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"The stream of Time, irresistible, ever moving, carries off and bears away all things that come to birth and plunges them into utter darkness, both deeds of no account and deeds which are mighty and worthy of commemoration. . .Nevertheless, the science of History is a great bulwark against the stream of Time; in a way it checks this irresistible flood, it holds in a tight grasp whatever it can seize floating on the surface and will not allow it to slip away into the depths of Oblivion. "
- Anna Comnena (1083-1153), The Alexiad
"I have taken all knowledge to be my province."
- Francis Bacon, 1592
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Regarding Laurence Haas: A Democratic President would be far less hemmed in than he asserts. Remember, there is a long history of campaigning this way - Woodrow Wilson "kept us out of war", Roosevelt ran as a peace candidate in '40. When the rubber hit the road, both did what they had to and are known as great statesmen and military leaders today, not for their anti-war rhetoric during political campaigns.
As for the current crop of "anti-war candidates", while it's kind of cynical to say their campaign rhetoric will mean nothing when we're faced with the need to "project force abroad", it's also reassuring to realize that the current Democratic candidates are, well, lying, even if they are getting credit for being "the candid truth tellers". (Ok, Dennis Kucinich exempted: He's sincere).
Just take Al Gore (please) - today he sounds as rabid anti-War Left as the rest of them, but during his actual career, he employed people like, well, Lawrence Haas. Right now the Dems are just saying what the "Netroots" demand to hear. Is this behavior corrosively destructive to our civic discourse? Yes. But it doesn't have as many real foreign policy implications as people who are taking them at their word believe.
At least I hope that's true. To the extent to which they're sincere, instead of cynically playing to the "netroots" base, we're in trouble. But then they'd be "hemmed-in" whether they spoke this way during silly season or not.
Well, we'll see. There have been premature cries of victory before. But right now I'm much more concerned about the premature cries of defeat, and the spread of Newspeak terms in the rhetorical attempt to mask capitulation.
"Escalation" replaces "reinforcements" in an attempt to de-legitimize any military tactic other than "redeployment" (retreat, withdrawal), and it is taken as given that those employing Newspeak terminology are the "realists" and "truth-tellers" as opposed to "idealogues" and "liars".
It is also asserted that the war is "militarily unwinnable", and that it will take more than military means to reach a "conclusion" of it. There is a grain of truth in that, in the sense that no war is won by military means alone, but it is employed in a deceptive manner to delegitimize the necessity of military pressure as a component of victory (another word rapidly vanishing down the memory hole).
Of course, the war is winnable. But it remains to be seen whether we have the fortitude and commitment to win it, or if our enemies are right about us.
I was heartened by the President calling for a major increase in the strength of the Army and Marines. Let us all hope it is not too late. I have always said such a step should have been taken years ago. But better now than never.
Doubleplusgood Duckspeakers also hold forth that Iraq is a distraction from the war on terror, which they say is in Afghanistan. That simply displays their myopia: As if Afghanistan is the only front in the War. Set Iraq aside for a second and ask "what about Somalia? Algeria? Kashmir? India? Thailand? The Philippines?" and a number of other areas, including within Europe and America, and inclusive if Syria, Iran, and Lebanon, to say nothing of Israel and the Palestinian Territories?
Right now a majority of our country's political establishment's foreign policy views are clearly not to be taken seriously. However, so upside-down is the world that they are considered the ones with the "realist" position.
So I saw "Rocky Balboa today and it was fairly good (more on that in another post, perhaps). One particular bit made me think. Now, I'll say up front that this is me taking from the movie something, by which I mean it isn't necessarily the point the movie intends to make. But that's what we do - we make connections, mental and otherwise, of our own.
At one point in the movie, Rocky is speaking to his son and says:
Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't how hard you hit; it's about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done. Now, if you know what you're worth, then go out and get what you're worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit, and not pointing fingers saying you ain't where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain't you. You're better than that!
It seems to me that is a question for all of us at the moment, as a nation.
But really I titled this badly. Because as a nation we can take "the big punch" quite well. We proved that (again) on 9/11. In Boxing, "headhunting", going for the big-punch-to-the-head knockout, isn't always wise. It certainly isn't against the U.S.
When hit like that, we react like Rocky, sure enough. That's why our wiser enemies aren't looking to do that kind of thing again.
No, the better boxers go for body shots over time: Weaken an opponents legs by continual, less dramatic blows. That's when you find out if you have the stuff: Do you weaken, and drop? Or do you have the strength to go the distance?
This is what's happening to us now. We're taking an accumulation of smaller blows. So are our opponents. We feel the hits that affect us, but only occasionally (when a memo is intercepted, for example), get a glimpse into how badly our opponents are taking it.
We can throw the biggest punch in the world. But, as the quote says, that's not the test of success. What can we take? When the war in Iraq seemed easy, a lot of people were for it, and the Democrats complained of the "politicization" of it, when Republicans tried to contrast their support with supposedly less-than-full support on the part of the Democrats. Now?
Now the war seems hard, and we're taking an accumulation of hits while not knocking the enemy out. So support has fallen and Democrats are happy to disclaim any responsibility for a war they view not as America's, but as "Bush's problem". All the "wise men" (and women) are saying that the "Realist" thing to do now is to throw in the towel.
Everywhere around the world, the question that is being asked - and answered - is whether we have the legs to go the distance. We know we don't have a glass jaw, but do we have feet of clay?
"Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image ... his feet part of iron and part of clay. ... And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken."
Responding to some things came up here, about force size vs. composition and overall unity of action. In my earlier post I considered adding further details: That the increased troop strength should concentrate on light, counter-insurgency forces, and that we should have a school of counterinsurgency, &tc.; Also I did mention as well that other government departments need to be more fully involved, but didn't expound upon it as I felt the post was already long enough. In many ways I agree with the Thomas P.M. Barnett of his books - not so much his weblog - that we need a "Department of Everything Else" and a "Leviathan" force as well as a "SysAdmin" force, and much greater interdepartmental coordination overall.
Anyhow, what I'm saying is I too agree with all that others are contributing on this topic; that's what makes the bloggospheric conversation so great. One person doesn't have to say it all.
However, in their shift of focus to "not how many, but what" they may be losing sight of the IMO need for larger ground forces: Not just so we have additional troops to rotate into Iraq, but so that we don't *appear* so tapped out that others are not deterred.
Oh, and yes, many soldiers are "this is what I do, this is who I am". But there are also a lot of soldiers who feel they are missing half their children's lives, because deployments are so frequent. There is also a sense that, on the path we're on, we're developing a sort of two-tier Army, where depending on your luck (or your connections), you either deploy a lot, or not at all. Not everyone is as gung-ho as perhaps they should be. I know several people who were thinking of a career in the Army, but who don't want to be away from home half the time. Some of these folks have said one year out of three they could live with. A larger force would give us a lot more flexibility.
We must do the other things people have mentioned as well. But I think 8 billion dollars a year spent on additional ground forces, designed to fight the war we're in, would be better than 6-8 billion spent on F-22s - or on farm subsidies and corporate welfare, for that matter (in other words, dittoing VDH on that).
In many cases, yes. But in some of those cases it's in the sense of the European Union and others not wanting to confront Iran over their nuclear ambitions, because of economic connections, or anyone confront Putin's Russia too strongly when it brazenly assassinates political opponents in our capital cities, &tc.;
This isn't to say that interconnectivity is bad, just that it isn't the unvarnished good, sans downside, that many people present it as.
Economic interconnectivity does promote peace, usually in a good way. But not always or inevitably so - especially when the decent are timorous, and use it as an excuse for an absence of stalwartness in confronting challenges to the values they claim to hold dear. Thus, economic connectivity decoupled from strong policy is essentially empty and platitudinous.
In any case, we are, or were, at it. I'm reminded of a three-volume history of the Byzantine (East Roman) Empire written some years ago by John Julius Norwich. The middle volume was titled "The Apogee". After that, everything was tragedy.
Will it be so for us? Well, right now things are looking like a tragic farce: Never has a nation been so powerful, and never has a nation so powerful been so apparently impotent. Mostly for reasons of its own creation.
Of course, many people say such - but they usually mean it in the wrong way (in my opinion), and Krauthammer cautions us against the Amerocentric Fallacy (wherein all good, or more commonly all evil, things are ascribed to American causation). But much of what renders us impotent is of our generation, or the consequence of our politics. I mean, overall, an impartial observer with a sense of history would not say that the enemies the West (broadly considered) faces today are all that puissant. Indeed, they are notable for their inherent weakness, individually or collectively - at least if opposed by anyone willing to be stalwart and resolute. Yet they are obviously feeling their oats now, triumphantly murdering people from Beirut to the heart of London and mocking the possibility that anything will be done about it, sounding the victory horns from Pyongyang to Teheran to Caracas, not even daring us to do anything about it but knowing nothing will be done about it, openly and brazenly Sadr opposes us in Baghdad and our own allied government their shields a man wanted by their own law, knowing that when the "satanic, abusive occupier" is told to back off from bringing him to justice, we shall stay our hand and do nothing.
People talk about the West being in decline, but it still has approximately 50% of global GDP. Materially, it is at least as powerful as it has been for a century. What it is lacking in is the fortitude to stand up to the challenges of even minor enemies with resolve. That will make all the difference, in the end. Call it the "broken windows theory of international relations", if you'd like.
