David Brooks on The Closing of Iraq

Some days David Brooks is an interesting writer, and on other days he just cannot resist making partisan digs. Today he is interesting, even ending with a subtle criticism of George Bush as opposed to bashing liberals. Brooks reviews the World Values Survey which interviewed over 2,300 adults from all over Iraq. The results are not very surprising for a society which was mistreated under Saddam, suffered even more under American sanctions (regardless of whether they were justified) and now suffers as a consequence of the American invasion:

Inglehart, Moaddel and Tessler describe a people who, buffeted by violence, have withdrawn into mere survival mode. They are suspicious of outsiders and intolerant toward weak groups, and they cling fiercely to what is familiar and traditional.

The researchers asked the Iraqis if they would mind living next door to foreigners. In most societies, there is a small minority who say they would mind. Nine percent of Americans say they would mind, and in the median country internationally about 16 percent say they would mind. Ninety percent of the Iraqi Arab respondents rejected foreigners as neighbors.

As Inglehart, Moaddel and Tessler write, Iraqis “reject foreigners to a degree that is virtually unknown in other societies throughout the world, including more than a dozen predominantly Islamic countries.”

Iraqi Arabs almost universally reject Americans, Britons and the French, and roughly 60 percent reject Iranians, Kuwaitis and Jordanians, the groups they are least hostile to.

Iraqis also viscerally resist social reform and deviation from the traditional ways of doing things. For example, 93 percent of Arab Iraqis said men made better leaders than women, the highest proportion of any group in the world.

Iraqi Arabs were asked which values they would like to instill in their children. They emphasized “obedience” and “religious faith” more than any of the 80 other societies that have been studied. They were less likely to try to instill “independence” in their children than people in 74 of the study’s 80 societies.

Brooks notes that we had a poor understanding of the Iraqi people. For example, “American policy makers were surprised to learn how religious Iraqi society had become during the 1990’s. (Iraqi exiles had not prepared them for this.)” All this makes it more difficult to create a functioning nation. He believes that the best hope would be to improve their standards of living, but we needed to understand them better before even attempting nation building:

We know from a wealth of historical experience that when people see their standard of living rise, they reject the reactionary survival mentality and they become more open to others and to change. If people already see their lives improving materially, they will be more likely to keep their cool as their political institutions are reinvented.

In the age of terror, statesmanship means knowing how to create a sense of security so you can lead people on a voyage of reform. Most of all, it means that if you’re going to do nation-building, you have to understand the values of the people you’re going to build a nation with.

New York Times Becoming Wary of Electronic Voting Machines

While computerized voting has been a hot topic in the blogoshere, the subject has slowly been receiving coverage in the mainstream media (partially for reasons I’ll address later). The New York Times reviews the topic today:

Dozens of states have adopted electronic voting technology to comply with federal legislation in 2002 intended to phase out old-fashioned lever and punch-card machines after the “hanging chads” confusion of the 2000 presidential election.

But some election officials and voting experts say they fear that the new technology may have only swapped old problems for newer, more complicated ones. Their concerns became more urgent after widespread problems with the new technology were reported this year in primaries in Ohio, Arkansas, Illinois, Maryland and elsewhere.

This year, about one-third of all precincts nationwide are using the electronic voting technology for the first time, raising the chance of problems at the polls as workers struggle to adjust to the new system.

“I think there is good reason for concern headed into the midterm elections,” said Richard F. Celeste, a Democrat and former Ohio governor who was co-chairman of a study of new machines for the National Research Council with Richard L. Thornburgh, a Republican and former governor of Pennsylvania.

The New York Times has considerably more information on the issue, which will help to separate legitimate concern for fair elections from the tin foil hat theories which some promote. Such separation is necessary to get both the media and the general public to take the issue seriously.

While you would think that those involved with this issue would be happy to see this article, Brad Friedman, who is probably doing far more harm to the cause of election reform than good, displays irrationality in his response to this article:

Nice going waiting until it’s pretty much too late to do a damned thing about it. NY Times has, once again, failed the American people. Jerks.

For those who are unaware, Friedman runs a blog which is the intellectual equivalent of The National Enquirer where virtually any unsubstantiated claim is reported as fact, and what facts there are are often used justify unrelated conclusions. To Friedman, his conspiracy theories are fact and therefore there is no value to a major newspaper such as The New York Times reviewing the issue at this date. If a past or future election is ever actually proven to have been stolen, this is far more likely to be reported in (and taken seriously from) The New York Times than Rolling Stone.

