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Archive for June, 2008

Surge Evaluation

[ 6 ] June 28, 2008 |

I mostly agree with what Ezra says here, here, and here about David Brooks Surge column. I would diverge slightly in regards to his discussion of the four trends that have led to a decrease in violence; Ezra lists the Sadrist truce, the Awakening strategy, successful ethnic cleansing in Baghdad, and the Surge, but I think it’s a little bit more complicated than that. For one, I would divide the Surge itself into tactical and material components, as one element of the Surge was a shift in tactics, while another was the increase in troops on the ground. It’s also important to note that the five trends aren’t analytically independent. Sadr certainly saw the Surge coming when he decided to pursue a political rather than military strategy. The ethnic cleansing of Baghdad was probably accelerated by the same anticipation. Similarly, the Awakening strategy is tied to the tactical evolution of US doctrine that resulted in the Surge, and the increase in troops is called for by that doctrinal development.

Ezra also reminds us…

Folks forget this, but the surge was actually part of Howard Dean’s 2004 candidacy, when he was running as an anti-war candidate. In June 2003, on Meet the Press, he said, “I can tell you one thing, though. We need more troops in Afghanistan. We need more troops in Iraq now.” I disagreed with him, but that was the plan: More troops, leading to less violence, leading to withdrawal. It was a plan that Democrats, even liberal Democrats, supported. Would Brooks like to credit Dean as a military visionary?

Indeed, although I have to wonder whether an increase in 2005 would have had the same effect as the increase in 2007. There was still plenty of ethnic cleansing to do in 2005, and Al Qaeda may not have grown sufficient in strength to make the US a good option for the Sunni tribal leadership. Just as important, the Army and Marine Corps were not the organizations in 2005 that they were in 2007; the experience of Iraq (and, in fairness, the revolutionary push by David Petraeus) has served to shift the focus especially of the Army, making it an instrument more capable of carrying out a Surge-like operation.

Still, even if Brooks is 100% off base. It wasn’t hard to predict that the Surge would fail to produce reconciliation, or that the empowering of Sunni tribal leaders would serve to facilitate the disintegration of the Iraqi state. I thought that both of these outcomes would result from the Surge in early 2007, and nothing that’s happened has changed my view. However, I did very much doubt that the expansion of US forces by only 25000 would contribute to any significant reduction in violence in Iraq. While the Surge hasn’t begun to “solve” the problem of Iraq, and certainly hasn’t been the sole contributor to the reduction in violence, I think it’s fair to say that violence since June 2007 has declined more than I would have thought possible. If someone had told me that US casualties in Iraq would average under 40/month for a nine month period, I doubt I would have believed it, and I know I wouldn’t have bought it if told that this could be accomplished in the context of increased operational tempo.

So there’s that, but it doesn’t really go anywhere; the occupation of Iraq is less costly in human terms than I would have expected a year ago, but that doesn’t, in the end, get us very far.


700 Cell Phones?

[ 0 ] June 28, 2008 |

While recognizing the general principle that prisoners, even in Afghanistan, ought to have some contact with the outside world, I have to question the wisdom of allowing this:

This month’s spectacular prison escape in Kandahar began with a jailed guerrilla’s phone conversation with the No. 2 leader of the Afghan insurgency, according to one of the roughly 350 Taliban fighters who broke out. Speaking to NEWSWEEK by phone from his home in eastern Afghanistan late last week, Taliban subcommander Mullah Khan Muhammad Akhund, 36, said more than 700 of the prison’s approximately 1,000 inmates were allowed to have their own mobile phones. It was one of the few comforts at the antiquated and squalid Sarposa Prison, where 15 to 20 men were crammed into each tiny cell, he says. Counting on prisoners’ families to pay, prison authorities charged each inmate $100 a month for the privilege of keeping a phone, according to Akhund, who was serving an eight-year sentence in Sarposa before the escape.

Right… in a place where an active insurgency can move about more or less freely, someone thought it was a good idea to allow inmates of a prison holding over 350 members of that insurgency to use cell phones without supervision. I suppose that to make it even easier, they could have faxed prison blueprints and guard shift schedules…

Compulsory Reading

[ 5 ] June 28, 2008 |

Good one. (Via Jessica Crispin.)

The Most Exciting 90 Seconds in Sports…

[ 0 ] June 28, 2008 |

A correspondent notes that today is the 20th anniversary of Tyson-Spinks:

It’s Racist NOT to Fly the Confederate Flag..

