Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mid-week review

I've been thinking about the major decline in US public support for President Bush and the implications this will have for US foreign policy and the war on terrorism. I am pessimistic on the outlook - the asymmetric warfare theorists in terrorist groups seem to be successfully advancing their objectives. I'd be interested in your views on how you see the future unfolding.

That is a serious request. I'd also be interested in your views on lighter matters. Feel free to comment on anything you like.

Update: The Australian Financial Review's editorial (18/5) (subscription required) sees the weakness of Mr Bush as undesirable from a broader perspective - it is better for the US to be globally engaged than in retreat - but sees the strong personal alliance between Mr Bush and Mr Howard as offering the opportunities to advance Australian interests by, for example, pushing Mr Bush to strengthen US efforts to bring a faltering Doha round on trade liberalisation to a successful conclusion.


civitas said...

Harry, I think there are a couple of important points:

1) the way poll questions are asked largely determines the outcome. For example the recent USA poll on the phone databases, showed a negative response but nowhere did the poll mention that the administration wasn't listening to calls or even tracking the personal data that goes with them. Other polls that DO mention these facts turn out totally different results.

2) Sagging poll numbers for a second term president are neither new nor are they particularly relevant. Bush can't run again. He is campaigning on behalf of republican mid-term candidates, leading me to believe that the media does a lot to hype an unpopularity for Bush that I'm not at all sure is actually there in the quantity the media believes it is. For example, I voted for Bush in 2004 (but not 2000) because I thought he would do a better job against terror than Kerry. Now if a pollster asked me if I approve of his handling of the war in Iraq, well, the answer would be no. And it would likely be no, no matter who was the president. It's not reasonable fundamentally to approve of the way a war is handled. How do you approve of the way a war is handled when even a single life of one of your countrymen is lost? Not to mention civilian life. I would have disapproved of the way Truman managed WWII. Now if the same poll asked me if I thought a democrat, any one of the current crop would do a better job, the answer would also be no. So, is that a negative view of Bush? I don't think so. Yet the media would portray it as such.

3) Bush doesn't have anything to do with whether or not terrorist groups advance or retreat. Terror groups don't do what they do because of who is in the WH. My personal feeling is that terror will always be with us, there will always be people willing to kill themselves as well as as many civilians as they can take with them. The best we can do is reduce their numbers. And I think we should do that.

4) Much of the hysteria toward Bush is quite similar to the hysteria that was directed at Clinton not so many years ago. It's sheer personal animosity. And as it was with Clinton, it's counter-productive and silly. Clinton didn't get much done his second term, regardless of his poll numbers. With the exception of Reagan, most US presidents don't get much done in their 2nd terms. It seems to be our pattern.

As to how things will unfold. Well, Bush will finish his term. And until we know who both parties run in 2008, there's no way to guess at outomes. If the dems put up the right person, I vote dem. If the repubs do, I vote repub. But I can't tell you that until I know who is running in both parties. For the mid-term elections, I think it will be close but I think the repubs will maintain control of at least one congressional body, likely the Senate. If not both.

I think US troops will begin to leave Iraq before the end of the year, along with other coalition troops. I'm optimistic about the recent political developments in Iraq. I'm pessimistic about recent developments in Iran. I hate the idea of aerial bombing to remove Iran's nuclear facilities but I hate it less than the idea of Iran having nuclear weapons. It's kind of like the Bush issue. I'm not happy with any solution but there are some I'm unhappier with than others. The US will take the lead if there's any action in Iran. Because actually, only the US can. Personally, I would LOVE for someone else to do so, but I don't think anyone else can.

Whew! Long answer. Sorry to take up your whole blog, which I like very much. You're always polite, not every blogger is. And you appear to be able to handle disagreement, which to me is a sign of confidence in your own views as well as tolerance of others. Not every blogger can do that either. Some limit the comments of those who disagree with them. Not terribly intellectually honest. I appreciate your style.

Robert Merkel said...

Remarkably, I am in partial agreement with civitas on the effect of Bush's declining personal standing on the "war on terrorism". The "war", such as it is, is conducted largely by police and intelligence agencies. I would further add (though I'm not expecting agreement from either of you) that there is a substantial element of bear patrolling about the whole exercise, particularly the security theatre conducted at airports, for instance.

