Opinion | How are things in Iraq, 20 years post-invasion?


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In today’s edition: Iraq, 20 years after invasion. Reining in algorithms. China’s big diplomatic moves. Should we let the banks fail?

It has been 20 years since the invasion of Iraq. Where do things in the country stand now? And how has the United States reckoned with its responsibility in that answer?

The first question is easier. Although the toll of the war was enormous — it led to what are estimated to be hundreds of thousands of excess deaths and millions of people displacedRajiv Chandrasekaran, former Post bureau chief in Baghdad, reports that today Iraq is doing surprisingly all right. It’s more peaceful and prosperous; oil is heading out; and foreign investment is coming in. Baghdad is “thriving,” even.

That makes the second question harder. Does the country’s current state mean U.S. actions weren’t so harmful after all?

That’s a dangerous way of thinking. As Chandrasekaran writes, “That ignores all that we did, through our carelessness and incompetence in the early years, to make the problem worse.” Besides, any thriving in Iraq is mostly thanks to the hard work of Iraqis themselves.

Iraqi-French reporter and author Feurat Alani, meanwhile, isn’t sure what being Iraqi means anymore.

Before the war, “the country still cohered,” he writes. It might have been fraying on the edges a bit, but for the most part, the people of his parents’ homeland weren’t Sunnis or Shiites so much as Iraqis. Then the tribalistic government the United States put in place post-invasion “left the country with a sectarian political system that carved into marble a political power-sharing dynamic between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.”

Two decades on, Iraq might be back. “Iraqi” is still a work in progress.

Facing the fully optimized future

For those of us who can barely remember what we had for lunch by the end of the day, the idea of algorithms tweaking our experience based on years of data on our habits is a little frightening.

But that’s just the start of what our Big Data is being used for, writes columnist Bina Venkataraman, “as insurers, lenders, employers, hospitals and landlords use a vast array of information sources and predictive algorithms to make decisions that profoundly affect people’s lives.”

It’s a Wild West right now regarding how firms are allowed to harness the intimate data they collect about us. Without any federal limitations, they’re edging up rates, delaying medical care, perhaps prematurely winnowing job applicant pools based on our information. Bina writes that it’s imperative to corral this practice now.

As she points out, we’ve long accepted some data-driven decision-making — say, charging higher auto insurance for a chronic speeder. But some build bias into what should be level playing fields — for example, a formula that could cause you to lose out on an apartment because of the Zip code you grew up in.

So where’s the line? It’s a tough question. Bina proposes that algorithmic decision-making should stop shy of where following the data means fortifying existing disparities. Her column has a few unsettling examples of where that has happened — as well as a few optimistic models for policy that could help make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Your line may be elsewhere. Email in your thoughts if so.

Chaser: Read the Editorial Board’s call for a bipartisan tech privacy bill from this Congress

From columnist David Ignatius’s discussion with the former secretary of state about China’s brokering of a detente between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Kissinger sees a “substantial change” in strategy in the Middle East, which David’s column explains. For decades, the region was unipolar, with only the United States capable of negotiating deals on behalf of hostile states.

An ascendant China won’t supplant the United States there; its recent success depended in many ways on a lot of hard-won U.S. groundwork. But it does herald a multipolar Middle East, in which states have options as to where to turn.

That balance of power, “with its ceaseless hedging,” David writes, “will have its own dangers.”

Chaser: In his latest column, Fareed Zakaria worries our foreign policy has lost the “flexibility and suppleness” to succeed in a multipolar arena.

There are no atheists in foxholes, and, at the moment, there are no libertarians at Silicon Valley Bank.

The tech bros who had their money squirreled away there very quickly quit their complaining about “big government” when it came time for big government to save them, Eugene Robinson has observed. It’s amazing how quickly “profligate spending and money printing coming out of Washington” — a past gripe of venture capitalist David Sacks — turned into “Stop this crisis NOW. Announce that all depositors will be safe.”

Or, as Gene put it, “I want my big-government rescue, and I want it now.”

Gene says the rescue was the right move, avoiding as it (potentially) did a “catastrophic run on regional banks.” George Will disagrees.

George’s column sides with the tech bros … back before their hypocritical transformation. The federal government’s intervention was indeed profligate, he writes; when a bank such as SVB fails, let it fail. Otherwise, “here comes capitalism without risk: profits private, losses socialized. Americans shall forgo the creativity of capitalism’s ‘creative destruction’ by avoiding the destruction.”

Chaser: Columnist Sebastian Mallaby presents two numbers that prove the banking mayhem could be far from over.

It’s a goodbye. It’s a haiku. It’s … The Bye-Ku.

Plus! A Friday bye-ku (Fri-ku!) from reader Allen M.:

(Parenthetically, brackets

Have your own newsy haiku? Email it to me, along with any questions/comments/ambiguities. Have a great weekend!

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