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Archive for March, 2008

Bad ideas all around

[ 1 ] March 22, 2008 |

Via Steve Clemons, there’s Douglas Bandow’s comprehensive review of John McCain’s bizarre foreign policy pronouncements. It’s a reminder of just how consistently McCain has been ill informed or wrong — wildly so in many cases — on the most significant foreign policy questions of the past decade. This is true not merely with respect to Iraq and Iran (where his enthusiasm for conflict is apparently boundless), but in every other region of the planet as well.

It also reminded me to take a look back at the piece that appeared under McCain’s byline in Foreign Affairs in late 2007. Though not as dismaying as the mound of foam that Norman Podhoretz issued on behalf of Rudy Giuliani a few months earlier, the article is basically a K-Tel anthology of deep thoughts from the Bush administration. Lots of manifest destinarian nonsense, enormous statements about the “great struggle,” and an array of proposals that the costs (both financial and diplomatic) war in Iraq has rendered incredible. Does McCain seriously believe, for instance, that anyone would be willing to join a “League of Democracies” guided by the United States? Why not just go ahead and call it a “Coalition of the Willing?” McCain even argues that the US should create a “modern-day OSS” to “fight terrorist subversion.” I suppose their are less diplomatic ways of pointing out that the CIA is no longer politically correct to the anti-Islamofascist right, but I’d have to count this one (belatedly) as one of the least useful ideas of 2007.

I understand McCain will be fishing around for a vice president over the next few months. He really should consider keeping Cheney on the job. And Stephen Hayes, I’m sure, would make a fine Secretary of State.

Doomed

[ 16 ] March 22, 2008 |

Exactly right:

Meanwhile, you need to put Iraq in strategic context. The goal wasn’t merely to topple Saddam, but to intimidate other “rogue” regimes by creating a credible threat to take them out too. That meant that something like a 350,000 troop, 15-year commitment wouldn’t achieve the goals of the policy. It wasn’t “incompetent” for Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld to have rejected those methods; the rejection followed directly from what they were trying to accomplish.

And this is why the strategy (especially beloved by liberal hawks) of claiming that this was “really” a war about liberating the Iraqi people and not about the Grave Threat posed by Saddam’s Model Planes Of Terrah has always been a non-starter, because the former war simply wasn’t on the table and never was. The former would have been a bad idea too, because we know nothing about how to create a stable democracy ex nihilo in an institutional context as unfavorable as Iraq, but it’s beside the point because it was simply never an option. Defenders of the war were defending Bush’s war being run by people appointed by George Bush for strategic reasons valued by Bush and Cheney, period.

In the Bag

[ 4 ] March 22, 2008 |

Since ignoring the fact that John McCain hasn’t released his tax returns while complaining that Hillary Clinton hasn’t isn’t quite enough, ABC News “chief investigative reporter” Brian Ross decided to just make stuff up and claim that McCain had released his returns.

The next few months of watching the media ride on the Straight Talkitude Express are going to be depressing as all hell.

Why Did We Get It Right?

[ 3 ] March 22, 2008 |

An op-ed for an alternate universe in which people who were actually right about the Iraq War received a significant media platform, as opposed to giving space to those who regret having supported the war because it will make it less likely that we’ll fight the next crazy war (in the context of claiming that you’ve learned your lesson about assuming that razing a government will allow a better one to magically appear in its place like night follows day!)

Requiem for the Ducks

[ 14 ] March 22, 2008 |

Rarely have I seen a more pathetic second half of basketball. Drove me to drink, it did.

Anyway, except for the poor bastard who picked USC to win it all, looks as if the field is still open. Did anyone have two 12/13 seeds making the Sweet 16?

Worst American Birthdays, vol. 42

[ 24 ] March 21, 2008 |

Doughy Pantload gobbled some cake today. He did so in a very serious, unprecedented way.

Rather than try to summarize the life and work of a man who’s given the left blogosphere so much over the years, I’ll allow Jonah to speak on his own behalf today, the 39th anniversary of his glorious and very serious descent from the womb.

For the first time, I’ve collected some of the most inspiring, serious, and carefully researched moments from the blog dedicated to that most serious of political tomes, Liberal Fascism. You might think I’ve captured the essential seriousness of Goldberg here, but you’d be mistaken, because it’s Jonah who’s captured his own essential seriousness and — in the form of a prose poem — conveyed it through me, his greatest and most serious fan, to you:

I’m not entirely sure how this thing will turn out. I wonder if Big Bird felt this way when all of a sudden everyone got to play with snuffeluphagus?

I promise: I’ll go as deep in the weeds as people want. I don’t want to get weedy on this, at least not yet. That’s too weedy to get into here, but I don’t believe I do and I think fair-minded readers will see this simply by reading the introduction.

Attacks like this are a sign that I’ve hit on something real. There’s a lot — and I mean a lot — of rank nonsense, base-stealing and all around goofy-headed flapdoodle in here. There’s not much percentage in wrestling with pigs over whether I’m a fat-gay-racist-spoiled-moron. There’s no percentage in debating such people. But don’t worry about me. Ultimately it’s a bit like getting a booster shot. The prick hurts for a second and then your immunity is improved over all. As for the charge I’m the product of nepotism: Yawn.

But much of the criticism I get from the left amounts to, “even if you’re right, so what?” I’ve often been reluctant to write about my views on it because there’s no way to avoid sounding arrogant and self-serving.

Okay, here are some rapid-fire responses. The early New Deal was in many respects more militaristic than Hitler’s Germany in the early 1930s. On college campuses, administrators routinely look the other way at classically fascist behavior, from newspaper burnings to the physical intimidation of dissident speakers. These attitudes ultimately stem from the view that the white man, like the Jew, represents every facet of what is wrong and oppressive to humanity. Or witness the common refrain on the left that “if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem.” That is as fascistic as any of the Nazis slogans. This organic food movement, the whole-grain bread operation, the war on cancer, the war on smoking, that these things were as fascist as death camps and yellow stars. They were as central to the ideology of Nazism as the extermination of the Jews.

This points to one reason why I say contemporary liberalism, to the extent it can be called a relative of classical fascism, is a nice form of fascism. We’re going to nicey-nice ourselves into oblivion, enjoying it all of the way down. That’s my nightmare scenario.

Politically, fascism is indeed a form of populism. All oars in a fascistic society must pull together. The worst practitioner is John Edwards. His “two Americas” rhetoric strikes deeply fascistic chords. Mike Huckabee is another guy who plays this us-versus-them card deftly. Lou Dobbs is another. Again, fascism will come during a moment of broad cross-class agreement, not disagreement.

But that does not mean I am calling liberals Nazis. Democracy and liberalism are not fascistic. I don’t argue anywhere that liberals want to put the Pale Penis People in Prison. I marshal hundreds of pages of evidence to back up my points. I think anatomically my argument is very strong. I’d need to know specifically what he wrote in “The Doctrine of Fascism.” It’s been about three years since I’ve read it.

This is getting really old. I could go on, but you probably get it. But once I get started, it’s hard to stop. I can do this all day. I could quite literally do this all day. I could also go on about how McCarthyism has its roots in progressivism.

Anyhow I’m done with this now. I will definitely be doing a collection of funnier writing or some such in the future.

Quite A Lot, Actually

[ 22 ] March 21, 2008 |

Kevin Drum asks: “Two Democrats, two committed Christians. So what’s it gotten them?” Well, in the case of Clinton, the answer is that she’s become a popular Senator of a large state and a close runnerup to be candidate for President, but…had a mean blog post written about her by Barbara Ehrenreich. In the case of Obama, he is similarly legislatively situated and will be the favorite to win election as the President of the United States, but there has been some controversy about statements made by the pastor of his church. Seems like a strong net positive to me, especially when you consider that neither of them would be viable presidential candidates if they were atheists.

This brings me back to what’s always puzzled me about what such arguments about religion in the Democratic Party are actually advocating. If the argument is that religious believers should be treated respectfully and that national Democratic politicians should discuss their faith where appropriate, I agree — but since this is already the case I’m not sure what we’re arguing about. If the argument is that religious beliefs and arguments by public figures should be essentially exempt from criticism — including, apparently, from progressive journalists with a distant-to-hostile relationship with the Democratic Party — this is both impossible and undesirable. The answer, it seems to me, is that it’s fine for politicans to bring up their faith and to make religious arguments, but there’s no reason that this should be somehow exempt from scrutiny from the press and the public in a way that secular appeals are not.

Privilege the Subjective

[ 0 ] March 21, 2008 |

Matt writes:

It’s striking how much of conservative thinking about national security these days centers around subjective factors — determination, emboldening, “claiming victory” — rather than on objective assessments. Objectively speaking, withdrawing from Iraq would cut off a major line of recruiting for al-Qaeda while simultaneously freeing up vast quantities of American manpower and other resources. How “bold” that makes al-Qaeda leaders feel (and you’ve got to figure these fuckers were pretty “emboldened’ already when they blew up the twin towers, right?) has nothing to do with anything.

Two and a half thoughts on this…

First, I think there is a thread in American culture that privileges subjective factors like “determination”, “reputation”, “boldness”, etc. over objective material factors. Moreover, I think that evocations of reputation, toughness, etc. are more commonly made in the South than in other regions; as such, the increasing dominance of the South in Republican Party politics makes these evocations more key to the conservative understanding of the world. You could say that conservative elites manipulate these attitudes in a cynical way, but I don’t think that’s the entire story; elites, after all, are subject to the same cultural norms that everyone else is subject to. Consequently, we see plenty of evocations of our toughness and credibility (such that we see ourselves as “tough” and “determined” for pulverizing a country with less than a tenth of our population and less than a hundredth of our economic might) even when objective factors favor us; it’s unsurprising that such arguments are pushed to the fore when material reality proves disappointing.

Second, subjective factors are being forced to do the work that material factors should be doing. The Iraq War was, as much as anything else, motivated by the Ledeen Doctrine, the need to pound some little country to dust just to show that we could. The “light footprint” invasion was designed to indicate to potential enemies that we had the capability to do this over and over again; we could invade whomever we wished whenever we wished with whatever forces we had available, and still be essentially guaranteed of victory. This capability, even in the absence of a strong will (and conservatives haven’t actually believed that the American people have a strong will since at least Vietnam; most of them still, essentially, blame the public for being too weak) would put the fear of God in our enemies and force them to do what we wanted. That Iraq wasn’t actually responsible for 9/11 was hardly the point; when someone spills a drink on you in a bar it is incumbent upon you to kick someones ass, doesn’t matter who, just to demonstrate that you’re not to be trifled with.

But (and we’re to thought 2.5 now) the capabilities bit didn’t work out. No one believes that we have the capacity (broadly defined) to depose the Iranian regime and replace it with folks of our choosing. Iraq has served to gut the capabilities argument. What remains is determination; if we can prove to everyone that we’re really, really determined, really, really resolute, and really, really credible, then they may be as frightened of us as if the Iraq War had actually worked. If we demonstrate the willingness to pay infinite costs in Iraq, then the Iranians will think twice before messing with us, as will the North Koreans, the Russians, etc. This argument is founded on about thirty mutually supporting yet equally absurd elements, but it nevertheless has a certain rhetorical power.

And so the last refuge of the scoundrel is “determination”. Conservatives curl up with tendentious readings of the life of Churchill, and convince themselves that as long as we’re determined, tough, resolute, and credible everything will be okay.

SecDef Gates to Air Force: Fight this War

[ 0 ] March 21, 2008 |

Noah summarizes the disputes between Gates and the Air Force to this point..

Last fall, the Pentagon’s civilian chiefs shot down an Air Force move to take over almost all of the military’s big unmanned aircraft. “There has to be a better way to do this,” complained Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Michael “Buzz” Moseley. Things only got more tense when Gates said that the future of conflict is in small, “asymmetric” wars — wars in which the Air Force takes a back seat to ground forces. Then Gates noted that the Air Force’s most treasured piece of gear, the F-22 stealth fighter, basically has no role in the war on terror. And when a top Air Force general said the service was planning on buying twice as many of the jets — despite orders from Gates and the rest of the civilian leadership — he was rebuked for “borderline insubordination.”