I need not even get started about our domestic politics, which, if anything, resemble nothing so much as that of the self-destructive domestic politics of Imperial Byzantium in the middle half (roughly 1025-1081) of the 11th century.
"So in the Libyan fable it is told,
that once an eagle, stricken with a dart,
said when he saw the fashion of the shaft
'with our own feathers, not by others' hands
are we now smitten."
Well, anyhow, at least one of the parties is fighting mad, now. It's just that our brave "Fighting Dems" are fighting mad against their domestic political opponents, not our country's enemies.
Does running for President allow a candidate to freelance at a time of war by talking to our enemies and triangulating against the president? Why is Gov. Richardson talking to North Koreans, or Sen. Kerry trying to talk to the Iranians, or Sen. Bayh to the Syrians? Wouldn’t that be like a Tom DeLay talking to Milosevic to undermine Clinton during the Kosovo bombing? Or Trent Lott dealing with the Taliban as Clinton sent cruise missiles against them?
Read the whole thing, as they say, especially the final suggestion, which is close to what I said
What the ISG offers us are mere aspirations, with no serious consideration of the concrete means required to fulfill those aspirations.
I've been in agreement with those who have said that if we're going to send someone to Syria, it should be Baker himself: Let him put up or shut up. Only problem is, he would happily sell our allies in the region down the river on behalf of his Saudi employers and other "forces of regional stability", and give concessions to our enemies. So that might not be a good "call his bluff" act after all.
Realism my arse: This the ISG was an exercise in academic wishful thinking at best, and actively mischevious at worst. Sure, there are some good ideas in there, but most of the proposals that are being most widely highlighted are the worst ones, the ones most dependent on fatuous King Canute pronouncements.
We never should have gotten rid of it. It was a false economy, an ironic one since the closest thing to immortality is a government program: Especially "temporary" ones.
It's a sad commentary on the last fifteen or so years that one of the very few government programs that actually got eliminated/"cut" was one we actually need and one which made a positive contribution (rather than a negative one, as many do). All kinds of boondoggles survived the "ruthless Republican Class of 1994's" "budget axe", in the end (sometimes despite actual effort to rid us of such things, I will give that credit). The success in eliminating USIA was a tragic loss.
Of course, the USIA wouldn't make up for the fact that we live in a global media environment such as the one satirized here, an environment where all our information efforts are dismissed as "propaganda" while enemy propaganda is unskeptically reported. But it would be helpful none the less.
You can't win if you don't try, and the lack of USIA essentially means that all too often "our team" forfeits the information game because it doesn't even show up.
So, if there was an agency the Democrats wanted to bring back in their efforts to "reverse the draconian cuts imposed by the Republican Congress", I'd support them in bringing back the USIA, restoring it as it once was. It isn't a silver bullet, but it doesn't have to be.
My unit recently returned from Iraq, as part of the 4th Infantry Division. While there, I was a "Fobbit": I never went outside the wire. For most of the tour, though, I worked at Sather Air Base, BIAP, and thus had an opportunity to interact with a lot of soldiers stationed throughout the Baghdad Area of Operations.
What great insight does that give me? None. Do I have the answer to "the Question"? No more than anyone else. I would say that overall my experiences - and that of just about everyone there - may give them some knowledge of a little slice of the war, but overall I don't think I know more than I would have had I been "at home" the whole time. Something to keep in mind, always, whenever people disparage those who haven't gone as "chickenhawks" and imply that they have nothing to contribute to the debate (unless, of course, they are against the mission).
"It'll Be a Mess"
During my deployment there was a two-week period where me and some buddies were assigned as the "admin guys" assisting a Special Forces team in the selection of new trainees for the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOFOR) Brigade. The SF Team assisted/oversaw a team from the ISOFOR, Iraqi NCOS, who were essentially the "Drill Sergeants" in charge of the Selectees/Trainees. The Iraqi NCOs were eager, as were the majority of the Selectees, but somewhat disorganized. "Training the Trainers", the job the SF Team was there to do, was clearly an ongoing process. Yet according to one member of the team, who I'll call "Mark", theirs was the last Team that was going to be assigned to this mission, and they would be present for only one more "class" of ISOFOR trainees. I asked him what would happen after, and he smiled and said "it'll be a mess."
Now, things change, and I don't know whether another SF Team ended up being assigned to continue on with it or not. But clearly this is one of the things we need to do more of, and keep up with.
Corruption is a real problem. Throughout the two-week selection process, which is somewhat similar to reception at U.S. Basic Training but also a tool for testing and weeding out, the ISOFOR Command Sergeant Major was often present, sitting and watching. One of the interpreters said "Oh, he shouldn't be here so much, interfering with the training. He should be with the rest of the brigade, and let the trainers do their jobs." (By which he meant the Iraqi trainers). But "Mike" told me later the CSM was a great help. Why? He was running interference, keeping the Iraqi officers away from the Selection process.
That was important because many of the recruits had paid bribes to get in. Some of them because they wanted a job, others because they were infiltrators, loyal to militias or even the insurgency. Indeed, an entire company was composed of people the SF Team suspected of having gotten there through bribes, with a tough Iraqi NCO/Drill Sergeant over them. The goal: Weed them out (recruits could quit at any time, and many did). They figured they got rid of most of the infiltrators, but that probably a couple had slipped through.
The ISOFOR CSM's reward for that was, when selection was over, a letter of reprimand from the Iraqi command (the SF Team told him to tear it up and ignore it). So what will happen if/when the Americans are gone? Will such a man have "cover" to do that? Unlikely. "Mike" was candid that the NCOs were onboard with the anti-corruption efforts "because they know we [the SF guys] don't like it".
What's the lesson here? It will take time and patience to inculcate a sense of professionalism in the Iraqi NCO Corps, but there is promise. People in the States - usually ignoratii on the Left - sometimes talk about how quickly we're able to turn a recruit into a Soldier. Well, the difference is they are incorporated into a functioning, organic system, with strong traditions of professionalism, and the NCOs are the backbone of our Army. But an NCO isn't created overnight. It can take 10 years or more for someone to become a Platoon Sergeant, and that's in an Army where they are surrounded by mentors who have "gone before.".
The further lesson is that it will take a lot longer, and quite a bit of work, effort, to bring even that level of professionalism to much of the Iraqi Officer Corps. Remember: The ISOFOR is one of the better units. But the Iraqi Officer Corps seems to be at least partly made up of political appointees. It will take time to separate the wheat from the chaff.
"This is My Death Sentence"
One day, before we wrapped it all up, one of the Iraqi interpreters who worked with us was talking to me, during down time. He held out his ID card and said "know what this is"? I said an ID card. He said "this is my death sentence". Every day he puts it in his shoe. His fear? If he's found with it, at one of the "checkpoints" between the base and his home off post, he might be shot. By insurgents? No, by sectarian militias.
That's what awaits guys who work with us, after we leave.
Plan of Action
So, what's to be done? My tour was fairly safe. I was stationed at a large FOB, and didn't really feel I was in much greater danger there than I would have been at home (if one exchanges dangerous highways at home for the occasional mortar or RPG fired off by people with such bad aim that they would aim at the airport and literally miss it by a kilometer or more). I'm not going to apologize to anyone for the comparative safety of my deployment compared to many others who were out there, in more harrowing FOBs, and those outside the wire. I went where I was told. So did thousands of others at Liberty/Victory, Balad, &tc.;
But Victor Davis Hanson is closer to the truth, and those counseling us to reposition our troops so that they are in bases, ready to be "rapid reaction forces" as-needed but otherwise draw back from the fighting and "let the Iraqis take the lead" are wrong. Too many people are concerned with cosseting the troops: They're all about body armor, safety, putting as many as possible behind the wire, protected by concrete barriers, and not about what needs to be done. We need to get more of out troops outside the big basecamps, and working directly with Iraqi forces as mentors. We also need to expand greatly the embedment of other departments of our government, and allied nations, with Iraqi counterparts, to build civil-society infrastructure.
We need to reduce the megabases, the situation where Fort Hood is essentially being re-created opposite the terminal of Baghdad International, and get more of us out working with the Iraqi soldiers. We need to "embed" more troops among the Iraqis, mentor them more.
But this is really not about "them", or at least not only about "them" and "their deficiencies" and whether we can help them rectify those deficiencies or not. It's also about us: A country where "Fighting Dems" mean not Democrats like Lieberman who want to make sure we're doing our utmost to fight our enemies abroad, but partisans ferociously fighting their domestic political opponents at home, a country where few people say "well, I was opposed to the war, but Congress had a vote, and we're in it as a country, and we need to figure out how best to win it." Instead half the country's attitude is that "it's Bush's war and we're not going to help let him off the hook, we're going to stick him with it, and use it to discredit people we don't agree with at home."
But I don't want to hit the "partisan politics" head too hard, because that is not the biggest of our problems. Those who are for the war, myself not excluded, have done a very poor job communicating. We have not convinced the American people that the sacrifices are necessary. We have not explained that conflicts like this generally take a decade, and that are losses are historical not in there extreme nature, but in how low they are. But beyond that, we have not maintained support: You can hardly convince someone that even low losses are worth it if they don't believe the mission should continue in the first place.
