Saturday, March 08, 2003


A Pretty Funny Way of Courting the Hispanic Vote

As Paul Krugman reports in Friday's New York Times, the Bush Adminstration has begun to threaten our neighbor to the South. Apparently, if Mexico votes against the U.S. resolution on Iraq, a little "discipline" will have to be applied, and the Bush Administration can't guarantee that the American people won't take it out on Mexicans, or, for that matter, Mexican-American citizens in the U.S.

Last week The Economist quoted an American diplomat who warned that if Mexico didn't vote for a U.S. resolution it could "stir up feelings" against Mexicans in the United States. He compared the situation to that of Japanese-Americans who were interned after 1941, and wondered whether Mexico "wants to stir the fires of jingoism during a war."

Incredible stuff, but easy to dismiss as long as the diplomat was unidentified. Then came President Bush's Monday interview with Copley News Service. He alluded to the possibility of reprisals if Mexico didn't vote America's way, saying, "I don't expect there to be significant retribution from the government" — emphasizing the word "government." He then went on to suggest that there might, however, be a reaction from other quarters, citing "an interesting phenomena taking place here in America about the French . . . a backlash against the French, not stirred up by anybody except the people."

And Mr. Bush then said that if Mexico or other countries oppose the United States, "there will be a certain sense of discipline."

These remarks went virtually unreported by the ever-protective U.S. media, but they created a political firestorm in Mexico. The White House has been frantically backpedaling, claiming that when Mr. Bush talked of "discipline" he wasn't making a threat. But in the context of the rest of the interview, it's clear that he was.

What in the world is our President thinking? I've said before that he is a terrible diplomat. But the very idea of suggesting that if Mexico doesn't toe the line there will be a "blacklash against" Mexicans (and presumably Mexican-Americans), "not stirred up by anybody except the people" is outrageous. Especially since, in context, it doesn't appear that Bush thinks that he has any duty to speak out against such a backlash. He warns Mexico of what his fellow countrymen might do, but he doesn't warn his fellow countrymen against doing it.

What I want to know is, why isn't Bush in bigger trouble than Trent Lott?

Wednesday, March 05, 2003


A Pay-As-You-Go War?

Here’s a little separation of powers problem I’ve been worrying about for a while, ever since the Senate held hearings last week on the cost of the war with Iraq.

The Bush Administration has been refusing to answer questions about how much the war with Iraq will cost. Outside studies have placed the cost as ranging from anywhere from $50 billion ( cheap, quick victory, short, easy, reconstruction) to more than a trillion dollars (tough, difficult victory, long, difficult reconstruction).

The White House argues that it shouldn’t have to provide any estimates because the timing and length or war, and the duration and nature of post-war peacekeeping and reconstruction, are currently unknown. Therefore, the President should be allowed to go ahead with the war and Congress will get the bill later, and, of course, it is expected to pay that bill in full.

The problem with this approach is that it significantly undermines the separation of powers and its constitutionally mandated set of checks and balances. The President is Commander-in-Chief, but Congress has the power to declare war. Originally, the Framers separated the powers to declare war from the power to command troops because of the fear that Presidents might attempt to aggrandize themselves by continually getting the country into one war after another. (Think Napoleon). Requiring Congressional authorization helps rein in presidential ambitions and presidential overreaching. This sort of check and balance has been made relatively ineffective in the twentieth century. Moreover, in the case of Iraq, Congress has given the President authority to attack Iraq based on his representations of the danger and need for military action.

Nevertheless, suppose it turns out that the President has not been altogether honest about the need for war, or suppose he mishandles the diplomacy necessary to ensure support from our allies, or suppose that he tries to demagogue the issue in order to increase his political standing at the expense of what Congress believes is the national interest. Does the separation of powers in our constitutional system offer any recourse, once Congress has given him authority to go to war?

Yes it does. Congress has the power to appropriate funding for all government expenditures, including military expenditures for wars. If Congress thinks that the President is misbehaving, or is engaged in an unwise military adventure, it can rein him in through its power of the purse. It’s important to recognize that to exercise this check and balance, Congress doesn’t actually have to refuse to appropriate funds for American troops; it is politically risky to do this when our men and women are fighting overseas. But it can use the appropriations process as a method of oversight– it can ask the tough questions that the Executive might rather not answer, and it can hold the Executive accountable if the President screws up or is trying to pull a fast one.

The Administration’s preferred strategy of pay-as-you-go short circuits this method of accountability. By refusing to divulge information about what the war might cost, or even what the Administration thinks the war might cost, the President is telling Congress that it is expected to simply dole out money as the President thinks best. This allows the President to get the country into a terrible mess, at which point he can simply turn to Congress and demand that it appropriate as much money as it takes to clean up that mess.

This Administration has long been known for its lust for secrecy and its desire not to be held accountable for anything. Ironically, the Administration has insisted that other institutions (e.g. failing schools) must be held accountable by withdrawing funding if they don’t measure up to standards of success.

But all joking aside, there is an important constitutional issue at stake. Congress should stand up to the President and members of his Administration when they refuse to explain how much the war and reconstruction will cost and how long the war and reconstruction will last. If the President genuinely doesn’t know the answers to these questions, that’s a reason not to go down this path-- for the President’s strategy may very well be unwise and dangerous. And if the President does know and simply isn’t telling, there is an even greater need to stand up to him, for it is likely that the reason he isn’t telling the truth is that the American people would not countenance what he secretly wants to do. If so, Congress has a duty to protect the national interest by acting as a counterweight to presidential ambitions and presidential overreaching.

Our Constitution isn’t perfect, but separation of powers is one of the most important features Americans have for checking potential abuses of authority. Congress should not allow the President to do an end run around our constitutional system by stonewalling on crucial questions of war and peace.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003


John Ashcroft, Thug

In this week’s edition of Newsweek, Steven Brill reports that in the original version of the Patriot Act, Attorney General John Ashcroft proposed suspending the writ of habeas corpus indefinitely.

In legal terms, this would mean that the government would be permitted to arrest and detain people-- citizens and non citizens alike-- at will, and without the right to a judicial hearing to determine the legality of their detention.

In Article I, section 9, clause 2, the U.S. Constitution permits Congress to suspend the writ, but only “when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” It seems quite clear that although 9-11 was a traumatic event in our nation’s history, it did not require full-scale suspension of the writ so that the police could arrest anyone and hold them as long as they liked. Perhaps even more disturbing, Ashcroft’s proposal for suspension of the writ had no time limit. It would last as long as the government wanted it to last.

The portrait that Brill paints is of a politician particularly eager to amass more power for himself and to promote himself as crucial to preserving the nation’s security. Equally worrisome, Ashcroft is portrayed as particularly uninterested in legal niceties, particularly the legal distinctions that lawyers use to secure basic civil rights.

Beyond [Ashcroft's] predilection to want to control as much as he could, some on his own staff thought that another reason Ashcroft hadn’t “scrubbed” the bill [i.e. vetted it with relevant departments] beforehand was that he didn’t appreciate the significance of the prosecutor-written laundry list he was proposing. Although Ashcroft is a graduate of the highly regarded University of Chicago Law School and a former Missouri state attorney general, even some of his own deputies at Justice were surprised by how uninterested he was in the niceties of the law. One veteran staffer recalls that through six different meetings on this bill and another key legal initiative, he had never once heard Ashcroft cite a legal case and had watched him blanch when someone in the room cited a case, as if that person was discourteously speaking another language. Whether it was lack of interest or lack of intellectual firepower, the Attorney General seemed not to appreciate the complexities of the constitutional issues he was dealing with.

I grew up in Missouri, and I well remember Ashcroft in earlier phases of his legal career, as state Attorney General, governor, and later as Senator. My impression of him then is the same as now: A man who cares nothing for civil liberties. Or, put to put it more accurately, he cares only for civil liberties of those people he likes, in particular gun owners.

When Ashcroft was first proposed as U.S. Attorney General, he was repeatedly asked whether he would enforce civil rights laws and protections rather than attempt to undermine them. Ashcroft insisted indignantly that of course he would. One might conclude from Brill’s article that Ashcroft was not altogether accurate in his representations of his bona fides. But anyone who knew of Ashcroft’s previous record in public service would know that Ashcroft is the last person who could be trusted to keep our civil liberties safe from government overreaching. After all, overreaching is what Ashcroft knows how to do best. It is what he has done throughout his career. Bullying is his stock in trade, unfairness is his modus operandi.

The President should fire this man immediately and replace him with someone who genuinely cares about our Constitution and our civil rights. The only problem is, President Bush probably agrees with him, for he has, if anything, even less interest in these issues.


When, Oh When Will the War Start?

Assuming that nothing that happens can sway Bush's mind when it is made up (think tax cuts) when exactly will the war start? I had originally thought it would be when the skies over Iraq are darkest, near the new moon, which fell on March 2d and will occur again on April 1. But a more likely date is the middle of March. (Ides of March, anyone? Et tu Bushe?) Read Michael O'Hanlon's views on the question, courtesy of Tacitus.


Bad Diplomacy, Worse Results, Part II

Capitol Hill Blue reports that Bush's advisors have begun suggesting that he not press for a second resolution at the U.N. on the grounds that it is likely to fail.

"The vote in Turkey f**cked things up big time," grumbles one White House aide. "It pushes our timetable back. On the other hand, it might give us a chance to save face."

"Saving face" means backing away from a showdown with the UN Security Council next week and agreeing to let the weapons inspection process run its course.

"The arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed gives us some breathing room," says a Bush strategist. "We can concentrate on the favorable publicity generated by the arrest and the valuable intelligence we have gained from that event."

Mohammed, arrested in Pakistan, masterminded the 9-11 terrorist attacks. CIA agents found computer files, memos and other materials which pointed to plans for new attacks against the U.S.

"The prudent thing to do would be to let Iraq cool off on a back burner and concentrate on Mohammed," says Democratic strategist Arnold Beckins. "Saddam isn't going anywhere. There's too much heat on him right now for him to pull something."

Right now, only the U.S., Britain and Spain favor immediate military action against Iraq. With most of the other allies lining up against the U.S., Bush faces both a diplomatic and public relations nightmare if he proceeds against Hussein without UN backing.

"We've always needed an exit strategy," admits one White House aide. "Circumstances have given us one. We shouldn't ignore it."

Three things about this story.

(1) Would that all of this were true. I'd be thrilled if Bush decided to take more time. As I've noted before, if you are planning a war, October is a much better time to have it than March. I'd be even happier if Bush decided to declare victory and go home, arguing that his threats of armed action have effectively boxed Saddam in for the present.

(2) Despite my hopes that he will see the error of his ways at this late date, I very much doubt that Bush will refrain from going to war, given his temperament and all the signals he's been sending over the past few months. He seems determined to do the wrong thing at the wrong time for all the wrong reasons.

(3) The reason why Bush is being put in this pickle is that his Administration has been simply terrible at diplomacy. By alienating his allies, throwing his weight around, and insisting that nothing anyone else does can sway him, Bush has effectively made it impossible to achieve what he most desires-- a strong U.N. resolution placing the support of the world community behind his goal of disarming and replacing Saddam. The Administration's problem has been that it doesn't take diplomacy seriously-- it appears to believe that tough talk and threats of force are the only way to get things done internationally. The events of the last few months have proved that this position is both naive and dangerous. If Bush has to back down at this point, he will reap what he has sown. And if he goes to war regardless, we all will reap what he has sown.

Sunday, March 02, 2003


Keeping an Eye on Patriot Act II

Nat Hentoff adds a piece on the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, popularly known as Patriot Act II. The bill, which was drafted in secret, was leaked on February 7th. You can find my assessment of the Act here and here. EPIC has a useful compendium of resources, including the ACLU's section by section analysis of the proposed act.

As TalkLeft points out, there is a real danger that this bill is going to get introduced as soon as we go to war with Iraq. It's very important that people keep the issue before the public and get Ashcroft and the Bush Adminstration to disassociate themselves from the bill's unconstitutional provisions. Up to this point, the mainstream press has been giving them too much of a free ride. It's entirely appropriate, I think to ask our leaders if they actually support stripping the citizenship of natural born citizens if they contribute money to organizations that the Attorney General deems subversive. The press should also ask Bush and Ashcroft whether they agree that state and local governments should be given free rein to spy on innocent citizens who belong to unpopular groups by preventing courts from enjoining such practices. I think that the more Americans know about what the Administration is proposing in secret, the less confidence they will have that our leaders are really keeping us safe as opposed to aggrandizing their own power.

Saturday, March 01, 2003


How to Say Anything and Get Away With It

Dwight Meredith has been running a series of valuable posts on the Bush Administration's tendency to lie, mislead, and generally to say one thing while doing another. I first noticed this tendency during the 2000 campaign. When Vice President Gore argued that Bush's proposed tax cuts would cause severe deficits and mainly benefit very rich people, Bush simply repeated over and over that these criticisms were "fuzzy math." It seems quite clear in retrospect that it is Bush who has been the master of fuzzy math. His Administration has repeatedly fudged figures, and hidden the long term costs of his tax cuts. It has announced support for a wide variety of programs and policies-- like homeland security-- and then cut back on spending for them in its budgets. It has repeatedly asserted its belief in the values of decentralization and federalism and then told the states that they will have to go it alone in funding and financing programs, with the result that state and local governments are in their worst fiscal crisis in many many years.

