Iraq and the Ticking Clock

Yesterday, the NY Times had a story about the signs of progress in Anbar:

AMADI, Iraq – Anbar Province, long the lawless heartland of the tenacious Sunni Arab resistance, is undergoing a surprising transformation. Violence is ebbing in many areas, shops and schools are reopening, police forces are growing and the insurgency appears to be in retreat.

“Many people are challenging the insurgents,” said the governor of Anbar, Maamoon S. Rahid, though he quickly added, “We know we haven’t eliminated the threat 100 percent.”

Many Sunni tribal leaders, once openly hostile to the American presence, have formed a united front with American and Iraqi government forces against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. With the tribal leaders’ encouragement, thousands of local residents have joined the police force. About 10,000 police officers are now in Anbar, up from several thousand a year ago. During the same period, the police force here in Ramadi, the provincial capital, has grown from fewer than 200 to about 4,500, American military officials say.

The article cautions that the alliances that have led to the progress are a “fragile marriage of convienience,” with groups who may not be loyal to America or the Iraqi government, but nonetheless the piece paints a generally positive portrait of progress in Anbar.

But I found this bit troubling:

American commanders see the progress in Anbar as a bellwether for the rest of country. “One of the things I worry about in Baghdad is we won’t have the time to do the same kind of thing,” Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of day-to-day war operations in Iraq, said in an interview here.

I explored the consequences of withdrawal in a recent column, and it’s gut-wrenching that we now finally have a strategy and a great team in place that seems to be producing at least limited progress, and yet our commanders have to be worried about a ticking clock in Washington.

So, the question is, how long is that timeline? I think that Democrats will eventually flinch and pass an emergency Iraq funding bill of some sort, because they would be afraid of literally cutting off money from troops on the ground. I would say that in September, after Congress comes back from summer recess, the commanders will have to show decent progress with the surge to buy more time. If Iraq is still a mess come this fall, it’s hard to see how Bush will be able to hold out much beyond that. With Republican members of Congress nervous about another thumpin’ in the 2008 elections, Bush’s support within his own party would erode. Yet another reason why Bush should have made these strategic adjustments at least in early 2005, from a position of strength coming off of his reelection, rather than when his approval ratings are stuck in the 30s and an overwhelming majority the public wants out.

Straight Talk Expressed

John McCain just spoke to bloggers from Sioux City, Iowa, en route to Nevada today and later to Arizona, as part of his announcement tour. Jennifer Rubin asked McCain to respond to Mitt Romney’s comments that hunting down Osama bin Laden wasn’t worth the cost. While not referring to Romney directly, McCain said that Bin Laden is still an important figure, both symbolically and in terms of his ability to direct terrorist attacks. McCain said that he takes the Israeli view that if somebody “inflicts damage” on the country, “we’ll follow them to the end of the earth.” He said that to think Bin Laden isn’t a sufficient threat to hunt down “displays naiveté.” I asked McCain when the military would run out of money in Iraq without passage of an emergency supplemental bill (after any accounting gimmicks they could use to stretch the funds). He said, “The absolute drop dead date will be early June,” but that doesn’t provide the full picture because the military has to be able to order equipment in advance and plan for the short, medium, and long term. “Every day that goes by there’s a degree of uncertainty,” he said.

Ryan Sager asked McCain his position on the New Hampshire civil union legislation, which Romney and now even Rudy Giuliani have opposed. McCain said that while he thinks the issue should be left to the states, were he a citizen of New Hampshire he would have opposed the bill because it undermines the sanctity of marriage.

Ann Althouse asked McCain what he would look for in a Supreme Court justice. In addition to the usual lines about wanting to appoint somebody who would strictly interpret the Constitution, he said he would look for somebody who has real world experience as well as judicial experience. That might mean somebody with a background of serving in the military, a corporation, or a small business.

Also, when asked what blue states he could put in play, he mentioned California, stressing that he’s from the west and understand the issues that are important there. He said Republicans could not afford to write off the biggest state. He also mentioned Pennsylvania and said winning New York may even be possible.

