Friday, September 27, 2002

Swami Speaks

Prediction #1:
The 2008 Republican nominee for President will be John Ashcroft.

Prediction #2:
The 2008 Democratic nominee for President will not be Hillary Clinton.

Prediction #3:
Within six months of Ronald Reagan's death, Tom DeLay will propose making his birthday a national holiday.

Prediction #4:
An op-ed in The Wall Street Journal will use the phrase It will balance out Martin Luther King's birthday.

Observation #1:
The Wall Street Journal will be correct, but not in the way they think.


Unilateral Multilateralism

When I made my last post, I'd forgotten that I'd metioned possible allies in my 20 points about Iraq:
12) None of our allies want us to invade, but allies are quite important when taking action, much less so when deciding what action to take. Just because other countries don't want us to invade does not necessarily mean that we shouldn't want to invade. We should factor into the Cost-Benefit Analysis the damage done to our relations with other countries by acting alone. Few things would be worth the cost if it involved every other nation cutting off relations and ceasing trade with us immediately (not that this is even a remote possibility). We also need to take the availability (or lack of it) of help into account when deciding if a plan is feasible.

What I'm advocating is what I'd call Unilateral Mutilateralism. We should make our decisions unilaterally, taking into account whether we'd be acting alone, but not ceding decision making power to anyone else (especially not to the UN). Once we've decided what the best course of action is, we should convince/cajole/sweet talk/arm twist/bribe/browbeat as many countries into helping us as possible. Not only does having allies make success more likely in almost any endeavor, but it also makes it harder for people to single out them crazy Americans as the bad guys.

Part of getting people to help you when you need it is helping them when they need it. Another part is making them think that you care about their opinions (even if you don"t), and that they're important to you (even when they aren't). This is why the severe attitude problem emanating from the Bush administration is such a problem. If you tell people You're not important; I couldn't give a rat's ass what you think; no, we're not gonna help you with your own problems (which was the Bushie attitude towards the world before Sept 11th), it makes it a hell of a lot harder to get cooperation when you really want it.

Image matters, and the image Bush has either intentionally or inadvertently cultivated in the rest of the world isn't helping us at all. Why don't we try to do all the symbolic stuff that may be a pain in the ass, but doesn't really hurt (like ratifying the UN treaties on the Rights of Women and the Rights of Children); then we can do stuff that only hurts us a little but helps others a lot (like loosening trade rules for textiles with Turkey and Pakistan); then we'll get a lot more smiles thrown our way when we really need something.

The Case For Using The United Nations

Note: I did not say The Case For Letting The United Nations Decide, nor did I say The Case For Using The United Nations As An Excuse For Not Doing Anything. This is the case for, if we are going to invade Iraq, why we really want to have the UN's sanction in doing so.

There must be some right-wing gene that causes immediate dismissal of the idea of international cooperation for anything but multinational corporations. Just the mention of the UN will make Pat Buchanan and most of Orange County go beserk with rage, the Bushies have taken delight in doing things unilaterally even when not necessary. They embarrassed one of our new allies in the War on Isla Terror, Vladimir Putin (he of the good soul) by withdrawing the US from the AMB treaty when we could have helped him save face by simply amending it. They brought down a shitstorm of condemnation by withdrawing us from the Kyoto Protocols even though these were simply a set of goals with no enforcement mechanism. There've been a multitude of other cases in which the US has gone out of its way to do things in the least agreeable way possible.

The current Administration seemingly has a Fuck you, I'm the biggest so I'll do whatever I want attitude towards international affairs. While this may gratify our egos, it also goes against our best interests. There's just no plus side to looking like an arrogant prick to the rest of the world, and there's a huge downside.

As I stated in my post on Robert Wright's excellent series on stopping terror and my subsequent takedown of Eugene Volokh's rather dishonest critique of Wright, how we appear to the world does matter, sometimes a great deal. In Wright's words:
how governments treat America—including how thoroughly they cooperate in the war on terrorism—will depend on how their people feel about America.
In other words, just telling the world to Fuck Off as the Bushies have been doing can really come back to bite us on the ass. If we needlessly antagonize the world, and many of our actions and statements have been needlessly antagonistic, it could easily affect our ability to get cooperation when we really need it. As it is, lots of countries don't like extraditing criminals to the US because of the Death Penalty. Imagine how much worse things could get if nations decided that they wouldn't extradite criminals just because they didn't like us? Or because we'd refused them cooperation when they wanted it? If we go thumbing our noses at other countries (and that's just the way it plays when we say the UN doesn't matter), it's gonna be very hard for us to ask them for help later on.

The other thing to worry about is if our actions will provoke a hostile response, including more terrorist strikes against American targets. This is where I'd invoke
Burton's Rule of Preventing Backlash: Whenever possible, spread the blame around
If we decide to do something that's likely to provoke hostility in others (as an invasion of Iraq surely would), we want as many people to share that hostility with as possible. The United States does not want to be the sole focus of rage in the Arab world. We'd prefer no one be pissed at us. If that's not possible, we'd like them to also be pissed at Britain, Turkey, the United Nations itself, and as many other countries (especially Arabs ones) as possible.

This sharing of blame has three effects. First, it makes people less likely to think we're unjustified in our actions (as we'd look if no one would cooperate with us). Second, if our actions piss someone off enough to strike back, we won't be the only possible victim. Third, it'll be easier getting help quelling any backlash if we're not the only people getting hit. Essentially, by getting other nations to go along with us we both make it less likely that we'll be targeted for reprisals and make it easier to strike back if we are.

So, given the fact that we probably can get the UN to back us in Iraq, it's a real good idea to do so. Ignoring the only international body that can give our actions public relations cover and publicly thumbing our noses at people we might need to cooperate with us in our War on Terror is just plain stupid. Bush looked like he finally got it when he spoke to the UN, but recent administration announcements (saying we'll block the return of inspectors, etc) make it appear that we're back to the same old game.

Thanks, Guys

Thanks to the people who've responded to my request for sources of statistics on violent crime and gun ownership.

The Comedian recommended The Small Arms
Firearms Education and Research Network

A biostatistician wrote in to point me toward The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

Andrew Edwards recommended both a pro-gun and an anti-gun site for balance.

Brian Linse pointed me to a post where he'd linked to various other people's writing on the subject and to his Annex where he has a ton of archived posts entitled Interblog Gun Wars.

Thanks again, and keep 'em coming.

I'd also like to thank all the bloggers who've sent people my way over the last few weeks. I've gotten a fair number of visitors from the big and even bigger fish in the blogger world, but it means more for me to know that people have taken the time to read what I've written, think about it for a while, and then comment on it (rather than just tossing off a link without much thought). I stumble across stuff all the time that I'd like to link to and comment on, but time runs short. So it does make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside when people make the effort to link to me and comment on my writing.

Finally, I'd like to thank the people who've actually read through my interminable ramblings. Without you, I'm just some nutcase mumbling to my TV set. With you, I'm a nutcase mumbling to the whole world.

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Pandavox has a long, rambling, impossible to summarize discourse on the War on Drugs, some of which I agree with and some of which I don't. The money shot:

Essentially, the truest interpretation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness means that citizens should be allowed to do whatever they please providing it does not interfere with nor infringe on the rights of others.
You should probably read the whole thing.

Can't Get Enough of Them Drugs

Mark Kleiman responds (scroll down to Update) to my post responding to his post responding to my original post:
I don't see any strong evidence in favor of the "natural level of addiction" theory. Moreover, while substitution among drugs is an important fact that tends to reduce the value of drug controls, complementarity is an equally important fact. Increased availability of cocaine would tend to increase the rate of alcohol abuse. As to external costs, alcohol is involved in about half the homicides and about a third of the highway fatalities in this country. And its legality doesn't even keep the criminal justice system out of the problem: ignoring crimes committed under the influence, violations of the alcohol laws -- mostly drunken driving and drunk and disorderly -- account for many more arrests, though not as much prison time, as violations of all the controlled substances laws combined.

My response to his response to my response to his response to my original post:

1) I never said that the overall level of addiction wouldn't go up if currently illegal drugs were legalized, just that some of the increase in hard drug addicts would come from people who'd otherwise be addicted to alcohol or prescription drugs. I think the overall addiction rate would go up, just not nearly as much as people assume.

2) Most of the people susceptible to addiction are already addicted to something, be it alcohol or currently illegal drugs, just as there are millions of people who use illegal drugs without becoming addicts. If intoxicants (legal and illegal) weren't so commonly available, I might believe that legalization would make addiction rates skyrocket. As it is, I just don't see it. There's not some giant pool of previously unexposed people waiting to be tainted(not even in parochial schools). Most people can get pretty much any drug they want right now, regardless of legality, and many do. That's how we have so many addicts now.