How does the Bush Administration get away with this? It gets away with it by stating that the President believes in X and then, some days or weeks later, failing to fund X or doing the exact opposite of X. For example, the President will say that he supports clean air and water, and a healthy environment in a public statement, and then will cut funding for EPA enforcement or weaken environmental regulations. Or he will announce that he strongly believes in Americorps but cut it out of his budget. He will announce that the government needs to make the homeland safe and denounce those who oppose him as uninterested in protecting the homeland and then fail to appropriate sufficient money for homeland security in his budget.

This strategy puts the burden on the press, and the public, to connect the earlier statement of what the Administration says it believes in and promises to do with what it actually does later on. If the press and the public do not follow up, because the news cycle has moved on, or the public's attention has been diverted to other matters, then the Administration gets away with it. It appears to be in favor of the environment while actually harming it; it seems to be in favor of helping states take on regulatory tasks while actually refusing them any help; it appears to be devoted to making America safe while actually failing to make the necessary expenditures to guarantee our safety. Because there is no follow up, and no follow through, the Administration can have it both ways. It can say whatever it thinks is popular, or compassionate, or fair, and then do things that are unpopular, heartless, and deeply unfair.

If, by some chance, an intrepid journalist or commentator asks the Administation how it can justify its policies given its stated committments, the response is simple: The journalist is wrong. The Administration remains committed to a strong environment, a healthy economy, more jobs for more Americans, fair tax breaks for everyone, a safe and secure homeland, and so on. That is to say, the Administration simply insists that it isn't doing what it is in fact doing, and then dares journalists to prove otherwise. And even if they prove otherwise, the Administration will simply deny that proof has been offered.

The Administration, in other words, has learned that in the current media world, it is enough simply to say things over and over again, and wait for the news cycle to bury any inconsistencies. It has, so far, at least, been a fairly effective strategy, for most Americans do not really know great a disconnect there is between this President's public pronouncments and his actual policies. And if the Administration has its way, they never will.


Pledging Allegiance

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued an opinion refusing to rehear its June 2002 decision holding that the Pledge of Allegiance may not be recited in public schools if it includes the words "under God," which were added by Congressional act in 1954.

Politicians will have a field day with this one, especially as we are about to go to war.

Is the Ninth Circuit's decision correct? Well, it's not obviously incorrect, but the court could have decided the case the other way.

First, consider a much easier case. Suppose that in 1954 Congress modified the pledge to say "under Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior." There seems to be little doubt that public school teachers could not lead classes in recitation of that version of the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of each school day. It is too sectarian a statement. Similarly, even if the Pledge said "One Nation, with fervent belief in a God who created us all," it might seem to be too obvious an endorsement of a particular theological position. The one thing that the state may not do under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause is endorse a particular concept of religion or religious belief as the correct or official one. Nor may it create its own theological beliefs or doctrines and pronounce them as the official beliefs of the government. To do this is to violate the most central command of the Establishment Clause.

But Congress didn't do this exactly in 1954. Instead it asserted that the United States is one nation "under God." Now is this an endorsement of a religious viewpoint? Is it an assertion of a preferred or official position about a religious point of view? Well, on its face it appears to be. And given the time the amendment was made, it might well have been designed to distinguish God-fearing Americans from godless Communists in Soviet Russia.

Nevertheless, the expression "under God" might fall into a small category of situations or cases that have been called "ceremonial Deism." These are situations where people express hope or faith or trust in God through traditional and styilized invocations that have very little religious feeling to them. Ceremonial Deism is hallowed by long practice and tends to lose its religious significance over time. The idea is that it has become essentially secular and people shouldn't get too upset about it; it is just the sort of thing one is supposed to say on important occasions and we shouldn't understand it as an official religious point of view.

An example of ceremonial Deism is the use of the motto "In God We Trust" on the nation's coins. That motto is so old (and the way the sentiment is expressed is so archaic) that it seems backgrounded in social life. Nevertheless, the idea of ceremonial Deism is quite tricky, for it relies on a generalized sense of social meaning. If Congress changed the motto from the archaic "In God We Trust" to the more straightforward "We Believe in God" it might be unconstitutional, because the new motto would no longer be hallowed by long usage and it would appear to be a more direct endorsement of a religious viewpoint. What differentiates "In God We Trust" from "We Believe in God" is not that the phrases have different meanings (they actually mean pretty much the same thing) but that we would suspect that the replacement of the first with the second was motivated by a desire to impose a particular religious viewpoint. Otherwise, why change the wording?

Under this line of reasoning, Congress might well have violated the Establishment Clause in 1954 when it added the words "under God," for Americans had gotten along quite well just saying "one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all" for decades. But, over time, the use of the words has become comfortable like an old shoe, and has lost its religious edge. It's purely ceremonial, and we can retain it.

Note that the doctrine of ceremonial Deism is a double edged sword. It allows state officials to acknowledge God's existence, but only by requiring them to affirm that the meaning of the acknowledgment is purely ceremonial and doesn't reflect fervent adherence to a particular religious belief. However, one suspects that many people want to invoke God's name precisely because they do have such fervent beliefs and they want other people to share in those beliefs, or, at the very least, publicly say the words that reflect such beliefs. But *that* purpose for legislation really is impermissible-- Our Constitution doesn't allow us to force our religion on other people.

If the Supreme Court takes the Ninth Circuit case, they may very well reverse the decision on the grounds I've just outlined-- that the pledge is just ceremonial Deism, and therefore doesn't mean what religious Americans want it to mean. That would be a predictable result, and an ironic one.

But the irony works in both directions. For a court to strike down the words "under God," particularly when they have been said formulaicly for decades, may have exactly the opposite social meaning-- suggesting that the court is attempting to remove God from the public square. Ceremonial Deism by its nature tries to have it both ways. It treats certain religious expressions as being both religious and not "really" religious. It justifies this on the grounds that the practice is one of long standing and its religious content has long since faded into the background. The problem, however, is then that deviating from the status quo in any direction-- making the goverment's claims more overtly religious or removing the religious language altogether-- seems to create a social meaning of non-neutrality with respect to religion. So in most cases the best thing to do with examples of ceremonial Deism is just to leave them alone.

