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Archive for June, 2005

Last Point on Gilliard

[ 0 ] June 24, 2005 |

What I find most irritating about Gilliard and co. is the profound misunderstanding of the military, what it does, and what it should be. The logic of “if you believe in a war, you enlist” leads to a politically and ideologically charged military organization of exactly the type that we DON’T want, especially if we’re on the left. While it is impossible to keep politics completely out of the military (or the military completely out of politics) it is certainly desirable to minimize the contact between the worlds as much as possible. Military officers should make military decisions, not political ones, and shouldn’t evaluate the political decisions of civilian leaders, even in approval.

A military officer is a professional, just like a doctor, lawyer, or bureaucrat. The same goes for the most experienced enlisted men. The officer corps of the United States military represents one of the most capable and well educated segments of the American population. Moreover, they are drawn from all strata of society (as are the enlisted men). Their duty, as professionals, is to serve their client, which is the United States government. It is better that they serve their client in a non-ideological, professional manner. Claims that “if you believe in the war, you have to enlist” completely misunderstand the purpose of the professional military, especially the officer corps.

The military should have a commitment to serving the civilian leaders of the United States. Ideally, they should take no stance on POLITICAL decisions, of which launching a war is one. Of course, this ideal will never be met, but it is hardly in the interests of progressives to glorify the ideological component of a military organization.

Oh, and yes, I considered military service very strongly back in 1991, when I was about to graduate from high school. I was interested in both West Point and Annapolis, and they were interested in me. What made me decide against military service was not cowardice, as least not in the sense that Steve Gilliard is using the term, and certainly wasn’t “entitlement”. Rather, it seemed to me that I would make a piss poor military officer, and that I lacked the discipline for military life. The course of my life since 1992 has done nothing to dissuade me of that belief. So yes, if I were drafted I would serve, but I have very good reason to think that there are a lot of people who can do this job much better than I could. I would like to think I have a bit of talent for teaching, and after all we need teachers too. . .

Now I’m done with this garbage. Believe what you want.

Court Rejects Takings Claim

[ 0 ] June 23, 2005 |

My fears were, fortunately, unfulfilled. The Supreme Court has ruled, 5-4, that the development project in Kelo v. New London did not represent a taking. Kennedy was the key swing vote. More when the decision is published online…

…further thoughts here.

They Write Letters

[ 0 ] June 22, 2005 |

DC Media Girl writes a gentle rejoinder to the hapless Susan Estrich.

Jeb Stuart

[ 0 ] June 22, 2005 |

I didn’t have much use for the Russell Shorto article in this week’s NYT magazine, which came to the stunning conclusion that Christian conservatives oppose gay marriage because they don’t care for gay people (knock me over with a feather, Russ). However, this passage stood out:

It may have been March, but the Christmas lights were still up. ”The grandchildren like them,” Evalena Gray said. She and her husband, Jim, both semiretired opticians, had invited me to their home in Charlotte Hall, a town in the region of southern Maryland that once made its money from tobacco and oysters but now relies on tourism and high-tech industry. The Grays have converted their basement — paneled, wall-to-wall-carpeted, decorated with Jim Gray’s Confederate memorabilia (a portrait of Jeb Stuart, framed currency) and the twinkling lights — into an office. They each have a desk here, stacked with brochures and books and buttons. Evalena is Maryland’s grass-roots director for Concerned Women for America; she and her husband devote all of their spare hours to convincing fellow citizens of the danger that the institution of marriage is facing. As I visited, they were organizing buses to transport people to an anti-gay-marriage rally that was to be held in the state capital two days later. ”The threat to traditional marriage will affect our society more than any other issue that’s come up,” Evalena said. ”We’re just fighting with everything we have.”

Why doesn’t it surprise me that people who hate gays have an affection for Confederate paraphenalia?

Democracy and Judicial Review

[ 0 ] June 22, 2005 |

A new post summarizing a paper Dave and I recently wrote is up at Ezra’s place.

Sour Lou

[ 0 ] June 22, 2005 |

I’m glad TBogg noticed this. Lou also showed up the young reliever who gave up some groundball singles before that, screaming at him in the dugout. (And let us not forget walking a washed-up Jason Giambi to load the bases.) If you’re going to embarrass your young players on the field, it would help if you weren’t screwing up the game 11 ways from Sunday.

The 2001 Mariners are my second-favorite single season team of all time, after the ’94 Expos. But one thing about that fluke season is that it managed to get Pinella off the hook for failing to win nearly as much as he should with the Johnson/Griffey/A Rod/Edgar/Buhner core of the late 90s (you know, three mortal lock Hall of Famers, one marginal Hall of Famer, and an excellent outfielder.) Obviously, the management is a big part of it, but having a manager whose idea of developing pitching talent is to call a kid up after 20 innings of AA, scream at him to throw strikes, and go ballistic when he inevitably gets hammered certainly would have helped.

a delightful coda, however. Even the drama in the ninth was good in that it allowed Derek Jeter to make the last out of the game on a 3-2 pitch below his ankles. That’s more like it! I’m surprised Lou didn’t throw Harper out there in the ninth just to spite him…

Korea in 2002

[ 0 ] June 22, 2005 |


North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, in a previously undisclosed message to President Bush in November 2002, said the United States and North Korea ”should be able to resolve the nuclear issue in compliance with the demands of the new century,” according to two private U.S. Korea experts who delivered Kim’s message to the White House.

But the administration spurned engagement with Kim who, in response, the authors said, moved within weeks to expel the U.N. inspectors from the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty and reopen plutonium facilities that had been shut down since 1994 under an agreement with the Clinton administration.

In American foreign policy, “toughness” has value in and of itself. That’s a pity, because while “toughness” is often a good policy, it isn’t always a good policy.

On the Occupation

[ 0 ] June 22, 2005 |

I’ve been reluctant to take this on, both because I’m working on a couple of other projects (my China series, as well as genuine academic work), and because it’s irrelevant to the dispute with Gilliard, but I suppose that I should lay out my own position on Iraq. That my position is in flux only adds to the difficulty.

Disclaimer: If you are intending to respond to this by referring to me as a coward, shameless, gutless, dishonorable, or whatever else you learned from Steve Gilliard, please don’t. You’re wasting my time and yours. If you’d like to respond with a thoughtful critique, please do so.

I have been moving over the last month toward the position that Scott describes in the comments below, which involves setting a definite date for the withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq. My timeline is probably a bit more extended than Scott’s, and it would be fair to say that I haven’t quite overcome my reservations about withdrawal. Why?

The Iraqi insurgency is bad news. As much as it pains me to say, Christopher Hitchens is right when he argues that the NLF (National Liberation Front, more commonly known as the Viet Cong) was a different critter than the current insurgency. The NLF had a political organization, and acted as a shadow government with a public arm. It had a public face that could be negotiated with. It had clear goals, and the means it employed supported those goals. It had a unified command structure, such that one hand knew what the other was doing. While the NLF did employ violence against civilians, it did so in a careful and measured manner.

The Iraqi insurgency lacks these characteristics. It has no public face. It cannot, apparently, be negotiated with. It has no public goals beyond US withdrawal, and no one, including the Iraqis, believe that it will lay down its arms upon that withdrawal. It employs violence indiscriminately against civilian targets. The central end of its activity seems to be to start a civil war between Shiite and Sunni forces in Iraq. The political structure most easily imaginable, given the constellation of groups involved in the insurgency, would be that of an authoritarian fundamentalist state.

In short, whereas it wasn’t difficult to imagine the situation in South Vietnam improving after the victory of the NLF (if only because the fighting was over), it’s pretty damn difficult to imagine the Iraqi insurgency taking over the state and operating in anything close to a responsible manner. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the constellation of groups involved in the insurgency ever coming together to produce any kind of unified political movement that could then produce a state. Add to this the problem that Shiite elements in Iraq will fight very hard for a very long time to prevent a new Sunni-dominated state, and you have a recipe for a war that could last a very long time and kill lots and lots of people.

This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if I believed that the current Iraqi state could deal with the insurgency, but I have no reason for such optimism. The US Army and US Marine Corps are exceptional military forces that do poorly in counter-insurgency conflicts (at least the former; the latter is more debatable). They have thus far been unable to defeat the Sunni insurgency, or really even to notably slow it down. Iraqi forces, as presently constituted, are almost certain to be less effective against the insurgency than the US organizations. There are several reasons for this, some having to due with short periods of training, others to do with low morale, but the most important reason is that the Iraqi forces are almost completely US trained. The US Army can’t do counter-insurgency, and certainly can’t teach it. The Iraqi Army will be even worse than the US, because it has poor doctrine AND it lacks all the other advantages that the US organizations have.

Thus, I expect that any withdrawal will result in a very bad insurgency going up against less than competent state forces. The prognosis for success is very, very grim, I’m not optimistic regarding Iraq’s ability to avoid a long, brutal, destructive civil war. I expect that lots of people will die (more even than we’ve killed), and the region will suffer from the effects of a broken Iraqi state for a very long time.

So, why have I been gravitating toward a withdrawal?

I am not confidant about the ability of the United States to defeat the insurgency. Every year that the US continues to fight radicalizes the insurgency, radicalizes the region, and helps break down whatever forces might be friendly to us in Iraq today. I have a terrible sense that we are only delaying the inevitable by staying in Iraq, and, moreover, that we are making the reckoning more terrible than it needs to be. I am deeply skeptical about the ability of the Bush administration to improve the Iraq situation in any way, and I’m not convinced either a)that there will be anything left to save by 2009, or b)that Bush will be replaced by someone more competent.

But, I’m not quite there yet. Insurgencies have been defeated in the past, and the US Army and Marine Corps have a lot of smart people who might figure it out. The political process in Iraq may actually pay dividends by creating the sort of legitimacy that the South Vietnamese state never had, or at least had only in its last years. The Sunnis may simply weary of fighting, and the Shiites may figure out a way to bring enough Sunni elements into the political process to limit the size and power of the insurgency.

So, for now I’m still inclined to argue that the occupation should continue. But I can see the merit of the withdrawal option, and I may be there before all that long.


[ 0 ] June 21, 2005 |


Gilliard, once more.

[ 0 ] June 21, 2005 |

We should probably let this drop, but I think one more thing observation ought to be made in addition to Rob’s fine posts below.

In 1992, as everyone knows, a US helicopter on a peacekeeping mission was shot down in Mogadishu, Somalia, and the 18 US soldiers on board were killed. The negative reaction to this event in the realm of US public opinion is widely perceived to be part of the Clinton administration’s calculus in the immoral and indefensible decision to not intervene (and worse yet, to actively oppose any intervention under the auspices of the United Nations) in the Rwandan genocide months later. I don’t know what all the factors were that made Clinton decide to go down that path, but to the extent that he was correct in believing that public opinion would judge him harshly for that decision, the American public deserves a some share of the scorn heaped upon the Clinton administration for that horrible choice.

An serious look at the situation on the ground in Rwanda in the spring of 1994 that leads to the conclusion that intervention isn’t worth it (in this case, although humanitarian intervention per se isn’t always wrong) must necessarily contain the following premise: Our lives are worth more–much more–than the lives of Rwandans.

This logic ought to be deeply troubling to the left (amongst others). Steve Gilliard, however, has chosen to embrace it once again. Erik, Steve, and I all agree, I think, on the likely consequences of “staying the course” in Iraq in the short and middle term–more of the same. I don’t see any particularly good reasons to think casualty rates and the situation in general are likely to improve (or, for that matter, get much worse) in the coming months and years. Of course, if we withdraw, US casualty rates will drop to 0. So I think we can predict the US casualty rates with a modicum of accuracy. The much more difficult to predict factor, or course, is what will happen to Iraqis. They’re dying now, at a alarming rate. They’ll die at a much greater rate should Iraq descend into all-out civil war. Now, if Steve is correct that this civil was is equally likely to be equally bad whenever we end up withdrawing, than his substantive position on immediate withdrawal makes sense. I think there’s a decent case to be made for this position, and I often find myself agreeing with that argument.

But it’s hardly obvious, and repeating it over and over again doesn’t make it any more obvious. What Steve is saying, basically, is that we shouldn’t have a serious discussion to try to figure out what is most likely to happen to Iraqis should we withdraw. And if someone tries to start one, they should be shamed and ridiculed into silence. Gilliard’s demand that those who want to think hard about this question enlist now is the left-wing version of “America–love it or leave it.” The enforcement of proper political positions is apparently more important than serious inquiry into a life-and-death matter.

I’ve enjoyed some humorous, righteous blasts of rage from Steve Gilliard in the past. I’m sure he’ll direct them at deserving targets again in the future, but the knowledge that they’re being fired willy-nilly into the crowd of those that disagree with Steve, rather than those that actually deserve it, will make them quite difficult to appreciate.


[ 0 ] June 21, 2005 |

For some reason, New York Public Radio is interviewing Hugh Hewitt, still trying to get Blog to move from the 99 cent table at Barnes & Noble. The exchange opened with the host saying that he read DailyKos and Andrew Sullivan. Hewitt then asked: “do you read any center-right sites?” Wow, so Sullivan isn’t even part of the center-right as far as Hewitt is concerned. I wonder why he’s been banished so quickly? I can’t imagine.

Accessorize In Style!

[ 0 ] June 21, 2005 |

Anybody who knows me will be well aware that you do not want to take my advice on any fashion-related issue, if I had any to offer. However, should you be the the market for a new messenger bag, it should be clear that this is pretty cool.

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