Null set

For those of us who remember our high school al-gebr, here is a definition of the term null set, which came up in the most recent Republican President Primary debate:
Let X be a measurable space, let μ be a measure on X, and let N be a measurable set in X. If μ is a positive measure, then N is null if and only if its measure μ(N) is zero. If μ is not a positive measure, then N is μ-null if N is μ-null, where μ is the total variation of μ.
Press 1 if you understand that (because it is in English), or press 2 if you're Tom Tancredo. Let me phrase it another way:

Knowing what you know right now — not what you knew then, what you know right now — was it a mistake for the United States to invade Iraq?

When Wolf Blitzer asked that question of Mitt Romney on Tuesday night, here is how his mind interpreted it:
  • Let X be the measurable space of Iraq.
  • Let N be the decision to invade.
  • Let μ be the measure of Saddam Hussein having followed UN resolutions and allowed inspectors.
    What are the characteristics of N?

"...null set," said Romney. That, of course, was the lead-off question in the 3rd GOP debate. Actually, Romney's full response was (continued...):

"Well, I answered the question by saying it's a non sequitur, it's a null set kind of question, because you can go back and say, if we knew then what we know now, by virtue of inspectors having been let in and giving us that information, by virtue of if Saddam Hussein had followed the UN resolutions, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

So it's a hypothetical that I think is an unreasonable hypothetical. And the answer is, we did what we did; we did the right thing based on what we knew at that time."
That's what you get when you have a guy who wants to run the White House like the Boston Consulting Group (note: Romney's former BCG colleague, the right-wing Bibi Netanyahu, served as Israel's Finance Minister from 2003-2005, with interesting results). By contrast, here is Rudy Giuliani's answer to the same question:
"Absolutely the right thing to do."
And so began another 10-man battle royale. Null set, eh?

Overall, I thought CNN did a better job than either Fox News or MSNBC. The 2nd and even 3rd tier candidates seemed to have tightened up their game, and I think the messages of Mike Huckabee, Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter, and Ron Paul (which had already occurred after Giuliani's fit in the 2nd debate) are beginning to coalesce. Gilmore and Thompson seem lost at sea, and Brownback does little more than pander. McCain seemed more at ease and friendly in this round, and Giuliani avoided any major attacks.

Romney, however, did not rise above the crowd as he did in the first 2 intramural contests. This technobabble answer wasn't a good way to start off, although I have to give Romney credit for laying off the karaoke and sparing us another speech about caliphates. Instead, he actually made good common sense when he said:

"We have to make sure they understand that we're not arrogant...we're going to have not just to attack each one of these problems one by one, but say, how do we help move the world of Islam so that the moderate Muslims can reject the extreme?

And for that to happen, we're going to have to have a strong military and an effort to combine with our help move Islam towards modernity...instead of looking at each theater one by one and saying: We'll bomb here, we'll attack here, we'll go to Sudan."

That them dovetails nicely with his foreign policy outline published in Foreign Affairs:
"If elected, one of my first acts as president would be to call for a summit of nations to address these issues. In addition to the United States, the countries convened would include other leading developed nations and moderate Muslim states. The objective of the summit would be to create a worldwide strategy to support moderate Muslims in their effort to defeat radical and violent Islam. I envision that the summit would lead to the creation of a Partnership for Prosperity and Progress: a coalition of states that would assemble resources from developed nations and use them to support public schools (not Wahhabi madrasahs), microcredit and banking, the rule of law, human rights, basic health care, and free-market policies in modernizing Islamic states."
He also scored a hit when he was asked about Mormonism and replied:
"There are some pundits out there that are hoping that I'll distance myself from my church so that that'll help me politically, and that's not going to happen."
Romney also seems to be trying out a new "1.21 Gigawatts" theme related to "vision" and "future".

"The Republican Party is a party of the future and with a vision. Ronald Reagan had a vision for where he was going to take America. We have to once again take people forward, and that vision is the new frontier of the 21st century...Strong military, strong economy, keeping our taxes down, and strong families and strong family values...and one more thing, optimism and a vision for the future...

But there's something bigger in conservatism that I don't think we've spoken about, and that is that America is a land of opportunity, and our future is going to be far brighter than our past, not just as we overcome these challenges, but as we take advantage of the new opportunity of the 21st century...

We are a party of the future, and we have to stop worrying about the problems and thinking we can't deal with those. We have to focus on the future and our opportunity to make America a great place for our kids and grandkids."

Back to the debate, after Romney's math lesson, Blitzer continued on the Iraq issue, prompting Sam Brownback to propose dividing Iraq into 3 pieces - Shiite, Sunni, and Kurd (yawn). When Blizter got to McCain, he asked what would happen if we discovered in September that the "surge" was not working. McCain ridiculed Brownback's proposal, but then repeated his own series of regional clichés.

