If you feel you need to talk about it, there’s an exhaustive discussion going on at Crooked Timber.
The Obama administration needs to convey a message that things are under control. So they commemorated the first anniversary of the Recovery Act with this:
It’s a chart showing the number of jobs lost each month from December 2007 to January 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Continue reading
Now British forces are ending combat operations in Iraq. I always thought it was remarkable to see U.S. troops in Iraq serving alongside British units, some of whose service histories must go back to the struggle against American revolutionaries in the 1770s and 1780s. The two armies have fought together several times since 1917, of course, but the current conflict in Iraq is, to me, the most reminiscent of that first one between British redcoats and American rebels.
At that time Britain was acknowledged to be wealthiest, most technologically advanced nation in what we now call the “West,” and its people enjoyed the highest known degree of liberty. British colonists in America agreed: From 1756 to 1763 patriotic Americans had fought side-by-side with British troops to defeat the despised French and Indians and expand the British Empire. When London sought to recover some of the costs of that war by raising taxes and tightening administrative control over the colonies, the reaction from the colonists — boycotts, demonstrations, petitions, and open defiance of the laws — seemed utterly excessive. The colonists also objected to King George’s measures to protect his American Indian subjects from encroachments by white settlers. They accused the king of trying to enslave them, while they themselves held Africans in bondage. What could be more absurd? Clearly Britain was justified in sending troops to control these American insurgents — who were aided by terrorist radicals from Spain, Prussia, Bavaria, Italy, Poland — and especially France.
There was no 9/11 attack to confuse the British public with. But there was the threat of the French, Britain’s habitual enemies just across the Channel. Once the American rebels allied themselves with the hated French, the morality of the war seemed plain to many in Britain. The disciplined British soldiers who shipped out to suppress the American rebellion were told that they were vindicating not just their national interest but the cause of liberty. Washington, the principal insurgent leader, was getting help from foreign jihadists who would overthrow the legitimate governments of Europe if they got their way. Soldiers must fight in America in order that Britons could sleep safely at home. Continue reading
I’ve read more than one news item describing how drivers sometimes place too much faith in their GPS navigation devices. Guided by the disembodied voice coming from the dashboard, some have doggedly followed dirt roads to nowhere, faced oncoming one-way traffic, or narrowly avoided driving over cliffs. The authority of the voice-in-a-box overrules common sense and years of practical experience.
Something similar seems to have happened to our political classes with regard to both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Our best-and-brightest launched these wars as part of a highly sophisticated, digitally guided, grand global strategy, more accurate and efficient than the mere paper plans of past wars. Ever since, and despite the skeptics in the back seat, our drivers have held the course in defiance of what their own eyes and ears and common sense revealed.
The moral compass never stood a chance against the GPS. We argue over the device’s accuracy, but not its programmed destination, which remains on a need-to-know basis. The map on the GPS screen bears no resemblance to the landscape we drive through. We keep going — and going — and we lengthen our wake of rubble, bloody rags, and body parts of uncounted souls.
Are we there yet?
The Bush Administration has proclaimed so many fake milestones and signs of “progress” in Iraq that (according to Patrick Cockburn in the London Review of Books) a genuine milestone has gone by almost unnoticed. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA for short) between the U.S. and Iraqi governments immediately curtails U.S. military and mercenary autonomy in Iraq, forbids permanent U.S. military bases, and sets a timetable for withdrawal, with the last U.S. soldier to leave in 2011.
Approved November 27 by Iraq’s Parliament, the final version of SOFA is a far cry from the initial U.S. proposal back in March, which would have established an indefinite U.S. military presence on Iraqi soil. Like the British occupation of Iraq between the world wars, a U.S. occupation would have made a mockery of Iraqi sovereignty. Over eight months of negotiations, the Iraqis essentially dug in their heels and wore down the American side.
Since Cockburn’s report appeared, there have been signs in the news that U.S. military leaders do not intend to hold up their side of the bargain. Radio Free Europe, a U.S. government organ, is busy portraying the post-SOFA environment in Iraq as a “legal maze” for well-intentioned American professionals dealing with supposedly inadequate Iraqis.
This issue will continue to be important, without generating major headlines, for at least the first half of 2009. Many of the president-elect’s fellow Democrats have never been interested in ending the Iraq war. They just believe they can do a better job of running it.
- Status of Forces Agreement (PDF) published at whitehouse.gov