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Tuesday, February 11, 2003


Several British, Israeli, and European scholars and graduate students are involved in a network of exchanges about the war on terrorism, the Bush policy toward Iraq, and US politics and foreign policy in general. One of them sent me the following link to an article by Paul Krugman, the economist, who writes a regular ed-op commentary for the New York Times. Entitled "The Wimps of War," Krugman the article strikes me as superficial, and little more than a bad-tempered screed . . . exactly the sort of American writing that lots of EU academics, intellectuals, journalists, and left-wing politicians (and in France, Gaullists too) lap up with manic boldeyed glee. "See! See! Even the Yanks in the know can't stomach the Texan-toxin cowboy! Oh, woe is me!, woe is the poor world afflicted with Texan idiocies connected to vast raw power!"


S: Many thanks for the reference and the article.

Unfortunately, it strikes me, this Krugman piece, as fluffy ill-humored speculation, nothing more --- save for his observations regarding the Bush tax plan and its long-term impact on the US economy . . . with the poll-parroting of French views, themselves either wrong or nationally self-serving and hypocritical (or both), reducing the article to a raw, keyed-up screed. Bad Bad Bush: why isn't he taking remedial courses in economics at Princeton from me, not to mention primal instruction in fortitude and military strategy.

Specifically, to take up the issues Krugman raises and distorts one by one, his analysis looks more leaky than the Titanic at the moment when Leonardo DeCaprio --- love-sick and exhausted --- saves his co-star and then sinks into the dark depths of the icy North Atlantic:

1) Bosnia (Yugoslavia, not Kosovo): it was the EU that wanted the US kept out of its backyard, according to the then Presidency of the EU in 1991, Luxembourg, and it was in particular M. Jacques Pons, the Lion of Luxembourg (Mark Steyn), the Foreign Minister who told the US to butt out of the EU's savvy, sophisticated diplomacy toward Bosnia and Yugoslavia. Several hundred thousand Yugoslav and Bosnian cadavers later, as Steyn noted in 2001 --- when Bush was visiting the EU for the first time and fist-shaking demonstrators were marching and shouting up and down the length of the European continent: all this before the war on terrorism started three months later --- the EU, it turned out, was only to happy to have the US butt in.

More specifically, President Clinton began talking about bombing in 1995, maybe earlier, and it was Britain and France who were worried their peacekeepers would be hostages. When Clinton finally got their agreement to bomb after all the UN safe havens were being overrun by the Serbs in August and September 1995, the Serbs collapsed within weeks, and the Dayton accords were signed, with the US providing large numbers of peacekeepers (over 20,000 originally). Bosnia has, contrary to all expectations, been stable.

In Kosovo, the US dropped 95% of the ordinance, and 90% of the cruise missiles. An unanticipated consequence of the bombing was the overthrow and collapse of Milosevik's Yugoslavian regime, since which time the Balkans have been largely stable and free of war.

2) Post-Taliban Afghanistan: It is making good progress, after 30 years of ravaging civil war and six years of ruinous Taliban rule, including an increasingly stable government and training an army . . . to say nothing of previous decades and centuries of tribal divisions and ethnic conflicts that were only occasionally mitigated by a royal system amid eventually artificially carved out frontiers settled by the British and Russians at the turn of the 19th century into the 20th. The country is bigger than Texas and full of mountains, and Pakistan's frontier along the eastern side is the wild-west, full of tribes that the government in Pakistan can't control

CIA Chief & FBI Briefing

3) Al Qaeda: many of its main lieutenants appear to have been either nullified or captured, with bin Laden probably dead. Destroying it entirely will be a long drawn-out struggle, military, political (including regime changes in the Middle East), intelligence.

And Bush's analysis strikes me as entirely sound: the threat we face is triple-layers: 1) Islamo-fascist terrorisms of various kinds; 2) failed Islamic and especially Arab states that are suffering from demographic explosions, huge unemployment (even in Saudi Arabia), despotic political rule, massive Mafioso-like corruption. bad social services, and increasing frustrations and resentments that can produce tens of millions of angry and dislocated young men attracted to radical Islamist conspiratorial paranoia; and 3) rogue states with WMD led by ruthless cruel regimes, all anti-western and all either openly or covertly supporting terrorism: clerical-fascist Iran, secular-fascist Iran led by a mass-murdering megalomaniac, secular fascist Syria led by cruel Mafioso Baath party cliques (but with no megalomaniac at the top or huge oil resources), and North Korea --- a despotic royalist Stalinist-Maoist system which has no export capacity save weapons, including WMD that terrorists would be more than happy to pay for with oil money (obtained one way or another).

