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Great Moments in Wishful Thinking

[ 0 ] July 30, 2007 |

Hugh Hewitt is sporting a chubby today after reading the very same O’Hanlon/Pollack piece that Rob ruthlessly skewered this morning. One suspects, however, that Hewitt’s sense of wonder and surge-tacular optimism might have been considerably less protuberant had Iraq not vanquished the Saudis on the pitch in Jakarta yesterday. In what I suspect will endure as one of higher moments of comedy in Hewitt’s career, he actually spent time last night comparing Iraq’s Asia Cup victory to the thoroughly Disneyfied narrative (rock on, Bernie Goldberg!) that’s accumulated around the 1980 US men’s hockey team.

Now, I don’t mean to understate the capacity of team sports to rescue a society from three decades of near-total obliteration and — of late — foreign occupation, but it seems to me that Hewitt has once again been bobbing for apples in the Goblet of Dumb. Here’s my favorite paragraph:

We may not know if, or how much, a win like this may help unify Iraq for some time, but it’s hard to believe at this point that it can hurt. The Iraqi team consisted of Shiia, Sunni and Kurdish players, and a lot of what we have seen and heard today from Iraqis as they celebrated was that tonight, they aren’t ‘insert sect here,’ they’re Iraqis. Let’s hope that nationalism seed planted today takes root.

Of course, as far as Hewitt is concerned, a revivified Iraqi “nationalism” would bolster The Surge and strengthen the utterly incredible advice offered by people like Kenneth Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon. This would be a different kind of nationalism than the kind that tells people like Hewitt to, you know, get the fuck out. But I suppose this is the sort of nationalism that Americans like Hugh are most likely to accept from their geopolitical inferiors, whose tiny victories are heaped with exaggerated praise and patronized with laughably poor analogies.

. . . and I forgot to acknowledge the best headline of the week so far, from TBogg…

Motivations

[ 1 ] July 30, 2007 |

I think Matt retreats too quickly from Chait and Douthat here….

Speculation about motives can be problematic, first because, in the absence of any written or spoken evidence, it’s always going to be speculation. Second, it can assume that your target is a liar, which can be comforting but isn’t always accurate, and in any case doesn’t open the field for productive discussion. Not everyone is Bill Kristol, of whom we can more or less assume unstated motives and intentions. On the other hand, it’s not always sensible to assume the integrity of a target, given strong incentives of whatever kind to argue for a particular position. Also, attempting to divine motivation doesn’t always assume that a subject is lying; motivated bias, or the seeing what we desire to see, is a legitimate concern.

So, while I agree with Ross that O’Hanlon and Pollack likely aren’t intentionally developing a “stab-in-the-back” narrative such that they can, in the future, ensure their positions on Fox News, I don’t think it follows that they have no careerist motivations for arguing what they do. Some sort of objective assessment of their career prospects matters less than what they think of their career prospects. While it may appear to Douthat right now that the good career move would be to admit error and call the whole thing off, O’Hanlon and Pollack have both built successful careers out of being on the hawkish wing of the Democratic Party. They may well believe that the Democratic Party will come back to them, perhaps after an electoral defeat, or a disastrous withdrawal, and thus that they don’t need to move towards the current Democratic mainstream. It’s hard to give up what you know, and what they know how to do is be more hawkish than the average Democrat.

What we have to remember is that hawkish Democrats have, for a very long time, understood themselves to be on the edge of Democratic opinion. It’s based on what is, in my view, a fundamental misassessment of both the American political scene and the Democratic Party, but it is nevertheless the case that Democratic hawks, perceive themselves as beset by hippies. For O’Hanlon and Pollack, then, it’s not so much that the terrain has fundamentally changed, as that it’s gotten more difficult.

But Matt is correct in saying that O’Hanlon and Pollack are a)simply wrong on the evidentiary basis available to us, and b) have a history of misreading the situation in Iraq such that any claims they make are quite questionable. Chait writes that “the on-the-ground evidence they present from their recent trip to Iraq deserves to be treated seriously” but what stands out about their piece is that the evidence they provide is either irrelevant (it’s great that morale is great, but without outcomes, who cares?), anecdotal (some Kurds are getting along with some Sunni), simply wrong (casualties down, electricity up) or both anecdotal and wrong (we met a shopkeeper who likes Americans and wants them to stay, unlike the vast majority of his countrymen).