Say It Ain’t So, Rudy

Ryan Sager reports:

In a startling departure from his previously stated position on civil unions, Mayor Giuliani came out to The New York Sun yesterday evening in opposition to the civil union law just passed by the New Hampshire state Senate.

“Mayor Giuliani believes marriage is between one man and one woman. Domestic partnerships are the appropriate way to ensure that people are treated fairly,” the Giuliani campaign said in a written response to a question from the Sun. “In this specific case the law states same sex civil unions are the equivalent of marriage and recognizes same sex unions from outside states. This goes too far and Mayor Giuliani does not support it.”

While the Giuliani campaign is likely to split hairs over how close this specific legislation is to marriage, the one thing that’s supposed to be unique about Rudy is that unlike the typical politician, he doesn’t split hairs–he’s up front and direct. He has always said he supports civil unions conceptually, and now he’s giving a lawyerly answer about an actual law.

Beyond my personal disappointment with this new position, I don’t really see the rationale for it from a purely political perspective. It’s hard to see how opposition to this single law will win him any new friends on the right given his long history of supporting civil unions and domestic partnerships. Social conservatives who vote on gay marriage will not be supporting Rudy anyway. At the same time, he may see his support errode among socially libertarian voters and those who respect him for not being a panderer.

Bat Science

The discussion on this site regarding the ban of metal baseball bats in New York City has focused purely on the nanny state aspects of the law, but via the NY-based blog Alarming News run by my friend Karol, I see this priceless email exchange between a NYC Councilman’s Office and a professor that undercuts the scientific justification for the ban. Since Tapped’s Ben Adler claims that libertarian/conservatives get so caught up in our silly notions of individual liberty that we are incapable of judging each policy on its own merits, I figured I’d pass this along.

Some backgrround. Last October, less than a week before a hearing on the bill, the chief of staff for “Republican” Councilman James Oddo, a proponent of the ban, frantically emailed Dartmouth engineering professor Richard Greenwald, who is executive director of the National Institute of Sports and Science Safety and had studied the differences between metal and wooden bats.

“We are currently in need of scientific information that states that aluminum bats outperform wood bats,” the chief or staff wrote. “We are very much aware of the study you conducted in 2002 that stated that aluminum bats produced faster batted ball speeds in part due to faster swings and greater elastic properties found in nearly all the aluminum bats. We think it would be beneficial to explain that data at the hearing.” He asked Greenwald to attend the hearing.

Here, in part, was Greenwald’s response:

My apologies for not being able to attend or provide info for this meeting. I am curious about the outcome, however. I think the information I would have provided may not have been exactly what you might have hoped for. Here’s the short version:

1) Our published research did show that some, but not all, aluminum bats tested did outperform wood bats in terms of batted ball speed.

2) However, I think in your email below, you mix the notion of increased batted ball speed (a metric of performance) with safety. This is a significant concern for me. I am not aware of any published peer-reviewed scientific data that supports the notion that there has been an increase in injuries related to being struck by a batted ball in baseball or softball at any level of play due to increased batted ball speed or bat performance. Baseball and softball appear to have remained at the very low end of the injury incidence lists.

3) I have stated publicly that the notion of limiting the use of bats to wood only is reasonable if a governing body wants to control some aspects of the game such as run production or game time based on the fact that non-wood bats often outperform wood bats. However, I would oppose any statement that linked such a limitation on using non-wood bats to injury, simply because there are no scientific data to support this contention. This is an important and overlooked point – I urge Councilman Oddo to consider this as you move forward.

Why let science get in the way of a good nanny state law?

The Alaskan Showman

Mike Gravel is feisty for a man pushing 80. While I am normally skittish about allowing bottom-tier candidates who have no shot at winning take up space in debates, Gravel’s performance in the first Democratic presidential face-off convinced me otherwise.

With all of the other candidates saying all the predictable things, Gravel stole the show with a style that combined the ideas of Noam Chomsky with the temperament of Jake LaMotta. “After standing up with them, some of these people frighten me,” the former U.S. Senator from Alaksa said about his Democratic rivals at the debate held at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg. “They frighten me. When you have mainline candidates that turn around and say that there’s nothing off the table with respect to Iran. That’s code for using nukes.”

