Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bush, Pakistan and the Economy

Let's summarize where we are at the end of 2007. By putting Afghanistan on the back burner from 2002 to late 2005, Bush has endangered what may have been a winnable war that was in direct response to the 9/11 attacks. Republicans, on days when it's convenient, keep peddling the myth that Osama bin Laden is irrelevant but Bush let him escape into Pakistan. Al Qaida has somewhat regrouped. Pakistan is in trouble on various fronts. Obviously the assassination of Bhutto makes things more difficult and Condi Rice's Pakistan diplomacy is in tatters. Condi Rice is a foreign policy lightweight just as her replacement as national security, Stephen Hadley, is a lightweight. Both have the advantage, however, of being loyal to Bush. Both are also easy for Dick Cheney to steamroll to some degree. We have a profoundly dysfunctional foreign policy team in the White House.

Much is made of the lessening violence against our troops in Iraq. On one level, there has been some progress. On another level, there is a profound lack of realism in America's media when it comes to understanding Iraq. All we're doing, at most, is cleaning up Bush's mess. It is still a war we did not need. More important, Iraq is an albatross around our necks imposed on us by Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney and the neocons. Iraq is slowing down our economy and inflation is finally rearing its head. The war has endangered our position in the world. It is also a factor in Afghanistan and Pakistan since we devoted far too much of our resources to Iraq. It is Pakistan that has the bomb, not Iraq or Iran. We knew that when we first went into Afghanistan. Condi Rice has tried to make up for various failures by pressuring Pakistan in ways that obviously have blown up in her face. Cowboy diplomacy, even in Rice's slightly modified form, does not work.

I don't expect Bush to suddenly discover rationality. But every Republican in Congress should stop protecting this incompetent. There are things that can be done. For example, if Cheney can't be impeached or forced to step down, it would not take much to limit the powers of his office. Cheney's powers are defined by Bush, not by the constitution. With help from Republicans in Congress, Cheney's freedom of action could be greatly reduced. Another step would be for Bush to bring into his administration high profile envoys to help the United States regain some leverage in foreign policy before things get too far out of hand. The United States needs people like Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, George Mitchell and Madeleine Albright: two Republicans and two Democrats. Will it happen? Probably not. But can our nation afford to drift another 13 months? Probably not.

The stock market went down sharply again today, almost two hundred points, for the umpteenth time in the last six months. Of course, the markets have repeatedly recovered from recent losses. But the turbulence on Wall Street is a sign of danger and weakness in the American economy. Some of that weakness can be traced to the hundreds of billions being wasted in Iraq. They can be traced to the lack of an energy policy for the last seven years. They can be traced to Republican corruption in Washington across a wide front, but particularly in the last two years when it came to holding mortgage companies accountable. Republicans depend too much on donations from the real estate industry and bankers. So obvious problems in lending practices, including outright fraud, were ignored by the Bush Administration.

Sometimes I pick up the paper and I don't know whether to laugh or weep. Today, I laughed when I read the following story by Gary Rivlin of The New York Times:
From the riverboats of the Midwest and tribal casinos scattered across the country to gambling halls in less exotic parts of Nevada, operators are reporting slowing growth rates in recent months. In a number of places, revenues are actually down, sometimes by 5 percent or more.

The differences reflect a wider disparity within the economy.

Businesses in a variety of sectors that attract the most affluent customers and take advantage of foreigners from countries with strong currencies who are drawn to the glitter of Las Vegas and Manhattan are doing very well, while those dependent largely on middle-class buyers are having a harder time.

In Las Vegas, one extra factor has been a booming Chinese economy, as wealthy Asian players are risking -- and losing -- money in record numbers inside the city's most exclusive VIP lounges.

For most Americans, even gambling is in a slump. But we're getting money back from the Chinese! That's a pitiful way to erase some of our red ink. When I started thinking about it, I stopped laughing.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow Craig -- I should write you privately too -- but my mind bends -- you must have written your post and finished it just minutes before news of the assassination of Benazair Bhutto hit the media.

I can only imagine that what you did write would stay, and wonder what you would add, in light of this explosion.

6:34 AM  

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