Friday, February 28, 2003


Cloning Bans and Fair Weather Federalism

The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly yesterday to ban all forms of human cloning. The Weldon-Stupak bill, H.R. 534, makes it a crime "for any person or entity, public or private, in or affecting interstate commerce, knowingly--

(1) to perform or attempt to perform human cloning;

(2) to participate in an attempt to perform human cloning; or

(3) to ship or receive for any purpose an embryo produced by human cloning or any product derived from such embryo.

In addition, the bill makes it a crime for "any person or entity, public or private, knowingly to import for any purpose an embryo produced by human cloning or any product derived from such embryo."

Human cloning, in turn is defined in the bill as "human asexual reproduction, accomplished by introducing nuclear material from one or more human somatic cells into a fertilized or unfertilized oocyte whose nuclear material has been removed or inactivated so as to produce a living organism (at any stage of development) that is genetically virtually identical to an existing or previously existing human organism."

The bill leaves untouched scientific "research in the use of nuclear transfer or other cloning techniques to produce molecules, DNA, cells other than human embryos, tissues, organs, plants, or animals other than humans." The idea, basically, is that forms of cloning that do not involve the creation and destruction of human embryos would not be prohibited.

However, currently, the creation of embryonic stem cells does require the creation of human embryos from which the stem cells are taken, so creation of new stem cells from newly cloned human embryos would be prohibited under this bill. Stem cells are important to medical research because they can be made into many other different types of cells. The hope is that such cells can be turned into replacement tissues for people who are suffering from spinal cord injuries or degenerative diseases, including Parkinson's and diabetes.

There are any number of important issues raised by the new bill. One of them is federalism. The bill outlaws cloning at the national level, instead of leaving the issue up to individual states. In the past conservatives have often criticized liberals for seeking national solutions to economic and social issues rather than leaving these issues up to the states, which, conservatives often claim, are closer to the people. It's important to recognize that many people would probably say the same thing about human cloning. But we have not heard much about this from conservative politicians in Congress who have been pushing for a ban on cloning. The reason is not difficult to understand: Throughout American history debates over federalism and state's rights have been a stalking horse for other, substantive issues, like tarrifs, child labor, civil rights, racial equality, and reproductive freedom. Many conservative politicians talk loud and long about federalism, but in reality they are committed to decentralization only so long as it serves the substantive agendas they like. They are fair weather federalists.

I myself have no problem with a national solution to the cloning issue. For me the issue is whether a total ban on cloning, including both therapeutic cloning and cloning employed to make babies, is good public policy.

There is a constitutional twist to this issue. The constitutional basis of the cloning ban is Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce. In the Supreme Court's 2000 decision in United States v. Morrison, the Court's five person conservative majority struck down the Violence Against Women Act on the grounds that the problem of violence against women was not related to interestate commerce; Congress should have left the issue of domestic violence to individual states. The Court, attempting to strike a blow for state's rights, argued that the federal government did not have the power to reach "non-economic" subjects which included crime and family law, even if these activities had substantial cumulative effects on interestate commerce. Violence against women, the Court argued was non economic because it involved crime and family relations, which, it claimed, were traditionally local activities. It is interesting to know what the Court would make of a nationwide ban on human cloning. After all, making babies seems to be about families and family law. There is no requirement in the bill that the cloning be done for a fee or as part of any other economic activity. Ironically, therapeutic cloning-- involving stem cell research to create replacement tissues and organs-- might be the most "economic" version of cloning, since one assumes that these services will be bought and sold like other medical services. But a more plausible argument is that the ban on human cloning is evidence that the Supreme Court's distinction between inherently "economic" and "non-economic" activities simply makes no sense, and the Surpeme Court's attempt to limit federal power in Morrison was misguided and the case should be overruled.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003


Bullying, again

The Washington Post reports that the Bush Administration is now telling other countries that it has decided to go to war no matter what and that it is up to them to preserve the United Nations as a viable organization by voting to give the U.S. authorization to invade Iraq. The issue is not whether or not there will be war, but "whether council members are willing to irrevocably destroy the world body's legitimacy by failing to follow the U.S. lead, senior U.S. and diplomatic sources said." Put another way, it will be the fault of these other countries if the U.N. is rendered irrelevant because they didn't unquestioningly obey the orders of the United States.

A senior diplomat from [a Security] council member [nation] said his government . . . . was told not to anguish over whether to vote for war. "You are not going to decide whether there is war in Iraq or not," the diplomat said U.S. officials told him. "That decision is ours, and we have already made it. It is already final. The only question now is whether the council will go along with it or not."

This approach has three basic problems. First, it tells countries that the U.N. is already irrelevant, because the United States has stated that it will do whatever it wants. The U.N.'s job is simply to rubber stamp American adventures overseas. In what sense, then, is the irrevocable damage to the U.N. the the fault of countries that fail to go along with American bullying? Why isn't the real cause of the damage the bullying itself?

Second, this strategy is likely to cause some states to dig in their heels. If the United States is going to war regardless of the evidence that Hans Blix produces, and if the U.S. doesn't really care what they think, why should they bless the U.S. attack? If the war goes badly, they can say "I told you so." If it goes well, they can free ride on the benefits. The only reason to go along is a fear that the U.S. will punish them later on for failing to toe the party line. But the U.S. can't possibly punish all the countries that fail to go along. It will need at least some of them later, and the more influential they are (e.g., China, Russia, France, Germany), the more the U.S. will need to get past the present disagreements in the long run. Thus, ironically, the current strategy of bullying may be counter-productive because it allows countries to free ride while telling their populations that they did not kowtow to the Americans.

Third, this strategy gives Saddam absolutely no incentives to disarm. Why disarm when the U.S. has publicly announced that no matter what the U.N. says or does Iraq is going to be invaded by the Americans? Again, it is the Bush Administration that has made the U.N. irrelevant by preventing the U.N. from offering Saddam the following deal: Disarm and stay alive; fail to disarm and be deposed. The U.N. cannot offer that deal if America will attack no matter what Saddam does.

The President has continued to insist officially that he has not made up his mind whether or not to go to war. It is clear that this is a lie. That fact in itself is not so troubling. Politicians lie all the time. The problem is that this is a lie that his diplomatic officials are now openly saying is a lie.

This is no way to run a railroad, much less conduct foreign policy.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003


Bad Diplomacy, Worse Results

Tom Friedman's column in today's New York Times says something I've believed for some time-- Even if the Bush Administration has justified reasons for going to war with Saddam Hussein, it has played its hand particularly badly. Its parochialism, chauvinism, and truculence have seriously undermined its case diplomatically. As Friedman points out:

I side with those who believe we need to confront Saddam — but we have to do it right, with allies and staying power, and the Bush team has bungled that.