Asked by moderator Brian Williams to clarify who exactly he had in mind, Gravel said the “top-tier” candidates. He then fingered Sen. Joe Biden specifically. “You have a certain arrogance,” he said to the Delaware lawmaker. “You want to tell the Iraqis how to run their country. I gotta tell you, we should just plain get out.”

While Republicans often accuse Democrats of not having a plan for Iraq, the same charge can’t be leveled toward Iron Mike. “How do you get out?” he asked. “You pass a law. Not a resolution, a law making it a felony to stay there.” Not bad for a lawmaker who has been out of power since January 1981, and whose poll numbers are statistically at zero.

When he wasn’t serving as a punching bag for Gravel, Biden provided some comic relief of his own.

Noting his reputation as a verbose “gaffe machine,” Williams asked Biden: “Can you reassure voters in this country that you would have the discipline you would need on the world stage, Senator?” Displaying a quick wit worthy of Calvin Coolidge, Biden simply responded, “Yes.” He then remained silent as laughter grew in the audience.

George W. Bush was mocked when he identified Jesus as his favorite philosopher in a Republican presidential primary debate, but many analysts called the answer brilliant in hindsight. What will future political historians say of John Edwards? Asked to identify his “moral leader” the North Carolinian paused for nine seconds, before he answered, “I don’t think I could identify one person that I consider to be my moral leader.” He went on to mention his Lord, his wife, and his father. I bet if he had it to do all over again he would have immediately answered Elizabeth.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, is happy that Republicans demonize her. “I take it as a perverse form of flattery actually,” she said. “If they weren’t worried, they wouldn’t be so vitriolic in their criticism of me.” Given the anger she’s elicited from liberals over her failure to apologize for voting for the Iraq War, it’s becoming a strategy of hers to convince them that she’s worth voting for because she’d rankle Republicans more than any other Democrat. When asked to respond to Rudy Giuliani’s recent statements that America would be safer with a Republican as the next president, Clinton attacked President Bush. Always a safe bet.

In response to a question about the Virginia Tech shooting, Hillary showed another one of her strategies — invoking the first Clinton presidency. “I remember very well when I accompanied Bill to Columbine after that massacre…and feeling that we had to do more to keep guns out of the hands of the criminals and the mentally unstable,” she said.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, meanwhile, was forced to defend his strong support for gun rights. As a former U.N. Ambassador and cabinet secretary, Richardson has the most impressive resume of the eight candidates on hand, but he delivered a disappointing performance. At times, he seemed to be struggling for words, and he failed to exploit his experience as an international diplomat to come across as more worldly than his rivals. But his biggest flub was identifying Byron “Whizzer” White as his favorite Supreme Court Justice, which has already drawn flak on the left side of the blogosphere because White dissented in Roe v. Wade.

Barack Obama, meanwhile, was able to hold his own, and used Gravel and Rep. Dennis Kucinich as foils to make himself seem more statesmanlike. “There is no contradiction between us intelligently using our military and in some cases lethal force to take out terrorists and at the same time building the sort of alliances and trust around the world that has been lacking over the past six years,” Obama said.

But Kucinich argued that Obama’s foreign policy would lead to preemptive war against Iran.

“I think it would be a profound mistake to initiate a war with Iran, but have no doubt, Iran possessing nuclear weapons will be a major threat to us and to the region,” Obama said, imploring Kucinich, “Let me finish” when the Ohio Congressman tried to interject.

Gravel, meanwhile, said that the U.S. has actually been the world’s biggest violator of nuclear non-proliferation. “We’re expanding our nukes,” Gravel thundered. “Who the hell are we gonna nuke? Tell me Barack, who do you want to nuke?”

“I’m not planning to nuke anybody right now, Mike,” a grinning Obama said. “I promise.”

But while Obama may have gotten the better of the Kucinich-Gravel tag team, Brian Williams got the better of him.

Williams asked the young Senator from Illinois to name America’s three most important allies. Obama started out with the European Union, mentioned Afghanistan, talked about Japan and our relations with an emerging China. That was the end of his answer until Williams pointed out a glaring omission. There is already considerable skepticism about Obama in pro-Israel circles, and his failure to take advantage of an easy opportunity to show his solidarity with our friends in Jerusalem is sure to raise some eyebrows. When prompted, Obama expressed support for Israel, but the fact that he didn’t do so when asked an open-ended question suggests the issue isn’t very close to his heart.