Admittedly, given the nature of things, those who favor going forward and striving the best we can to be successful, have an uphill battle in the public communications department, given the slant of the media. But this is hardly an excuse: We did not face a favorable MSN when advocating the war to topple Saddam, but we succeeded then, so it's hardly complain now of being unable to reach people because of media bias. The fact that we have a media that regurgitates insurgent propaganda unskeptically and unquestioningly but claims our own information efforts are propaganda to be dismissed out of hand is certainly one of the problems we face, but it is not insurmountable.
As for the idea of discussions with Iran and Syria over Iraq's future, well, if we're not able to convince the American people of why that would be a bad idea and why any concession to them on Iraq's development would be counter to our interest and Iraq's, well we should pack it in. Instead, we should do more to put the pressure back on those countries - to fight fire with fire. The cost they pay for destabilizing Iraq and Lebanon should be destabilization and our financing of opposition groups, and even insurgents against them. If after that they decide to play nice, and cease the mischief, then we should be willing to meet them halfway. But unilateral concessions on our part as a means to put a happy face on turning Iraq and Lebanon over to their not-so-tender-mercies would be a disgrace that, while "realists" at home would believe in, everyone else in the world would know for what it was: Capitulation.
What needs to be done is to adopt a plan capable of success, which I believe increased embedment of American and allied personnel would be, then we need to explain what is being done to our fellow citizens, and why, and the patience that it will involve. But also that it can work: Similar efforts are bearing fruit in the Balkans and elsewhere. We need to not be satisfied with explaining it one time, however, but keep up with the public persuasion efforts, because those on the other side (both at home and abroad) don't stop repeating their negative talking points of doom and withdrawal ("redeployment" by any other name). Their repetition needs to be continually countered.
Also, we need to increase the size of America's ground forces. Those of us who favored this effort, and others, should be ashamed that we did not insist upon an increase in the force structure of the Army and Marines years ago. Many of us were for it, but were not stronger in our advocacy. Troops to maintain our efforts while also deterring meddlesome powers like Syria, Iran, and North Korea simply don't exist because we did not push harder. It is a sign of near unseriousness that we tolerated budgets that prioritized continuation of expensive programs to fight aerial dogfights 20 years from now against a non-existent "near-peer" enemy air force instead of paying for additional boots on the grounds (the "legacy-costs" of that being unbearable, in a way that apparently the "legacy-costs" of the F-22 are not).
We should have pushed for an increase in the budget. We should have called the bluff of those at home who keep calling for "shared sacrifice in a time of war" by offering to cut frivolous non-defense spending programs, on the promise that for each dollar of cut we get this year (not "cut in rate of growth" cut, either), we'll pass a dollar's worth of tax increases next year. But doing that would have required a Congress serious enough about the war to put their "earmark spending" on hold. But we can still push for additional troops, and the Democrats might pass a budget that increases the authorized troop strength, because they want to burnish their bona fides on the issue. It can be easily done without a draft; we had considerably more people in our Armed Forces when our population was 50 million people fewer than today.
Because, if this is to be a "long war", we need the soldiers, and the patience, to fight it seriously.
We need to be tough-minded with Iraqi politicians, too, not just with our own. When they tell us not to go after those who have captured our soldiers, or to take the pressure off of Sadr City (and Sadr), we need to be prepared to tell them that they are in charge of the country, but there are consequences for their choices. Not just consequences from our enemies (which give elements like Sadr a one-sided advantage), but steps we'll take, too. We can start with offering to withdraw not just from the pursuit, not just from Sadr City, but withdraw our protection teams from the politicians who tell us to back off.
There's more, of course. That is just the end of the begining of what we need to do.
Update: Biggest differences between what I see as needed and what the ISG recommends is that I wouldn't be withdrawing troops. If anything, I think the "surge" idea of 20-30,000 additional troops is closer to the right tack, if done within the context of increasing the size of our ground forces, but the increase should be kept there as needed for security. Also, unlike the ISG, I don't favor a policy of issuing ultimatums to our friends on the one hand and giving concessions to our enemies on the other. That would just place America further down the road of becoming "a harmless enemy and a treacherous friend", as Bernard Lewis has been quoted saying.
Now early word has it that The Fabulous Baker Boys (straight from the political boneyard and known formally as the Iraq Study Group) will recommend withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq by 2008, while leaving behind our embedded trainers and vulnerable support units.
This is the sort of nonsense that sounds great to civilians with no military experience. To veterans, it's nuts.
The ISG was proud of "compromise", each giving a bit to get a bit in the final recommendation. But a good plan isn't necessarily one created by groupthink and compromise, and ideas aren't necessarily better just because they're generated through consensus. Our first priority shouldn't be an "exit strategy" arrived at via compromise, it should be victory.
(See also here on engagement with Syria and Iran).
"Stolen Election!" - That would be the title of countless of Left/Liberal blog posts right now, had the results gone the other way. Well, I'm sure there were "election irregularities", as they say, in the usual number.
But we, the conservatives, the Right, did not lose this election because of shenanegans. We lost it for a number of reasons. Valid reasons. Number one, the Republican Congressional majority came to have a sense of entitlement, not that different from the Democratic majority that was thrown out in '94. Hopefully, they will learn the right lessons and not the wrong ones.
Hopefully also we will be mature about defeat. We will not become virulent obsessives, pointing fingers and wallowing in conspiracy theories. Such behavior is not the sole provenance of the Left: All humans are prone to such rationalizations of disappointment. Yes, the mainstream media was blatantly against us and twisted the presentation of things to cast "our side" in the most unfavorable light, and "theirs" in the most favorable.
But what's new about that? We faced that in elections before, and won anyhow. We have more megaphones than we had before. The Republican's, and conservative's, failure was in communicating things properly ourselves. In being constant in explaining what we believe, and primarily constant in emphasizing why the Iraq war, for all its disappointments, is a necessary battle in the overall war (see also here, as well as the Orson Scott Card link, in the post below).
"Communication" makes it sound similar to what the Dems say when they lose: "there's no problem with our policies, just in selling them to the people. The Republicans distort it." But that's not what I mean.
I mean communication in deed as well as rhetoric. Republicans, and conservatives in general, should have behaved in office as if they meant what they said about the importance of this moment in time, and of the importance of their leadership. But too often they did not. Just often enough to cause the American people to rebuke them.
Electoral spankings are a necessary component of a Democracy. The last thing we need is a party which believes they cannot lose, that they are the majority for the foreseeable future. Republicans, because of past victories and the number of "safe" Congressional districts, came to believe that. They behaved as if they believed that the only way they could lose is if they didn't roll out the pork barrel enough (thus "earmarking" on a grand scale). Buying the your vote with your own money is what caused a lot of people to sour on the Democratic leadership: Should the Republicans be surprised it caused people to be cynical about them?
Let me go back to rhetoric, though. The term itself, "rhetoric", has taken on negative connotations in our society. But rhetoric is important: Properly communicating an important message, convincingly doing so, with conviction, is vital to any democratic politics. Here is where the current political leadership on the Right - not just Bush, but certainly from him on down - has failed. It is a not unimportant failure. For that reason, we lost an opportunity in the wake of 9/11 to decisively communicate not just the war we're in, but the fallacy of certain visions that make the war we are fighting as problematic as it is.
We should look at this electorpal defeat not with disappointment or bitterness and recrimination, but as a chance for renewal. In democratic politics, no defeat need be permanent. There will be another election. What will count is what lessons we take away from this one, and how we respond to it. Let us re-forge our positive vision: Renew our emphasis on the policies we favor and would enact, rather than just what we'd prevent the other side from doing.
One thing to keep in mind. If one looks seat by seat, it's clear that the Republicans lost their majority on the basis of things other than the war itself. There were enough Foleys and Delay's to make the margin of difference. The Republicans also did enough wrong as a majority that, even in the absence of the war, they would have likely lost as many seats.
But those of us who are pro-war should take little consolation in that. Saying that does not mean the war had nothing to do with it. It only means that the voters had plenty of other reasons to vote against the Republicans, in addition to their disillusionment over Iraq. But we need to face candidly the fact that we have lost the support of a majority of Americans for the war. The only reason our losses were not greater is the American's also are not exactly thrilled with the Democrats, either, whose flaws are also manifest to them (oh, that and gerrymandering, which makes the vast majority of districts, for both parties, deplorably safe. But more on that subject, another time).
Admitting to ourselves that the war cost us in this election does not mean it was wrong. Nor does it mean that the war should be fought with an eye on its electorial consequences. But it does mean we need to do a lot more to convince our fellow citizens of the rightness of persevering than we have been able to manage to. We should not tell ourselves that it doesn't matter, as long as Bush is in office things will carry on regardless. That reflects a certain amount of indifference to the opinions of one's fellow citizens.
Nor does it mean, of course, that we must accept that they are right. We must respect their opinions enough to try to persuade them otherwise, and, if we should fail, then understand the ramifications that will have in the next election. Because even if we are not convinced that their doubts about the war are right, we shall have to accept the outcome of that election, and its policy consequences, regardless.
On the election. It's an excellent, thoughtful essay.
I have to say I pretty much agree with an earlier Glenn Reynolds quote, that the Republicans deserve to lose but the Democrats don't deserve to win.
Ultimately I think the later outweighs the former: The Democrats don't deserve to win a bit more than the Republicans don't deserve to lose. But it sickens me that the Republicans are in a position of rallying the country in their nation-wide election campaign, behind what amounts to "don't like us? Look at the alternative, it's worse!". This may work, but they use it as an excuse to be unrepentant for their "unforced errors" (to borrow again from Reynolds' pre-mortem).
Both parties have been using a version of that campaign strategy for a long time with their base: "Sure, you don't like us, but look at who will be in power if you don't keep supporting us anyhow!" In most elections, the Republicans have used it less (at least within recent memory), emphasizing what their goals are. This led to a different but important emphasis: "We have these goals. You share them. If the other guys win, we won't be able to achieve them."
You should be able to spot the difference. The difference may be subtle, but it's vital. It's the difference between having an agenda, and just being in power. The current campaign has slid over the thin line, and is now almost entirely: "vote for us, or you'll get them". It's a campaign of exhaustion that resembles, if anything, John Major's campaign against Neil Kinnock. Remember what happened to the British Conservative Party in the next election. They have yet to recover.
They say "the stakes are too high for you to stay home," but the stakes are also too high for our elected officials (to call them "leaders" would be, in most cases, to degrade the word) to behave as they have been. No, I don't mean (primarily) the Foley thing and other distractions. But the general frivolity, negligence, loggrolling, irresponsible spendthrift budgets, lack of real seriousness when it comes to budgeting for the forces we need to confront the challenges we face, and so on. Not to mention trade and immigration, among other issues.
I originally intended this to be a short post - mainly the Orson Scott Card link. What we really need is an entirely new generation of political leaders. Ones that fit the term "political leaders" in a way that the current group does not.
Everything that made "Boomers" so insufferable (on the whole) throughout their lives, they've brought with them into politics, not least of which their narcissism. Indeed, they illustrate why narcissism is such a dangerous vice, in that it causes them to inflate the importance of petty issues (at the expense of more significant ones) and lose all sense of proportionality. Apparently this causes all too many to lack the judgment necessary to differentiate between the vital (American success in war, for example) and the less-vital (whether Nancy Pelosi gets to be Speaker or not). Thus too many see the larger issue simply as a means to advance their cause in the smaller. I get the sense from too many that they view the war (or whatever issue) primarily as a tool to gain power. This is the reverse of how it should be: Being in office primarily as a means to win the war, or achieve other policy goals. But for the "me" generation, everything, in war and peace, is really all about them.
But, to paraphrase Rumsfeld, I suppose we're stuck fighting this war with the political class we have, rather than the political class we might wish we had. Help us, Oh God.
Aside: I've always said that one of the features about democracy is that it means a nation gets the leadership it deserves. If that is true, what that says about us I do not know.
A couple people, perhaps reminded of this blog's existence because of recent Papal remarks, mailed me with a howdy and wanting to know how things were going and saying they missed the site.
I'm doing fine, and though we're not supposed to talk about when we come and go, people can figure out when 4th ID will be leaving from here.
Alas, I didn't blog at all out here, really. I'd like to get back to it but usually by the time a post "sparks" the moment has passed - including this latest tempest-in-a-teapot over what the Pope said.
Most of what I would say has, by the time a post forms in my head, been said and better by someone else. I would say that my general outlook on all this stuff (the theatrical hypocrisies of various "Islamic community spokesmen" over everything from Danish Cartoons to Papal speeches) is that we need to stop worrying about "offending Islamic sensibilities" and get them to worry about offending ours.
The Pope shouldn't have apologized. I read one article quoting an Imam criticizing the Pope for bringing it up because "Catholics had started the Crusades and invaded Constantinople too". Sure, the Catholic Church has a lot to answer for, but the Imam's statement was an example of those theatrical hypocrisies: The Crusades weren't, contrary to what many people are miseducated to believe, an example of unprovoked Western Imperial-Colonialist aggression, but a response to Islamic invasion, and I don't see Moslems prepared to apologize for their own conquests of Eastern Roman territory, or capture of Constantinople.
But back to my lack of blogging: My position over here hasn't given me much special insight into how well or badly things may be going, so I haven't done any "The View from Baghdad" posts. The downside of having a safe job here is that I don't really have any greater "feel" for things than I had back in the 'States.
So I left the Milblogging-from-Iraq to those who are better able to give people an informed view, rather than trying to pretend whatever hearsay and grapevine stuff I learned formed some sort of special, boots-on-ground insight.
Then also was working some very long hours for a good part of the time, and simply didn't have the energy to post anyway when I had access to a computer that didn't block my site. :P
Eventually I do hope to get back to blogging regularly...but it will almost certainly be once I'm back Stateside.
Update: Don't say we're violent and intollerant, or we'll burn down your churches> and you'll be on the receiving end of more terrorist attacks!
Im with 10th MTN, also based on Liberty and have been blogging here since my arrival in August. General Vines of the XVIII corps has a policy letter for the forces here in Baghdad that I can send you if you havent seen it. It which pretty much says blogging is ok, minus OPSEC and the obvious. And since I am MI, you know my daily stuff can't go up. My CO and 1SG were curious where I even found it because they didn't know it existed. The only thing she added was to not have photos of vehicles.
So that seems to be a more reasonable policy. I'm hoping when 4th ID takes over this sector, they'll leave that policy in place.
I do have one complaint with how the military, or at least our Division,
has handled stuff, and it's a complaint that might be of interest to
Bloggers. That is this:
When we were prepping for deployment, all the
leadership were given various briefings on security matters. One was on
blogs, and the danger they pose. Now, I get security issues - obviously
you don't want people posting sensitive information, that might affect a
mission. But our leadership at least came back from the briefing with the
sense that virtually nothing should be said in a Blog - "let people read
about it in the news. If you want to talk about stuff, tell your family
you're fine and all but don't talk about anything, they can watch the news
or read it in the papers."
That is, they seem to have been given a highly
negative sense of the blogosphere, and were discouraging soldiers from
posting anything that might affect anything. Which to me is sass-akwards.
Milbloggers, in my non-humble opinion, have done more for the war effort
and more to correct misleading reports than the entire Army Public Affairs
Branch has (note: this is not a slam on them, but praise for the MilBlog
community). The Army should be encouraging troops to give *more*
information on their first-hand impressions and how things are going, not
less. "Winning the War" begins at home - we're not going to be defeated
here, but may have to pull out because of people's impressions at home,
which in my opinion seem to be shaped by misleading reports of what the
overall picture here is. (Note again - I'm writing less from my own direct
experiences than from the impression I get second-hand, both talking to
people who have direct experiences and reading what I consider to be
This attitude towards soldier-bloggers, which might be
limited to just the 4th Division, seems to be another example of the Army
shooting itself in the foot - making it's mission harder.
emphasize, again - I know there is good reason for not posting sensitive
information that could affect ongoing missions. But they negative attitude
our leadership came back with from the briefings they got on blogs went
beyond that, to encompass just about everything someone might post that
wasn't utterly banal).
I haven't posted in a long time, I know. But here's an update, for those
who may be interested.
My detachment got into Kuwait in mid-October, and
processed through a dusty, sandy Camp out in the middle of nowhere - we
spent Thanksgiving there; it wasn't bad at all. Just somewhat of a wait
before we crossed every "T" and dotted every "I" before going Up
We went up a few days after Thanksgiving, into Baghdad where
we're based. It's almost like working at home (but not quite, obviously).
If you ever think of taking a trip to Iraq (once things calm down, I
know), this time of year is the time to do it. The weather has been great
so far - balmy, not hot. The nights are somewhat chilly, but not cold. The
soil here is very fine, though - silty because, well, it's silt (river run
off, natch). So I can see that when it rains, it'll turn into mud that
will stick to everything, and when the wind picks up - yah, I can see
where the "sand storms" come from (though this part of Iraq isn't sandy).
The people here that I've run into, both military & civilian, are very up-beat. This is a very comfortable posting - the very definition of a REMF base camp. We've got just about everything here, and my biggest concerns are getting internet hooked up in my trailer and how I'll handle the summer heat (I'm a pale Caucasian from a cold-weather state, and sweat profusely in the heat; melting). When those are your biggest concerns, you know you have it good.
This is not to say that all of Iraq is secure, just that the little bit of it I'm in is highly secure. This also means, though, that I'm not the best source of "first-hand observations of how things are going on the ground". My mission, which is serving the personnel of 4th ID and it's attached units, doesn't have me leaving the post. My job is to take care of those who are helping build the country up (right now, both soldiers and civilian contractors.
Yes, I've also seen some Iraqi troops, though they aren't a big presence on Baghdad. But I don't have any good (or bad) idea how well (or badly) they're performing, just from having seen them. Everyone I've seen has been positive, relaxed, and confident. But, again I emphasize that I haven't seen everyone.
The one regret I'll possibly have from this situation, as a historian, is being in a country with so much history without being able to get out and about and see some of the things that I've always been interested in - the ruins of Babylon, of Ninevah, and the like, or even much of Baghdad. That's not the job we're here to do, natch, but even on R&R; or Pass, site-seeing isn't on the agenda. Oh well, there's always the future - and now I know when would be a good time to come.
We were here during the time of the elections - I didn't post on them because, like much else, I didn't have any direct experience that would enable me to say something someone else wasn't able to say, better. But I will say that things passed in relative calm here. On Sunday night the week before the polls opened, the air was filled with tracer rounds all around camp, and the sound of gunfire - it was Iraqis, firing their weapons. But not in an attack, in celebration.