The Bush folks are big on attitude, weak on strategy and terrible at diplomacy. I covered the first gulf war, in 1990-91. What I remember most are the seven trips I took with Secretary of State James A. Baker III around the world to watch him build — face-to-face — the coalition and public support for that war, before a shot was fired. Going to someone else's country is a sign you respect his opinion. This Bush team has done no such hands-on spade work. Its members think diplomacy is a phone call.

The flip side of the Bush Administration's vision of strong leadership-- i.e., its aggressiveness-- is that it is not particularly good at diplomacy, and diplomacy is what you need to put together an effective coallition. Friedman also points out, I think correctly, that by trying to link Saddam Hussein with Osama bin Laden, the Bush Administration is being neither particularly honest or persuasive. "There is simply no proof of that," Friedman writes, "and every time I hear them repeat it I think of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. You don't take the country to war on the wings of a lie."

Finally, the Administration has continually overplayed the immediacy of the threat and simultaneously downplayed the costs and dangers of an occupation of Iraq that may last many years. As Friedman (who supports a war) puts it, if you are going to war, you have to be honest with those you wish to convince, and, equally important, honest with yourself:

Tell people the truth. Saddam does not threaten us today. He can be deterred. Taking him out is a war of choice — but it's a legitimate choice. It's because he is undermining the U.N., it's because if left alone he will seek weapons that will threaten all his neighbors, it's because you believe the people of Iraq deserve to be liberated from his tyranny, and it's because you intend to help Iraqis create a progressive state that could stimulate reform in the Arab/Muslim world, so that this region won't keep churning out angry young people who are attracted to radical Islam and are the real weapons of mass destruction.

That's the case for war — and it will require years of occupying Iraq and a simultaneous effort to defuse the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to create a regional context for success. If done right, such a war could shrink Al Qaeda's influence — but Al Qaeda is a separate enemy that will have to be fought separately, and will remain a threat even if Saddam is ousted.

In the United States, the Bush Administration can get away with suggesting that Saddam and Al Qaeda are linked without any real proof. At home it can also spur sufficient patriotic fervor, moral disgust with Saddam, and overt disdain for our allies the French and Germans, to keep most Americans from asking the truly hard questions about the costs and duration of the occupation that will follow a war, and the dangers of destabilization and destruction that may well attend our bold adventure. But overseas, where Bush is regarded as a bit of a bully and not at all a straight shooter, these failings in the case for war are particularly glaring.

If Bush had done things differently, if he had started with diplomacy, as his father did in 1990-91, and not treated our allies, and the U.N., with barely disguised contempt and with accusations of cowardice and irrelevance, he might not be in the situation he currently is in. He might not have to go to war with a "coallition of the willing," but might truly be leading the world to pressure a rogue state to disarm. But because he has treated our allies so roughly and disrespectfully, he has squandered the best opportunity he might have had. This is an Administration that prides itself on being tough and domineering. But its pride and its aggressiveness are its greatest limitation. Great leadership is more than being overbearing and forceful; great power is more than making threats and accusing those who don't blindly follow you of betrayal and subversion. Great leaders do not merely threaten, they also persuade; they do not simply accuse and denounce those they wish to bring to their side, they make it possible for others to agree with them and work with them. It is time for our leaders to stop behaving like a casting call for a "B" Western. As someone famous recently put it, all of this strutting and posturing is like a bad movie, and I've seen it before.

Monday, February 17, 2003


Our Choices

Sun Tzu says that the greatest general is one who never has to go to war. But that simply raises the question: How can the United States achieve its objectives without going to war?

It’s important to understand that a strategy for avoiding war does not mean that we should not threaten to go to war. The only reason why Saddam Hussein has agreed to let weapons inspectors back in his country in the first place is because the United States has begun preparations for war. It is sometimes necessary to make a realistic threat of the use of force.

However, threatening to go to war and making preparations for war is not the same thing as actually going to war. There is a crucial difference. Threatening and preparing for war offers both a carrot and a stick. If you don’t do what we say, we will go to war. If you do what we say we will not go to war. Simply signaling that we are going to war no matter what transpires offers Saddam no reason to do anything other than to prepare for war himself. Thus the optimal strategy is to threaten war while always leaving Saddam with the option to avoid it through disarming. It is ok to be forceful; it is not ok to be so forceful that one undermines the strategic advantage of making a realistic threat of force.

Our European allies want us to take more time and engage in more rounds of inspections. We should take them up on that invitation. We should take them up on that invitation because it will buy the United States crucial time to repair rifts in the Atlantic alliance. And it will hamstring Saddam in the meantime. As I’ve noted in a previous post, a strategy of continuing inspections at least until October has many advantages.

Our President says that he is losing patience. But patience is of the essence here. With patience, we may be able to avoid war. Or we may be able to make war on the most favorable terms with the maximum of international cooperation and support. After all, our optimal strategy is not attacking immediately with a coallition of the willing. It is assembling the full authority of the United Nations behind us and completely isolating Saddam, leaving him with no other choice than to disarm.

The alternatives, in other words, are not simply a stark choice between attacking now or removing our troops and leaving Saddam alone. There are all sorts of intermediate strategies to take. Those strategies may achieve our objectives without war. The fact that Bush does not seem to be interested in intermediate strategies is what I find most worrisome about his conduct in the current crisis.

Nevertheless, we must hope that President Bush has secretly adopted one of those intermediate strategies, even while conveying to the world that he means to go to war by the end of March. If this in fact what he is doing, he’s a damn good poker player. But he certainly has me, and our allies fooled into thinking that he means war come what may. And, perhaps, most importantly, he seems to have Saddam Hussein fooled into thinking that there is nothing he can do to prevent a U.S. attack. That sort of bluffing is counterproductive.

Sunday, February 16, 2003


March versus October

One thing that suggests to me that President Bush's strategic sense isn't working properly is that all signs seem to indicate that he is ready to go to war in March with only a "coallition of the willing." The dangers of this policy are threefold:

(1) Risking that the war will not be over until the weather starts to get really hot in the middle of April.

(2) Splitting the alliance between European powers and the United States that has existed since World War II, and placing Germany, France, Russia, and China together in a common community of interest publicly opposed to the asserted strategic interests of the United States. This will also make it easier for these countries to refuse to help us in the reconstruction of Iraq following our victory.

(3) Undermining the U.N. as an international body that might assist with the reconstruction of Iraq.