Philip Klein is a reporter for The American Spectator.

First They Came for the Metal Bats

Ben Adler responds to my post in which I criticized his defense of banning the use of metal baseball bats in New York City high schools. Although he does not engage my entire argument, he takes issue with my suggestion that if we set the precedent that the government can ban activities that impose medical costs on society, it could provide a defense for sodomy laws.

Adler writes:

While Klein doesn't subscribe to the homophobic policy position, his comparison suggests an awfully backwards view of homosexuality. Since sexual orientation is part of one's intrinsic identity, banning sodomy is more analogous to banning a religious ritual than smoking in bars or swinging metal baseball bats. But apparently to the conservative way of thinking they are equally deserving of protection, at best.

Klein makes his criticism sound like a serious statement of consistent principle, but one would hope he's smart enough to realize the silliness of this comparison and is really just being facetious. First of all, a sodomy ban, unlike bans on smoking in bars and metal bats in high school baseball, is totally unenforceable because of the infinite number of locations where the act can take place. Secondarily, to enforce it would require invasions of people's personal homes, which none of the New York laws in question do, so the infraction on liberty is clearly an order of magnitude greater. I would not support a ban on smoking or consuming transfats in one's home for this reason.

It would be nice if conservatives like Klein debated a policy on its actual merits, instead of invoking this kind of fatuous slippery slope argumentation.

I wouldn't deny that gay sex is more important to somebody who was born homosexual than the use of a metal bat is to a high school baseball player. Nor would I deny that sodomy laws are more difficult–if not impossible–to enforce, and more intrusive to somebody's privacy. My point was a much narrower one. In his initial post, Alder had characterized the conservative/libertarian position as: "engaging in risky behavior with serious social costs is an entitlement." He then set out to reject this view by arguing that the medical costs imposed on society via emergency room payments, Medicare bills, etc. provide a green light for government to regulate risky behavior. So, in response, I tried to think of an activity that could be considered risky behavior that Adler and I would agree shouldn't be regulated. But now that he has offered an additional set of conditions that need to be satisfied to warrant legitimate government regulation, I can come up with a few more examples.

Adler's first condition is that the behavior has to be "risky" and impose "serious social costs." Given that Adler believes the use of metal baseball bats qualifies as having "serious social costs," I would say there's a pretty low threshold to satisfy that initial condition. After that, the law has to be practically enforceable, limited to certain locations, and not overly invasive into people's private space. So, with that said, I don't see why the City Council should stop with banning metal bats, when substituting softballs for baseballs would do much more to reduce the risk of injury, and would satisfy all of Adler's other conditions. Similarly, we could ban skateboarding and rollerblading in public parks. And get rid of high school football altogether.

Adler may respond that I am just using a slippery slope argument rather than discussing the merits of the policy at hand. But the reason why I use a slippery slope is that it takes a lot of creativity to imagine the types of behaviors do-gooders will want to regulate. More government begets more government. And over time, those regulations become sillier and more intrusive. It wasn't too long ago that smoking was allowed on airplanes, and the smoking/no-smoking sign would flash on and off like the seatbelt sign. Given the enclosed space of an airplane, and the fact that stale air is constantly re-circulating, prohibiting smoking on airplanes sounds pretty reasonable. But now, smoking bans in bars and restaurants are common, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. In Arkansas and Louisiana, drivers cannot smoke in their own cars in the presence of children. New Jersey has flirted with banning smoking while driving altogether. Adler says he wouldn't support banning smoking in people's homes, but the shoe is already starting to drop on that front too. In Vermont and Washington, foster parents are prohibited from smoking around children in their own homes and bans on smoking in public housing are sweeping the nation. So, if you're too poor to afford your own housing and happen to be a smoker, you can't light up in the privacy of your own apartment.        