3) Yes, alcohol can be a complement to other drugs, but there's no way that drug legalization would increase alcohol abuse. No way. The people causing most of the alcohol related problems are drinking to get drunk, they're either alcoholics or binge drinkers who are out to get wasted. People doing other drugs might have a few drinks also, but they aren't going to drink nearly as much booze as the binge drinkers. They've got a different agenda. I'm much more worried about the behavioral effects of combining alcohol with cocaine or crytal meth (which would cause problems) than that legalization would somehow increase alcohol abuse.

4) Switching from alcohol to marijuana or heroin (or other opiates) or, more likely, getting addicted to them instead of alcohol would actually decrease negative externalities. While they've got their own set of problems (particularly heroin), these drugs aren't associated with violence in the way that alcohol is. Few people smoke a joint and beat their kids. Unfortunately, Lava Lamps might make a comeback (but we may have to take that risk).

5) Legalization would actually decrease HIV infection rates. Most importantly, clean needles would be more available, thus reducing needle sharing. But also, a purer heroin would make it easier to smoke it to get high, reducing the need for needles in the first place.

6) There is far more violence associated with drug sales than with the drug use itself. Get rid of the drug markets and corresponding turf wars, get rid of the violence.

7) DUI and public intoxication laws would still be enforced, just as they are now. In fact, the police work now tied up in drug interdiction could be much better used to stop and punish violent crime.

8) Even an increase in drug use and associated harms still wouldn't outweigh the complete elimination of the harmful effects of the War on Drugs (just as crime rates dropped after Prohibition was repealed even though a few more people drank).

Doc Nebula made the point in an email that alcohol is unique in its ability to turn the mind off and let us stop thinking for a while and that this makes it uniquely attractive to people who want to drown their sorrows. He goes on to add:
Personally, I don't think there's anything out there, no matter what we legalize, that will replace booze, because I don't think there's anything out there that represses the higher reasoning center as well as booze does. Booze also lowers inhibitions, which people really like a lot. Of course, inhibitions are the very warp and woof of civilized behavior, but people get really sick of being civilized. Which is probably why as soon as a particular culture starts accruing a lot of laws and customs and taboos, they also learn to distill hard liquor.

He could very well be right. Maybe alcohol does have some unique property that makes it more attractive as an intoxicant than anything else around. If this is true, then we can't assume that legalization would cause drug addictions in the same numbers as we have alcoholics (and it would be pretty safe to assume that it wouldn't).

Anybody out there who's been addicted to both alcohol and another drug care to comment?
Feel free to post a comment or email me anonymously.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

More Drugs, Less Damage

Mark Kleiman responds to my post on the way we treat alcoholics compared to other drug addicts:
The missing premise in that inference is that everyone who would be addicted to (e.g.) cocaine, if cocaine were legally available, is addicted (to cocaine or something else) now. But that seems hardly plausible. The United States has perhaps two million heavy cocaine users, and perhaps 15 million people with drinking problems. There's no reason to think that alcohol is either more fun than cocaine or more addictive. That suggests to me that making a drug legally available, or at least making it commercially available, is a population-level risk factor for addiction.

The task of reducing the damage done by our current drug laws and related policies requires detailed analysis on a drug-by-drug, policy-by-policy basis. The slogan "End the drug war" is no more likely to be a useful guide to action than the slogan "A drug-free society."

Prof Kleiman is correct. Legalizing currently illegal drugs and allowing their commercialization would result in more drug use (but not nearly as much as many would assume: net national acohol usage skyrocketed immediately after the repeal of Prohibition, but then sank down to levels only slightly higher than during Prohibition). From that drug use we would be likely to have more addicts. However, the overall rate of addiction to all substances wouldn't increase much, and whatever increase there was would be outweighed by lifting the costs and damages of prohibition from society's back.

As the cases of Noelle Bush, Robert Downey Jr, and Nick Nolte has shown us, drugs are readily available to anyone who wants them. I could walk out my front door and find drugs within a five minute drive anytime of day or night. The same holds true for most citydwellers, and suburbanites are only faced with a longer drive, not a harder time in buying drugs. In fact, it's much easier to buy drugs after alcohol sales legally end at 3am than it is to find booze. It is also as easy for minors to buy drugs as it is for them to buy alcohol. Drug legalization wouldn't change the availability of drugs as much as it would the purity of drugs, the dangers involved in buying them, and the negative externalities associated with the illegal drug trade. I believe these are the only reasons drug use would go up, and not the sudden availability of previously unavailable drugs.

