Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Some potential trouble for the new mandatory health care plan in Massachusetts. Policy makers and politicians continue to dance around the margins on this issue. Health costs rise faster than the rate of inflation because the people who get the service are cut off from the providers of that service on the matter of price. A third party, either the government or a private health insurer (paid for by your employer, more often than not) stands between the producers and the consumers. This is a recipe for inflation. The only way to break the cycle is to end the practice of employer and government provided health insurance (except for people at or near the poverty line). All people above the line should be able to buy their own catastrophic health insurance for real emergencies (serious injuries, diseases and the like) and pay for their routine medical care out of pocket, up to an annual limit of, say, $1,000. This would restore competition among medical service providers as well as between insurance companies. For routine care, it would all be about you and your doctor, with no one else in the room to decide on care, and no paperwork to fill out. For catastrophic insurance, you would be able to choose the level of coverage you want (or could afford). Power would return to you as a patient and consumer, and to the doctors and other health care professionals (who would be much more free to make individual arrangements about payment with their patients). Of course, this all makes far too much sense to ever be adopted.

Ooh la la! The French are having more babies. Perhaps humanity will survive, after all, despite bets to the contrary. Expect the other countries of Europe to look more closely at the French example, as they struggle with low birthrates and, eventually, shrinking populations.

The Iraqi forces who battled that Shiite sect needed more American help than was previously reported. Just another piece of evidence to indicate the fractious and violent nature of Iraqi society, and the lack of capability of Iraqi forces at this point in the game. Anyone who thinks we can leave without Iraq descending into chaos needs to think again.

Monday, January 29, 2007

A big fight in Iraq, with U.S. and Iraqi government forces crushing a Shiite extremist group. I hope this is a sign of things to come.

The reason I hope we take the fight to the enemy is because, as Robert Kagan writes in the Washington Post, any thought of bringing our troops home and washing our hands of the situation is delusional. Ralph Peter says we face a host of bad choices, not only in Iraq, but in the entire region. The next President, who will almost certainly be a Democrat, may very well wish to withdraw the troops in 2009 but, unless the new tactics and the new commander are successful in 2007 and 2008, such a withdrawal may only be a recipe for even greater chaos.

In the Senate, according to Bob Novak, efforts to pass a resolution condemning the troop surge have hit some snags.

Meanwhile, at Davos in Switzerland, Fareed Zakaria got a taste of what the world would look like without U.S. leadership. It isn't a pretty picture.

The Iranian ambassador to Iraq did an interview with the New York Times, and he revealed that his government would make an effort to become more involved in Iraq, including security issues and reconstruction. It sounds as if they are already planning for our retreat. Here is some speculation about what a nuclear armed Iran would mean for the region.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Five American soldiers kidnapped and executed in Iraq. The operation was sophisticated and well-planned. Could this be the Iranian answer to our new policy of killing their agents?

Meanwhile, the Iranians are set to begin building a uranium enrichment facility.

Caroline Glick wonders when her Israeli government will begin taking the necessary steps to prevent the Iranians from perpetrating a second Holocaust.

Fred Barnes hopes we will not allow Iraq to become a second Vietnam. We already have, and the end-game is playing out almost exactly as before. This time, it won't just be the locals who pay the price.

Oliver North wonders if anyone in Congress really cares about the troops, who want their sacrifices to have meaning. Which means, of course, they want victory.

Here are two articles that foreshadow the eventual Western surrender to the Islamofascists. This one about the continuing reluctance of the NATO countries to do what is necessary to win in Afghanistan, and another about the domestic advances made by the Islamists.

I hate to continue in my recent pessimistic funk, but I really see so much evidence accumulating that here in the West we have lost our will to live. Our peoples are not procreating, they believe in nothing more than material comfort, and they are loathe to spend any money or effort in fighting against the new totalitarian ideology of Islamism (obviously, there is a significant number of people, many of whom are Americans, who are willing to fight, but they are being undercut by the majority of their fellow citizens who elect spineless politicians).

Friday, January 26, 2007

Nibras Kazimi senses a turnaround in Baghdad. I hope he is right.

Of course, the Iraqi government's leaders still cannot seem to engage in civil discourse.

Now, it appears that the hunt is on for Iranian agents meddling in Iraq.

Even if the Sunni insurgency is losing steam, as Kazimi says in his piece, and the Iraqi government is still holding together, despite all the shouting, and the U.S. is finally getting serious about going after the Iranians, I still think the Mahdi Army may be holding all the cards.