As things sort themselves out I hope to be making more posts again, and have some impressions. I might - no promises again - also start posting again on wider issues, but lately my heart hasn't been in it. It all seems like cud-chewing, the same old stuff being re-aired and having to be re-re-re-rebutted for the Nth time. Facts don't seem to matter or make any impact, especially when it comes to the self-described "Reality-Based Community". But I suppose one should listen to the words of Winston Churchill and never give up the good fight anyhow. I haven't, but I've taken a bit of a sabbatical, at least from the Blog Wars. I will say that, having heard about the insurgents who helped guard polling places, that we live in an odd, Bearded-Spock Universe when the loyalists of a dictatorship are active in protecting the elections, while the Western Progressives who claimed to be interested only in popular democracy and who got all offended if you suggested they were in favor of the Saddam regime, claiming to only be interested in the people of Iraq, were nowhere to be found when those same Iraqis went to the polls. They were motivated to protect the institutions of dictatorship, but not to help the Iraqi people secure the institutions of democracy.
That doesn't make me smug, or "I told you so". It makes me sad.
Again, this is something that others are able to keep up to speed with much better than I am able to. But I do have a few observations, though I'm not sure they are unique.
It's the most destructive natural disaster to strike the United States since the earthquake that destroyed San Francisco almost a hundred years ago. It's beginning to look like it ranks up there close to the South Asian Tsunami, though not as widespread. Your heart has to go out to all those whose lives have been affected by this calamity.
The earthquake in San Francisco was followed by the fire, which made it worse. In this case, it is the flooding and the looting/anarchy. Anyone who says anarchy is somehow kewl or will be pleasant only needs to look at real-life situations where law and a sense of order breaks down, supply & support breaks down, and people feel they can get away with whatever they want, including killing people with impunity who might try to stop them. Also, those who tend to think of looting as only a “property crime” that can be ignored in a situation like this, as apparently the local & State government officials did in the beginning, have been given a sober reminder that once people get the sense that law has broken down, anything goes. Thus there have been people going into hospitals in search of drugs like oxycontin, shooting at doctors and nurses, and more (more below on that).
On the other side of the coin are the people who are just trying to survive, not use it as an opportunity to make a killing stealing whatever isn't nailed down, but who can't get the help they need and can't get out. Dead litter the sides of highways and float in the water and aren't being cleaned up because what assistance there is naturally has focused on helping the living.
A lot of finger pointing can be made, from slow response, poor preparation in the immediate advance of the hurricane, to failure to construct levies of appropriate strength years beforehand, even though it was known something like this might happen, gambling (I guess a Louisiana past-time), the local & state authorities "saved" money in the short term by not going forward with needed engineering projects, thus costing people so much now.
Also, for as much criticism as Rudi Guiliani comes into, especially for his "Law and order" "fascism", when Manhattan was evacuated in the wake of Sept. 11 and there was a chance order could break down there and looting take over, that didn't happen, because of good city leadership which clamped down on any hint of it (and there was some), as well as providing sound leadership in organizing the entire recovery effort, moving millions off then back on to Manhattan while dealing with the crisis itself. There doesn't seem to be that in New Orleans. The looters and other lawless elements are making it too dangerous for emergency services, ambulances and the like, to reach people in many areas, because of lack of security. This isn't some harmless thing that only costs insurance companies or taxpayers (who will "foot the bill" for the damage as everything is written off). It's costing lives. Boaters who went out to try and rescue people today got called back when their lives were threatened by lawless bands. That means that innocent people who need help didn't get it, because of a relative few thugs. One of the major problems with the leadership in New Orleans, unlike NYC during 9/11, is they thought looters was just a property thing, no big deal, but it turns out that those who get away with looting with impunity will feel free to do other, more violent acts, as well, creating an atmosphere of mayhem. Only too late are the authoritahs learning the price of this folly - and that price is being measured, as is usual with such things, in other people's lives, not in "mere property". People who didn't have to die are thus dying, be it from being directly killed by thugs or indirectly because relief cannot reach them because of the danger such mayhem creates.
Also, though, as much as we sympathize with people's plight, as we should, we can't let people off the hook. Unlike the Tsunami or 9/11, there was advance warning. People were told to evacuate, but many many did not. Too many of these didn't precisely because they saw it as a potential opportunity (for looting and a "holiday" of sorts), others because, well, people have become jaded abut such things here in the States and many have come to dismiss the dangers and feel they can ride it out. Well, again, that might have been a gamble that "paid off" much of the time, over many hurricanes in the past, but it only takes one to take your life, or the lives of your loved ones. This includes people who build, and are allowed (even encouraged) to build, lovely homes right on the coast or in barrier islands, where they are destroyed by hurricanes and then rebuilt at the expense of others. This creates a moral hazard in and of itself and has encouraged more people than might otherwise to live on beaches that are, yes, beautiful, but dangerous.
Right now, it's the much-hated American military that is providing much of the significant recovery help, getting their fastest with the most, as it did in South Asia after the Tsunami: helicopters in particular, from the Navy and Army, are reaching people, and it's Army engineers that are working on controlling the flooding. Most likely it will also be military medical units that move in to support the local health workers in this, indeed they are doing that now. But it's tough going because of the scale of the disaster and sheer number of people needing assistance.
And all that last part said, it's clear that Homeland Securitytm is still a joke. But we knew that already. It's gotta do better at things like this.
Longtime readers will know that Winds of Change was one of the most linked-to blogs here, and definately one of my favorites.
Joe Katzman is the exact opposite of the type of thing I was talking about below. He's always promoted civil discussion focusing on matters of real import, policy over pure partisanship. Well, he's moving to America, and we're lucky to get him, but apparently he will be wrapping up his tenure at Winds.
If there was ever any other Blog I felt a part of, it was probably Winds of Change - one of the few I semi-regularly contributed comments to. Joe Katzman has a knack for focusing on the truly important rather than just the ephemera-of-the-day (a truism about the whole gang there - birds of a feather flock together, and in this case of fine feather indeed). Joe will continue to do great work here, and in a few months (if everything INS related works out), will be doing it in California, with his bride.
Hoody-Hoo! Congradulations on everything!
(And, of course, lest readers get confused, Winds of Change will continue to go strong).
(Clarified in the comments, Joe says he's not even completely leaving Winds. So we just get good news - though Gawd knows that Canada could use more guys like him, so could we, so we'll take him in and be thankful for the blessing).
First, the more I hear about it, the more dubious I am about it all. But second, lets assume all the charges that are going about are absolutely true. How would that advance the debate?
To the extent to which it contributed to real intelligence reform, this story might have some merit. To the further extent to which it undermined Washington's culture of investigations (in this case, the bipartisanly partisan 9/11 Commission), it would make a positive contribution.
But to the extent to which it replaces "BUSH KNEW!" with "CLINTON KNEW! (or should have known!)" charges, it is just part of the bipartisan circle-jerk that keeps us all busy but doesn't really contribute to a substantive debate about what policies to follow and how to make them work.
This is one of the things that has contributed to my lack of blogging recently. By no means the only reason I haven't blogged, but a significant one. Repeatedly having to rebut "BUSH LIED"! and all the other bogus distractions that act as a substitute for intelligent civic discourse is not my idea of the best use of time. I know it has to be done, and I can link to all the things, be they on WMD, intelligence, ties to terrorism (see below) and the like which refutes the litany, have done it before and likely will do it again, but this Sisyphean task grows wearisome.
Ok, so lets go back to assuming that ABLE DANGER-based intelligence revealed Mohammed Attah as a member of a terrorist cell in the U.S., a year before 9/11. What does that prove?
It proves what we already knew: we need to get a lot better at handling intelligence. It proves that a great deal of mistakes occurred, in no small part based on bad policy. Fixating on that can only be useful if it becomes part of an argument over improving our intelligence-management system, over what policy should be rather than how to fix blame.
Are things improving in the war on terror, or do we still have many unlearned lessons? For that matter, are conditions improving in Iraq, or do we need to change policies to prevent deterioration and to insure success? It is so hard to tell in no small part because these issues are deeply politicized.
I would argue, in my opinion correctly, largely by the other side, which is so determined to undermine domestic political opponents on the Right that they will use whatever propaganda they can, clearly ignoring inconvenient fact and dismissing evidence that would be more than enough if their guy was in the White House (and they'll use far slimmer evidence - often invented out of whole cloth - to demonize members of the Administration, showing a double-standard, and also that the so-called "Reality-Based Community" has little regard for, well, reality). But this has meant that "we" then focus our attentions so much on countering that, showing the "untold story" of the progress in the war (be it in Iraq or the larger war) and begin to spin a tale based on dismissing or diminishing bad news, that the picture we paint might be as distorted as the one they do - and no, putting both together does not produce anything like "the full story".
I am all for reasoned political debate, criticism of policy (be it the policies of this Administration or the previous one or the next one), skepticism, and disagreement. But too much of it seems to be done for the sake of nailing political opponents, "Gotcha!" on both sides, and not enough centered really on what would be the best way to go forward.
