To summarize TIDOS Yankee’s claim, Kennedy secretly reached out to Soviet leaders twice during the late 1970s and early 1980s, probing — in the interest of advancing his own presidential ambitions — for ways to undermine the cold war foreign policies of the Carter and Reagan administrations. If you haven’t encountered this fable before, you shouldn’t feel deprived. It originates from the early 1990s and has been amplified by several recent hagiographies of the Reagan-Thatcher axis, especially books by John O’Sullivan, Paul Kengor and Peter Schweizer. “Proof” for the Kennedy-as-Soviet Collaborator argument rests on two documents, original copies of which you will doubtless be astonished to learn are unavailable for independent scrutiny.
The first — a handwritten note supposedly brought to Great Britain in 1982 by Soviet defector and former KGB agent Visaly Mitrokhin — describes a letter allegedly written by Kennedy and delivered to Leonid Brezhnev in 1979, wherein Kennedy offers to help “de-escalate” the crisis in Afghanistan by undermining President Carter. The letter would indeed by an interesting document, if in fact it actually existed; shockingly, however, it does not appear in the Mitrokhin Archive itself, nor does Mitrokhin himself discuss it in his 700-page book, The Sword and the Shield (though he does mention that the KGB sent Kennedy’s office forged documents purporting to show that Scoop Jackson and Richard Perle were “members of a gay sex club.”)
The second document — a 1983 memo from former KGB head Victor Chebrikov to Yuri Andropov — discusses a purported letter from Kennedy (sent to Chebrikov via former California Senator John Tunney) in which the senator advises Andropov to invite him to Moscow for talks; promises to coordinate interviews for Andropov with American journalists like Walter Cronkite and Barbara Walters; and suggests a variety of steps that Soviet leaders might take to hinder Reagan’s re-election the following year. A copy of the “Chebrikov memo” was published in The Crusader, a book written by Paul Kengor; Kengor teaches at Grove City College, an academy of wingnuttery that has been under continuous AAUP censure since 1963 for violations of academic freedom. The memo’s provenance is predictably sketchy, having been delivered to Kengor by a right-wing Ukrainian activist (and “reader of FrontPage Magazine”) before being vetted and “authenticated” by creditable sources like Richard Pipes — the erstwhile head of Team B — and Herbert Romerstein, the former HUAC investigator who recently offered definitive proof that Barack Obama is a stealth Negro Communist. The original “Chebrikov memo” is of course (cough cough) conveniently locked away in an old Soviet archive, safe from the prying eyes of less transparently dubious observers.
Kengor has spent the past several years whining about the fact that “liberal bias” in the press has engineered a near-total blackout of his stunning revelation. Alas, the Kennedy family has evidently frightened the redoubtable FOX News into complicit silence, defying its customary editorial policy of holding out an open mic for precisely this sort of poorly-sourced lunacy:
I did a taping with Hannity & Colmes but they never used it, apparently because they were so focused on the mid-term elections, to the exclusion of almost any other story or issue. The Hannity & Colmes thing was a major blow; it could’ve propelled this onto the national scene, forcing the larger media to take note. That was the single greatest disappointment.
Fortunately for Kengor, there are more sympathetic regions of the intertubes, where no evidence is sufficiently absurd to thwart repetition.
Building anew is harder than renovating. In Afghanistan as in Iraq we really are doing our best to junk the old system, recognizing correctly that it was part of the problem in the first place. Building another Afghan army like all other previous Afghan armies, one that splits on ethnic lines, that oppresses the people it’s supposed to protect, that can’t fight its own insurgencies, would be entirely pointless. So our ambitions have to be rather large here. There are lots of old soldiers in the Afghan senior leadership. At least twice I have been present when one of them was talked out of what they saw as the correct response to insurgents in a village: that being to shell the village with howitzers. Principles of counterinsurgency and effects-based operations are things we’re struggling with, having already figured out industrial total war… they don’t have any secret knowledge that allows them to jump that progression in military capability.
