Opinion

The Great Debate

Rumsfeld’s biggest unknown

USA-AFGHAN/TILLMANBy Joshua Spivak
The opinions expressed are his own.

The knives are out in Donald Rumsfeld’s new memoir, Known and Unknown. In defense of his long public service career and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the man who was both the youngest and oldest Defense Secretary clearly believes that a good offense is the best strategy.

While the book is receiving press for the intra-cabinet fights and for Rumsfeld cherry-picking his facts, it ends up being a useful and needed work: In eviscerating fellow members of President George W. Bush’s national security team, Rumsfeld raises questions about how the most critical parts of the executive branch operate.

With the relentlessly negative portrayals of political and military figures and constant complaints about the press and the legislature, it is not obvious that Rumsfeld is looking to make a larger point other than defending his tenure and slashing at adversaries. And slash he does — among the many, many bold-faced names who receive unwelcome shout-outs are long-time Rumsfeld foe George H.W. Bush, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, John McCain, Al Gore (he even takes an early whack at Gore’s father), Jerry Bremer, Eric Shinseki, and, in a golden oldies moment, Nixon’s counsel John Ehrlichman. His assessment of Ehrlichman may be the best line in the book, noting,“Certainty without power can be interesting, and even amusing. Certainty with power can be dangerous.”

What gives some of these criticisms weight is Rumsfeld’s highlighting of flawed presidential operations. He starts with citing mismanagement with the one president who he greatly respects and admires, Gerald Ford. Rumsfeld keeps coming back to the mismanagement theme. At the end of his tenure in the Bush Administration, he notes: “After five years back in government, wrestling with natural and man-made disasters as well as two wars, it became clear to me that our government institutions were proving inadequate to the challenges of the twenty-first century and the information age.”

The critiques multiply with a series of attacks on the Army leadership, the intelligence community, on Colin Powell and the State Department. Unfortunately, the question of what are the proper roles of the State and Defense departments in a modern war and its aftermath are not answered by Rumsfeld in this book. His complaints, though, don’t seem that much different from the usual battles that many Defense and State Departments wage in other administrations.

from Bernd Debusmann:

In America, violence and guns forever

Another American mass shooting. Another rush to buy more guns.

On the Monday after the latest of the bloody rampages that are part of American life, gun sales in Arizona shot up by more than 60 percent and rose by an average of five percent across the entire country. The figures come from the FBI and speak volumes about a gun culture that has long baffled much of the world.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation compared January 10, 2011, with the corresponding Monday a year ago.

So what would prompt Americans to stock up their arsenals in the wake of the shooting in Tucson that killed six people and wounded 14, including Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman who was the target of an unhinged 22-year-old who has since been charged with attempted assassination?

Rahm and the ultimate dead-end job

OBAMA/By Joshua Spivak
The opinions expressed are his own.

Perplexed by Rahm Emanuel’s decision to quit as White House chief of staff, arguably the second most powerful political position in the country, in order to run for mayor of Chicago?

You’re not alone. Even Emanuel certainly hasn’t provided any real insight into why he is making the jump. If he’s hoping to further his political career beyond the Windy City, it is a strange decision. Recent history shows that a big city mayoralty is usually the end of the line.

Over the last half century, few of the mayors of America’s largest cities have had a political career after being mayor. Only three managed to be elected either governor or senator — Phoenix’s Jack Williams, San Diego’s Peter Wilson, who served as both governor and senator, and Philly’s Ed Rendell.

Fed can’t fix broken economy, politics

The Federal Reserve’s decision to move to a kind of quantitative neutrality is a tacit admission that it, or rather that the United States, is in a political bind that makes a bold response to a deteriorating economy difficult.

Despite reams of evidence that conditions are worsening — much of it cited in the statement the Fed made as it left rates on hold — the U.S. central bank made only a token gesture; announcing that as mortgage-related debt it holds on its balance sheet comes to term and is repaid it will replace it  with new, mostly long-term, Treasuries.

That keeps its quantitative easing policy essentially static, a strategy dubbed “quantitative neutrality” by Northern Trust economist Asha Bangalore.