Jonah Goldberg, who has participated in this himself and no doubt will continue to (but then, so have I in my own way, and if you are reading this post, then most likely so have you, whichever side of the divide you are on) had this observation, which he made about TV punditry but which increasingly (IMO) applies to debates in general:
This all illuminates the rot in cable-news political discourse. I had a contract with CNN for about four years, which meant I was obliged to be on call for the usual five-minute mini-debates that are a staple on all the news networks. Before that, I committed similar punditry on Fox and MSNBC. On all the networks, but I think particularly on CNN, there’s a habit of pairing opinion journalists with “political consultants” — i.e., party mouthpieces and activists.
I hate the practice because it makes it almost impossible to argue in good faith. I disagree with the Bush administration on a wide number of issues — from immigration policy and “compassionate conservatism” to its grotesque overspending. But it’s very hard to offer a balanced defense when your opponent is shouting that you’re a whore to the GOP and that Bush is a liar with his pants on fire.
Now, I think that the forces largely responsible for this condition need to be defeated. It is one of the reasons why, despite the fact that I think other reasons for going into Iraq were at least as important, it was important to find WMD in Iraq.
I think it's demonstrably true that mistakes on this score were made in good faith, not because "Bush Lied!" (a futher connection to "ABLE DANGER" arguments - the fault is in intel and how it is handled), and that what was found in Iraq with respect to Saddam's WMD programs (as opposed to existing stockpiles - which also shows that perhaps there was a mistake in emphasis, the programs were always more dangerous than whatever existing piles there might have been).
But the lack of discovery of such stockpiles has given a second lease on life, indeed further empowered, some of the most destructive voices in our society. We see them on the march every day, twisting and skewing dialogue in the country, ascendant in one of the major political parties, and absolutely preventing any substantive policy discussion. Everything instead is turned into a shouting match.
We face a lot of very serious foreign & military policy questions. Some people are discussing them. But the debate is largely dominated by the worse angels of our nature. This is very discouraging and demoralizing, and I'm not sure what can be done to improve the situation.
The two ringleaders both had connections to Iraq. The mastermind, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, entered the U.S. on an Iraqi passport and was known to his associates as "Rashid the Iraqi." It was he who persuaded the bombers to make their target the World Trade Center. The other man, Abdul Rahman Yasin, fled to Baghdad, where, ABC News reported in 1994, he had been put on the government payroll.
as well as the harboring of Abu Nidal and Abu Abbas (among others).
On far less - far, far less - evidence, many people love to draw all sorts of connections and indeed invent conspiracy theories out of whole cloth and speculation. They refuse to accept the reality of these ties for political, often partisan, reasons. Clearly, Saddam had ties to terrorism.
We have all heard of Pat Tillman - as well we should. He is not quite alone, though, in being someone who gave up a potentially lucrative athletic career to serve his country, and give his life in its defense:
Sometimes, the athletes we write about do stay with us. It isn't always the most famous and most talented that leave an impression on you. All those millionaires I've covered, and I always wondered how it turned out for Steve Reich, a small-town hero out of Washington, Conn. We had a common friend – the sports information director at West Point, Bob Beretta – and he would sometimes give me updates on Reich.
So, Beretta called Thursday afternoon to report that it was believed Reich had been flying that M-47 helicopter in Afghanistan earlier this week – delivering reinforcements to a fight against al-Qaida forces – when militants shot it out of the sky, killing the 16 American soldiers on board.
Major Steve Reich had beaten the odds on three voluntary tours in Afghanistan. This had been his fourth turn there. He kept asking to go back. He was 34 years old.
He was not alone on that flight. There were 15 other soldiers with him in the Chinnok, each with their own stories and loved ones. May the Lord keep all their souls, and comfort their families and friends, along with all the others who are sacrificing for the rest of us.
As for my part, my unit is preparing to deploy to Iraq - we're not supposed to talk about when (and don't know precisely yet anyhow). That's one reason why blogging has dropped off a cliff here. I hope to get back into the swing of things, and may, if things work out, blog from Iraq when we are deployed. We'll see what the future brings, and if I have anything insightful to say.
I haven't blogged at all in months. I suppose I owe a post on that. But now isn't the time.
Right now, my thoughts and prayers are with the people of London, and Britain as a whole. I can't possibly keep up with what others are saying, of course the best collection is [url=http://instapundit.com/archives/024085.php]here[/url].
I don't really want to make any pointed observations right now. I will say one thing, though, and that is I saw "Red Ken" Livingston's remarks, and it was his "Guiliani Moment" - showing that at times like this, where you are on the idological spectrum has little to do with responding to something like this. "Even" a Leftist can show resolve and strength. Which should give those of us who wonder some hope, and also suggests that we may have been wrong to have our doubts about their capacity for resolve in defense of liberty. Of course we'll see how things go in the future. But he said nothing that I would disagree with, nothing that couldn't have come from Guiliani or Blair.
But that's all I'm going to say along those lines for now. It's a horrible day for London, following what was a grand day in winning the 2012 Olympic Games. I have some internet friends who live in and around London, and so far at least they all seem ok. But many are not. Hopefully the worst is over.
I'm a harsh critic of the UN, because they bungle a lot of things, are unaccountable - and that is a key reason for their flaws. But check out this blog anyhow, which attempts to cover all that the UN does, the good as well as the bad.
I will say that just because the UN accomplishes some good, that is not necessarily an argument in favor of keeping it as it is. These things can be accomplished in a much better way, without the inherent flaws of the UN, by an improved organization. Thus it is not a defense of the UN's attrocious record, including mass rapes in Congo to point to the other hand.
But still, I recommend checking out that blog, which gives a rounded view of the institution as a whole, and presents another side. Some have claimed it is "all about discrediting UN critics", but even if that is so, us critics should be able to withstand it, if our critique is accurate.
I'm not sure what to blog about lately. It's different now, both the situation and my ability to blog in a timely manner. The site has continued to suffer from it.
What I'm going to try and do is transform this into a weekly essay site. I'll see what I can drum up.
Things in Iraq seem to have gone ok, the election about as well as the optimistic prediction. We'll see if the attacks die down. One thing's for sure is the solution isn't overnight, and anyone expecting that is fooling themselves, and anyone setting that as the standard is fooling others.
There is of course the North Korea issue, but we covered that before. The fact that they openly anounced what they had already anounced changes little. Likewise with Iran, where it is deja vu all over again.
Writing in response to this post, David Carleson says:
My caution to you on wobble is that ALL GIs in ALL wars are too close to
properly see the big picture. I have valued your insights for some
time but birthing a state out of the sewer in Iraq was never going to be
pretty. As it was not in Japan, Germany, Korea, etc.
I thank God that we have not had 100s or 1000s of our citizens killed in
repeated Beirut style bombings. I thank God we have not had scores of
our brave paraded on TV as captives of scum like Zarkawi. These would
be the things that would signal to the homefront that Kennedy is right.
That would be our Vietnam/Iran failures rolled up in one.
Our soldiers have done a great job and (as I see it) we are nearing a
tipping point in the middle east that could not happen with the shithole
of Iraq still under Baathist control.
Imagine how the ill-equiped soldiers at Valley Forge could not see our
democracy bloom from looking at the blood in snow. I am so very glad
they didn't go wobbly.
It's so difficult for me to get a good assessement of what's going on. I will say that the voting went off much better than expected. You can tell because the media got quiet about things in Iraq again - for now. It's obviously not as bad as they like to portray. We'll see how things go, and keep working on it.
The Tsunami and America's 21st Century Foreign Policy
Longtime readers will remember the series on America's 21st Century Foreign Policy. Well, Colin May has written an article on America's response to the Tsunami that bears on it:
This leads us to the second event. While American diplomats derided Egeland’s slip of the tongue, the US engaged in an activity that said far more than any words could regarding the new international order. Without any concern for the UN, the US proceeded to set up a core group of nations to deal with the disaster. Partners in the group were Australia, Japan and India. It is this alliance that will matter most to the US in the future. The four big Pacific democracies, three with strong Anglo-Saxon histories, will most likely develop into the central alliance of the twenty-first century.
I've been saying we should develop closer ties with India, which may be the rising democratic nation and hopefully will play a positive role in any Commonwealth of Democracies. Responding in effect to those who see China in such a role, May writes:
Beyond these considerations there are the political ones. China remains a dictatorship with a highly centralized authority. Now, this fact isn’t simply a function of the continuing communist regime. China has tended to strong central authority on the imperial model for centuries. This is unlikely to change, and though it can be drawn upon to fuel impressive economic growth, it can also hinder entrepreneurial innovation.
For its part, the US isn’t simply waiting for China to dominate the Asian region either. In fact, the big four alliance of Japan, India, Australia and the US is precisely contrived to surround and hem in China, and here special light has to be thrown on the Indian case. During the Cold War, India was a key player in the non-aligned movement. Today, the world’s largest democracy is a key American ally, both politically and economically.
Then, of course, as Glenn Reynolds pointed out, there is the Anglosphere aspect:
There is, of course, another key factor to consider here – the Anglo-Saxon angle. The United States, Australia and India are all countries with a strong Anglo-Saxon heritage, further adding to their status as natural allies. Along with Britain, Australia was the Americans’ staunchest ally in the Iraq war, and, unlike Spain, we see that this alliance did nothing to harm the electoral success of Australia’s ruling pro-American government. From time to time, the notion of the Anglo-Saxon bond has been floated as a basis for a global alliance, and of course this alliance did figure prominently in World War II which, along with Russia, was largely fought by Americans and members of the British Commonwealth.