"Then you have to examine the options. And I'll tell you the options. One is the division that Sam described. You would have to divide bedrooms in Baghdad, because Sunni and Shi'a are married to each other. You have 2 million Sunni and 4 million Shi'a living in Baghdad together.

You would have to — you withdraw to the borders and watch genocide take place inside Baghdad. You watch the destabilization of Jordan. You see further jeopardy of Israel because of the threats of Hezbollah and Iranian hegemony in the region."

A genocide in Baghdad would undermine the stability of Jordan, a dictatorship with little of the ethnic and religious diversity of Iraq or Syria? And I further fail to see how Hezbollah's tactical ability to threaten Israel is substantially impacted by an American withdrawal from Iraq.

Here is how Iran harms Israel:
  1. Iran loads weapons and missiles on planes
  2. Planes fly to Syria
  3. Material is unloaded and smuggled into Lebanon
  4. Hezbollah launches attacks into Israeli territory
This process operates independently of any internal Iraqi conflict, and Iran does not need a foothold in Iraq to continue to pursue this course of action.

But it remains a dangerously reality for the region, which could be stopped if the United States championed talks between Israel and Syria on the basis of land for peace: Syria would cut off weapons supplies to Hezbollah and end support for Hamas and other groups in exchange for regaining the Golan Heights. So why are no presidential candidates talking about that as part of their foreign policy? Aside from being the right thing to do to promote stability and change the regional dynamics, it's probably the lowest-hanging presidential legacy fruit out there.

Instead, we here frightening oversimplifications, such as Tommy Thompson's proposal for Iraq which seemed to suggest a policy of ethnic cleansing:
"There are 18 territories in Iraq, geographically defined. Those 18 territories, just like 50 states in America, should elect their state leaders. And if they do so, the Shi'ites will elect Shi'ites, Sunnis will elect Sunnis, Kurds will elect Kurds. And you know something? People will go to those particular territories and you get rid of the civil war, internecine."
As usual, the only person on stage making sense about Iraq was Ron Paul:
"The sooner we come home, the better. If they declare there's no progress in September, we should come home. It was a mistake to go, so it's a mistake to stay. If we made the wrong diagnosis, we should change the treatment. So we're not making progress there and we should come home. The weapons weren't there, and we went in under UN resolutions. And our national security was not threatened. We're more threatened now by staying."
He continued by identifying the bellicose attitude of the Bush Administration as the most pressing moral issue facing America.

"I think it is the acceptance just recently that we now promote preemptive war. I do not believe that's part of the American tradition. We in the past have always declared war in the defense of our liberties or go to aid somebody, but now we have accepted the principle of preemptive war. We have rejected the Just-War theory of Christianity. And now, tonight, we hear that we're not even willing to remove from the table a preemptive nuclear strike against a country that has done no harm to us directly and is no threat to our national security!

I mean, we have to come to our senses about this issue of war and preemption and go back to traditions and our Constitution and defend our liberties and defend our rights, but not to think that we can change the world by force of arms and to start wars.

The president ran on a program of a humble foreign policy, no nation-building, and no policing of the world. And he changed his tune, and now we are fighting a war, and our foreign operations around the world to maintain our empire is now approaching $1 trillion a year. That's where the money's going, and that's where it has to be cut so we can take care of education and medical cares that are needed here in this country."

Paul continued by assailing the neocons.

"I think we should immediately stop patrolling the streets. That's a policeman's job. It's not the work of the Army. We're not fighting a military battle. We're in a different type of warfare right now. So the sooner we recognize that, the sooner we can make sure that no more Americans will die.

We have a lot of goodness in this country and we should promote it, but never through the barrel of a gun. We should do it by setting good standards, motivating people, and have them want to emulate us. But you can't enforce our goodness like the neocons preach with an armed force. It doesn't work.

Woodrow Wilson was telling us about that in promoting democracy a long time ago...It doesn't work, and we have to admit it."

Giuliani offered a response on the topic of nation-building as well:
"People can only embrace democracy when they have an orderly existence, and we have to help provide that. We didn't want that role, but it is our role. We have to train our military to do it. We should probably have an Iraq stat program, in which we measure how many people are going to school, how many factories are open, how many people are going to back to work. We had to get into the nitty-gritty of putting an orderly society together in Iraq. It is not too late to do it."
First of all, the New York Times has been publishing "Iraq Stats" on their editorial page for years now, back when one was called a "RINO", or even unpatriotic, for suggesting that we were occupying Iraq and not merely "liberators". When I came back from visiting Iraq in September of 2003, I spread the message that our presence would could cause lots of resentment and that we were too lackadaisical about the need to train Iraqis to run and police their own country. Nobody wanted to hear it at that time. So, now, 4 years later, how long does Giuliani expect it to take to "put an orderly society together in Iraq"? And are US military personnel equipped to manage that process?

