the Republicans control the discourse. Rumsfeld gets away with his psycho-babble about known unknowns and unknown uknowns, when the truth is, that he didn't want to plan for the aftermath. He actually vetoed even the most minimal due diligence. The President act like ... well aside from dressing up like Tom Cruise, how does he act, what does he say? He is completely disengaged from what is a truly horrible situation in Iraq. People die there -- Americans and Iraqis -- every day, because his government went out its way to avoid the most elementary planning. His administration's reaction to the deteriorating security situation is to complain that the Media doesn't report on the good things that are happening in Iraq.

Everyone should know by now that complaining about the media is the last refuge of scoundrels. The media doesn't report much on the good things that are happening in Iraq, because THEY'RE NOT NEWS. Things running smoothly and people doing what they're supposed to is supposed to be the baseline. It's nice that some people in Iraq are, against all odds, making a positive difference in people's lives, but that makes them Employee of the Month, not news.

The United States Military does two things really well: Logistical Planning, and Blowing Shit Up. In that order. Hungry soldiers without clean socks can't Blow Shit Up as effectively and our fighting men and women have the cleanest fucking socks in the world.* Postwar Iraq could have been planned, and it was not. Or rather it was, but no one in a position to implement the planning paid it any mind. What would happen if the Park Service ignored good advice about keeping parks safe, and someone died as a result almost every day, for nearly a year. Would the American public be so forgiving?

*Oh, and there are also some serious logistical problems in Iraq among our military too, with some soldiers buying their own weapons and ammunition.

The Iowa Caucus

I've been hearing from optic that he wonders why we give so much power to the state of Iowa in selecting the president. I don't have a good idea of why; Iowa is probably more liberal than the whole country, and the system (at least on the Democratic side) is fairly strange compared to a real election.

If you don't know, the Iowa Democratic Caucus isn't a secret ballot. You meet in a big room with everyone in your precinct, and you have to literally stand up for your candidate -- a group forms for each candidate and an initial head count is done. Then, a candidate is either 'viable' by having more than a certain percentage of those present, or not.

Once the viable and non-viable candidates are sorted out, some horse trading takes place, where the majority candidates try and win over the people supporting the non-viable candidates. Pretty much anything is fair game -- threats, deals, even, I suppose, bribes -- there isn't really any rules.

In the end you have one or more groups of voters each supporting a candidate. Based on percentages, each candidate is allotted a certain number of delegates to the County convention.

What this means is that it's a very public, fluid process. People really do show up at the caucus undecided, and are persuaded by their neighbors to support their candidate. Significant, though non-viable, support for candidates can melt away.

It's more fun than just casting a ballot, and I think the reaction of the people here is interesting, in that they take the responsibility of narrowing the candidate field very seriously. If Iowans aren't representative of the country in any statistical sense, they're aware that they are to some extent personal proxies for the rest of the country; we feel like we're trying to pick the best person for the job.

Once the Iowa Caucus is over, we're pretty much out of the game; I don't think any modern election hinged on which way Iowa voted. But don't begrudge us our moment in the spotlight, because we really take it seriously and try and do the right thing.