Suppose instead that Bush called France's bluff and allowed for several more rounds of inspections to dog Saddam through the summer. Then, assuming that Saddam is still playing cat and mouse, he could press for an attack in October, when the weather turns cold. After six months of inspections, the other members of the security council might well be fed up with Saddam and Bush would have his U.N. support. This would keep the Atlantic alliance together, prevent NATO from unravelling, and bolster the idea of using the U.N. as an international forum for identifying, deterring and punishing rogue states like Iraq. And, one other thing, Bush could fight all fall and winter long without worrying about the weather.

Finally, although this has little to do with the geopolitical interests of the United States, the October strategy would also have political advantages at home. Bush could insist that he was not rushing to war, but gave inspections as much time as our European allies wanted. This would completely undermine Democratic criticisms that he is being unilateral. And he could begin the war in October 2003 and conclude it at the beginning of 2004. This would boost his poll ratings when they are needed most-- just before the 2004 campaign begins. Ending a successful war at the beginning of 2004-- instead of the middle of 2003-- could do wonders for his chances at reelection in 2004.

If the October strategy makes more sense than the March strategy both practically and politically, why isn't Bush following it?

In fact, we don't know that he isn't going to follow it. He still has plenty of time to do so, and announcing more inspections at the last moment will make him look like someone who did his best to avoid war as long as possible, instead of a warmonger, which much of Europe now sees him as being.

Nevertheless, there are two reasons why he may not do so. First, he has assembled a very large contingent of forces in the vicinity. Keeping those forces there is very expensive. It is not clear that he is willing to keep them there for six months. Having mobilized them, it will be costly and difficult to demobilize them without sending the wrong signal to Saddam. If he were really thinking about October rather than March, he probably should have built his forces up more slowly.

Second, Bush has shown in the past that when he wants something, he goes after it, regardless of criticism from those who disagree with him. He has made so many signs that he plans to attack with or without the U.N.'s approval that a turn around at this point would be a true stunner. Moreover, holding back now might be interpreted as a sign that the French have persuaded us, rather than a sign that we have persuaded them. I'm not sure that the Bush Administration wants to send such a signal, either to our allies, or to Saddam.

Nevertheless, I continue to hope against hope that he surprises everyone and gives the inspections more time. Bush may be belligerent and stubborn, but he has also shown himself to be cunning and shrewd on occasion. The October strategy is so much better on so many dimensions that no one-- least of all Bush himself-- can afford to rule it out.

Saturday, February 15, 2003


Role Morality, Or, Why Colin Powell is Doing the Right Thing

Many people who think that we should not immediately go to war with Iraq are dismayed that Colin Powell, the voice of reason in the Bush Administration, has been made the point man for war at the United Nations. Given that Powell is the author of the Powell Doctrine, which asserts that you don't attack unless you have overwhelming force and a clear exist strategy, why is he pushing us to get into a war without a clear exit strategy-- a war that may have the most disastrous consequences for us and for the world in the next two decades?

The answer is that Colin Powell is not just an ordinary citizen. He is Secretary of State, and he works for George W. Bush. Even if he would prefer to avoid war, he is doing exactly what a rational actor would do given his role and his preferences.

Assume that Powell thinks as follows:

His first choice is to avoid war, because there is no clear exit strategy and the consequences of war are unpredictable and may even be disastrous.

His second choice is to go to war only with full U.N. support, which gets us both the legitimacy of U.N. authorization and the promise of assistance by other countries after the war is over. It also strengthens international cooperation and international institutions for keeping the peace against threats posed by rogue states like Iraq.

His least favorite option is going to war without U.N. authorization, because this will split the Atlantic coallition, undermine NATO, alienate France, Germany, and Russia, send Europe on its own path, and lead to all of the unexpected and dangerous consequences of going to war without a clear way out.

Now let's add one more fact. He knows, and he has known since at least mid January, that the President has made up his mind that he is going to war no matter what happens in the U.N.. Powell argued against war for months, but he lost. So now what should he do?

At this point, he knows he can't get his favorite option. So of the two other possibilities, he has a strong preference for number two-- U.N. authorization and support. That is why he is pressing the case as emphatically as possible. He knows that he can't convince his boss, but maybe, just maybe, he can convince the Security Council, and this will make the war-- if there is to be war-- much less dangerous and destabilizing than it might otherwise be.

So the next time you see Colin Powell's frustration, understand-- he's not play acting. This is for real. He knows that war is coming, and he wants the war to go forward with the least possible chance of disaster. He is being not only a patriot, but also a responsible world citizen. He is doing what he can, given the limitations of the role he is in, to avert or at least ameliorate what he believes may well be a situation of great danger for the United States and the world.

If all this is true, you may ask, why doesn't Powell just escape the constraints of his role by resigning? The answer is that he can't really resign right now. If he does, the hawks in the Administration will win: the United States will go to war without U.N. support, and it will do so sooner rather than later.

Powell is between a rock and a hard place. It is a problem not of his own making, but because he works for a President who is too stubborn and aggressive for his-- and the country's and the world's-- own good. Powell has the misfortune to be Secretary of State to a President who, as I have noted previously, is simply not up to the task of deailng with the complexities of a post-9-11 world. And the rest of us-- in the country, and the world--- are being held hostage to the President's character flaws. It is sobering indeed to recognize that one man's intransigence is about to send the word into a brutal and destructive war. I am not talking about Saddam Hussein. I am talking about George W. Bush, who seems, more than ever, to live up to his title as the most dangerous person on Earth.

As the world hurtles toward a future we cannot predict, Colin Powell must play the hand he has been dealt. He is on the opposite side of this controversy from me. Nevertheless, I admire the man greatly and I wish him God speed.

Friday, February 14, 2003


Is the President up to the Job?

During the 2000 Election, one of the greatest concerns many had about Governor Bush was that he lacked sufficient knowledge, experience and judgment to engage in foreign policy, and that he would not hold up well in a crisis. What would this fellow do, many people said to themselves, if we ever went to war?

Bush’s response was to point out that he would surround himself by able advisors, who would give him the facts and he would make the tough decisions. His selection of Dick Cheney as his running mate was the great symbol of Bush’s commitment to reliance on seasoned officials.

After 9-11, questions of Bush’s competency seemed to be laid to rest. After all, he did respond to a very big crisis. He mobilized public support for an invasion of Afghanistan, and his generals carried it out successfully, although they did not catch Osama Bin Laden.

But in a sense this proof was misleading. Bush’s response to 9-11 showed that Bush was a man of fierce determination, who would stick to a course and see it through. He showed that if attacked, he would not hesitate to use force to punish those suspected of complicity in the assaults and to threaten to use force against anyone else who dared consider a similar adventure.

Similarly, in domestic politics, Bush’s basic strategy has been to push for very significant policies, and refuse to budge, waiting to see if his adversaries crumble or become divided among themselves. His basic mantra has been “don’t negotiate with yourself;” instead, take the strongest possible stand– whether on tax cuts, judicial appointments, or anything else, and see if the Democrats will stand up to you or whether they will fold.

The problem is that single mindedness, stubbornness, and a willingness to use force and threaten force may be an effective strategy in some contexts, but they are not necessarily the best strategy in all contexts. Current conditions show why Bush’s dominant strategy and tendencies have gotten us into considerable trouble.

His policy toward Iraq has squandered almost all of the goodwill that came our way after 9-11.

He has managed to create the largest antiwar movement *before* a war in recent memory, both in the United States and in Europe.

He has managed to strain our relations with our closest allies in Europe almost to the breaking point, and it is quite likely that he has precipitated a new geopolitical arrangement with America and Europe seeing themselves increasingly as adversaries, rather than as two important entities working together to ensure the spread of democracy and freedom. In the process, he has also succeeded in allying France, Germany and Russia against him.

On the domestic front, his unswerving devotion to larger and larger tax cuts promises to create larger and larger deficits for the foreseeable future, even as he plans to spend more and more money on his military adventures and on the consequences these adventures will inevitably produce.

He has managed to preside over an economy sinking into increasingly dire conditions; his first tax cut has done nothing to ameliorate the bad economic times, and neither he nor his rotating cast of economic advisors have made a plausible case that his favored policies of greater and greater tax cuts for the rich are going to improve things.

If you asked voters in 2000 what they would think of a President who would single-handedly destroy the fifty year old Atlantic alliance with Europe, plunge us into war, send the government into mountains of red ink and fail to deal with mounting economic problems at home, they would probably have responded that such a person was not fit to be President. It would sound to them like the fellow, however good intentioned he might be, was simply not up to the job.

And they would be right.

What obscures this judgment today, I think is, that unlike Jimmy Carter, who presided over a mess not even half as bad as this one, George W. Bush seems to be a man of action. He is determined. He will not be denied. He is utterly convinced that he has God on his side. People tend to associate action and bluster with strong leadership. What this overlooks is that a person can fail to be up to the job of President not because he is too reticent and weak-willed, or because he freezes in a crisis, but because he overreacts and pushes too hard and too fast at the wrong times. George W. Bush’s failings are not neurosis and indecision. They are stubbornness, tunnel vision, narrowmindedness, over-aggressiveness, belligerence, and hubris.

Bush’s failures as President will emerge over time– as our alliance with Europe is damaged, as our economy stagnates, as the costs of war mount. Eventually, people will see that the aggressive singlemindedness they so admired in the wake of 9-11 was ill-equipped to deal with the complexities of a post 9-11 world. They will see that he has done on the world stage exactly what he did before in his career as a businessman: He has made a very big mess, and someone else is going to have to clean that mess up.

Thursday, February 13, 2003


Freedom to March and Freedom of Speech

This past week a federal judge ruled that the City of New York could prevent an extimated crowd of 100,000 antiwar demonstrators from marching in Manhattan this Saturday to protest the upcoming war against Iraq. Instead, the city will allow 10,000 of them to assemble at a stationary location.

The protestors had requested a permit for more than 100,000 people to march down First Avenue past the United Nations, west on 42nd Street and north to Central Park. The City denied the permit, arguing that the march presented safety, crowd control, and security risks given that the city and the country are at orange alert, the second highest level of security awareness. The City's position was upheld on Monday in an opinon by Barbara S. Jones of United States District Court in Manhattan, and upheld again by a panel of the Second Circuit.

The court argued that the City's parade permit scheme was content netural and reasonable and did not discriminate against the protesters on the basis of their viewpoint. But the case is an example of how formally neutral rules about freedom of speech can have predictable effects in treating different viewpoints differently. in the past year, for example, New York awarded permits for the Puerto Rican Day parade, the Dominican Day parade, and the St. Patrick's Day parade, all of which had crowds over 100,000. The difference was that these parades are scheduled well in advance, and the security risks are predictably smaller than a parade about an issue of major political importance about which fevers are running high. What that means is that protests on political issues of the immediate moment that people disagree about heatedly are disfavored in comparison to parades celebrating, for example, how wonderful it is to be Irish in New York. It's even possible that a parade organized in favor of the war in Iraq, might draw less hostile crowds than an anti-war rally, and so would cause less problems for officials.

I have no reason to believe that the City officials were motivated by opposition to the antiwar cause. However, in general city bureacrats do like things quiet and orderly, and so are likely to view mass protests on controversial subjects as a major headache. Allowing them to avoid awarding permits for such demonstrations is one way in which present first amendment doctrines shape how protest occurs in the United States.


Patriot Act II-- Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Have Civil Liberties

My op-ed on the the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, popularly known as the "Patriot Act II," appears in today's L.A. Times.

It's hard to say what the worst feature of the new proposals is, but I figure that the one that will spark the most interest in the general public will be the use of presumptions to strip U.S. citizenship from people who violate parts of the the Act. I'm sorry to say that there are a number of precedents that Ashcroft might use to justify the loss of citizenship provisions-- they stem from earlier periods in our Nation's history. For example, for many years, women who married citizens of other countries were deemed to have voluntarily surrendered their U.S. citizenship-- based on the common law fiction that husband and wife are one (and that one is the husband). This was remedied in the passage of the Cable Act in 1922. However, even after the Cable Act, marriage to a Chinese or Japanese national would result in automatic loss of citizenship because they could not become citizens. The rules regarding marriage and loss of citizenship were motivated by a rather dismal combination of racism and sexism.

If you are interested in the issue of loss of citizenship, and have access to law reviews, I recommend Alex Aleinikoff's article, Theories of Loss of Citizenship, 84 Mich. L. Rev. 1471 (1986).

Monday, February 10, 2003


Bush v. Gore and Electronic Voting Machines

Let me be clear about this: As a cyberlaw professor and a professor of constitutional law, I can unequivocally state that one of the biggest dangers to democracy right now is electronic voting machines. If they are designed properly, they can enhance democracy. But if they are designed poorly, they can facilitate ballot fraud on a scale previously unknown in American history.

The question is not whether electronic balloting is a good thing or a bad thing. It is what kinds of electronic balloting have built in safeguards and checks against electronic fraud, and what kinds don’t. The recently passed Help America Vote Act (HAVA), includes $3.9 billion to help state and local goverments install hi-tech upgrades to their voting technology. What is being overlooked is that not all electronic voting systems are created equal. Some of the ones on the market, perhaps even most, have serious flaws that enable unscrupulous people to alter vote counts and commit massive electoral fraud. Some also are designed to leave no electronic backup or paper trail that would enable state officials to discover vote tampering or conduct recounts.

This, my friends, is a disaster waiting to happen.

You can read about some of these problems here, here, and here.

Several bloggers have begun posting stories about the dangers of poorly designed electronic voting systems. They have been spurred on by revelations that Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel (R) had failed to disclose that he owns a stake in a company that owns Election Systems & Software (ES&S), a company that makes nearly half the voting machines used in the United States, including virtually all those used in his native Nebraska.

This conflict of interest has led a number of bloggers to speculate whether Hagel’s unexpectedly overwhelming victories in the Nebraska Senate race in 1996 and 2002 were due to artificial enhancements. They point out that ES&S's systems are among those which make it difficult if not impossible to discover electronic voter fraud and conduct recounts. I express no opinion on these speculations, but if you want more information, you can find discussions at Testify, Seeing the Forest, Alas, a Blog, Common Dreams, and Sideshow.

My apologizes to anyone else who posted stories on this issue that I overlooked.

As many of you know, I am a great critic of the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, which handed the presidency to George W. Bush through a particularly unpersuasive argument about when to grant a stay and about what constitutes an appropriate remedy for violates of the Equal Protection Clause. However, I also have said in print that I don’t think that the opinion’s holding that the Equal Protection Clause applies to vote tabulations is all that crazy; in fact it makes some sense. It extends the guarantee of equal protection from how voting districts are drawn to how votes are tabulated.

I also pointed out two other things, however

1. One problem with Bush v. Gore’s equal protection holding is that it did not carry its equal protection reasoning to its logical conclusion. The greatest problem of equality may stem not from hand counts but from unequal access to technologies that produce different degrees of reliability in vote counts.

2. Bush v. Gore seems to be premised on suspicion that Florida judicial officials were not being consistent in their hand counts; i.e., the Court, without directly saying it, was suggesting that perhaps the inconsistencies were not random, but might be politically motivated.

Putting these two points together, I submit that if Bush v. Gore is not simply a device concocted by five Justices to put Republicans in office, it should also stand for the proposition that the states and the federal government may not install voting technologies with a high degree of unreliability or a significant risk of voting fraud if there are other, equally available technologies at roughly the same cost that are more reliable and have safeguards against voting fraud.

In other words, although I hate and despise the manipulation of remedies that produced the actual result in Bush v. Gore, I think that we should take the Equal Protection holding of Bush v. Gore completely seriously. And I think that state and local governments should too. They should immediately demand that the technology companies they deal with install fail safe mechanisms to ensure voting reliability and prevent voting fraud, and if these companies refuse to do so, on the grounds that their data is protected by trade secret or other intellectual property rights, these contracts should be voided on the grounds that states may not install unconstitutional voting systems.

I’m being quite hardnosed on this, but it’s important to be hardnosed. There are lots of flaws in the American system of elections, but most of these flaws only matter every now and then in very close elections, like the crazy rules about the Electoral College and what happens if nobody gets a majority in the Electoral College. But the problems that electronic voting machines present are likely to occur in virtually every election held in this country-- federal, state and local -- from this day forward. If we don’t want our democracy to become a mockery, we have to pay the extra cost now to make sure our voting technologies are safe and adequate for the future.

Sunday, February 09, 2003


French Dressing-Down

Everybody in the U.S. is piling on the French these days. Tom Friedman is exasperated with their changing stances on Iraq. He wants to kick them out of their permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and replace them with India, the world's largest democracy. And there are lots of great jokes making fun of the French right now, (which I am ashamed to admit I am enjoying immensely, having spent altogether too much time studying French philosophy in my misspent youth). Numerous explanations abound for their intransigence, including their national character, their irresponsibility, their flightiness, their ingratitude, and a whole host of other flaws.

But the French are also the country that gave us Descartes, Voltaire and the Enlightenment (ok, forget about Derrida). They are the masters of sang froid, brute realism, ironic detachment, and cold unsentimentality. Are they really all that crazy? Does their intransigence make any sense at all?

It all depends on what you think the purposes of the military buildup and the U.N. inspection regime are. If the point is to get all of the countries of the world together through the auspices of the U.N. to scare and threaten Saddam Hussein into submission, then it would make sense for France to jump on board and present Hussein with a unified threat by the international community: disarm or be deposed. That is, if what this is about is a game of chicken, then the French should not be intransigent. They should immediately help the U.S. present a unified front, which may have the salutary effect of strengthening the United Nations as an international peacekeeper in future conflicts against rogue states. That's something many Europeans would like, because it would draw the U.S. ever further into a multilateral way of conducting its foreign policy, and it would strengthen international institutions in which the French and other Europeans believe they will have greater influence in the long run.

The problem is that the French fear that they don't have any control over what the United States will do once they sign on. The French want to see how far they can push Hussein without going to war; but they may fear (and rightly so) that Bush isn't playing that game. They fear that he is determined to go to war regardless of what Hussein does. If that's so, then France's preferred strategy-- what Tom Friedman earlier called Chicken a'L'Iraq-- isn't available. You can't threaten Hussein to get him to back down, because the U.S. won't pull back at the brink, it's going to war whatever Hussein does, and so Hussein has no incentive to do anything but wait and prepare for war.

Thus, joining the U.S. doesn't get France its preferred strategy. The question is whether holding back approval is more likely to do so. But that's also a dangerous game, because if the U.S. gets tired of waiting for the French to join in, it may go ahead and attack with its "coallition of the willing" sometime near the beginning to middle of March. That would be a worse result: No clear U.N. approval, no precedent for international cooperation against rogue states.

However, the French may be reasoning as follows: The longer we hold out, the more the U.S. may be willing to offer us a war and post-war strategy more to our liking. The U.S. is going to war no matter what we do, so we can't get our first best strategy. But we might be able to get our second best strategy-- both during the course of the war and in the occupation thereafter-- by being a royal pain in the butt until the U.S. listens to us.

This seems to me the best explanation of what is going on right now. If all of the other countries in Europe thought the same way the French did, the U.S. would have a real problem on its hands. But most of the other countries in Europe see no particular advantage in holding out. They figure that they are in better shape signing on early than signing on late. The French, however, think that signing on late will given them additional concessions. That's why they are holding out even though everyone else is rushing to sign on, and why the jokes are flying. But nobody knows yet who will be laughing five years from now.


Power Laws and the Laws of Power

A fascinating discussion of the distribution of choices as the number of choices in a network increases, from Clay Shirky, via Instapundit. The power law idea tends to explain why choices on the Internet tend to cluster around a relatively small number of sites.

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