September 27, 2005

Column 2005-9-25 Commentary

In his latest column, Brooks inexplicably lays the blame for the increasing gap between those with a college education and those without on the colleges. "The most damning indictment of our university system is that these poorer kids are graduating from high school in greater numbers. It's when they get to college that they begin failing and dropping out. " So says Brooks, despite the fact that a few minutes (ok, maybe more than a few minutes in his case) of thought should make the gaping hole in his argument perfectly clear. According to Brooks, these poor kids graduate from high school with essentially the same education as their more affluent peers: the problem is that colleges just don't treat them right somehow. The obvious rejoinder to this is that most poorer kids receive worse, often far worse, elementary and high school educations than the better-off, and that colleges simply expose these differences. At any rate, it should be obvious that some fault lies with the poor quality of public schools where most poor children receive what education they get. For example, we know this, from Bob Herbert via the Daily Howler: “By the fourth grade, low-income students read about three grade levels behind non-poor students." Will these children catch up to their wealthier peers? What do you think? And even if they don't catch up, a good number of these kids will graduate from high school, as we know from Brooks's (admittedly unsourced) claims. Even assuming that these kids remain only three years behind, it's no wonder that new college students who can barely read at a high school level are "failing and dropping out" in a college with any type of standards. And yet Brooks refuses even to acknowledge the possibility that the pre-college preparation of these poor children may be at fault: indeed, he explicitly states that "Crucial life paths are set at age 18 . . . ." Ok, so even Brooks can't completely ignore what's staring him in the face: he gives the necessity of being "academically prepared, psychologically prepared and culturally prepared for college" a throwaway line at the end of the column. But he, and "Thomas Mortenson of the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education", the only person whose work is cited in this column and so presumably the source for the whole thing, appear to be blaming colleges for failing to compensate for the abysmal performance of the lower levels of the public school system. Could colleges do more to help lower-income students? Yes, of course. But to concentrate on what they could do, while ignoring the far more pervasive and damaging problems with the public schools, is sheer idiocy. As such, is it any surprise that Brooks is embracing it?

September 24, 2005

Column 2005-9-22 Commentary

In today's column, Brooks gives advice to the Democratic party. He feels the Democrats need to stop being angry and attacking Bush and concentrate more on wonky policy proposals. The fact that approximately nobody else thinks this -- and that, in fact, this is directly opposed to the successful strategies employed by the Republican party over the past few years -- forces one to wonder once again what Democrats would be stupid enough to take Brooks's advice on the direction of the party. Brooks is inspired to tell the Democratic party what it should do with itself by two speeches by prominent Democrats, Kerry and Edwards. (I urge readers to read both speeches and judge for themselves, btw.) According to Brooks, each speaker is responding to Hurricane Katrina in the only way they know how: Kerry with borderline-incoherent Bush-bashing, and Edwards with important policy recommendations. More fundamentally, according to Brooks, these two speeches represent an important divide in the Democratic party, between those who only care about attacking Bush and those who actually want to govern. Incidentally, Edwards's speech mentions Brooks favorably and Kerry's doesn't mention him at all. But I'm sure that this had absolutely no effect on Brooks's analysis.

If this strikes you as rather simplistic, that's because you're smarter than Brooks. "Edwards is not so obsessed with power struggles" Brooks writes, and indeed, therein lies the rub. Kerry is currently a politician who is ramping up for the 2006 elections, which will largely be run as a referendum on Bush and his policies. His speech is a highly political speech. Edwards, by contrast, will not be involved in those elections, or strongly involved in politics at all until 2007 at the earliest. Instead, he has plunged into the world of policy, and while he makes some attacks on Bush, the focus of his speech is on programs for dealing with poverty. There's not much partisan politics in it, but that's because, as even Brooks is forced to admit, Edwards is not a politician at the moment. The fact is that these two speeches complement each other. An effective Democratic party requires both the the political and the policy components, and to suggest that these two speeches are actually representative of two divergent strands of thought in the party is very simple-minded. It is also worth noting that the Democrats are not currently in the majority, and so the policy side will inevitably be smaller than the political side, especially in the current political environment where any Democratic proposal is essentially DOA.

