Economist's View: Paul Krugman: Quagmire of the Vanities

リンク: Economist's View: Paul Krugman: Quagmire of the Vanities.

Paul Krugman on the price the nation is paying for President Bush’s inability to admit mistakes:

Quagmire of the Vanities, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: The only real question about the planned “surge” in Iraq — which is better described as a Vietnam-style escalation — is whether its proponents are cynical or delusional.

Senator Joseph Biden ... thinks they’re cynical. He recently told The Washington Post that administration officials are simply running out the clock, so that the next president will be “the guy landing helicopters inside the Green Zone, taking people off the roof.”

Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Memorial Prize ... for his research on irrationality in decision-making, thinks they’re delusional. Mr. Kahneman and Jonathan Renshon recently argued in Foreign Policy magazine that the administration’s unwillingness to face reality in Iraq reflects a basic human aversion to cutting one’s losses — the same instinct that makes gamblers stay at the table, hoping to break even.

Of course, such gambling is easier when the lives at stake are those of other people’s children. ...

I began writing about ... the president’s Captain Queeg-like inability to own up to mistakes, almost a year before the invasion of Iraq. When you put a man like that in a position of power — the kind of position where he can punish people who tell him what he doesn’t want to hear, and base policy decisions on the advice of people who play to his vanity — it’s a recipe for disaster. ...

[T]he men Mr. Bush has turned to since the midterm election ... constitute a remarkable coalition of the unwilling — men who have been wrong about Iraq every step of the way, but aren’t willing to admit it.

The principal proponents of the “surge” are William Kristol of The Weekly Standard and Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute. ... Mr. Kristol’s track record should have been reason enough to ignore his advice. For example, early in the war, Mr. Kristol dismissed as “pop sociology” warnings that there would be conflict between Sunnis and Shiites... He assured National Public Radio listeners that “Iraq’s always been very secular.”

But Mr. Kristol and Mr. Kagan appealed to Mr. Bush’s ego, suggesting that he might yet be able to rescue his signature war. ... We now know that [Mr. Bush} has [also] been talking to Henry Kissinger ..., a kindred spirit. In remarks published after his death, Gerald Ford said of his secretary of state, “Henry in his mind never made a mistake, so whatever policies there were that he implemented, in retrospect he would defend.”

Oh, and Senator John McCain, the first major political figure to advocate a surge, is another man who can’t admit mistakes. Mr. McCain now says that he always knew that the conflict was “probably going to be long and hard and tough” — but back in 2002, before the Senate voted on the resolution authorizing the use of force, he declared that a war with Iraq would be “fairly easy.”

Mr. Bush is expected to announce his plan for escalation in the next few days. According to the BBC, the theme of his speech will be “sacrifice.” But sacrifice for what? Not for the national interest, which would be best served by withdrawing before the strain of the war breaks our ground forces. No, Iraq has become a quagmire of the vanities — a place where America is spending blood and treasure to protect the egos of men who won’t admit that they were wrong.

Previous (1/5) column: Paul Krugman: First, Do Less Harm

Posted by Mark Thoma on January 8, 2007 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Iraq, Politics | Permalink


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"The only real question about the planned “surge” in Iraq — which is better described as a Vietnam-style escalation — is whether its proponents are cynical or delusional."

Indeed, during the whole of Bush's administration I have wondered whether he was cynical or delusional.

Not that it much matters.Cutting someone some slack because they fooled themselves merely gives people incentives to lie to themselves (whereupon they can then be "sincere" about whatever nonsense they wish to speak).

Posted by: Richard | Jan 7, 2007 9:20:04 PM

If the story below is true, is it merely murderous and grotesquely immoral vanity, or is it about something even more monstrous? Easy oil profits for US companies and big air bases in a delusional and hidden agenda to acquire and protect oil resources regionally?

I hope Thoma, DeLong, Angry Bear, MacroBlog, Gross, Roubini et al, and any good international petroleum blogs (I am not familiar with them at all, but the blogger corps and readers must know of some) keep an eye on this. I would love to read some informed analysis of the terms of this law, and whether it is in fact 'business and usual.' And if the story is true, I guess it means another dive into the the bottomless quagmire of the geopolitics vs. textbook economics of international petroleum suppy and security.

Below from Talkingpointsmemo:

January 07, 2007 -- 11:14 AM EST // link)
Business as usual?

Iraq's massive oil reserves, the third-largest in the world, are about to be thrown open for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies under a controversial law which is expected to come before the Iraqi parliament within days.
The US government has been involved in drawing up the law, a draft of which has been seen by The Independent on Sunday. It would give big oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalised in 1972.

. . .

