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Russian Conscription

[ 0 ] August 12, 2006 |

Last year, sixteen Russian conscripts were killed during hazing. Another 276 committed suicide, and while not all of those can be attributed to hazing (young people commit suicide at a high rate, especially when they have access to guns, and Russia has a high suicide rate anyway), it may have played a significant role in many cases.

While I’m not surprised that Russian military life in the post-Soviet era is harsh and brutal, I am curious as to why Russia has retained conscription as its primary mode of recruitment. The Russian mandatory service system performs poorly, anyway, with roughly 90% of the male population escaping its service obligation. Given that most Western countries have moved away from conscription (Germany is an exception), I’m not sure why Russia has decided to retain it. The Western military organizations have generally (although not uniformally) decided that all-volunteer forces are both cheaper than and more effective than conscript forces. Given the disaster that Russia experienced using conscripts in the first Chechen War, I would think the latter argument in particular would be compelling.

Answers to the puzzle that I can think of are a) that the Russian military lacks the money to provide sufficient incentive for recruits, and thus that manpower levels would fall to an unsatisfactory level if conscription was abolished, or b) that high ranking Russian officers remain committed to Soviet era operational doctrines, requiring a mass army (this would be connected to a perception of a), or c) the Russian Army wishes to hold onto at least some conscription for domestic political reasons, particularly to retain influence over society at large.

Thoughts? Any experts on Russian military policy out there?

this old post at Free Republic gives more info about Russian conscription, and the comments supply some reasons for the maintenance of the system:

There are powerful economic motives among Russian officials to keep the draft going in Russia. The corrupt officers also make plenty of money by hiring their conscripts out to work on building sites and road crews. Occasionally, they have allowed their conscripts to be kidnapped for a bribe, so they can be used as slaves. The NCOs also extort money from the junior conscripts, in return for not beating them.


Book Review: The End of Poverty

[ 0 ] August 12, 2006 |

This is the third of an eight part review series of the Patterson Summer Reading List.

1. Colossus, Niall Ferguson
2. Illicit, Moises Naim
3. The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs

The End of Poverty made a big splash when published last year, as Sachs argued in provocative fashion that extreme poverty (essentially, deep rural poverty in Africa, some parts of Asia, and parts of Latin America) could be ended with a relatively small investment of capital by the developed world. Sachs argued that the ending deep poverty was not only a moral necessity for the developed world, but that, in the end, it would work to their positive good. Sachs central point, I think, is that poverty has specific causes (bad infrastructure, bad geography, bad health conditions, poor education) that can be solved with specific types of aid programs. Such aid programs can eliminate the worst of extreme poverty in the world, and would be relatively inexpensive for the developed world.

Sachs points out that the vast gulf between rich and poor regions is a relatively new phenomenon for the world. Until two centuries ago, most people everywhere in the world lived more or less in the same fashion, as subsistence farmers. Regional differences existed to be sure, but they did not approach the kind of inequality that we began to see with the industrial revolution. Putting this in perspective is important, because Sachs is calling not so much for redistribution of global wealth (the rich countries won’t become poorer) but rather for creating the conditions under which those regions that have not yet benefitted from the vast increase in wealth spurred by the industrial revolution (and its successors) can begin to take advantage of the possibilities of exponential economic growth. The creation of wealth, he points out, is not a zero-sum game.

Sachs also gives a good account of the many of the factors that keep countries poor. Governance is not the only problem, and indeed is rarely the central problem for economic development. Bolivia, for example, suffers from a number of critical handicaps on the international economic stage. Because of the transportation difficulties, exports from Bolivia must demand a very high price per unit of weight. Historically, the most successful Bolivian exports have been silver (which is now largely gone), tin (for which the market has collapsed), and cocaine. Bolivia will never be able to build development on the export of basic agricultural products, or even on the low level manufactures that developing countries often use as stepping stones. Sachs also attributes much poverty in Africa and continental Asia to geographic difficulties. Like any argument, this one is limited; it would seem to me that the answer for Bolivia would be to attempt to develop an economy based on the export of services, but that in itself requires a certain economic foundation.

