Welcome back from vacation, Bret. I'm too busy these recent days to put much effort into the blog, but I wanted to make a couple quick comments about your recent posts.
Regarding your "Knowledge" post, while I agree that knowledge is very important to progress, I'm not sure you've hit on the primary issue for development and progress. Precisely because knowledge is so readily accessible (through the Web, etc.), I think the primary issue, as suggested in your subsequent post quoting Huntington, is the institutional infrastructure, i.e., rule of law, evolved regulatory environment (where regulations, e.g., for starting a business, are not bureaucratic), efficient financial mechanisms (stock exchanges, banking system, etc.).
Here is one link which questions the costs of the Iraq war. Here's another article from the Brookings Institute which points out the great political challenges facing the U.S. as it tries to repair its reputation and effectiveness in influencing the future direction of things in the Middle East.
The questions about recent history that I find most compelling are:
- Was the Iraq war the right priority? I think not. Many analysts (though, of course, not all) believe that the threat of terrorism is increased, and that the ranks of terrorists are expanded. I sympathize with this position.
- Was the Iraq war the right way to go about trying to transform nations to the "mobile" society model proposed by Huntington? I think not. Working to rehabilitate Afghanistan properly would have been a better priority. (It's still a horrible mess.) Establishing incentives and providing assistance (in the form of consultants and pilot programs) to nations to help them evolve their institutions would have been a better priority. Leadership by the U.S., in the form of aid and words, to eradicate diseases, to supply clean water, etc., would have been a better priority. And, after all that, we still would have spent a lot less many than we have in Iraq, and have had many fewer deaths of our soldiers in Iraq.
I am not a complete passivist. There is a time for military action. But, I think this time was a very poor use of it from a cost/benefit perspective. As much as possible, it's better to marginalize dictators like Saddam than to topple them.
Finally, I recommend "Fahrenheit 9/11" -- even for you non-fans of Michael Moore. Of course, it's not without some emotional grandstanding by Moore, but much of the footage is gripping to say the least, and the story-line, whether you wish to believe it or not, is damn compelling. Even those who find fault with Moore's logic or refute some of the underlying data will find it difficult to deny the existence of many uncomfortable truths. No wonder the right has tried to block this movie.