Having explained why Brooks is wrong in general, let us examine how he gets the details wrong. Specifically, Brooks's analysis of Kerry's speech completely twists its meaning. Kerry begins his speech by saying "And that's what I've come to talk with you about today. The incompetence of Katrina's response is not reserved to a hurricane. There's an enormous gap between Americans' daily expectations and government's daily performance. And the gap is growing between the enduring strength of the American people -- their values, their spirit, their imagination, their ingenuity, and their willingness to serve and sacrifice -- and the shocking weakness of the American government in contending with our country's urgent challenges. On the Gulf Coast during the last two weeks, the depth and breadth of that gap has been exposed for all to see and we have to address it now before it is obscured again by hurricane force spin and deception." It should be clear to the meanest intelligence -- which, apparently, Brooks has yet to achieve -- that Kerry intends to talk about how the incompetence of the response to Katrina is not a fluke, but in fact is a function of the incompetence of the Bush administration as a whole, and that is indeed what he does. "There are many interesting issues raised by Katrina, but for Senator Ahab it all goes back to the great white monster, Bush" says Brooks. While he gets points for the metaphor, Bush is, after all, the president, and what is more a president who has consistently run on a promise to make America safer. When his administration badly bungles the response to a major natural disaster, that's an extremely interesting issue. To a politician, it might well be the most interesting issue: Bush's response, most notably putting his political point man, Karl Rove, in charge of the Gulf Coast reconstruction effort, certainly suggests that Bush thinks so. "Bush and his crew should have known the levees were weak. Bush and his crew should have known thousands of people would be trapped" Brooks paraphrases sarcastically, adding with a parenthetical sneer "(Did I miss Kerry's own warnings on these subjects?)" To which, again, the obvious response is that Bush is the president (not Kerry, who does not have access to all the information Bush can, or should, get from various agencies attached to his administration). And, furthermore, Bush is claims to be the security president, and a hurricane taking out New Orleans was rated one of the three catastrophes most likely to strike the United States. Someone in the administration probably should have known about the status of the levees. Somebody probably should have anticipated that people would have been unable to get out and made contingency plans to evacuate them. But, of course, nobody did. However, anyone can make mistakes. And the DHS is a new agency (even though the decision to fold FEMA into the DHS was made by Bush), so it's believable that even a consistently competent administration could foul this up. Which is why it is necessary for Kerry to point out that the administration, and the Republican party, have been, in fact, consistently incompetent. Brooks dismisses this with "Porn movies have less repetition than this," but in fact the repetition (of facts mentioned in other speeches, not this speech, so it's not even a very good metaphor) is exactly the point: when all the stupidities, incompetences, and corruptions are listed side-by-side, they can not be dismissed as isolated instances but must be regarded as part of a pattern. Brooks wonders disdainfully why Kerry continues to drag out the old "anti-Bush jabs", "DeLay jibes", and "Wolfowitz attacks": "Doesn't this guy ever get bored?" But, of course, Wolfowitz was spectacularly wrong about Iraq. Tom DeLay is entirely corrupt: hell, Brooks even wrote a column about it (see the archives). And Bush has screwed up so many things it's not even funny any more. Sometimes it's good to keep reminding people of the facts. Brooks concludes that "this is not a normal speech designed to persuade or inform, but a primitive rite designed to channel group outrage." He is, of course, wrong: the speech is intended to persuade people that Bush's record indicated that he is a bad president. Judging by recent poll numbers, people are starting to get the message: perhaps this is why Brooks is attacking the messenger.

Finally, the most inexplicable part of this column is that Brooks seems to think that Edwards's speech represents a less partisan, more centrist wing of the Democratic party. This strongly suggests that Brooks didn't actually read Edwards's speech. In the speech, Edwards praises the New Deal and points out that the War on Poverty, though it had some faults, was quite successful. He says "If you work full-time, you shouldn't have to raise your children in poverty." He wants to raise the minimum wage to at least $7.50 an hour and "give [workers] back a real right to organize." He proposes offering workers money they can use for down payments on houses, expanding the EITC to help families save, and subsidizing housing for poor people so they can move into better neighborhoods. Edwards also wants to give everyone their first year of college free. And how will he pay for it? Largely by raising taxes on the rich: repealing the Bush tax cuts for the richest 1% and changing the Alternative Minimum Tax so that it applies to only to the rich, as it was originally designed to. Now, this program certainly doesn't go nearly far enough, in my opinion. For one thing, Edwards barely mentions health care and is vague on just how a "real right to organize" would be achieved. Furthermore, why just one year of college? Why not four years for free? There are other shortcomings, but the fact remains that Edwards wants to raise taxes on the rich to pay for programs to lift the poor out of poverty. If that's not liberalism, I don't know what is. And if Brooks thinks the Democratic party is ever going to return to "Clintonian centrism", he is much mistaken. "Bush may end up changing the Democratic Party more than his own." Brooks opines. Well, that may not be true: Bush has had a major effect on his own party as well. But if Edwards will come to define the right wing of the Democratic party, Bush may have accomplished one good thing after all.

September 21, 2005

Column 2005-9-18 Commentary

In order to really understand this column, it's important that you read Brooks's own words, so I'm going to do some direct quoting here:

"On Oct. 5, 1999, George Bush went to the Manhattan Institute and delivered the most important domestic policy speech of his life. . . . he also broke with mainstream conservatism as it then existed. . . . Then he bluntly repudiated the small government conservatism that marked the Gingrich/Armey era.

It's not enough to cut the size of government, Bush said, or simply get government out of the way. Instead, Republicans have to come up with a positive vision of "focused and effective and energetic government."

With that, Bush set off on a journey to define what he called "compassionate conservatism" and what others call big government conservatism. . . .

Over the past five years, Bush has overseen the fastest increase in domestic spending of any president in recent history. Moreover, he's never resolved the contradiction between his compassionate spending policy and his small-government tax policy.

But gradually and fitfully, Bush has muddled his way toward something important, a positive use of government that is neither big government liberalism nor antigovernment libertarianism. "

The rest of the column is a lot of fluff about how Bush's programs for the area devastated by Katrina are going to give lots of money to important campaign contributors and politically connected corporations turn everything into a conservative utopia of "enhance[d] individual initiative and personal responsibility" (the latter of which is, of course, only for poor people, not presidents). But the beginning is as egregiously ludicrous a description of Bush's domestic policy program as has ever been written, and surely ranks among the most moronic words Brooks has ever committed to paper. Bush's domestic policy (or, at least, the economic aspects of it), insofar as it doesn't involve giving money to corporations and the rich, is really quite simple. Prior to Bush, the two parties had roughly opposite philosophies: for the Democrats, tax and spend, and for the Republicans, don't tax and don't spend (I am, of course, generalizing like mad here, but then so is Brooks). Bush's (or, more likely, Rove's) idea was to combine the popular parts of these programs -- the spending from the former and the not taxing from the latter -- and make that their new program, what Brooks refers to as "big government conservatism" (with, of course, much of that spending going to the rich, corporations, etc., but we're not dealing with that now). Brooks remarks on the "contradiction" between the two parts of this program as if this is a knotty problem that will be resolved in time, but of course it won't be. Bush has no intention of raising taxes or seriously cutting spending: either would be politically unpopular, and since he cares far more about politics than policy -- after all, why else would Rove be in charge of the Gulf Coast rebuilding effort? -- political concerns about popularity ratings will trump policy concerns about deficits every time. Essentially, Bush's fiscal policy is to recklessly bankrupt the U.S. by throwing money at problems -- the Katrina response is the latest example in a long list, including Iraq and the Medicare prescription drug benefit -- while cutting taxes. Remember, this is a president who has never vetoed a spending bill. Regardless of the quality of the programs taking up this much money, this is simply not a sustainable course. And this is what Brooks is lauding as a "positive use of government". It's sickening.

PS: When one realizes that almost all the new spending is intended to give money away to corporations and the rich while simultaneously helping the Republicans stay just popular enough to keep winning, it really starts to look like the Republican party -- or at least the corporate elites who run it -- is simply looting the U.S. government, on the theory that by the time the crash comes, they'll be safely away and everybody else will be left holding the baby. Sadly, they may be right.

September 15, 2005

Column 2005-9-15 Commentary

Brooks makes it easy for me with his latest, an actually funny column. Of course, not even Brooks could fail to be funny when the target of his satire is the Roberts confirmation hearing. This column is hardly perfect, but the nitpicks will be left as an exercise for the reader.

September 14, 2005

Column 2005-9-11 Commentary

First, an administrative note: now that I'm a graduate student, my time has many more demands on it than before, and the recent trend in which my posts become shorter, more erratic, and, I fear, worse is likely to continue. Hopefully all five of my readers will be able to bear up under this crushing blow.

Brooks's latest column demonstrates conclusively that he has gotten over the devastation of Hurrican Katrina. How can one tell? Simple: he is back to spouting Republican talking points, in this case the claim that the failure of the Bush administration to deal effectively with the aftermath of Katrina is not their fault, but instead is due to the fact that government simply can't deal with something like Katrina. The government had a great plan, he says -- well, actually, he spends the first half of the column making fun of the bureaucratic nature of the plan, which makes his sudden approval of it rather surprising -- but government being government, all tangled up in bureaucracy and whatnot, it simply can't implement the plan effectively. This piece of propaganda would be more believable were it not that the implementation of the plan was so obviously screwed up that only a Brooks could believe that it could not have been done better. When the government leaders who are supposed to be in charge of the emergency response are getting information on the situation from the journalists who are interviewing them, it's hard to simply shrug one's shoulders and blame bureacratic inefficency. When the head of Homeland Security doesn't seem to know what he's supposed to do to set the implementation of the plan in motion (or possibly even understand the mechanism under which he acquires the power to do so), one starts to wonder whether, even if government can never be perfect, it can at least be better than this. (In the interests of balance, it must be noted that Tom Delay believes that government is currently running at peak efficiency. Which side of the argument this supports is left to the reader to determine.) When it becomes clear that the top staff of the agency which is intended to deal with situations such as this one was made up almost entirely of political appointees whose qualifications tended to have to do with managing political campaigns rather than natural disasters, and that its head appears to have achieved his position by dint of being the college roommate of the previous agency head, who achieved his position because he was a close associate of the president, one really starts to question whether bureaucracy is entirely at fault here.

Leaving these questions aside, though, this is a deeply pessimistic theory of government, and one that furthermore seems to be entirely at variance with Bush's, and hence Brooks's, ideas. After all, Bush has run on his ability to do big things with government, most notably keep Americans safe from terrorists. If government is unable to deal with a hurricane, it presumably can't do anything about a terrorist attack. And as for spreading democracy in the Middle East in order to defeat terrorism? If Brooks doesn't believe that it is possible for the American government to coordinate a relief effort to a relatively small area of the United States in a timely fashion, how can he, in good conscience, support a plan to reshape the political landscape of a large, volatile area of the world? Obviously, government would be bound to screw it up. Of course, a Brooksian government would be unable to do anything, except maybe pass tax cuts. Which makes it a perfect government to some movement conservatives, but most people believe government can do more. Even the Dobsons of the world think that government can effectively regulate morality, if nothing else. The fact that Brooks has been reduced to blaming the system for Republican failures -- once again proving that personal responsibility is only for the poor and non-white -- shows just how afraid Republicans are of this latest proof that they are incapable of governing effectively. "You might as well elect me, nobody else will do better anyway" is a slogan that may deter blame in the short run but is hardly likely to inspire confidence in the public.

But it is also worth noting that many movement conservatives truly believe Brooks's thesis -- for instance, everybody has heard Grover Norquists's quote about wanting to shrink government to the size where he could drown it in the bathtub -- and that this belief in the inherent inability of government to do anything is at least partly responsible for the complete incompetence the Bush administration has demonstrated. When people who believe that government can do nothing come into power, their convictions become self-fulfilling. FEMA will never be able to really deal with a big disaster anyway, so why not fill its top ranks with political operatives? The government would only waste this tax money: why not funnel it to major contributors? And when something big goes wrong, well, of course it did: after all, this is the government we're talking about here. Unfortunately for the movement conservatives, most Americans aren't going to simply accept that due to government shortcomings that nobody will ever be able to overcome, there will be nobody to help them for days in the aftermath of a major disaster. It is, hopefully, finally becoming apparent that when you vote for people who don't believe that the government can (or, for that matter, should) help you, you don't get helped. In the face of this fact, Brooks's claim that nobody can help you anyway is unlikely to be popular, especially when it's so obviously wrong. In this way, this column is actually quite encouraging: when the excuses are so poor, the excuse-makers are obviously in trouble.

September 10, 2005

Column 2005-9-8 Commentary

In his latest column, self-declared conservative David Brooks proposes a massive program of governmental social engineering: the displaced poor of New Orleans, many of whom have lost everything, should be resettled in better-off neighborhoods around the U.S. How Brooks reconciles this proposal with his conservatism is unclear. Not that I'm complaining. Or rather, I am complaining, for several reasons. First of all, I don't think it's overly cynical to wonder about the difficulty of getting better-off communities to accept an influx of poor blacks. I'm also somewhat suspicious of Brooks's motives in moving so rapidly to the question of what is to be done now, and, what is more, addressing the one situation that was probably unavoidable: large numbers of poor refugees. This may well simply be reflexive cynicism on my part, and Brooks's naivete has been well documented, and if this were all this column would be fairly non-objectionable.

However, the column also suffers from Brooks's usual refusal to accept that poverty is not simply a product of societal bad habits. To Brooks, a society falls into poverty because its members get used to dropping out of school, having kids young, and committing crimes. After all, everybody around them is doing it, right? The obvious solution is therefore to move the poor people to richer neighborhoods where nobody drops out of school, becomes teenage parents, or commits crimes: once they see that doing those things is not a good idea, they'll be fine. There is certainly some merit to this argument, but it would be incredibly simple-minded to assume that this argument encapsulates the problem of poverty. The main problem here is that poverty tends to cause these behaviors, rather than vice versa. For instance, many people commit crimes because they are poor and need money. People drop out of school because they are poor and need to work a job instead. This is Brooks's biggest blind spot (which is a very bold statement, as he has no shortage): he sees only cultural explanations for everything and refuses to accept that economics may also play a role. He is incapable of recognizing that one of the reasons past programs along these lines were successful is because not only the cultural but also the economic influences were changed. The poor people were given better housing. Their kids went to better schools. Their new neighborhoods were better protected than their old ones. And all of this has nothing to do with culture and everything to with money (and, partly, race, but let's not get into that now). And this is, really, the most frustrating part of this column. In one way, this is a really good idea. New Orleans is likely to be uninhabitable for months, so most people won't be able to go back anyway, and this proposal would probably help them a lot. But in the bigger picture, this is, in many ways, an abdication of responsibility. After all, even Brooks would have to admit that the entire poor population of the United States cannot be resettled in richer neighborhoods. However, we can attempt to improve their lives by replicating the advantages they would receive in richer neighborhoods -- better schools, better housing, etc. -- where they actually live. That is the real way to defeat poverty, not resettlement programs that depend on a vast natural disaster to give them impetus. In the final analysis, Brooks deserves credit for proposing this idea: sadly, his prejudices make it impossible for him to go beyond it to an actual poverty-fighting program.

September 04, 2005

Column 2005-9-4 Commentary

Today, Brooks predicts that the political culture is about to change significantly: that Katrina is the event around which popular dissatisfaction will crystallize, leading to a sea change which Brooks compares with the Reagan revolution. What's really amazing about the column is not that Brooks predicts a major political shift, but that he admits that there is significant discontent among the American people. He retains some foolish optimism -- he is still unable to comprehend that GDP growth is not the be-all and end-all of economic statistics, and that a supposedly strong economy is not helping everyone, as the steady rise in the poverty rate and slow decline in real median household income over the last few years makes clear (and, of course, Katrina is unlikely to be kind to the economy, especially as gas prices skyrocket) -- but overall there is a palpable air of gloom hanging over this column. Much of the piece is a litany of depressing pronouncements: "confidence in civic institutions is plummeting", "Last week's national humiliation comes at the end of a string of confidence-shaking institutional failures", "this will be known as the grueling decade, the Hobbesian decade." While Brooks never mentions Bush or refers to the administration or Congress by name, it's an easy connection to make. After all, who has been president throughout this decade so far? It really seems that the hurricane has destroyed Brooks's confidence in the administration and possibly even in the Republican party as currently constituted: he's depressed enough that he can't even rule out the possibility of a "progressive resurgence" instead of one of his idols -- McCain or Giuliani -- taking over. And that is the amazing thing about this column: it's a conservative columnist writing "People are mad as hell, unwilling to take it anymore." Brooks has gone off the reservation, and if the Republican's can't keep Brooks under control, what hope do they have?

September 01, 2005

Column 2005-9-1: Special 2005-8-28 Edition

Today's Brooks offering is completely reasonable: Brooks points out that past floods exposed injustices and caused social change -- bolstering his argument with well-chosen historical examples -- and that we can probably expect something similar from Hurrican Katrina, given that most of the people currently suffering in the hurricane's aftermath are poor and black. This is all a pleasant surprise, allowing me to go back to his August 28 column, which I never discussed, and go over that one instead.

