August 29, 2004

A Letter From the Editor

A Letter from the Editor (The Deputy Editor of the Economist, that is).

Clive Crook writes, apropos of my surprise at his and his colleagues' editorial saying that George W. Bush may be worth voting for:

As you know, Brad, I am the Deputy Editor of The Economist, but I am posting these comments in a personal capacity. I think it is disappointing that an economist of your calibre--and I have the highest regard for your scholarship--cannot rise to a higher standard of discussion than this. I find it a very depressing comment on the state of American politics.

You find the position we took in this week’s editorial on George Bush so inexplicable that you question our sanity. Is it really so odd? Closer to the election, as we always do, we will say which of the candidates we prefer. This week’s editorial was entirely concerned with an appraisal of the Bush administration. As you say, we found a great deal to criticise. Perhaps in due course we will endorse John Kerry. But we won’t endorse either candidate until nearer the time, and it will be in an editorial that looks at both men side by side, weighing good and bad in each case.

Your position, of course, and that of most of your correspondents, is that Bush is so inexpressibly bad that anybody else at all would be better. I would find that difficult to understand even if Bush were worse than he is. But, as you know, our editorial argued that Bush has got the big things right on foreign policy. The biggest thing of all, in my view, was his determination to confront America’s enemies even if not all of the allies whose support he needed to secure UN backing could be brought round. The accusation that Bush has been recklessly unilateralist, a chief rallying-cry of his opponents, is simply wrong (as the editorial pointed out in a crucial paragraph that you did not include in your extracts). He sought allies throughout for the war in Iraq, and built the biggest coalition he could. France and Germany withheld their support for the war, and undermined the effort to put pressure on Saddam Hussein, at a time when they too knew that the sanctions regime was collapsing and they too believed that Saddam had WMD. In those circumstances, Bush was right to deny them a veto. In similar circumstances, in my view, he would be right to do so again.

When it comes to domestic policy, I expect you and I would agree about many and perhaps most issues. I think the administration’s record there is poor. Our editorial said as much. But if one takes the view that the administration has been mostly right on foreign policy and mostly wrong on domestic policy, that is not a record which automatically disqualifies Bush from a second term, is it? Least of all in a post-9/11 world. And that is really all our editorial said. Right or wrong, what is so “insane”, or even mildly inconsistent, about taking such a position?

Of course, if Kerry’s foreign policy would be the same as Bush’s, then Bush’s domestic errors would count for more. Our editorial did note that Kerry has failed to say very clearly where his foreign policy would be different. But he does make much of the virtues of “multilateralism”. What one needs to know is what Kerry means by this. Would he be as robust in confronting America’s enemies without UN backing and without the support of countries such as France and Germany, if the need arose? (Would you and his other supporters even want him to be?)

At The Economist, we try to keep an open mind. We are still thinking. That is why, for instance, we agreed with Bush about the case for war with Iraq, then later deplored the way intelligence about WMD was presented to the public, and after that called for Donald Rumsfeld to resign, or be dismissed, over the Abu Ghraib affair. No doubt you regard this record as schizophrenic: For you, apparently, the administration is all bad, or else it must be all good. But that is not political analysis, Brad; that is brainless tribalism.

As I understand this, Clive says that the only reason that George W. Bush may be worth voting for is that "Bush has got the big things right on foreign policy... his determination to confront America’s enemies even if not all of the allies whose support he needed to secure UN backing could be brought round." This is a reason to vote for George W. Bush only if there is some evidence that John Kerry would--and will--get the big things wrong. Would he? Will he?

On this, the Economist's editorial says that "Mr Kerry['s]... priorities [on foreign policy] [t]ellingly, he has stuck pretty close to Mr Bush." That doesn't sound like Kerry will get the big things wrong. There were two people in the world whom George W. Bush thought were the best qualified to work in his White House coordinating America's anti-terror effort: Richard Clarke and Rand Beers. Both have quit the Bush administration in disgust as not having taken the task of confronting America's enemies seriously enough, and support John Kerry. That certainly doesn't sound like Kerry will get the big things wrong.

In this letter, Clive says that the reason to like Bush more than Kerry on the big things of foreign policy is that Kerry "make[s] much of the virtues of “multilateralism”.... Would he be as robust in confronting America’s enemies without UN backing and without the support of countries such as France and Germany, if the need arose?" As someone who knows and has talked to a great many people working on the policy side for Kerry, let me reassure him. The answer is yes: Kerry would be more robust in confronting America's enemies than George "I really don't think about Osama bin Laden much" Bush, and would confront them with many more allies at our side.

Posted by DeLong at August 29, 2004 03:18 PM | TrackBack

Opinions about the shape of the earth differ. Opinions about the quality of our president's lies differ.

Posted by: ptmartin at August 29, 2004 03:33 PM

Wow -- is that pathetic!!!

When Bush has completely screwed the U.S.'s fiscal solvency (record surpluses into record deficits), when he is the first president to reside over a net loss of jobs and in the markets since Hoover, when he and his administration has consistently lied (e.g., drug "benefit"), when his administration has consistenly backed bigotry and fundamentalists, when he ignored terrorism's threat until 9/11 and then went after *Iraq,* when he squandered the world's goodwill and left the U.S. considered a pariah by most of the world's population ...

How can you discuss this "rationally"? How can anyone remotely sane even think of endorsing George Bush?

Seriously -- I want to know. This keeps me up at night. It is like trying to "discuss" with someone whether the Earth is round or flat.

Is it just because he says "democracy!" and "let freedom ring!"?

Is this what Germany felt like in the mid-30s? (See The Republican's invocator -- Atrios' Sheri Dew post

Am I crazy? Given the alleged checks and balances, it is hard to imagine how, realistically, George Bush could have caused more harm to the U.S.

Posted by: MattB at August 29, 2004 03:35 PM

This seems to be the Republican's response -- they can't all be liars (Dole); they can't be all bad (Economist). In other words: "Ignore the facts, and think happy thoughts!"

Posted by: MattB at August 29, 2004 03:40 PM

Fatuous, self important Brit. I know we're all waiting for the Economist's endorsement, a whole nation waits with bated breath. Bush's performance has been indefensible domestically and overseas. Our brave allies from Central America, and other small countries dragoooned to Iraq are a grand coalition indeed. And many have peeled off w/o much fanfare. Or pub from the Bush Admin. Let Clive pontificate relative to Tony B, who probably is on the way out himself, and soon.

Posted by: tmcotter at August 29, 2004 03:40 PM

What I think that Mr Crook's point about Germany and France misses is that the UNMOVIC process of attempting to verify or dismiss the notion that Iraq had WMD was still in progress when a course of violence was chosen. Had those nations remained stubbornly opposed to invasion after WMD had been confirmed, he would have a point about the necessity of assembling a limited coalition and proceeding without UN Security Council approach.

Incontinently proceeding with a lame coalition and a half-witted plan of action when waiting would for due process was still an alternative is where George W. Bush got a very big thing wrong. George W. Bush was not "robust" in confronting America's enemies without UNbacking and the support of contries such as France and Germany. The need had not yet arisen, and we went off half-cocked when he pulled the trigger. This was weakness, not robustness.

Posted by: Bob Webber at August 29, 2004 03:41 PM

The Republican Party does not have a foreign policy. Say the worst that you will of the Iraq adventure, and you will still not come close to plumbing its full moral horror, which is that, to the Republican Party, the Iraqi people are only metaphors and surrogates. The Economist makes the commonplace mistake of assuming that the "War On Terror" is a serious and self-decribing undertaking, whereas in fact it is only an irresponsible allegory for the domestic factional struggle. THIS is why it is necessary to vote against the Republican Party.