In closing, let me point out that I'm actually a non-smoker. I hate inhaling second hand smoke and am annoyed when I come back from a smoke-filled bar smelling like cigarettes. But I'd much rather smell like cigarettes than live in a society where somebody can't relax in a bar and have a cigarette with their beer. I feel this way not only because I believe in liberty as a moral good and an end in and of itself, but selfishly because I know it's only a matter of time before the government prevents me from engaging some behaviors I do enjoy.    

(P.S. As a baseball purist, I also think metal bats are a disgrace.)

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Giuliani and Israel

Via the NY Sun, I see this story from the Jewish Voice and Opinion which quotes Rudy Giuliani talking about Israel at a recent fundraiser:

Rudy Giuliani doesn’t care whether the Palestinian government is run by Hamas, which is recognized by the US as a terrorist organization, or Mahmoud Abbas, the chairman of Fatah who is regarded by the Bush administration as a moderate.

“Hamas or Abbas, it makes no difference. The ball is in their court, and we just have to show patience and not push any peace process until they do what they have to do,” said Mr. Giuliani.

What they have to do, he said, is, at the very minimum, to recognize Israelï’s right to exist and to renounce terrorism. Then, he said, Israel and the US should sit back and see if they mean it.

“They don’t just have to say the words. Anyone can say the words. They have to show that they are ending terrorism; they have to show that they are doing what they have to do to end terrorism. I’m a strong proponent of the philosophy that we can trust, but we have to verify,” he said. “If all that happens, then it will lead naturally to a peace process, but we have to wait patiently until they are ready to make it happen. And no one should make any concessions to the Palestinians until they take those steps.”

It shouldn’t be any surprise, given his history, that Giuliani is staking out the most pro-Israel position of any presidential candidate in either party. This is pretty much the classic Likud position, and will rankle those who argue the U.S. should be more engaged in negotiations between the Israelis and “moderate” Palestinian leaders. As I have written before: “To the delight of some and anger of others, President Bush has probably been the most pro-Israel president in U.S. history. But compared to a President Giuliani, Bush would look like Jimmy Carter.”

Liberty Strikes Out

Over at Tapped, Ben Adler criticizes Spectator contributor Paul Beston for his piece in the City Journal, in which Beston takes New York City to task for a nanny-state law banning the use of metal baseball bats in high school games.  

Adler writes:

This clearly expresses a fundamental tenet of conservative/libertarian thinking: that engaging in risky behavior with serious social costs is an entitlement. People who are injured by metal bats, or fall ill from smoking or fatty food, cost the rest of us money. We pay their emergency room bill, their Medicare bills or their Social Security disablity insurance. Only someone willing to forgo those benefits should have the right to also opt out of public health laws like those passed by the New York City Council, or pre-existing ones requiring that motorcyclists wear helmets and drivers wear seat belts. But Beston, like all conservatives, makes no serious suggestion about offering such an option in our society (much less explaining how it would be practically possible.) Instead he merely sneers at the New York City government's efforts to lower the costs that he, like all other taxpayers, will ultimately bear (and that, should rising health costs force the government to raise taxes, Beston and City Journal would surely bray against as well).

Here is a prime example of how creating a system of government entitlements adds a social dimension to individual choices and therefore provides a pretext for the state to interfere with every aspect of people's lives. Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are intended to provide healthcare and financial support to poor, elderly, and disabled Americans who would otherwise have a difficult time fending for themselves. But liberals have increasingly been able to use the fact that taxpayers subsidize other people's healthcare as a justification for expanding the paternalistic nature of the state. We saw that with lawsuits against tobacco companies in the 1990s, and we're seeing it with smoking bans, the war on obesity, and now even regulating the types of baseball bats teenagers can use. There is no end in sight. Once the precedent is set that government can restrict or prohibit any behavior an individual engages in that is potentially detrimental to his or her own health, there's no limit to the infringements on liberty that are possible. And this cuts both ways. If liberals say that government can regulate "risky behavior" that imposes medical costs on taxpayers, using the same logic, proponents of sodomy laws could argue in favor of banning homosexual sex because it puts sexual partners at increased risk for getting AIDS. To be clear, I am adamantly opposed to sodomy laws, but my opposition is rooted in the same principle that prompts me to oppose banning smoking, trans-fats, and metal baseball bats. That principle is: liberty.  

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