More on the Impossibiity of "De-Politicizing" Reproductive Freedom

[ 0 ] July 30, 2007 |

Dana has an excellent post responding to claims that progressives should “de-politicize” issues of reproductive justice, noting that the main problem with this is that it’s impossible. We’ve already been through this with respect to the Iraq War, but you can’t “de-politicize” an issue that is a)salient, and b)on which substantial groups of people have fundamentally incommensurable views. And this is true not only with respect to abortion but with other reproductive issues. Despite the endless attempts of the Will Saletans of the world to believe that if we just stop talking about abortion (natch, by endorsing his anti-Roe views entirely and calling it a “consensus”) we can reach agreement on other issues. But we won’t be able to reach a consensus about lowering abortion rates by increasing access to birth control and rational sex-ed because in general the American forced pregnancy lobby is opposed to these policies. You can’t “de-politicize” an issue on which people disagree all the way down to first premises.

And this idea that a magic compromise is just waiting out there on these issues should be particularly untenable in the wake of Carhart II. The only thing that can be said for the idiotic “partial birth” bans is that, because the don’t even arguably protect fetal life, they force people like Kennedy to fully reveal the fundamentally sexist underpinnings of the movement to regulate abortion; without the anachronistic assumptions about women’s inferior decision-making capacities the legislation has no rational justification at all. Debates about abortion aren’t just about abortion, but involve very deep divisions about the role of women in society and the desirability of regulating female sexuality, and these irreconcilable differences structure debates about not only abortion but all reproductive issues. To think that we can make them go away is dreaming in Technicolor.

The O’Hanlon Primary

[ 0 ] July 30, 2007 |

Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack’s New York Times op-ed is a litany of utter dishonesty and misrepresentation; like Matt, I’m wondering whether any of the Democratic candidates will step up and try to win the “O’Hanlon primary” by publicly rejecting his strategic advice.

O’Hanlon and Pollack insist that this is “a war that we just might win” without pausing to indicate what “victory” means in this context; at best, it seems, we could hope for some temporary stability. They seem to define stability as a reduction of civilian casualty rates by “roughly a third since the surge began”. I’ve written before about the nonsensical efforts of surge advocates to claim success by pointing to Iraqi government casualty figures; no one believes that those figures are accurate, including the US military, the Iraqi government, and any sensible analyst. Nevertheless, lets take the argument seriously for a moment. If we take February 1 as the official start date (icasualties uses this date), then Iraqi casualties since the beginning of the Surge have amounted to 12741. Casualties in the six months prior to the Surge were 13462. That’s a drop of about 700 dead, assuming that the count for July 2007 doesn’t go up (it will). Okay, let’s compare this six month period (12741) with the same six month period in 2006. From February through July of last year, 6216 Iraqis are recorded to have died. Note that 12741 is a larger number than 6216. Also note that the Golden Mosque was destroyed in February 2006, which set off (apparently not) the worst sectarian strife since the fall of Saddam.

Okay, that’s not so super. I assume that Pollack and O’Hanlon are using “Surge Start Date Mojo”; you may have noticed that the “surge” has a magical start date that moves back and forth, depending on when the advocate wants to start counting from. So I’ll do them the credit of assuming that they’ve found a creative way of arguing that civilian casualties have dropped by a third. If you start from the worst month ever, then it’s not hard to find improvement. Unfortunately, this puts to the lie everything else they right about finding “stability” in Iraq; stability, it appears, does not include a cessation of bloody massacres, relentless suicide bombings, and an astonishing death rate. It’s about outcomes, people; if the country is stabilizing, then civilian death rates should go down. If the insurgency is being defeated, then its capacity to launch attacks on US forces should decrease. Statistically, these things aren’t happening. The same can be said for O’Hanlon and Pollack’s claim that “everywhere, Army and Marine units were focused on securing the Iraqi population, working with Iraqi security units, creating new political and economic arrangements at the local level and providing basic services — electricity, fuel, clean water and sanitation — to the people.” That may be true, but it hasn’t revealed itself yet in outcomes; Baghdad receives less electricity that it did a year ago, and far less than it received under Saddam Hussein.

I can only assume that Pollack and O’Hanlon consciously decided to wander Iraq with rose-colored glasses; they make no effort to detect or describe any of the enduring difficulties in the country. They don’t, for example, note the continuing failure of the Iraqi political process, or the fact that the Iraqi prime minister apparently loathes David Petraeus. They don’t mention the increasing tensions between Turks and Kurds in the north, or between Kurds and Sunnis in Kirkuk. They wave away the difficulties of training and sectarian violence within the Iraqi Army by noting that its ethnic divisions roughly mirror those of the country, without making any apparent effort to determine whether this diversity is within or across units. That’s rather an important distinction, as diversity across units does not speak well for national unity. They don’t mention that the Iraqi prime minister strongly opposes the strategy of bringing Sunni insurgent groups within the umbrella of the security services. They ignore the fact that sectarian violence in Baghdad may be down (if indeed it is down) because Sunnis and Shias have, through murder and intimidation, effectively ethnically cleansed their neighborhoods. They recklessly conflate, as the Bush administration has, the Iraqi insurgency as a whole with Al Qaeda, without considering that Al Qaeda has become formidable indeed if it can carry out hundreds of attacks per day during the “Surge”.