Oil industry executives and analysts say the law, which would permit Western companies to pocket up to three-quarters of profits in the early years, is the only way to get Iraq's oil industry back on its feet after years of sanctions, war and loss of expertise. But it will operate through "production-sharing agreements" (or PSAs) which are highly unusual in the Middle East, where the oil industry in Saudi Arabia and Iran, the world's two largest producers, is state controlled.

Opponents say Iraq, where oil accounts for 95 per cent of the economy, is being forced to surrender an unacceptable degree of sovereignty.

. . .

Supporters say the provision allowing oil companies to take up to 75 per cent of the profits will last until they have recouped initial drilling costs. After that, they would collect about 20 per cent of all profits, according to industry sources in Iraq. But that is twice the industry average for such deals.

Update: Meanwhile, in Iran, "a new U.S. campaign to dry up financing for oil and natural gas development poses a threat to the republic's ability to continue exporting oil over the next two decades," reports the LA Times.

-- David Kurtz

Posted by: anon | Jan 7, 2007 9:23:47 PM

Also, the LA Times story in the Talkingpointsmemo post referenced above is also interesting. I would be interested to know more about that. I think the economics and finance of US operations and policy in Iraq has been a very neglected topic. I have read stories that hint of what amounts to US economic and financial sabotage, or at last malign neglect of proper funding of Iraq government and economic reconstruction, and involves issues that go very very far beyond the contractor rip-offs. Some it may have some valid rationale in security: to much money or heavy arms for Iraqi security forces might be dangerous for occupation troops and blow any lid that is left on Iraqi sectarian violence. But what about reports of little or no US action or international initiative with Iraqi debt relief? And the oil business. Only source I know of is Soros Iraq Revenue Watch.

But I can’t find much there on the issue of privatization and international investment policy.
Seems like a very up and coming topic for economics blogs -if they tacke it the econ nerds will get a chance to mix it up with the geopolitical neocon wingnuts and sociopaths. Seems like an opportunity. Or have they tacked it. Anyone know of any good analyses, debates, etc?

Posted by: anon | Jan 7, 2007 9:38:05 PM

The Meet the Press exchange this past weekend appeared to sum up the principal noteworthy viewpoints on the U.S. "surge" in Iraq.

Buried within the exchanges with U.S. Senators Joseph Biden and Linsey Graham was an interesting assessment of the viable actions that Congress could and could not undertake to challenge the authority of the President in conducting the Iraq war. For those who missed it, I encourage a read of the transcript or a review of the video. The Senators' viewpoints would make for a good blog post.

The U.S. "surge" in Iraq? If it fails, we'll probably call it the last gasp of air. If it succeeds, we'll...actually we probably don't need to be concerned over that slim likelihood. Too little, too late.

Next step? Containment, then withdrawal is my expectation.

Posted by: Movie Guy | Jan 7, 2007 11:14:34 PM

"The only real question about the planned 'surge' in Iraq — which is better described as a Vietnam-style escalation — is whether its proponents are cynical or delusional."

We must leave Iraq immediately, but the deluders and cynics have driven us to war and driven us to occupation and drive us still, no matter the needless tragic suffering.

Posted by: anne | Jan 8, 2007 12:42:11 AM

There, then, is the difference between a Nancy Pelosi who was always against the war in Iraq or a John Murtha who learned and came to understand the needless tragedy of the war and occupation and who would have had us leave Iraq, and those who drove us to war and occupation and drive us to delusional needless tragic occupation still. We must leave Iraq, immediately.

Posted by: anne | Jan 8, 2007 1:35:00 AM

Bremer is a privatization ideolgue. One of his major failures in Iraq was his focus on privatization rather than making sure there was enough electricity. Private companies don't do well in environments with bad infrastructure. I don't know why the privatization ideologues don't understand that.

The US strategy of boosting the moderates in Iraq will not work. The "government" is only one of several competing factions, and one that has little power. By backing one side that has little legitimacy, the US is fighting most of hte country. The alternative (which Bush will never do) is to negotiate with the more radical elements (Sadr and the Sunni insurgents). They want us out yesterday. We need to get out ASAP.

"In recent months, several Sunni and secular groups have tried to cobble together a coalition with al-Sadr's followers to oust the al-Maliki government and force an American pullout. This attempt has received prominent coverage in Iraqi, pan-Arab and Iranian media, and its main organizer, Saleh al-Mutlak, said U.S. diplomats are trying to block it.

"The American officials have been doing everything they can to stop us because they know that would start the end of the occupation," said al-Mutlak, who is leader of the National Dialogue Front, a secular coalition that holds 11 of the 275 seats in parliament.