Despite all the efforts to achieve a military victory in Iraq, it is clear that the war has already been lost here at home. It is simply a matter of time before the President capitulates to Congress, and begins a slow withdrawal, or the next President withdraws the troops, slowly or not. I wish I could take a more optimistic view, but there it is.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

As President Bush prepares to deliver the State of the Union Address tonight to a joint session of Congress, his poll numbers are now at the lowest level of any President since Richard Nixon. This, of course, is a direct consequence of his continuing the fight in a war a majority of Americans no longer support. Congressional support is growing for a variety of resolutions that would indicate opposition to the troop surge in a non-binding way, and there are efforts to try and use the power of the purse to actually block the surge. Katrina Vanden Huevel lists the various players and their legislation in this piece in which she urges Congress to use its power to bring the war to a close. Meanwhile, in Baghdad, U.S. troops are already beginning to put into place the new strategy of "clear and hold" by establishing outposts in the neighborhoods. The strategy was primarily formulated by General Petraeus, who will testify before Congress today as part of his confirmation as a four-star General. He will then leave for Iraq to take command. The early effort, according to this piece in the Washington Post, will involve stabilizing the mixed neighborhoods before moving on to the tougher parts of town. He is certainly going to need time to accomplish the mission, if it is even possible.

Meanwhile, Al Qaeda is still trying to put together another attack against us here at home, the recent Chinese satellite kill joins a list of other threats facing the nation, and our staunchest ally in the Middle East is suffering a crisis of confidence that may embolden the radical Islamists to even more extreme action.

2007 is shaping up to be a sobering year.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Now that I have been forced to start my football withdrawal process (due to the collapse of the Patriots defense against the Colts last night), I can turn to some other things.

I am losing track of the number of people throwing their hat into the Presidential ring. The rush of entries is going fast and furious, and is way too early for me. Michael Barone is right when he writes that our Presidential selection process is terribly flawed. But there does not seem to be a way to change it to a more rational process, as vested interests (like the folks here in NH) will furiously fight against any effort to reform it. Believe me, I like (and have benefited from) the retail politicking that is the hallmark of the NH Presidential primary. But with all the jostling going on now by other states looking for a piece of the action, and the enormous pressure for candidates to get in the race early, it seems as if we are fated to have a process that starts before the mid-term elections and will end with two nominees many months before the conventions, after a short and furious primary season in January and February of '08.

Christopher Hitchens has some thoughts about facing the Islamist menace.

Benny Morris predicts a Second Holocaust. Meanwhile, the President of Iran continues to stand by his nuclear program, despite criticism at home and abroad.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Iraqi government says that more than 400 Shiite militiamen from the Mahdi Army have been arrested since October. While on its face, that seems like progress, it may not be as it appears. There is a distinct possibility, as is mentioned in this article in the New York Times, that the folks being arrested are from splinter groups that are no longer under the control of Moqtada al Sadr. I still expect the Mahdi Army to lay low as American troop strength increases in Baghdad.

Bob Novak writes that out in the GOP heartland there is much concern that Iraq is the albatross around their political necks which will cause even more damage in 2008 than it did in 2006. I think the concern is more than justified.

Robert Samuelson writes about seven choices we will not make that could lessen our dependence on foreign oil and improve the financial health of our government over the long term.

Scientists have brought the 1918 flu virus back to life, and it is one nasty bug. Lets hope it doesn't escape from their labs.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Secretary of State Rice told Congress yesterday that the President authorized our troops to arrest the Iranians who were recently detained in Iraq, which I believe is long overdue, and represents a much tougher line toward the Iranians who have been meddling in Iraq since the Hussein government fell. One of the big mistakes we have made in Iraq has been to try and deal with it as if it existed in a vacuum.

My earlier prediction that the Maliki government may just pay lip service to confrontation with the Shiite militias may be coming to fruition with the appointment of a top Iraqi general over the objections of our military.

The Democrats are starting an effort to close the prisons at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. They don't say what we should do with the dangerous terrorists who we have locked up in those places.

George Will says the President and his critics are all hoping for a miracle in Iraq.

Bill Kristol says the President's Congressional critics are "boneless wonders".

Fred Barnes says Bush stands alone, without the the support of Democrats, many Republicans, and the American people.

