Striking a Balance?

A couple of significant stories from Knight Ridder — Ron Hutcheson reports that the Bush Administration is sending mixed messages on Iraq.

Vice President Dick Cheney said Tuesday that conditions in Iraq were improving steadily, but the American ambassador in Baghdad has said the U.S. invasion opened a “Pandora’s box” of ethnic and religious violence that could inflame the entire Middle East.

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told the Los Angeles Times in an interview published Tuesday that the “potential is there” for a full-scale civil war in Iraq. Khalilzad, a highly regarded diplomat, warned that a victory by Islamic extremists “would make the Taliban in Afghanistan look like child’s play.”

The conflicting themes – Cheney emphasizing progress, Khalilzad stressing the difficulties and dangers – highlight the Bush administration’s struggle over how to deal with bad news from Iraq. Striking the right balance between optimism and realism could be crucial as Republicans head into the November elections with their control of Congress on the line.

Striking a balance, my ass. Cheney is delusional. Awhile back I stumbled on this paper about delusional thinking —

The DSM-IV defines delusions as “erroneous beliefs that usually involve a misinterpretation of perceptions or experiences.” Delusions may be bizarre, that is, “clearly implausible, not understandable, and not derived from ordinary life experiences” or nonbizarre, that is, involving “situations that can conceivably occur in real life.” …

… One common misconception about delusions–reflected in the DSM-IV definition–is that the thinking processes of delusional individuals are defective, or different from those of normal people. In fact, research suggests that delusional people use the same rules of reasoning as everyone else. Indeed, once a normal individual forms a belief, he or she is also reluctant to change it, and will actively seek out confirmatory evidence (“confirmation bias”) and ignore contradictory evidence.

Delusional people can appear to be completely normal and rational. Indeed, it is sometimes difficult to diagnose delusion because the doctor doesn’t have any way to know that what the patient believes to be true isn’t true. The delusions may be obviously delusional or may seem entirely plausible. In general, delusional people don’t have visual or auditory hallucinations the way schizophrenics do. More commonly, they become fixated on some false belief and will look obsessively for evidence to confirm the belief. For example, a delusional vice president fixated on a belief that Saddam Hussein is plotting to destroy America might rattle cages all over Washington for evidence to back up the belief, ignoring whatever doesn’t back it up. Hypothetically.

Hutcheson continues,

In a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Cheney said that as Iraqi security forces grow and the political process advances, “we’ll be able to decrease troop levels.”

U.S. intelligence officials, who agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity because intelligence on Iraq is classified, said the broad consensus in the intelligence community was that while violence had subsided somewhat since the bombing of a major Shiite shrine last month in Samarra, a few more major incidents could plunge the country into full-scale civil war.

Cheney is nuttier than a pecan farm, I tell you.

The other story at Knight Ridder, by James Kuhnhenn, says that Senate Republicans today blocked an investigation into the NSA Spy program.

Senate Republicans blocked an investigation into President Bush’s secret domestic spying program on Tuesday, but agreed to expand congressional oversight of the surveillance system in the future.

At the same time, a group of four Senate Republicans began circulating legislation that would restrict the administration’s ability to eavesdrop on U.S. residents without court approval.

The legislation would require the administration to obtain warrants to eavesdrop on U.S. residents unless the attorney general certified to House and Senate intelligence subcommittees that seeking court approval would hurt intelligence gathering.
The legislation was sponsored by Sens. Mike DeWine of Ohio, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Olympia Snowe of Maine, all Republicans.

The legislation emerged as the Senate Intelligence Committee voted behind closed doors to block a Democratic demand for a full investigation into the program. The surveillance, which is carried out by the National Security Agency, tracks communications between al-Qaida suspects overseas and U.S. residents, according to the administration.

Right now I’m a little too tired to wrap my head around this, but it seems significant.

Abortions and Autonomy

William Saletan wrote a highly annoying article in Slate that argued “technology” would somehow resolve the abortion wars. I say “annoying” because it contains some misinformation — for example, he says that the gestational point of possible viability is earlier now than it was in 1973 when Roe was decided. It actually isn’t; the limit was 23 weeks in 1973, and it’s still pretty much 23 weeks now, “lifer” mythology to the contrary. Scott Lemieux has already written a good response to much of Saletan’s article; see also Amanda Marcotte.

For now, I want to pull out just one paragraph from the Saletan article to complain about. He writes of Roe v. Wade,

Politically, legally, and technologically, the 33-year-old court decision is increasingly obsolete as a framework for managing decisions about reproduction. But pro-lifers can’t launch the post-Roe era, because they’re determined to abolish its guarantee of individual autonomy, and the public won’t stand for that. Only pro-choicers can give the public what it wants: abortion reduction within a framework of autonomy.

What the hell does that mean? That pro-choicers have to be the grown-ups who find a compromise solution, because the little anti-choice children can’t?

Regarding reducing the number of abortions — it might be useful to take a look at which nations have the lowest abortion rates to see what they’re doing right. I found the chart below in this Alan Guttmacher report.

And look who has a way lower abortion rate than the U.S. — The Netherlands. Possibly the most liberal nation that ever was. I’m not sure if The Netherlands is still #1 as of most recent data (the chart dates from 1999), but on the whole the nations of western Europe have lower abortion rates than anywhere else on the planet. And the nations of eastern Europe have some of the highest rates, even though there isn’t a real big difference in abortion law between eastern and western Europe. As I argued here, there is no correlation whatsoever between abortion rate and abortion law.

The only effective way to reduce rates of abortion is to reduce rates of unintended pregnancies. Access to contraception is key. There is no getting around that. Limiting access to contraception is a sure-fire way to increase abortion rates, no matter how strict the abortion law is or how many clinics are closed down.

Somewhere there are probably lots of lovely social-psychological research studies, complete with p values and N squares, that show which values in a society might also lower abortion rates. Without those, however — if we look at The Netherlands and some of these other countries that are successful at reducing abortions we might form hypotheses. We might speculate that openness about sexuality is an abortion-reducing factor. People who are open about their sexuality are more likely to be prepared for it. This includes providing young people with factual information on contraception.

Hmm, so let’s see — who has been struggling for years to provide access to contraception and sex ed to young people? And who has been working against access to contraception and sex ed to young people (beyond “don’t do it”). Hmmm … Could it be that liberalism reduces abortion rates?

As Saletan points out, there have been some improvements in birth control methodology since 1973. But all the improvements in the world won’t help if the technology is banned, or if the local druggists won’t fill prescriptions, and young people become sexually active before they understand exactly how the baby gets into the cabbage patch.

Thus, I get a little tense when moralizers like Saletan wag their fingers and say you liberals are going to have to find a solution. I believe we already have. And I also believe there is no way to compromise with the anti-choice trogs and also lower abortion rates. So if that’s our assignment, we are doomed to fail.

Saletan says that we liberals must figure out how to achieve abortion reduction within a framework of autonomy. Seems to me the data indicate that’s the only way to achieve abortion reduction — within a framework of autonomy. Abortion reduction within a framework of authoritarianism and patriarchy ain’t happening anywhere, unless you count places like Ireland in which women who choose to abort are only a ferry ride away from British abortion providers.

Frankly, the only way to bring about the desired result –abortion reduction within a framework of autonomy– is to reduce the power of the trogs so that liberal reproduction policies might flourish throughout the land, unimpeded.

In recent years there’s been a lot of overheated rhetoric, much of it from Saletan, about how liberals can recapture the moral argument to abortion. But I think there’s an easier way. Just run the Bill Napoli virgin rant in television and radio ads, followed by a catchy closing line — something like “This guy wants to regulate your personal life. Is this OK with you?” Anyone who still cares about personal autonomy will get the hint.

The Tar Baby

The story thus far — a multinational diplomatic effort to resolve the Iran nuclear standoff, explained yesterday in this post, is still underway. Time is critical — the situation must be diffused before Tehran gets a bomb or Washington drops bombs.

As it’s unlikely Tehran has sufficient weapons-grade uranium to do much nuclear mischief right now, the latter outcome is the more immediate threat.

Simon Tisdall explains in today’s Guardian:

George Bush’s explanation of his volte-face over a proposed Iran-India gas pipeline project appeared slightly disingenuous. “Our beef with Iran is not the pipeline,” the US president said on Saturday after withdrawing previous objections and giving the go-ahead to Washington’s new friends in Delhi. “Our beef with Iran is the fact that they want to develop a nuclear weapon.”

But US fears about Iranian nukes, discussed in Vienna yesterday, are hardly the whole story. Washington is compiling a dossier of grievances against Tehran similar in scope and seriousness to the pre-war charge-sheet against Iraq. Other complaints include Iranian meddling in Iraq, support for Hamas in Palestine and Hizbullah in Lebanon, and human rights abuses.

Our meddling in Iraq and human rights abuses are an entirely different matter, of course.

Mr Bush regularly urges Iranians to seize the “freedom they seek and deserve”. In Tehran’s ministries, that sounds like a call for regime change. He has ignored past Iranian offers of talks and tightened US economic sanctions.

Official Washington’s quickening drumbeat of hostility is beginning to recall political offensives against Libya’s Muammar Gadafy, Panama’s Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein, which all ended in violence. Rightwing American media are urging action, deeming Iran “an intolerable threat” that is the “central crisis of the Bush presidency”. [emphasis added]

Lord, how many central crises can one administration stand?

Yesterday’s ABC News report that Iran is making roadside bombs known as IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices, which begs the question — how are they “improvised” if they are being manufactured?) and shipping them to Iraq for use against Americans has the righties worked up into a nice lather. The old war, with Iraq, just wasn’t much fun any more. But here is the promise of a bright, shiny new war to play with!

It’s “a casus belli, if we want it,” says Captain Ed.

“Gee, how convenient is that?” asks John Aravosis. “Suddenly after 3 years we conveniently find ‘evidence’ of Iran arming the Iraqi insurgents, only a mere weeks after Bush starts laying the groundwork for attacking Iran.”

An odd part of this story is that for now it remains an ABC exclusive; I haven’t found independent corroboration. This suggests a plant. (Or, it also could suggest stupidity — see Newshog for evidence it’s an old story that ABC has confused for a new story.) On the other hand, ABC quotes Richard Clarke as finding the evidence credible. So let’s assume for a moment it’s true.

The ABC report doesn’t make clear exactly which Iraqis the bombs are going to. Righties assume the bombs are going to “terrorists” which is a possibility. Or they might be going to insurgents. Or Shia militias. Or all of the above. What the righties never stop to consider is that Iran’s importing of bombs into Iraq is a consequence of our invasion of Iraq. In other words, we created the conditions that brought this about.

The moral is, he who lets slip the dogs of war is likely to get bit.

I see the Bushies and their hard-right base continuing to fight the Middle East tar baby until they get the desired outcome (can anyone explain what that is?) or until the keys to the war machine are wrestled from their hands. One can only imagine the unintended consequences of a U.S. bombing of Iran. Unfortunately, Bushies are famously imagination-challenged. Will we have to listen to Condi say, “No one could have anticipated we would start World War III”?