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Archive for March, 2010

Ricks in Lexington

[ 2 ] March 25, 2010 |

While I’m on the subject of Tom Ricks…

Last month, Tom Ricks visited the Patterson School and gave a couple of talks about Iraq. One talk was for the Patterson students, and the other for the general public. Because of bad weather, however, most of the turnout at the public talk happened to be Patterson students or recent Patterson graduates.

Ricks argued that the invasion of Iraq was the worst mistake in the history of American foreign policy. He suggested that the Surge succeeded at a tactical and operational level, but failed to resolve the basic strategic and political problems of the US occupation of Iraq. He is relatively optimistic, however, about the McChrystal plan in Afghanistan; he believes that the fundamental political issues are more tractable than in Iraq, and in particular that the unpopularity of the Taliban among the Afghan people makes military victory possible. The Karzai government was the most serious problem, but he suggested that making a credible threat to leave Afghanistan was the most effective tool that the United States had in order to make Karzai more accountable to his domestic constituency.

The most controversial aspect of Ricks’ argument will be familiar to anyone who read his recent op-ed in the New York Times. Ricks contended that the political situation in Iraq is untenable, and that civil war is inevitable in the absence of a substantial, long-term US commitment. He further argued that the civil war would be destructive to US interests in the Middle East, and would produce a greater humanitarian disaster than Iraq has yet seen. Although the Surge failed overall, he suggested, combined with the strategy of buying off the Sunni insurgency it did manage to produce a substantial drop in violence. The current situation in Iraq is an uneasy truce, enforced by US troops and dependent on US financial commitment. US disengagement in the near or medium term, he argued, will make the status quo untenable.

Obviously, this argument doesn’t fall into any convenient ideological box. The progressive coalition remains appropriately hostile to the notion of maintaining a substantial military commitment to Iraq over the long term. Conservatives aren’t much more excited about a long-term commitment, preferring instead to declare victory and blame any post-withdrawal violence on the Democrats.  I think that a modest percentage of the uniformed military is just about the only constituency that supports a continued large scale presence in Iraq, although, as I suggested, conservatives will be happy to blame any post-withdrawal disasters on Obama.

There are certainly elements of Ricks’ argument that I agree with. I am deeply skeptical of the ability of the Maliki regime to maintain control without the presence of substantial US forces.  I’m also quite certain that Iran is more influential in Iraq than it ever has been.  However, that doesn’t get me very close to Ricks, for a few reasons.  The first is the aforementioned lack of any constituency for keeping a large scale presence beyond the short term; Democrats certainly don’t want to stay, and Republicans are hoping that Democrats will be the ones to pull out.  The second is the apparent disinterest of the Iraqis in a continued US presence.  Even if the leadership could be convinced that US troops were necessary for survival (political or otherwise) general Iraqi resistance would be… substantial.  Third, Ricks argument on Afghanistan makes the threat of US withdrawal a centerpiece; the main obstacle to success is Karzai, and our main weapon against Karzai is the threat that we’ll abandon him to his domestic opponents.   I’m not sure why the same dynamic wouldn’t hold in Iraq; if we make clear that we’re “around for the long haul” then there’s little incentive for political reconciliation.

Still, even though I disagreed with Ricks’ conclusions, his talks were excellent and informative, and his visit was extremely productive.


Troubling Nonsense Coming Out of CNAS

[ 12 ] March 25, 2010 |

Why try to pretend that this should be taken seriously?

Second, it’s not just about drugs. The Venezuelan alliance is almost a classic geopolitical attempt to deny the US access to Latin America — probably including Mexico — and to gain access to our southern border. FARC is not only the world’s largest producer of cocaine, but continues to be a murderous terrorist insurgency. The cartels, which are fast becoming a worldwide concern, are not only about drugs, but also about control of territory and other criminal activities — murder, kidnapping, extortion, counterfeiting, money laundering, among others. This is emphatically not the old, “comfortable” Mafia, and legalizing drugs, even if it were possible, would not make these trans-national criminal organizations go away, particularly when they have the support of narco-states like Venezuela has become. They will just shift to other sources of income.