[ 0 ] June 28, 2008 |

Now you know:

Social equality should not mean that blacks can take pride in any part of history they choose (even if their self-proclaimed leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X were murderers), whereas whites can only honor those parts of history which minorities and the Left deem politically correct.

However, racism towards the South continues to exist and does not appear to be going away anytime soon. It is no wonder that the Left is so prejudiced towards the South: it’s conservative, Christian, traditionalist, and resistant to cultural revolution. In other words, Southern attitudes stand in the way of Leftists’ agendas. Thus, as usual, the Left finds it necessary to censor the South or berate it into submission by throwing guilt at its people.

As I was leaving the couple’s house that night in New Orleans the professor warned me, “If the Left succeeds in removing the Confederate Battle Flag from the public sphere they will no doubt declare war against another emblem of American history: Old Glory herself.”

Indeed; by attacking the symbol of a slaveholding elite that launched a war intended to destroy the United States, we are ourselves anti-American. Oh, and racist.

The Phrase You’re Looking for is "Successful Diplomacy"

[ 7 ] June 27, 2008 |

Free Ride

[ 15 ] June 27, 2008 |

To follow up on Dana’s excellent analysis of Jim Wallis’s latest bit of abortion concern-trolling, I continue to be irritated by these kinds of assertions:

Without calling for restrictions such as parental consent laws, Wallis believes that if the Democrats were to alter their abortion platform, it could help them make inroads among young evangelicals and Catholics.

“Taking abortion seriously as a moral issue would help Democrats a great deal with a constituency that is already leaning in their direction on poverty and the environment,” said Wallis. “There are literally millions of votes at stake.”

Wallis expects us to believe that there is a substantial bloc of voters who 1)care enough about abortion to vote against Democrats they would otherwise support because of abortion, and 2)will switch back despite no change in the party’s substantive positions if Democratic rhetoric just becomes even more mealy-mouthed when defending reproductive freedom. Since this is implausible in the extreme, and I’ve never seen the slightest bit of evidence to support it, I see little reason to take this seriously.

In addition, even if this mythical group of single-issue-anti-abortion-voters-who-don’t-care-about-abortion-policy existed, there are potential strategic (as well as normative) costs to Wallis’ strategy. Shouldn’t we consider the many voters who have had abortions and don’t appreciate people like Wallis implying that they did something grossly immoral? In addition, as even Amy Sullivan has conceded McCain’s entirely unearned reputation for moderation on the abortion issue seems to be worth a significant number of votes. The Democrats would be much better off emphasizing McCain’s extensive history of unpopular anti-abortion extremism (including support for the draconian ban in South Dakota) than further muddling their position to chase after unicorns.

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up.

Stories like this make Jon Stewart’s and Stephen Colbert’s jobs too easy.

Larry Craig and David Vitter have just co-sponsored the “Marriage Protection Amendment” — a law that would “protect” the sacred institution that is heterosexual marriage. An institution they have so honored.

I shit you not.

Ah, I just love the hypocrisy of the Republican party.

Building Tension Between Army and Air Force?

[ 2 ] June 27, 2008 |

I have to agree with Noah; the evidence for inter-service tension between the Army and the Air Force in this article is largely inferential. Shanker relates some anecdotes about Army frustration with the performance of the Air Force, notes that the Army is developing a UAV force, and concludes that the former must have brought about the latter. But of course the Army doesn’t need to be frustrated with the Air Force to seek to augment its own capabilities; the dynamics are complicated, but it’s hardly unusual for organizations to try to seize new turf and pursue greater autonomy, even absent bureaucratic tension. Moreover, Noah correctly notes that Odin (the Army UAV project) has been in the open for quite some time, in contrast to the picture that Shanker tries to paint.

As everyone is aware, I’m all for augmenting the tactical capabilities of the Army at the expense of the Air Force. However, I suspect that Shanker is inferring something that isn’t there. It’s possible that people on the inside are telling him something that he’s not relating to us, but we need to see that evidence before jumping to conclusions.

See also Peter.

Everyone Balances

[ 1 ] June 27, 2008 |

There’s something of a curious disconnect between two passages of Scalia’s opinion in Heller:

After an exhaustive discussion of the arguments for and against gun control, Justice Breyer arrives at his interest-balanced answer: because handgun violence is a problem, because the law is limited to an urban area, and because there were somewhat similar restrictions in the founding period (a false proposition that we have already discussed), the interest-balancing inquiry results in the constitutionality of the handgun ban. QED.