The biggest problem with Sachs’ argument is his lack of focus on problems on governance. This decision is not surprising, as he is arguing against those who would assert that the primary problems of development stem from poor governance in the developing world. He does a good job of demonstrating how limited that perspective is, and how damaging policy based around that idea can be. Even an exceptionally well governed country, in the face of severe infrastructure, resource, health, and geographic drawbacks, will be unable to produce signficant, reliable economic growth. Nevertheless, in reading his prescriptions I couldn’t help but to wonder what kind of organizations could execute the kind of aid programs he was setting forth. The prescriptions, he points out, need to be tailored to specific countries, based on the needs of those states, and executed in cooperation with local governments. In a well-governed, more or less democratic, not overly corrupt society this seems like it could make a bit of sense, but precisely how many countries in the developing world does that describe? Largely because so many of the countries are so poor, and often because of Western interference, the states lack capacity and interest in executing and assisting the necessary programs. NGOs can help to an extent, but without the coercive power of a state are unable to make certain that the aid will get where it needs to go and do the things that it needs to do.

Sachs is quite correct to argue that unspecific aid programs without clear goals will tend to fail, which is why so much Western assistance has not produced the necessary effects. He’s also right to say that this failure does not mean that Western aid MUST fail. But the more specific the aid program, the greater the capacity needed for execution, and thus the greater need for robust and competent governance. In the absence of such governance, it’s unclear how to make the aid programs that he wants have the effects that he intends.

Nevertheless, an interesting and useful book. And he has a foreword by Bono. Which I didn’t read.

Wal*Mart vs. Jesus Cage Match

[ 0 ] August 12, 2006 |

When big business meets the evangelical community, who do you think wins?

While much of America put Prohibition to rest 73 years ago, large parts of the South have remained strictly off-limits to alcohol sales.

But local and national business interests that stand to profit from the sale of alcohol, including real estate developers, grocery chains, restaurant groups and Wal-Mart, are combining their political and financial muscle to try to persuade hundreds of dry towns and counties to go wet. In the process, they are changing the face of the once staunchly prohibitionist Bible Belt.


Across the South, some business groups seem to agree with her, backing efforts to nudge dry towns and counties to go wet.

“It’s going to be much harder to attract restaurants and grocery stores to your town if they can’t sell alcohol,” said Mr. Hatch, the political strategist who has been hired to help get the measure passed in Angelina County.

Mr. Hatch and other proponents say their campaigns have been financed by a diverse group that includes grocery chains like Albertson’s, Kroger and Safeway; and restaurant groups like Brinker International, which owns Chili’s Grill and Bar, and Darden Restaurants, owner of Red Lobster and Olive Garden.

And, of course, Wal-Mart. “I think Sam Walton, being the family-oriented man he was, would be rolling over in his grave about this,” Mr. Frankens, the pastor of Homer Pentecostal Church, said in a telephone interview, referring to the Wal-Mart founder. “I’m really disappointed in Wal-Mart as a company.”

What? International capital doesn’t respect local difference in its search for profit? Welcome to the world, pastor. Given Sam’s long history of deep respect for local capital and culture, I’m sure that he’s sleeping soundly…

Given that I like to drink, I’m more or less politically sympathetic to the giant international conglomerates on this one. I can appreciate the desire of locals to maintain restrictions, but given that the patchwork of alcohol regulation almost always means that beer and booze are functionally available everywhere (typically, rows and rows of liquor and beer stores spring up just across the country line), they seem to me pointless regulations. I wish that the story had given some more information on how local and state Republican elected officials have been dealing with such campaigns. Given the willingness of the Republicans to sell out their base on gambling, I can only assume that they’re quietly working to make the liquor flow.

Everybody Loses, Except Those Who Don’t.

[ 0 ] August 11, 2006 |

So that means it’s fair, right? A quick cut, assuming that things fall together like the Times suggests…

Given the situation on the ground right now, the deal seems to be about as good as Israel could have hoped for. Hizbollah was neither going to be destroyed nor disarmed, and the Israelis get their UN /Lebanese force, which seems to have some teeth, if probably not enough to fully disuade Hizbollah from launching attacks. Had the Israelis (and their allies on the American Right) not made such extravagant claims at the beginning of the conflict, the outcome might even look kind of like a draw. The blood and treasure cost of this operation for Israel may be eventually be dwarfed by the increased political (if not military) strength of Hizbollah and its expanding influence on the Lebanese political scene.

Iran, as usual, wins. Its client survives, if not quite with the same amount of teeth, and Israel spends a lot of time and effort making Hizbollah really popular everywhere in the Islamic world.