I quite like Tom Ricks, but really, what’s with letting your blog become a platform for this nonsense? Venezuela and Iran are trying to seize control of Mexico and gain access to our southern border? “Narco-states” like Venezuela “will just shift to other sources of income” if drugs are legalized? What sources of income would those be? And how precisely are Venezuela and Iran and Cuba supposed to “deny US access” to Latin America, much less Mexico? Is it worth noting, at all, that Mexico has a population and economy which are each 4 times as large as those of Venezuela? And yet we’re supposed to be worried about magical narco-terror networks that can just create money whenever they want?

Why would anyone ever bother to pretend that any of this makes sense? It worries me that this garbage is coming out under the CNAS banner.

Majority Votes By Elected Legislators: Undemocratic. Mob Violence: Democratic.

[ 19 ] March 25, 2010 |

Over at Seriously, We Shelled Out $30 Million For This? Media, BadTasteInCocktailsPundit suggests that a little terrorism may not be such a bad thing, if the right targets are intimidated:

The important part is this: If this abominable, unconstitutional [sic], usurperous [sic], injurious, unsustainable [sic] and ruinous new health care law has a mere ten legislatures[sic] afraid for their safety, then this country might already be too far gone to save itself.

I think further commentary here is superfluous. However, for the punchline allow me to point you to more of Green’s Deeply Serious historical analysis. Here, we get some of the most painful libertarian historical fantsay this side of Charles Murray:

Quite the opposite. In fact, if you look back through American history, about the only time government ever did any good is when it stopped doing something. Usually, something heinous and awful and bad. I’ve even prepared a few examples.


After the Civil War, the government stopped telling some people that they were the property of other people. The government didn’t free the slaves — it finally recognized that all men are already free.


With the Civil Rights movement, the state governments finally lost the ability to tell some people that they couldn’t go places other people could already go.


I could go on, but you get the point. Every advance in liberty is met with — isn’t possible without — a proportionate retreat in government power.

Yes, the Civil War, Ike sending the Screaming Eagles into Little Rock, the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts — if they teach us anything, it’s 1)that government intervention is never necessary to secure civil rights and liberties, and 2)the glories of “federalism.”

Hearts are Breaking…

[ 7 ] March 25, 2010 |

No President Petraeus:

I thought I’d said no about as many ways as I could. I really do mean no. We have all these artful ways of doing it. I’ve tried Shermanesque responses, which everybody goes and finds out what Sherman said was pretty unequivocally no. I’ve done several different ways. I’ve tried quoting the country song, ‘What Part of No Don’t You Understand?’ I mean, I really do mean that. I feel very privileged to be able to serve our country. I’m honored to continue to do that as long as I can contribute, but I will not, ever, run for political office, I can assure you. And again, we have said that repeatedly and I’m hoping that people realize at a certain point you say it so many times that you could never flip, and start your career by flip-flopping into it.

Two thoughts:

1. Generals don’t tend to make the best political candidates, anyway (see Wesley Clark), so I doubt that Petraeus was much of a threat even to the other Republican primary contenders (if he had chosen to run for the GOP).
2. Petraeus has been saying so many sensible things lately about Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel that his attractiveness to the neocon fringe may have waned in any case.

The Devil Worship Might Be Contagious….

[ 1 ] March 24, 2010 |

…and anyway, Clinton’s probably already infected. :14 second mark.

Via Huffpo.

Lying liberal liars and their loathsome lies

[ 27 ] March 24, 2010 |

Kevin Levin has been having some fun with Larry Schweikart’s recently published — and oddly titled — 48 Liberal Lies About American History. (I mean, only 48? Seriously? He couldn’t find two more? Clearly, he hasn’t reviewed the latest scholarship on George Washington’s ursine sex fetishes and contributions to the early cocaine trade, to say nothing of his extra testicles and his callous disregard for the British children.)

Anyhow, Schweikart — last seen writing a book that should have embarrassed his mother — has discovered some remarkable untruths that are, he claims, standard leftist issue in US History texts. Among them:

  • “John F. Kennedy was Killed by LBJ and a Secret Team to Prevent Him from Getting Us Out of Vietnam”
  • “Ronald Reagan Knew ‘Star Wars’ Wouldn’t Work but Wanted to Provoke a War with the USSR.”
  • “September 11 Was Not the Work of Terrorists. It Was a Government Conspiracy.”

It hardly needs mentioning that none of these claims are even remotely endorsed by any current US history textbooks — or at least those that haven’t been self-published by unmedicated crazy people — and that Larry Schweikart must be confusing “liberal US history textbooks” with “amateur videos I found on YouTube.” None of that will matter to the Texas School Board, for whom I’d guess Schweikart is eagerly preparing a high school version of his Patriot’s History, complete with its reassurances that the men who died at the Alamo were “freedom fighters” and that Mexico’s finest soldiers ran from San Jacinto like screaming children.

But since Schweikart seems particularly concerned about the alleged presence of delusional conspiracy theories in American history texts, perhaps it’s worth reviewing his and Michael Allen’s treatment of the Oklahoma City bombing for a point of comparison. From pp. 785-786 of A Patriot’s History of the United States, the authors treat us to this:

[I]n his haste to lay the blame on antigovernment extremists, Clinton and the entire U.S. intelligence community missed several troubling clues that perhaps McVeigh and Nichols had not acted alone. Nichols, for example, was in the same part of the Philippines — and at the same time — as Al Qadea [sic] bomb maker Ramzi Yousef. Moreover, numerous witnesses testified that McVeigh and Nichols lacked sufficient bomb-making skills, but that their bomb was a near-perfect replica of the 1993 World Trade Center bomb devised by Yousef.

The footnotes to this section lead us to a handful of books published by the distinguished Regan Press and — the phrase “no shit” comes to mind here — World Net Daily’s publishing house. All of which makes me wonder if the University of Dayton’s history department allows Larry Schweikart to teach its undergraduate methods seminar. At any rate, the “Third Terrorist” theory has long been a staple of right-wing mythology and was promoted vigorously in 2001 and 2002 by such totally credible experts as Bill O’Reilly, Frank “Sharia” Gaffney and Larry “Whitey Tape” Johnson. The fact that the theory has no basis in evidence hardly disqualifies it from inclusion in Schweikart’s book; apparently, its top-shelf wingnuttery more than compensates for its actual flaws. It’s an impressive trick, though, to follow up this sort of insane conspiracy-peddling by publishing a book that indicts “liberal” historians for circulating conspiracy theories they’ve actually done nothing to promote.

Unsubstantiated Human Security Headline of the Month

[ 2 ] March 24, 2010 |

I see even Huffington Post picked up this ridiculous headline mucking around on the Internets. At Spiked, Brendan O’Neill offered a helpful hysteriagraphy historiography of the meme a few days back. A report last year debunked the idea that there is a link between mega-sporting-events and sex slavery.

What do you do in the wake of a crushing political defeat?

[ 73 ] March 24, 2010 |

If you’re Jeff Goldstein, you declare yourself to be way cooler than everyone else; if you’re Darleen Click, you draw a cartoon in which the President rapes a woman, then tells her that he and friends will be back to rape her again later. In the clinical sense, Click is the more interesting case because she thinks that the only problem with her cartoon is that it’s racist. I repeat: she drew a cartoon in which the punch line is a gang rape and the only potential problem with it she can see is that it might be racist. Don’t misunderstand me: it’s plenty racist—plays into tropes as old as slavery and everything—but the punch line is that the President and his associates are going to gang-rape the Statue of Liberty with, I kid you not, immigration reform.

In service of the cheapest of laughs, Click asserts that the statue that symbolizes America’s commitment to the tired, poor, huddled masses of the world is about to be raped because of the President’s commitment to those selfsame masses-yearning-to-be-free. Talk about your industrial grade ideological incoherence—and I would, except for the fact that Goldstein, never one to be upstaged on his own blog, told a woman that the only way she would ever be cool was if someone raped her with an icicle. That’s not true, though. Goldstein never said that. What he said, and I quote, was:

Read more…

More on the ACA and the Courts

[ 3 ] March 24, 2010 |

I have some further discussion of my contentions (mostly but not entirely in agreement with Paul’s piece) that 1)the bill is properly viewed as constitutional, 2)the Court is very, very unlikely to rule any part of it unconstitutional, and 3)given that the only remotely serious constitutional issue concerns the mandate, even if they do intervene it would probably be a net positive.

Dave Weigel has a good piece on the topic as well.

Judicial Activism, Part MMCCCXXVIII

[ 17 ] March 24, 2010 |

I have a Daily Beast article regarding the recent conversion of so many Federalist Society types to the virtues of aggressive judicial review of legislative enactments.

The HCR bill does put a lot of jurisprudential and political conservatives in a tricky position. Consider the view advocated by Orin Kerr, which is that

(a) I don’t like the individual mandate, (b) if I were a legislator, I wouldn’t have voted for it, (c) I don’t like modern commerce clause doctrine, (d) if I were magically made a Supreme Court Justice in the mid 20th century, I wouldn’t have supported the expansion of the commerce clause so that it covers, well, pretty much everything, (e) I agree that the individual mandate exceeds an originalist understanding of the Commerce Clause, and (f) I agree that legislators and the public are free to interpret the Constitution differently than the courts and to vote against (or ask their legislator to vote against) the legislation on that basis.

But with all of these caveats, I’ll stand by my prediction. I just don’t see lower courts finding these issues difficult, and I don’t see the Supreme Court likely to take the case. I recognize there’s always the theoretical possibility of the Supreme Court doing something totally unexpected — a Bush v. Gore moment, if you will — but I think the realistic possibility of that happening is less than 1%.

This strikes me as a wild underestimate of the odds, for reasons I touch on in the DB article. What’s interesting to me is whether Kerr thinks the SCOTUS should uphold the individual mandate under these circumstances, and if so why?

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Somali Pirate Killed in Failed Hijack

[ 1 ] March 24, 2010 |

Not the first time pirates have lost their lives in a hijack attempt or rescue operation in the Gulf of Aden. But the press is making a big deal of it because this time, private security forces pulled the trigger.

The death comes amid fears that increasingly aggressive pirates and the growing use of armed private security contractors onboard vessels could fuel increased violence on the high seas. The handling of the case may have legal implications beyond the individuals involved in Tuesday’s shooting.

“This will be scrutinized very closely,” said Arvinder Sambei, a legal consultant for the U.N.’s anti-piracy program. “There’s always been concern about these (private security) companies. Who are they responsible to?”

Cyber-war: Existential Threat or Phantom Menace?

[ 5 ] March 23, 2010 |

Apparently the ruckus between Google and China amounts to a “cyber war.”

This sounds familiar. In late February, former director of national intelligence Michael McConnell declared on the WAPO opinion pages that we are losing some sort of “cyberwar.” Then earlier this month Obama administration cyber-czar Howard Schmidt announced “there is no cyberwar” at the RSA Security Conference in San Francisco.

At Government Computer News, William Jackson asks a useful question: “How can we be at cyberwar if we don’t know what it is?”

Words have consequences. War entails specific risks and responsibilities and should not be entered into lightly. The Constitution lays out requirements for engaging in war, and the United States is a signatory to treaties that impose legal restrictions on conducting warfare, such as distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants and military and non-military targets. And once a nation engages in an act of war, it invites retaliation, regardless of its motives.

As of now, we have no workable definition of what constitutes cyberwar, and more often than not we lack the ability to accurately distinguish it from act of online vandalism.

For what it’s worth, Ronald J Diebert and Rafal Rohozinski have a new article in International Political Sociology on the concept of cyber-security in which they analyze the parameters of the debate over what concepts like “cyberwar” or “cybersecurity” mean. They point out there there are two sets of rhetoric here – one about risks to cyberspace, and one about risks through cyberspace.
They also argue that governance may be emerging more clearly in the former arena than in the latter, which essentially remains contested.

Perhaps the conceptual corollary is helpful: genuine acts of cyber-war might be understood as efforts to target infrastructure, whereas much of what we critique as cyber-war “hype” are simply concerns over conventional forms of espionage or sabotage using new media.

It’s hard to see how Google’s withdrawal from China fits either category, though. In fact, at Wired, Ryan Singer argues that the cyber-war hype like this itself night be “the biggest threat to the internet” as the hype encourages citizens to imagine that increased government surveillance or control over web traffic would be a public good. To draw on Diebert and Rohozinski’s typology (of cyber-war as risks to cyber-infrastructure), cyber-war hype might itself constitute a form of cyber-war – or at least, cyber-war-propaganda.

Well, one thing’s for sure: I smell some interesting dissertations in the near future to organize our thinking around these concepts. At Current Intelligence, Tim Stevens also has some interesting thoughts.

[cross-posted at the Duck of Minerva]

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