David Gelernter wishes the President would make this speech during his State of the Union address.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, NATO troops are not winning the hearts and minds of the locals.

And in Somalia, the Islamists have lost their last stronghold, courtesy of the Ethiopian military and pro-government Somali forces. Of course, the place may descend right back into chaos as soon as the Ethiopians leave.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Lots of reaction to the President's speech last night:

Victor Davis Hanson, Ralph Peters, John Podhoretz, and Gerard Baker all weigh in with varying perspectives, but generally supportive of the plan.

The Democrats, of course, plan to fight the expansion, but they are not the only ones the President will have to wrestle with in order to succeed. His most difficult mission will be to convince the Maliki government to go along with the program. For months, they have resisted the idea of an increase in U.S. troop strength, as they want to assert more control over the war effort. One would hope that this inclination by the Iraqi government leaders was based on purely the idea of national sovereignty, but I suspect it is based more on the idea of sectarian solidarity. The Maliki government may simply want to get the U.S. to back them up as they wipe out the Sunni insurgency, while leaving the Shiite militias alone.

On the other hand, the most significant news of the day is not the President's speech, but this story out of Baghdad. The Maliki government is calling on the Mahdi Army to lay down its arms, or be attacked. If the Iraqi government really follows through on this, then there is real hope that victory might be achieved. If, however, this is just a ploy, with the Mahdi guys laying low, giving up some of their small arms, and waiting while the Americans blast the Sunnis to shreds, then their is no hope of achieving a stable Iraq.

My prediction? The Mahdi guys will lay low. I suspect Maliki has cut a deal with al Sadr. He will pretend to disarm, and retrain his guys from their current campaign of revenge killings and ethnic cleansing. He will allow the Iraqi Army, with American support, to enter the Sadr City neighborhoods of Baghdad. Most of the fighting will center on the Sunni insurgents, who will be severely damaged, if not completely defeated. This will bring relative calm to Baghdad, which will allow the Americans to send more troops to the Sunni province of Anbar, and allow them to smash the Sunni insurgency there. This will create the conditions for a withdrawal. Once the Americans have drawn down to a modest level, the Mahdi Army will return to its business, and the Shiites will have the dominion over Iraq that they desire. This will lead to an even more violent resumption of the insurgency by the Sunnis and, perhaps, intervention by the Saudis and others, and a counter-intervention by the Iranians. This scenario, of course, does not even begin to address what the Kurds will do in the North and how the Turks will respond.

I still foresee an eventual American declaration of victory, followed by a withdrawal, followed by chaos. It is only a matter of time.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Here is another column predicting the end of Europe as we know it.

Amir Taheri says the Arabs are beginning to make preparations for an eventual war with Iran.

Could the fight for Haifa Street in Baghdad be a preview of what we will see with the U.S. troop "surge"? I hope so. If the Maliki government will cooperate in an effort to restore the monopoly of force that a government must have to govern, then the conditions can be created for political compromises and resolution of disputes. This is the only way to end the war in Iraq without a full-blown civil war.

The President's plan, which he will announce tonight, is an indication that he has finally decided to overrule his generals which, as any historian of war can tell you, is sometimes a good thing.

Hugo Chavez in Venezuela is taking his country back to 20th Century Socialism. His people will come to regret it, more so than the investors who stand to lose millions.

Robert J. Samuelson slams the Baby Boomers for their selfishness regarding Social Security and Medicare. Unfortunately, the state of denial that most Boomers live in regarding those issues will continue to drive politicians to make unwise choices, or fail to choose at all. Our children and grandchildren will pay a heavy price for our folly.

Of course, global warming might get us before a financial collapse does.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I missed this on Sunday, but here is an excellent account by John Burns in the NYT about the last hours of Saddam Hussein.

A U.S. AC-130 gunship has shot up some suspected al Qaeda guys in Somalia. I hope the intelligence was reliable, and our guys didn't end up shooting up a bunch of farmers and their livestock.

Here is an excellent article published by the AEI about the situation in Iraq. If the authors are to be believed, and their arguments seem very reasonable to me, then a short-term surge of 20,000 troops is not going to do the trick in Baghdad.

Rich Lowry calls on the Democrats to speak plainly and tell the American people what they really believe, which is that the war is lost. Then we can have a real debate about whether or not the majority of Americans accept that proposition and are willing to accept the consequences. I would not recommend holding your breath while waiting for the Democratic leadership to speak that plainly.