In short, O’Hanlon and Pollack have set out to describe all of the positive aspects of the “Surge”, and none of the negative. As I note about, even this effort is clumsy and deceptive; they have to manipulate the few statistics that might support their case. Perhaps worst of all, however, is this:

As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

Whatever criticism O’Hanlon and Pollack may have made of the Bush administration, they have both been vigorous supporters of the Surge, and they were both supporters of the initial invasion. I would like to say that their credibility as analysts depends on the perception of the Surge’s success, but of course that’s not quite right; no one ever loses pundit tenure simply by being appallingly wrong and obviously dishonest while advocating war. To paint themselves as harsh critics who’ve somehow “come around” is to create a fantasy.

Of Kenneth Pollack enough has been said. Of Michael O’Hanlon, more should be. Winning Ugly, written with Ivo Daalder about the Kosovo War, is a fine book that I’ve used before in classes. However, I would trust his analysis far more if I felt that he was more concerned with painting an accurate strategic picture than with maintaining his own position and influence. Note, for example, this awful Washington Times op-ed, in which he excoriates Harry Reid for pointing out that General David Petraeus would essentially be judge in his own case, assessing for Congress the success of a military operation he designed. Without apparent irony, O’Hanlon suggests that Reid’s time would be better spent trying to produce a second Iraq Study Group. O’Hanlon doesn’t bother noting that the first group was utterly ignored by the administration and by surge advocates like… Michael O’Hanlon. O’Hanlon also doesn’t bother to delve into the rhetorical use to which the administration and its allies on the right have put General Petraeus, preferring instead simply to laud his integrity. I’m forcibly reminded of Ari Berman’s article The Strategic Class, in which he detailed how think tank creatures like O’Hanlon and Pollack have carved out a space on the far right wing of the Democratic Party, and used it essentially to pillory left and moderate Dems into various interventions. The relevance of such analysts depends on their apostasy; they must be understood as standing apart from mainstream Democratic thought to have any influence at all.

Finally, I’m left thinking about the peculiar position that O’Hanlon and Pollack, among others, occupy with respect to the academy that produced them. Political science opinion, across the left-right spectrum and from all of the different schools of IR resolutely opposed the Iraq War and predicted that it would be a disaster. Rock ribbed realists, liberal institutionalist, and social constructivists disagreed as to why the war would be a disaster, but nevertheless stood against it almost to an individual. I have to wonder whether the continued advocacy of O’Hanlon and Pollack for disastrous policies in a disastrous war has something to do with the need to set themselves apart from the rest of academia, and to point out that they, unlike their Ph.D. holding brethren, have sensible and “serious” attitudes about military action.

Real Family Values.

[ 0 ] July 30, 2007 |

One of the things that really gets under my skin is the notion that in the battle over rhetoric, the wingnuts have won the word “family.” Since when is telling people that they can’t get married, can’t adopt kids, can’t get the proper health services for their kids pro-family? Lest you think we live in a sane society.

The ridiculousness of the right’s ownership over the word “family” was nowhere clearer than in many Republicans’ opposition to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA requires that employers (in companies of over 50 employees) allow employees to take up to 12 weeks in any 12-month period of unpaid leave to care for a family member or child. Employees cannot face negative employment actions for taking the leave. Though detractors argued that Congress does not have the power to pass such a law, in 2003, the Supreme Court (in an opinion by Rehnquist!) upheld the law.

The FMLA is a step, but a small one. There’s still no paid leave. And, like Title VII, it only applies to large employers. And still, it continues to face stiff opposition from the party that is supposedly pro-life and pro-family.

The impact of the FMLA and its import was on full display in a NY Times Magazine article this weekend, penned by the Absolute Convictions author Eyal Press (the article is long but worth reading in full as this post will discuss only one small part of it). In a discussion of the wave of lawsuits that have been brought under the FMLA, Press gets right to the point:

The flood of cases reflects not just the increased presence of women in the workplace but also the growing difficulty Americans of all social backgrounds seem to be having in balancing the demands of work and family. Unlike so-called “glass ceiling” cases involving women barred from the top rungs of a handful of elite professions, the plaintiffs in these new work-family disputes have ranged across the occupational spectrum, from physicians to police officers to grocery clerks. While not all have become millionaires, more than half have prevailed in court — a success rate significantly higher than that of more conventional employment-discrimination cases, which is below 20 percent. Beyond causing headaches for their employers, the lawsuits are serving notice that the battle over “family values” is no longer just about gay marriage and abortion: it’s also about workplace attitudes that some advocates believe do significantly more to undermine family life than those controversial practices do.