Addictive personalities aren't monogamous. If one means of getting high isn't available, they'll gladly switch to another. This why most people susceptible to addiction are already addicted to alcohol, prescription drugs, or illegal drugs (or have the sense to stay the hell away from regular drug use). This is also why temporarily successful efforts to interdict particular drugs don't so much to lower overall addiction rates. Cut the supply of cocaine and crystal meth usage goes through the roof. Cut the supply of marijuana and alcohol usage goes up. The users most likely to be deterred by the unavailability of their favorite drug are ones we should be least worried about, casual users with no propensity to addiction. A real addict will just switch to something else. This is why many users, like Noelle Bush, have been arrested for more than one drug and why Brett Farvre's substance abuse counselors insisted he stop drinking. They knew he would be likely to switch his addiction from Vicodin to booze if given the chance.

After legalization, the rate of addiction to currently illegal drugs would be likely to rise, but the rate of addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs would be likely to decrease as well (as people who would previously have become alcoholics get addicted to something else instead). Heroin and cocaine can both have severe long term health affects, but neither is as hard to withdraw from as alcohol. I'd have to consider an increase in hard drug addiction with a corresponding decrease in alcohol and prescription drug addiction to be a negative outcome, but a relatively small one.

Some people who would otherwise become alcoholics would instead smoke marijuana , which isn't as physically destructive nor nearly as addictive as alcohol. This I would have to consider a net plus to society. Marijuana doesn't have the same association with violence, with spousal and child abuse, or with long term addiction as alcohol does.

Just as during Prohibition, most of the externalities we associate with drug use are due mainly to its illegality. Not only have we imprisoned hundreds of thousands of non-violent drug offenders who would otherwise be leading productive lives, but we've turned our inner cities into open-air drug markets and free fire zones. Just as the urban murder rate went up during Prohibition as mobsters battled for control of lucrative markets, many (if not most) of our inner city murders are the result of battles for drug turf. Take away the outsized profits to be made from the drug trade, and you take away the incentive to kill others over turf and markets. You don't see liquor distributors pulling drive-bys for market share, do you?

Our appetite for illegal drugs has helped corrupt and severely damage the societies of Mexico, Colombia, and other Latin American nations. Not only have the police, the army, and government officials become an integral part of the drug trade, but drug profits fuel a bitter and murderous civil war in Colombia. They also provide revenue for the brutal military dictatorship in Burma. Legalize drugs, and we can start to heal the damage done to those societies that furnish us with drugs.

Our own society has also been corrupted by drug profits. Every year we have more judges and police officers imprisoned for taking bribes from drug dealers. Every year we have greater and greater restrictions placed on our 4th and 5th Amendment rights in the name of "fighting the Drug War". Drug legalization would remove the impetus for the erosion of our civil liberties and the corruption of our criminal justice system.

The War on Drugs has also wasted billions of dollars and grossly distorted our priorities as a nation. In New Yok, it's common for drug traffickers to get much longer jail sentences than murderers. If we truly want to make the streets safer, we should stop prosecuting nonviolent drug offenders and keep the truly dangerous criminals in jail much longer. If we truly want to reduce drug dependency, then we should make treatment free to all who need it and spend money currently wasted in the WoD on education, economic development, and other things that give people a life worth living rather than one worth getting stoned to forget.

Legalization doesn't mean we should accept the level of commercialization currently seen in alcohol and tobacco sales. In fact, I'd prefer it didn't. I'd like to see something on the order of government run distribution centers with drugs of set potency available to adults only. Profits could go to drug treatment centers and healthcare. While not a perfect solution (and one I'd gladly junk in favor of a better idea if one came along), this would get rid of the negative externalities of current drug policy (violence of markets, mass imprisonment of non-violent offenders, systemic corruption) without actively marketing and encouraging drug use.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

The definitive Anne Coulter book review:

I was shocked to learn there were so many provably false statements in the book, which the author, conservative pundit Ann Coulter, constantly boasts contains 35 pages of footnotes. When I was reading it, I had taken her at her word in her recounting of provable facts. There are lots of Web sites devoted to compiling examples of Coulter's outright lies. A nice set of links, and some contributions of his own, can be found at Scoobie Davis Online, so I won't bother to list them here. What I want to talk about is not Coulter's constant misstatements of facts, but her consistent misuse of logic.