President Bush is trying to rally support among Republicans on Capitol Hill for his surge proposal, which he will make in a speech to the American people on Wednesday night. Apparently, he is being met by some skepticism.

I will watch the speech with interest, but I will especially watch to see the reaction from ordinary Americans. As I have written many times, the American people do not like and will not long support limited wars with indistinct goals. If the President's plan is limited to 20,000 troops and will not involve taking on the Shiite militias, then it will certainly not succeed in winning the war. It won't take long for the American people to figure that out, so any short-term bump in support for the war will quickly recede. If this is just an effort to kick the can down the road into the next Administration, then history will judge George W. Bush even more harshly than previously imagined.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Sunday Times in the U.K. is reporting that the Israelis are planning to nuke the Iranian nuclear sites. The Israelis are denying the story. I suspect the story was planted in order to ratchet up the pressure on the Iranians and the international community to put an end to the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons.

Speaker Pelosi vows the Administration will not get a 'blank check' for the war in Iraq. Still, she doesn't go as far as the peace activists, who want a cut-off of funds for the war.

James Carroll, writing about the execution of Saddam Hussein, essentially calls George W. Bush a murderer.

David Gelertner has a different view, writing that he believes the execution was an all too rare example of a tyrant facing justice.

The New York Times has this front-page article about the "surge" plan the President will announce later this week. The Times believes it will involve a series of benchmarks for the Iraqi government to reach.

Jackson Diehl, writing in the Washington Post, thinks it is foolish to believe that any American plan for stability in Iraq can be accomplish in six to twelve months. He thinks it is only possible if we stay at it for six to twelve years.

Michael Barone says we should expect a bitter clash in the coming months in Washington over Iraq.

Reuel Marc Gerecht lays out the consequences of failure in Iraq.

That is the key, as far as I am concerned, to this debate. Are we willing to accept defeat and take the consequences? I think the only way the President can win the political debate is to put it in those terms. He should clearly tell the American people that if we withdraw from Iraq, it will mean that we have lost the war. Is that what you want? If so, here are the consequences. Every person in the administration who comes out and testifies before Congress or appears in media interviews should clearly state, over and over again, what it will mean if we lose this war. The only way to rebuild public support for the war effort is to, first, clearly explain the consequences of defeat and, second, clearly explain how our military effort can lead to victory. The President must also make certain the American people understand he is willing to go all-out to win. If he continues to rely on half-measures, as he has done from the beginning, the American people will not buy what he is selling.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

It appears now almost certain that President Bush will order some kind of troop "surge" into Iraq sometime in the next few weeks. John Podhoretz reports in this column in the New York Post that the President has decided to fire the current commander in Iraq, General George Casey, because he (and some other folks in the Pentagon) seems to be more concerned with how to get out of Iraq rather than winning the war. Historian John Keegan writes in this column in the Daily Telegraph a description of what an increase of 50,000 troops would do for the U.S. forces in Iraq in their effort to attack and defeat the Sunni insurgents and the Shiite militias. My instincts tell me to support the President, as everything I know about war tells me that one cannot win without taking the fight to the enemy. Unfortunately, my knowledge of the media and the political mood of the American people also tells me that this new offensive will result in the televised images of death and destruction in Iraq, including the deaths of many civilians, which will result in massive anti-American protests inside Iraq and throughout the Arab world, which will result in a heightened anti-Bush fervor in our own media, and a sharp reaction by the Democrats (as expected), as well as some public breaks with the President from notable Republicans. I can only hope that the President will withstand the storm long enough to allow the military to complete their operations, no matter how bloody and costly. A reprise of the Fallujah debacle from 2004 will surely mean the end of any hope of a military victory in Iraq, and might result in the collapse of morale in our military on a scale not seen since the 1970s.

To further complicate matters, it appears not only that the Iranians are meddling in Iraq by supporting both the Shiite militias and some of the Sunni insurgents (according to this report), but also that the leaders of Iran are anticipating the arrival of the "Hidden Imam" in 2007. If you don't read anything else today, read this column by Joel Rosenberg about the media reporting inside Iran concerning the conditions to be expected with the Imam's arrival, and what that will mean. If Rosenberg is right, and the leaders of Iran really believe this apocalyptic nonsense, they just might launch a war, which would certainly expand into the big war I have been writing about since I started this blog.