Exactly. The article also demonstrates how harmful it can be to one’s career (male or female, interestingly, though of course it still hurts women more) to be a parent, especially of more than one child. FMLA tries to minimize these effects.

So let’s get this straight: it’s the people who claim to be pro-life and pro-family who oppose leave to care for their families and who would do nothing to remedy the parent penalty? Insanity indeed.

Don’t Look At Us, We Didn’t Do It!

[ 0 ] July 30, 2007 |

This gets it right in re: GOP attempts to pretend, now that he’s become indefensible, that the rot in the executive branch begins and ends with Alberto Gonzales:

Presumably, the idea here is that we’re supposed to believe that Republicans are shocked, shocked to find out that there’s perjury happening in this attorney-general’s office. Just as the fact that George W. Bush is a horrible president is supposed to be no reflection on conservatism, we, too, are supposed to believe that the fact that the Republican Party, with the complete and utter backing of every significant conservative institution in the country, fought tooth and nail, day after day, week after week, month after month to ensure that there was absolutely no oversight of the executive branch whatsoever is just totally unrelated to Gonzalez’ unraveling.

Another classic recent example of this comes from Roger L. “Everything changed for me on September 11. I used to consider myself a Democrat, but thanks to 9/11, I’m outraged by Chappaquiddick” Simon. How do Yoosta-Bees square the Bush administration’s alleged commitment to democracy, whiskey and sexy (well, there are some pretty serious problems with that last one too) with its decision to sell $20 billion worth of arms to the most repressive and illberal autocracy in the region? Easy: Blame the whole thing exclusively on Condi Rice! Does Simon seriously think that major middle eastern foreign policy can go ahead without, at an absolute minimum, the approval of Cheney and Bush? What’s scary is that Simon’s writing betrays so little knowledge of how government works that he may well believe that. The New Media at work!

When The Obvious Needs Restating

[ 0 ] July 30, 2007 |

Oh, and to add to what Matt says here one interesting thing about the panel is that Rosen immediately conceded that while the quality of legal craftsmanship may be normatively important it has no impact on the public’s perception of the courts. This is empirically demonstrable — see Terri Peretti, for example — and it’s also common sense. Given that almost nobody without a professional obligation to do so reads judicial opinions, it’s highly implausible to claim there will be a public backlash to the courts if their reasoning isn’t good enough.

It’s also worth noting that while the public supports the ruling upholding the idiotic “partial birth” legislation, it supports it by less of a margin that it supports the legislation in the first instance, which is precisely the opposite of what the backlash theory would predict.

ACS

[ 0 ] July 29, 2007 |

The conference was really good; I strongly recommend it if you’re interested in such things. I was on a panel about anti-judicial backlash with the Reva Seigel, Robert Post, Roger Wilkins and Jeff Rosen, moderated by Edward “Closed Chambers” Lazurus. Although frequently timorous in social contexts I’ve rarely been at all nervous about public speaking, but given the shockingly large crowd (at academic conferences, I’m used to more like 5 audience members, and which as you can see was certainly not because of my presence!) and the high-wattage co-panelists it was a humbling experience, but I think a productive one. It was also filmed for C-SPAN, so it will probably be shown on a weekend late night so that the alcoholics, angry loners, and/or unemployables in our audience will be able to judge for themselves.

I will have more later, but the most important thing to note is that the Post-Seigel paper on backlash in available online. It’s brilliant, rich stuff. Two points worthy of emphasis: 1)in addition to the many empirical problems with the judicial backlash claims, it’s not clear why conflict avoidance should be such a high priority, and 2)claims made by people like Falwell about having been changed immediately by Roe tend to be retrospective projection, not supported by contemporaneous evidence. (The second point was also made recently by Michelle Goldberg.)

Civilized Discourse

[ 0 ] July 29, 2007 |

Intriguing results from an empirical study of Crooked Timber. See, this is why they’ve never invited any of us; those meanness stats would go through the roof the next time Althouse posted about the moderate pro-feminist views of Sam Alito…

"Fred Thompson Facts" . . .