And of course the predictable opposition to it:
That this alliance seems to be coming to the fore is not lost on its most vehement critic: the French. France has long derided the dominance of les Anglo-Saxons in the world, though this dominance largely came about through deft interventions on the part of the British during attempts by France to dominate its continental neighbors. In response to the Anglo-Saxon alliance, France has once again attempted to dominate Europe through the EU while interfering with American foreign policy goals when strategically possible. Chief among such actions is the effort by the French to curry favor with the Chinese dictatorship, as well as with left-leaning Latin American nations, most notably Brazil. The problem with this traditional French strategy is that it leaves the pays des droits de l’homme in league with the world’s most reprehensible regimes.
Check out this piece by Arnold Kling, which I'm just getting to. It has some observations on the Power Law and Weblogs thing from awhile back, that I still think is interesting. The Kling piece shows why even small sites are important.
Oh, and someone remind me to post on some good Policy Review pieces that happen to be up now, and City Journal pieces, too.
We have yet to find a serviceable framework for the application of our military power in the war on terrorism; in view of potential catastrophes of which we have a great deal of forewarning, we have yet to provide adequately for what used to be called civil defense; and we have no policy in regard to China's steady cultivation of power that soon will vie with our own. Though any one of these things is capable of dominating the coming century, not one has been properly addressed.
Emphasis added to the first sentance. I don't agree with Halprin's full criticism in the article, I think the goals are worthy and do constitute a mission. But I find the situation in Iraq increasingly worrisome to me, as there does not seem to be the kind of progress there should be. By that I mean the curbing of violent attacks. A couple weeks ago I read a report in The Economist by their enbed in Iraq that was troubling in the extreme (I read it in the print edition, I don't have an online subscription, myself).
It was not unsympathetic, but it was stark. It recognized the conundrums our soldiers faced. But the methods we're using now don't seem designed to produce the outcome we desire. Indeed, on the ground they seemed to have given up on the idea it was achievable at all - at least the ones the enbed reported on. That was the one that caused me to "start to go wobbly" on the war. Again, I was for it and remain supportive and am not one of those people who will say "I was had", I went in with clear eyes, and still hope we can make a difference there. It's not hopeless yet, but it is not looking good.
Will the elections change anything? The transfer of sovereignity was supposed to change things, but didn't. The elections won't move the people who are fighting us there. They will need to be defeated, preferably by Iraqis. The question will be: Will the elections, and improving training and confidence, motivate the Iraqis to fight for their own freedom against the Ba'athists and radical theocratic terrorists?
Kids going to college this fall were born the year I graduated from high school. Which means that I was going to bars three years before they were born. It also means that they have no real memory of the Soviet Union's existence. It means the scar on my left thumb from the old "Defender" video game is older than they are. It means the first president they were conscious of was Bill Clinton. They don't remember apartheid. They don't remember when Jesse Jackson wasn't a joke. Or when China took Marxism even remotely seriously. Star Wars was an old movie by the time they saw it and they can't remember when Pat Buchanan was a loyal Republican. Big Brother refers to a TV show first and a book by some dead guy second. Most of them have never used a typewriter, never been in a world where the broadcast-news anchors weren't hemorrhaging viewers to cable, never really did school work without the aid of the Internet, and never knew a time when people didn't have cell phones.
I could go on and on, particularly since there are countless lists that detail this sort of thing all over the web.
I donno what to make of it except the usual thing, time passing and getting older. There really is a difference between generations, based on generational experiences. I've experienced some things that younger people didn't, but they've also experienced things in a way I haven't. When I was in school, both Elementary and High School (two different occasions), my mom came in on some sort of Parent Day, where parents would teach something they knew - she was into photography, and taught us how to develop a photo in a darkroom.
You don't do that, now. That's just one change. I've used mechanical and electric typewriters, that's what we used in High School business class, not computers. Nowdays the kids learn Excel and the like. I had a computer programming class in summerschool once, but the things we learned then - early '80s, would be archaic now. I was aware when the Berlin Wall fell, and watched the whole Tiananmen Square student movement unfold. Those things are history to the people graduating college today. I watched political conventions during the last occasions when they still somewhat resembled political conventions, and they were covered on the networks deep into the night and in full, because they hadn't quite yet evolved into entirely scripted prime-time presentations.
I remember when there were videos on MTV and all that stuff. I remember when Tom Hanks was that TV actor in "Bosum Buddies", not an academy-award winning film actor.
I get a lot of nostalgia nowdays, which is odd because I wasn't particularly happy back then. But things are different now. Almost entirely for the better, actually. But different.
Oh, the thing that is really really annoying now is when I talk to people about "Calvin and Hobbes", they don't know what I'm talking about. That's an appalling lack of education!!! That's vital cultural knowledge!!!
I think the Inaugural Speech hit the right tone, when it comes to foreign affairs:
America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way.
The great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations. The difficulty of the task is no excuse for avoiding it. America's influence is not unlimited, but fortunately for the oppressed, America's influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom's cause.
I wonder about our ability to succeed in such a vast undertaking. We'll see. I'm increasingly worried about the prospects of success in Iraq - more on that this weekend, I hope.
And all the allies of the United States can know: we honor your friendship, we rely on your counsel, and we depend on your help. Division among free nations is a primary goal of freedom's enemies. The concerted effort of free nations to promote democracy is a prelude to our enemies' defeat.
We'll see how they react. I think they'll keep expecting us to do what they want regardless of our own views, and asking for the deciding vote in what our policies and actions should be (more here on that assertion).
From all of you, I have asked patience in the hard task of securing America, which you have granted in good measure. Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill, and would be dishonorable to abandon.
Obligations which I favored taking on, but which are very difficult indeed.
A few Americans have accepted the hardest duties in this cause - in the quiet work of intelligence and diplomacy … the idealistic work of helping raise up free governments … the dangerous and necessary work of fighting our enemies. Some have shown their devotion to our country in deaths that honored their whole lives - and we will always honor their names and their sacrifice.
All Americans have witnessed this idealism, and some for the first time. I ask our youngest citizens to believe the evidence of your eyes. You have seen duty and allegiance in the determined faces of our soldiers. You have seen that life is fragile, and evil is real, and courage triumphs. Make the choice to serve in a cause larger than your wants, larger than yourself - and in your days you will add not just to the wealth of our country, but to its character.
America has need of idealism and courage, because we have essential work at home - the unfinished work of American freedom. In a world moving toward liberty, we are determined to show the meaning and promise of liberty.
I joined the Army in no small part to try and add my contribution to that. It's the least I could do.
In America's ideal of freedom, citizens find the dignity and security of economic independence, instead of laboring on the edge of subsistence. This is the broader definition of liberty that motivated the Homestead Act, the Social Security Act, and the G.I. Bill of Rights. And now we will extend this vision by reforming great institutions to serve the needs of our time.
There's a lot of work to be done on that score, and no I don't think the creation of a Department of Homeland Security or the new Intelligence "reform" really qualify. It's one thing to move organizational boxes around, it's another thing to change the behavior patterns of the people working in those boxes. The latter is much harder to do. . .and we haven't even begun with the State Department or education yet.
This part here was particularly good:
In America's ideal of freedom, the public interest depends on private character - on integrity, and tolerance toward others, and the rule of conscience in our own lives. Self-government relies, in the end, on the governing of the self. That edifice of character is built in families, supported by communities with standards, and sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran, and the varied faiths of our people. Americans move forward in every generation by reaffirming all that is good and true that came before - ideals of justice and conduct that are the same yesterday, today, and forever.
In America's ideal of freedom, the exercise of rights is ennobled by service, and mercy, and a heart for the weak. Liberty for all does not mean independence from one another. Our nation relies on men and women who look after a neighbor and surround the lost with love. Americans, at our best, value the life we see in one another, and must always remember that even the unwanted have worth. And our country must abandon all the habits of racism, because we cannot carry the message of freedom and the baggage of bigotry at the same time.
(Emphasis added). Read the whole speech if you didn't get a chance to watch it, or even if you did.
Not much on the domestic agenda in there, but that's fine. "Laundry List" can wait for the State of the Union speech. I think this one hit the right themes, and even extended a hand to the Administration's critics. Lets see if they'll take it, or just sneer and deride.
U.S. aid to survivors of the catastrophic Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, including the largest American military operation in southern Asia since the Vietnam War, could help restore some U.S. prestige in the Muslim world that has been lost in Iraq.
But U.S. political leaders and analysts caution that Americans should not over-trumpet the American role, or risk a backlash.
"Our image will improve because of the efforts we're making, as long as no one knows about them."
Now, that's not what he meant, and a reflection on it shows it's a good point - as long as it doesn't seem like we're doing what we're doing for political gain and just to display ourselves, then people might think better of us. It's a good point and would probably apply in most circumstances, for most countries. But it won't for us.
Before I get to why, I want to make it clear that it doesn't change how much help we are and should be giving. Because we're not giving it to enhance our image around the world. But our image won't be enhanced, regardless. That's the point I'm making.
To refute that is necessarily a political act that will require highlighting rather than downplaying our role in the relief effort. So we're pushed into the usual "heads, anti-Americanism wins or tails, the U.S. loses" position. That is, either we can step back and let our actions speak for us, which means not confronting the anti-American propaganda machine, in which case we're painted as Uncle Scrooge, or we can refute it by talking up all we've actually done, in which case we'll look like braggarts patting ourselves on the back and expecting to be thanked for it, which will also be resented. In either case, we're not going to get this "image enhancement" effect the AP suggests might be out there waiting for us if we're just more quiet about how much we're helping.