On Monday, two of al-Mutlak's bodyguards were killed and two National Dialogue Front buildings were destroyed by U.S. troops in what the Americans later said was a raid on an al Qaeda safe house."

Posted by: bakho | Jan 8, 2007 4:59:02 AM

unitary prez sweeps all b4 him....

reviewing events since the november elections
and the clear message of the electorate
do any of u feel
u live in a country
where the will
of the majority once expressed at the polls
rules the actions of the gubmint ???

Posted by: slink | Jan 8, 2007 6:45:12 AM

the people's will
whether it changes direction
or it intensifies its desires
so long as its "mediated"
by these two big party outfits
will not prevail

Posted by: slink | Jan 8, 2007 6:47:48 AM


In order to have a "people's will" there has to be thinking on the part of the people.
The peoplke are too busy watching television to think.

Posted by: evagrius | Jan 8, 2007 6:58:21 AM


Posted by: save_the_rustbelt | Jan 8, 2007 7:05:03 AM

The question should be "what about US forces surging will enable the "government" to provide th emost basic service: security for the citizens to enjoy "life"?"

What about the existence of the supposed insurgency (really lawlessness) exists because the people are supporting it?

What about this sweep other than Kristol says it needs to be long term is different than what has been done to provide for the peaceful life?

Why cannot the government after three and a half years do it now?

What is different than the past faults?

I think nothing in this surge is sensible.

Posted by: ilsm | Jan 8, 2007 7:32:23 AM

The surge strategy has the cart before the horse. First we send in more American troops and then we ask for accountability on the part of the Iraqi government. But that is not the worst of it. The surge strategy, according to General Abizaid's recent testimony before congress, undermines the legitimacy of the Iraqi government.

Polls tell us that most Iraqis don't want us there. The Iraqi government by allowing more American troops into the country makes its government look more and more like a puppet of the United States.

Our efforts in Iraq for the last two years to build legitimacy in government by means of a constitution and elections will be undermined along with our efforts to hand security for their country off to the Iraqis. The surge strategy will further Americanize the war. A policy American voters are against.

The surge strategy is an admission of failure. That might be seen as sobering if the new strategy didn't appear to be more of the same and just as delusional.

Of all the many changing aims Bush has come up with over the years--to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. to topple the dictator Saddam, to bring democracy to Iraq, to bring peace to the Middle East, to leave a stable Iraq when we depart--the surge strategy doesn't appear to advance any of them because what it gains militarily it loses politically by undermining the legitimacy of the Iraqi government while flouting the express desires of the American people to lessen our footprint.

Posted by: wjd123 | Jan 8, 2007 8:22:28 AM

the people have demonstarted their majority will

"get out"

and to accomplish this
is not the response of either party's leadership
at best the dem 's are trying to hold on to the status quo
while the unitary prez

how can u blame the people for this??

this was not a repeat of 2004

Posted by: slink | Jan 8, 2007 11:03:06 AM

The Meet the Press transcript can be found at, many thanks to Movie Guy. I wonder what happened to Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. He and Biden always used to appear together to politely debate foreign policy questions. Could it be that Lugar's no longer willing to defend the president's position?

Posted by: lonesome moderate | Jan 8, 2007 12:01:56 PM

Last week, Lugar said that either W works with congress or congress will get very tough.

Posted by: ken melvin | Jan 8, 2007 12:58:16 PM

There's an old cliche about how hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.

I see the "surge strategy" as a very faint admission that the failures of the Administration to plan the occupation and reconstruction realistically played some part in the outcome of chaos and civil war we now confront.

The truth is that suppressing the insurgency in short order would require upwards of 500,000 men, and creating the infrastructure of a functioning state and economy in Iraq would require a $60 billion investment. So, Bush is going to try to save face with a 1/20th the necessary manpower, plus a useless make-work jobs program, that is 1/60th of what Iraq needs.

(Compare the $1 billion jobs program with the $18 billion given to Halliburton and Bechtel for nothing.)

Particularly noisome is the rhetorical position, which is shared by Pelosi and some other Democrats as well as some Republicans, that this time will be different because we will require real progress from the Iraqis. Not that we would ever think to require real progress from ourselves. Really, it is the foreign policy equivalent of extreme child abuse. First, we beat, starve and insult the child for fifteen years, and then, when the child acts out, we threaten to abandon it, without setting even one foot toward the door.

Bush makes me thoroughly ashamed of my country.

