Coward Old Universe…

by Jeremy G.

Posts Tagged ‘Global War on Terror’

Bush’s Lost Gamble

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on December 4, 2008

Many are already drawing the lessons from the Bush Era. In my opinion, history, only, will provide the best assessment of the Bush presidency. In the short run, though, odds are against Bush because of the situation in Afghanistan and the failure to manage the Iraqi issue, but also because he opted, at the very beginning, for a strategy that would have never allowed him to emerge as a popular or be perceived as a responsible leader.

Historian Niall Ferguson, discussing the “problem of conjecture,” puts it best:

… preemption is doomed to be unpopular. Its success can never be proven. And its failure is far more costly than the consequences of mere negligence. Were another major terrorist attack to happen now – which can never be ruled out – President Bush would surely overtake Richard Nixon, and perhaps all other previous occupants in the White House, in the unpopularity stakes. With one voice, the world’s media would declare that administration’s policy had worsened the very disease it purported to cure.

Thankfully, no terrorist attack on U.S. soil has occurred since 9-11 or since Ferguson wrote those lines. Paradoxically, it seems though that, “with one voice,” most analysts have already declared that Bush will go down as the worse president in history. That might be true, but the fact of the matter is that only history will make the final call.

P.S.: If you do acquire the book, do read Kagan and Ikenberry’s pieces. More on that later.

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Posted in George W. Bush | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

9-11: Six Years On

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on September 9, 2007

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So much has been written on the subject.  Yet, what is remarkable about the event and the comments it has generated, is that whatever was written a little while ago is still relevant today.

The most significant of those comments is that, ironically enough, the U.S., which was attacked on 9-11, is paying today a heavy political price for those strikes.  I’ve offered here a methodology to assess how beneficial security spending since 9-11 has been at home here.  It seems that a cost-benefit analysis, based solely – by definition – on financial considerations, passes the test.  The same is certainly not true if political factors are included in the computation.  Hence this heavy political price.

One fundamental reason for this is that as a democracy, in a struggle with groups and countries with little consideration with principles related to liberty, the U.S. is not playing by the same rules.  The most recent and very cogent instance of this state of affairs was recently revealed by David Ignatius here: While Iran actively intervened in the January 2005 Elections in Iraq, the U.S. refused to adopt similar methods and did not back more moderate Iraqi politicians.  No American move to challenge Iran‘s $11 million challenge, although, as Ignatius reveals, the did provide some alternatives.

There is obviously nothing wrong with that choice.  There is also nothing wrong with the current criticism currently formulated against the Bush Administration for its poor handling of the post-Iraqi war.  There is something troublesome, though, with the way this criticism has been expressed.  It seems, at time, as if the only type of international violence that one can witness today emanates from the U.S., and that no one else is causing any harm.  Or, to use Mark Steyn’s words in his column today, as if there is no terrorism, only war.  

Moreover, this raises a paradox.  In a more extreme form, criticism against the Bush Administration put the emphasis on the Administration’s incompetence.  While there may be grounds to argue in favor of this thesis, the fact that the U.S. did not suffer any attack since 9-11 contradicts the very notion that this Administration is fully incompetent – luck as an explanation might be a bit of a stretch here.  But the paradox doesn’t stop here.  Steyn, in his column, raises the many contradictions of the most extreme form of criticism, expressed by conspiracy theories.  On the one hand, the Bush is very incompetent, but still smart enough to orchestrate, on its own soil, an operation like 9-11.  That’s an issue conspiracy theorists have not been able to solve yet.  Some even claim Bush rigged elections.  I would personally add, beyond Steyn‘s remarks, that interestingly enough, Bush failed to rig the last election of his mandate, that led to a Democratic landslide in Congress almost a year ago.  How weird.

I never cared for this systematic Bush bashing, caused, in my opinion, by a left lacking reason and a right lacking pragmatism.  Democrats would have dealt with this problem in a way that would have not been any different than Republicans – anybody remember the Clinton Administration‘s obsession with Saddam Hussein? Regime change was on the table as early as 1998.  Republicans have responded to the emergence of a new constellation of more pro-American leaders in Europe with a “So What?” that is as troubling as it is bewildering, given what is left to do today.

Six years on.  Same debates.  Little change.

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Posted in 9-11, Global War on Terror, US Foreign Policy | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hiroshima, Decision Making and Dealing with the Future

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on August 7, 2007

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Sixty two years ago today occurred one of the most terrible events of the twentieth century: the U.S. used an atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to put an end to a six year war.

The event is usually (over)used by U.S. critics to demonstrate how evil America has acted, and how displaced criticism towards such nations as North Korea and Iran is given this past behavior.  Perhaps these same critics would have preferred to see Japan‘s imperial power expand more, and allow the Cold War to take a much warmer, three-way turn.

