Wednesday, January 28, 2004

I've been studying the plan of the new Democratic front runner for rebuilding Iraq.

Unfortunately it seems to consist chiefly of the idea that he will somehow convince the international community to help us much more willingly than Bush did. Not that Bush isn't a poor diplomat, but nobody said or implied that they would have agreed to pay a major chunk if asked differently, so we'd better at least think about the possibility that no meant no - and that even maybe means no.

Virtually his only words about what should actually be done in Iraq, no matter how many or how few join us, besides his ideas about how Saddam should be tried, are:

Fourth, as we establish the rule of law, we urgently need to rebuild a sense of basic order. Today lawlessness and chaos, rampant violence and property destruction, threaten Iraqis and undermine the creation of a civil society. The job properly belongs to the new Iraqi security forces. And the United States and the allies we enlist need to do a far better job of training them – and then transferring authority to them.

The Iraqi military battalion we just trained suffered a massive desertion when about half the troops left over inadequate pay. We need to get the planning right and stop making elementary mistakes. We need realistic support, equipment and pay. And we need to get this Iraqi Security force into shape to achieve early successes so that Iraqis can have confidence in their army and the troops can have confidence in themselves.

Iraqi police forces also need adequate training and mentoring. Here at home, a police officer has four to six months of training. We may not have that luxury in Iraq, but training must be sufficient – not just speedy. And the police forces too need real support, equipment and pay. Countries like Italy, France, and Spain have national police forces with a paramilitary capability. They could contribute by preparing and mentoring a similar Iraqi force.

If we are facing a civil war, a police force won't solve the problem no matter who trains them.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

In some ways the heart of the war on terror is in Saudi Arabia. From there comes the funding. From there came fifteen out of nineteen of the infamous hijackers. There is the heart of Wahhibism, the ideology of Al Qaeda.

Many have pointed out that the Saudi's have been at best indifferent allies, and perhaps worse. Yet the house of Saud has kept the oil flowing, if only to pay for their own luxuries as well as the welfare state that has so far bought off the rest of the population. Nobody knows for certain what a popular uprising would mean, but it could not be good for us.

Rebellion brewing in Saudi city
Assassinations in Sakaka, power base of a branch of the royal family, reflect nationwide anger against the monarchy


SAKAKA (Saudi Arabia) - The tiny city of Sakaka in the remote al-Jouf province that borders Iraq may seem an unlikely setting for the beginning of a revolution against the ruling al-Saud family.

But one does not have to spend too long here to realise that this is what is happening.

Al-Jouf has witnessed an extraordinary level of political violence in recent months.

The deputy governor, say local residents, was assassinated.

Also shot down was the police chief, executed by a group of men who forced their way into his home.


But other merchant families and tribes which were prominent before al-Jouf was incorporated into the Saudi kingdom and al-Sudairy took over are rebelling.

The five streets of Sakaka are now deserted after dusk.

Since the series of killings, members of the al-Sudairy clan have not been able to venture out of their walled villas without an armed guard.

Special security police in bullet-proof jackets and wielding machine guns man permanent roadblocks on the approach roads into the city.


Even as casualties are unabated, we hear that there are fewer attacks on US troops. I think the time has come to ask how attacks are counted, and what counts as an attack and what doesn't. Has the definition of attack changed in any way in the past few months?

In Vietnam, the government only wanted to hear good news about the war, hence the notorious inflated enemy casualty counts. If the government wants to hear some good news, and enemy casualty counts are out of fashion, and the number of enemy weapons captured has not increased, I wonder if there would be any pressure not to count any encounter as a full fledged attack?

Yes, this is a different copter, not the one from a couple of days ago.

Two US troops are missing after their helicopter crashed into a river in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

They said the aircraft came down in the Tigris which flows through the city, about 390 km northwest of the capital Baghdad.

US troops sealed off the area after the crash which occurred about 18:40 local time (15:40 GMT).

It was not immediately clear if there were casualties or whether the helicopter had come under fire. Both crew members are missing and a search operation is underway.

Here is a newspaper article from the LA Times about many taboo topics. We are all cynical about politicians, but what about the people who elect them? What about us? This is the first newspaper article I've ever seen to talk about how much voters need to know to be able to choose a good government - and how odd it is that everyone should be cynical about the quality of our politicians but not the people who elect them. Although he says many good things, I still want to think about what it is in our sysem that encourages politicians to appeal to the worst rather than the best in us.