…then links to a new one, via Peter Siegel:

Pressure from the Defense secretary in recent months has nearly doubled the number of Predators available to help hunt insurgents and find roadside bombs in Iraq. But it has forced air commanders into a scramble for crews that officers said could hurt morale and harm the long-term viability of the Predator program.

Some officers said pressure from Gates resulted in one plan that could have taken the Air Force down a path similar to the German Luftwaffe, which cut back training in World War II to get more pilots in the air.

“That was the end of their air force,” said Col. Chris Chambliss, commander of the Air Force’s Predator wing. The Air Force plan, presented to the military leadership in January, eventually was scaled back…

Right… the other thing that destroyed the Luftwaffe were the combined air fleets of the United States, Soviet Union, and United Kingdom, which in modernspeak would be referred to as “peer competitors”. There are certainly genuine concerns to be expressed about how an increase in operational tempo can detract from training; in many senses operating is training, but the two projects can differ in non-trivial ways. I do wonder if the logic of operational exhaustion applies as much to Predator operators as to pilots of actual aircraft, since as Noah notes piloting a Predator has always been seen as a fairly cushy gig. There are also some genuine concerns about the effect that high tempo operations will have on maintenance and equipment lifetime.

Nevertheless, I’m forced to wonder whether some of the discomfort the Air Force is having about this has to do with culture and long term mission expectations. The USAF has adapted to the UAV pretty well, but of course there remains a pilot culture that doesn’t find the unmanned thing all that appealing. Moreover, the Air Force as an organization is clearly positioning itslef (in procurement terms) around the possibility of a high intensity war with China. Increasing the salience of the counter-insurgency and UAV missions doesn’t get the Air Force what it wants in terms of material, and could detract from the USAF’s ability to build the kind of force that it wants.

A Grim Vision of America’s Future?

[ 1 ] March 21, 2008 |

Praise to the wise ones, our robot masters.

[ 3 ] March 21, 2008 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Starbuck and Nelson

Better Religion Commentators, Please

[ 53 ] March 21, 2008 |

Criticizing Amy Sullivan isn’t usually my beat, but really:

For decades, the Democratic Party has ghettoized religion, outsourcing it to African-Americans within the party. Democrats who give high-minded explanations for why they consider it inappropriate to mix religion and politics and why they don’t approve of wearing religion on their sleeve don’t bat an eye at politicians visiting black churches. Religion in black churches, they seem to think, isn’t really religion. It’s an ethnic characteristic of an important voting bloc.

I know that this is her schtick, but damn, couldn’t she provide some actual evidence? Did Bill Clinton give a lot of high minded explanations for why it was inappropriate to mix religion and politics? Jimmy Carter? Which “decades” is she referring to? Which “Democratic Party” is she referring to? Does she think the Democratic Party is entirely constituted by an atheist she once met at a coffee shop? The breathtaking inanity of it all makes me wonder if Mickey Kaus built Sullivan in his basement. And this is perhaps the worst:

[Kerry's] advisers must have considered it good strategy to limit religious rhetoric to “safe” crowds, but the decision was problematic in two ways. First, by speaking about religion only when it could be politically advantageous, Kerry seemed to confirm the criticism that he was pandering and insincere. If religion was really important to him, voters might think, he would talk about it in other settings.

So… let me get this straight. By speaking about religion only when it could be politically advantageous, Kerry seemed pandering and insincere. The trick would have been to talk about religion A LOT, which wouldn’t have been pandering or insincere; as such, talking about religion more than was politically advantageous would have been politically advantageous. Just a little bit of pandering and insincerity is disadvantageous, because it seems like pandering and insincerity, but a ton of pandering and insincerity is, like, really advantageous.

I’m sorry, but why does anyone bother to read Sullivan? Even her concept of “religion” is frustratingly nebulous; you get the sense that in her mind it kind of means something like “sincere” but doesn’t have much meaning beyond that. Maybe I’m biased by the fact that I’d rather have less invocation of nebulous religiosity, but it seems to me that Sullivan herself doesn’t have much to offer other than “more and better pandering, please.”

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