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No Surrender

[ 55 ] June 30, 2008 |

It’s perfectly clear that claims that Wes Clark attacked John McCain’s war record or “Swift-Boated” him are entirely bogus. Unlike the attacks on Kerry, Clark did not question the veracity of his war record; he attacked its relevance. Clark’s argument that getting shot down in a plane doesn’t constitute executive experience is simply true, and his claim that a history of sound foreign policy judgment is more important than having been a POW is at the very least fair argument (and I think also correct.)

Obviously, the key here is that Obama and other Democrats cannot surrender an inch to this ridiculous narrative. It’s entirely without merit, and backing off from the comments or undermining Clark would be to cede considerable ground to McCain. Hopefully, having already been involved in an election with a candidate claiming that dubiously relevant “experience” was more important than making good judgments,Obama will understand the need to stand his ground and not pretend that McCain being captured in Vietnam somehow makes him more qualified to be president irrespective of his substantive positions.

UPDATE: I see Obama has done the wrong thing. It’s not only unfair to Clark but just bad, bad politics. It won’t put out there fire; rather, it just plays into anti-Democratic media narratives.

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Shameless, Fear-Mongering Jagoff of the Day

[ 0 ] June 30, 2008 |

Holy Fucking Joe.

Whenever election season rolls around, I remind my students that the “Vote for Xor you’ll die” meme has been around in the US since at least 1824, when John Quincy Adams the House of Representatives successfully fended off Andrew Jackson’s first bid for the presidency. During the campaign, Adams’ partisans used a somewhat infamous tune called “Little Know Ye Who’s Comin’,” which includes the following warning to the faithful:

Little know ye who’s comin’
If John Quincy not be comin’
Fire’s comin’, swords are comin’
Pistols, guns and knives are comin’
Famine’s comin’, famine’s comin’
Slavery’s coming, knavery’s comin’
Fears are coming, tears are comin’
Plague and Pestilence’s comin’
Satan’s comin’, Satan’s comin’
If John Quincy not be comin’

With any luck, the McCain Girls will yank this one from the archives before too long.

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Parenting Skillz

[ 55 ] June 30, 2008 |

Is pretty obvious that writing this article for a national audience makes you kind of a dick, but does this parenting seem likely to accomplish its intended goals?

“My twins never had the same view of high school that I did. Through ninth grade I’d pressed them relentlessly about their class work. But as much as I yelled, as much as I grounded them, they did not become the top students their older brother and younger sister are. I don’t know how to explain it. They’re smart. They’d been in gifted programs. They just weren’t interested.”

Wow, you mean constantly yelling at your kids and putting maximum pressure on them to be just like you ended up being alienating? I’m shocked! Maybe parents out there will disagree, but this outcome seems pretty predictable to me.

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Urban Small Town Legend

[ 0 ] June 30, 2008 |

The “pregnancy pact” story seems bogus.

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Remarkable Feat

[ 18 ] June 30, 2008 |

Last week, my summer class ended the term with a showing of All the President’s Men, which prompted one of the students — who is, unlike me, old enough to remember Watergate with more than a toddler’s sophistication — to remark on how insane it was to see many of the Nixon conspirators recover enough of their reputations to be taken seriously as public figures over the next several decades. It’s a point that’s been made ten thousand times before, but it never gets old.

Three decades from now, I expect I’ll be able to offer a more or less similar observation when names like Paul Wolfowitz come up in the course of discussion. Though it’s axiomatic that the WSJ opinion pages serve as a rolling open mic for shitheads, I’m unable to comprehend why anyone would allow anything like this to pass through the gauntlet of laughter that even the best of Wolfowitz’s ideas deserve:

Given the strength and ruthlessness of the [Mugabe] regime, change will not come easily. Nevertheless, developing a concrete vision for the future would help to rally the people of Zimbabwe around a long-term effort to achieve a peaceful transition. It would give Mr. Tsvangirai important negotiating leverage. And it could attract disaffected members of the regime.

Most importantly, dramatic action by the international community could embolden other Africans to confront the tragedy in their backyard.

Because if Wolfowitz’s “international community” has anything for which to congratulate itself, it’s the development of a concrete vision for African development. And if the past five years have taught us anything, it’s that “dramatic action” by the same “international community” has produced durable and worthwhile transformations in other parts of the world. All that’s missing is a Weekly Standard editorial demanding that “Mugabe Must Go.”

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Potemkin PUMAs?

[ 0 ] June 29, 2008 |

Amanda finds that the founder of the PUMA PAC’s entire history of political contributions consists of…a $500 donation to John McCain. But I’m sure she’s rally a die-hard Clinton supporter with strong progressive beliefs!

Of course, I’m sure in addition to the inevitable Republican operatives there are PUMAs who are idiots, political nihilists, and take-your-ball-and-go-home narcissists (and there’s certainly considerable overlap between these categories.) Perhaps the more important point is that assertions that a significant number of feminists who believe that the productive reaction to sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton is to put John McCain in the White House have a distinct tendency to be unburdened by examples of people with any demonstrable history of commitment to progressive feminism. I’m sure there are some minute number of actual progressive feminists who would rather see McCain in the White House — this is America, you can find people who pay to see Uwe Boll movies — but there’s no movement that will have any effect on the election here.

