Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Can't like him for hating him

I'm not sure if there's a more maddening writer out there than Gregg Easterbrook, who often manages to be so colossally wrong and utterly right in the same column. It's weird. One minute I'm saying, "How can this guy be this full of crap now, since he was so on the money four paragraphs ago?" And then I'm saying, "How can he be so on the money now, since he was just so full of crap?" (The topic of evolution brings out the absolute worst in him.)

Anyway, I'm swiping a couple of items from his current Tuesday Morning Quarterback column:

Perhaps the most tedious aspect of politics is wrangling over credit or blame. First, since government usually can only influence events, not control them, rare is the case where Democrats or Republicans are clearly to blame or deserve full credit for anything. Second, all that matters to citizens is whether things go well, not who signed which piece of paper on what day. Here are three examples. It is absurd for Republicans to keep saying Bill Clinton is to blame for not killing Osama bin Laden in 1998. Republicans were in control of the White House from January to September 2001, and they didn't do anything decisive about bin Laden either. It was absurd for Sen. John McCain last week to say that Clinton's 1994 agreement with North Korea is the reason that nation (perhaps) developed an atomic weapon. Republicans have now held the White House for as long as Clinton administered his North Korea deal, and Republicans did not stop North Korea either. And last week when new low-polluting "reformulated" diesel fuel hit the market, it was absurd that Democrats claimed George W. Bush deserves no credit because the initial rule mandating the advance was signed by Clinton a few days before he left office.

On the diesel fuel advance, which will cut air pollution, Bush could have stopped the rule but instead supported it -- over the howls of the petroleum industry, which refines diesel. Anti-pollution regulations typically allow industry five to seven years to design and manufacture the technology needed to reduce emissions. Owing to this lag it is common for one president to put into practice a regulation first proposed by his predecessor; Bush's father signed the 1991 legislation mandating a reduction in acid rain, then Clinton actually carried out that reform. All that matters is whether the public benefits, and the new low-polluting diesel fuel, for which Clinton and George W. Bush ought to share credit, will lead to a big reduction in smog, plus a reduction in asthma incidence. Note that the country's most important news organization, the New York Times, buried the arrival of polluting-reducing diesel fuel on page A22, since it is inconveniently positive news.

Clinton addendum: The recent fictionalized TV docudrama about the buildup to Sept. 11 ominously suggests Clinton's State Department sabotaged the 1998 missile strike against al-Qaida in Afghanistan by warning Pakistan that our missiles were about to cross its airspace on their way somewhere else. Bin Laden fled his Afghan camp while the missiles were in the air, and it's likely bad people in the Pak government tipped him off. But the revisionism skips why we warned Islamabad missiles were coming. Weeks before the strike, Pakistan had tested its first atomic bomb; Pakistan and India were on the verge of history's first atomic war. If unknown missiles approaching Pakistan had triggered an atomic exchange, this would have been a moral horror. The Clinton Administration absolutely had to warn Pakistan, risking a tip-off: Any other course would have been immoral. The real question about the 1998 strike was why missiles were fired across Pakistan (from a submarine in the Arabian Sea) in the first place. Missiles could have been fired from the Persian Gulf across Iran into Afghanistan. Cruise missiles are hard to detect; Iran in 1998 was not on high alert as Pakistan was; and Shia Iran doesn't much like Sunni al-Qaida. Thus flight across Iran might have avoided the tip-off.

Revisionism addendum: Suppose Clinton had, in 1998, ordered an invasion of Afghanistan to destroy al-Qaida and Taliban forces there, as the docudrama suggested Clinton should have. Surely the president would have been bitterly denounced by Republicans, and since Sept. 11 would never have happened, today the 1998 invasion of Afghanistan would be spoken of as a pointless fiasco of the highest order. Something to chew on when you think about the Iraq war.

And this is just plain funny:

he buildup continues for TMQ's annual Obscure College Game of the Year -- Indiana of Pennsylvania versus California of Pennsylvania at Hepner-Bailey Field at Adamson Stadium in California, Pa. on Nov. 11. California of Pennsylvania University offers courses online, so you don't actually have to be in either California or Pennsylvania.

Credit where due. But I'm sure Easterbrook will get back to pissing me off in next week's TMQ.

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