Columbia catastrophe: He told us so.

Columbia catastrophe: He told us so.

Columbia catastrophe: He told us so.

A mostly political Weblog.
Feb. 2 2003 4:21 AM

Shuttle Deathtrap?

Gregg Easterbrook looked irresponsible back in 1980 ...

Always read the gossip columns: The L.A. Daily News' "Tinseltown Spywitness" coverage of an L.A. awards banquet has former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke predicting a war  in 10 weeks.

"There will be heavy air strikes with very accurate weapons," said Holbrooke. "And those on television who say the war will be a cake walk are wrong."

Also, Universal Pictures chairman Stacey Snider wore a black Vera Wang pantsuit. ... [But if Bush is bluffing maybe Holbrooke is part of the bluff--ed. An American Jewish Committee dinner at the Beverly Wilshire isn't a venue well-chosen to send a message to Saddam. Not many Iraqi agents there. But maybe they read the trades.] 8:60 P.M.


Another pre-Columbia Cassandra: Looks like this guy told us so too. Roger Pielke, like Easterbrook, argues that the problem isn't lack of spending billions (contrary to the implication of the administration's immediate post-catastrophe reaction). ... 8:59 P.M.

Easterbrook Update: The competition to get Gregg Easterbrook to write a piece about Columbia has been won by Time. It's up and it's good. As expected, Easterbrook argues that the Shuttle's problem is not a lack of funding -- more like an addiction to the substantial funding for an outmoded program. Contrary to expectations, though, Easterbrook doesn't dismiss the idea of an escape pod. ... Meanwhile, the Washington Monthly has posted the entire text of Easterbrook's creepily prescient 1980 (pre-Challenger)anti-Shuttle piece. Be sure to also view the irresponsible-enough-to-be-responsible cover image. ... 1:53 P.M.

Saturday, February 1, 2003

He Told Us So: WaPo has a long piece  suggesting budget-cutting is to blame for the Columbia disaster. Such claims may be true, but should be viewed with great initial skepticism -- isn't a bureaucracy's first defense always to implicitly ask for more money? The idea that the shuttle might have been fitted with an escape pod that might somehow have been activated "as it broke up around the point of reentry into Earth's atmosphere" seems especially suspect.

This aspect of the shuttle's design seems to have been dicey from the start. Back in 1980, six years before the Challenger exploded, Gregg Easterbrook wrote a cover story for The Washington Monthly, where I was working. I had nothing to do with Easterbrook's piece, but I did feel guilty when we sensationalistically titled it "Beam Us Out of This Deathtrap, Scotty." (The even-more-irresponsible teaser hed was "5 ..4 ...3 ...2 ...1 ... Goodbye, Columbia.") Easterbrook's article was highly persuasive, unfortunately -- and looks gruesomely clairvoyant two decades later. These passages stood out when I reread it this evening:

"Columbia must be fitted out with 33,000 of these tiles, each to be applied individually, each unique in shape. The inch-thick tiles, made of pyrolized carbon, are amazing in two respects. They can be several hundred degrees hot on one side while remaining cool to the touch on the other. They do not boil away ... they can be used indefinitely. But they're also a bit of a letdown in another respect -- they're so fragile you can hardly touch them without shattering them. ...

Fixing them to the Columbia without breaking them is like trying to eat a bar of Bonomo Turkish Taffy without cracking it. ...

The tiles are the most important system NASA has ever designed as "safe life." That means there is no back-up for them. If they fail, the shuttle burns on reentry. ... The worry runs deep enough that NASA investigated installing a crane assembly in Columbia so the crew could inspect and repair damaged tiles in space. (Verdict: Can't be done. You can hardly do it on the ground.)


Easterbrook has written equally solid, mostly-skeptical (but sometimes supportive) articles about NASA in the years since. He works quickly, so I suspect we'll be hearing from him soon. I will link. Update: See links in item immediately above. ... 12:56 A.M.

Friday, January 31, 2003

Excellent Tina Brown point about how Americans don't want to go to war but "want to want to go to war.". ...[Link via Kurtz] 12:24 P.M.

I Decide When Krugman's Lost It Around Here, Buddy! Will noone stand up for the NYT's beleaguered economic columnist, our "lonely voice of truth in a sea of corruption?" Paul Krugman gloated a few days ago that

"Mr. Bush's approval ratings have plunged over the last two months."