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit at August 29, 2004 03:44 PM

Am I missing something or was crook's main point not that Bush is better than Kerry, but that he's not all bad? He came out right at the start and said the editorial was not meant to compare the two men. His beef with you is that you see Bush as all bad, and anybody who thinks otherwise is nuts. So how does your response to him defend yourself? As far as I can tell, not at all. Apparently he has a point.

I mean, come on. You could very easily argue that his premise that Bush has been a success on foreign policy is all wrong. I don't need to tell you how horribly Bush has screwed up, or that he has made a lot of situations much worse through wrong-headed policies. So why do you choose to argue with him on the point he already said he's not talking about? Jesus, just tell him that Bush has, in fact, had horrible foreign policies, and for that reason, Crook *is* nuts for considering that Bush had even a partly successful 4 years.

Posted by: Ian Dew-Becker at August 29, 2004 03:48 PM

What I completely fail to understand is how Iraq could have threatened America or Britain. We controlled the skies above Iraq and constantly struck at targets when our planes were challenged. The embargo had weakened Iraq for years. The inspectors cound find no evidence of WMDs. Where was the threat? Why could we not have continued to pressure the regime and waited? Would the Economist have us be colonialists?

Posted by: Ari at August 29, 2004 03:51 PM

Remember that the Economist supported George Bush over Al Gore. Please Clive Crook!

Posted by: Ari at August 29, 2004 03:54 PM

But ... but ... but ... At least under Bush, Iran and N. Korea developed nuclear weapons!

"I don't believe in giving dictators a timeline," Bush said with a shrug of his shoulders.

Yeah, he got the big things right. Big BOOOMS!

Posted by: MattB at August 29, 2004 03:57 PM

Let us see if the Economist keeps its promise of REALLY weighing both sides of each cadidate before endorsement, even though there is nothing in Clive Crook's letter or their earlier article that would even indicate why Bush could be so chosen. Their biased reporting of the US politics (did they ever apologize for their hysteric misjudgment about their asking Clinton to resign in 1998: just one of myriad examples?) has not prevented my continued subscription to their paper although I have come close to unhinging myself several times (once did, in disgust). The fact that Clive Crook responded to Brad's post with some explanation will probably elicit a stay with the Economist for just a little longer.

Posted by: sainlob at August 29, 2004 03:57 PM

Please explain all the big foreign policy initiatives George Bush got right?

Posted by: Ari at August 29, 2004 03:59 PM

The key point in the letter, as in the original article, is that "the administration has been mostly right on foreign policy and mostly wrong on domestic policy." Therefore, we cannot rule out Bush.

But this argument is a genuine head scratcher. The Iraq War was the biggest strategic blunder since Vietnam; it was not OK simply because Bush did it without France and Germany on board. The Economist seems to prefer process over substance, swagger over strategy.

The "mostly right" argument also sets aside all of Bush's other foreign policy decisions. There is more to statecraft, after all, than the use of force. So, how about the administration's trade policy? Or efforts to manage the current account deficit? Or diplomacy and the Israel-Arab peace process? Or securing loose fissile material in Russia and elsewhere?

The Economist is not obligated to throw its formal support behind any candidate. It's not really obligated to do anything. But it should know that some of its subscribers are not pleased.

Posted by: JR at August 29, 2004 04:01 PM

Ari -- there was the Middle East roadmap; the "dead or alive" for ObL; the "democracy" in Afghanistan (Now with returned Taliban and even more heroin!); more nuclear proliferation; destroyed alliances (not important in fighting disparate threat like terrorism); VASTLY more hatred of the U.S. ... need I go on? Bush is a MASTER!!

Posted by: MattB at August 29, 2004 04:02 PM

I don't know how well this idea would go over with the Kerry camp, particularly the advisors, but couldn't they throw people like Rand Beers* and Richard Clarke into the press a little bit more? Chances are, we'd get write ups like, "...says Rand Beers, former Bush administration terrorism official now working for the Kerry campaign..." And then the public would start to wonder why such a move happened. Such a move would shed a brighter light on the Kerry campaign's terrorism plans.

*Two things. I didn't know, or at least didn't remember, that Rand Beers quit the Bush administration. I alway remember hearing his name thrown around, however. Also, what a cool name.

On a separate note, has The Economist done a comparison of the candidate's health care proposals?

Posted by: Brian at August 29, 2004 04:05 PM

There is an interesting article in the New York Times that suggests American may be missing far too much of the economic significance of the emergence of China and India and corresponding changes through Asia because of other preoccupations. There is much about our foreign policy to examine anew.

Posted by: anne at August 29, 2004 04:07 PM

Across Asia, Beijing's Star Is in Ascendance

NEWMAN, Australia - Chris Dunbar watched as a front-end loader carved into a 60-foot wall of iron ore glinting in the red dirt of a vast open mine in the big sky country of northwestern Australia. "This is as good as it gets," said a satisfied Mr. Dunbar, 47, a manager with more than 20 years of experience.

He was boasting about the richness of the blue-black ore at the Mount Whaleback mine, but he might as well have been bragging about the boom that has propelled economies across the Asia-Pacific region. These days, Australian engineers - like executives, merchants and manufacturers elsewhere in the region - cannot seem to work fast enough to satisfy the hunger of their biggest new customer: China.

Not long ago Australia and China regarded each other with suspicion. But through newfound diplomatic finesse and the seemingly irresistible lure of its long economic expansion, Beijing has skillfully turned around relations with Australia, America's staunchest ally in the region.

The turnabout is just one sign of the broad new influence Beijing has accumulated across the Asian Pacific with American friends and foes alike. From the mines of Newman - an outpost of 3,000 in a corner of the outback - to theforests of Myanmar, the former Burma, China's rapid growth is sucking up resources and pulling the region's varied economies in its wake. The effect is unlike anything since the rise of Japanese economic power after World War II.

For now, China's presence mostly translates into money, and the doors it opens. But more and more, China is leveraging its economic clout to support its political preferences.

Beijing is pushing for regional political and economic groupings it can dominate, like a proposed East Asia Community that would cut out the United States and create a global bloc to rival the European Union. It is dispersing aid and, in ways not seen before, pressing countries to fall in line on its top foreign policy priority: its claim over Taiwan.

Posted by: anne at August 29, 2004 04:08 PM

American military supremacy remains unquestioned, regional officials say. But the United States appears to be on the losing side of trade patterns. China is now South Korea's biggest trade partner, and two years ago Japan's imports from China surpassed those from the United States. Current trends show China is likely to top American trade with Southeast Asia in just a few years.

Posted by: anne at August 29, 2004 04:11 PM

Anne: Check out George Gilboy's recent Foreign Affairs article on the Chinese economy. I think he does a pretty balanced job. It's certainly better than the polemics that usually surround the issue.

Economist: Start reading Kerry's speeches. I'm tired of arguing with people who declare, "Well, Kerry hasn't told us what he would do." This is simply not the case. In May and June, Kerry went on an 11-city tour specifically to highlight some of his foreign policy ideas. Among other things, these include returning to bi-lateral negotiations with North Korea and increasing funding for Nunn-Lugar.

No presidential candidate can be completely candid about foreign policy during a campaign. Even so, Candidate Kerry has been reasonably forthcoming. You don't have to agree with his ideas, but you can't pretend they don't exist.

Posted by: JR at August 29, 2004 04:19 PM

Also, the Economist commends George Bush for cutting taxes in the best conservative tradition while moaning that spending was not cut as well. What spending? Spending on the promises of Social Security and Medicare. I am not terribly impressed by an Economist that lauds tax cuts that need to be paid for by limiting retirement benefits for middle class America. Let them try to limit such benefits in Britain and find how long a time will pass before Conservatives have a majority.