[ 0 ] July 29, 2007 |

. . . fixed by your friends at the Sadly, No! Research Consortium.

I’m not sure what “Lawyers, Guns and Money Facts” would be, but speaking purely for myself, they’d be pretty goddamned boring.

Limbs

[ 0 ] July 29, 2007 |

I’m sure the facts and quotations in this story have all been fabricated by anti-war zealots:

Iraq is facing a hidden healthcare and social crisis over the soaring number of amputations, largely of lower limbs, necessitated by the daily explosions and violence gripping the country.

In the north of Iraq, the Red Crescent Society and the director general for health services in Mosul have told US forces, there is a requirement for up to 3,000 replacement limbs a year. If that estimate is applied across the country, it suggests an acute and looming long-term health challenge that has been largely ignored by the world.

. . . The problem is the nature of the war itself, which has involved a very high incidence of blast injuries from car bombs and suicide bombers, as well as collateral injuries caused to civilians by blasts from US airstrikes, numbers of which have increased fivefold since early 2006.

This is a valuable reminder that — ground “surge” aside — there has been a surge in the air campaign over Iraq as well, with predictable consequences for civilians. In this piece, Peter Beaumont goes on to note that the prosthetics available to Iraqis are based on antiquated models at least 30 years old; private foundations, including one created in memory of Marla Ruzicka are trying to pick up the slack.

Whenever I read these kinds of stories, I can’t help but remember this classic moment from March 2003:

There’s a lot of money to pay for this that doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money, and it starts with the assets of the Iraqi people and on a rough recollection, the oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years. We’re dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.

To those folks who claim a withdrawal of American troops will mean that we’ve “abandoned” the Iraqi people, I say this: Prove to me that we haven’t already.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: USS Massachusetts

[ 2 ] July 29, 2007 |

The four ships of the South Dakota class were a follow up to the two ship North Carolina class. Initial plans for the South Dakotas had called for a reduction in speed from the 27 knots of North Carolina to 23, which would allow them to operate with the older ships of the battle line. However, it soon became apparent that most new foreign battleships had speeds in excess of 27 knots. The decision was made to increase the speed of the South Dakotas, while at the same time keeping the improved protection that had been worked into the design. The result was not completely satisfactory. The South Dakotas were more heavily armored than their predecessors on a slightly smaller hull, but at the expense of weaker underwater protection and an extremely cramped engineering section. Nevertheless, the South Dakotas were extremely effective ships, the only ships to fulfill the Washington Naval Treaty requirements while carrying 16″ guns, being protected against 16″ shells, and having a speed of 27+ knots. They also had a large and effective anti-aircraft armament.

USS Massachusetts, third of the class, carried 9 16″ guns, displaced 35000 tons, and could make 27 knots. She was commissioned in May 1942, and five months later joined Operation Torch, the US invasion of French North Africa. Although it was hoped that French resistance to the invasion would be minimal, a major French naval presence at Casablanca threatened to disrupt the operation. The incomplete but operational Jean Bart, a new French battleship, was accompanied by several large French destroyers. Massachusetts and several escorts were detailed to subdue this force. On November 8, while supporting landings near Casablanca, Massachusetts came under fire from Jean Bart. Massachusetts replied, hitting Jean Bart several times. Massachusetts and her escorts then opened fire on and sank a pair of French destroyers. French shore batteries inflicted superficial damage on Massachusetts, the scars of which are still evident on her decks today.

After a truce was concluded with the French, USS Massachusetts was dispatched to the Pacific, arriving in March 1943. The rest of her career would be consumed with carrier escort, convoy escort, and shore bombardment. At the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Massachusetts was part of the force that narrowly missed engaging Kurita’s battleships off Samar Island. She and the carriers she escorted operated against Formosa, Kwajelein, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and mainland Japan in 1944 and 1945. Her final mission was against an industrial complex at Hamamatsu on August 9, 1945, and it is thought by many that the last 16″ shell fired in anger in World War II came from Massachusetts.

USS Massachusetts returned to the States, and decommissioned in 1947. She would remain in reserve for 15 years. Because of the cramped conditions of the South Dakotas, the Navy preferred to use Washington and North Carolina as training vessels. Their slow speed relative to the Iowas prevented their reactivation for the Korean War. In the late 1950s, the USN began disposing of its remaining slow battleships, first the “Big Five”, then the SoDaks and the North Carolinas. Fortunately, a group of veterans from Massachusetts state put together a campaign to raise the money to save USS Massachusetts and convert her into a memorial. She was berthed at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1965, and remains there today. To date, she is the only of the eight surviving dreadnought battleships that the author has personally visited.

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