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Archive for August, 2006

The Wrong Lesson

[ 0 ] August 1, 2006 |

I had meant to write about claims that Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitism (which wasn’t exactly a secret before his recent DUI at any rate) should affect the evaluation of his art (which, for me, couldn’t get much lower in any case.) Fortunately, Roy (“though his public downfall is well-deserved and hilarious, I wouldn’t let it touch my view of his art, any more than I would refuse to drive a Volkswagen because of its associations with the Third Reich”) and Matt are on the case. It’s worth making a couple of distinctions here:

  • Whether the creator of a work of art is a bad person is, I think, fundamentally beside the point. The fact that Bellow was a serial adulterer (or, for that matter, that Celine was a fascist) doesn’t make their novels worthless, and by the same token Braveheart doesn’t suck any more than it already does because Gibson is anti-Semitic. Being nice to your grandmother doesn’t make you a great artist, and being an asshole don’t mean you’re not a great artist.
  • When bad politics are actually part of the film it’s a little different–you can’t easily separate form and content, and it’s part of what you experience. Evidently, this is relevant to The Passion of the Christ, which I haven’t seen, but I agree with Matt that reducing the film to its politics is still an impoverished way of looking at things (and, at any rate, what matters is what’s in the film, not what Gibson believes. It’s like the debates about whether John McCain in his heart of hearts is really anti-choice; it’s both ultimately unknowable and irrelevant in evaluating him as a public figure.)

The incident provides more evidence that Gibson is a crackpot, but as for his work it’s neither here nor there.

Brutality?

[ 0 ] August 1, 2006 |

J-Pod:

Interesting. Seems to me that in 1982, in Hama, Hafez al-Assad wiped out an uprising against his regime by slaughtering 25,000 over a weekend. And in 1991, Saddam Hussein took down the Shiite uprising with similar viciousness. The idea that such monstrous tactics don’t work is ludicrous. They do work. But I think it’s fair to say that we would rather our civilization die than that we commit such acts.

Yglesias:

The thing of it is that it isn’t a coincidence that Saddam and Assad were brutal dictators. Which is to say it’s not that on the one hand they were brutal dictators and then on the other hand they crushed insurgents with brutal measures. In order to make counterinsurgency-through-brutality work you need to be actually trying to establish or maintain a brutal dictatorship, crushing civil society and ruling perpetually through force. This is why the Western colonial powers, despite a willingness to engage in the occassional massacre, couldn’t make even though tactics work to maintain their empires.

Yglesias is correct, but that’s not quite how I would have phrased it. (Incidentally, I also don’t think that Clausewitz is cliche; I believe that he makes a very specific, oft misinterpreted argument, but one that’s quite right. Nevertheless, an argument for another day.) I think it would be more appropriate to say that brutal tactics can destroy an insurgency under some circumstances and not others. J-Pod cites Assad and Hussein, but leaves out the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, the Japanese war in China, the Nationalist Chinese war against the Communist Chinese, the Germans in Yugoslavia, and the French in Spain. In all of those situations the organization conducting the counterinsurgency campaign used the most brutal possible tactics (in an effort, in several cases, to establish a brutal dictatorship), yet the efforts failed. What J-Pod misses is that it’s not simply a question of having the will to engage in indiscriminate slaughter; even organizations that have no such qualms often lose.

I’m inclined to think that this is less a question of will than of military science. I’m sure that Kingdaddy could lend much more productive commentary, but my first cut at the question would be that extermination campaigns can work against opponents who are relatively isolated from the rest of the world, and thus lack supplies, sanctuaries, and a transnational leadership hierarchy. Indeed, although the determinants are probably different in some dimensions, my guess would be that the same factors that help determine success in a “civilized” counter-insurgency campaign are those that indicate success in a brutal one.

God, I Loathe Christopher Hitchens

[ 0 ] August 1, 2006 |

… which makes it all the harder to acknowledge when he nails one on the head. Some choice quotes:

I was just in the middle of writing a long and tedious essay, about how to tell a real anti-Semite from a person who too-loudly rejects the charge of anti-Semitism, when a near-perfect real-life example came to hand. That bad actor and worse director Mel Gibson, pulled over for the alleged offense of speeding and the further alleged offense of speeding under the influence, decided that he needed to demand of the arresting officer whether he was or was not Jewish and that he furthermore needed to impart the information that all the world’s wars are begun by those of Semitic extraction.

[...]

One does not abruptly decide, between the first and second vodka, or the ticks of the indicator of velocity, that the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion are valid after all.

[...]

And it has been obvious for some time to the most meager intelligence that he is sick to his empty core with Jew-hatred. This is not just proved by his twistedly homoerotic spank-movie The Passion of the Christ, even though that ghastly production did focus obsessively on the one passage in the one of the four Gospels that tries to convict the Jewish people en masse of the hysterical charge of Christ-killing or “deicide.”

Now it should be fairly acknowledged that one may, between the sixth and seventh scotch on the rocks, decide that Paul Wolfowitz is a genius, especially if one is Christopher Hitchens. Nevertheless…

Just Because Niall Ferguson Says it’s Okay Doesn’t Make it Okay

[ 0 ] August 1, 2006 |

What is it about “hawkish” pundits that they can’t understand nationalism?

In Iraq, the leviathan has somehow managed to give the impression that what previous mid-rank powers would have regarded as a little light colonial policing has left it stretched dangerously thin and bogged down in an almighty quagmire. Even if it were only lamebrain leftist media spin, the fact that it’s accepted by large numbers of Americans and huge majorities of Europeans is a reminder that in free societies a military of unprecedented dominance is not the only source of power. More importantly, significant proportions of this nation’s enemies also believe the spin. In April 2003 was Baby Assad nervous that he’d be next? You bet. Is he nervous now?

It’s not as if nationalism is new; in its modern form, it has been around since at least 1789. Admittedly, the introduction of nationalism as an ideology didn’t happen until the twentieth century in many parts of the world, and in many places identification with the nation-state still isn’t the paramount form of political identity, but you would still expect that advocates of empire would take note of a phenomenon which has been around for a couple of centuries and which has fundamentally challenged the imperial model of governance.

To be as brief as possible, occupying and controlling a country like Iraq is much more difficult today than it would have been in 1890. While the French were able to control all of Indochina in the late 19th century with a relatively small number of troops, the United States couldn’t pacify half of Vietnam with a huge investment of military force in the 1960s. For a variety of reasons, most notably the spread of mass media and the consequent creation of national languages and historical narratives, new types of identification have been created. Entire books have been written about this process; it’s not a secret.

Nevertheless, guys like Steyn and especially Ferguson continue to talk as if they’ve never heard of nationalism. Need to pacify Iraq? Good show; the Ottomans managed with a few battalions in 1884, so shouldn’t be a problem for us. The problem extends into the administration, where policymakers seem to believe that people in Iraq/Lebanon/Iran/Syria will be delighted when the bombs start raining down, as long as the bombs (mostly) hit their domestic opponents.

Modern advocates of empire MUST grapple with the difficulties that nationalism creates if they want to be taken seriously. As I’ll discuss later this week, the pre-eminent imperial advocate, Niall Ferguson, utterly fails to do this. His failure doesn’t absolve the rest, though.

Ponnuru: "Lemieux…correct[]."

[ 0 ] August 1, 2006 |

My contrarian cred is established! Seriously, it’s a strange world in which any of my empirical analysis would even be considered controversial; as Ponnuru himself recently noted, pro-lifers who want to overturn Roe are not, in fact, irrational, and unless you’re trying to pitch an article to an editor who likes contrarianism for its own sake this is pretty obvious.

In related news, Publius has a good post patiently explaining another reason why majorities in public opinion polls do not inevitably manifest themselves in legislative outcomes. It’s important to remember that–although it will be spun this way–even if the referendum to repeal the bill is successful, it’s not a vindication of the anti-Roe pro-choice position in the least. First, the very fact that this legislation could pass despite not being very popular is a repudiation of the simplistic assumption of legislative majoritarianism on which the p-c-a-R argument depends. Second, not every state has an initiative process available. And third, the South Dakota legislature erred by being too principled. Although they fatally undermine the only legitimate justification for abortion bans, including rape and incest exemptions probably would have made the law safe. Should the law be overturned, future legislators won’t make the same mistake.