Posted by: anne at August 29, 2004 04:21 PM

Mr Crook revealed himself at the end with, "the all bad" vs. "all good" comment which then distilled into his bitter insult of "brainless tribalism". Seems to me like another conservative projecting.

I don't recall anyone arguing that Bush is "all bad". No, merely the worst president ever, or since the Civil War, or since Hoover. Take your pick.

As far as their view that Bush got the "big things right" by "confronting" our enemies. Boy is that a tight box the Economist envisions for America. One where the range of confrontation options is so limited we're bound to exhaust ourselves chasing bogeymen before we can get to the real threats.

Finally, Frank W. is right, the Republicans, and especially the Bush Whitehouse, have a terrible foreign policy track record even without Iraq. The list of failures is well known.

Posted by: dennisS at August 29, 2004 04:21 PM

"At The Economist, we try to keep an open mind."

Ha ha ha.
Come on.
If the story is about Venezuela, the subject will be what a horrible populist Chavez is, with precious little said about how his (non-democratic) opposition have repeatedly tried to toss him out, to the extent of would-be-coups.
If the story is about Russia, the subject will be about how terrible it is that Putin is "stealing" from the oligarchs, with precious little background into how the oligarchs acquired their companies and wealth in the first place, or the extent to which they were recently (and perhaps even are currently) breaking laws, specifically taxation.
If the story is Europe, it will be about how there is no lump of labor, that the 35 hr week is a terrible idea, and that the cure for all of Europes woes would be some Anglo-American tough love. Alternative possibilities (that what's unfolding in Europe is, like Japan, the result of demographics, not the economic system), along with an explanation of how, if the European socialism system is so awful, it hasn't collapsed of its own weigh yet are given a derisory sentence.

Sadly it's been quite a few years since you could read an Economist story and not know exactly where it was headed.

Posted by: Maynard Handley at August 29, 2004 04:22 PM

I laugh whenever someone comes down from their ivory tower to comment on a blog and then blast the author of the blog for the level of political debate.

Posted by: Doug at August 29, 2004 04:24 PM

What I think that Mr Crook's point about Germany and France misses is that the UNMOVIC process of attempting to verify or dismiss the notion that Iraq had WMD was still in progress when a course of violence was chosen. Had those nations remained stubbornly opposed to invasion after WMD had been confirmed, he would have a point about the necessity of assembling a limited coalition and proceeding without UN Security Council approach.

Exactly right. What pissed everybody off was Bush dismissing the UN inpectors' report that WMD's weren't to be found. He gave them no room to maneuver and they left, really under threat, when the U.S. announced, still without any proof of WMDs, they were invading.

Just out of curiosity; what is a WMD? Is it nuclear missiles, bio-chemical weapons, poison gas, or air power?

I'm asking becase a recent poll showed that many Americans still belive Hussein had WMDs. As far as I know, Hussein had none of the above.

Has anyone tracked the definition and how it's been manipulated/ changed over time?

Posted by: evagrius at August 29, 2004 04:33 PM

We were able to win the war in Iraq in a matter of weeks. Iraq could never have been a threat. What has become a threat to us is the drain of occupation.

Posted by: Ari at August 29, 2004 04:43 PM

The hawk streak of American political opinion judges candidates entirely on their willingness to blow shit up and kill people. Sounds like the Economist is on the same page as the semi-literate Angry White Guys in small-town Mississippi. Better them than me.

The condescending tone was priceless, as was the use of the "post-9/11" cliche. Perhaps it's rare enough on the other side of the water that they think that it's actually an idea.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson at August 29, 2004 04:44 PM

" confront America’s enemies" Another meaningless soundbite.

Posted by: kupp at August 29, 2004 04:47 PM

evagrius: Weapons of mass destruction include nuclear, biological, chemical, and radiological weapons. The "WMD" tag is very controversial, becuase lumping together all of these weapons belies the enormous differences between them. The destructive power of nuclear weapons, for example, is orders of magnatude greater than than of battlefield chemical munitions. But since both are considered WMD, we fail to differentiate among threats.

Another problem is the potential domestic response to a "WMD" attack. The number of casualties from a "dirty bomb" attack on Manhattan would probably be quite small. But the psychological reaction would be devastating, especially because we've been fed a steady diet of WMD warnings since 9/11.

Owen Cote takes the article further:

For background on WMD, see:

Posted by: JR at August 29, 2004 04:58 PM

As other posters have noted, you seem to have ceded him the issue of Bush' foreign policy. But the Economist' reading of the Bush foreign policy is as perverted as the policy itself. Bush willfully ignored evidence -- especially Hans Blix' valiant efforts -- that Iraq didn't pose an imminent threat. Bush ignored allies' insistence that Iraq wasn't an imminent threat. And Bush ignored his own people's advice that he didn't have the resources to attack Iraq and deal, at the same time, with real threats -- Al Qaeda especially.

Most of all, Bush has to be condemend for rejecting at the outset any initiatives, programs and advice (like "focus on Al Qaeda") that Clinton left to him, for the simple reason that they came from Clinton. This irrational and sharp shift in the foreign policy of the world's greatest power should be condemned world-round.

This is unilateralism out of control. The Economist has to put these things aside as cynically, deliberately and corruptly as the Bush team did and still does (no regrets, no corrections, no taking of responsibility) to achieve it's conclusion that Bush' foreign policy is worth voting for.

That's enough to condemn the Economist -- no need to even bring up domestic policy.

Posted by: Paulo at August 29, 2004 04:59 PM

"But, as you know, our editorial argued that Bush has got the big things right on foreign policy. The biggest thing of all, in my view, was his determination to confront America’s enemies..."

There is a time and place for choosing when one should confront one's enemies. The time to confront Al Qaeda was clearly immediate -- but giving points for Bush for that is absurd. It's like telling a boxer he's done a good job because he threw a punch. Clinton, after all, attacked Bin Laden after far less a long ways away.

The time and manner for confronting Iraq was poorly chosen, has weakened our effort against Al Qaeda in several ways (eg, militarily, in relations with allies, in making the US military appear vulnerable and impotent). Bush should be judged on this and found wanting.

I'm finished with the Economist. If this is the considered judgment of the Deputy Editor, then I'm wasting my time reading his rag.

Posted by: AD at August 29, 2004 05:15 PM

Could this be linked in any way to Blair's reluctance to cash in his Congressional gold medal--something that the Bush folks have been pleading Blair to do? Maybe The Economist is trying to help Blair do that silly thing--trying to persuade him that hurting Kerry is really no big deal. Or there may just be resentment and surprise at Blair for letting down the team in the last five minutes of the last quarter--pulling the trigger, as it were, in the desperate moments of a desperado's desperate crash.

Posted by: alabama at August 29, 2004 05:18 PM

Bush got the big decisions of foreign policy right?? That IS a head scratcher.

I completely disagree with Mr. Crook. Furthermore, I think the costs of the bad decisions on foreign policy are much greater than the bad decisions on domestic macropolicy. The US will have to burden the costs of the Iraq fiasco for years, or risk creating a very dangerous failed terrorist state there. That will remain true even if Kerry wins, unless he is a real miracle worker. Then there are the N. Korea and Iran nuclear programs, dropping the ball on nonproliferation policy, diverting forces from Al-Qaeda at a critical time, very little follow through on shutting down international terrorist financial links. Serious and irreversible costs stemming from those bad decisions will dog the US for a long time.

In domestic macro policy, what we have so far is miserabley inefficient counter-cyclical policy for one mild post war recession. Those problems can be easily fixed with a new administration with few lasting consequences. They will be much harder to fix after anohter four years of the same, and may be very difficult to fix if long term tax cuts and malicious social insurance schemes are introduced as well.