Practically all of her arguments fall into this format:
Liberals always do X, and they never do Y.
Conservatives always do Y, and they never do X.
Here are some examples of Liberals doing X.
There, you see? I've proved it.
I find it hard to believe that many people will be converted by her book. Anyone so easily duped as to fall for her nonsensical arguments and insupportable assertions has probably already been inducted into a cult, long ago. Anyone who is already so pre-disposed to agree with her that they don't catch the illogic and inconsistency of what she says, is going to be woefully unprepared in an argument about politics with any liberal or moderate who is older than nine. So, despite its popularity, I'm pretty sure the book is harmless for the most part.
It really is of great comfort to me as a liberal that on page after page, she demonstrates that she knows that she has to lie, distort, and make logical errors when trying to prove her points, more or less without exception, because, presumably, she knows that she could not have defended her views successfully by telling the truth.

Found via Scoobie Davis and definitely worth a read.


School Books: $500

New Wardrobe: $1500

New TV & Stereo: $1000

Night on the Town: $200

A Lifetime of Crushing Debt: Priceless

Great minds think alike.

No sooner did I finish reading Armed Liberal's well thought out post on the fact that the line has blurred between civilian and military targets since the advent of strategic bombing (permalinks are broken, look for the post entitled "Targets"), that Jason McCullough posts on what the alternative to nuking Japan would've been. Read 'em together.

BTW: My father was training for the invasion of Japan when the Bomb dropped (he was a tailgunner on a very slow plane), so I might not be here if we hadn't nuked Hiroshima. But I still think Nagasaki was uncalled for.

Was reading and ran across Josef Goebbels' definition of propaganda:

the art of simplification, constant recapitulation, appealing to the instinctive and the emotional and simply ignoring unpleasant facts.

If there's a better description of the way Limbaugh, Hannity, and the rest of the right-wing screamer spin machine works, I don't know what it is.

I'm normally not a big fan of the NY Post, but this column by Ralph Peters rocks, and it expands on what I said in my Message to the World and its followup.
The greatest social change in the history of humanity happened in the United States over the past 50 years. Women broke their ancient chains and became men's partners instead of remaining men's property. This shift in the status of women is the decisive strategic factor of our time.

Women's self-emancipation is a primary source of America's present power, wealth and social energy. It is also the fundamental reason why religious fanatics around the world hate us.

Because English-speaking women fought their way into the educational system and the workplace, our economy operates on a wartime basis every single day, with full mobilization of our human resources.

Rosie the Riveter is in the boardroom. She flies combat aircraft. She's a lawyer, a doctor, a cop, a journalist and, sometimes, still a factory worker. In every role she fills, she's the real hero of post-modern America.

THE math isn't hard. No society that oppresses half its population - the female half - can compete with a society that exploits the majority of its talents.

Worse, countries that revel in gender oppression consistently waste even more talent by excluding males who weren't born into the right families or tribes from the possibility of social and economic advancement. Woman-hating cultures, such as those of Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, also fit a pattern of stifling the freedom of expression, shortchanging education, imposing a harsh religious orthodoxy, employing corruption as a tool of social control and blaming others for home-grown ills. This is not a formula for success in the 21st century.

If there is any single indicator of which societies will succeed or fail in the coming decades, it is the status of women. Societies where the girls get a fair shot at beating the boys at soccer, university studies or software writing are going to leave those whose sexual terrors are expressed in veils and an obsession with virginity in the dust.

Oh, and those 70 virgins? Sounds like a lot of dreary work to me. I'll take one American career-woman any day (ain't nothing like a major babe in a tailored suit who picks up the dinner tab).

American women kick ass. And that's the best news since humanity mastered fire, the wheel and the process of fermentation.

Our enemies - those who seek to kill Americans and wound our society - will arise, consistently, from societies frightened by females. The mock-macho culture of the Middle East is all flimsiness. These are societies so scared of the girls that they have to cover them over from head to foot, lock 'em up and keep them from watching Oprah at all costs. It's not only counter-productive, it's hopelessly dull.

Read the whole thing.