Cuba and twisted logic, double standards

It is time for the United States to stop trading with China and ban Americans from travelling there. Why? Look at the U.S. Department of State’s most recent annual report on human rights around the world.

“The (Chinese) government’s human rights record remained poor and worsened in some areas,” the report notes. “Tens of thousands of political prisoners remained incarcerated (in 2009).”

U.S. relations with Egypt should also be frozen, because “the government’s respect for human rights remained poor, and serious abuses continued in many areas…Security forces used unwarranted lethal force and tortured and abused prisoners and detainees, in most cases with impunity.”

Michelle Obama is ready for Mexico prime-time

west - 5-18 - morigi- Darrell M. West is Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution.  He is the author of the forthcoming Brookings Institution Press book, Brain Gain:  Rethinking U.S. Immigration Policy. The opinions expressed are his own -

Michelle Obama is a hit at home and abroad but she will come under particular scrutiny this week as she embarks on her first solo trip outside the U.S., visiting Mexico. How she performs on this diplomatic mission will be closely watched because she is not just the president’s wife, she is the most prominent ambassador for her husband’s foreign policies.

Such trips are not a small undertaking, and they can carry more weight than might be expected.

Obama, politics and nuclear waste

yucca

-Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own-

The project involved more than 2,500 scientists. It cost $ 10.5 billion between 1983 and 2009 and it included one of the most bizarre scientific tasks of all time: evaluate whether nuclear waste stored deep inside a Nevada desert mountain would be safe a million years into the future.

That was the safety standard set in September, 2008, by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a condition for allowing nuclear waste to be stored deep in the belly of the Yucca Mountain, 95 miles (155 km) from Las Vegas, long the subject of political debate and a fine example of nimbyism (not in my backyard).

The vastly complex computer models and simulations experts launched to figure out whether Yucca Mountain would be a safe environment in the year 1,000,000 and beyond ended before there was a scientific conclusion.

from MacroScope:

Political economy and the euro

The reality of  'political economy'  is something that irritates many economists -- the "purists", if you like. The political element is impossible to model;  it often flies in the face of  textbook economics;  and democratic decision-making and backroom horse trading can be notoriously difficult to predict and painfully slow.  And political economy is all pervasive in 2010 -- Barack Obama's proposals to rein in the banks is rooted in public outrage; reading China's monetary and currency policies is like Kremlinology; capital curbs being introduced in Brazil and elsewhere aim to prevent market overshoot; and British budgetary policies are becoming the political football ahead of this spring's UK election. The list is long, the outcomes uncertain, the market risk high.

But nowhere is this more apparent than in well-worn arguments over the validity and future of Europe's single currency -- the new milennium's posterchild for political economy.

For many, the euro simply should never have happened --  it thumbed a nose at the belief that all things good come from free financial markets; it removed monetary safety valves for member countries out of sync with their bigger neighbours and put the cart before the horse with monetary union ahead of fiscal policy integration. But the sheer political determination to finish the European's single market project, stop beggar-thy-neighbour currency devaluations and face down erratic currency trading meant the  currency was born and has thrived for 11 years.

There’s no way to hedge politics

Ben Bernanke in peril and the Volcker crackdown on proprietary trading by banks show two truths of the current dispensation: there is no effective hedge against politics and the reflation trade rests on fragile foundations.

Neither of these realities is particularly good for financial markets and neither is going away any time soon.

Both, too, are utterly related not just to each other, but to the Senate election in Massachusetts which installed a Republican into what had been a Kennedy seat, in the process terrifying Democrats who fear they will be sunk by association with a set of policies perceived to be favoring Wall Street.

Obama bank plan is good policy, good politics

– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

President Barack Obama’s proposed curbs on bank size and proprietary risk-taking will be criticised for being vague, hard to implement, and focusing on issues that were only part of the cause of the recent crisis.

But the president should ignore self-interested counsels of perfection from the industry that aim to preserve the status quo. The plan is good politics, and good policy.
On the political front, the plan is a belated attempt to reposition the administration and congressional Democrats. It aims to channel the popular revolt that washed away Democrats in New Jersey and Virginia last autumn and now in Massachusetts.

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