The Economist certainly lives in different galaxy than I do.

I also agree with this:

"Sadly it's been quite a few years since you could read an Economist story and not know exactly where it was headed."

Add to that an obsolete and potted monetarist perspective on macro that has lead the Economist to announce economic crisis after economic crisis that has never occured. Maybe that has changed recently. It hadn't quit reading the magazine after I found I could get equivalent international news coverage on the internet.

Let us see if Mr. Crook follows through on his promise to do a balanced and thoughtful job on the endorsement.

Posted by: jml at August 29, 2004 05:19 PM

I meant to type "if the current long term tax cuts were made permanent", not "introduced."

And I meant to type "It hadn't *when I* quit reading the magazine after I found I could get equivalent international news coverage on the internet."

Typing gnomes strike again. Darn trial attorneys!!

Posted by: jml at August 29, 2004 05:22 PM

>> “Perhaps in due course we will endorse John Kerry"

Hahahahaha! Hehehehe!! Whew... (wipes away tears of laughter).

I subscribed to the Economist for years. I accepted that most of the material would be libertarian / free-market biased (nothing wrong with that even to a Democrat like me). I also knew that at every election the editorial team would hem and haw and after due consideration endorse the Tory or the Republican. It didn't matter how ridiculously inept the candidate was, that's the way the endorsement went. Still, it was never as loony as the WSJ editorial page and the articles were generally very good.

Starting in the late '90s it got too silly to take seriously. Without reviewing every idiocy, just contrast the "Just Go!" cover story recommending President Clinton resign over the great Flytrap controversy with the "Hey it could happen to anyone" approach they have taken over President Bush and his Iraq ‘policy.’

I finally let my subscription lapse this year. It was a great magazine (or as they style it ‘newspaper’) once, but sadly it’s not much more than self-parody at this point.

Posted by: jhe at August 29, 2004 05:31 PM

The crux of Crook is here:

In paragraph 3, he writes: "Bush has got the big things right on foreign policy".

In paragraph 4, the "big things" qualifier magically and disappears: "But if one takes the view that the administration has been mostly right on foreign policy".

Even if you believe (which I don't) that Bush might have gotten "the big things" right, you'd have to be delusional to believe that he's gotten anything but the big things right.

I'm not fooled by Crook's deception.

Posted by: The Pathological Optimist at August 29, 2004 05:32 PM

I'm turining into one of those inhabitant of the blogosphere that gets all worked up and starts typing overly bellicose and nasty things. I still read the Economist's special reports once in awhile. Their stuff on corporate governance has been really good, and their international business reports are good too. But I agree with many of the posters on this thread, in some ideologically hot areas, they have fallen into serious conceptual ruts, and one gets the sense the editors opinions about what they truly know to be the case are more important than facts and news.

Posted by: jml at August 29, 2004 05:42 PM

Even people as (supposedly) sane and sophisticated as the editors of the Economist seem to have no advantage over Joe Sixpack--both are taken in by macho posturing.

Posted by: Nancy Irving at August 29, 2004 05:44 PM

What's truly insane is that the Economist gives Bush credit for doing what was right (invade Iraq) based on their mistaken view that Saddam had WMD.

France and Germany withheld their support for the war, and undermined the effort to put pressure on Saddam Hussein, at a time when they too knew that the sanctions regime was collapsing and they too believed that Saddam had WMD. In those circumstances, Bush was right to deny them a veto. In similar circumstances, in my view, he would be right to do so again.

WTF. "Getting it right" means responding rationally and responsibly to a completely mistaken view of the world. In my book that's pretty close to the definition of paranoid schizophrenia.

The decision to confront America's enemies was awfully easy, but Bush sent only a token force to Afghanistan, didn't get Bin Laden and pulled most of the Special Ops and Muslim specialists out to go after Iraq. The decision to go to war with Iraq involved evaluating the delicate trade off between the threat Saddam posed and the danger of destabilizing the country and the region. Bush badly miscalculated both.

To say he did the right thing in some hypothetical world where Saddam had WMD and Iraq was ripe for democracy because some true believers argued that was the case sets an absurdly low bar. By that standard his tax cuts were also "right" because he believed they would enhance economic growth and his decision to limit stem cell research to the multitude of established research lines and the choice to ignore terrorist warnings in summer 2001 to focus on the real threat of ballistic nuclear missiles and ... heck there is some right wing fantasy to justify all the corrupt irresponsible and just plain wacked things this administration has done.

Maybe reality itself is the problem. Bush might be a great president on some alternate planet that corresponds to his distorted worldview.

We should send him there.

Posted by: economaniac at August 29, 2004 05:54 PM

There was only one big thing: Osama bin Laden killed 3000 Americans on American soil. George Bush failed, failed, to catch and punish him. Now the network is reorganized. Even if we catch him now it is too late. Failure. Failure on the only thing that counted.

Posted by: masaccio at August 29, 2004 05:56 PM

I can't help putting in my two cents that I for one do not believe that *anyone* would be better than Bush. I am glad that Kerry is the Democrat candidate, even if one could argue he is a boring, mainstream, consensus, even slighly opportunistic poll watching plodder. Might be just the thing we need while we assess the damage done over the last four years. And there is a good chance he will be much better than that.

And I am also not a congenital GW Bush hater. Why, -and this is an humiliating admission of foolish optimism- I even told some of my friends that right after the election that maybe Bush wouldn't be so bad, if he really meant it when he said he would govern as a moderate... I didn't vote for him of course, but I never expected he would be this bad. Yes, yes, in retrospect, that might be evidence that my brain is the size of a little dried up pea rattling around inside my head.

It is odd that we have arrived at a place where anyone who criticizes the current US admin is accused of being extremist and closed minded, when by all reasonable standards it is this administration that has been the source of unprecidented extremism and closed mindedness in almost all of its policies.

Posted by: jml at August 29, 2004 06:03 PM

Actually, the Economist isn't the only periodical to publish excellent stories on a variety of topics in the body of the magazine, and then pull a Jekyll and Hyde act on the editorial page - take a look at the Wall Street Journal, which continues to allow some of the looniest righters in the world to infest its editorial page while publishing articles about the substandard weaponry and armor provided to Reserve and National Guard troops sent to Iraq in the body of the paper. Bipartisan? No - bipolar...

Posted by: Uncle Jeffy at August 29, 2004 06:14 PM

"Just out of curiosity; what is a WMD? Is it nuclear missiles, bio-chemical weapons, poison gas, or air power?"

"WMD" is like "vegetable" in that there is no strict definition. There are a group of certified pundits that define, legally, what a WMD is, but what they say is more political than technical.

As I understand it, nuclear, biological and chemical weapons make up the current "official" WMD trifecta. You are right: Hussein had none. He DID have chemical weapons, but we didn't mind at the time, because he used them on Kurds with our blessing. Hypocrisy at its finest.

Now let me get technical: A WMD is essentially a weapon that causes lots of damage with a single payload. Chemical and biological weapons are NOT WMD's. They are just too difficult to deploy. Their only tactical uses are scaring civilians senseless and demoralizing garrisons. Hussein certainly didn't abandon his weapons programs to be soft and cuddly: He just figured out they weren't worth the effort. Nuclear weapons are indeed WMD's. But a little-known factoid is that the reason the U.S. is so noble about anti-proliferation is that we don't need nukes anymore. Fuel-air explosives are another WMD, and as far as I know, the U.S. is the only country to deploy them.

Posted by: Dragonchild at August 29, 2004 06:30 PM

Brad, I can only bow to the wisdom of your response to Crook.

As for Crook, apparently living in a parliamentary system where proportional representation exists, he has become spoiled.