I don’t think that this represents a sensible way to approach the construction of an Afghan Army. In particular, I think that this vision depends on some serious misunderstandings of the relationship between state, society, and military organization. My objections:
Detachment from society: Military organizations can, to some degree, be detached from the societies that support them, but the vision of an Afghan Army that doesn’t split along ethnic lines is simply implausible. The Afghan Army will be made up of Afghans; the expectation that a national or organizational identity could replace tribal and ethnic identities is not reasonable within a conventional time frame. Moreover, the effort to create an organization distinct from society creates its own problems. Organizations which have strong, distinct identities that make them less susceptible to societal pressures can also be harder for civilian political authorities to control.
Building Anew IS Harder, but there are tradeoffs: It’s true enough that building an Army from scratch is an exceptionally difficult task. Most military organizations have precursors, even in revolutionary situations. The Bundeswehr and the JSDF both included veterans of WWII service, albeit in much different organizational configurations. At the same time, building anew means that you can break some institutional bad habits, get rid of dead wood, and pursue appropriate organizational structures. While there was never any possibility of disbanding the Red Army, I don’t doubt that current Russian military reformers sometimes wish that the entire organization could have been torn down and rebuilt from scratch. I think that the disbanding of the Iraqi Army was a mistake, but I can understand why Bremer thought that it would be a good idea; the new army was likely to have much different missions than the old, and in any case the old army wasn’t a strong performer. If it hadn’t been for the pesky details of throwing thousands of armed, unemployed young men on the streets of Iraq…
“Oppressing the people” is what an army does: It is a peculiar conceit of modern Westerners that we don’t think of our armies as the core violent capability of the state. Historically, armies have served a “protection” function, in that they have geared much of their effort toward potential foreign enemies. However, armies also fulfill the critical function of maintaining the authority of the state over its own people. We can forget this in the United States and Europe because of successful state building and identity creation, and also because we have an overlapping network of paramilitary organizations that perform the most basic “maintenance of order” functions. A successful Afghan army, from a US perspective, is one that can perform these maintenance of order functions with the least amount of bloodshed. In a counter-insurgency situation when even a relatively small proportion of the populations supports the insurgents (and I think this applies to Afghanistan), protecting some people involves “oppressing” others. For example, suppressing the opium trade will involve a great deal of activity that looks a lot like conventional military repression. Furthermore, there’s a category error; armies don’t oppress/manage populations for their health, but rather because they are directed so by political authorities. Which leads to…
There is a confusion of the military and the political: Bruce’s argument assumes that a political settlement exists, and that this political settlement can be secured through the organizational constellation of the national army. The idea that a national army can avoid ethnic rifts assumes that major ethnic and religious groups have reached political accomodation; otherwise, the national army simply serves to the de facto advantage of whatever ethnic groups hold power. The idea that an army can be built that will not oppress the people assumes either that the political authorities who control the army are uninterested in political oppression, or that the army will refuse civilian orders to engage in repressive activities. Military organizations can be infused with certain conceptions of professionalism, and can be constructed such that they support a particular vision of the political order. There’s a tradeoff, however; an organization that focuses on subordination to civilian authority does not necessarily perform well as a guarantor of the political order. It’s not quite either/or, but armies that act as the guarantor of political order often find it necessary to disobey or remove “disorderly” civilian leadership.
What you can build, I think, is an Army with certain skills, including skills associated with the kind of counter-insurgency that Western democracies practice. You can hope to produce organizational allegiance, and a vision of military professionalism that includes subordination to civilian authority. You cannot, however, detach an organization wholly from the society that supports it. More importantly, it’s usually a bad idea to rely on a military organization to enforce a particular political settlement. To some limited extent this model has worked in Turkey, but that’s a unusual case, and exposes the limitations as well as the virtues of the model.
All that said, I think that construction of an Afghan Army that is capable of maintaining order and preventing Taliban territorial control is possible. The Taliban have no more claim on “authentic” Afghan nationalism than the central government does; even as the popularity of the Kabul government has declined, it remains significantly higher than that of the Taliban. Moreover, the Taliban is, like the Kabul government, a foreign creation, alien to many Afghan traditions and hostile to many Afghan ethnic and religious groups. The point, however, is to concentrate of what is institutionally achievable, which in this case does not involve creating a Huntington-esque ideal type military organization. I also think that this point (highlighted in Matt’s second post on the subject) may well be correct; the Afghan Army that exists today may already be capable of preventing large scale Taliban control of Afghan territory, or at least of helping to enforce a favorable political settlement with assorted Taliban groups.
Sorry for the nearly unprecedented (and perhaps blessed) period of silence on my end — my move to New York’s lovely capital region currently involves (in addition to too many unopened boxes to count) Internet access neither at home or at the office. Both situations are likely to be resolved imminently, so the regular pontificating should resume in the near future.
I want to flag this now, and I’ll have more to say about it in the next day or two. High points so far for me:
Modeling an elected House of Lords after the United States Senate, which when I’m in charge, is the first US democratic institution up against the wall. Modeling after the Senate to the point where a third of the body would be up for election every parliament. Sound familiar?
The second thing — while I see nothing about how these constituencies would be drawn up (and love or hate the U.S. Senate, at least there is a clear logic to which patch of dirt the Senators represent) there is a lot on electoral systems:
Straw will say that the government wants to consult on which of three electoral systems to adopt: first past the post in constituencies, consisting of three members, modelled on the old European parliamentary constituencies; single transferable vote, with four or five members, based on the existing government regions; and elections in today’s large multimember European parliamentary constituencies. Unlike elections to Strasbourg, which are closed lists, these would be open or semi-open lists. Labour favours this.
I’m in favor of the latter two, with a preference for STV.
But why not just get rid of the institution altogether?
A soldier is trudging through the muck in the midst of a downpour with a 60-pound rucksack on his back. ‘This is tough,’ he thinks to himself. Just ahead of him trudges an Army Ranger with an 80-pound pack on his back. ‘This is really tough,’ he thinks. And ahead of him is a Marine with a 90-pound pack on, and he thinks to himself, ‘I love how tough this is.’ Then, of course, 30,000 feet above them … an Air Force pilot flips aside his ponytail. Now, I’m sorry — I don’t know how that got in there. I know they haven’t had ponytails in a year or two. And [he] looks down at them through his cockpit as he flies over. ‘Boy,’ he radios his wingman, ‘it must be tough down there.
Hi. My name is Dick Cheney, and I don’t understand basic causal reasoning.
See Spencer for the details, but Cheney’s contention on the effectiveness of torture basically amounts to this: If we torture a dude, and at some later date he reveals information, we have demonstrated that torture is effective, regardless of whether other methods of interrogation intervene.
With a medium sized blog and an openly available e-mail address, I find myself subscribed to more than a few odd mailing lists. For example, I get regular e-mail from the Venezuelan Embassy, and receive no end of angry tirades from pro- and anti-Israel organizations. In terms of sheer pathos, however, FredPac takes the gold. FredPac is, of course, Fred Thompson’s political action committee. The latest e-mail reads as follows (hyperlinks removed):
Follow the links below to hear Fred’s Winners and Losers, The Lightning Round, and Fred’s thoughts on what the healthcare debate actually means for America.
Winners and Losers – Get Fred’s take on the winners and losers in today’s news.
Lightning Round – Get Fred’s take on the most important news stories of the day.
Fred’s Rant – Listen to Fred speak on the current healthcare debate, and its proof that the American system is not broken.
It may not literally be true, but I’m pretty sure that there is, literally, nothing in this world that I would be less interested in hearing about than Fred Thompson’s take on the winners and losers in today’s news, or on the most important news stories of the day. As for Fred’s rant, I can only assume that it goes something like this: