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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.
The noise from the right about the constitutionality of “deeming” beggars description. Consider Limbaugh:
If [House Democrats] pass this using the Slaughter solution—in other words, literally shredding the Constitution.
I decline to comment on his claim that passing this bill by “deeming” it passed will literally cause someone to walk into the National Archives and ribbon the Constitution, because the point of Limbaugh’s literal metaphor is plain enough: if the majority of the House votes to “deem” the Senate version of the bill passed, Democrats would have skirted the Constitutional requirement that, to become a law, a bill must “have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate” as “determined by Yeas and Nays,” i.e. a simple majority.
How would the Democrats have accomplished this dastardly unconstitutional deed?
I’ll post my thoughts on it sometime afterward, but if any readers are interested in issues pertaining to war law and air power, you can register and listen in on a seminar at Harvard’s Humanitarian Law and Policy Forum next week. HLPF does these seminars from time to time: the topic this time is “Protecting Civilians in the New Battlespace: Challenges of Regulating Air Warfare.”
I’ve pasted the announcement below; you can register here.
This live seminar will examine legal and policy responses to the challenges of civilian protection in situations of armed conflict, specifically in the context of air warfare. Against the backdrop of the recent release of the HPCR Manual on International Law Applicable to Air and Missile Warfare, the seminar will address the following questions:
What are the primary features, definitions and principles contained in the Manual? How do these relate to the larger framework of international humanitarian law, or the law of armed conflict?
What is the relevance for the military of the provisions of the Manual, which are a restatement of existing law applicable to air and missile warfare?
How might the Manual contribute to enhanced protection of civilians during conflict?
Panelists and participants will examine these questions by reference to the HPCR Manual and to specific situations of air warfare.
Please view this link. The data concern public funding of health care in terms of direct government expenditure. You will note that the United States ranks third in public expenditure for health care, behind Germany and Iceland and ahead of France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and a host of other European countries. Given this, I would advise you to reconsider this claim:
The defense spending squeeze is on and will become more constricted by health care reform. It is not apples and oranges. About half of the United States’ health care costs appear on the federal government’s budget, which directly affects revenues and expenditures. European nations plead poverty when it comes to funding their militaries in large part because of the squeeze of social spending (including health care). They spend a smaller, though rising, share of their GDPs on health than does the United States, but more of that spending is direct government expenditure.
Since your premise (that European states pay higher direct public expenditure health care costs than the US) is evidently incorrect, I’m wondering whether you’d be interested in revising your conclusions regarding the “squeeze” that health care costs are putting on European defense budgets. I would also invite you to consider whether the extraordinary level of private expenditure on health care in the United States might conceivably, through some heretofore unimagined mechanism, be redirected towards defense spending, assuming that the good people of the United States viewed such redirection as desirable. I would further invite you to make some fun, back of the envelope calculations about the kinds of weapons the Pentagon could buy if we adopted, say, the NHS wholesale. Finally, I would suggest you and others concerned with the impact of health care costs on the defense budget would acknowledge the fact that we have solid, comparative data indicating that the United States has the most staggeringly inefficient mechanism for the delivery of health care in the world, and that perhaps our best efforts ought to be directed at investigating the implications of this data rather than assembling such phrases as:
Health care cost control is an illusion. No one truly can make the health care system efficient. For many illnesses, nobody knows what works and what doesn’t. An aging population assures more medical expenditures.
Robert M. Farley
If you’re the sort of person who, like me, gets torqued about public health issues, there’s a important study out in JAMA today (.pdf here) about the population benefits of the seasonal flu vaccine; the upshot is that by vaccinating a little over 80 percent of kids between 3-15 years of age, researchers were able to observe a roughly 60 percent effectiveness at reducing influenza rates throughout the study population. The results themselves aren’t especially surprising — they affirm what everyone already suspected about seasonal flu vaccines and herd immunity, and they serve as a reminder that even a sub-optimal jab is quite effective at muting the spread an unpleasant illness that kills tens of thousands a year in the US alone — but the design of the study is really fascinating, as researchers were able to work with about fifty self-enclosed Hutterite colonies in central and western Canada, providing exactly the sort of controlled conditions that are usually beyond the reach of folks doing research on influenza vaccine efficacy. (It’s also interesting to note that the study utilized the killed virus vaccine, which usually proves less efficacious in flu studies than the weakened virus.)
I’d like to believe that the results of this study will embarrass the vaccine contrarians into prolonged silence, but I won’t be holding my breath. Since vaccination rates fall well short of the 80 percent threshold in the US, the market for uninformed skepticism won’t soon be disappearing. I’d also like to believe that studies like this would receive enough publicity to nudge parents away from Robert Sears’ nonsensical “alternative vaccination” schedule, which urges us (among other things) to avoid giving our kids seasonal flu shots until they’re five years old. Aside from demonstrating yet again that seasonal flu vaccines are perfectly safe for healthy children, the study offers the best evidence to date that flu vaccination is a socially responsible practice that benefits populations — especially the elderly — who tend not to respond vigorously to the serum. But as long as we can round up some asshole to claim that baking soda cures H1N1, there’s little risk that sensible ideas will prevail.