On another topic entirely, on a couple of occasions I have been administered opiates in a medical setting and found the experience rather underwhelming, and on the rare occasions I've discussed the matter with friends unpleasant side effects such as hallucinations tend to get brought up rather than pleasant ones. This came up again on my blog after my recent Colonoscopy, where other people disagreed and reckoned morphine was "bloody fantastic". However, a bit of googling suggests that at least some parts of the medical literature indicate that opiate euphoria only occurs in a minority, perhaps a small minority of people.

Does this relate to your work on the economics of substance abuse at all? It does have rather obvious implications on the risks of increased usage through decriminalization, for instance.

Not my real name said...

I think people conflate being engaged vs being in retreat with blowing things up vs withdrawing from war.

I agree it is incredibly important for the US to be engaged in world affairs. However, this doesn't have to be synonymous with military intervention, as some people seem to think. Engagement can also be things like supporting the ICC, or coming to a Doha comprimise.

Does that make any sense?

hc said...

Robert, I think a fairly substantial part of the population is prone to being addicted but that getting addicted depends on the set and setting where drugs are taken. I posted a comment on your blog here . For this reason I am very wary of moves to decriminalise opiates.

The basic references on this are Zinberg and Stanton Peele. Different people have completetely different subjective responses to drugs and some can use them on a continued basis without getting addicted.

A famous story by Peele relates to US servicepeoople who returned from Vietnam having used heroin continuously. There were many heroin users among these returned soldiers. Once back in the US most ceased using completely.

Evidently there is a chemical dependence issue but also a psychological dimension - some believe doctors define substances as addictive and this becomes a self-fulfilling expectation on the part of the user.

hc said...

civitas, on your point (iii). The terrorists have low appreciation of human life and high fertility. The US places a high value on life and much lower fertility.

Hence asymmetric warfare tactics make sense for the terrorists - it exploits US sensitivity to suicide bombings, casualties and civilian murders by the terrorists. Americans are also more impatient because they don't want to give up their good life - the terrorists have little to lose given their miserable views of life.

I worry that the terrorists are winning. I worry that the US will retreat into isolationism.

n.m.o.n., Your point makes perfect sense but there is a war on. I agree that the best eway to defeat terrorism is to improve the economic circumstances of those in the developing world by encouraging things such as free trade in food.

civitas said...

I think everyone is sensitive to suicide bombings, not just Americans. And we have to recognize that when a terrorist bombing occurs anywhere in the world, it affects all of us. Becuase but for the grace of God, or however you'd like to see it, there go you and I. Depending on luck not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time isn't a very good strategy.

No one wants to give up their good lives, not only Americans. This is why it's incredibly important for ALL of us to eliminate terrorists whenever and wherever we can. The US cannot do it alone.

I don't think the terrorists win unless we give up fighting them. Then they would win. There are more of us than there of them.

I probably am a bit of an isolationist. I don't want to do much around the world and I'd personally cut a lot of the aid the US gives. Most of it doesn't really fix anything anyway. You can pour aid into most 3rd world countries but if they have despotic governments, it never does a bit of good. But if we do have to take action, I'm for taking overwhelming action and getting it over with.

"n.m.o.n., Your point makes perfect sense but there is a war on. I agree that the best eway to defeat terrorism is to improve the economic circumstances of those in the developing world by encouraging things such as free trade in food."

Now Harry, I disagree with you here. Most of the desperately poor people in the world are NOT terrorists. And you can have people quite well off, Mohammed Atta was, OBL surely is, Timothy McVeigh was relatively well off, and they become terrorists. People do not become terrorists because of their economic circumstances. They become terrorists because there is something fundamentally wrong with them. No level of poverty could make me blow up a school bus loaded with kids and I know the same would be true of you. The same would be true of most people. We have to stop thinking of terrorism as something caused by anything OUTSIDE of the person; it isn't. It isn't caused by economic circumstances and it isn't caused by anything anyone else has done to them.