And, finally, a terrific article in Salon about the campaign against Mississippi’s last clinic. It needs to be read in full, but a teaser:

To Benham, waiting for a new Supreme Court justice to overturn Roe v. Wade is like being a German who heard and saw nothing. Impatient for change, he and his followers are determined to make Roe functionally irrelevant — the right to an abortion doesn’t mean much if women can’t exercise it. In their struggle, they’ve made the Jackson Women’s Health Organization their ground zero. They’re convinced that if they can close down the last abortion clinic in the state, where abortion rights already hang by a political thread, their crusade will gain momentum across the country. On July 30, another antiabortion group, Oh Saratoga, based in upstate New York, commenced its own seven days of protests in Jackson. Its Web site promises to bring a “summer tsunami against that state’s final ‘abortuary.’”

There’s also a lot of good stuff about the lies peddled by Mississippi’s state-funded “Crisis Pregnancy Centers.” I particularly enjoyed this:

At Jackson’s Center for Pregnancy Choices, which gets roughly $20,000 a year in payments from the state’s sale of Choose Life plates, I picked up a pamphlet about condoms. It warns that “using condoms is like playing Russian roulette … In chamber one you have a condom that breaks and you get syphilis, in chamber two, you have an STD that condoms don’t protect against at all, in chamber three you have a routinely fatal disease, in chamber four you have a new STD that hasn’t even been studied.”

According to Barbara Beavers, the pretty, honey-voiced mother of four who runs the Center for Pregnancy Choices, as many as 40 percent of the pregnancy tests the center administer come back negative. Some of the women who take them live with their boyfriends, making a commitment to abstinence unlikely. But Beavers is unapologetic about her opposition to birth control, in part because she thinks a woman whose contraception fails might feel more entitled to an abortion. “They think, it wasn’t their fault anyhow, so let’s just go ahead and kill it,” she said. The best birth control, she added, “is self-control.”

But abortion laws have nothing to do with regulating sexuality! Anyway, the whole article is must-reading, and check out the Frontline documentary on the same subject if you haven’t already.

Just a Few LGF Commenters

[ 0 ] August 1, 2006 |

I think it’s time we dispense with this fiction:

I think that [Drum's] reference to “casual genocide” as the preferred strategy of pro-war people is pretty clear, and pretty absurd. Yeah, you see that kind of thing in blog comments sometime, but I think most people support current U.S. military efforts because they fear that ignoring the problem is likely to produce more death and violence over the long term, not less.

In the wake of J-Pod’s suggestion that we just didn’t kill enough Sunni men to intimidate the rest, and Rush Limbaugh’s Bin Laden-esque justification of the slaughter of civilians, we’re way past the point at which exterminationist sentiment could be blamed on a few commenters. With the twin disasters of Iraq and Lebanon and the deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan, “Exterminate the Brutes” seems like the only thing the 101st Fighting Keyboarders have left.

Also read Dan on why a “kill ‘em all” strategy is likely to fail today, assuming that it could ever be relied upon.

Stadium Funding–Always A Great Investment!

[ 0 ] August 1, 2006 |

In the light of Pat Gillick being sold several acres of North Dakota oceanfront property by Brian Cashman, Joe Sheehan asks a good question:

How’s that taxpayer-funded ballpark working out for you, Philadelphia?

Yeah, I’m guessing when the taxpayers of Philadelphia were being bilked for the new stadium, “next year we’ll look to trade our star RF and decent innings-eater for the first decent offer, and when we don’t get a decent offer we’ll just go ahead and give them to the &*%&@ Yankees for a 2-for-1 Sausage McMuffin coupon” wasn’t a major selling point. (And if Phillies fans are expecting that money to be put back into the team, I would suggest examining Gillick’s recent history in greater detail.) Those small-market Phillies in their dilapidated park just can’t compete!

I also have no idea what the Tigers were doing, although I suppose it’s harmless, and they’re in good shape anyway.

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