Jason Zengerle’s commentary on the TAP/Joe Klein feud is essentially vacant, but there’s one paragraph that deserves some additional scrutiny, if only as a contribution to the “saying nothing in an ominous and thoughtful way” genre:
By consequences, I don’t mean anything as concrete as the prospects of a possible Al Qaeda sanctuary in Anbar provence or the abandonment of thousands of Iraqis to certain death. I’m talking about something more nebulous: what are the consequences of America losing a war–which is, after all, what withdrawal will mean? What will it do to our position in the world? What will it do to the national psyche? And what will it do to the people who fought in that war? (Yes, they’ll be out of harm’s way, but they’ll also be left to conclude that all their efforts–and their sacrifices–were in vain.)
Having deliberately eschewed discussion of any practical consquence of the war, Zengerle wants to lead us into a set of rhetorical questions intended to make us more thoughtful about withdrawal. To work, however, rhetorical questions shouldn’t have obvious answers.
1. What are the consequences of America losing a war? The same as the consequences of any other country losing a war, only far less so since the war was fought far away for reasons tangential to genuine US security interests.
2. What will it do to our position in the world? The dreadful defeat will leave the US the most powerful country in the world. 3. What will it do to our national psyche? It may be marginally more difficult for the New Republic to gin up support for the next idiotic foreign adventure.
4. What will it do to the people who fought in the war? More of them will be alive, and will enjoy the full use of their limbs and brains.
The most important point here, however, is that the argument for keeping troops in Iraq has to be founded on a case that something is being accomplished. If US troops aren’t doing any good, then staying 10 years not only isn’t helpful, it does more damage to Zengerle’s nebulous concerns. It’s hard for me to understand how losing a war after 14 years of fighting is somehow better than losing one after four years. If you’re worried about these things, you have to be willing to either make the case that US forces can still win (a case that Zengerle notably fails to attempt), or argue for withdrawal in order to minimize the consequences.
Marty Lederman argues (correctly) that the Constitution plainly gives Congress the formal powers to prevent the senseless escalation of the Iraq conflict. Matt brings up another question: would the courts actually provide a remedy if Bush simply decided to ignore a Congressional enactment preventing the escalation? Unfortunately, history strongly suggests that the courts would defer to the President. The most obvious recent example is Vietnam, when William O. Douglas spent years trying to convince his colleagues that the escalation of the war was illegal. By the early 70s, there were probably several justices who thought this argument was defensible as a legal matter, and certainly a majority of justices were opposed to the war (at least before Harlan and Black were replaced by Nixon appointees.) But Douglas couldn’t even persuade his Brethren to grant cert, and surely one reason for this is that if they had told Nixon to bring back the troops, and he refused, there was nothing the Court could have done. And such strategic deference has an extensive history–as many of you know, in the first case in which the Court struck down an act of Congress, Chief Justice John Marshall carefully structured the decision so that the Court did not issue a writ that Jefferson and Madison certainly would have ignored.
The Supreme Court has not, of course, been uniformlydeferential to the executive in wartime–but cases where the courts have acted haven’t involved withdrawing troops in the field. Regrettably, if Bush wanted to defy the will of Congress with respect to his proposed escalation, there is unlikely to be a judicial remedy in the offing. If a Court that had the four last great liberal justices on it refused to act during Vietnam, there’s almost no chance of this happening today.
I have finally finished my syllabi for Defense Statecraft and East Asian Security. This is the first time I’ve taught the latter, so it’s a bit rough. I went with a state based approach rather than an issue based because it seemed easier to creative cohesive units with the former than the latter. We’ll see how it works out. I conceive of the Defense Statecraft syllabus as, essentially, “what civilians ought to know about military affairs”, although the structure of the course is obviously colored by my interests and prejudices. The audiences for both courses are policy-oriented graduate students, which explains the relative lack of theoretical material.
Well, the “Ethiopia would have attacked anyway”defense of US support for the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia is looking worse all the time, which leaves the “it was a good idea” justification. Apologies are due Matt and Brad. This justification defense is a good deal less compelling when not attached to the inevitability argument. The strategy animating the campaign looks to me a lot like the “Afghan Model”, the use of proxy forces supported by US advisors, special operations forces, and air power. We established in 2001 that the model can overthrow a low capacity regime with extraordinarily weak military forces, and we’ve demonstrated it again in the last month. What with the partial withdrawal of Ethiopian forces, the continued use of air strikes against Somali targets, and what appears to be the introduction of a substantial peacekeeping contingent, this is going to look a lot more like Afghanistan than Iraq. Doesn’t provide all that much comfort, given the failure of much larger and more capable NATO forces to stabilize that country.
If you’re untouched by any clash of civilizations wankery, the question comes down to whether it’s better to allow a low capacity jihadist sympathetic regime or to further radicalize Somalis (and some foreign allies) through a protracted guerilla war. Things could work out, but I’m increasingly pessimistic.
I urge you to read Eric Boehlert’s meticulous decimation of the fake AP scandal, which does a particularly good job of nailing down the evasive goalpost-shifting now going on. My only objection is the title; I don’t think Malkin’s credibility could have died when it was stillborn, and then it was dug up and killed again just to make sure.
“The only way to show our will to win a war that — believe it or not — I actually opposed is for the President and Secretary of State issue a stream of vague, incomprehensible, immaterial assertions about the desirability of ‘regime change’ and ‘revolution’ in Syria and Iran. It would also help if we continued saying ‘will to win’ as often as possible.”
Can someone point me to a Michael Ledeen piece that actually proposes concrete, empirically verifiable observations about international relations, state conduct, and so forth? Because — call me crazy — I don’t think Ledeen knows what he’s talking about.
Meanwhile, to save me yet another post Jill deals with the idiotic idea of putting BMI stats on report cards. Leaving aside the fact that it seems to rest on the bizarre assumption that people won’t be made aware of the fact that they’re fat, that the BMI is an almost wholly worthless measure, that at a young age even the correlation between body type and health habits is extremely loose (and will result in a particularly high number of false negatives), and that the implicit cost-benefit analysis involved is insane, it’s still a bad idea. Lindsay has more.
The 283 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who did not vote for Bert Blyleven aren’t evil, or even necessarily stupid. They simply know nothing of baseball. In a perfect world, those who write about baseball would have a basic familiarity with the game, but this is hardly a perfect world. Blyeleven will probably still get in; his drop in percentage is in large part because of the record high turnout (many of the fogies showed up just to vote against McGwire, I suspect), although his absolute total did drop slightly.
The six members of the BBWAA who voted against Cal Ripken Jr. should be barred from ever commenting about baseball again. The decision to vote against his admittance stems either from a)an appalling misunderstanding of what makes a quality baseball player, or b) a misguided decision to vote against the entire “steroid generation”, manifesting itself in a “no” vote on a candidate never suspected of steroid use and for which not a shred of evidence of steroid use exists. I would doubt that the latter sort of voter exists were it not for the insistence of ESPN that some voters had, indeed, made this argument. Holding to this decision requires an utter ignorance of the history of amphetamine use in baseball (thus disqualifying any player from the 1960 onward), and a refusal to vote for any candidate, ever, in the future, as no player will ever be able to prove that he didn’t use performance enhancing drugs of some sort.
If the United States government had a bigger Army at its disposal, it would view the military as the solution to an even greater number of foreign policy problems. As Madeline Albright once asked Colin Powell, “What’s the point in having this superb military you are always talking about if we can’t use it?” That’s some serious tail-wagging-the-dog action there. Why bother seeking out a non-military solution in this or that little corner of the world when we can always send in a couple thousand troops?
I’m reluctant to accept this argument. The oft-cited Albright quote is taken out of context; Albright was complaining about the reluctance of the Pentagon to come up wilth any plan for the use of force that wouldn’t result in an impractically large operation. More generally, I just don’t care for the argument that we ought to structure our military around the fear that a government will use it unwisely rather than around a careful analysis of national values and interest. As an empirical question, I’m not sure there are any good examples of “wagging” in the sense that having military capabilities caused a state to eschew a better diplomatic option in anything but the most obvious sense. The development of military capabilities follows aggressive intent, not the other way around.
On the other hand, there are cases in which the tactical characteristics of particular weapons create strategic concerns. Examples include early steam warships (necessitated the need for coaling stations), oil-fired battleships (needed Middle Eastern oil), strategic bombers, and ballistic missiles (the ranges of both of which determine basing needs). The street does go two ways. Also, while commitment to a progressive vision of government includes the belief that governments should have the tools to do the things they need to do (thus implying that military structure should follow interest, rather than limit it), there are obviously some capabilities that I would rather government not have out of fear that they might be used. So, it’s a complex and interesting question. I suspect, in the end, that the larger Army will not substantially outlast the end of the Iraq War.
Cross-posted to TAPPED.
…IOZ lays out a libertarian critique of this argument. I disagree profoundly with his position, but he nonetheless recognizes that the liberal and libertarian positions on the state are fundamentally incompatible.
The hapless Joe Klein tries to get himself out of the massive hole he’s dug for himself by claiming that “Just because [dirty, smelly hippies who agree with me for what I assume without a shred of evidence to be the wrong reasons are] right about Iraq, and about this escalation, it doesn’t mean they won’t be blamed by the public if the result of an American withdrawal is lethal chaos in the region and $200 per barrel oil.” Matt has the obvious response, which is that if this happens it will be largely because clowns like Joe Klein focus the blame for the war’s failure on everybody but the people who conceived, executed, and supported it. The other thing to add is that it’s not the Iraq War’s contemporary opponents, but Joe Klein, who insists on wedging everything into the framework of Vietnam. Yes, opposition to the Vietnam War was in many respects even more unpopular than the war itself–but the situations aren’t remotely comparable. There are no urban or campus riots, for example. There’s no reason to think that the same thing will happen. (And as Ana Marie Cox points out, it’s still not clear what Klein is arguing. Does this mean that liberals shouldn’t oppose the war? That only Joe Klein can? That the Weather Undergound shouldn’t provide the keynote speaker for the 2008 Democratic convention? God, this is an asinine argument.)