4) Iraq: if the war lasts more than two weeks of ground warfare, I'd be amazed. Serious analysts in 1991 like Elliot Cohen and Edward Luttwak were predicting 20,000 or more US casualties in the ground war phase of the conflict.

5)French views about Bush and America: these strike me as little more than self-serving stuff. The French are engaged nowhere militarily save for peacekeepers --- not many in Afghanistan --- and propping up ugly ex-French colonies in Africa. The US is engaged in two dozen spots around the world, from the Philippines to Somalia and the Sudan and Yemen and Georgia and Afghanistan and Iraq. Anyone who believes that, in the end, the French would not want to join in the war --- whatever excuse the French government gives ("we tried to stop the madman Bush from war, but now we have to stick by our alliance commitments and save Iraq from Yankee-Anglo ravages afterwards) --- is na´ve in my view. If you watch French news (Nancy and I do every day, deuxieme chaine), you will notice a shift in the highly state-controlled media here: French tv no longer denying there are mass weapons of destruction, though of course war isn't needed etc).

Unlike the Germans, the French haven't boxed themselves into a position of irrevocable moralizing rigidity. (In the NY Times yesterday, Schroeder's position was said to be heavily criticized by his Foreign Minister Fischer, and the Christian Democrats are making a pother about this. Rightly.

6) The Bush Tax plan and its impact on US budgets in the future. Here Krugman, for once, is sound --- only he ignores two things, one of which he's na´ve about.

First, the budget projections do show excessive long-term deficits that will lead to problems most likely. You can't be sure: the same thing was said about Reagan's in the 1980s, and a combination of fast growth in the US economy in the 1990s and tax rises initially for the rich solved the deficit problem, and the US budget went into surplus. WHAT KRUGMAN DOESN'T SAY IS THAT EVEN A FAIR NUMBER OF REPUBLICAN SENATORS HAVE OPENLY CRITICIZED THE TAX CUTS ON THIS SCORE, MAKING IT ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO PASS.

Which brings us to the second and na´ve position of Krugman. To put it bluntly, he's a political ninny. Bush almost certainly knew that the projections were unlikely to win Senate approval, but --- in the US system, he will get credit for being an initiative-laden President. That is the political calculation: he wants to show the voting public he's trying bold things, even if he doesn't expect them to work out.

  • That isn't the case with European parliamentary systems. In a one-party Cabinet government as in Britain (or essentially France, with the right controlling parliament and the presidency), or in STABLE cabinet coalitions elsewhere on the continent, the Prime Minister CANNOT risk pushing bold measures that he isn't willing or expecting to be passed by parliaments. Hence the great caution of European executives when it comes to major innovations (eg, the failure of the Germans to deal with their economic problems head-on either in Christian-Democratic governments or Schroeder's since 1998

  • The one exception: Mrs. Thatcher in the 1980s, and out of ideological convictions that broke with the social-democratic welfare-state consensus in Britain -- or its equivalent --- at the cost of head-on strong-armed confrontation with the unions, the Labour Party, and a part of her own party --- especially among the patricians who value social stability above all.

  • 7) One personal note: It strikes me as odd that you are so keen to find faults --- sound or not --- with the most pro-Israeli government the US has had in decades. What do you think would be the fate of your country if the EU governments were those you had to rely on for support?

    I say all this while remaining a Democrat --- as "About The Buggy Prof" stuff on my www.thebuggyprofessor.org home page shows. I'd give Bush an A/A- in foreign and security policies (the A- because I'd like to see a firm push to delegitimize nuclear weapons for any use other than last-resort deterrence), but a C at best in economics and a C/C- in environmental matters, save for the Kyoto Treaty --- way too costly, and based on little more than hunches disguised as confidence intervals as to what the temperature range of the earth will be in a century owing to alleged greenhouse gases, 95% of which is water vapor. The existing IPCC models cannot even predict retroactively the known climate changes over the last few thousand years. Beyond that, they've never gappled with the reasons why no global warming trend is detected by either daily satellite readings in the troposphere or by radio-sound balloons, nor anywhere in the US where urban heat-effects have been largely corrected for in meterological instruments. Nor, come to that, in most of the EU.