Matthew Dowd, Bush's pollster, put out a release noting that Bush's Gallup approval rating had dipped only three points, from 63 to 60. Donald Luskin and Andrew Sullivan oh-so-predictably piled on! But what Dowd didn't point out is that Bush's disapproval number increased seven points over the same period in the same poll, from 29 to 36 -- for a total swing of 10 points. Since the first Gallup poll after the election (when Bush rose a bit), the total swing has been 17 points. Not a "plunge," but not chopped liver either. I'd cut Krugman some slack on this one, given his imperiled state -- threatened by Bush oppo goons, his cage waiting for him in Guantanamo, operating " under much more scrutiny than any other opinion columnist," beset by pygmy bloggers, etc. ... 3:22 A.M.

It depends on what the definition of "rock" is:

"Hydrogen-powered autos could make a difference in the long term, say 20 or 30 years from now, or more. But what is much more significant is that Mr. Bush has stood like a rock with the opponents of increased fuel efficiency for the cars we're driving right now." [Emph. added]


  • Increases in required SUV ("light truck") fuel economy proposed by the Bush administration: 1.5 m.p.g. (from 20.7 to 22.2 m.p.g.)
  • Increases in required SUV fuel economy imposed by the Clinton administration in its entire first term: 0.3 m.p.g. (from 20.4 to 20.7 m.p.g.)
  • Increases in required SUV fuel economy imposed by the Clinton administration in its entire second term: zero m.p.g. (Clinton's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed an unspecified increase for 1997, which a NHTSA official "hinted ... would be small," according to press accounts. Congress responded by imposing a moratorium on any increases, which Clinton didn't veto. The moratorium lasted the remainder of his term.)

I've always thought 1.5 was bigger than 0.3! It's not enough of an increase, and there are some loopholes, but it's not standing "like a rock with the opponents of increased fuel efficiency." If Bush is a "rock," what was Clinton? ... 2:21 A.M.

A special funny websiteMust be the work of those Iraqi agents from Canada. (They have QuickTime!) ... 12:36 A.M.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

"One Vial" Update: Alert kf reader G.A. makes a provocative point regarding President Bush's argument (against "containment") that "It would take one vial ... slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known."

As the UN inspections have demonstrated, we haven't a clue about the location of any weapons of mass destruction.  Thus, after we take out Saddam, the weapons will still be there.  Which is a better situation -- to have such weapons in the hands of a dictator who has shown no inclination to use them, or in the hands of merchants who will be selling them to terrorists?


I'm not sure about the "no inclination to use them" part -- but a) the "one vial" argument, if true (which I'm not sure it is) does at least make the potential challenge to U.S. forces once they've overthrown Saddam look extremely daunting; and b) at some point, as the deadly vials get inevitably smaller and easier to produce, it may actually be safer to have them in the dictatorial control of an at-least-potentially-deterrable regional megalomaniac than floating around in the Mideast bazaar, grim as that choice may be. If it's valid, the scary "one vial" argument eventually will, as lawyers say, prove too much, no? 5:38 P.M.

Late pro-war surge in the Schwarzkopf Primary ... Update: Noam Scheiber is suspicious. ... 2:02 P.M.

SOTU and yet so too ... : My broad-brush watch-the-speech-while-doing-the-dishes reaction to the State of the Union was this: The non-war proposals at the beginning were not very persuasive because they were presented in a perfunctory manner, and the war proposals at the end were not very persuasive because they were presented in intense, deeply-felt manner. It's not just that, as Peggy Noonan wrote before the speech, Bush's passion hurts his Iraq case because it makes him seem "too hot, too quick on the draw, too personal."  It also (in the absence of insider evidence) makes him seem too paranoid. Everything the president said about Iraq's threat seemed true, but inflated by a factor of about 20 percent -- an impression his intensity only reinforced. Where cool logic might have undercut such doubts and carried the day, Bush substituted hot rhetoric, as Noonan had feared. (I suspect an oversimplifying Karen Hughes deserves the blame.)