Posted by: Randy Paul at August 29, 2004 06:32 PM

Dear Mr. Crook:
I have been a subscriber to your newspaper for many years - although my inclination at present is to drop the current pleas to renew my subscription into the round bin.

"But, as you know, our editorial argued that Bush has got the big things right on foreign policy."

1. For nine months George Bush and his administration ignored the threat posed by al-Qaida, up to and including a PDB titled "Osama bin Laden Determined to Strike in US."

2. For most of those nine months the Bush administration efforts were directed towards expending hundreds of billions of dollars on the deployment of a marginally effective, at best, ballistic missile defense system.

3. After 9/11 and the successful invasion of Afghanistan, instead of directing US resources towards ensuring the disarray of the jihadist forces, more tens of billions of dollars were, and are, wasted on an entirely unnecessary war in Iraq - which posed a threat to no-one.

4. Is there any evidence the Bush administration has a policy, much less a coherent policy, towards North Korea?

5. Given the recent revelations about AIPAC and the Defense Department, is the policy towards Iran in any better shape?

Posted by: flory at August 29, 2004 06:38 PM

Clearly Clive is delusional. There are no rational criteria by which the Bush administration can be assessed as successful. I can only speculate that his fear of a Kerry presidency would be based in 1) Britain's inability to wield US military power as a proxy phallus 2) Changes in bond and currency values-European currencies are high against the dollar giving frogs, krauts and limeys greater purchasing power 3) British firms will expand by buying out bankrupt American firms and multinationals if Bush continues using their inflated currency-They already own a great deal of real estate and other assets. Continued corporate misfeasance and the willingness of US business to self-sabotage their image through corruption, self-dealing and mismanagement will be amended by British firms who maintain the image of stodgy fiscal conservatism a la Monty Python's chartered accountants. Bush is a disaster for us and a yard sale for the rest of the world.

Posted by: bigfoot at August 29, 2004 07:00 PM

Clive Crook writes for the Economist.

The Economist is well known for arguments that start "if pigs were horses" and conclude "therefore cows fly"

Pardon, pigs are not horses, George Bush got the big thing wrong and we get to enjoy another couple of years of Bin Laden (assuming of course that the Bush boys don't have him on ice for an October surprise" and maybe even a nuclear device will appear in New York next week.

Notice how France and Germany did not object to the US invading Afganistan to get at Bin Laden and al Queda? Notice how they wanted to help and take part? Notice how George Bush rejected that help? Ever wonder if extra support was available whether Tora Bora would have been the killing field for al Queda? Ever wonder even if US troops were not being staged out for the Iraq adventure whether Tora Bora would have been the killing field for al Queda? Clearly Cook is selling shinola if not the usual substitue.

I stopped reading the Economist when I figured out that too clever arguments based on false assumptions were not worth wasting time on.

Posted by: Eli Rabett at August 29, 2004 07:00 PM

I appreciate all the intelligent commentary that has preceded my entry. At this point I only have one comment to add. Mr. Crook, your accusation that Brad is guilty of "brainless tribalism" is insulting, unfounded, and just plain stupid. If you have read this far (and please follow the link to the Owen Cote article on WMDs in the Boston Review referenced by JR, I believe), you might realize that you should reconsider your opinion and apologize to Brad.

Posted by: tedb at August 29, 2004 07:07 PM

Call Walmart at 1-800-966-6546 and demand they help extend unemployment benefits and increase the minimum wage to 9 dollars an hour or you will not buy from them until they get the Republicans in Washington DC to extend unemployment benefits for those whose benefits ran out as far back as August 2003 and increase the minimum wage to 9 dollars an hour.

Posted by: buckfush at August 29, 2004 07:20 PM

Dear Clive-

Do they no longer teach history courses in Britain?

If not, please read "Inventing Iraq."

What you learn may change your view of whether Mr. Bush has "gotten the big things right."

Posted by: praktike at August 29, 2004 07:30 PM

I would commend Mr. Crook for personally responding to a blog, even if it is a superb blog, down to pseudo-classic dialogues.

Part of the criticism misses the point Mr. Crook is making: the goal of the editorial was to make an apraisal but to withhold judgement.

This is what I called "diktat" in the previous discussion. The goal is precise and with no flexibility. Well, something has to give; apraisal without any bright sides would come perilously close to the verboten judgement.

Yet, even when the praise is given, some qualifiers are withheld. When recommendation letter says "enthusiastic and hard-working", the admission officers thinks "they do not mention bright". Thus Crooks praises Bush's "determination to confront America’s enemies even if not all of the allies...". Would Crooks be fully delusional, the sentence would be a bit longer: "... determination to confront America's enemies, w_h_e_n__ n_e_c_e_s_s_a_r_y, even if not all of the allies...".

Crooks rightly takes credit for calling Rumsfeld to resign. But sometimes he critices Bush's unfairly, as in "deplored the way intelligence about WMD was presented to the public". What is it that they did not like? That manure has to be properly aged and sterilized before it is presented to the public? Try as you might, invariably some malcontents will complain at the diet of cow manure, however it is processed and packaged.

Posted by: piotr at August 29, 2004 07:33 PM

clive cook: you need to quit your job and stay at home baking cookies for your kids...if you have no kids then drive elderly people to their medical appointments.
To write that bush did the big things right on foreign policy is insane, incompetent, uninformed: are you in a bubble? are you on acid? you are a so-called professional? stop adding to the torture of " professional " opinions :your incompetence is breathtaking.

Posted by: victoria at August 29, 2004 07:35 PM

Their chief reason for even considering Bush is "his determination to confront America’s enemies." In other words, they don't praise any actual successes in confronting America's enemies, but only Bush's publicly expressed attitude about America's enemies. Let's hope they make their eventual endorsement decision based on something more than some cowboy words. I would suggest that they make their endorsement based on, I dunno, maybe...Bush's record?

Posted by: Jeff at August 29, 2004 07:37 PM

So am I right in saying that The Economist has jumped the shark?

Posted by: Tom DC/VA at August 29, 2004 07:55 PM

It's really sad. Until the mid-1980s, the Economist was an exceptional publication in terms of its news coverage and analysis. Its writers and editors seemed like pragmatic John Stuart Mills of the late 20th Century. And it was entertaining as it had attitude with a low tolerance for fools of whatever stripe and thoughtfully disdaining foolish nostrums on all sides.

With a change in editors it became much more reflexively ideological in the mid 1980s and started lurching to the psuedo-libertarian right. This especially became noticeable in its coverage of US politics--e.g. Lexington, the unthinking stenographer of the Heritage and AEI briefing papers and political opinion. I so miss the old Economist.

Posted by: Ben Brackley at August 29, 2004 08:41 PM

Tom DC/VA - you hit the nail on the head. For Clive to say Bush got the big things right after Bush declared he doesn't think about Osama bin Laden much anymore is an insult to my memory of 9/11. I wish I still had an Economist subscription to cancel. Unfortunately I already cancelled mine earlier this year.

Posted by: Sparks at August 29, 2004 08:47 PM

This arguement is either disengenuous or symptematic of the attititude that "Words are stronger than facts".

Who cares what he says - judge him by what he has done

Posted by: ed_finnerty at August 29, 2004 08:54 PM

To contend in March 2003 that the U.S. was right on Iraq and Germany/France (and Russia/China) were wrong was wrong but defensible. To contend today that the U.S. got it right on Iraq and Germany/France/Russia/China got it wrong is insane.

End of story.

Posted by: ogmb at August 29, 2004 09:58 PM

“Notice how France and Germany did not object to the US invading Afganistan (sic) to get at Bin Laden and al Queda (sic)?”