Rove says that getting rid of Rumsfeld — which, of course, the Bush administration ultimately did — would’ve “damaged the military’s faith in Bush as commander in chief.” Actually, you know what really did damage the military’s faith in Bush as commander in chief? Retaining Donald Rumsfeld in the face of failure after failure after failure.
There’s something really interesting to this; the uniformed military loathed Rumsfeld with wild abandon, a point which was certainly not lost on Rumsfeld (he cultivated and enjoyed their hate) or Rove. I suspect that the issue here wasn’t so much “the military will lose faith if we dump Rummy,” but rather “the military will interpret the dumping of Rummy as a sign of weakness.” This makes sense in context of the Bush/neocon vision of the world, in which the enemy (whether terrorist, Communist, or Democrat) only understands strength; I’m just mildly surprised that the Bush administration apparently viewed the uniformed military of the United States as an enemy to be intimidated.
“I believe in affirmative government and spending gobs of money,” he said. But, “I want to let people know that there are people that disagree with the party orthodoxy” on unions and amnesty-first immigration reform.
He already has a platform for his outspoken views, kausfiles.com, with a sizeable audience. So why make a seemingly quixotic Senate run?
He says he can reach people that he didn’t with his blog. And, “the time is right.”
Public disapproval of unions is at an all-time high, he notes.
“People really hate the GM bailout.” Kaus supported saving GM and Chrysler but said, “The UAW got us into this mess, so I think they should have taken a pay cut and made more concessions.”
You don’t have to be a wild-eyed libertarian to realize something is very wrong with that. But, as Kaus points out, “You can’t find a Democrat politician criticizing the teachers unions.”
That silence is hurting the liberal cause. “Unions are what make affirmative government unpalatable,” he said.
The standard objections to Kaus’s everything-is-a-nail approach to seeing labor as the root problem of everything apply; that one union has negotiated an excessively cumbersome doesn’t mean that labor negotiations are bad, there’s little reason to believe that labor protections are a major factor in poor school performance, and blaming the UAW rather than management for the problems with American auto manufacturers is implausible in the extreme. (I note, for example, that the justifiably well-regarded Malibu, CTS, and Silverado are all UAW-made, while the pieceashit Aveo is not; it’s almost enough to make me think we’re not looking at the key variable here.)
But what really kills me is the idea that unions are standing in the way of the expansive welfare state Kaus pretends to want. The truth is something like the reverse — without labor, progressive politics as an electoral force is in a hopeless position. How, exactly, does Kaus propose replacing the organizational and GOTV support that labor provides? It’s almost enough to make me think he doesn’t care about progressive policy outcomes at all…
The Economist has a damning article about son preference and female infanticide in East Asia, and the negative impacts on societies and regional stability as well as on girls. Heartening to see an important global gender issue make the front page of such an influential weekly (though why it took them so long escapes me – Valerie Hudson and Andrea den Boer’s influential article, appeared in International Security almost ten years ago; now the Economist is writing as if it has “discovered” high sex-ratio societies just in time for International Women’s Day.)
Well, so be it. But while the Economist has global elites’ attention fleetingly focused on gender and “gendercide,” because of how it affects the state-system, let me update the framework on offer slightly:
a) In the past decade since Hudson and den Boer first called attention to Asia’s “Bare Branches” problem, they have also been working on developing a dataset of gender empowerment indicators that among other things has allowed them to test the hypothesis that gender equality, not democracy, is actually the best predictor of pacifist relations between sovereign governments. And gender equality means a whole lot more than keeping little girls alive. Let Obama think about that as he revamps Bush’s democracy promotion agenda in the service of global stability.
b) Ultimately, let’s not confuse global stability with human rights. “Securitizing” a problem like this can be useful, as I’ve often argued, but it can backfire. Natalie Hudson’s new book argues that the advocacy language that got women’s rights on the agenda at the UN Security Council has also hobbled it at the policy implementation stage. I can see the point of making policymakers care about female infanticide because the knock-on effects are bad for whole societies. But I’d like to think that we’d want it to end even if that weren’t the case: killing anyone because of the genitals they were born with is simply wrong.
c) This brings me to a final comment. As an advocacy trope it works… sort of. But as a concept “gendercide” ala Mary Warren has been usefully picked apart and expanded to include a whole range of mass killing practices in the last two decades – including those targeting men. It would be a shame to see it become synonymous now primarily with the issue of sex-selective abortion as a security problem.
Too cute not to post…