On August 28, Brooks presented a counterinsurgency strategy for the administration to use in Iraq. In essence, Brooks suggests that it might be a good idea to try to lock the barn door after the horses have left and the barn has been burned to the ground. I'm not going to dispute the merits of the Krepinevich "oil spot" strategy that Brooks likes so much (in which American forced would take over a handful of territories, largely abandoning the rest, and provide total security and cash in the areas they controlled, thus winning over the natives): for all I know, it would have worked (according to Brooks, it worked in Malaya in the 1950's and "other places" which are not specified.) But it's far too late to implement it now, not for military reasons (though there are certainly military difficulties) but for political ones. To be fair to Brooks, he is at least bright enough to recognize that this is the case. He points out that the "oil spot" strategy, relying as it does on a heavy troop presence and playing down American advantages in technology and firepower, is anathema to the Rumsfeld way of fighting wars. And he notes that the war has not been fought with an eye to the long term, but instead from one "turning point" to the next. However, he blames these problems on Rumsfeld and the "military brass" respectively, and turns to Bush as a man who has been misled by his advisors but who will be eager to correct his mistakes once he realizes them. Of course, the problems that Brooks mentions are intimately connected, and stem partly from the fact that the administration failed to make any preparations for a long-term insurgency (Wolfowitz: "It's hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and secure the surrender of Saddam's security forces and his army.") and partly from the political imperatives of obtaining popular support for a pre-emptive war and maintaining that support as the stated reasons for fighting the war evaporated.

Recall that the war was to be over in "six days, six weeks. I doubt six months." It was sold as a quick little war that would show that America was invincible: the mighty American army would carelessly flick Saddam out of the way, expose his stocks of WMD's and ties to Al Qaeda, and leave the grateful Iraqis their very own democracy, all in less than a year, while the American people looked on proudly. Rumsfeld certainly wanted a chance to prove that light, mobile forces with overwhelming firepower were the wave of the future, but this vision of the war also required a small fighting force, partly as a demonstration of American might and partly so that the vast majority of the American people could sit on the sidelines and cheer without having to worry about loved ones in danger (or, far, far worse from a political perspective, the possibility of a draft). Of course, it took only a few months for this narrative to start to break down, and to break down in almost every possible way, leaving the administration with the problem of maintaining public support as it became clear that the war the public supported was not the one the U.S. was actually fighting. The democracy part of the war rationale, being the only part that had not collapsed irretrievably, was therefore elevated above the others, and to compensate for the fact that the war had turned from a preemptive strike to an exercise in nation-building, the administration constantly announced that we were winning and everything would be over soon. Well, they were a little more subtle than that: a series of turning points were each hailed as the sign of the imminent end of the war. Perhaps the administration even believed its own hype. At any rate, a "heavy troop presence" and an "acknowledge[ment] that this will be a long, gradual war" -- two things that Brooks thinks are required to implement this "oil spot" strategy -- were exactly what the administration did not want.

And at this point it is far too late to do anything about the situation. Disregarding the folly of thinking that a man who does not believe that he makes mistakes (or at least refuses to admit to them) would get up and essentially concede that almost everything his administration has done in Iraq thus far was wrong, and even leaving out the domestic political repercussions of saying that we need to completely start over in Iraq and prepare to be there for a decade at least with twice as many troops as we have at present, the plan simply would not work in the current environment. It would require more troops than we currently have in Iraq, and it seems unlikely that most Iraqis would welcome more American troops. It would require largely abandoning the political process that the U.S. has invested so much in, or at best leaving the Shiites and Kurds to govern themselves while the U.S. engages in massive counterinsurgency operations in Baghdad and the Sunni heartland. The constitution-writing process has no place in the "oil spot" strategy. Providing countrywide security for the referendum on the constitution is definitely counterindicated by the strategy. Attempting to reinforce the power of the central government throughout Iraq is also not compatible with it. Most likely, the result of a move to the "oil spot" strategy would be to further divide the Sunnis from the rest of Iraq, which is hardly the desired result. Keeping in mind that political considerations are always paramount with this administration, though, this analysis is completely unnecessary. Perhaps in ten years the strategy would have worked, but over the next few years it would be a political disaster, and that is why it will never be implemented.

It is notable, though, the Brooks is willing to admit that at the moment the U.S. is failing in Iraq. He is not yet blaming it on Bush, but perhaps he is simply setting himself up to desert the sinking ship. Brooks does have a certain amount of animal cunning, and with this column he acknowledges the problems in Iraq and presents a solution. It's an unworkable solution, to be sure, and Brooks may well be perfectly aware of that fact, but it allows him to say in a year or two that he saw the problems and pointed out what the administration should have done, but they failed to change course and so he has no choice but to regretfully abandon his support for the Iraq venture, an excellent idea sadly bungled. Of course, he may just be a moron who refuses to accept that the time for discussing strategies for winning is past: the U.S. has lost, and the only realistic thing to do now is to try to determine how to keep any further losses to a minimum. Either way, though, a respected conservative thinker like Brooks -- how he acquired the first and third of those adjectives remains a mystery -- has come out and said that the American occupation of Iraq has been horribly mismanaged from the beginning. It's another indication that the tide of public opinion is beginning to turn, and none too soon.