Notice that Afghanistan is a poor country with no oil or other contracts to bribe either France or Germany. Notice that France built the Osirak reactor for Iraq so it could produce material for nuclear weapons. After the first Gulf war, we found out that indeed Iraq had an advanced nuclear weapons program awaiting fissile material. And guess who assured the world (at the time) that Iraq had no nuclear weapons program? None other than our old friend, Hans Blix (head of the IAEA in the 1980s). Not only did the IAEA fail to find evidence of Iraq’s program, it lavished praise on Saddam for cooperating with IAEA. Fortunately for everyone, Israel destroyed the reactor before it could produce fissile material. And of course at the time the usual suspects (including France and Germany) loudly condemned Israel for its act of aggression against the peace-loving regime in Iraq. If not for Israel we might be saying: “Look Hans no ma.”

Posted by: A. Zarkov at August 29, 2004 09:59 PM

"Part of the criticism misses the point Mr. Crook is making: the goal of the editorial was to make an apraisal but to withhold judgement."

This is nonsense, but it clearly delineates that thought process that went into the creation of the editorial. There is no rule that an editorial has to be even-handed or that it has to withhold (damning) judgment. If the facts are clear and all fall in one hand of the scale pretending that there is anything in the other hand is false and dishonest. I don't think the people at the Economist are stupid, but there is a strong belief in the even-handed approach Piotr expects from them. Just that in this case there is no other hand. There is no other hand, but the Economist put itself under pressure to find it, and under this pressure (individually or organizationally) it cracked.

Posted by: ogmb at August 29, 2004 10:09 PM

Zarkov, you are offering evidence against France & Germany on Iraq from the 1980's? You can't be serious.

Posted by: ogmb at August 29, 2004 10:12 PM

"Notice that Afghanistan is a poor country with no oil or other contracts to bribe either France or Germany."

Btw, Iraq had more money in 1990-1 to bribe Germany and France that they had in 2003, and still both sides decided to join the U.S. actively or by bankrolling Desert Storm. The idea that monetary incentives or bribes kept Germany and France out of GW2 is the same kind of fallacious dumbdreck as the whole Swift Boat hogwash.

Posted by: ogmb at August 29, 2004 10:22 PM

Am I the only one to rejoice at the gentlemen of the press having to stand as we, their humble readers, direct some of their own special kind of venom back to the said gentlemen ?
Not that the arguments of us, humble readers, are any worse than theirs. The inherent asymmetry in the journalist-reader relationship, though, is, happily, gone.
Let's hope this goes on and on.

Posted by: George J. Georganas at August 29, 2004 10:26 PM


Did Iraq have the tremendous debt to France and Germany in 1990 that it had in 2003? I don’t think so. Moreover, the comparison is really between Afghanistan and Iraq in 2003, not Iraq in 1990 versus Iraq in 2003.

I reached back to the 1980s for two reasons. First to show France has not been a team player with the West for a long time. And secondly, I don’t think it was reasonable to trust Hans Blix. He was against the second invasion of Iraq, and a lot of people were relying on his judgment in opposing the second invasion. Note that Kerry (like Bush) says he would have invaded Iraq even if he knew in 2003 that we would not find WMD. So neither candidate agreed with Blix in 2003. I admit it’s hard to track what Kerry thinks, as he seems to wander around a lot. But that’s the latest.

Posted by: A. Zarkov at August 29, 2004 11:01 PM

I agree with Zarkov that Germany and France have been corrupt and/or careless with the Iraqi nuclear threat, along with several other countries. Some would say the US belongs in that club, at least before the Kuwait invasion. But Zarkov's account cannot be taken seriously as it stands for other reasons.
Do a Google or Yahoo search on "Osirak" and you will find plenty of sites, both pro and con re the Israel's attack, and in twenty minutes or so you will see that Zarkov's account leaves a very misleading impression. See for example the Federation of American Scientists site:
I have no idea whether he meant it to be or not. Some experts claim that the attack on Osirak was counterproductive because in the aftermath the Iraqi program went underground and everyone was fooled into thinking it did not exist for awhile ( Zarkov might want to fill in his version of the blanks there, since there is jump of about ten years in his account.

Zarkov's account can leave the impression that the IAEA didn't even know the reactor existed, which isn't the case. And the inspections that started before the latest Iraq war were very different from those that occured in the 1980s. The nature of the controversy surrounding Iraq's weapons programs were very different.

And the issue is not just France or Germany. Mr Crook singled out those two countriesm. There can be a meaningful international consensus and coalition with the US without them. But the Bush administration failed to get any meaningful international consensus or coalition going. And the costs of their miscalculations have been enormous.

Posted by: jml at August 29, 2004 11:07 PM

You sound as if everyone commenting on this blog had said France should have a veto on the US's actions. I didn't read that anywhere.
And Blix was not giving Iraq a pass before the war, and there was more reason than this counterfactual "all's clear" that Blix never gave for opposing how Bush went about the, or in evaluating the state of Iraq's weapons programs before the war.

Posted by: jml at August 29, 2004 11:12 PM

for opposing how Bush went about the *war*

Posted by: jml at August 29, 2004 11:13 PM

Prof. de Long thought in news that the Economist editorial board are loony right wingers?

Posted by: venky at August 29, 2004 11:27 PM

"Did Iraq have the tremendous debt to France and Germany in 1990 that it had in 2003?"


Posted by: ogmb at August 29, 2004 11:52 PM

"I agree with Zarkov that Germany and France have been corrupt and/or careless with the Iraqi nuclear threat, along with several other countries."

As of what year (which administration/s) and how does this pertain to 2003? Zarkov made the typical wingnut argument that F/G had some hidden agenda under which they would profit from keeping Saddam in power, which is why they refused to back GW2, backed up by the typical wingnut blog "evidence" that doesn't even survive preliminary scrutiny.

Posted by: ogmb at August 30, 2004 12:05 AM

I don't think all of Zarkov's comment was wingnut. He made a good point that we may not be able to rely on major allies to always be with us, and that it would be wrong to give them a veto if the US had strong reasons to act. And also that they may not always have good motives for what they say and do. Somehow the discussion of that angle got stuck on Germany and France, probably because Mr. Crook mentioned only those two (was that Economist parochialism? -I couldn't resist a cheap shot there). Better to grant that correct point and move on to more important questions. The first one being -was that true in this case? -which I admit that I didn't address. I thought it more important to address the issue of whether the parallels between 1980, 1991, and now, are reasonable. I don't think they are.

Posted by: jml at August 30, 2004 12:20 AM

Domestic and foreign policy don't account for 50% each of how we judge a presidency.

The magnitude of this administration's failures in domestic policy overwhelms what good they may have done in foreign policy.

Posted by: thom at August 30, 2004 12:33 AM

jml: "[Zarkov] made a good point that we may not be able to rely on major allies to always be with us, and that it would be wrong to give them a veto if the US had strong reasons to act."

You might have read different post of his because I don't see it, and I didn't address it.

"And also that they may not always have good motives for what they say and do."

He didn't say "may" he said "did". He offered a direct accusation based on 1. outdated priors of questionable applicability, and 2. false claims, for which I took him to task.

France and Germany are the placeholders for the powers in the UNSC which opposed the invasion plan, nothing more. They might have opposed an invasion of Afghanistan if they considered the link between the 9/11 and AQ or between AQ and the Taliban sketchy. They didn't and they supported the Afghanistan war. They found the evidence linking Saddam to AQ or 9/11 or his threat potential more sketchy and insisted on the status quo: containment and inspections, until the fallout from a false positive (invading then not finding WMD) would be less than from of a false negative. A priori this is a question of risk assessment in which the sides differed. Ex posterior, now that we know the invasion was a false positive, differing assessment no longer matter as we know the outcome. France, Germany and Hans Blix were right, and character assassination or an ex post shift of prior motives won't change that.