Example? Containment. A reader emailed me this critique of the "Inspections have bottled Saddam up, who needs war?" argument:

[I]nspections have only worked when Saddam felt imminently threatened with military action, specifically invasion leading to loss of power.  Europeans act as if inspections can be continued indefinitely, without loss of effectiveness, as an alternative to war.  It is true, as people argue, that with American forces  surrounding Iraq and inspectors on the ground, Iraq's WMD programs are probably in approximate stasis. However, this situation is not an equilibrium.  Inspections will cease to be "effective," even in this limited sense of the word, as soon as the opportunity for invading Iraq is gone. ...However, the status quo, in terms of US military deployment and political and diplomatic attention are not sustainable either.  Thus, our options are not inspections or war, but rather,inspections followed by war or stable containment based on standard, but perhaps unreliable, deterrence and diplomatic isolation.

This is a potentially powerful argument. It's not clear to me why we can't keep enough troops stationed in the Gulf to threaten Saddam with invasion on a more or less permanent basis. But I suppose there are arguments to be made on that point too, including the argument that Arab states won't tolerate a large, semi-permanent U.S. military presence.

Here's what Bush had to say on the "containment" issue:

Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained.

Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans, this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.

We will do everything in our power to make sure that that day never comes.


If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

This doesn't seem like an argument so much as the conclusion to an argument. To the extent it's an argument, it targets the critics' weaker point ("Saddam can be deterred like Russia was") and not their stronger point ("Lots of inspectors running all over the place can immobilize him in a way mere deterrence can't"). And to the extent it targets the stronger point, it seems overdone and panicky ("one vial ... to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known"). ... P.S.: The most difficult case for Bush to make isn't the legal case for war, or the moral case for war, but the prudential case for war. It's one thing to say Saddam is in "material breach" and invasion is justified under U.N. resolutions, just as you can say Saddam is evil and overthrowing him would be a form of justice. But the hard question is the cruder question: Do the rewards of the operation for the U.S. outweigh the risks (the main risks being a) the risk of increasing hatred of America and thereby creating more terrorists and b) the risk of encouraging future unilateral or ad hoc preemptive attacks by other nations). A UN Security Council vote would go a long way toward allaying fears of these risks. Bush's speech didn't. ... P.P.S.: TNR's Ryan Lizza was paying rather more attention  to the details of the speech's domestic passages -- and discovered in them a  poison pill for each of the potential Democratic candidates. ...5:02 A.M.

Doubts Emerging: In the lede paragraph of today's main NYT Medicare piece -- "Doubts Are Emerging as Bush Pushes His Medicare Plan" -- Robert Pear and Elisabeth Bumiller report that these doubts are

forcing administration officials to reconsider important elements of the package.

But can you find, anywhere in the  piece, a description of the "important elements" of the Bush plan that are being reconsidered? I can't. And the second time the lede's promise is repeated, it gets watered down. It turns out the administration is

reconsidering some features of the proposal, or at least seeking some way to clarify their intentions

which might mean virtually nothing at all -- a change in the wording of a speech, say, rather than an attempt to actually "rejigger the proposal before announcing it." ... Is there anything to the Times' story? Bush's proposals smell like political losers, so eventually Pear and Bumiller's piece will be right. They just don't do a very good job of convincing readers that today's the day. ... Update: The WSJ's far superior report  has the missing details. 2:56 A.M.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

What am I missing? Isn't hydrogen gas, like, explosive? In an era where we're suddenly worried about small groups of terrorists wreaking havoc, is it such a good idea to switch to an automobile technology that requires hydrogen-dispensing stations scattered throughout the country the way gas stations are today -- the prospect promoted by President Bush in the hydrogen car initiativehe unveiled Tuesday night? How hard would it be to turn one of these stations into a fairly large bomb? Would they have to be guarded around the clock? How hard would it be to turn an ordinary hydrogen-consuming car into a fast-moving bomb? ...The war on terrorism would seem to militate against a rapid development of otherwise promising hydrogen fuel cell technology -- but I can't find an article that mentions this wrinkle. Am I missing something, and if so what? ... Update:  This info sheet [thanks, reader C.] argues that "hydrogen can be safer than gasoline if it is used properly." But that's not the question. The question is how dangerous is it if intentionally used improperly. Safety measures designed to avoid accidental catastrophe -- e.g. "a system of detectors to pinpoint leaks, alarms in order notify of leakage, and a system of cut-off points" -- won't necessarily function as protection against non-accidental catastrophe, right?...11:52 P.M.