Part of it may be our 2 party system. Although a great many votors are neither Republicans nor Democrats, the vast majority in congress are either one or the other. It would be interesting to have a moderate party, but hard to sustain without structural changes. People who disagreed with them on an emotional issue would abondon them for one side, and they would tend to move in the other direction to capture opposing voters.

Another reason people are cynical tends to be government spending. Sometimes government spending can be more efficient than private sector spending, as many nations have found in their health care system. But when a spending program or a tax cut is proposed, the people who would benefit it applaud enthusiastically, while nobody knows who will be on the other side or when. Requiring any tax cut to be accompanied by equal spending cuts and any spending program to be accompanied by equal taxes is not quite right however. Mainsteam economists believe defecit spending during a recession is OK to promote economic growth, so the revenue measures should be indexed to the economic cycle as well as the cost of the program.

When most of us think about governance at all, we focus on the personalities of politicians ? how they make us feel, not on the ripple effects of the decisions they make that affect not only our own lives but those of our children and grandchildren.

And as things are, this also applies to those of us who plan ahead even for our grandchildren. Even those who don't live by defecit spending applaud their government for it - or at least applaud the benefits they like more loudly than they complain about the cost not being paid.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

I'm not sure what effect an economic bust in China would have on the United States or the rest of the world, but we were very concerned about the Asian contagion a few years ago. Is the world in a bigger bubble which only began to pop in 2001? There are many who believe much of the boom is involves building many factories, a large number of which will remain idle because demand does not support so much capacity. Busts, like booms, can gain momentum. Once the evidence of overcapacity becomes unavoidable, the value of these factories on the owners books must be written down. When people stop building as much, the construction industry collapses. A huge portion of China's economy is involved in building manufacturing capacity and manufacturing itself.

Beyond the rosy China stats: Problems
By Macabe Keliher

HONG KONG - China's official economic growth figures are out, and while they do tell of a strong economy fueling much of the regional and even world-wide growth, they also point to tremendous production capacity, which, some economists say, the system cannot support.

The Chinese economy grew 9.1 percent last year, its fastest in seven years, to 11.67 trillion yuan (US$1.4 trillion), according to the National Bureau of Statistics. After a strong first quarter of 9.9 percent growth, the SARS crisis slowed the second quarter down to 6.7 percent. But the economy quickly recovered as foreign direct investment continued to flood in, driving third and fourth quarter growth to 9.6 percent and 9.9 percent, respectively. It was the strongest annual growth rate since 1997.

Such growth accounted for 16 percent of the world's 2.5 percent economic growth in 2003, according to a United Nations report last week. China, it said, "will benefit the world economy as a whole".

Regionally, Beijing likes to say it has pulled its neighbors out of the financial crisis to new prosperous beginnings. China currently runs a trade deficit of $43.4 billion with Asia, and a combined deficit of almost $60 billion with Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. "China's growth promoted the ASEAN [Association for Southeast Asian Nations] economic recovery," says a Chinese Foreign Ministry official who asked not to be identified. "A healthy percentage of ASEAN growth is based on China."

China is buying up large amount of resources from around the region to fuel its growth. Products like liquid natural gas from Indonesia and Australia, rubber and palm oil and air-conditioners from Malaysia and steel and tin from other Southeast Asian countries. Beijing is pushing for trade between China and ASEAN countries to double in two years to $100 billion.


Foreign direct investment, FDI, may be waking up the country's overcapacity realities. After expanding 12.5 percent in 2002, and double digits in years previous, total FDI in 2003 grew only 1.44 percent to $53.5 billion, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Margins in the manufacturing industry have been squeezed due to competition and the amount of product hitting the market. The International Finance Corporation, for instance, the World Bank's investment arm, has stopped financing or investing in the manufacturing industry. Says one source at the IFC: "It's already over-invested."

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Feeling besieged by all those post-holiday credit card bills? Struggling to dig out from an avalanche of debt?

You are not alone.

According to the latest figures from the Federal Reserve, America's consumer debt has topped $2 trillion for the first time, continuing what debt experts view as an alarming surge in recent years.

To some, the nation's consumer debt, which dwarfs that of any other country, represents the kind of "bubble" that the stock market grew into during the 1990s.

