Political Animal

Postwar Confusion

POSTWAR CONFUSION….More bad news about the search for WMD in Iraq:

The Pentagon originally planned to deploy about 20 “mobile exploitation teams” of up to 30 people each to scour weapons sites, interrogate scientists and analyze documents. But only two such teams are now hunting for weapons in Iraq. Because relatively junior warrant officers are leading the teams, their reports must go through multiple layers before reaching senior commanders.

The Pentagon hasn’t supplied enough transport helicopters and military guards to the teams. This limits the teams’ movements and their ability to use two highly sophisticated chemical and biological laboratories that were left at an air base in northern Kuwait in shipping containers. “They’ve been totally unusable,” one official said.

Because of the delays, scores of suspect Iraqi military sites, industrial complexes and offices were stripped of valuable documents, equipment and electronic data before U.S. forces or the exploitation teams reached them. Not all the looting appears to have been random, and U.S. officials believe Iraqi officials deliberately burned or removed some critical evidence to prevent detection.

There’s a common ? and peculiar ? strand in how we’ve handled postwar Iraq, and it makes itself visible in the looting, the destruction of the museum, the confusion over humanitarian aid, and now the fact that we were obviously unprepared to look for WMD once the war was over. This last especially makes no sense since even if the Bush administration didn’t really care about enhancing their credibility by finding the much hyped WMD, they surely saw the importance of locking it down so that it didn’t get into anyone else’s hands.

Is it possible that there’s no WMD to find? Sure, although that seems unlikely to me, and elsewhere in the story intelligence sources insist that we really did have “conclusive” evidence of an ongoing problem.

My best guess, for now, is a different one: all the cakewalk talk notwithstanding, they expected a much longer fight. They weren’t prepared for a lot of the postwar activities because they didn’t figure there would be a postwar until May or June. The fall of Baghdad seems to have taken the army by surprise every bit as much as it did us, and now they’re scrambling to figure out what to do.

Of course, if June rolls around and they’re still scrambling, then I’ll have to think up another theory….

UPDATE: Some good comments below, several of which point out that another explanation for the postwar confusion is the small invasion force that Rumsfeld insisted on. It was enough to win the war, but not enough to keep control of the country after we won. There’s also another possibility: all along the administration expected the UN to cave at the last minute, so they’d have UN peacekeeping and humanitarian forces right behind them. When that didn’t happen, they weren’t able to gear up a set of revised postwar plans fast enough.

Infinite Sets

INFINITE SETS….It turns out that one of my favorite authors, David Foster Wallace, has been in Southern California for the past year, teaching at nearby Pomona College. The LA Times has an interview with him today.

Apparently his current project is nonfiction, a book about the “founder of set theory.” I can’t tell who this is supposed to refer to (Boole? Cantor?) but it certainly sounds like an interesting departure.

Attitudes Toward Gays

ATTITUDES TOWARD GAYS….On a personal level, support for gay rights is grounded in a respect for basic human decency. As a campaign issue, however, it’s grounded in practical politics: how do most Americans actually feel about the various issues surrounding gay rights? And how should the issues be framed for maximum impact?

My personal thoughts on this haven’t changed since I was a teenager, but my personal thoughts don’t mean a thing since my views are highly atypical. Rather, what got me thinking about this as a campaign issue was reading some polling results a few months ago about various gay rights issues, specifically this report by Kathryn Bowman of AEI, summarizing attitudes toward gays over the past three decades.

There’s good news and bad news here, but mostly good news, I think, so here’s a quick summary. As a baseline for comparison, 37% of Americans today believe that premarital sex is wrong. Compare this to the following gay rights issues:

  • The baseline attitude toward homosexuality ? is it wrong? ? has improved dramatically. In 1973, 80% thought it was always or almost always wrong. Today that number is 64% and other polls put it at around 55%. Still a majority, but declining steadily.

  • Should it be legal? Those saying yes has gone up from 43% in 1977 to 52% in 2002.

  • Employment: 86% think gays should have equal employment opportunities. 72% think they should be eligible for the military. 63% think they are OK as high school teachers.

  • Marriage: only about a third approve of gay marriage, but nearly half approve of civil union.

  • Benefits: 62% think gay spouses should be allowed to inherit, 64% think Social Security benefits should be paid to gay spouses, and 58% approve of health benefits for gay spouses.

  • Nearly half think gay couples should be able to adopt.

Bottom line: attitudes have improved enough that there’s probably a decent sized segment of moderate Bush supporters who might think less of him if he could be painted as intolerant ? or even merely insufficiently supportive ? toward gays. It’s true that there is still widespread personal discomfort with gay relationships, but it’s also pretty obvious that large majorities oppose discrimination against gays and basically feel that attitudes like Santorum’s belong to a bygone era. It would be fascinating to compare the poll numbers above with similar surveys about civil rights from the early 60s, an era that turned out to be ripe for legislative change.

POSTSCRIPT: I know that Andrew Sullivan is not exactly a prototypical voter, but when he says this…

It is hard to express fully the sheer discouragement of this past week, capped simply by a calculated and contemptuously terse political gesture by a president I had come to trust. It makes me question whether that trust is well founded. And whether hope for a more inclusive future among conservatives is simply quixotic.

…it’s hard not to believe that there are some fence-sitting moderate voters for whom this could be an issue that nudges them toward a Democratic candidate.

(Can I just ask, though, what the hell has Sullivan been thinking? Whatever else you think of him, he’s a very smart, very politically astute person, so what could possibly have led him to believe that George Bush might actually be willing to take any kind of electoral risk to support gays? 9/11 must have really addled his brain for him not to understand something this basic and this obvious. I almost feel sorry for the guy.)

Shorter Tim Lambert

SHORTER TIM LAMBERT….Say it after me: “John Lott is a hack, John Lott is a hack…..”

Here’s the nickel version of today’s installment: a couple of guys have written an article for the Stanford Law Review in which they say that Lott’s statistics are all wet. Now, econometricians are forever telling other econometricians that their models are no good because they have failed to take into account some obscure variable or another, so us laymen could be excused for nodding off at this point and just waiting a couple of years to see if a scholarly consensus emerges.

But there’s more, and this doesn’t take an advanced degree to understand: basically, the SLR article took Lott’s model and applied it to more recent data. Result: nada. So Lott and a couple of other guys responded by doing their own analysis, and their conclusion is that the model does work. Unfortunately, it’s not just a matter of competing analyses: Lott and his partners actually miscoded the data, and by coincidence it was systematically miscoded to favor their hypothesis every time. Can you imagine?

Lott has been using this miscoded data for a while, but it turns out that he took his name off the SLR response before it was published, so presumably he knew what was going on and didn’t want to put his name to it in a journal article. Or maybe he was just covering his ass. Or maybe the sheer force of the SLR argument has actually convinced him to change his mind.

(Ha ha, just kidding on that last one, folks. I do slay myself sometimes, yes I do.)

As usual, Tim Lambert has all the gory details.