For the vast majority of people, election reform is barely on their radar and this is the type of article which is necessary. If election reform is to be successful, liberals must disassociate themselves from those who are unable to remove their tin foil hats and practice the same “reality based” thinking applied to issues such as Iraq, stem cell research, and global warming. The fact that the machines can be hacked cannot be claimed to be actual proof that they have been hacked. Reports of errors, and even intentional shenanigans, cannot be used to claim a wide spread conspiracy without better evidence.

Russel Shaw recently adapted a quotation from Tom Hayden at Huffington Post to election reform and the blogoshere which liberal bloggers should keep in mind:

And to the bloggers, I say stick to standards of evidence that will convince the mainstream voters. Sometimes we stray from what we know, and what can be proven to the public, into the world of, well, conjecture. We cannot fight against a faith-based crusade with one that sometimes appears to be fantasy-based. We cannot fight the conservative model with a conspiracy model. The facts are staggering enough to cause deep public questioning and, in time, a radical public awakening.

More Studies Verify That Bush Has Increased Our Risk From Terrorism

Yet another report verifies what I’ve been writing for the last couple of years–the Iraq war has undermined our national security and increased the risk from terrorism. This time the evidence comes from a National Intelligence Estimate as reported in The New York Times:

A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.

An opening section of the report, “Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement,” cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology.

The report “says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,” said one American intelligence official.

As I noted above, this is nothing new. For example, Saudi and Israeli studies from over a year ago found that the vast majority of those fighting in Iraq are not previously terrorists, but are people radicalized by the war. Today’s New York Times article ended with examples of other studies showing the failure of Bush’s policies at fighting terrorism:

. . . the Council on Global Terrorism, an independent research group of respected terrorism experts, assigned a grade of “D+” to United States efforts over the past five years to combat Islamic extremism. The council concluded that “there is every sign that radicalization in the Muslim world is spreading rather than shrinking.”

Update: More on the current study at The Washington Post.

Seeing Through the Republican Rhetoric

Digby discusses the fact that, despite all their complaints against the Soviet Union, Republicans have been imitating them in many ways as they have become increasingly authoritarian. He writes:

I have written often about how the Republicans are becoming what they railed against for decades: totalitarians. Unsurprisingly I suppose, it turns out that what they really hated about Soviet communism was the economics. The 50 years of ranting about personal liberty and anti-authoritarian government seems to have been mere political rhetoric. Now that they are in power themselves they have adopted certain Soviet values quite seamlessly.

I’d go even further than Digby. Even Republican attacks on Communism is largely rhetoric. Using the powers of the state to transfer wealth from the top one percent, and to benefit certain large corporations (which tend to be huge contributors) is hardly capitalism. Republican rhetoric in favor of freedom, capitalism, small government, eliminating deficits, and a strong defense is all rhetoric designed to win elections, and has no connection to their actual policies.

Howard Dean: Democrats Offer a New Direction

Howard Dean has an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. He begins with a general criticism of Republican policies:

We need a Democratic Congress to fight the war on terror — and to end the war on America’s families. Republican policies of the last five years have damaged our economy and failed Americans. Democrats believe strengthening the middle class is essential for a thriving economy that rewards work, provides economic opportunity to all and makes it easier for parents to devote time to their families. An economy that favors the top 1% at the expense of everyone else might be good for President Bush’s politics, but a shrinking middle class is bad for capitalism, democracy and America. We need a new direction.

The bulk of the article is a list of what the Republicans have done wrong followed by a brief explanation of what Democrats will do differently:

Democrats offer America a new direction in fiscal policy, for the middle class, and in the war in Iraq. We believe that America should work for everyone:

We will restore honesty in government, starting with the pay-as-you-go discipline in Congress that served Mr. Clinton so well. Balancing the Federal budget will be a high priority with concurrent limitation of spending. We will ease the burdens on middle class Americans and reverse Republican cuts in college tuition aid and health care. We will ensure that a retirement with dignity is the right and expectation of every single American, including pension reform, and preventing the privatization of social security.

We will dramatically expand support of energy independence in order to generate large numbers of new American jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. We will have a jobs agenda that includes good jobs that stay in America, a higher minimum wage and trade policies that benefit the global labor force, not just multinational corporations.

We will have a defense policy that is tough and smart, starting with phased redeployment of our troops in Iraq, and shore up our efforts to attack al Qaeda and fight the war on terror. We also will close the gaps in our security here at home by implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations.

We are ready to lead with a thoughtful, fiscally responsible long-term vision. We will reach out to all Americans who value hope over fear and begin moving the country forward again.