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October 8, 2004 | 10:53 PM ET

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KERRY'S CASE COLLAPSES
Although everybody's talking about weapons of mass destruction, the story that's not being reported --you'd almost think the press "wants Kerry to win"-- is the complete collapse of John Kerry's foreign policy case, and the reason for that collapse.

The weapons of mass destruction case is a bit more, um, nuanced than a lot of the press treatment makes it sound, of course.  No weapons have been found, but the Iraq Survey Group's report makes clear that Saddam wanted to outwait sanctions and then start making the weapons again:

The ISG, who confirmed last autumn that they had found no WMD, last night presented detailed findings from interviews with Iraqi officials and documents laying out his plans to bribe foreign businessmen and politicians.

Although they found no evidence that Saddam had made any WMD since 1992, they found documents which showed the "guiding theme" of his regime was to be able to start making them again with as short a lead time as possible."

But hey, Kerry voted for the war, so his arguments on that topic boil down to either (1) Bush lied, and I'm gullible: or (2) Bush and I both got fooled, but I'll do better next time.  Neither is very compelling.

The real centerpiece of Kerry's foreign policy stance, though, has been that he would be better than Bush at getting allies together, and at passing the "Global Test" before taking military action.  And that case is in total collapse this week.

Forget missteps like his dissing of our allies in Iraq, Australia, and Poland -- which drew a stinging response from the Polish President ("It's sad that a Senator with twenty years of experience does not appreciate Polish sacrifice.")  Now even Kerry is admitting that he's not going to be able to deliver on his promises:

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry conceded yesterday that he probably will not be able to convince France and Germany to contribute troops to Iraq if he is elected president.

The Massachusetts senator has made broadening the coalition trying to stabilize Iraq a centerpiece of his campaign, but at a town hall meeting yesterday, he said he knows other countries won't trade their soldiers' lives for those of U.S. troops.

"Does that mean allies are going to trade their young for our young in body bags?  I know they are not.  I know that," he said.

Body bags.  This sounds like the John Kerry of 1971.  I can't help but think that, for Kerry, every war is Vietnam.  And if he's President, I'm afraid that might turn out to be the case.

The "Global Test" bit looks kind of bad, in this light.  But it looks even worse when you consider the other revelations of the Iraq Survey Group -- namely, that most of the opposition to the war came from people who were being bribed by Saddam:

Saddam Hussein believed he could avoid the Iraq war with a bribery strategy targeting Jacques Chirac, the President of France, according to devastating documents released last night.

Memos from Iraqi intelligence officials, recovered by American and British inspectors, show the dictator was told as early as May 2002 that France - having been granted oil contracts - would veto any American plans for war.
...
To keep America at bay, he focusing [sic] on Russia, France and China - three of the five UN Security Council m bers with the power to veto war.  Politicians, journalists and diplomats were all given lavish gifts and oil-for-food vouchers.

Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi deputy prime minister, told the ISG that the "primary motive for French co-operation" was to secure lucrative oil deals when UN sanctions were lifted.  Total, the French oil giant, had been promised exploration rights.

Iraqi intelligence officials then "targeted a number of French individuals that Iraq thought had a close relationship to French President Chirac," it said, including two of his "counsellors" [sic] and spokesman for his re-election campaign.

It's hard to pass the "Global Test" when the people grading it are being bribed to administer a failing grade.  Perhaps Kerry should change his stance, and promise that a Kerry Administration would "outbid the bad guys."  That approach is more likely to succeed than the one he's been touting, which even he has admitted is doomed.

October 4, 2004 | 2:11 PM ET

IT WORKED
Alan Boyle has a report on the successful X-Prize launch today.  With video!

The launch -- coming, as Boyle notes, on the anniversary of the Soviet Union's 1957 launch of Sputnik -- represented in many ways the final triumph of capitalism over communism.

It's not widely remembered today, but when Sputnik was launched Americans took it as a serious blow to their self-esteem.  Those backward Russians, beating us into space?  Did this mean that communism was (literally) ascendant, and capitalism in decline?  Many feared (or hoped) so.  Eisenhower tried to minimize the significance of the Soviet accomplishment, but the American public wasn't having any of it, and the sense that we were losing ground helped propel John F. Kennedy to the White House, where he made the conquest of space an essential premise of his "New Frontiers" approach.

To beat the Soviets, though, we essentially emulated them.  The National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics -- a small-scale R&D enterprise designed to help the commercial aviation industry -- turned into the National Air and Space Administraton, a huge government bureaucracy that brought command-and-control methods to a new perfection.  (For more on the historical background, I highly recommend Walter McDougall's book, The Heavens and the Earth:  A Political History of the Space Age.)

NASA got us to the moon in an amazingly short time.  But its subsequent history demonstrates that command-style economics is a little like steroids in athletics:  You get a burst of rapid growth when the drugs first take hold, but after a while you realize that your national testicles are shrinking.

That's what happened to NASA, which, after the good eight-to-ten years that most new bureaucracies get, became limp, flabby and fearful. 

It's time for something new, and we're lucky to have it, thanks to the efforts of Peter Diamandis and the X-Prize folks.

I heard someone on one of the cable channels (it might even have been MSNBC!) predicting that more people will travel into space in the next decade than in all of human history to date.  That's probably right -- and if it is, it will be because the forces of capitalism have done what they always do, making things cheaper, better, and more widely available.

October 3, 2004 | 9:32 PM ET

MORE ON SPACE
So why haven't I been blogging about politics here lately?  Well, I'll get back to it.  But I didn't start this thing to write about just politics all the time (just read the caption at the top) and there are a lot of good people covering politics.  But as I've said before, over the long run, what's going on in space is probably going to be more important.  (In fact, I agree with Stephen Hawking that it may be essential to humanity's survival.)

So it's good news that Monday morning we're supposed to see another launch of Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne in pursuit of the X-Prize.  Rutan seems unconcerned by the rolls that caused last week's launch to be cut short (though fortunately not short enough to ruin the mission).  I certainly hope that he's right.

Meanwhile, on the military side, the Air Force is planning for military operations in space, and on the earth, designed to maintain space supremacy against all comers.  You can read the Air Force policy paper on the subject here, and a Congressional Research Service background paper on space military policy here.  There's nothing really new about this -- the U.S. has had a similar policy for decades, and the current National Space Policy dates back to 1996 and the Clinton Administration.  But the importance of space-based assets -- ranging from communications, to weather, to reconnaissance, to positioning -- in Iraq and Afghanistan has made the U.S. military, and potential U.S. adversaries, very mindful of how much U.S. capabilities would be harmed if the satellites and ground stations involved were shut down.

The best way to keep space from becoming a barren battlefield is to promote lots of peaceful activity there.  The X-Prize flights, thus, may turn out to be an important step toward limiting space militarization, even as they also serve as an important step toward promoting space commercialization.  That's yet another reason to hope tomorrow's flight goes well.

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