Paradoxically enough, it’s in the Guardian – of all places – that was published the smartest and most relevant comment on the subject.  British writer Oliver Kamm writes:

Estimates derived from intelligence about Japan’s military deployments projected hundreds of thousands of American casualties.

and concludes:

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are often used as a shorthand term for war crimes. That is not how they were judged at the time. Our side did terrible things to avoid a more terrible outcome. The bomb was a deliverance for American troops, for prisoners and slave labourers, for those dying of hunger and maltreatment throughout the Japanese empire – and for Japan itself. One of Japan’s highest wartime officials, Kido Koichi, later testified that in his view the August surrender prevented 20 million Japanese casualties. The destruction of two cities, and the suffering it caused for decades afterwards, cannot but temper our view of the Pacific war. Yet we can conclude with a high degree of probability that abjuring the bomb would have caused greater suffering still.

Beyond the necessary caveats one must keep in mind when drawing historical parallels, there are two specific lessons to draw from such a tragic event.  The first one is that there are no perfect heroes in international relations, and that grey areas are a constant in history.  What makes the difference, in these grey areas, is the ability democracies have to accept a quasi-continuous debate on key questions and express doubts on the relevance of their past behavior.  No one is mentioning today what 1945 Japan was about.  Moral equivalence, in such circumstances, provides the human mind with easy shortcuts and allows one to avoid dealing with History’s complicated dilemmas.

The second lesson resides in the complexities of international relations and the way a single decision necessarily involves unanticipated or unwarranted consequences, given the limits of human abilities in terms of infinite calculations.  Such a point might appear as obvious, but tends to be forgotten by individuals who are satisfied with unqualified judgments and feel they have a monopoly of reason.  Informed comments are not what they used to be.

Posted in US Foreign Policy, World Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

2008: Two Americas at War

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on July 9, 2007

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Should Clinton and Giuliani face off in the coming 2008 presidential elections, American politics would take an interesting turn of events.  It would be the confrontation between two visions, two histories and two futures for America: Clinton‘s is the story of prosperous America of the 1990’s, those Roaring 90’s.  Giuliani‘s would be the story of heroism in the wake of terror and fear.  The former mayor of New York summed up the choice – his own way, of course – in an interview to the Wall Street Journal a few days ago:

“I think that the president we elect in 2008 will determine how long it takes to prevail against the terrorists,” Mr. Giuliani says. “If you select somebody that is going to go back on defense, it’s going to take a much longer time and there are going to be more casualties. If you select a president that’s going to remain on offense, and even improve on it, it isn’t going to be easy, but it’s going to mean less casualties, faster.” It’s not an easy or comforting message, but Mr. Giuliani is not in the comforting business. Whether it’s a message the country wants to hear is something the voters will let us know.

What do Americans want?  One can be sure that the first vision is more attractive, but the second more realistic.  Current polls indicate that the Republicans are trailing in most configurations, including the one that would oppose Clinton to Giuliani

If both Clinton and Giuliani get the nomination, America’s 2008 choice will be all the more so revealing that Giuliani is actually a very moderate Republican on most other issues, most notably on abortion and gay rights.  Polls will or won’t confirm this, but it seems that such election would be a solid test of America’s willingness to go forward with its war on terror. 

Most commentators are saying today that a withdrawal from Iraq is now more than plausible, as even Republicans are not willing to risk their own elections – especially for an issue that is not a defining aspect of party lines or loyal voter support.  It will be interesting to hear what alternatives are offered, and how these will be received by the American public, which will not be able to ignore, though, the history between these two names.

Posted in 2008 Elections | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Benefits of the Global War on Terror

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on June 4, 2007

The latest terror plot recently uncovered could have been twice as worse as 9-11, according to some reports.  It also goes to show that, beyond the chronic instability in Iraq and in Afghanistan, the Global War on Terror is an ungrateful task: Failure leads to dreadful consequences whereas success allows for business as usual.

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This explains why a general assessment of the current Administration efforts to curb the terror threat on American soil is necessary, in order to evaluate the efficiency of security spending since 9-11

In the working paper available for download below, I offer a first crack at such an assessment, relying on a cost-benefit analysis and testimonies from the U.S. Intelligence Community in front of the Senate Select Committee on IntelligenceI find that if, between 2001 and 2006, the U.S. avoided at least one terror attack that would have caused 20% more damage than 9-11, then security expenditures pass the usual cost-benefit tests. 

The reasoning is still a little sketchy, and there is significant room for approval, especially in assessing the nature of the terror threat the U.S. has faced since 9-11.  That’s why I’m looking forward to any comments readers may have, and ideas or previous work to improve such an assessment.

Download Working Paper (.doc)

Posted in cost-benefit analysis, Global War on Terror | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »