Friday, August 31

Larry Craig's anti-gay hypocrisy.

By William Saletan

If Larry Craig were held to the standard of sexual conduct he imposes on the U.S. armed forces, he'd be out of his job.

Fourteen years ago, in his first term as a Republican senator from Idaho, Craig helped to enact the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. It stipulates:

A member of the armed forces shall be separated from the armed forces under regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Defense if one or more of the following findings is made and approved in accordance with procedures set forth in such regulations: (1) That the member has engaged in, attempted to engage in, or solicited another to engage in a homosexual act or acts unless there are further findings … that the member has demonstrated that—(A) such conduct is a departure from the member's usual and customary behavior; (B) such conduct, under all the circumstances, is unlikely to recur; … [and] the member does not have a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts.

The policy reappears verbatim in the U.S. Code and in regulations of the armed services. The Air Force, for instance, says any airman will be discharged if he "has engaged in, attempted to engage in, or solicited another to engage in a homosexual act."

According to the report filed by the officer who arrested Craig at the Minneapolis airport in June, Craig stood outside the officer's bathroom stall for two minutes, repeatedly looked at the officer "through the crack in the door," sat in the stall next to the officer, tapped his foot, and gradually "moved his right foot so that it touched the side of my left foot … within my stall area." Craig proceeded to "swipe his hand under the stall divider for a few seconds" three times, palm up, using the hand farthest from that side of Craig's stall. Most of these gestures, the officer explained, were known pickup signals in a room known (and hence under surveillance for) public sex. When the officer took Craig outside and told him so, Craig claimed he had been reaching down with his hand to retrieve a piece of paper from the floor. The officer wrote that no such paper had been on the floor.

Two months later, Craig signed a plea agreement stating that he had "reviewed the arrest report" and that "in the restroom," he had "engaged in conduct which I knew or should have known tended to arouse alarm or resentment." Officially, the charge to which he pleaded guilty was disorderly conduct.

I feel sorry for Craig. I hate the idea of cops going into bathrooms and busting people for coded gestures of interest. I'd rather live, let live, and tell the guy waving his hand under the stall to buzz off. But that's not the standard Craig applies to others. Any gay soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine who admitted to doing what Craig has admitted would, at a minimum, lose his job for violating DADT. In fact, many have been kicked out for less.

Most people think "don't ask, don't tell" means that if you don't announce that you're gay, you can keep your job. It should mean that. But in practice, if you don't tell, the military can—and often does—investigate and interrogate you until you're forced to tell.

Margaret Witt, a major in the Air Force Reserve, is in the process of being discharged for lesbianism. How did investigators find out she was gay? An anonymous tip. They tracked down her former partner, a civilian, and got the woman to admit that she and Witt had lived together. When they interrogated Witt, she confessed. If she hadn't, they could have prosecuted her for "false official statements" and imprisoned her for five years. Last fall, a federal judge conceded that Witt had "served her country faithfully and with distinction" and "did not draw attention to her sexual orientation." Nevertheless, he concluded, she had no constitutional grounds to contest her discharge. If you don't tell, they make you tell.

Six years ago, the Army kicked out Alex Nicholson, an interrogator, under DADT. How did he disclose his homosexuality? He mentioned it in a letter to a friend—in Portuguese. A colleague found the letter, translated it, and outed him. "Nobody asked me if I was gay and I wasn't telling anyone," says Nicholson. "You would think that a private letter that you had written in a foreign language would be sufficiently safe." But you would be wrong.

Last year, the Army discharged Bleu Copas, a sergeant, from the 82nd Airborne. The basis? Anonymous e-mails. The first time superiors asked Copas whether he was gay, the context was informal, and he denied it. The next time, they put him under formal interrogation—"Have you ever engaged in homosexual activity or conduct?"—and he refused to answer. Eventually, to avoid prosecution for perjury, he gave in.

Four days ago, the Stockton, Calif., Record reported the recent expulsion of Randy Miller, a paratrooper who served in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne. His offense? Being in a gay bar—and rejecting a proposition from a fellow soldier, who apparently retaliated by reporting him to the Army. Like Witt, Miller admitted his homosexuality, but only under interrogation. If you don't tell, they make you tell.

Compare any of these cases to Craig's. You cohabit quietly with a same-sex partner for six years. You write a letter to a friend in Portuguese. You deny being gay but are interrogated until you give up. You're spotted in a gay bar rejecting a sexual overture. For these offenses, you lose your career, thanks to a man who stared and extended his hands and feet repeatedly into a neighboring bathroom stall.

Were Craig's gestures ambiguous? Not by his own standards. He signed off on the arrest report. Under DADT, he'd have to prove that what he did was "a departure from [his] usual and customary behavior," that it was "unlikely to recur," and that he did "not have a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts." But the Idaho Statesman reports three other incidents, from 1967 to 2004, in which Craig allegedly made similar overtures. On the Statesman's Web site, you can listen to an interview in which one of the men describes his tryst with Craig in a public bathroom. These accounts, combined with Craig's arrest report, would easily get him thrown out of the Army if he were a soldier.

Has Craig's arrest chastened him about DADT? Not a bit. Two weeks ago, in a letter to a constituent, he reiterated his support for the policy. "I don't believe the military should be a place for social experimentation," Craig wrote. "It is unacceptable to risk the lives of American soldiers and sailors merely to accommodate the sexual lifestyles of certain individuals."

Now you know why Craig is trying to withdraw his guilty plea. The cardinal rule of "don't ask, don't tell" isn't heterosexuality. It's hypocrisy. The one thing you can't do is tell the truth.

In that sense, Craig is honoring the policy in his own life. But that's the only sense. I don't think what he did should cost him his career. I'd like to cut him some slack. But first, I'd like to restore the careers of a few thousand other gay Americans who have done a lot more for their country.

Thursday, August 30

Sorry, Mr. President, You're All Out of Troops

Slate Magazine
But maybe France can help solve the Iraq mess.
By Fred Kaplan
Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

President George W. Bush's behavior gets more baffling every day. Most leaders in his predicament would be recalibrating their rhetoric, seeking to alter expectations, so that the inevitable drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq won't appear to be a defeat.

Instead, Bush is doing the opposite. Twice this past week, he has appeared before his most bedrock base (the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars), promised to give his commanders whatever they need for victory, and lambasted Congress for so much as contemplating withdrawal, a step, he warned, that would imperil civilization and free peoples everywhere.

He is willfully ignoring two facts. First, almost nobody in a position of power or much influence is advocating a complete withdrawal from Iraq. Second, a partial withdrawal is certain to take place in the next nine months, and this has nothing to do with Congress.

This has been noted time and time again, but apparently it bears repeating: The U.S. Army and Marines are simply running out of combat troops.

Adm. Michael Mullen, the incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified at his confirmation hearings last month that the "surge" in Iraq could not be sustained at present levels past April 2008.

There are a few ways to remedy this shortfall, all of them impractical or infeasible. First, soldiers' tours of duty in Iraq, which were recently extended from 12 months to 15 months, could be stretched further to 18 months. However, Gen. Richard Cody, the Army's vice chief of staff, told me, during a recent interview for a separate story, that this idea is "off the table." As it should be: The relentless rotation cycles have already compelled many soldiers and junior officers to quit the Army; pushing duty and tolerance much further might not just exhaust the troops beyond limits but spark an exodus from the armed forces.

Gen. Cody said his personal preference is the "full mobilization" of the Reserves. A president does have the statutory authority to call up to a million reservists, including retirees, into active service for the duration of a war or an emergency. But this step hasn't been taken since World War II, and for good reason: It would be a huge social disruption; and, unless a president persuades the population that it's necessary—unless the war is almost universally seen as vital to the nation's security—the call up would have politically explosive consequences as well. (Lyndon Johnson expanded the draft rather than fully mobilize the Reserves during the Vietnam War.) There is no sign that Bush is preparing the public for such a dramatic step now.

Another option would be to persuade other countries to send more troops, but those that aren't long gone are in the process of leaving. Finally, there's the draft, which just isn't going to happen and, in any case, it would take well over a year to call up, train, equip, and deploy fresh brigades for combat.

The long and short of it is that by next spring some of the 20 U.S. combat brigades currently in Iraq—perhaps as many as a quarter to a half of them—will be pulling out, and nobody will replace them. This is a mathematical fact, quite apart from anything to do with the upcoming election or the war's diminishing popularity.

Whether or not you regard this fact as lamentable, President Bush only makes things worse by howling that any pullback would erode American power and embolden the terrorists. Even if his warning is true, for a president to state it so urgently, over and over and over and over, deepens the damage when the storm hits. And given that the storm is certain to hit, it's irresponsible—it's baffling—that he's howling so loudly.

Most presidents would be doing two things right now: adjusting the rhetoric (so that expectations meet reality) and changing the policy (so that the reality isn't disastrous for U.S. interests).

One problem with Bush, judging from his Aug. 28 speech at an American Legion convention, is that he doesn't seem to grasp the reality. He told the Legionnaires:

The challenge in Iraq comes down to this: Either the forces of extremism succeed, or the forces of freedom succeed. Either our enemies advance their interests in Iraq, or we advance our interests. The most important and immediate way to counter the ambitions of al-Qaida and Iran and other forces of instability and terror is to win the fight in Iraq.

Even by his standards, this is a startlingly misguided passage. Few serious analysts would disagree that the best we can hope for in Iraq is a moderately authoritarian government that's not too terribly sectarian and not too closely aligned with Iran—that is to say, a regime that is neither extremist nor, in any Western sense, free. It would be a huge relief if "our enemies" don't see their interests advanced very far in Iraq, but few at this point anticipate U.S. interests making much headway either. It is unlikely that we or the Iraqi leaders will be able to ward off ambitions of al-Qaida and Iran and "other forces of instability and terror." At least one of those groups will come out fairly well; the key task now is to make sure that the most dangerous of them do not. And it is still unclear, after all this time, how Bush defines "win."

At one point in his speech, he came close to defining the term, but by that measure, we're not doing well. The "central objective" of his strategy in Iraq, he said, is "to aid the rise of an Iraqi government that can protect its people, deliver basic services, and be an ally in this war on terror."

The Iraqi people do not feel more protected (or, to the extent they do in certain areas, for instance in Anbar province, the relief has nothing to do with the Iraqi government). Basic services—clean water and electricity—are more lacking than they were a few months ago. And, even if the Baghdad regime gets its act together, it is unlikely to get confrontational with, say, Iran or Hezbollah.

It has always been doubtful that the U.S. military could pull off all these objectives. With the inevitable drawdown of troops, the chances are dimmer still. It's long past time to stop declaring lofty, unachievable goals and to focus on what's feasible.

Two military goals are feasible and worthwhile: defeating, or at least severely weakening, al-Qaida in Mesopotamia (with the assistance, however opportunistic, of Sunni tribesmen and insurgents); and keeping the Kurdish territories stable.

All other goals—for instance, keeping the Sunni-Shiite civil war from escalating or from expanding beyond Iraq's borders—are chiefly political in nature and can be accomplished only with the cooperation of neighboring countries.

Given America's declining influence and prestige in the region, it might be best for any accord or agreement to be—at least for public consumption—clean of Washington's fingerprints. And here, strangely, is where France might jump in.

According to a fascinating story by Adam Gopnik in the Aug. 27 issue of The New Yorker, when the new French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, met Condoleezza Rice, she said, "What can I do for you?" Sarkozy replied, "Improve your image in the world. It's difficult when the country that is the most powerful, the most successful—that is, of necessity, the leader of our side—is one of the most unpopular countries in the world. It presents overwhelming problems for you and overwhelming problems for your allies."

One interesting aspect of this story is Sarkozy's view of the United States as "the leader of our side." (Jacques Chirac would never have uttered such an admission.) Gopnik disputed the widespread notion that Sarkozy is "pro-American." He has an American style and a more American disposition to free markets. But he is very French in his view of an independent Europe and of his own nation's central position in that entity, in the promotion of Western civilization generally.

Still, in a recent address on foreign policy, Sarkozy expressed concerns that aren't far out of line with some of Bush's (and other Americans') concerns—about Iran's nuclear ambitions, Russia's growing insularity, and the regional cataclysms that might erupt from the violence in Iraq (even while he called for a U.S. pullout).

Bush—or whoever succeeds him—should embrace Sarkozy's ambitions and ally them to ours. His socialist foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, recently asked Condoleezza Rice, "What can we do for you in Iraq?" The answer should be: Take the lead in mediating a deal with Iraq's neighbors, and put non-American fingerprints on a containment, even a settlement, of the war.

Fred Kaplan writes the "War Stories" column for Slate. He can be reached at

Wednesday, August 29

Republican Senator Larry Craig


[Boy, this guy is a real winner. So he's not only a hypocritical bigot misogynist homophobe for railing against the homosexual lifestyle while pleading guilty to soliciting sex from a police officer in an airport bathroom, but he wants to INCREASE the already massive economic disparity between the super rich and everyone else, pollute the environment, outlaw abortion, promote a culture of guns, and get rid of the public school system? This guy is really incredible! I'm sure we'll soon have a david brooks column on why he's really just misunderstood, and would make a fine moderate president... -ed]

Strongly Opposes same sex marriage
Strong Favors Constitutional Ban on gay marriage
Strongly Opposes same-sex basic training for recruiting US troops
Strongly Opposes expanding hate crimes to include sexual orientation
Rated 100% by the Christian Coalition
Rated 0% by NARAL
Strongly Opposes a Woman's Right to an Abortion
Rated 0% by APHA, indicating a anti-public health voting record
Rated 0% by the ARA, indicating an anti-senior voting record
Rated A+ by the NRA, indicating a pro-gun rights voting record
YES on loosening license & background checks at gun shows
Favors absolishing background checks for purchasing guns at gun shows
Rated 0% by the LCV, indicating anti-environment votes
YES on raising estate tax exemption to $5 million
YES on retaining reduced taxes on capital gains & dividends

The Idaho Statesman editorial page begins today’s editorial with the sentence, “Sen. Larry Craig has spent 27 years in Congress ­ with rumors about his sexual orientation following him almost from the outset.”

Craig “must speak candidly with the people who have hired him for more than a quarter of a century,” the Statesman editorial continues. “He owes this to voters ­ no matter how difficult that may be for him and for his family. And voters owe Craig a chance to explain himself.”

Among the questions the Statesman editorial poses about the “bizarre case”: “If Craig’s actions in the restroom were misconstrued and he was not involved in any inappropriate conduct, as he said in a statement Monday, then why did he plead guilty?”; “Did Craig try to use his title to make the case go away?” (the editorial calls it “an inexcusable abuse of power” if, as reported in the police report, “Craig handed the plainclothes officer a U.S. Senate business card during an interview with police, and asked the officer, ‘What do you think about that?’); and “Why did Craig not come forward after the June 11 arrest? Did he honestly think this would never become public?”

“For Craig to keep this from his constituents, for 11 weeks, is not merely bad public relations,” the editorial goes on. “It’s an unacceptable breach of trust.”

The Statesman editorial also says voters deserve to know if Craig is gay: “Elected officials have a right to privacy, but also an obligation to tell the truth about who they are.”

A Sobering Census Report: Americans’ Meager Income Gains

Published: August 29, 2007
New York Times Editorial Board

The economic party is winding down and most working Americans never even got near the punch bowl.

The Census Bureau reported yesterday that median household income rose 0.7 percent last year — it’s second annual increase in a row— to $48,201. The share of households living in poverty fell to 12.3 percent from 12.6 percent in 2005. This seems like welcome news, but a deeper look at the belated improvement in these numbers — more than five years after the end of the last recession — underscores how the gains from economic growth have failed to benefit most of the population.

The median household income last year was still about $1,000 less than in 2000, before the onset of the last recession. In 2006, 36.5 million Americans were living in poverty — 5 million more than six years before, when the poverty rate fell to 11.3 percent.

And what is perhaps most disturbing is that it appears this is as good as it’s going to get.

Sputtering under the weight of the credit crisis and the associated drop in the housing market, the economic expansion that started in 2001 looks like it might enter history books with the dubious distinction of being the only sustained expansion on record in which the incomes of typical American households never reached the peak of the previous cycle. It seems that ordinary working families are going to have to wait — at the very minimum — until the next cycle to make up the losses they suffered in this one. There’s no guarantee they will.

The gains against poverty last year were remarkably narrow. The poverty rate declined among the elderly, but it remained unchanged for people under 65. Analyzed by race, only Hispanics saw poverty decline on average while other groups experienced no gains.

The fortunes of middle-class, working Americans also appear less upbeat on closer consideration of the data. Indeed, earnings of men and women working full time actually fell more than 1 percent last year.

This suggests that when household incomes rose, it was because more members of the household went to work, not because anybody got a bigger paycheck. The median income of working-age households, those headed by somebody younger than 65, remained more than 2 percent lower than in 2001, the year of the recession.

Over all, the new data on incomes and poverty mesh consistently with the pattern of the last five years, in which the spoils of the nation’s economic growth have flowed almost exclusively to the wealthy and the extremely wealthy, leaving little for everybody else.

Standard measures of inequality did not increase last year, according to the new census data. But over a longer period, the trend becomes crystal clear: the only group for which earnings in 2006 exceeded those of 2000 were the households in the top five percent of the earnings distribution. For everybody else, they were lower.

This stilted distribution of rewards underscores how economic growth alone has been insufficient to provide better living standards for most American families. What are needed are policies to help spread benefits broadly — be it more progressive taxation, or policies to strengthen public education and increase access to affordable health care.

Unfortunately, these policies are unlikely to come from the current White House. This administration prefers tax cuts for the lucky ones in the top five percent.

Sunday, August 26

The Global Cost of China's Development

The New York Times
August 26, 2007
As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes

BEIJING, Aug. 25 — No country in history has emerged as a major industrial power without creating a legacy of environmental damage that can take decades and big dollops of public wealth to undo.

But just as the speed and scale of China’s rise as an economic power have no clear parallel in history, so its pollution problem has shattered all precedents. Environmental degradation is now so severe, with such stark domestic and international repercussions, that pollution poses not only a major long-term burden on the Chinese public but also an acute political challenge to the ruling Communist Party. And it is not clear that China can rein in its own economic juggernaut.

Public health is reeling. Pollution has made cancer China’s leading cause of death, the Ministry of Health says. Ambient air pollution alone is blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Nearly 500 million people lack access to safe drinking water.

Chinese cities often seem wrapped in a toxic gray shroud. Only 1 percent of the country’s 560 million city dwellers breathe air considered safe by the European Union. Beijing is frantically searching for a magic formula, a meteorological deus ex machina, to clear its skies for the 2008 Olympics.

Environmental woes that might be considered catastrophic in some countries can seem commonplace in China: industrial cities where people rarely see the sun; children killed or sickened by lead poisoning or other types of local pollution; a coastline so swamped by algal red tides that large sections of the ocean no longer sustain marine life.

China is choking on its own success. The economy is on a historic run, posting a succession of double-digit growth rates. But the growth derives, now more than at any time in the recent past, from a staggering expansion of heavy industry and urbanization that requires colossal inputs of energy, almost all from coal, the most readily available, and dirtiest, source.

“It is a very awkward situation for the country because our greatest achievement is also our biggest burden,” says Wang Jinnan, one of China’s leading environmental researchers. “There is pressure for change, but many people refuse to accept that we need a new approach so soon.”

China’s problem has become the world’s problem. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides spewed by China’s coal-fired power plants fall as acid rain on Seoul, South Korea, and Tokyo. Much of the particulate pollution over Los Angeles originates in China, according to the Journal of Geophysical Research.

More pressing still, China has entered the most robust stage of its industrial revolution, even as much of the outside world has become preoccupied with global warming.

Experts once thought China might overtake the United States as the world’s leading producer of greenhouse gases by 2010, possibly later. Now, the International Energy Agency has said China could become the emissions leader by the end of this year, and the Netherlands Environment Assessment Agency said China had already passed that level.

For the Communist Party, the political calculus is daunting. Reining in economic growth to alleviate pollution may seem logical, but the country’s authoritarian system is addicted to fast growth. Delivering prosperity placates the public, provides spoils for well-connected officials and forestalls demands for political change. A major slowdown could incite social unrest, alienate business interests and threaten the party’s rule.

But pollution poses its own threat. Officials blame fetid air and water for thousands of episodes of social unrest. Health care costs have climbed sharply. Severe water shortages could turn more farmland into desert. And the unconstrained expansion of energy-intensive industries creates greater dependence on imported oil and dirty coal, meaning that environmental problems get harder and more expensive to address the longer they are unresolved.

China’s leaders recognize that they must change course. They are vowing to overhaul the growth-first philosophy of the Deng Xiaoping era and embrace a new model that allows for steady growth while protecting the environment. In his equivalent of a State of the Union address this year, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao made 48 references to “environment,” “pollution” or “environmental protection.”

The government has numerical targets for reducing emissions and conserving energy. Export subsidies for polluting industries have been phased out. Different campaigns have been started to close illegal coal mines and shutter some heavily polluting factories. Major initiatives are under way to develop clean energy sources like solar and wind power. And environmental regulation in Beijing, Shanghai and other leading cities has been tightened ahead of the 2008 Olympics.

Yet most of the government’s targets for energy efficiency, as well as improving air and water quality, have gone unmet. And there are ample signs that the leadership is either unwilling or unable to make fundamental changes.

Land, water, electricity, oil and bank loans remain relatively inexpensive, even for heavy polluters. Beijing has declined to use the kind of tax policies and market-oriented incentives for conservation that have worked well in Japan and many European countries.

Provincial officials, who enjoy substantial autonomy, often ignore environmental edicts, helping to reopen mines or factories closed by central authorities. Over all, enforcement is often tinged with corruption. This spring, officials in Yunnan Province in southern China beautified Laoshou Mountain, which had been used as a quarry, by spraying green paint over acres of rock.

President Hu Jintao’s most ambitious attempt to change the culture of fast-growth collapsed this year. The project, known as “Green G.D.P.,” was an effort to create an environmental yardstick for evaluating the performance of every official in China. It recalculated gross domestic product, or G.D.P., to reflect the cost of pollution.

But the early results were so sobering — in some provinces the pollution-adjusted growth rates were reduced almost to zero — that the project was banished to China’s ivory tower this spring and stripped of official influence.

Chinese leaders argue that the outside world is a partner in degrading the country’s environment. Chinese manufacturers that dump waste into rivers or pump smoke into the sky make the cheap products that fill stores in the United States and Europe. Often, these manufacturers subcontract for foreign companies — or are owned by them. In fact, foreign investment continues to rise as multinational corporations build more factories in China. Beijing also insists that it will accept no mandatory limits on its carbon dioxide emissions, which would almost certainly reduce its industrial growth. It argues that rich countries caused global warming and should find a way to solve it without impinging on China’s development.

Indeed, Britain, the United States and Japan polluted their way to prosperity and worried about environmental damage only after their economies matured and their urban middle classes demanded blue skies and safe drinking water.

But China is more like a teenage smoker with emphysema. The costs of pollution have mounted well before it is ready to curtail economic development. But the price of business as usual — including the predicted effects of global warming on China itself — strikes many of its own experts and some senior officials as intolerably high.

“Typically, industrial countries deal with green problems when they are rich,” said Ren Yong, a climate expert at the Center for Environment and Economy in Beijing. “We have to deal with them while we are still poor. There is no model for us to follow.”

In the face of past challenges, the Communist Party has usually responded with sweeping edicts from Beijing. Some environmentalists say they hope the top leadership has now made pollution control such a high priority that lower level officials will have no choice but to go along, just as Deng Xiaoping once forced China’s sluggish bureaucracy to fixate on growth.

But the environment may end up posing a different political challenge. A command-and-control political culture accustomed to issuing thundering directives is now under pressure, even from people in the ruling party, to submit to oversight from the public, for which pollution has become a daily — and increasingly deadly — reality.

Perpetual Haze

During the three decades since Deng set China on a course toward market-style growth, rapid industrialization and urbanization have lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty and made the country the world’s largest producer of consumer goods. But there is little question that growth came at the expense of the country’s air, land and water, much of it already degraded by decades of Stalinist economic planning that emphasized the development of heavy industries in urban areas.

For air quality, a major culprit is coal, on which China relies for about two-thirds of its energy needs. It has abundant supplies of coal and already burns more of it than the United States, Europe and Japan combined. But even many of its newest coal-fired power plants and industrial furnaces operate inefficiently and use pollution controls considered inadequate in the West.

Expanding car ownership, heavy traffic and low-grade gasoline have made autos the leading source of air pollution in major Chinese cities. Only 1 percent of China’s urban population of 560 million now breathes air considered safe by the European Union, according to a World Bank study of Chinese pollution published this year. One major pollutant contributing to China’s bad air is particulate matter, which includes concentrations of fine dust, soot and aerosol particles less than 10 microns in diameter (known as PM 10).

The level of such particulates is measured in micrograms per cubic meter of air. The European Union stipulates that any reading above 40 micrograms is unsafe. The United States allows 50. In 2006, Beijing’s average PM 10 level was 141, according to the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics. Only Cairo, among world capitals, had worse air quality as measured by particulates, according to the World Bank.

Emissions of sulfur dioxide from coal and fuel oil, which can cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases as well as acid rain, are increasing even faster than China’s economic growth. In 2005, China became the leading source of sulfur dioxide pollution globally, the State Environmental Protection Administration, or SEPA, reported last year.

Other major air pollutants, including ozone, an important component of smog, and smaller particulate matter, called PM 2.5, emitted when gasoline is burned, are not widely monitored in China. Medical experts in China and in the West have argued that PM 2.5 causes more chronic diseases of the lung and heart than the more widely watched PM 10.

Perhaps an even more acute challenge is water. China has only one-fifth as much water per capita as the United States. But while southern China is relatively wet, the north, home to about half of China’s population, is an immense, parched region that now threatens to become the world’s biggest desert.

Farmers in the north once used shovels to dig their wells. Now, many aquifers have been so depleted that some wells in Beijing and Hebei must extend more than half a mile before they reach fresh water. Industry and agriculture use nearly all of the flow of the Yellow River, before it reaches the Bohai Sea.

In response, Chinese leaders have undertaken one of the most ambitious engineering projects in world history, a $60 billion network of canals, rivers and lakes to transport water from the flood-prone Yangtze River to the silt-choked Yellow River. But that effort, if successful, will still leave the north chronically thirsty.

This scarcity has not yet created a culture of conservation. Water remains inexpensive by global standards, and Chinese industry uses 4 to 10 times more water per unit of production than the average in industrialized nations, according to the World Bank.

In many parts of China, factories and farms dump waste into surface water with few repercussions. China’s environmental monitors say that one-third of all river water, and vast sections of China’s great lakes, the Tai, Chao and Dianchi, have water rated Grade V, the most degraded level, rendering it unfit for industrial or agricultural use.

Grim Statistics

The toll this pollution has taken on human health remains a delicate topic in China. The leadership has banned publication of data on the subject for fear of inciting social unrest, said scholars involved in the research. But the results of some research provide alarming evidence that the environment has become one of the biggest causes of death.

An internal, unpublicized report by the Chinese Academy of Environmental Planning in 2003 estimated that 300,000 people die each year from ambient air pollution, mostly of heart disease and lung cancer. An additional 110,000 deaths could be attributed to indoor air pollution caused by poorly ventilated coal and wood stoves or toxic fumes from shoddy construction materials, said a person involved in that study.

Another report, prepared in 2005 by Chinese environmental experts, estimated that annual premature deaths attributable to outdoor air pollution were likely to reach 380,000 in 2010 and 550,000 in 2020.

This spring, a World Bank study done with SEPA, the national environmental agency, concluded that outdoor air pollution was already causing 350,000 to 400,000 premature deaths a year. Indoor pollution contributed to the deaths of an additional 300,000 people, while 60,000 died from diarrhea, bladder and stomach cancer and other diseases that can be caused by water-borne pollution.

China’s environmental agency insisted that the health statistics be removed from the published version of the report, citing the possible impact on “social stability,” World Bank officials said.

But other international organizations with access to Chinese data have published similar results. For example, the World Health Organization found that China suffered more deaths from water-related pollutants and fewer from bad air, but agreed with the World Bank that the total death toll had reached 750,000 a year. In comparison, 4,700 people died last year in China’s notoriously unsafe mines, and 89,000 people were killed in road accidents, the highest number of automobile-related deaths in the world. The Ministry of Health estimates that cigarette smoking takes a million Chinese lives each year.

Studies of Chinese environmental health mostly use statistical models developed in the United States and Europe and apply them to China, which has done little long-term research on the matter domestically. The results are more like plausible suppositions than conclusive findings.

But Chinese experts say that, if anything, the Western models probably understate the problems.

“China’s pollution is worse, the density of its population is greater and people do not protect themselves as well,” said Jin Yinlong, the director general of the Institute for Environmental Health and Related Product Safety in Beijing. “So the studies are not definitive. My assumption is that they will turn out to be conservative.”

Growth Run Amok

As gloomy as China’s pollution picture looks today, it is set to get significantly worse, because China has come to rely mainly on energy-intensive heavy industry and urbanization to fuel economic growth. In 2000, a team of economists and energy specialists at the Development Research Center, part of the State Council, set out to gauge how much energy China would need over the ensuing 20 years to achieve the leadership’s goal of quadrupling the size of the economy.

They based their projections on China’s experience during the first 20 years of economic reform, from 1980 to 2000. In that period, China relied mainly on light industry and small-scale private enterprise to spur growth. It made big improvements in energy efficiency even as the economy expanded rapidly. Gross domestic product quadrupled, while energy use only doubled.

The team projected that such efficiency gains would probably continue. But the experts also offered what they called a worst-case situation in which the most energy-hungry parts of the economy grew faster and efficiency gains fell short.

That worst-case situation now looks wildly optimistic. Last year, China burned the energy equivalent of 2.7 billion tons of coal, three-quarters of what the experts had said would be the maximum required in 2020. To put it another way, China now seems likely to need as much energy in 2010 as it thought it would need in 2020 under the most pessimistic assumptions.

“No one really knew what was driving the economy, which is why the predictions were so wrong,” said Yang Fuqiang, a former Chinese energy planner who is now the chief China representative of the Energy Foundation, an American group that supports energy-related research. “What I fear is that the trend is now basically irreversible.”

The ravenous appetite for fossil fuels traces partly to an economic stimulus program in 1997. The leadership, worried that China’s economy would fall into a steep recession as its East Asian neighbors had, provided generous state financing and tax incentives to support industrialization on a grand scale.

It worked well, possibly too well. In 1996, China and the United States each accounted for 13 percent of global steel production. By 2005, the United States share had dropped to 8 percent, while China’s share had risen to 35 percent, according to a study by Daniel H. Rosen and Trevor Houser of China Strategic Advisory, a group that analyzes the Chinese economy.

Similarly, China now makes half of the world’s cement and flat glass, and about a third of its aluminum. In 2006, China overtook Japan as the second-largest producer of cars and trucks after the United States.

Its energy needs are compounded because even some of its newest heavy industry plants do not operate as efficiently, or control pollution as effectively, as factories in other parts of the world, a recent World Bank report said.

Chinese steel makers, on average, use one-fifth more energy per ton than the international average. Cement manufacturers need 45 percent more power, and ethylene producers need 70 percent more than producers elsewhere, the World Bank says.

China’s aluminum industry alone consumes as much energy as the country’s commercial sector — all the hotels, restaurants, banks and shopping malls combined, Mr. Rosen and Mr. Houser reported.

Moreover, the boom is not limited to heavy industry. Each year for the past few years, China has built about 7.5 billion square feet of commercial and residential space, more than the combined floor space of all the malls and strip malls in the United States, according to data collected by the United States Energy Information Administration.

Chinese buildings rarely have thermal insulation. They require, on average, twice as much energy to heat and cool as those in similar climates in the United States and Europe, according to the World Bank. A vast majority of new buildings — 95 percent, the bank says — do not meet China’s own codes for energy efficiency.

All these new buildings require China to build power plants, which it has been doing prodigiously. In 2005 alone, China added 66 gigawatts of electricity to its power grid, about as much power as Britain generates in a year. Last year, it added an additional 102 gigawatts, as much as France.

That increase has come almost entirely from small- and medium-size coal-fired power plants that were built quickly and inexpensively. Only a few of them use modern, combined-cycle turbines, which increase efficiency, said Noureddine Berrah, an energy expert at the World Bank. He said Beijing had so far declined to use the most advanced type of combined-cycle turbines despite having completed a successful pilot project nearly a decade ago.

While over the long term, combined-cycle plants save money and reduce pollution, Mr. Berrah said, they cost more and take longer to build. For that reason, he said, central and provincial government officials prefer older technology.

“China is making decisions today that will affect its energy use for the next 30 or 40 years,” he said. “Unfortunately, in some parts of the government the thinking is much more shortsighted.”

The Politics of Pollution

Since Hu Jintao became the Communist Party chief in 2002 and Wen Jiabao became prime minister the next spring, China’s leadership has struck consistent themes. The economy must grow at a more sustainable, less bubbly pace. Environmental abuse has reached intolerable levels. Officials who ignore these principles will be called to account.

Five years later, it seems clear that these senior leaders are either too timid to enforce their orders, or the fast-growth political culture they preside over is too entrenched to heed them.

In the second quarter of this year, the economy expanded at a neck-snapping pace of 11.9 percent, its fastest in a decade. State-driven investment projects, state-backed heavy industry and a thriving export sector led the way. China burned 18 percent more coal than it did the year before.

China’s authoritarian system has repeatedly proved its ability to suppress political threats to Communist Party rule. But its failure to realize its avowed goals of balancing economic growth and environmental protection is a sign that the country’s environmental problems are at least partly systemic, many experts and some government officials say. China cannot go green, in other words, without political change.

In their efforts to free China of its socialist shackles in the 1980s and early 90s, Deng and his supporters gave lower-level officials the leeway, and the obligation, to increase economic growth.

Local party bosses gained broad powers over state bank lending, taxes, regulation and land use. In return, the party leadership graded them, first and foremost, on how much they expanded the economy in their domains.

To judge by its original goals — stimulating the economy, creating jobs and keeping the Communist Party in power — the system Deng put in place has few equals. But his approach eroded Beijing’s ability to fine-tune the economy. Today, a culture of collusion between government and business has made all but the most pro-growth government policies hard to enforce.

“The main reason behind the continued deterioration of the environment is a mistaken view of what counts as political achievement,” said Pan Yue, the deputy minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration. “The crazy expansion of high-polluting, high-energy industries has spawned special interests. Protected by local governments, some businesses treat the natural resources that belong to all the people as their own private property.”

Mr. Hu has tried to change the system. In an internal address in 2004, he endorsed “comprehensive environmental and economic accounting” — otherwise known as “Green G.D.P.” He said the “pioneering endeavor” would produce a new performance test for government and party officials that better reflected the leadership’s environmental priorities.

The Green G.D.P. team sought to calculate the yearly damage to the environment and human health in each province. Their first report, released last year, estimated that pollution in 2004 cost just over 3 percent of the gross domestic product, meaning that the pollution-adjusted growth rate that year would drop to about 7 percent from 10 percent. Officials said at the time that their formula used low estimates of environmental damage to health and did not assess the impact on China’s ecology. They would produce a more decisive formula, they said, the next year.

That did not happen. Mr. Hu’s plan died amid intense squabbling, people involved in the effort said. The Green G.D.P. group’s second report, originally scheduled for release in March, never materialized.

The official explanation was that the science behind the green index was immature. Wang Jinnan, the leading academic researcher on the Green G.D.P. team, said provincial leaders killed the project. “Officials do not like to be lined up and told how they are not meeting the leadership’s goals,” he said. “They found it difficult to accept this.”

Conflicting Pressures

Despite the demise of Green G.D.P., party leaders insist that they intend to restrain runaway energy use and emissions. The government last year mandated that the country use 20 percent less energy to achieve the same level of economic activity in 2010 compared with 2005. It also required that total emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants decline by 10 percent in the same period.

The program is a domestic imperative. But it has also become China’s main response to growing international pressure to combat global warming. Chinese leaders reject mandatory emissions caps, and they say the energy efficiency plan will slow growth in carbon dioxide emissions.

Even with the heavy pressure, though, the efficiency goals have been hard to achieve. In the first full year since the targets were set, emissions increased. Energy use for every dollar of economic output fell but by much less than the 4 percent interim goal.

In a public relations sense, the party’s commitment to conservation seems steadfast. Mr. Hu shunned his usual coat and tie at a meeting of the Central Committee this summer. State news media said the temperature in the Great Hall of the People was set at a balmy 79 degrees Fahrenheit to save energy, and officials have encouraged others to set thermostats at the same level.

By other measures, though, the leadership has moved slowly to address environmental and energy concerns.

The government rarely uses market-oriented incentives to reduce pollution. Officials have rejected proposals to introduce surcharges on electricity and coal to reflect the true cost to the environment. The state still controls the price of fuel oil, including gasoline, subsidizing the cost of driving.

Energy and environmental officials have little influence in the bureaucracy. The environmental agency still has only about 200 full-time employees, compared with 18,000 at the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States.

China has no Energy Ministry. The Energy Bureau of the National Development and Reform Commission, the country’s central planning agency, has 100 full-time staff members. The Energy Department of the United States has 110,000 employees.

China does have an army of amateur regulators. Environmentalists expose pollution and press local government officials to enforce environmental laws. But private individuals and nongovernment organizations cannot cross the line between advocacy and political agitation without risking arrest.

At least two leading environmental organizers have been prosecuted in recent weeks, and several others have received sharp warnings to tone down their criticism of local officials. One reason the authorities have cited: the need for social stability before the 2008 Olympics, once viewed as an opportunity for China to improve the environment.

Saturday, August 25

The Netroots Miss Their Stokely Carmichael Moment.

The New Republic Online
Inside Job
by Peter Beinart
Post date: 08.24.07

What does Markos Moulitsas have against Mike Gravel? The über-blogger recently called for exiling the longshot presidential candidate from future Democratic debates. "Mike Gravel is a waste of our time," he wrote in an August 7 post. "[He's] a running joke."

Illustration by David CowlesThat's an odd assessment coming from the founder of Daily Kos. Every time Gravel gets behind a lectern, he flays the Democratic Party for knuckling under to militarists and corporations. In other words, he sounds just like Markos Moulitsas. Gravel was a hero of the anti- Vietnam fight and is arguably the most radical Democrat running for president. (Dennis Kucinich comes close, but
Moulitsas doesn't much like him, either.) It's understandable that Moulitsas and his Kossacks wouldn't support a quixotic candidate like the former senator from Alaska, but you'd think they would at least afford him some respect--the way Ralph Reed treated Alan Keyes in 2000. You might even think they would want him on stage, pushing the Democratic debate to the left. Instead, they mock the poor guy. In the most recent poll of Kos readers, he got 1 percent.

Gravel's sin? He's impractical. It's not just that he doesn't have a prayer of becoming president--it's that he doesn't seem to care. The thing that set Moulitsas off was Gravel's discussion of his national sales tax at the YearlyKos presidential debate. Moulitsas disapproves of the tax on its merits, but what really angered him was Gravel's acknowledgement that the proposal would never pass. "At least Kucinich pretends his agenda matters," he fumed. "Gravel won't even give us that courtesy."

It's no secret that Moulitsas cares more about victory than ideology. He's said it repeatedly. But it's worth pausing for a moment to recognize how remarkable this ultra-pragmatism is. As long as there has been an American left, American leftists have been arguing about their relationship to "the system." Can fundamental change come through one of the two major parties, or through the ballot box at all? Or must the system itself be overthrown through some sort of direct action?

For at least a century, this debate has been playing itself out again and again. It's Samuel Gompers versus Bill Haywood in 1905. Walter Lippmann versus John Reed in 1917. Franklin Roosevelt versus Norman Thomas in 1932. Bayard Rustin versus Stokely Carmichael in 1964. Michael Harrington versus Tom Hayden in 1968. Al Gore versus Ralph Nader in 2000. The outsiders have generally lost, but they have been a powerful force. Haywood's Industrial Workers of the World--with its call for a revolutionary general strike--enjoyed real strength in the preWorld War I American West. In 1932, 53 prominent intellectuals, including The New Republic's Edmund Wilson and Malcolm Cowley, signed a statement demanding "the establishment of a workers' and farmers' government which will usher in the Socialist Commonwealth." And by 1965, after Lyndon Johnson spurned the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and escalated the Vietnam war, much of the New Left abandoned electoral politics in favor of outright resistance.

Today, by contrast, the debate is so lopsided that it barely qualifies as a debate at all. Among the netroots, it's taken as a virtual given that the best way to fundamentally change America isn't just to work through the political system, but through one of the two major parties and, at the presidential level, through mainstream candidates. (Even in 2004, the netroots overwhelmingly favored Howard Dean--who at that point didn't want to withdraw troops from Iraq--over Kucinich, who did.) The netroots aren't infinitely flexible, of course. Had Joe Lieberman won the Democratic nomination in 2004, some might have bailed. But, by historical standards, they're at the pragmatic extreme. Perhaps no progressive movement in U.S. history has so wholly identified itself with one party and with the political system writ large. That's the movement's great strength and, potentially, its greatest weakness.

What explains the netroots' faith in the Democratic Party? First, as Jonathan Chait has noted ("The Left's New Machine," May 7, 2007), they are using the right as a model. Between 1964 and 1980, the conservative movement captured the GOP. And, since then, the divide between movement groups like the Christian Coalition and the party itself has largely disappeared, with right-wing activists taking over the party in state after state. But just because conservatives took over the GOP doesn't explain why the netroots were so confident they could do the same in the Democratic Party. After all, although movement conservatives faced cultural barriers in overthrowing old-guard Rockefeller Republicans, they never threatened the people who paid the party's bills. Indeed, starting in the 1970s, corporate America's new hostility to government regulation meshed nicely with the concerns of the Goldwaterites and Christian conservatives then crashing the GOP's gates. The Democratic Party, by contrast, relies on big donations from people sharply at odds with the economic leanings of the netroots. (Though the netroots may be changing that by becoming a significant source of donations themselves.) After the 1990s--when Democrats became more dependent on corporate money and Bill Clinton pushed an aggressive free-trade agenda--it would have been reasonable for some on the left to argue that a progressive movement couldn't take over the Democratic Party in the way conservatives took over the GOP, and that the anti-corporate left needed to build a party of its own.

In fact, someone did make that argument: Ralph Nader. And herein lies another explanation for the netroots' devotion to the Democrats. There have been lots of progressive third-party candidates in U.S. history--Eugene Debs, Robert La Follette, Norman Thomas, Henry Wallace--all arguing that, even if they didn't win, they would push American politics to the left. Whether they succeeded is debatable. But, until Nader, no progressive third-party candidate had dramatically pushed American politics to the right--as Nader did when he helped elect George W. Bush. In the process, he discredited progressive third parties for a generation. Had Nader--once a liberal icon--showed up at YearlyKos, he probably would have been booed.

But, if Nader explains why the netroots spurn third parties, he doesn't answer the more fundamental question of why they put so much faith in the electoral process at all. Winning elections was rarely a central concern for Students for a Democratic Society or the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, never mind the gun-toting militants of the Black Panther Party. By contrast, Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong's 2006 book, Crashing the Gate, is basically a primer on campaign strategy.

This metamorphosis owes itself in part to the cultural shifts of the past four decades. Postwar America was an exclusionary place that forced blacks, women, students, gays, and others to contort their identities into the narrow and often demeaning spaces permitted by the straight white men who made up the establishment. The movements of the 1960s, therefore--especially later in the decade--were as much about identity as about policy, aimed at allowing historically marginalized groups to decide for themselves how they looked, dressed, procreated, recreated, worked, and loved. And, even when these movements did seek political change, they often relied on institutions outside the electoral system. The civil rights movement operated largely through black churches and communities. In the Port Huron Statement, SDS argued that universities were a key vehicle for radical change. For the left, therefore, elections were not the only-- or even the best--path to progress.

The netroots are different. Largely because of the civil rights, women's rights, and gay rights movements, today's cultural mainstream is far broader, and the activists who attend YearlyKos fit in fine. The netroots may consist of political outsiders, but, unlike their progressive predecessors, they are not cultural ones. When Moulitsas talks about crashing the gate, he's not talking about social acceptance; he's talking about political power.

If the netroots work through the Democratic Party because they have political rather than cultural goals, they also do so because there aren't many other options. In today's America, few powerful institutions outside the electoral system are pushing for progressive change. The universities are politically quiet. Some union leaders want to make labor a national protest movement (and the netroots want that too), but, after decades of decline, it isn't--at least not yet. Black activism has also moved firmly inside the political system. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton--who are part politicians, part agitators--increasingly look like transitional figures, as activist ministers give way to black mayors and members of Congress who campaign and govern rather than protest. Perhaps the closest thing to a robust political movement outside today's two-party system is the campaign for immigrants' rights--organized through unions, ethnic organizations, and churches--which showed flashes of power earlier this year. But, while the civil rights and antiwar movements split the Democratic Party 40 years ago, labor's decision to abandon its historic fear of immigration means that immigrant activism and partisan activism can probably go hand in hand. The netroots doesn't have to choose.

Finally, there's one last--deeper-- explanation for the netroots' pragmatism. It's the first broad-based liberal movement to emerge since communism's demise. In the Progressive era, it was conventional wisdom on the American left--asserted by everyone from Eugene Debs to John Dewey--that socialism was historically inevitable. Then, during the Depression--until Stalin's alliance with Hitler and the news of his terrible crimes brought most leftists to their senses--the Soviet Union became a real-life model of what revolution, as opposed to mere reform, could achieve. Even in the '60s, the shift towards outright resistance coincided with an enthusiasm for revolutions abroad. In Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Frantz Fanon, Mao Zedong, and Ho Chi Minh, the New Left saw blueprints for the revolution it desired at home. Tom Hayden and Staughton Lynd visited Hanoi, and Stokely Carmichael moved to West Africa, where he took the name Kwame Toure in honor of the leaders who had brought independence to Ghana and Guinea. "For generations," writes Todd Gitlin in his excellent book The Sixties, "the American left has externalized good: we needed to tie our fates to someone, somewhere in the world, who was seizing the chances for a humane society."

Now that's impossible. Sean Penn can embrace Hugo Chávez and Michael Moore may swoon over Cuban health care, but such radical camaraderie pales in comparison even to that of the Reagan years, when every major campus boasted a branch of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, which championed El Salvador's Marxist fmln. The Soviet Union is gone, and, virtually without exception, leftist revolutions in the third world have ended in tears. (Nelson Mandela, perhaps the only recent foreign leader to enjoy demigod status on the American left, underscores the point. Post-apartheid South Africa may be anti-American, but it is more capitalist than it was under white rule.) Even the social democracies of Western Europe don't shine as brightly as they did a few decades ago. With the cold war's end, there is simply no compelling ideological alternative beyond America's shores.

On the right, this has produced a utopian spasm: a belief that communism's demise proves capitalism's perfection, vindicating its purest, most deregulated form. But, on the left, it has made revolutionary rhetoric sound absurd. The netroots feel the American system has gone fundamentally wrong; that, in some profound ways, it has become less just, less decent, less free. And yet, the American system is all they have. It can be reformed, turned into a better version of itself. But it can't be overthrown because there is nothing with which to replace it. Markos Moulitsas is an idealist in a post-utopian age.

On balance, that's a very good thing. Revolutionary leftism has usually turned ugly. And the netroots' pragmatism--their willingness to sully themselves with the compromise that electoral politics inevitably entails, their preference for achieving results rather than just bearing witness--could make them a formidable force for change. There is, however, a danger. The sophisticated argument for outside agitation, for staking out an extreme position and refusing to budge, has always been that it empowers the pragmatists. It lets reformers tell people in power that, if they don't make reforms, all hell will break loose. In that way, Haywood empowered Gompers. Thomas empowered FDR. And Carmichael empowered Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King. The sophisticated argument against pure pragmatism is that, without an unpragmatic alternative, it doesn't work.

If Democrats take power, the absence of such an alternative in a post-Marxist, post-Nader age may prove the netroots' Achilles heel. What if Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama doesn't fully withdraw from Iraq, or push hard for universal health care? What is the liberal blogosphere's implied threat? What is the institutional--or even ideological--basis for threatening to leave the Democratic mainstream, or the political game altogether, and join the threatening hordes outside? One day in the not-too-distant future, Markos Moulitsas may realize that Mike Gravel isn't such a waste of time after all.

Peter Beinart is editor-at-large at The New Republic, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and the author of The Good Fight (HarperCollins).

Challenging the Generals

The New York Times
Challenging the Generals

On Aug. 1, Gen. Richard Cody, the United States Army’s vice chief of staff, flew to the sprawling base at Fort Knox, Ky., to talk with the officers enrolled in the Captains Career Course. These are the Army’s elite junior officers. Of the 127 captains taking the five-week course, 119 had served one or two tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, mainly as lieutenants. Nearly all would soon be going back as company commanders. A captain named Matt Wignall, who recently spent 16 months in Iraq with a Stryker brigade combat team, asked Cody, the Army’s second-highest-ranking general, what he thought of a recent article by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling titled “A Failure in Generalship.” The article, a scathing indictment that circulated far and wide, including in Iraq, accused the Army’s generals of lacking “professional character,” “creative intelligence” and “moral courage.”

Yingling’s article — published in the May issue of Armed Forces Journal — noted that a key role of generals is to advise policy makers and the public on the means necessary to win wars. “If the general remains silent while the statesman commits a nation to war with insufficient means,” he wrote, “he shares culpability for the results.” Today’s generals “failed to envision the conditions of future combat and prepare their forces accordingly,” and they failed to advise policy makers on how much force would be necessary to win and stabilize Iraq. These failures, he insisted, stemmed not just from the civilian leaders but also from a military culture that “does little to reward creativity and moral courage.” He concluded, “As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”

General Cody looked around the auditorium, packed with men and women in uniform — most of them in their mid-20s, three decades his junior but far more war-hardened than he or his peers were at the same age — and turned Captain Wignall’s question around. “You all have just come from combat, you’re young captains,” he said, addressing the entire room. “What’s your opinion of the general officers corps?”

Over the next 90 minutes, five captains stood up, recited their names and their units and raised several of Yingling’s criticisms. One asked why the top generals failed to give political leaders full and frank advice on how many troops would be needed in Iraq. One asked whether any generals “should be held accountable” for the war’s failures. One asked if the Army should change the way it selected generals. Another said that general officers were so far removed from the fighting, they wound up “sheltered from the truth” and “don’t know what’s going on.”

Challenges like this are rare in the military, which depends on obedience and hierarchy. Yet the scene at Fort Knox reflected a brewing conflict between the Army’s junior and senior officer corps — lieutenants and captains on one hand, generals on the other, with majors and colonels (“field-grade officers”) straddling the divide and sometimes taking sides. The cause of this tension is the war in Iraq, but the consequences are broader. They revolve around the obligations of an officer, the nature of future warfare and the future of the Army itself. And these tensions are rising at a time when the war has stretched the Army’s resources to the limit, when junior officers are quitting at alarming rates and when political leaders are divided or uncertain about America’s — and its military’s — role in the world.

Colonel Yingling’s article gave these tensions voice; it spelled out the issues and the stakes; and it located their roots in the Army’s own institutional culture, specifically in the growing disconnect between this culture — which is embodied by the generals — and the complex realities that junior officers, those fighting the war, are confronting daily on the ground. The article was all the more potent because it was written by an active-duty officer still on the rise. It was a career risk, just as, on a smaller scale, standing up and asking the Army vice chief of staff about the article was a risk.

In response to the captains’ questions, General Cody acknowledged, as senior officers often do now, that the Iraq war was “mismanaged” in its first phases. The original plan, he said, did not anticipate the disbanding of the Iraqi Army, the disruption of oil production or the rise of an insurgency. Still, he rejected the broader critique. “I think we’ve got great general officers that are meeting tough demands,” he insisted. He railed instead at politicians for cutting back the military in the 1990s. “Those are the people who ought to be held accountable,” he said.

Before and just after America’s entry into World War II, Gen. George Marshall, the Army’s chief of staff, purged 31 of his 42 division and corps commanders, all of them generals, and 162 colonels on the grounds that they were unsuited for battle. Over the course of the war, he rid the Army of 500 colonels. He reached deep into the lower ranks to find talented men to replace them. For example, Gen. James Gavin, the highly decorated commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, was a mere major in December 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Today, President Bush maintains that the nation is in a war against terrorism — what Pentagon officials call “the long war” — in which civilization itself is at stake. Yet six years into this war, the armed forces — not just the Army, but also the Air Force, Navy and Marines — have changed almost nothing about the way their promotional systems and their entire bureaucracies operate.

On the lower end of the scale, things have changed — but for the worse. West Point cadets are obligated to stay in the Army for five years after graduating. In a typical year, about a quarter to a third of them decide not to sign on for another term. In 2003, when the class of 1998 faced that decision, only 18 percent quit the force: memories of 9/11 were still vivid; the war in Afghanistan seemed a success; and war in Iraq was under way. Duty called, and it seemed a good time to be an Army officer. But last year, when the 905 officers from the class of 2001 had to make their choice to stay or leave, 44 percent quit the Army. It was the service’s highest loss rate in three decades.

Col. Don Snider, a longtime professor at West Point, sees a “trust gap” between junior and senior officers. There has always been a gap, to some degree. What’s different now is that many of the juniors have more combat experience than the seniors. They have come to trust their own instincts more than they trust orders. They look at the hand they’ve been dealt by their superiors’ decisions, and they feel let down.

The gap is widening further, Snider told me, because of this war’s operating tempo, the “unrelenting pace” at which soldiers are rotated into Iraq for longer tours — and a greater number of tours — than they signed up for. Many soldiers, even those who support the war, are wearying of the endless cycle. The cycle is a result of two decisions. The first occurred at the start of the war, when the senior officers assented to the decision by Donald Rumsfeld, then the secretary of defense, to send in far fewer troops than they had recommended. The second took place two years later, well into the insurgency phase of the war, when top officers declared they didn’t need more troops, though most of them knew that in fact they did. “Many junior officers,” Snider said, “see this op tempo as stemming from the failure of senior officers to speak out.”

Paul Yingling did not set out to cause a stir. He grew up in a working-class part of Pittsburgh. His father owned a bar; no one in his family went to college. He joined the Army in 1984 at age 17, because he was a troubled kid — poor grades and too much drinking and brawling — who wanted to turn his life around, and he did. He went to Duquesne University, a small Catholic school, on an R.O.T.C. scholarship; went on active duty; rose through the ranks; and, by the time of the 1991 Persian Gulf war, was a lieutenant commanding an artillery battery, directing cannon fire against Saddam Hussein’s army.

“When I was in the gulf war, I remember thinking, This is easier than it was at training exercises,” he told me earlier this month. He was sent to Bosnia in December 1995 as part of the first peacekeeping operation after the signing of the Dayton accords, which ended the war in Bosnia. “This was nothing like training,” he recalled. Like most of his fellow soldiers, he was trained almost entirely for conventional combat operations: straightforward clashes, brigades against brigades. (Even now, about 70 percent of the training at the Captains Career Course is for conventional warfare.) In Bosnia, there was no clear enemy, no front line and no set definition of victory. “I kept wondering why things weren’t as well rehearsed as they’d been in the gulf war,” he said.

Upon returning, he spent the next six years pondering that question. He studied international relations at the University of Chicago’s graduate school and wrote a master’s thesis about the circumstances under which outside powers can successfully intervene in civil wars. (One conclusion: There aren’t many.) He then taught at West Point, where he also read deeply in Western political theory. Yingling was deployed to Iraq in July 2003 as an executive officer collecting loose munitions and training Iraq’s civil-defense corps. “The corps deserted or joined the insurgency on first contact,” he recalled. “It was a disaster.”

In the late fall of 2003, his first tour of duty over, Yingling was sent to Fort Sill, Okla., the Army’s main base for artillery soldiers, and wrote long memos to the local generals, suggesting new approaches to the war in Iraq. One suggestion was that since artillery rockets were then playing little role, artillery soldiers should become more skilled in training Iraqi soldiers; that, he thought, would be vital to Iraq’s future stability. No one responded to his memos, he says. He volunteered for another tour of combat and became deputy commander of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, which was fighting jihadist insurgents in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar.

The commander of the third regiment, Col. H. R. McMaster, was a historian as well as a decorated soldier. He figured that Iraq could not build its own institutions, political or military, until its people felt safe. So he devised his own plan, in which he and his troops cleared the town of insurgents — and at the same time formed alliances and built trust with local sheiks and tribal leaders. The campaign worked for a while, but only because McMaster flooded the city with soldiers — about 1,000 of them per square kilometer. Earlier, as Yingling drove around to other towns and villages, he saw that most Iraqis were submitting to whatever gang or militia offered them protection, because United States and coalition forces weren’t anywhere around. And that was because the coalition had entered the war without enough troops. Yingling was seeing the consequences of this decision up close in the terrible insecurity of most Iraqis’ lives.

In February 2006, Yingling returned to Fort Sill. That April, six retired Army and Marine generals publicly criticized Rumsfeld, who was still the secretary of defense, for sending too few troops to Iraq. Many junior and field-grade officers reacted with puzzlement or disgust. Their common question: Where were these generals when they still wore the uniform? Why didn’t they speak up when their words might have counted? One general who had spoken up, Eric Shinseki, then the Army chief of staff, was publicly upbraided and ostracized by Rumsfeld; other active-duty generals got the message and stayed mum.

That December, Yingling attended a Purple Heart ceremony for soldiers wounded in Iraq. “I was watching these soldiers wheeling into this room, or in some cases having to be wheeled in by their wives or mothers,” he recalled. “And I said to myself: ‘These soldiers were doing their jobs. The senior officers were not doing theirs. We’re not giving our soldiers the tools and training to succeed.’ I had to go public.”

Soon after Yingling’s article appeared, Maj. Gen. Jeff Hammond, commander of the Fourth Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Tex., reportedly called a meeting of the roughly 200 captains on his base, all of whom had served in Iraq, for the purpose of putting this brazen lieutenant colonel in his place. According to The Wall Street Journal, he told his captains that Army generals are “dedicated, selfless servants.” Yingling had no business judging generals because he has “never worn the shoes of a general.” By implication, Hammond was warning his captains that they had no business judging generals, either. Yingling was stationed at Fort Hood at the time, preparing to take command of an artillery battalion. From the steps of his building, he could see the steps of General Hammond’s building. He said he sent the general a copy of his article before publication as a courtesy, and he never heard back; nor was he notified of the general’s meeting with his captains.

The “trust gap” between junior and senior officers is hardly universal. Many junior officers at Fort Knox and elsewhere have no complaints about the generals — or regard the matter as way above their pay grade. As Capt. Ryan Kranc, who has served two tours in Iraq, one as a commander, explained to me, “I’m more interested in whether my guys can secure a convoy.” He dismissed complaints about troop shortages. “When you’re in a system, you’re never going to get everything you ask for,” he said, “but I still have to accomplish a mission. That’s my job. If they give me a toothpick, dental floss and a good hunting knife, I will accomplish the mission.”

An hour after General Cody’s talk at Fort Knox, several captains met to discuss the issue over beers. Capt. Garrett Cathcart, who has served in Iraq as a platoon leader, said: “The culture of the Army is to accomplish the mission, no matter what. That’s a good thing.” Matt Wignall, who was the first captain to ask General Cody about the Yingling article, agreed that a mission-oriented culture was “a good thing, but it can be dangerous.” He added: “It is so rare to hear someone in the Army say, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ But sometimes it takes courage to say, ‘I don’t have the capability.’ ” Before the Iraq war, when Rumsfeld overrode the initial plans of the senior officers, “somebody should have put his foot down,” Wignall said.

Lt. Col. Allen Gill, who just retired as director of the R.O.T.C. program at Georgetown University, has heard versions of this discussion among his cadets for years. He raises a different concern about the Army’s “can do” culture. “You’re not brought up in the Army to tell people how you can’t get things done, and that’s fine, that’s necessary,” he said. “But when you get promoted to a higher level of strategic leadership, you have to have a different outlook. You’re supposed to make clear, cold calculations of risk — of the probabilities of victory and defeat.”

The problem, he said, is that it’s hard for officers — hard for people in any profession — to switch their basic approach to life so abruptly. As Yingling put it in his article, “It is unreasonable to expect that an officer who spends 25 years conforming to institutional expectations will emerge as an innovator in his late 40s.”

Yingling’s commander at Tal Afar, H. R. McMaster, documented a similar crisis in the case of the Vietnam War. Twenty years after the war, McMaster wrote a doctoral dissertation that he turned into a book called “Dereliction of Duty.” It concluded that the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the 1960s betrayed their professional obligations by failing to provide unvarnished military advice to President Lyndon B. Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara as they plunged into the Southeast Asian quagmire. When McMaster’s book was published in 1997, Gen. Hugh Shelton, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs, ordered all commanders to read it — and to express disagreements to their superiors, even at personal risk. Since then, “Dereliction of Duty” has been recommended reading for Army officers.

Yet before the start of the Iraq war and during the early stages of the fighting, the Joint Chiefs once again fell silent. Justin Rosenbaum, the captain at Fort Knox who asked General Cody whether any generals would be held accountable for the failures in Iraq, said he was disturbed by this parallel between the two wars. “We’ve read the McMaster book,” he said. “It’s startling that we’re repeating the same mistakes.”

McMaster’s own fate has reinforced these apprehensions. President Bush has singled out McMaster’s campaign at Tal Afar as a model of successful strategy. Gen. David Petraeus, now commander of United States forces in Iraq, frequently consults with McMaster in planning his broader counterinsurgency campaign. Yet the Army’s promotion board — the panel of generals that selects which few dozen colonels advance to the rank of brigadier general — has passed over McMaster two years in a row.

McMaster’s nonpromotion has not been widely reported, yet every officer I spoke with knew about it and had pondered its implications. One colonel, who asked not to be identified because he didn’t want to risk his own ambitions, said: “Everyone studies the brigadier-general promotion list like tarot cards — who makes it, who doesn’t. It communicates what qualities are valued and not valued.” A retired Army two-star general, who requested anonymity because he didn’t want to anger his friends on the promotion boards, agreed. “When you turn down a guy like McMaster,” he told me, “that sends a potent message to everybody down the chain. I don’t know, maybe there were good reasons not to promote him. But the message everybody gets is: ‘We’re not interested in rewarding people like him. We’re not interested in rewarding agents of change.’ ”

Members of the board, he said, want to promote officers whose careers look like their own. Today’s generals rose through the officer corps of the peacetime Army. Many of them fought in the last years of Vietnam, and some fought in the gulf war. But to the extent they have combat experience, it has been mainly tactical, not strategic. They know how to secure an objective on a battlefield, how to coordinate firepower and maneuver. But they don’t necessarily know how to deal with an enemy that’s flexible, with a scenario that has not been rehearsed.

“Those rewarded are the can-do, go-to people,” the retired two-star general told me. “Their skill is making the trains run on time. So why are we surprised that, when the enemy becomes adaptive, we get caught off guard? If you raise a group of plumbers, you shouldn’t be upset if they can’t do theoretical physics.”

There are, of course, exceptions, most notably General Petraeus. He wrote an article for a recent issue of The American Interest, a Washington-based public-policy journal, urging officers to attend civilian graduate schools and get out of their “intellectual comfort zones” — useful for dealing with today’s adaptive enemies.

Yet many Army officers I spoke with say Petraeus’s view is rare among senior officers. Two colonels told me that when they were captains, their commanders strongly discouraged them from attending not just graduate school but even the Army’s Command and General Staff College, warning that it would be a diversion from their career paths. “I got the impression that I’d be better off counting bedsheets in the Baghdad Embassy than studying at Harvard,” one colonel said.

Harvard’s merits aside, some junior officers agree that the promotion system discourages breadth. Capt. Kip Kowalski, an infantry officer in the Captains Career Course at Fort Knox, is a proud soldier in the can-do tradition. He is impatient with critiques of superiors; he prefers to stay focused on his job. “But I am worried,” he said, “that generals these days are forced to be narrow.” Kowalski would like to spend a few years in a different branch of the Army — say, as a foreign area officer — and then come back to combat operations. He says he thinks the switch would broaden his skills, give him new perspectives and make him a better officer. But the rules don’t allow switching back and forth among specialties. “I have to decide right now whether I want to do ops or something else,” he said. “If I go F. A. O., I can never come back.”

In October 2006, seven months before his essay on the failure of generalship appeared, Yingling and Lt. Col. John Nagl, another innovative officer, wrote an article for Armed Forces Journal called “New Rules for New Enemies,” in which they wrote: “The best way to change the organizational culture of the Army is to change the pathways for professional advancement within the officer corps. The Army will become more adaptive only when being adaptive offers the surest path to promotion.”

In late June, Yingling took command of an artillery battalion. This means he will most likely be promoted to full colonel. This assignment, however, was in the works nearly a year ago, long before he wrote his critique of the generals. His move and probable promotion say nothing about whether he’ll be promoted further — or whether, as some of his admirers fear, his career will now grind to a halt.

Nagl — the author of an acclaimed book about counterinsurgency (“Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife”), a former operations officer in Iraq and the subject of a New York Times Magazine article a few years ago — has since taken command of a unit at Fort Riley, Kan., that trains United States soldiers to be advisers to Iraqi security forces. Pentagon officials have said that these advisers are crucial to America’s future military policy. Yet Nagl has written that soldiers have been posted to this unit “on an ad hoc basis” and that few of the officers selected to train them have ever been advisers themselves.

Lt. Col. Isaiah Wilson, a professor at West Point and former planning officer in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division, said the fate of Nagl’s unit — the degree to which it attracted capable, ambitious soldiers — depended on the answer to one question: “Will serving as an adviser be seen as equal to serving as a combat officer in the eyes of the promotion boards? The jury is still out.”

“Guys like Yingling, Nagl and McMaster are the canaries in the coal mine of Army reform,” the retired two-star general I spoke with told me. “Will they get promoted to general? If they do, that’s a sign that real change is happening. If they don’t, that’s a sign that the traditional culture still rules.”

ailure sometimes compels an institution to change its ways. The last time the Army undertook an overhaul was in the wake of the Vietnam War. At the center of those reforms was an officer named Huba Wass de Czege. Wass de Czege (pronounced VOSH de tsay-guh) graduated from West Point and served two tours of duty in Vietnam, the second as a company commander in the Central Highlands. He devised innovative tactics, leading four-man teams — at the time they were considered unconventionally small — on ambush raids at night. His immediate superiors weren’t keen on his approach or attitude, despite his successes. But after the war ended and a few creative officers took over key posts, they recruited Wass de Czege to join them.