We know of no other enumerated constitutional right whose core protection has been subjected to a freestanding “interest-balancing” approach.


Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues. Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment , nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

In other words, both Scalia and Breyer are for all intents and purposes engaged in “interest balancing.” Both are that the scope of the right to bear arms are limited by important states interests; they differ only in where they draw the line. I am inclined to believe that Scalia rather than Breyer draws it in the right place where the D.C. gun ban is concerned, but claim that Breyer’s interest-balancing is somehow unusual is odd. Especially since the majority’s balancing seems just as “free-standing” as Breyer’s.

That aside, the second passage is of course the critical one: what this decision means will be determined by how the Court applies the right in the future, and especially since the Court didn’t articulate a clear standard for evaluating future regulations we simply don’t know how this will affect more reasonable types of regulation. One could be concerned that the precedent will lie around like an, er, loaded weapon and will have much broader consequences.

Taking Scalia’s assertions at face value, though, I don’t see anything objectionable about the Court’s judgment: the D.C. gun ban is too ineffective and overbroad to justify the restriction of a constitutional right. And since I generally take the Stevens/Marshall position that dividing rights into discrete categories of scrutiny isn’t useful in itself and often fails to accurately describe what the Court actually does in practice, I’m not concerned that the Court left a lot of unanswered questions per se. Even if the Court had tried to develop a standard, the direction of the Court’s Second Amendment jurisprudence would be determined by future presidential elections and other political developments in any case.

Law Office History

[ 0 ] June 27, 2008 |

Great point by Sandy Levinson:

If one had any reason to believe that either Scalia or Stevens was a competent historian, then perhaps it would be worth reading the pages they write. But they are not. Both opinions exhibit the worst kind of “law-office history,” in which each side engages in shamelessly (and shamefully) selective readings of the historical record in order to support what one strongly suspects are pre-determined positions. And both Scalia and Stevens treat each other—and, presumably, their colleagues who signed each of the opinions—with basic contempt, unable to accept the proposition, second nature to professional historians, that the historical record is complicated and, indeed, often contradictory. Justice Stevens, for example, writes that anyone who reads the text of the Second Amendment and its history, plus a murky 1939 decision of the Court, will find “a clear answer” to the question of whether the Second Amendment supports a “right to possess and use guns for nonmilitary purposes.” This is simply foolish. Justice Stevens pays no real attention to a plethora of first-rate historical work written over the past decade that challenges this kind of foolish self-confidence, as is true also of Justice Scalia. There is no serious discussion, for example, of Saul Cornell’s fine book A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control, but many other examples could be offered, from various sides of the ideological spectrum.

Both Scalia and Stevens manifest what is worst about Supreme Court rhetoric, which is precisely the tone of sublime confidence when addressing even the most complex of issues. The late Victoria Geng once wrote a marvelous parody of Supreme Court decisions in which, among other things, the Court announced that “nature is more important than nurture.” We wouldn’t take such a declaration seriously. It is not clear why we should take much more seriously the kinds of over-confident declarations as to historical meaning that both Scalia and Stevens indulge in.

The one caveat is that I wouldn’t even say that it’s the “worst kind” of law office history; their historical analysis is actually considerably less perfunctory than most tendentious historical analysis in judicial opinions is. At any rate, it should be pretty clear that invoking originalism does little to constrain justices, not only because of irresolvable ambiguities in the historical record and the ability to use originalism’s ladder when dealing with the meaning of broad constitutional provisions, but because even on cases where a grand theory seems to produce fairly clear answers judges will ignore them if they conflict with strongly held policy preferences.

Meanwhile, Publius notes that exclusively relying on originalism would be undesirable even if it actually worked to substantially constrain judicial discretion.

Keeping Tabs on the War in Chad

[ 0 ] June 27, 2008 |

If you’re not reading David Axe, you should be.

So what’s happening, and why should you care? In a world increasingly inhabited by the homeless and displaced, Chad is the worst-case scenario. Nearly half a million refugees make this one of the most desperate and volatile countries in the world. Here we see the enormous human toll of the ongoing conflict in Darfur, which has expanded into proxy wars between Chad, Sudan and the Central African Republic. Refugees from all three countries have sought safety in Chad. But Chad is far from safe, and even the presence of thousands of French and E.U. troops cannot guarantee the country’s integrity. Chad is bad off. But Chad could get much much worse. We should care not just because Chad is a major oil exporter, but because this crisis could spread throughout central Africa, affecting millions.

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