On other subjects, the most ridiculous answer of the night belongs to Sam Brownback who shreds 2 longstanding Republican positions in one sentence - non-intervention and opposition to labor unions:
"I think we need to more equip the labor union movement that's developing inside of Iran; they had a bus driver strike that recently took place."
Well, ring-a-ding-ding. But there were some other disturbing answers pertaining to private enterprise. The first comes from Mitt Romney:
"With regards to big oil, big oil is making a lot of money right now, and I'd like to see them using that money to invest in refineries. Don't forget that when companies earn profit, that money is supposed to be reinvested in growth. And our refineries are old. Someone said to me — Matt Simons, an investment banker down in Houston, he said our refineries today are rust with paint holding them up. And we need to see these companies, if they're making that kind of money, reinvest in capital equipment."
Likewise, when McCain was asked if he had a problem with oil companies making huge profits, he said, "Sure, I think we all do. And they ought to be reinvesting it." Once again, Ron "Champion of the Constitution" Paul weighs in with a voice of reason:
"I don't think the profits is the issue. The profits are okay if they're legitimately earned in a free market. What I object to are subsidies to big corporations when we subsidize them and give them R&D money. I don't think that should be that way. They should take it out of the funds that they earn."
Totally agreed. I don't know what's more disturbing: when a Mayor of a town of 9,000 inhabitants wants veto power over McDonalds advertising strategy, or when a presidential candidate promotes intervention in the affairs of publicly traded companies. How much money oil companies reinvest is decided by their shareholders and their shareholders alone.

Then there was the hot topic of immigration. While the candidates sparred on the pros and cons of the bill currently being debated, which I oppose because I feel the first thing we need to do is secure our borders and stop the inflow of more illegal immigrants, there was also some quasi-philosophical discussion on the historic role of immigration in America. McCain had the most to say on this topic:

"My friends, we know what we're talking about is the latest wave of migrants into this country. We have to stop the illegal immigration, but we've had waves throughout our history. Hispanics is what we're talking about, a different culture, a different language, which has enriched my state where Spanish was spoken before English was.

My friends, I want you the next time you're down in Washington, D.C. to go to the Vietnam War Memorial and look at the names engraved in black granite. You'll find a whole lot of Hispanic names. When you go to Iraq or Afghanistan today, you're going to see a whole lot of people who are of Hispanic background."

Tom "take out their holy sites" Tancredo had the most controversial statement of the night when he essentially called for a moratorium on just about any immigration:

"Let's be serious about this, you guys. We talk about all the immigration reform we want, and what it's got to get down to is this: Are we ready for a timeout? Are we actually ready to say, Enough is enough? We have to stop all legal immigration except for people coming into this country as family members, immediate family members, and/or refugees.

Are we willing to actually say that and say enough — is it — we have got to actually begin the process of assimilating people who have come in this great wave of immigration. The process of assimilation is not going on.

And how long? How long will it take us for that — for us to catch up with the millions of people who have come here, both legally and illegally, and assimilate them? I'll tell you this. It'll take this long: until we no longer have to press 1 for English and 2 for any other language."

That is way further to the right than I care to be. However, I do agree with one element of Tancredo's speech: cut "political ties with the country from which you came." The US has suffered enough in recent years from the dual allegiance and questionable patriotism of Liz Cheney's friends.

Also, Tancredo socked it to President Bush like no other, when asked what role he would envision for the 43rd President in his administration:
"Some time ago, 2003 I think it was, I got a call from Karl Rove who told me that because of my criticism of the president, I should never darken the doorstep of the White House. I have been so disappointed in the president in so many ways since his — actually for the last several years, not just the immigration issue, but several other things, including the No Child Left Behind and the massive increase in government that we call prescription drug — Medicare prescription drug, that I'm afraid...I would have to tell George Bush exactly the same thing Karl Rove told me."
In closing, I do have to include one reply from Mike Huckabee, when asked about his views on evolution, because it's one of the most eloquent answers I've ever heard from a political candidate. Even John McCain, when posed the same question, replied, "I can't say it more eloquently than Pastor Huckabee — Governor Huckabee just did.":

"It's interesting that that question would even be asked of somebody running for president. I'm not planning on writing the curriculum for an eighth-grade science book. I'm asking for the opportunity to be president of the United States. But you've raised the question, so let me answer it.

'In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.' To me it's pretty simple, a person either believes that God created this process or believes that it was an accident and that it just happened all on its own. And the basic question was an unfair question because it simply asks us in a simplistic manner whether or not we believed — in my view — whether there's a God or not. Well let me be very clear: I believe there is a God. I believe there is a God who was active in the creation process.

Now, how did he do it, and when did he do it, and how long did he take? I don't honestly know, and I don't think knowing that would make me a better or a worse president. But I'll tell you what I can tell the country. If they want a president who doesn't believe in God, there's probably plenty of choices. But if I'm selected as president of this country, they'll have one who believes in those words that God did create.

And as the words of Martin Luther, 'Here I stand. I can do no other.' And I will not take that back."

Bravo, Governor Huckabee. Beautiful words.