Frum-skipping bonus: One anecdote in David Frum's The Right Man lays to rest any idea that President Bush was suddenly awakened by 9/11 to the need to oust Saddam Hussein. Frum recounts his very first meeting with the president, in mid-February of 2001, seven months before the terrorist attacks:

I certainly was not cool, but I manged to scratch some notes to keep my memory fresh. As I reread them now, I am startled at how much of what would happen over the next year is prefigured there: Bush's optimisim about Russia and Vladimir Putin, his wariness of China, his focus on the danger presented by Iran, his determination to dig Saddam Hussein out of power in Iraq, ....

This jibes, of course, with the left-wing, anti-Bush theory that the president was looking for any excuse to attack Iraq, which Al Qaeda subsequently provided. But it doesn't prove Bush's private agenda was unjustified. I asked Frum about the passage in an interview scheduled to air on radio station KCRW's "Politics of Culture" on February 11. His response:

President Bush was not thinking about launching an immediate war on Iraq or against Saddam Hussein. He was thinking this is something he has to do. At that point and by most people's estimate Iraq was less than 4 years away from acquiring nuclear weapons. ...

Frum's explanation also supports the theory that Bush is  worried Saddam himself will strike the U.S.  more than he's completely bought into the larger Wolfowitzian plan to remake and democratize the Middle East. ... I do wonder, though, if Frum's scary "4 years" estimate will survive the  U.N. inspectors' report. ... 2:08 A.M.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Sad story: Anyone going near this one? I'm not. ... 11:22 P.M.

A New "Paper of Record"? Mugger joins the growing  chorus calling for war -- between the Washington Post and the Crusading Liberal Newspaper with which it used to compete head-to-head:

The timing is perfect for the Post to roll out a national edition, like the Times', which would be available in all major U.S. cities

Note to Don Graham:Do you like the way the Times muscled the International Herald Tribune away from you? Weakness in retaliation invites further attack! ... 11:21 P.M.

Condit Sues, Condit Talks:  Police investigators now have a powerful tool to help crack the Chandra Levy case -- Dominick Dunne's discovery proceedings against ex-Rep. Gary Condit in the libel case Condit has filed. I don't defend the Dunne statement that provoked the suit -- but it's still hard to believe Condit wants to answer under oath all the entirely relevant questions Dunne's attorney might ask. Note to D.D.: I'd start with the one about the [Save it for radio, blogboy! Microsoft's on the hook here.--ed.] 10:46 P.M.

Muschamp's Elysees: Herbert Muschamp is right, I think, when he anoints the Think Group's proposal as the winning Ground Zero design. It's pretty spectacular, and because it's a porous skeleton maybe it won't turn the site into the unusable plain of winds the old WTC plaza was. (So what if every suicidal teen with a pilot's license is going to try to hang his Cessna from the latticework? They can mount AA guns on the top! It'll be quite a show.) ...

But spare us Muschamp's "schoolhouse" on "Globalization and Its Discontents." That's the problem with the "elevation of the public realm," at least at this site. I'm all for the public realm. I wrote a book that bored readers to death with encomiums to the public realm. The public realm is where we meet as equals, and it's too small in our society. The trouble -- especially in places like New York City, and especially at Ground Zero -- is that the public realm often, almost inevitably, gets hijacked by the sort of people who write encomiums to the public realm, by pretentious museum-creating types and proselytizers (e.g., Muschamp) who want to use these civic resources to make us, not equal, but better -- "educating the public in the larger issues of globalization," as Muschamp puts it.

Sure, Muschamp seems to be claiming in some fuzzy way that the process by which the Ground Zero design is being hashed out, and not the building itself, is what will somehow be the "schoolhouse" -- but who can be sure? We're told that all of the structures embedded in the two Think towers will be noncommercial. Will we need four (4) memorial spaces (one at the top of each tower and one under each of the original tower footprints) -- plus whatever egg-like museums non-profit New Yorkers decide to embed in the latticework? They'll surely all be trying to "educate the public" about something. That's a useful deterrent to overuse -- "Gee, I've been meaning to go up there, but ..." -- but not my idea of a "public realm" that does what it's supposed to do (i.e., give us a chance and a reason to spend time interacting as equal human beings, as opposed to pedagogic targets).

New York's already a bit museum-glutted, with what seems like every big real estate developer currying civic favor by devoting a little space to some sort of elevated-sounding gallery or exhibit. When I lived in Battery Park City, right next to Ground Zero, the local Ritz Carlton was about to open its "public space," the Museum of the Skyscraper. A worthy goal! I'm not knocking it! But at some point it looks as if they're coming up with worthy exhibits to fill the supply of space, rather than the other way around. More museums are not what Lower Manhattan needs.