"It's a huge problem," warns Howard S. Dvorkin, president and founder of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services Inc., a nonprofit debt-management organization. "You cannot be the wealthiest country in the world and have all your countrymen be up to their neck in debt."

Robert D. Manning, a leading expert on the credit card industry, sees families as likely to come under even greater stress as interest rates -- currently near historic lows -- inevitably rise.

"That's one of the trends that's really going to kill the American consumer in the next downturn," he says. "It's just impossible to keep these interest rates this low for much longer."

Tied to the record consumer debt levels has been a surge in personal bankruptcies, which reached an all-time high of 1.6 million households in 2003.

In its latest statistical release on consumer credit, the Federal Reserve reported Thursday that consumer debt reached $2.004 trillion on a non-seasonally adjusted basis in November, the latest reporting period.

The figure covers most short- and intermediate-term credit extended to individuals, including car loans. It excludes loans secured by real estate, such as home mortgages. When mortgages are taken into account, the nation's households owe close to $9 trillion, Manning says.

The $2 trillion figure represents a doubling of America's consumer debt in less than 10 years. According to the Federal Reserve, the debt topped the $1 trillion mark for the first time in December 1994.

Of the total, commercial banks are owed the largest share, nearly $624 billion. More than $740 billion of the total is revolving credit, while $1.264 trillion is nonrevolving.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the consumer debt reached nearly $1.995 trillion in November, also a record. The only good news in the Federal Reserve figures, debt experts said, was that the seasonally adjusted debt grew at an annual rate of 2.4 percent for the month, down from 5 percent in October and 6.9 percent in September.

But the overall problem may be worse than the latest record debt level indicates, said Manning, author of the book, "Credit Card Nation: The Consequences of America's Addiction to Credit." He traces the problem to a credit economy in which credit cards have become "yuppie food stamps," akin to a "social-class entitlement" rather than an earned privilege. Now, government figures show that three out of five U.S. families have credit card debt.

"What's alarming is that [the consumer debt figure] doesn't accurately reflect the true distress on various segments of the American population," he said. Not included in the Federal Reserve figures are "new kinds of hybrid financial institutions and new loan products," such as those offered at rent-to-own stores. There, interest rates typically work out to more than 200 percent a year, and sometimes more, Manning said. In one such store catering to middle-class African Americans, he said, the annual interest rate came to 800 percent.

And the other shoe drops

NEW YORK, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Worries that consumers will run out of spending power after the mortgage refinancing boom fades are misplaced, according to a research paper released by the New York Federal Reserve on Monday.
The surge in refinancing in the past three years as interest rates tumbled helped shore up household spending, even as the economy eked its way out of recession and new jobs remained scarce.

But the eventual end of the refinancing boom does not necessarily spell a significant slowdown in spending, the study said.

"Concerns are rising that the recent surge in home equity withdrawal has left consumers in a weakened financial position that will, over time, prompt a retrenchment in spending," the study by New York Fed economists said.

"However, a look at household assets and liabilities suggests that consumers have used the withdrawn funds to restructure their balance sheets and reduce their debt service burden.

"As a result, households may be in a better position to spend in the years ahead," said economists Margaret McConnell, Richard Peach and Alex Al-Haschimi.

The study was posted on the New York Fed's Web site on Monday at(

More than one out of every four home mortgages in the country were refinanced in 2003, making it the largest wave of refinancings by volume in history, the Fed study said.

The second one would have sounded better if it weren't for the first.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

I'm in another interesting discussion at Centerfield. I've blogger about some of this already.

Well, there is the question of whether Bush made the situation batter or worse. Unless you claim there is no probability that anything America does can either increase or decrease support for Al Qaeda and the availability of supplies and trained personnel, we must ask if Bush has made it more likely and likely to happen sooner or less likely and likely to happen later. I believe the former - as much because he lead us to believe the aftermath of the war would not require sacrifice on our part as because of the war in the first place. I believe with a great national effort we can make Iraq work, but I'm not certain, and I believe the same effort could have done more with more certainty if we hadn't invaded Iraq. This is my response to both anonymous's question about why I think Bush is blameworth, and William Swann's question about what I mean by doing what Bush is doing. What Bush is doing, as opposed to what he has done, is pretending we can rebuild Iraq cheaply without sacrificing.