Posted by: ogmb at August 30, 2004 01:44 AM

The Economist is correct, oil production managed by a consistent and predictable Capitalist organization should be considered a focused foreign policy decision by the world's business community.

Posted by: Greg Hunter at August 30, 2004 02:40 AM

Funny that a sophisticated journalist like Crook tries to oversimplify things by separating foreign from domestic policy. Further, to reduce the argument to "on the one hand Bush is good on the other he's bad" is intellectually dishonest. A broad argument that does not get into details is a ruse to portray Chimpy in a more favorable light.

Crook is intellectually lazy to seperate domestic from foreign policy.
As if Bush rushing into war without any allies and running up record deficits does not have an impact on domestic affairs such as funding so-called educational "reform".

As if the weakening USD that resulted from our deficit spending did not have an inflationary impact that scores a direct hit to most American's pocket book. Most obviously in the form of higher petrol prices.

As if the quagmire in Iraq was not the reason Greenspan's Fed did not begin hiking interest rates sooner. Now we face a housing market, consumer debt, mortgage finance, carry trade bubble that is going to rock the entire world.

Posted by: zgveritas at August 30, 2004 03:01 AM

I've always found one of the most (unfortunately) amusing things about the course of events in Iraq is that every announcement -- especially by the US military -- has taken the form "coalition forces today..." As though the occupying force in Iraq were some balanced mixture of forces from many countries, not in fact a force about 90% made up of the United States forces.

Now Mr. Crook repeates that trope, defending Bush for "assembling the best coalition he could". Wrong! A coalition of the US, US, US, US, US, US, US, Britain, Spain, Uzbekistan, Honduras, Guatemala and Micronesia is exactly NOT the "best coalition" by any possible definition. It is a travesty of a coalition, and gives coalitions a bad name. (No offense to the individuals from the countries who were sent to serve in Iraq -- many of them, n.b., in non-combattant positions, which pretty much shows the nature of this coalition.)

Or rather, to respond to Mr. Clive's framing of this coalition: if THIS is the best Bush and his team could do in forming an international coalition to defeat what they claimed was an imminent threat to all civilized nations, then maybe his foreign policy is NOT even "right on the big things" after all, and certainly is a dismal failure at the level of execution (as are the few other positive Bush policies -- note, in constrast how efficient and streamlined his administration's execution of such things as gutting wildnerness protection, undermining balanced labor markets, ending workplace safety protection and other policies have been. Coincidence?)

Posted by: PQuincy at August 30, 2004 05:54 AM

Many months ago the Economist ran a piece asserting that the American people would go on paying for Bush's fiscal recklessness long after he had retired to Crawford. Did it occur to these hypocritical people that such beliefs might be expected to enter into their deliberations over whether Bush deserved to be allowed to continue on his destructive course?

Posted by: Bob H at August 30, 2004 06:42 AM

Fantastic work Brad! You've got the attention of the Economist -- far more than all of us soon-to-be-non-subscribers have been able to do.

Their response is quite weak but appropriately defensive.

I recall reading a story recently of a senior journalist at the Economist who'd retired after 40-50 years of service. She made clear that there are now severe tensions within the Economist newsroom, a struggle between those who irrationally favor Bush despite all evidence, and those hue to the values of the old Economist -- rationalism and empiricism.

Let the battle rage. And if rationalism falls, well ... The Atlantic is making a real comeback these days.

Posted by: John Faughnan at August 30, 2004 07:47 AM

Who read this weeks Economist article on the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth issue? The article was pure 'He Said/He Said' ending in speculation over the horserace effects of the accusations without any factual analysis of the claims. Unbelievable. If they can get a story that well debunked in the public record so wrong, how am I to trust their other world news? I pay over $100/yr in subscription fees for this?

Posted by: J. Maynard Gelinas at August 30, 2004 08:05 AM

The Economist misses the days when those pesky peasants used to tug their forelocks and be properly respectful. They also favor capital and hardly consider labor worth mentioning. They also seem hostile to America in a snotty, Tory way. If they advise our country to behave in a certain way, it is always a safe bet to do the opposite. I guess that it is a useful magazine from that standpoint.

Posted by: Lynne at August 30, 2004 08:27 AM

The Economist fails to consider the harm this administration has done to democracy in the U.S. The Bush administration prefers deception and secrecy to honest, forthright dealing with people; treats those who disagree with them as enemies to be crushed; and apparently regards government as a tool for enriching cronies.

By considering only foreign and domestic policy, the Economist neatly skirts these issues, making Bush's administration seem less toxic than it really is.

(Of course, as many posters have ably pointed out, the claim that Bush has forcefully engaged America's enemies is ludicrous even on its own terms.)

Posted by: ChristianPinko at August 30, 2004 09:06 AM

Ogmb is on the right path as to Crook's response. There is no rule that an editorial should be anything in particular, but Crook calls on us to perceive an unstated pattern of recent and future editorials in order to understand the intent of this one. Isn't that a rather heavy burden to impose on the reader? Crook is either covering his backside in an uppity sort of "well, if you had merely understood that….." way, or he is expecting his readers to have schooled themselves on an unstated set of Economist editorial patterns. Even if we knew the pattern (as we all must, because the internal workings of the Economist are the most important thing in teh world), how were we to know that this particular effort was the "Bush assessment" step? If there is something we need to know to read this editorial properly, wasn't Crook obliged to tell us?

Otherwise, if it is possible to mistake the content of this "even-handed assessment" as badly as Crook insists that Brad has (and others here, apparently, as well), then we must at least suspect there is a problem with the writing. If there is a problem with the writing, I can guess what it is. Often, when writing is not quite as clear as one would like, it's because the argument is not supported by the facts.

Posted by: kharris at August 30, 2004 09:54 AM

Mr. Crook: My subscription expires in April 2005. I will not be renewing. The preceeding comments echo my own opinions.

Posted by: weinerdog43 at August 30, 2004 09:58 AM

There is no need to wait for your subscription to expire. I requested an immediate cancellation with a refund for the unused portion of my subscription. To the credit of the Economist, my check was promptly received. Don't just cancel, take money out of their pockets.

Posted by: Sparks at August 30, 2004 10:31 AM

I think that the editors of The Economist see their missions as the premier tool of Anglo-American establishment.

One corollary is that they provide a wide and informative coverage of the world events -- they are a bit doctrinaire, but who is not.

However, the second corollary is that within the realm of Anglo-American politics their role is to help their usually intelligent readers to avoid dangerous thoughts. It is a good thing to rail about crony capitalism in Indonesia or Italy. However, if you admit that GOP is a party of crony capitalism that uses religious bigotry and xenophopia to muddle minds of the peasants, the next thing you may see is geeks storming the Capitol with pitchforks.

Similarly, one cannot admit that one of the central tasks of intelligence agencies is to create misinformation about our adversaries so when Bush and Blair decided that Saddam has to go, there was a big pile of lies in the files of MI6 and CIA. So the truly important story was that these lies were used, and all contradictory (and truthful) info was disregarded. The Economists bemoans that the carefully prepared and documented lies were additionally exagerated, and quite ineptrly at that. They are not in the bussiness of denying the obvious. But the fact that intelligence data were totally false even before they were exagerated is truly a dangerous thought.

Posted by: piotr at August 30, 2004 10:50 AM

Is it possible to have thoughtful tribalism?

Posted by: Adam Morgan at August 30, 2004 11:14 AM

Brad, you were too nice in your response to his response. The only proper response was: "Anyone giving this much credit to Bush's foreign policy is either on the payroll or delusional."

