July 23, 2006

Sunday Afternoon Newspaper Roundup

I read the Sunday papers so you don't have to:

Most Interesting Story: The US is reducing our military spending in Africa. Why is this interesting? Al Qaeda (short term) and raw materials (long term). Follow me here. The Republican party has long been against entangling the US in any more international organizations that "reduce our sovereignty"; this policy pre-dates (the most recent) President Bush (Pre-Bush that jocular fellow, Jesse Helms, was strongly opposed and tied the Senate up in knots over these issues). As a result of this, the US has failed to sign onto the International Criminal Court. The ICC is a global organization established by treaty in the mid 1990s (Clinton negotiated parts of the treaty). The purpose of the ICC is to try people for war crimes and genocides when their own states either choose not to or are unable to (failed states). The US (led by Republicans) failed to join because we feared our own troops would be prosecuted for war crimes by the ICC when the US invaded countries (as we do, every now and again). In other words, since the US uses force most often (by far) in the world, the eyes of the ICC would be focused on us frequently, and US soldiers (and politicians) would be at risk for prosecution by this international body. The solution the US proposed was to sign a large number of bilateral treaties with every state in the world whereby the US (and that particular state) would agree that both states wouldn't turn over citizens of the other state to the ICC if the ICC ordered an arrest. If the US signed one of these treaties with every other state that had signed onto the ICC, then the US could join the ICC (since our own citizens/soldiers would be more-or-less immune from prosecution, since they could never be turned over to the ICC). The US needed some sort of carrot/stick to encourage other states to sign these bilateral treaties with the US, and the route chosen back five or six years ago was withholding of military aid (direct money transfers and arms sales). If the states wouldn't sign these bilateral treaties, the US would cut off military aid; if they did sign, the US would continue aid.

Now we come to the NYT article: 9/11 happened, and we're in a global war on terror (or World War III, or World War IV, depending on who you talk to) now. Al Qaeda has been active in Somalia and several other African states, and as part of the Global War, the US would like to help these states fight that war. Except many of these states have signed on with the ICC, but have failed to sign the special-get-out-of-jail-free bilateral treaty with the US. Which means that the US cannot actually give them military aid. Oops. As a result, Al Qaeda grows stronger in these areas, and potentially could set up another base (a la Afghanistan in the late 1990s). In the battle between sovereignty and international terrorism, the US is more fearful of supposedly losing sovereignty than of being effective at fighting terrorism. For example, the US has suspended military aid to Kenya (where an Al Qaeda bomb blew up our embassy in the late 1990s), which is facing a rising Al Qaeda threat.

The other problem here is that another state is stepping up to fill in the gap left by the absence of the US: China. China has a huge appetite for natural resources (2nd largest economy in the world, and growing rapidly, and will need even more and more resources to sustain the growth). China doesn't give a shit about the ICC (totalitarian governments can usually manage to deny/stall/ignore/stonewall anything like the ICC), and is perfectly willing to lock in long-term contracts to secure resources. The longer the US ignores the rise of Chinese influence in Africa (especially Eastern Africa), the harder and harder it will be for the US to regain any influence there, in the long term.

As I said, a really, really interesting article about political trade-offs, unintended consequences, and just what the priorities are for US Foreign Policy. (The article is shorter than my explanation, so worth a read).

In the Washington Post, Thomas Ricks (their military analyst) previews his upcoming book "Fiasco" about how the US Army/Bush Administration completely screwed the pooch in reacting to the growing insurgency in Iraq in the summer of 2003 into late 2004. While previous books (Cobra II) have mostly discussed the political side of the failure, Ricks uses his connections into the Pentagon to discuss the Army's complete failure both to train soldiers and commanders for low-intensity/guerilla conflicts (a failure of foresight and doctrine) and to recognize the growing insurgency and respond with changes in doctrine and tactics on the ground in Iraq for a long period of time. It's easy to take shots at Bush's failure, but Ricks seems to be shooting at the entire Army establishment. This won't make him popular. I've read other books of his, and if you have an interest in this, it's well worth a read. I'm likely to assign the book to my insurgency/4th Generation Warfare class this semester.

Remember that whole debate over the estate/"death" tax? The bill removing the estate tax is stalled in Congress. Given that this President disdains the whole Constitutional-checks-and-balances thing, it should surprise no one that the IRS will fire about 45% of the tax lawyers working on estate tax issues. If you can't change the law, then if you reduce the number of people who can enforce it, it amounts to the same thing, right? (In Bush's defense, previous changes to the estate tax law have reduced the number of returns, thus reducing the workload of the staff.)