Here's an idea: Build the Think towers. Have one (1) memorial space. And then let the remaining private and public spaces be devoted to the ordinary, quotidian, non-elevating business of the city -- eating lunch, running for a train, playing softball, earning a living -- that is what really establishes our character as a free and equal society. 4:13 P.M.

Not just  Janeane Garofalo: President Bush may or may not have won the Peggy Noonan Primary on Iraq. (Sorry, Lucianne! -- Noonan still seems  not-yet-quite-on-board regarding the need for war  to me, which would trouble me if I were Bush.) But the president clearly has yet to win the Norman Schwarzkopf Primary. WaPo's Tom Ricks reports, in the "Style" section:

"The thought of Saddam Hussein with a sophisticated nuclear capability is a frightening thought, okay?" [Gen. Schwarzkopf] says. "Now, having said that, I don't know what intelligence the U.S. government has. And before I can just stand up and say, 'Beyond a shadow of a doubt, we need to invade Iraq,' I guess I would like to have better information."

He hasn't seen that yet, and so -- in sharp contrast to the Bush administration -- he supports letting the U.N. weapons inspectors drive the timetable: "I think it is very important for us to wait and see what the inspectors come up with, and hopefully they come up with something conclusive."

Sure, as Ricks points out, Schwarzkopf has institutional, Army-centric reasons for resenting Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Still -- isn't this a little like having Dr. Koop denounce your anti-smoking initiative? ..... 2:23 A.M.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Robert Matsui
Robert Matsui 

The Man Who Lost Congress: WaPo's Juliet Eilperin, who must by now have source-greased every member of the California Democratic delegation, claims to find ironyin Nancy Pelosi's appointment of Rep. Robert Matsui to head the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. How odd that a legislator so "policy-oriented" and "nicely"-demeanored would be given the hard-edged, practical job of beating the Republicans and winning back the House for the Democrats! Pelosi, we're told, must have been looking for someone with "long-range strategic vision."

I'd suggest a different irony: Matsui may be the man (along with former Speaker Tom Foley) most responsible for losing the House for the Democrats in the first place. How? Remember the situation back in 1994, when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency. There were two major domestic issues: Health care reform and welfare reform. President Clinton had promised to do both, but had given Hillary's ambitious health plan priority. By the summer of 1994, it was clear the health initiative was in trouble. True, Clinton had belatedly unveiled a tough, radical welfare plan, but it wasn't moving through the Democratic Congress. Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich was running around the country denouncing the "liberal welfare state" for subsidizing a culture which featured "12-year-olds having babies, 15-year-olds killing each other."

It was pretty clear, in this situation, what a smart politician would do. A smart politician would move a welfare bill to satisfy the public demand for some action on at least one crucial campaign promise -- the one that meant the most to angry swing voters. But Rep. Matsui was having none of it. He made sure Clinton's welfare plan stayed bottled up in the House Ways & Means committee (on which he served).  The Clinton "two-years-and-go-to-work" plan was too conservative, he explained to me at the time. It would have to pass with Republican votes, in a center-right coalition, which would mean the "Democratic constituency gets very unhappy." The only welfare plan that should be enacted, he told me, was one that was mild enough to be approved by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a very liberal member of the California delegation (considered an authority by some because she was once a  welfare recipient  herself).

When smart liberals, sensing a potential voter revolt, approached Matsui privately in mid-1994 and suggested that it might be politically wise for the Democrats to pass some bill to reform the despised welfare system -- even if it was a bill far more liberal than Clinton's -- Matsui got righteously angry with them, too. The result: no welfare bill.

Truly monumental miscalculations are rare in Congressional politics, but Matsui's was one of them. Democrats went before disgruntled voters in November of 1994 with no health care reform and no welfare reform. They lost control of the House and they've never gotten it back. You can't buy that kind of "long-range strategic vision!"