The only good think I can imagine coming out of the inevitable failure of the "Surge" is that, maybe as soon as Summer, even people on the Right will finally recognize that having an incompetent moron as President is a bad idea, and the necessity of removing him from power will impress itself on their tiny minds.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Jan 8, 2007 1:31:40 PM

Someone should explain to the surgistas about throwing good money after bad. If they weren't so earnest, and had wasted time in college playing poker, they would understand this principle.

I would like to ask Kristol and Kagan and other surgistas what they will advocate six months from now, when the surge fails to do anything but waste more lives and money? My guess is we will hear it wasn't big enough, and we need to resurge, ad infinitum, as Iraqis continue to insurge.

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov | Jan 8, 2007 1:51:17 PM


The "people's will" can be expressed in the ballot box but also in the streets.
The latter is usually more effective but there's no tradition in the U.S. of "manifestations" of public anger.

I think come summer, there might be, might be, a willingness to "manifest".

Posted by: evagrius | Jan 8, 2007 2:08:05 PM

I think it is beyond doubt that Bush has deep and serious personality problems (pathological self-rightousness, extreme rigidity, etc)...that normally would be thought to require psychiatric treatment. His complete lack of flexibility or ability to abandon a disasterous course of action is such that he has no business being President. But what to do about it? Woodrow Wilson was incompetent for a period of time and nothing could be done. But Bush's problems are more serious for the nation since the situation that we are in is more serious.

Posted by: maria | Jan 8, 2007 3:37:13 PM

Many thanks to lonesome moderate for posting the Meet the Press link.

Here's part of the exchange that I believe deserves more discussion in a main blog post:

MR. RUSSERT: ...there’s really little Democrats can do. Why not cut off funding for the war?

SEN. BIDEN: I’ve been there, Tim. You can’t do it.


SEN. BIDEN: You can’t do it. It’s—what—because it made sense in the Constitution when you said you could cut off funding when you had no standing army. We have a standing army with a budget of hundreds of billions of dollars. You can’t go in and, like a tinker toy, and play around and say, “You can’t spend the money on this piece and this piece and”—he—able—he’ll be able to keep those troops there forever constitutionally if he wants to.

MR. RUSSERT: Why not have legislation then that would cap the number of troops in Iraq?

SEN. BIDEN: Because it’s very difficult to—it’s constitutionally questionable whether or not you can do that. I think it is unconstitutional to say, “We’re going to tell you you can go, but we’re going to micromanage the war.” When we wrote the Constitution, the intention was to give the commander in chief the authority how to use the forces, when you authorize them, to be able to use the forces. And so, look, what we have to be doing here is the president—the only way this is going to change, Tim, and I’ve been saying—I’m a broken record on this—is when a majority of Lindsey’s colleagues, Republicans, say to the president, “Mr. President, enough. We are not going to support you any more,” that’s when the president will begin to change his policy. That’s when we begin to listen to bipartisan groups. That’s when we bebin—begin to listen to the majority of the expert opinion in this country.


The exchange excerpt above should raise significant concerns.

During the early 1990s I was involved in a few serious matters on the Hill. As part of my engagement with Members of Congress and Congressional committee testimony, I made the observation to a particular U.S. Senator that certain monies could be moved around to accomplish a particular task within a department. He asked me if the monies were firewalled. I explained that they weren't, so the ball was put into motion by that U.S. Senator who had considerable power and influence on the matters concerned.

The point I am raising is that any sitting President can, through OMB and the departments of government, find ways to move non-firewalled monies around. It's more detailed than I have described, but it can be done.

The looks on the faces of Senators Biden and Graham during this portion of the interview were as important and alarming as were Biden's key points. I was a bit stunned to say the least.

The Congress of the United States should reinstitute (actively embrace) the legal legislative requirement for declarations of war prior to attacking other nations. If nothing else comes from this particular invasion and occupation, a firm recommitment to declarations of war should move to the center of the table.

The entire Meet the Press transcript is worthy of a careful read.

Posted by: Movie Guy | Jan 8, 2007 4:27:36 PM

From the Merck Manual:

...people with a personality disorder are rigid and tend to respond inappropriately to problems.... These maladaptive responses usually begin in adolescence or early adulthood and do not change over time....

Many people [with a personality disorder] also have mood, anxiety, SUBSTANCE ABUSE (my caps), or eating disorders.

People with a personality disorder are unaware that their thought or behavior patterns are inappropriate...

Posted by: maria | Jan 9, 2007 4:13:51 AM

big E"there's no tradition in the U.S. of "manifestations" of public anger"

oh but there is ...and
by their very nature
these "street forms"
of expression
of a "groups" preferences r
equire ripe conditions
far more then
well rehearsed tradtions
folks may take to it
like a duck to water ???

Posted by: js paine | Jan 9, 2007 4:31:08 AM