Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Big Expensive Ad

The universe of good beer advertisements is not large, but this one is a hoot. Be sure to turn on the sound. Music lovers will appreciate the use of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana.

Thanks to No Left Turns for the tip.

The White House's Biggest Failure

Tim Hames of the Times Online has an article which he closes with this trenchant observation:

The tragedy of what went wrong in Iraq, therefore, is that the failure to locate WMD has made action against Iran or North Korea far harder to advance to Western public opinion. This would have been true even if Iraq, post invasion, was now a land of peace and plenty.

The final tragedy is that while many will prosper within Iraq over the next three years, the price of inept peacetime policies between 2003 and 2005 is that there will be no more Iraqs in the foreseeable future. To that extent, the Stop the War coalition, assisted, ironically, by the Pentagon, will be satisfied.

And what does this mean in practice? It means no more sadistic totalitarian dictators removed from office. It means no more free and fair elections for those who have never had them. It means no more openings for civic and religious liberty. It means no more chances of a cultural reawakening. Democracy might well progress in parts of the Middle East but, alas, mostly in the states that were most benign to begin with. There is little reason to suppose that the ruling elites in Damascus, Tehran or Tripoli have the cause for fear that they must have briefly felt three years ago. Nor have the people under their yoke any reason for optimism that they might yet escape servitude.

It has become fashionable in certain American neo-conservative circles to declare that Iraq has been "lost" and to wash their hands of the enterprise. Personally, I have never been part of that fraternity. It seems to me that their logic is dubious. Iraq has not been "lost", there is still a reasonable chance that by the actual seventh anniversary of the incursion the vast majority of people there will be more content than at any time in their history. It is the enslaved Middle East beyond Iraq that has been "lost" and thus remains an intense threat to our security.

Hames is almost certainly correct that the left has won a strategic victory in Iraq. It's a case of having lost the battle and won the war. They were unable to prevent the Iraq invasion, but by souring Americans on that undertaking they have almost guaranteed that whatever circumstances obtain in Iran or North Korea, the chances of military action in those climes are much diminished.

The administration must also be assigned some responsibility for making the left's victory an easy win, not because of their failed pre-war intelligence about WMD, because that appears to have been a universal mistake - even Saddam's top military officers were shocked to learn that they had no such weapons in their arsenal - but because the post-invasion phase of the war has been handled so badly.

Even this wouldn't have been too corrosive of American public support, though, if the administration had made a consistent, competent, articulate effort to keep the goals, necessity, and progress of the effort in Iraq in the public mind. This they haven't done, and their failure has contributed to the public perception of a land in hopeless chaos. The administration has allowed an antagonistic media to establish the psychological "wallpaper," as it were, for all thinking and public discussion on Iraq.

This is, in my mind, at least, the Bush administration's biggest failure. They forfeited this battle and ceded the field to the left when it would have been easy to keep fighting, and the consequences of their forfeiture will ripple through American foreign policy for decades.

Balancing the Budget

Andrew Sullivan has some pretty good ideas about what to do about the budget. Since they are good ideas they'll never be acted upon by congress, but they should be, or at least most of them should be:

Kevin Drum has challenged me to detail how I'd balance budgets while keeping Bush's tax cuts. (A small clarification: I'd keep the estate tax as it once was; and I'd add a buck to the gas tax pronto.) I'd prefer experts like Brian Riedl or Veronique de Rugy to propose detailed cuts. But my back-of-the-envelope wish-list is that I'd repeal the Medicare drug entitlement, abolish ear-marks, institute a line-item veto, pass a balanced budget amendment, means-test social security benefits, index them to prices rather than wages, extend the retirement age to 72 (and have it regularly extended as life-spans lengthen), abolish agricultural subsidies, end corporate welfare, legalize marijuana and tax it, and eliminate all tax loopholes and deductions, including the mortgage deduction, (I'd keep the charitable deduction).

For good measure, I'd get rid of the NEA and the Education Department. I'm not an economist, so I do not know whether this would do the trick entirely, and I'm open to debate on any of the particulars. But you get my drift. Maybe someone out there could do the math. I'm also fascinated by Charles Murray's new proposal to abolish the entire welfare state and replace it with with cash grants to individuals. I look forward to conservatives continuing to insist I'm a lefty. I also look forward to ferocious opposition from the left. But the bottom line is that the middle class and the prosperous elderly are far too pampered by government in this country. They need to get rid of their debilitating and unaffordable dependency.

The gas tax might not be such a good idea since it'd be highly inflationary, raising the cost of everything we buy, and the estate tax is unjust should be largely done away with. Other than that, Sullivan's proposals sound very attractive. The NEA and Education Departments are as useless as they are costly, and it is simply insane that the president doesn't have a line-item veto.

In any event, these ideas have as much chance of going anywhere as Dick Cheney has of winning the Democratic party's nomination in 2008.

Legacy in the Balance

Like a flock of disoriented geese, President Bush's approval numbers have been heading south this spring, but the Democrats shouldn't take too much solace from the fact. The primary reason for his drop into the mid-thirties is disaffection among Republicans and other conservatives fed up with a White House that refuses to cut spending or stop the flood of illegals pouring across our borders. Republican outrage at the Dubai port deal was really a consequence of the frustration many feel at Bush's apparent insoucience concerning secure borders. The failure of Republicans to get behind his Social Security reforms last year was the fruit of having been pressured against their better judgment to earlier support the administration's profligate medicare bill.

Fiscal conservatives are not pleased that Bush is passing out money as though it were beads at Mardi Gras, and they want it stopped. Neither are they pleased that Mexicans continue to breach our borders like tourists pouring through the turnstiles when Disney World opens for the day.

So why isn't this necessarily good news for Democrats? Two reasons: First is that conservative voters are not likely to hold their legislators responsible for Bush's perceived shortcomings in the November election. Republicans are not going to punish their congressmen because of their pique with Bush. Congressional candidates who run on fiscally and socially conservative principles will get plenty of support from the base.

The second reason is the Harriet Miers syndrome. Conservatives were outraged when Bush nominated Miers to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court, but all was quickly forgiven when he recovered his balance with Samuel Alito. Republicans want to like George Bush. If he changes course and adds to his sterling record on tax cuts, judgeships, and the GWOT, by kicking the immigration and spending monkeys off his back, his numbers will bounce right back up to the mid- to upper-forties.

This is a very big "if," however, and it's doubtful that Bush has any inclination to reform. His legacy hangs in the balance, though, so we'll see.