Anonymous's comment about the whole world being motivated to support the dollar is a very good one. Remember how many years the stock bubble remained after reasonable pointed out valuations were absurd? Even now countries are buying dollars - and not all of Bush's spending has kicked in yet. Do you think the world can and will support dollars no matter what we do, or do you think there is a limit but we are in no danger of crossing it? If the latter, when you don't know where the edge is in the dark better to stay well away from the cliff.

John Kay wanted evidence either of these is likely, but many besides me do see dangers of both in the future. The dollar is falling, and Bush's spending bills haven't all kicked in, and he has plans for the future. I'm going to start blogging more on the economy I think, and I have some thinks to Warren Buffet and others who have expressed concern - I'll try and keep my links to Krugmen to a minimum to make John Kay happy, although he is a professional economist, and even economists who don't respect his opinions on other things respect them on economics. Do you really see no danger that nuclear proliferation is making it easier for terrorists to get nuclear weapons?

William Swann also has a good point about how Dean hasn't been talking about all the hard things we need to do to make Iraq work. I'm not even saying that doesn't worry me. But he has pointed out we can't afford the tax cuts, not even for middle class democratic voters, and we will need that money to rebuild Iraq. Lieberman has only spoken about how unrealistic the draw down of troops is I believe - no presidential candidate has talked about how much we must increase our efforts.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Over the months, I have pretty much come around to Steven Den Beste's diagnosis for the reasons behind Arab rage - which is pretty sobering considering that it comes between slighting remarks about people who ask 'why they hate us'.

The nations and the peoples within the zone of our enemy's culture are complete failures. Their economies are disasters. They make no contribution to the advance of science or engineering. They make no contribution to art or culture. They have no important diplomatic power. They are not respected. Most of their people are impoverished and miserable and filled with resentment, and those who are not impoverished are living a lie.

They hate us. They hate us because our culture is everything theirs is not. Our culture is vibrant and fecund; our economies are successful. Our achievements are magnificent. Our engineering and science are advancing at breathtaking speed. Our people are fat and happy (relatively speaking). We are influential, we are powerful, we are wealthy. "We" are the western democracies, but in particular "we" are the United States, which is the most successful of the western democracies by a long margin. America is the most successful nation in the history of the world, economically and technologically and militarily and even culturally. ...

We're everything that they think they should be, everything they once were, and by our power and success we throw their modern failure into stark contrast, especially because we've gotten to where we are by doing everything their religion says is wrong.

You could nitpick here and there, but it's probably better to throw the problem into stark relief. I would not dismiss those who are uncomfortable with the casual glorification of our culture and the dismissal of other cultures as merely politically correct - such concerns are in themselves one of the things we should be proud of, and they are born of hard experience with the idea of White Man's burden. For me at least, the acceptance of such a working hypothesis is a desperate measure called for by desperate times. It is the Arabs themselves who most often speak about humiliation.

This will, of course, make the successful rebuilding of Iraq more rather than less difficult. George W. Bush's reduction of the problem to a 'freedom deficit' was convenient, because a new government with different rules was something we already planned to set up. Although Steven Den Beste usually speaks well of Bush, the subtle difference in their description of the problem is important. Bush's solution follows more natuarally from Bush's version of the problem, and indeed was propounded after Bush's solution was already in the offering.

Of course, the creation of an open and stable government could reasonably be expected to lead to industrial development eventually, although we have taken no specific steps in that direction. The problem is ferociously hard, however, given the ethnic problems of Iraq. Could the Iraqi's on some level doubt themselves capable of solving it, lashing out blindly at each other and foreigners to salve what scraps of military pride they can?

We can't abandon Iraq. One major difference between Iraq and Vietnam is that the domino theory really is plausible here if we fail to finish what we started. Such a tangible defeat would cheer Al Qaeda globally, and might even create a relatively educated area with some modern engineers which might host and aid Al Qaeda in it's search for a nuclear bomb. But we may not have full success in Iraq until there has been more progress elsewhere in the Arab world.

This week, Tefen will host an international conference to promote Wertheimer's plan to establish 100 industrial parks on the Tefen model, in a joint project of Israel, Jordan, Turkey, the Palestinian Authority, and Lebanon, partly financed by the US.

Wertheimer said, "An industrial park costs $10 million to set up. Most of the investment is in education and technology training." The total cost of his plan is therefore $1 billion.