It's a good point in general - it just isn't going to apply in our case, and we shouldn't be surprised. If the world worked that way, then rather than being resented in the Moslem world we'd be recognized as the country that pressed the world to help the Bosnian Moslems, pressed the world to help the Albanian Kosovar Moslems, helped the Kuwatis, helped the Afghanis against soviet occupation, and helped free Afghanistan and Iraq from despotism that they deplore. But that isn't how it turned out then, and it won't now.
Our two weapons are fear and surprise and a-ruthless efficiency.
Our three weapons are fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, and a fanatical devotion to the President.
Amongst our weaponry are such elements as. . .well, you get the picture. I'll come in again.
Frankly, I'm against torture. But I'm not against harsh interrogation techniques, intimidation and the like. What's the difference? In some ways it's a matter of degree. It's a difference in the level of physicality. On the practical side, I'm not sure it's effective in getting accurate information - getting people to say what they know rather than just tell you what you want to hear. I'm certainly not sure it's better than other methods of getting them to talk, psychological pressure and tricks and the like. Sure, you can make anyone talk - almost anyone - and say what you want them to say. But that's not the same as getting them to tell you the truth.
Also, I simply think it's wrong, even if it were effective. Sure, it's time-honored and done around the world, and they do it to us when they get the chance. But we're fighting against them, not to emulate them. Just because a practice is effective doesn't mean we adopt it - we don't fire from Churches or Mosques, take civilians hostage and slash their throats or decapitate them, and the like. We don't deliberately target noncombatants, indeed we spend far more effort and money than anyone in history to insure our weapons are as accurate as technologically possible, and that our rules-of-engagement are such that we avoid killing innocents as much as we can even when the enemy deliberately insures they are in harms way. Sure, it happens anyhow, despite our best efforts but because of the best efforts of our enemy, who tries not only to kill noncombatants but to get us to do so as well.
That isn't right, and we're not going to do that, because it's wrong. We're not going to emulate that practice. Instead, we're going to continue to make efforts to avoid civilian casualties rather than emulate the practices of our enemy, even if it hampers our own efforts and indeed sometimes results in higher casualties on our side.
It should be the same with torture. Of course, the counter-argument to that is that there is a difference between noncombatant civilians, who should be protected, and a rather vicious enemy combatant who is guilty and whose hands may very well be covered in the blood of those they have tortured and murdered bloodily. But if we think that it's wrong when they treat our people that way, then why would it be right for us to do so? We live within a certain code that excludes treating people like that, even when they are our enemies. That is one of the differences between us and our foes in this fight. When they torture and murder, they celebrate it, while we are ashamed and condemn it when some of our people do it.
Update: Welcome, Instapundit readers, and thanks to Glenn for the link!
Responding to Jeff Cole's letter in the Instapundit link: I'm not against sleep deprivation, loud music, and the like. I believe that falls into the category of psychological pressure and tough interrogation techniques. I'm not against that. But some have argued for real torture - it's not our policy, we've condemned aberations (as I pointed out in my original post). I simply don't want it to become a policy through debate/discussion over it, as some (Glenn for example) feel it might. "might" is a hypothetical, but one of the things we do on blogs is debate/discuss what policy should be and what it shouldn't be, not just what it is now.
Oh, and by the by, I'm not a lawyer. I'm a simple soldier, a Private First Class in the U.S. Army.
Well, I didn't blog much over Christmas & beyond. I didn't get a chance to spend it with my family, which was a bit - well, it blows. I did take the time to read & enjoy life. Didn't read much serious stuff, just a lot of Knights of the Dinner Table. I also got back into hanging out with some internet chums at The Young World, posting & such. I made some political type posts over there, related to debates happening on that board. I'd have posted them here but it would have required lots of editing to make it fit, mainly because of the context of the debates there are different from posts here. But I recommend you check it out.
If you like political message boards, especially conservative ones, you might want to check Conservative Friends out. It looks like a decent site, though I haven't posted there. Check it out.
Anyhow, hope to be increasing the number of posts now, and the quality. The main posting will probably be on the weekends. We'll see how thing goes. I have some ideas for posts, I just have to get the muse to write 'em.
So it's been a long time since I've posted on Iraq, which might be a surprise to people who remember when I posted frequently on it. During the run-up to the war and its aftermath, it was the central subject. This has always been a "war blog", with politics & international affairs thrown in. Of late it's more of the latter.
Why is that? It's not because I've lost interest in what's going on in Iraq, or am distancing this blog from it. Far from that. I watch the news and try to learn as much as I can. But it's hard to tell.
It remains at best a mixed picture. Yes, there are good things going on. But violence remains endemic. I figured the aftermath would be more difficult than the invasion itself, and said so time and again, but I didn't think it would be as difficult as its proven. I've said that before, but it bears repeating.
I'm not sure what to make of what's going on, but I will make two observations. First is that however much progress in some areas there may be, it does not offset the violence. Not anymore, because the progress isn't affecting the insurgency. Isn't persuading them to stop fighting. The simple fact is that no amount of "good news" outweighs the "bad" when the bad includes a continuing low-intensity conflict.
Things must at least reach the state that they have in, say, Bosnia, when it comes to violence. That is, it may include a continued stabilizing presence, and it may be precarious. But it must exist. Note that for those of us who supported the war, this is a [i][b]huge[/b][/i] lowering of hopes, if that's all the success that we can get (by we I mean the coalition and Iraqis). I'm hoping there will be more, but it's going to be an uphill fight.
Also, we've been saying things such as "well, the violence will escalate in the run-up to the election". Before it was the run-up to the transfer of power. This has, of course, proven to be true. But the implication left by this - that it would ramp-down after that as the insurgents burned-out their extra-efforts - is not true. ("Insurgent" and "insurgency" are imperfect descriptors, I admit. But there is no perfect term). The enemy will continue to ramp-up the violence, using any excuse they can. We'll know we're getting the upper hand when the violence comes down, that is when the enemy can't succeed in keeping it up. We're not there yet. Clearly.
There's no point in me posting every tidbit of good news here, nor in logging every attack. Other blogs do a much better job of keeping track of that (as always, I think Winds of Change is the best at this). I can't really tell from here whether we're getting the upper hand yet or not. I'm not saying we're failing. I'm just saying that I don't know, and that when I don't know something, it's best to not try and make up a position and post as if I think it's happening, if you know what I mean. It's always tempting to make predictions based more on hope than reality, but I'm going to refrain from that.
I can't even tell at this point what I think we should be doing to make success more likely. I still think we should have increased the size of the army, as I said before the war, when we had the chance, so we would be able to commit more troops. But we didn't. I'm not even sure more American troops would be helpful, anyhow. What we really need is an Iraqi Army that will do the fighting. The Americanization of the Vietnam war is one of the things that caused an already-unreliable ARVN to go to the sidelines and become even less effective, sitting out their own war. We can't have that here. It doesn't work.
There needs to be a decent-sized Iraqi army, which we're working on building up. But more importantly, it needs to be an effective army, willing to fight the enemy, to go after them. That is harder to do, because we largely can't control whether the Iraqis will fight as tenaciously for their own liberty as the enemy is willing to fight to destroy it. We might be able to influence that by doing things right rather than wrong, but it's not something completely within our control.
Many opponents of the war, and critics of American policies in general, often seem to base their positions on the assumption that everything is within our ability to control. In that, they assume we have more power than we do. That is, they base their criticisms on the unspoken premise that if only we did things a certain way, there would be no problems - that we could have gotten the support of France or Russia in the UN, and their troops on the ground in Iraq, if only our diplomacy would have been better. Not that their interests (keeping Saddam, and lucrative ties with him, in place) were different and they make decisions as well. That if only we had done things "thus and such", then we wouldn't have a problem with an insurgency today.
Well, I'm not saying things have been perfectly done. But the assumption that they could have been, and that if only we made all the right choices then there would be no problems now, is a faulty one. Life doesn't work like that. The decisions and actions of others have an effect, too. They aren't just a bundle of stimuli responding to what we do, but make their own choices as well. The critics want to let others off the hook for their decisions as a means of America accountable for everything. But I won't do that here.
Which doesn't mean that I don't criticize things we've done here. I will continue to do so when I think it's appropriate. I just don't think that even if everything was done the way I think it should have been, that would mean the problem would be solved. One thing about such "Alternative Realities" is that while it's easy to draw a pretty picture based on them ("U.S. sends more soldiers in the wake of the war, along with our good buddies the French and the Russians who've been brought on board with more accurate & honest diplomacy convincing them to join after giving the inspectors more of a chance. Increased security lowers looting, catches the bad guys off guard, the insurgency fizzles right away, and rose petals rain down on everyone as the French & Russians & nearby Arab dictatorships, in all their noble sincerity help us build democracy in Iraq without any self-serving stuff on their part"), but reality has a way of throwing wrenches into such things, and one can make cases that outcomes would have been worse rather than better, just as plausibly.
We live in the real world, not a fantasy make-believe world. I still think it remains worth it taking the chance to build a democratic Iraq in the heart of the Middle East, for all the reasons discussed before the war.