As others have pointed out, foreign and domestic policy are inseparable in this case. Bush has bet the bank on a militarized economy and a militarized, extraordinarily expensive, and necessarily endless foreign policy. Are the economic consequences of these policies consistent with what the Economist has considered "good policy" in the past?

Posted by: sm at August 30, 2004 11:30 AM

With so many posts, it is probably pointless to add--but I can't help myself. I agree with those above who point out the abusrdity of the notion that Bush "confronted America's enemies".
Also agree with the notion above that the Economist failed miserably on the Swift Vet story.

However, my real problems were not so much in the op-ed as in the evaluation of Bush where it said "he is bringing competition and accountability to public spending". I stopped right there and quickly came up with a dozen examples of how this administration has been less accoutantable than others. I was suprised to note the article later referred to several of these when discussing Bushco's assertion of executive privilege and the loss of the Congressional check--these include lies on the size of tax cuts and who they benefitted, the deliberate low balling of the medicare drug plan, and the virtual destruction of the budgetting process. It failed to mention the record breaking pork barrel spending; no-compete contracts in Iraq and elsewhere; the firing of officials for discussing the impact of funding cuts; interested corporate insiders appointed to key positions like defense contractor executives as Services Secretaries; or perhaps Missile Defense, a program which has not met the barest standards of providing value for money. I found it really hard it believe that while acknowledging the administration has refused to be held accountable across a broad front that the could argue that it was making public spending more accountable. The capper was the claim that public sector unions hate Bush despite high public spending because of his demand for accountability!

A nice final tickler was pointing to non-proliferation policy as a major success--most analysts consider this a major policy disaster. The invasion of Iraq, which supposedly convinced Libya to give up its (extremely) nascent nukes, apparently convinced Iran and North Korea to hurry up and complete programs before we launched an invasion.

Posted by: quartz at August 30, 2004 11:35 AM

I will not be cancelling my subscription to The Economist, in spite of Mr. Crook's fatuous response.

The Economist offers a unique view into the mind of the self-respecting conservative intellectual. I have no idea whether the Coalition of Self-Respecting Conservative Intellectuals meets in a phone booth.)

The Economist is way more entertaining than the WSJ Editorial Page. As an example I point at a letter appearing in that newspaper's pages, in the wake of the Enron/ accountancy scandals, suggesting that an economist is "one who is good with numbers but lacks the creativity to become an accountant."

I predict the Economist will endorse Kerry, along with a lot of woolen nonsense about the differing views on the shape of the world. I further predict that the Economist's endorsement will change the minds of a small percentage of the CSRCI, following fisticuffs in the phone booth.

Posted by: Marcus Sitz at August 30, 2004 11:51 AM

"I recall reading a story recently of a senior journalist at the Economist who'd retired after 40-50 years of service. She made clear that there are now severe tensions within the Economist newsroom, a struggle between those who irrationally favor Bush despite all evidence, and those hue to the values of the old Economist -- rationalism and empiricism."

This would support my diagnosis of cognitive dissonance played out at the organizational level. Let's hope the "reform" faction wins this power struggle.

Posted by: ogmb at August 30, 2004 12:05 PM

No Brad,

Unfortunately Kerry won't confront the US's enemies. Rather, he will make many empty threats.

But as far as I can tell it doesn't really matter. Sooner or later one of the US' enemies will destroy a good chunk of New York City (or maybe Berkeley) and then Islam will be forcibly launched into the reformation it so sorely needs (just as the other major religions have already had).

If Kerry reverses your disastrous economic policy then at least there will something to be thankful for.

Tel Aviv Reader

Posted by: Tel Aviv Reader at August 30, 2004 05:57 PM

Tel Aviv reader and all others who use the term "Islamic Reformation" as something good to be looked forward to:

Have you ever read the history of the Reformation/Counterreformation period?

It was a period full of confident, bloodthirsty zealots anxious to torture and burn the enemies of God, whether heretics or witches.

If you want an Islamic Reformation, you've got it already.

Posted by: sm at August 31, 2004 04:20 PM

It's nice to see Clive Crook responding here (and unlike others here, I'm not planning to cancel my Economist subscription), but I'm puzzled by Crook's assertion that Bush has mostly gotten foreign policy right. Crook had a column in the National Journal back in May in which he said that in retrospect, the Iraq war was a mistake. It's not available online, but there's some quotes here:

"My answer to the question is that, with the benefit of hindsight, we advocates of the war were indeed wrong. But it is important to be clear about exactly how we were wrong.

"By itself, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction made the venture, with hindsight, a mistake. Iraq's supposed WMD were not the only reason for attacking Saddam, but they were a main reason. Many of Bush's critics in America and Europe want to believe that he and his allies just lied about this -- saying the war was about disarming Iraq, while knowing that there were no WMD. By every plausible account, this is not true. Even if the failure to find WMD were the only thing to have gone wrong, it would have been enough, with hindsight, to shift the balance of pros and cons against the war -- but much else has gone wrong as well. Postwar planning was weak. Too few resources were committed to the task. And resistance to the occupation was stronger than expected. As a result, the coalition forces have been unable to provide security, the necessary condition for everything else the coalition wants to see happen, from functioning democratic institutions to investment and economic recovery."

Crook's argument that Bush got the "big things" right also strikes me as odd. George Kennan commented in his memoirs that in foreign policy, what you do is often much less important than *how you do it.* There's a great deal of evidence that the Bush administration considers ideology to be much more important than professionalism, and in foreign policy, this can be extremely damaging. Peter Galbraith gives an example in the latest New York Review of Books: the quasi-constitutional Transitional Administrative Law, which the Bush administration had invested so much effort into, expired on June 28, when the occupation ended. The Bush administration doesn't appear to have realized this when it was crafting the TAL.

"The administration had put itself in an impossible position with respect to its own creation. In 2003, at the request of the United States and Great Britain, the United Nations Security Council acknowledged that the US-led coalition was the occupying power in Iraq. As a general principle of international law, occupying powers are not allowed to make permanent, or irreversible, changes in an occupied country. Occupying powers cannot cede territory, sell assets, or make permanent law. Thus all law made by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) expired when the occupation ended on June 28. ...

"How did the Bush administration invest so much in the TAL and then find itself forced to abandon it? It appears that Bremer never realized that his decrees would not legally outlast the occupation. It was a rookie's mistake caused, as with so many other CPA failures, by the lack of expertise on the part of his staff. The TAL was largely the responsibility of two of Bremer's assistants (dubbed "the west wingers"), one an extremely capable but relatively junior Foreign Service officer and the other a young political appointee from the Pentagon's stable of neoconservative nation-builders. Imbued with grand ideas such as remaking the Iraqi judiciary with a US-style Supreme Court, they apparently neglected to consult an international lawyer."

If Kerry brings back professionalism in foreign policy, that would be a huge step in the right direction.

One final point is that the Bush administration appears to be committing the classic mistake of militarism, equating power with military force and disdaining other forms of power. Louis Halle ("The Cold War as History"):

"... real power is always something far greater than military power alone. A balance of power is not a balance of military power alone: it is, rather, a balance in which military power is one element. Even in its crudest aspect, power represents a subtle and intimate combination of force and consent. No stable government has ever existed, and no empire has ever become established, except with an immensely preponderant measure of consent on the part of those who were its subjects. That consent may be a half-grudging consent; it may be a consent based in part on awe of superior force; it may represent love, or respect, or fear, or a combination of the three. Consent, in any case, is the essential ingredient in stable power--more so than physical force, of which the most efficient and economical use is to increase consent.

"By using physical force in such a way as alienates consent one constantly increases the requirements of physical force to replace the consent that has been alienated. A vicious spiral develops that, continued, ends in the collapse of power."

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