In 1982, he was ordered to rewrite the Army’s field manual on combat operations. At his own initiative, he read the classics of military strategy — Clausewitz’s “On War,” Sun Tzu’s “Art of War,” B. H. Liddell Hart’s “Strategy” — none of which had been on his reading list at West Point. And he incorporated many of their lessons along with his own experiences from Vietnam. Where the old edition assumed static clashes of firepower and attrition, Wass de Czege’s revision emphasized speed, maneuver and taking the offensive. He was asked to create a one-year graduate program for the most promising young officers. Called the School of Advanced Military Studies, or SAMS, it brought strategic thinking back into the Army — at least for a while.

Now a retired one-star general, though an active Army consultant, Wass de Czege has publicly praised Yingling’s article. (Yingling was a graduate of SAMS in 2002, well after its founder moved on.) In an essay for the July issue of Army magazine, Wass de Czege wrote that today’s junior officers “feel they have much relevant experience [that] those senior to them lack,” yet the senior officers “have not listened to them.” These junior officers, he added, remind him of his own generation of captains, who held the same view during and just after Vietnam.

“The crux of the problem in our Army,” Wass de Czege wrote, “is that officers are not systematically taught how to cope with unstructured problems.” Counterinsurgency wars, like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, are all about unstructured problems. The junior and field-grade officers, who command at the battalion level and below, deal with unstructured problems — adapting to the insurgents’ ever-changing tactics — as a matter of course. Many generals don’t, and never had to, deal with such problems, either in war or in their training drills. Many of them may not fully recognize just how distinct and difficult these problems are.

Speaking by phone from his home outside Fort Leavenworth, Wass de Czege emphasized that he was impressed with most of today’s senior officers. Compared with those of his time, they are more capable, open and intelligent (most officers today, junior and senior, have college degrees, for instance). “You’re not seeing any of the gross incompetence that was common in my day,” he said. He added, however, that today’s generals are still too slow to change. “The Army tends to be consensus-driven at the top,” he said. “There’s a good side to that. We’re steady as a rock. You call us to arms, we’ll be there. But when you roll a lot of changes at us, it takes awhile. The young guys have to drive us to it.”

The day after his talk at Fort Knox, General Cody, back at his office in the Pentagon, reiterated his “faith in the leadership of the general officers.” Asked about complaints that junior officers are forced to follow narrow paths to promotion, he said, “We’re trying to do just the opposite.” In the works are new incentives to retain officers, including not just higher bonuses but free graduate school and the right to choose which branch of the Army to serve in. “I don’t want everybody to think there’s one road map to colonel or general,” he said. He denied that promotion boards picked candidates in their own image. This year, he said, he was on the board that picked new brigadier generals, and one of them, Jeffrey Buchanan, had never commanded a combat brigade; his last assignment was training Iraqi security forces. One colonel, interviewed later, said: “That’s a good sign. They’ve never picked anybody like that before. But that’s just one out of 38 brigadier generals they picked. It’s still very much the exception.”

There is a specter haunting the debate over Yingling’s article — the specter of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. During World War II, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower threatened to resign if the civilian commanders didn’t order air support for the invasion of Normandy. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill acceded. But during the Korean War, MacArthur — at the time, perhaps the most popular public figure in America — demanded that President Truman let him attack China. Truman fired him. History has redeemed both presidents’ decisions. But in terms of the issues that Yingling, McMaster and others have raised, was there really a distinction? Weren’t both generals speaking what they regarded as “truth to power”?

The very discussion of these issues discomforts many senior officers because they take very seriously the principle of civilian control. They believe it is not their place to challenge the president or his duly appointed secretary of defense, certainly not in public, especially not in wartime. The ethical codes are ambiguous on how firmly an officer can press an argument without crossing the line. So, many generals prefer to keep a substantial distance from that line — to keep the prospect of a constitutional crisis from even remotely arising.

On a blog Yingling maintains at the Web site of Small Wars Journal, an independent journal of military theory, he has acknowledged these dilemmas, but he hasn’t disentangled them. For example, if generals do speak up, and the president ignores their advice, what should they do then — salute and follow orders, resign en masse or criticize the president publicly? At this level of discussion, the junior and midlevel officers feel uncomfortable, too.

Yingling’s concern is more narrowly professional, but it should matter greatly to future policy makers who want to consult their military advisers. The challenge is how to ensure that generals possess the experience and analytical prowess to formulate sound military advice and the “moral courage,” as Yingling put it, to take responsibility for that advice and for its resulting successes or failures. The worry is that too few generals today possess either set of qualities — and that the promotional system impedes the rise of officers who do.

As today’s captains and majors come up through the ranks, the culture may change. One question is how long that will take. Another question is whether the most innovative of those junior officers will still be in the Army by the time the top brass decides reform is necessary. As Colonel Wilson, the West Point instructor, put it, “When that moment comes, will there be enough of the right folks in the right slots to make the necessary changes happen?”

Fred Kaplan is the national security columnist for Slate and author of the forthcoming book “Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power.”

Friday, August 24

The Problem in Iraq isn't Maliki, it's Bush

Blaming the prime minister of Iraq, rather than the president of the United States, for the spectacular failure of American policy, is cynical politics, pure and simple. It is neither fair nor helpful in figuring out how to end America’s biggest foreign policy fiasco since Vietnam.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has been catastrophic for Iraq ever since he took over from the equally disastrous Ibrahim al-Jaafari more than a year ago. America helped engineer Mr. Jaafari’s removal, only to get Mr. Maliki. That tells you something important about whether this is more than a matter of personalities. Mr. Jaafari, as it happens, was Iraq’s first democratically chosen leader under the American-sponsored constitution.

Continuing in the Jaafari tradition, Mr. Maliki’s government has fashioned Iraqi security forces into an instrument of Shiite domination and revenge, trying to steer American troops away from Shiite militia strongholds and leaving Sunni Arab civilians unprotected from sectarian terrorism. His government’s deep sectarian urges have also been evident in the continuing failure to enact legislation to fairly share oil revenues and the persistence of rules that bar much of the Sunni middle class from professional employment.

Sectarian fracturing even extends to the electricity grid, where armed groups have seized control of key switching stations and refused to share power with Baghdad and other provinces.

The problem is not Mr. Maliki’s narrow-mindedness or incompetence. He is the logical product of the system the United States created, one that deliberately empowered the long-persecuted Shiite majority and deliberately marginalized the long-dominant Sunni Arab minority. It was all but sure to produce someone very like Mr. Maliki, a sectarian Shiite far more interested in settling scores than in reconciling all Iraqis to share power in a unified and peaceful democracy.

That distinction is enormously significant, since President Bush’s current troop buildup is supposed to buy, at the cost of American lives, a period of relative calm for Iraqi politicians to bring about national reconciliation. How much calm it has brought is the subject of debate. But just about everyone in Washington now agrees that Mr. Maliki has made little effort to advance national unity.

The most recent intelligence report on Iraq, released yesterday, concludes that Mr. Maliki’s government is unable to govern and will become “more precarious” over the next six months to a year.

That is why there can be no serious argument for buying still more time at the cost of still more American lives and an even greater cost for Iraqis. A report by an Iraqi correspondent for The Times earlier this week described the deadly sectarian hatreds that have torn apart life in his home province, Diyala, which is almost equally divided between Sunnis and Shiites.

The same day, an Op-Ed article by seven American soldiers serving in Iraq underscored the extent to which American troops have worn out their welcome among Iraqis as social and economic conditions have deteriorated and rampant lawlessness has destroyed the most basic sense of personal security.

When it comes to fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq, Washington and Baghdad are often at cross-purposes. In the western province of Al Anbar, the American military has registered some gains by enlisting local Iraqi Sunnis to fight against foreign-led Al Qaeda formations. That strategy depends on the sense of Iraqi nationhood among local Sunnis. But the Maliki government prefers to concentrate on fortifying Shiite political power and exploiting the immense oil reserves of southeast Iraq. It is hard to imagine any Shiite government acting very differently.

Washington’s failure to face these unpleasant realities opens the door to strange and dangerous fantasies, like Mr. Bush’s surreal take on the Vietnam war.

The real lesson of Vietnam for Iraq is clear enough. America lost that war because a succession of changes in South Vietnamese leadership, many of them inspired by Washington, never produced an effective government in Saigon. None of those changes, beginning with the American-sponsored coup that led to the murder of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963, changed the underlying reality of a South Vietnamese government and army that never won the loyalty and support of large sections of the Vietnamese population.

The short-term sequels of American withdrawal from Indochina were brutal, as the immediate sequels of America’s withdrawal from Iraq will surely be. But the American people rightly concluded that with no way to win a military victory, there could be no justification for allowing thousands more United States troops to die in Vietnam. Those deaths would not have changed the sequels to the war, just as more American deaths will not change the sequel to the war in Iraq. Once the war in Southeast Asia was over, America’s domestic divisions healed, its battered armed forces were rebuilt and the nation was much better positioned to deal with the relentless challenges of global leadership.

If Mr. Bush, whose decision to inject Vietnam into the debate over Iraq was bizarre, took the time to study the real lessons of Vietnam, he would not be so eager to lead America still deeper into the 21st century quagmire he has created in Iraq. Following his path will not rectify the mistakes of Vietnam, it will simply repeat them.