And in the "2nd Amendment Follies" section, see this WaPo article about a Maryland gun dealer who has racked up violations for 10 years over paperwork related to sold and missing firearms. The dealer has a total of 900 violations, was ranked 37th out of 80,000 gun dealers nationwide in terms of firearms linked to crimes committed, and in a 2003 audit couldn't find 28% (422 out of 1524) of the guns his paperwork said he had on premises. And they still didn't shut him down until 2004. And he's still selling guns (our beloved Congress passed a law that allows gun dealers to stay in business while they are appealing ATF decisions; in addition, the legislation allows dealers closed by the ATF to continue to sell whatever guns they have in their inventory until they are gone: this fellow still has 700 guns).

What is this fine gentleman's response to the litany of complaints?:

In two hour-long interviews at his store, Abrams repeatedly attacked ATF officials as deceitful sloths who want to put honest gun dealers out of business. "If they remove all the licensees," he said, "they don't have to worry about working anymore."

He said it is impossible not to make mistakes when filling out the nine forms required for the sale of a firearm, some of which have 37 sections. "And some of the forms are going to go missing," he said. "Forms fall behind the counter. Or maybe someone throws it away."

Abrams said "mathematics and logic tells you you're going to have to make errors." He added: "I just screwed up paperwork. . . . There is no crime here."

When asked how it is possible to lose track of hundreds of guns, Abrams responded angrily that law enforcement officials constantly lose firearms. "When the police are perfect," he said, "then you have the right to ask that question."

It should go without saying that Mr. Abrams is on the board of directors for the National Rifle Association. (No, really, he is.)

Posted by baltar at July 23, 2006 01:56 PM | TrackBack | Posted to Economics | International Affairs | Iraq | Media | Military Affairs | Politics | Shine the Light on It | War | You Can't Make This Stuff Up


Two quick thoughts:

1) The Ricks book is gonna be huge. Maybe even Congress-swinging huge.

2) The gun-law-enforcing corner of the ATF is, in fact, staffed by more than a few deceitful sloths (though "sloth" isn't quite the right word; they're fairly industrious in a power-drunk stormtrooper sort of way) who want to put gun dealers out of business. Read Kopel's book on Waco and the militarization of federal law enforcement (dated, but if anything more relevant than 8 yrs ago) to see what I mean. It's also true that the paperwork requirements that have been dropped on gun dealers over the last 15 years are actually fairly excessive, though if Abrams feels overburdened he should try selling guns in MA, where the requirements really do seem designed to put gun dealers out of business. All that said, Abrams is still an asshole, and he makes the NRA look even more like idiots than they already did. What a dork.

Posted by: jacflash at July 23, 2006 04:56 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I'm not arguing that the ATF is a bunch of angels (they did cause Waco, after all), but it is clear that Abrams is an asshole. I was more annoyed by Congress: let gun dealers sell while appealing is iffy, but letting them sell the remainder of their stock after they have lost all appeals is insane. Can't really think of a good public policy reason for that, which leave yet-another pork/earmark/abuse by Congress.

Posted by: baltar at July 23, 2006 05:10 PM | PERMALINK

I've seen a fair number of stories on China's rise in Africa over the last year or so (a state can win friends and influence by engaging in traditional diplomacy and throwing around a little money? who knew! someone should inform the White House) - but I hadn't seen the connection where they are filling a void left open by our ideological foreign policy.

Hmmm - an ideological foreign policy creating openings for enemies (or at least competitors) of the US to rise - that sounds familiar somehow.

Posted by: Armand at July 23, 2006 05:39 PM | PERMALINK

And don't forget that China is doing business in Latin America too. Their interests have a strong presence in the Canal zone, and they are making deals elsewhere too. It's an interesting situation with the whole Chavez/Morales/etc trend.

Posted by: binky at July 23, 2006 07:22 PM | PERMALINK

"Thomas Ricks (their military analyst) previews his upcoming book "Fiasco" about how the US Army/Bush Administration completely screwed the pooch . . ."

Rick Santorum would point out that screwing the pooch is an inevitable consequence of activists judges and the homosexual agenda. And I'm sure it's all Clinton's fault.

Posted by: moon at July 24, 2006 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

And it gets santorum all over the sheets, too. Blech.

Posted by: jacflash at July 24, 2006 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

It looks like there are some people out there who aren't as excited as you are about the Ricks book.

Posted by: binky at July 24, 2006 04:37 PM | PERMALINK
Post a comment

Remember personal info?