Monday, September 23, 2002

The Needle And The Damage Done

My father was an alcoholic, and it eventually killed him. He drank constantly, but still managed to keep his life together, his business running, and his family fed. He did this despite being so addicted to booze that he stopped drinking beer when I was a pre-teen because it wasn't strong enough, and I honestly can't remember ever seeing him drink anything non-alcoholic. Ever. He drank screwdrivers until early afternoon, when he'd switch to Old Grandad and water. Sometimes he'd drink enough to make himself happy, but not so much that he'd turn mean. Sometimes his temper raged out of control. That was my childhood.

Despite his drinking, he was never in trouble with the law. He was never arrested for possession of alcohol, nor were prices so high he had to turn to crime. No one ever had to bail him out of jail. Prison time never destroyed his business or his career. He never lost his house or car to civil forfeiture laws. As bad as it was having an alcoholic father, I never had to deal with the stigma of having my Dad in jail. I never had to break eye contact, mumble, and quickly change the subject when a friend asked where my father was or what he did.

As hard as it is to say, we were lucky. While his drinking finally killed him, my father got 59 years of life and was able to enjoy most of it. Like the disease it is, alcoholism gradually ate my father alive, but it did so slowly. No one came from the outside to speed up his self-destruction, no one added even more punishment to what he was doing to himself.

Now, imagine if he'd been addicted to cocaine or heroin.

Drugs surely would've killed my father, just as the booze did. He was too deeply addicted to have a few laws make him stop (just as alcohol prohibition wouldn't have saved his life). I still would've had to get used to the sight of my Dad wild and out of control. He still wouldn't have had a normal relationship with any of his kids. But other forces would've made things much worse.

My father would undoubtedly have spent some time in prison for possession, possibly even distribution (if needed to sell to maintain his habit, I'm sure he would have). His career would've been destroyed (he was a lawyer), and he probably would've lost his business. If the time away while in jail didn't do the trick, the artificially high price of drugs would've bankrupted him, or the authorities would've seized it under our draconian civil forfeiture laws.

Not only would I have had to deal with my father being an addict, but I would've been saddled with the stigma of having him a convict also. Our family would've had far less money (drugs costing far more than alcohol due to interdiction efforts). Things would've been worse in every way, all because of our arbitrary laws that make alcohol legal and other drugs illegal.

It's time to stop the madness.

It's time to treat drug abuse like what it is, a personal and family tragedy that isn't a criminal justice issue. If an addict commits a real crime against another person, then treat him like the criminal he is. Until then, treat him like the sick individual he is. Get him help if he needs it, but don't lock him up for self-destructive behavior. We've got hundreds of thousands of people in prison for drug offenses. They and their families will be scarred forever. That's just making a bad situation worse.

Common Sense for Drug Policy

Drug Policy Project

Noelle Bush gets rehab, the poor and black get hard time

Drug Policy Alliance

Drug Sense

Sunday, September 22, 2002

What Blogging Is All About

Jim revises and extends my post on the situation in Iraq right here, then he and Son of Blow Hard have quite a discussion in the comments sections of this post on Jim's site and this one on Blow Hard's. I recommend reading both the posts and all the comments for both (Jim is a whole lot less optimistic about a post-Saddam Iraq than Son of Blow Hard is). Highlights:

Son of Blow Hard(making the case for dumping Hussein):
I'm a bit morally troubled with putting sanctions on non-democratic nations. It sounds like you might share this opinion. The only real negative factor to a despot from sanctions is the possibility of the sanctions causing an overthrow of his regime. If he doesn't have to worry about that, he can make sure it is the people who suffer and not himself or his main aims. In a democracy, that's just fine with me, they elected the idiot, they deserve the suffering.

Saddam wasn't elected though. It doesn't seem that it makes us any friends in Iraq and the region if we continue to allow Saddam to punish the Iraqi people for his mistakes. And it's wrong for them to suffer through no mistake of their own. Yet, short of a regime change what options do we have? I'm not sure what they are. Further, as far as our own safety, I'm not sure that I feel confident that we can rely on our satellites to find his labs and then easily destroy them.

Simply put, the status quo is not an viable solution to me on that front alone. What can we do that doesn't end up punishing the innocent Iraqis more than Saddam?

And it could get worse. Look at North Korea. There is literally nothing we can do there. Sanctions merely starve the people and direct military action is out because they have nukes. Saddam could become similarly intractable.

Briefly, I'll hit on the post Saddam Iraq concerns. Yeah, I agree, the country couldn't be more internally fragmented and there are real potential worries for both Iran and Turkey. However, all that's holding it together now is the iron fist of a despot. If the status quo is just fine, why not just impose that afterwards, a brutal puppet government. Obviously I offer that in jest but if the current situation is okay, why are we so concerned about the later outcome? Certainly we can't do worse than Saddam's regime could we?

I think democracy would function there, I really do. There will be failures and mistakes but I don't think any of them will approach what is currently reality. I think it's smart to be cautious but we shouldn't fall into what I call the "present utopia" fallacy. We don't measure our future plans against perfection and only consider the negatives, we measure it against what is actually the case now.

As far as our presence in Iraq post Saddam creating more terrorism, you know, I'm not sure. Do you think that our presence in Afghanistan is creating new enemies right now? Like I said, I'm honestly not sure but it doesn't seem like that necessarily has to be the case if we are quite clear about our limited goal of creating a stable democracy. If we overreach that goal then I'll agree that we could be creating future problems.

The main tension I think we'd create would be felt by other dictators in the region who don't like to see viable democracies in their own backyard. That's a tension I'm less concerned about because I do think that long term the only way out of this in total is to promote democracy in the region. No one wants to put the money down now but at some point we have to, it's a good investment down the line. In the long run, wouldn't promoting democracy in that area do more to create a new generation of friends than just about anything else we could do short of finally resolving Israel/Palestine?

Jim(responding to an assertion that ethnic groups don't have the right to secede):
Ok. I might argue that self-determination does translate into the right to secede, but I think I can make my case without doing that.
Because, whether or not self-determination gives a right to secede, it may give a will to secede -- and we aren't going to sit around with the Kurds and say, "you know, morally, you don't have the right to secede." We are going to fight them.
In other words, they may want to do it whether it can be backed up by sound political philosophy or not. See Iran and Turkey. See your own example of the Confederacy.

But, as an aside, I think you could argue for a right to secede. (Maybe later)

Of course, I don't know what's going on in the minds of the different Iraqi groups, but here are some things to consider:
1) The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the two main Kurdish groups in Iraq, command 40,000 troops and have achieved virtual autonomy in Northern Iraq, thanks to the no-fly-zone we've been enforcing
2) A fundamentalist and dissident group of Shi'a, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, (SCIRI) command 7,000 to 15,000 troops. They retain "close if uneasy" relations with Iran, which is also majority Shi'a
So what worries me is after Iraq's primarily Sunni army is defeated, you are left with 47,000 - 55,000 troops in three groups (two Kurdish and one Shi'a) on the ground in Iraq.

These aren't just ethnic groups, but armies.

Moreover, in both cases, they could draw outsiders into the conflict.

For the Kurds: Turkey's defense minister announced this month that if central control in Baghdad collapses, Turkey will move to seize rich oil fields in the northern Kurdish region....

Turkey is 33% Kurd and recently finished violently suppressing their own Kurds' moves for independence.

The leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party in Iraq, on hearing of Turkey's plans, said, "Let [the Turks] try their luck in today's Kurdistan. This nation will turn Kurdistan into a graveyard for those who attack it."

Iran also has a sizeable Kurdish minority.

For the Sh'ia: Iran has a Shi'a majority. Iran has previously tried to use Iraq's Shi'a to de-stabilize the country.
Now, the U.S. can step in to keep things friendly. I just think this may require bloodshed.

I, myself, don't think there's any chance of a post-Hussein democracy in Iraq. None. They have neither a history of secular democracy nor the stable middle class required to sustain one. Iraq has two powerful minority groups (the Kurds in the North, and the Sunnis who control the military and economy) who'll make damn sure the Shia majority doesn't get their way in a post-Hussein government just because they happen to be more numerous. I see a continuation of Baath rule with a different leader taking Hussein's place (and at least some bloodshed), a different militarily imposed (with considerable bloodshed) government of some sort, or a much bloodier civil war. This doesn't necessarily mean we shouldn't remove Hussein, but we definitely need to take this into account. Closing our eyes and pretending everything will be just fine once we get Saddam is just short-sighted and stupid.

I'd also respond to Son of Blow hard that:
1) I really doubt we're getting blamed for leaving Hussein in power any more than we're being blamed for Mugabe or any of the other dictators we oppose but don't so anything about.
2) Even if North Korea didn't have a huge army (and I don't think they have nukes), we wouldn't be likely to do a damn thing to help their starving people. We have lots of experience sitting by while bad things happen to innocent people, and only tend to interfere if bad things happen to us.