P.S.: As evidence of Matsui's ironic niceness, Eilperin quotes Brookings economist Peter Orszag, who says Matsui "seems to be able to express strong views without any animosity." Tell that to David Ellwood, the Harvard scholar and Clinton aide who dared in 1994 to advocate a welfare plan Matsui deemed too conservative (although Democrats would have killed to get Ellwood's plan after the '94 election). Matsui yelled at Ellwood in private and browbeat him in a hearing, even suggesting publicly that Ellwood was "trying to push welfare reform" in order to "enhance his own resume." What a nice man. 1:44 A.M.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

Doves and Medicare:Patriotic Democrats who fear President Bush will too-readily attack Iraq would be well-advised to make encouraging noises about the President's Medicare reform proposals when they're unveiled in Tuesday's State of the Union address. Why? As David Frum's well-written insider account ( The Right Man) makes completely clear, Bush's presidency had run out of gas in the summer before the 9/11 attack. Two of Bush's four major domestic policy initiatives (tax cuts, education) had essentially been accomplished. A third, Social Security privatization, wasn't happening. And the fourth, the faith based initiative, was always trivial -- a "ploy," Frum admits, designed mainly "to unite conservative evangelicals, urban Catholics, Minority pastors and traditional noblesse oblige Republicans." By the end of August, "the domestic agenda of the administration had filled up with gimmicks and dodges," including a pathetic collection of Dick-Morrisesque microinitiatives:

The speechwriters had received early notices of a big new initiative for the fall. Under the title "Communities of Character," a grab bag of proposals would address a long and various list of ills: obscene music lyrics, children not eating dinner with their parents, racial intolerance, pervasive cynicism, school shootings, and so on.

9/11 (as Morris himself, among others, has noted) is what gave Bush's presidency renewed meaning, as well as renewed popularity.

Cut to the present. Bush now has the power to make war in his hands. Will he pull the trigger? Even relatively hawkish Washingtonians should want him to weigh the risks and benefits of war wisely, without even a subliminal tug toward conflict. But suppose Bush were thinking of stopping short of war -- bluffing Saddam into cooperation with inspections, but deciding that this was sufficient to keep him bottled up for now. It will be difficult enough for Bush to draw down the military force now building in the Gulf without losing face.  Add to that the inevitable sniping from rivals, maybe even from John McCain. Add to that the probability that not going to war would result in the nation's focus shifting to domestic issues -- and threatening to plunk Bush back down into the unhappy Summer of '01, when he had nothing to accomplish.

Except that he now has something to accomplish -- Medicare reform. Here's an initiative big and bold enough to give meaning to any presidency. Nervous Democrats should react favorably to Bush's Medicare plan precisely to drive home the point that his presidency can still have meaning quite apart from any foreign achievements, and apart from any wars.

Of course, Democrats hate Bush's Medicare plan. That's not important! As the CW says, it's probably a political loser anyway. Will Bush really get away with offering prescription drug coverage only to seniors who abandon their beloved Medicare for HMOs? I don't think so. Once the prospect of prescription drug coverage is on the table, it will be hard to deny it to the vast bulk of the elderly. Democrats can win this argument (and if they can't, they should give up and go home).

But that's a fight the Democrats can win later. The important thing now is to encourage Bush to advance his proposal -- and when he does to give him a lot of good (and not undeserved) press for finally tackling the issue of controlling Medicare's long-term expense. If after a year or so Bush gets clobbered on the HMO issue -- if prescription drug coverage gets extended to regular Medicare, if Bush comes to feel he's been suckered into a Medicare meat grinder -- that will still be a year in which he's been able to easily imagine a legacy other than as the President who invaded Iraq.

He may still invade Iraq, of course -- and that decision may well be the right one. But it will be less likely to have been made for the wrong reasons. [ Are you saying Bush would consciously put American and Iraqi lives in danger in a war merely to give his presidency a purpose?--ed. No! I don't doubt Bush's sincerity, or his courage -- Frum's book adds evidence of both. But one of the (seemingly obvious) teachings of evolutionary psychology is that subconscious and subliminal motives can be important, and can tip the balance in close cases. Should I go help the poor in the Amazon where I'll be the only American for miles around -- or should I go to work for the New York Times where I'll be a big wheel in a set of smart, attractive peers? Gee, that's a close one but on balance ... I ... I ... I guess I'll go work for the Times! I can do more to help the poor that way -- yeah, that's the ticket! Bush's subliminal motives are undoubtedly higher-toned, but he'd be a fool not to worry, at least subconsciously, about the meaning his presidency will have for future generations. As he's making his decision, we should want him to be able to envision his term as a historic time of progress even if he doesn't go to war. 6:40 P.M.





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