France wins. It gets to be the “honest broker” and can pretend to be a great power again for a while. That is, at least, until its soldiers start getting killed in southern Lebanon.

The US just looks inept. Our client, in spite of vast military superiority, is unable to destroy Iran’s client, and the latter goes from being an unpopular terrorist organization to a very popular terrorist organization. We have to rely on France to bail us out. Not good.

All that, and a lot of Israelis and Lebanese die.

Also see Billmon, Greenwald, and for the enraged wingnut reaction, Powerline.

Attack a Pak?

[ 0 ] August 11, 2006 |

In fairness to Thomas Joscelyn, he doesn’t actually suggest that the US should attack Pakistan. Rather, he asks cowardly rhetorical questions like “Pakistani terror networks were behind the 7/7 bombings and the London airline plot. What will we do about it?”

Also it should be noted that, as Pakistan cooperated closely with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, is controlled by a military dictator, is known to sponsor violent terrorism against India, has illicit (and proliferate) nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and is strongly suspected to be harboring Osama Bin Laden, it is one of the many, many countries that it would have made more sense to confront than Iraq.

[ 0 ] August 11, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson and Starbuck

That’s a Mixed Blessing…

[ 0 ] August 10, 2006 |

At Slate’s Fraywatch, Adam Christian summarizes a number of devastating critiques of Weisberg’s “The Hippies Are Out to Get Us” piece from yesterday. Unsurprisingly, the critiques are cogent, well thought-out, well researched, and well argued. In recognition of just how badly his boss has been taken to the woodshed, Christian mounts this defense:

The Big Idea Fray is an embarrassment of riches at the moment, generating more intelligent debate than can be summarized in this column. For all of Weisberg’s detractors here, it’s worth noting that his interpretation of Lieberman’s defeat is echoed by Jonah Goldberg’s Los Angeles Times op-ed and Thomas B. Edsall’s article in The New Republic.

The invocation of Edsall is fair enough, although his position is unsurprising given the common journalistic pedigree of Weisberg and Edsall and the editorial position of Edsall’s boss. But when the best you can do for your boss is to note that he shares an opinion with Jonah Goldberg, you know you’ve got some serious problems.

Progressive Vision on Security

[ 0 ] August 10, 2006 |

Drum writes:

And yet, much as I’m reluctant to agree with him, Weisberg has a point: aside from kvetching about Bush’s policies, the liberal blogosphere has chosen to almost unanimously sit out any substantive discussion of the fight against radical jihadism and what to do about it. Emphasis counts, and this widespread silence makes it hard to avoid the conclusion that liberal bloggers just don’t find the subject very engaging.

I don’t think that’s quite right. Drum makes the mistake of separating criticism of the Iraq War from a positive vision of the War on Terror, but the fact is that, for many leftish bloggers, the Iraq War was seen as particularly bad BECAUSE it was likely to be so disastrous for the War on Terror. Critiquing the invasion of Iraq wasn’t so much anti-war (and this is what Weisberg and the TNR miss), as it was an attack on the manner in which the Bush administration wanted to fight terror. It was clear to a large and important section of leftish blogospheric opinion that the Iraq War was going to have exactly the opposite of its intended effect, and weaken the US position vis-a-vis Al Qaeda. While this doesn’t describe all blogospheric opposition to the war, it certainly describes a large segment of it.

Beyond that, the left blogosphere seems to me to have engaged in a cogent and reasonable critique of how the War on Terror has been fought, offering suggestions such as an increased presence in Afghanistan (difficult because of the Iraq War), a larger public relations effort in the Arab world (difficult because of the Iraq War), more of an effort at managing failed states (difficult because of the Iraq War), and more international legal cooperation designed to thwart terrorist activity (difficult because of the Iraq War).

The left blogosphere is hardly silent on questions of military affairs. A casual glance at the blogroll in the left sidebar reveals a large number of blogs (Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Cole, Tapped, America Abroad, Duck of Minerva, Arms and Influence, Armchair Generalist, What is the War, Whiskey Bar, Blue Force, Dymaxion World, American Footprints, and Steve Gilliard, among others) that regularly deal with questions of military/political strategy, operations, and tactics. In short, criticism of the Iraq War can hardly be separated from a positive vision of the War on Terror, and progressives have offered and continue to offer serious commentary on security affairs.

