The Third Rail

Thursday, August 29, 2002

One of the things I've learned in life is to never pay attention to people's claims on what they believe. Look at what is in their interest to do. The latter and not the former will predict people's actions 99% of the time. Knowing this, whenever sales people come up to me I remember that they are acting in their interest, not mine. A mark of a good salesman is when he is able to convince me that our two interests can lead to mutual benefit. That's honesty. However, I never trust a salesman when he argues exclusively from what he thinks is in my best interest. Sorry, but no thank you. I'm not so stupid I don't know what's good for me, and your refusal to state this is good for you makes me suspicious it'll just screw me over.

Thus when non-Americans say things like this:

"We don't want to have another Vietnam; we can't afford another Vietnam," stressed Walid, a nephew of King Fahd.

My BS detectors go off. Whether the US gets involved in another "Vietnam War" doesn't affect the Saudi royal family. They don't care how many boys come home in body bags or whether it will split America. So don't tell me you fear for us.

Why is it in Saudi Arabia's interest for the US to not go after Saddam. They don't have one that also meets US interests. They don't want us to take out Saddam because his removal makes us less dependent on them. In fact, we might remove all those troops in the Middle East that serve the royal family's interest because they can scapegoat their horrible rule of their country on the big, bad Western power of America.

We know how much the Saudi's care about us after the Khobar bombing. Piss off.

Besides Hanoi Jane we now have Bagdhad Clark. Traitor.

The US has achieved its aim in Afghanistan. Hunting down the remnants is not cost effective in terms of where our men and material could best be used elsewhere. We can prevent an Al Qaeda victory simply because our air power prevents them from real conquest. However, we must play this guerilla war smart. We cannot be suckered by the international community that this is some inane "nation building" project. This is nothing of the sort. There is no real Afghanistan nation. It is still in civil war. Karzai's "government" is nothing more than one faction - although one the UN bureaucrats have been fooled into thinking represents all of Afghanistan. Maybe we must pretend that other US-allied warlords are "under" Karzai, but we best not act that way when dealing with them. We must continue to support them even if they don't tow Karzai's line. Ambiguity is good right now. We can't afford our allies fighting. We need the warlords to destroy the Taliban remnants internally in the short term as we build up Karzai's long term prospects and army. I also think that besides forming a strong, but small core of "professional" soldiers in an Afghan national army, both Karzai and the US needs a loyal and large force of irregulars that can fight the same way the other warlords fight. Any "professional army" is too costly to squander in dire combat with the Taliban. We need to take advantage of the one material advantage Afghan troops give us which is their cheap ubiquity. We simply need to give them enough ammo and money so that they'll never be outgunned. With that in play, we only need to do simple economic improvements that raises the material welfare of the Afghan people and we'll be fine (I say simple for two reasons - 1) simple is what works and 2) we can expect Taliban to blow up any "prestige" expensive improvements so we need to not provide them those targets).

I'm really against the need to expand America's military role in Afghanistan. We accomplished our mission. The Afghans need to fight the Taliban. Give them what they need to do it. I think an army of Afghan irregulars can provide security better than US troops who can't blend in, don't speak the language, and frankly provide too many opportunities for a propaganda victory to the Taliban. These people will claim losing 1000 men into a "victory" as long as 3 American soldiers die. There are many negatives and few positives to having more US troops. Karzai's government has more legitimacy than the Soviet's puppet regime. Allow them to keep it by having them defend the Afghan people themselves.

Thank NAFTA. The integration of Mexico into North America may become America's most important achievement of the early Twenty-First century. If Mexico is to modernize, I would say it's best bet is to invest in its common people. The last thing Mexico needs is to promote the already well off and do nothing for its poor. The gap between rich and poor is hurting things as they stand already. The thing that will promote the most growth is to avoid fancy info-tech fads and concentrate on improvements on the basics - rebuild Mexico's roads, telephones, sanitation and other basic infrastructure that benefits both rich and poor.

One of the few good things President Fredo has done. Let's hope we can articulately advance (note: not defend) our position. And Glenn is bullseye on his last comments. I'm a committed environmentalist, but we need a market based approach that properly internalizes the environmental cost of actions, not a command based approach.

Another example of how people vote with their feet - this time in terms of popular support of the Saddam regime in Iraq.

Close to one in every five Iraqis, after all, lives in exile-having fled Saddam's regime-and more than 700,000 have perished in wars or government purges since Saddam formally assumed Iraq's presidency in 1979. That means most Iraqi families have a murdered or exiled family member or friend.

I like reports like this because even though it shows how we're screw-ups, we now know what we need to do next. I just wish that President Fredo is able to take the necessary next steps.

How much better are things in Afghanistan now than under the Taliban? Remember people vote with their feet.