Wertheimer said, "The amount of US aid is unimportant. $10-20 million initially would be fine. The main thing is their commitment to the idea; that's it's not necessary to send money or weapons here, but to create jobs, which in the long run will enable people to make money."

This would be cheap in comparison to what will ultimately be spent in Iraq, even in comparison to what has been spend there already. And it would give Arab individuals genuine pride, as opposed to the touchy and combative sort that conceals feelings of inadequacy. Genuine reason for pride after all is the true antidote to feelings of humiliation, and perhaps the demonstration would give real enthusiasm to Iraqi's in the difficult struggle to rebuild their own country - difficult no matter how much help they may get.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

I've been rereading Steven Den Beste's post on hive minds, and there's something very refreshing about it. The idea of being somehow assimilated by a supermind at the cost of your individuality, as with the Borg, seems to have a grip on many imaginations. More likely our individualities will be part of any hive mind we may form, much as the nature of ants and bees is ideally suited for the hive minds they form. Yet I'm not sure I completely agree with him.

We are affected by the emotions and ideas of those around us whether we chose to be or not, often meeting anger with anger without consciously willing it. This may in some sense be part of the operation of a global brain. At any rate, many of the problems we face are global in scope, and can only be solved at that level. Arguably we have already found solutions to all problems which can be solved on a lower level, and India and China are attempting to replicate and improve upon (at least from their perspective) the solution we have found (capitalism) to poverty. Yet disease can spread all over the world, so that if we don't have adaquate prevention for infectious diseases globally we don't have it at all. The dynamics of terrorism are even harder to deal with, but who can doubt today they are a global problem, requiring global awareness to solve? Some still question the impact of global warming, but we need to be capable of dealing with a problem on such a scale, even if this turned out not to be it. And we need to be able to deal with the dynamics that make the conviction that inaction is enough achieve success, although the majority of scientists who have studied it believe otherwise.

Monday, January 12, 2004

My translator later explains the importance of the Al-Buessa tribe in Falluja; its harsh, simple notions of honor, a hallmark of Al Anbar province. While Falluja s resistance is coloured by the leadership of the many ex-Baathists and regime members in the town, it is also marked by the fiercely proud credo of its tribes - in particular the al- Buessa, which claims responsibility for the downing of the Chinook.

It is the Al-Buessa too, Drinkwine says, who were behind an attack by rocket-propelled grenade on the mayor s office that injured two of his men in the 82nd. And it is the al-Buessa area by the bridge which is one of the most dangerous areas of Falluja for homemade bombs.

The Al-Buessa tribe are the biggest pain in the butt and the biggest problem, says Captain Love. When we first came to Falluja, the Al-Buessa leader in the area by the bridge, Sheikh Ghazi (Sami Al- Abed], was all over the previous guys here, giving barbecues and introducing us to this great guy. Our reaction was: Whoa. Who is this man and what does he want ?

The answer, believes Love, reveals a snapshot not just of Falluja, but of Iraq s resistance; how local political, tribal and financial struggles are finding their expression in the fight against the Coalition in a country that is increasingly hostile to the occupation.

The map drawn by Love of Falluja s fighters describes a battle for supremacy within the Al-Buessa tribe between Sheikh Ghazi Sami Al-Abed, who has the money but no power, and his cousin Saradran Barakat, who has the power but no money.

It has forced the two rivals into an unhappy partnership to protect their positions within the tribe with Ghazi - according to the 82nd - supplying the money, either voluntarily or under pressure, to fund the resistance, and the now arrested Barakat the muscle and the know-how. The full picture, Love believes, is completed by the presence in the city of members of the Muslim and Islamic Brotherhoods, Ansar Al-Islam and Wahhabi extremists, the latter helping to channel money from Arab radicals.

Although there are serious full time Arabic experts studying the multiple tribes of Iraq, ultimately the American people will need to support the efforts of the Iraqi people to avoid war and chaos. Anything that brings us a little bit closer to understanding the problem helps - and Fallujah is one of the main centers of conflict in Iraq.

Take this for what it's worth.

Who is Tides?

TIDES World Press Reports has recently been funded to directly support the efforts of the CPA in Iraq. Our newest report – the TIDES Iraq Reconstruction Report (TIRR) – is a synthesis of the TIDES Middle East Report (MER) and the Iraq Public Infrastructure and Humanitarian Assistance Report (IPIHAR), and more exclusively focused on internal issues of consequence to the safety and security of coalition forces in Iraq and on humanitarian assistance and reconstruction efforts.

Update: "Saudi Gazette" seems to be the address which forwarded an article in the British paper the Observer to TIDES.

Is this going to give new energy to extremists? Even if it doesn't, it's hard to see lasting benefit coming from it. Note the last paragraph I quote. Are they concerned Saudi's are believing what they hear about Saudi Arabia in the American media more than the Saudi Arabian media, or is this not targeted primarily at Saudi's at all?

Saudi Arabia has launched an all-news satellite television channel to present a new image of the Gulf Arab kingdom, the station's director has said.

Ikhbariya, inaugurated on Sunday by the kingdom's first female news presenter, will broadcast in Arabic for 12 hours a day before stepping up to round-the-clock programming, director Muhammad Barayan told Reuters.

"We want to tell the world about our country, to give a new image," he said. "The American media...put out things about Saudi Arabia that are not true - like that Saudi Arabia is not fighting fundamentalists."

Sunday, January 11, 2004

What is happening in Iraq right now is not without precedent. When the constitution was being written, states with small populations wanted everyone to have an equal vote. States with large populations of course wanted the vote to be by size. A compromise was of course worked out, with two senators per state but representatives according to population, with electoral votes for President apportioned to give something extra to the smaller regions.

Why can't Iraq do the same? One reason is that ethnic and religios strife can be bitterer than regional strife, especially when there is a history of killing between the two groups. Additionally however, the States knew they had nobody but themselves to blame if they failed to create a government - and nobody to preserve them from the results. It must be tempting for Iraqis to blame us - and to feel we have to make things work out somehow to avoid seeming a failure to the world, thus saving each group of Iraqi's from making the difficult compromises necessary.

If they fail to do so, we may be in big trouble.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 11 — In a blow to White House plans for a smooth handover of power to an Iraqi transitional government by July 1, the most influential Shiite cleric in Iraq said today that members of an interim assembly had to be chosen through direct elections.

The cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, had called in November for direct elections to counter an American proposal to hold caucus-style elections, but had said he would reconsider his decision if a United Nations committee decided that general elections were not possible.

But in a statement issued today, Ayatollah Sistani essentially left no room for compromise by saying that elections could be held "within the next months with an acceptable level of transparency and credibility."

He added that an interim constitution being drafted by the Iraqi Governing Council would have to be approved by a directly elected assembly for it to have legitimacy.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Give up wanted men or face operation, tribals told

* Tribal chiefs seek 48 hours for consultation

By Iqbal Khattak

PESHAWAR: The government on Saturday warned chieftains of all Wazir tribes to hand over the persons responsible for an attack on an Army camp on Friday as well as the tribesmen believed to have sheltered Al Qaeda terrorists or face “an unprecedented Army operation”.

South Waziristan Agency Deputy Administrator Rehmatullah Wazir warned tribal elders at a jirga called in Wana, capital of the troubled South Waziristan Agency that they would be responsible for the consequences if the wanted men were not surrendered. “The elders will be responsible if the wanted men are not given up and the government takes action to capture them,” Mr Wazir told the jirga. The jirga was called after four soldiers were killed early on Friday after unidentified militants fired rockets on their camp.

(much of article deleted here, but click through to read)

Sources in Wana said the Zalikhel had asked all Wazir tribes to help them capture the wanted men to bring what a senior government official called “a grave situation” under control. “The Zalikhels have said they cannot capture the wanted men alone and sought the support of the other major tribes,” tribal sources said.

Whole chunks of the war on terror are going on outside our view, yet success or failure here could determine the fate of President Musharraf. Pakistani fundamentalists could become stirred up enough that Al Qaeda will find enough cannon fodder to make sure one of their attempts succeeds - or the government could prove themselves able to handle the fundamentalists.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

I've been in some interesting discussions at Centerfield lately.

I've heard so much talk about McGovern recently I may need to read up. He certainly lost the election. If he hadn't been the peace candidate who could be beaten by an exit from Vietnam, I wonder if we would have exited as promptly, or spent more lives searching for 'peace with honor' while earning neither honor nor peace.

Here's a hard question. Suppose Bush has put us in a situation comparable to World War II, worse than after 9/11. Suppose we cannot win without massive increases in spending, so much so that we cannot borrow so much without seriously endangering our economic position. There's no question that a tax increase is not a popular proposal, but suppose that we really need the money and can only borrow some of it, as during WWII.

Where is the candidate who dares say that although he opposed the war, he respects those who supported it and believes they would have done so even if told the truth about the cost? For victory we may need to learn to consider paying taxes patriotic again - and whining about them unpatriotic. Who will call for sacrifice, ask those who support this war to consider joining the military, and those who cannot do that to pay their taxes ungrudgingly? I'm actually having a few doubts about Dean, but I'm thrilled that he sees no need to buy the support of middle class Democrats with short term payoffs. Dare I hope he will tell the other Democrats that he thinks primary voters are more interested in long term prosperity and will be insulted by demands to spare them?

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

DEBKAfile`s special report

January 6, 2004, 12:05 PM (GMT+02:00)

They got a harsh response from Prince Nayef, the interior minister who leads the war against al-Qaeda. “The weak can’t challenge the mighty. We are not a regime that wants people to be satisfied with us. We are here in Saudi Arabia in order to rule,” he declared last weekend during two stormy meetings with two separate reformist delegations, which included notables, intellectuals, academics, and senior business figures.

In response to Nayef’s remarks, one participant remarked “We should understand from what you are saying that you are a regime that is working against the people.” DEBKAfile sources report that this sharp exchange, which occurred at the beginning of the meeting, was later followed by a climactic outburst by a leading businessman who got up and said, “We haven’t gone down this whole road (of reform efforts) in order to regress now because of the way you are talking. If you want to throw us into prison, do it now before we leave this meeting.”

Such straight talking has not been heard before at meetings between members of the royal house and influential citizens. The royal family now faces double pressure: the war against al-Qaeda and a fast growing domestic demand for reform. The absence of essential reforms, and the refusal of members of the royal family even to discuss these reforms, is causing ever larger sections of the Saudi population to distance their support and themselves from the royal house. In such an atmosphere, young Saudis find themselves encouraged to join radical and militant opposition movements, such as al-Qaeda.

This is bad news (if this DEBKAfile report is correct) for gradual reform in Saudi Arabia on a number of counts. We are here in Saudi Arabia in order to rule? This hardly indicates a government willing to be voted out of power. Less obviously, "We" are the rulers, they do not consider themselves of the people.

For the United States the conundrum is harder still. The balance of the evidence indicates that a popular government would not be friendly to the United States. And a conference like this does not indicate a stable strongman either. A democratic government must be willing to accept the popular will - and an authoritarian one cannot stay in power unless people are afraid to speak out against it. I don't think a government can sustain free speech without democracy, or people are free to gather support for a revolution.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

"There are already signs that Al Qaida is considering the country's petrochemical complexes; a joint CIA-Saudi effort in the summer of 2002 broke up a plot targeting Ras Tanura, and Saudi security arrested five men," the report said. "Even Ali Al Naimi, Saudi Aramco chairman and Minister of Petroleum and Natural Resources, has acknowledged the vulnerability of the oil infrastructure, admitting that, 'terminals and power systems could be a problem.'"

Is the true heart of the War on Terror in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan? If so, you could understand why we only hear limited amounts about it - the Saudi government and even that of Pakistan might be further undermined by open news of cooperation between them and the CIA. It's a sober thought though - where even our friends are ambivalent, and our enemies hate us unshakably.

Yes, the CIA is involved.

CIA: Al-Qaida targeting Saudi royals
By Jonathan S. Landay
Knight Ridder

WASHINGTON - The Al-Qaida terrorist network has decided to intensify its efforts to foment instability in Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer, and overthrow the royal family, warns a new top-secret CIA assessment.

The highly classified CIA intelligence memorandum, portions of which have been provided to President Bush, was described to Knight Ridder by intelligence and other officials on the condition of anonymity.

Calpundit deliberately put this Instapundit post on Blogdex by asking other bloggers to write about it instead of doing so himself.

Or maybe not, but it's a great idea. Instapundit has published two updates, Glenn Reynolds doesn't admit to being embarrased in retorspect but he's published some abusive e-mail he got on the subject, perhaps to make himself look moderate in comparison.

Maybe Calpundit is just glad he happened to be busy when this post came out. Either way I'm happy to be one of the many people who brought it near the top of Blogdex.