The Hippies Under the Bed

[ 0 ] August 9, 2006 |

Eschewing the notion of trying to cook up an original thought, Jacob Weisberg wastes no time descending into self-parody:

The problem for the Democrats is that the anti-Lieberman insurgents go far beyond simply opposing Bush’s faulty rationale for the war, his dishonest argumentation for it, and his incompetent execution of it. Many of them appear not to take the wider, global battle against Islamic fanaticism seriously. They see Iraq purely as a symptom of a cynical and politicized right-wing response to Sept. 11, as opposed to a tragic misstep in a bigger conflict. Substantively, this view indicates a fundamental misapprehension of the problem of terrorism. Politically, it points the way to perpetual Democratic defeat.

Does Jake bother to source any of this? Can he provide a citation of a single Democrat making the above argument? Of course not; by the simple fact of opposing Joe Lieberman, Democrats become pacifists ready to hand the keys of the city to Osama Bin Laden. Weisberg even acknowledges that the Iraq War has been a tragic error, and has reduced the security of the United States. But the bigger mistake, for Jake, is opposing this tragic and disastrous effort, since doing so surrenders to the Republicans the issue of national security. Indeed, one wonders what sort of criticism of Bush administration foreign policy is legitimate at all.

We know this because we have been here before. The Lamont-Lieberman battle was filled with echoes and parallels from the Vietnam era. Democratic reformers and anti-establishment insurgents weren’t wrong about that conflict, either. Vietnam was a terrible mistake for the United States. But like Iraq, Vietnam was a badly chosen battlefield in a larger conflict with totalitarianism that America had no choice but to pursue. In turning viciously on stalwarts of the Cold War era like Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and Scoop Jackson, anti-war insurgents called into question the Democratic Party’s underlying commitment to challenging Communist expansion. The party’s Vietnam-era drift away from issues of security and defense—and its association with a radical left hostile to the military and neutral in the fight between liberalism and communism—helped push a lot of Americans who didn’t much like the Vietnam War into the arms of Richard Nixon.

Right. Weisberg is afraid of the hippies under the bed. He’s internalized a set of Republican talking points saying that opposition to the Iraq War was concentrated among a group of raving left-wing pro-Mumia radical leftists, ignoring that the vast majority of critics of the Iraq War were supportive of military action against Afghanistan. Undeterred by any kind of informed discussion of 1972, Weisberg goes on:

It was not George McGovern’s opposition to Vietnam but his larger tendency toward isolationism and his ambivalence about the use of American power in general that helped him lose 49 states to Richard Nixon. In a similar way, the 2006 Connecticut primary points to the growing influence within the party of leftists unmoved by the fight against global jihad. Nixon had the gift of hippie demonstrators and fellow-traveling bluebloods like Ned’s great uncle Corliss Lamont as antagonists. Today’s Republicans face an anti-war movement with a different tone and style, including an electronic counterculture of enraged bloggers and callow entrepreneurs like Ned himself. Yet the underlying political dynamic is not altogether different.

Yep, just as George McGovern was a friend of totalitarianism except when he was fighting against it in a war, Howard Dean is a pacifist except when he advocates invading other countries. It’s gotten a lot easier to be a pacifist these days; you can advocate the use of military force in all kinds of situations.
I have to wonder what kind of political activity Jacob Weisberg DOES find acceptable. It’s not as if one cannot assert that invading Iraq was a mistake, because Weisberg himself does so in this column. To base one’s vote on this question, however, is to be a hippie pacifist. I am left to conclude that acknowedging the error of the invasion of Iraq is a route only available to those who supported the war in the first place. If attacking Iraq sounded like a terrible idea in 2003, likely to undermine the campaign against Al Qaeda, then you’re a hippie. If you believed George W. Bush’s nonsensical rhetoric, and fell for the notion that Iraq could be turned in short order into a utopian liberal paradise, then you’re a sober, well-informed commentator on the political scene. In other words, you become serious about fighting global jihad by not being serious about fighting actual terrorists.

But for Weisberg, the politics of national security are never about working out a reasonable, well thought out policy designed to protect the citizens and interests of the United States. Instead, it’s about hiding from the hippies under the bed. Joe Lieberman can’t be relied upon to fight Republicans or Al Qaeda, but we know that he’ll take on the hippies. That’s all that matters.

I Am Glad I Do Not Work for Marty Peretz

[ 0 ] August 9, 2006 |

When in doubt, attack Jesse Jackson:

But, if Lamont is trying to put himself forward as a new face in the Democratic Party, the two men who planted themselves right in back of him on the stage at the victory party gave it all away. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are hustlers, and racist hustlers at that. They have accomplished nothing for African-Americans, nothing. Jackson keeps himself alive by conning big corporations out of bags of cash. He is a one-man reparations racket. Sharpton is the reverend with the big silver jewelry, and it isn’t a cross. He sups off his perennial political campaigns and has been known not to pay taxes besides.

Is there a difference between Peretz and Bill O’Reilly?


[ 0 ] August 9, 2006 |

Over at Alterdestiny, Loomis heralds a reconsideration of our portliest President, William Howard Taft. Loomis argues correctly, I think, that Taft had the misfortune of being sandwiched between Wilson and Roosevelt, two of America’s most over-rated Presidents. Taft lacked both the almost psychotic imperialism of Roosevelt and the virulent racism of Wilson, while supporting some of the more defensible positions of both. The upshot, I think, is that there’s a certain upside to a basically competent caretaker President.

I would add that Taft was also the last President to sport facial hair. Facial hair has become extraordinarily rare even among candidates for President; Thomas Dewey possessed a modest moustache, and Charles Evans Hughes a rather impressive beard and moustache, but in the last sixty years the bare of face have dominated American politics. I had hopes for the full-bearded Al Gore, but sadly he lacked the fortitude to break new ground, or more accurately to reopen old ground.

Crowley Stares into Abyss, Picks Nose

[ 0 ] August 9, 2006 |

Michael Crowley asks the right question

People who think the national media are overly obsessed with the Lieberman-Lamont race often wonder why the press doesn’t pay as much attention to Rhode Island’s GOP Senate primary, where moderate incumbent Lincoln Chafee faces the conservative former Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey.

Then, after putzing around a bit in search of an answer, cites a reader making this argument…

The reason the press isn’t paying much attention to the [RI] race is because the GOP isn’t engaged in the self-destructive, cannibalistic, circular firing squad behavior like the Democrats in CT. Even though Chafee is a heretic among conservative and consistently takes positions more in line with John Kerry than Bush, the RNC, RSCC, Bush and the GOP rank and file have rallied around him so he survives the primary, because they know he’s their best chance in the general. Consider that we have THREE super-competitive House races in CT — Three legitimate pick up opportunities for Democrats this November, yet we’re spending all this time, money, effort and energy to fight each other, rather than attacking Republicans. Karl Rove is laughing.

…without pausing to note that it doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.

First, the reader somehow fails to have noticed that every major Democrat and Democratic organization that intervened in the race in any meaningful fashion supported Lieberman. Indeed, Marty Peretz seems to think that the national Dems supported him so much that he lost (!). Second, it’s pretty clear that the GOP “rank and file” AREN’T coming out in support of Chafee, since he’s ahead of his opponent by all of 1 point in the latest polls. Third, the idea that the Lamont challenge is more destructive to the Democrats than the Laffey challenge is to the GOP is absurd on its face, given that the Democrats are virtually a lock to hold Connecticut regardless of nominee (and will likely hold even with Lieberman as an independent), while Chafee is far more likely to win the general election that Laffey (although even that’s looking like an iffy proposition now).

Michael “I’m just here to post random reader e-mail, not to think about it” Crowley doesn’t bother to engage this argument, which leads me to conclude that the real answer is available in comments:

…the Chaffee race hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention as the Lieberman race is that the DC chattering classes adore Lieberman and they don’t care two figs about Chaffee. Or even one fig. Only Democratic party turncoats can be “courageous and independent thinker[s].”

Right. An isolated challenge to a moderate Senator in a safe Democratic state is a circular firing squad deserving of the gnashing of teeth and tearing of clothes, while a concerted (the Hair Club for Growth supports Laffey) conservative effort to defeat a moderate GOP incumbent in blue state barely merits notice.

…keatssycamore asks

Wait a minute now, I thought John McCain was the proof that you don’t have to be a Democrat to get labelled a “courageous and independent thinker” by the ‘DC chattering classes’.

The trick, I think, is that you have to be either a conservative Democrat or a conservative Republican to be called courageous and independent. Liberal Democrats and moderate Republicans need not apply, but McCain and Lieberman are welcome.

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