As a side point, I continue to believe that claims that women are “held hostage by the [Democratic] party by their reproductive organs” really need to identify any issue on which the Republican Party advances policy positions that are better for women. Reproductive freedom is important, but it’s far from the only difference between the parties that’s relevant to women.

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[ 15 ] June 29, 2008 |

I saw my first ever Mets/Yankees game yesterday, and it certainly sucked although my section didn’t have the fights that apparently happened in other sections. Especially with the effect of the rain delay, the striking thing is that after Reyes getting picked of second with 2 out and Wright up the crowd was completely dead, and for good reason. And although it was a one-run game the bottom of the ninth severely tested my irrational commitment to never leaving the park with a game in progress, given that it involved Rivera facing Didn’t You Used to Be Carlos Delgado, Fluke Season Tatis, and the Rapidly Decomposing Corpse of Trot Nixon. The term “overmatched” seems grossly inadequate.

Although I’ve seen this It’s not really accurate to say that Petite outpitched Santana. The latter had much better stuff; it’s just that the Yankees have this strange commitment to trying to put major league hitters into as many lineup slots as possible. I don’t understand how anyone could watch yesterday’s game and think that the Mets are underachieving. They had a washed-up third baseman whose last good year was 2000 in right, a shitty backup first baseman in left, an immobile utility infielder whose last good season as a regular was also in 2000 at second, and a washed-up anvil at first base. That’s four positions out of which you’re not getting any offense or defense. The more common lineup isn’t much of an improvement; Castillo can get on base but is barely better defensively that Easley at this point, and Schneider can throw but can’t hit at all, Chavez is a good outfielder but would be a bad hitter for a utility infielder, let a lone a corner OF. Three stars plus 5 below-average-to-entirely-unacceptable players adds up to mediocre even if you get good pitching. If Church comes back and is healthy and Minaya can find a major league left fielder (and, in fairness, who could ever have anticipated that Moises Alou would get hurt?), then maybe they can win a weak division, but with the kind of lineups they’re running out there now they’re not going to finish .500 if Joe McCarthy comes back to earth and takes over Manuel’s body. This team isn’t underachieving; it’s just not very good.

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One Other Reason the Germany Analogy is Stupid…

[ 12 ] June 29, 2008 |

The conquest of Germany and Japan was not, in the largest sense, motivated by the belief that the German and Japanese people needed to be liberated from tyranny. We were happy enough to “liberate” them, but surely the Soviet Union was far more tyrannical than either in a domestic sense. Rather, Germany and Japan were conquered because both presented grave threats to international order and, in a very real sense, to civilization as we understood it. As such, nobody really cared what the Germans and the Japanese thought about being occupied, at least in the early days. Everyone knew that the German and Japanese puppet regimes would happily accept the military installations we installed in their countries, and no one was overly bothered by what the random Hans and Akira on the street thought about it.

Since 2003, the liberation of the Iraqi people from tyranny has become the sole plausible (and I use that term in the broadest sense possible) justification for the invasion of Iraq. As such, there’s rather a contradiction inherent in the project of creating a puppet state in order to legalize a long term military occupation that, by all evidence available, seems to be strongly opposed by a substantial majority of the Iraqi population.

The problem is this; if you say you’re liberating people, you have to make some allowance for what they do with their liberty.

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Why "Next War-itis"?

[ 0 ] June 29, 2008 |

Why does the Air Force have more trouble getting over the Cold War than either of the other services? The Army has rebuilt itself in response to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while the Navy shifted focus to the littoral in the 1990s and to maritime maintenance in this decade. Particularly in the case of the Navy, procurement strategies have followed suit; whatever you want to say about the DD(x) and the LCS, they are NOT platforms intended to fight the Soviet Union. The Air Force? Not so much…

Gates expressed doubts that the United States will get into a shooting war with a “peer competitor” like Russia or China any time soon. After he was fired, the outgoing Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. “Buzz” Moseley, echoed those sentiments. Not [Michael] Wynne.

“My response to Secretary Gates in that interchange was my brother was shot down in Vietnam by a Russian surface-to-air missile that was sold to the North Vietnamese,” Wynne said. “I never considered Vietnam to be a peer competitor. But I lost my brother to the fact that some peer sold the weapon that killed him.”

Wynne’s defenders in the Air Force are equally unapologetic. While Gates has spent months railing against the military-industrial compl ex’s fixation on a showdown China or Russia — “next-war-itis,” the Defense Secretary called it — Air Force Maj. Gen. Charlie Dunlap, writing in the Tampa Tribune, says “the entire defense establishment nevertheless suffers from a ‘This-Waritis’ contagion.” Which means the bureaucratic and strategic battle that ousted the Air Force’s chiefs is far from over.

Right… because we certainly should pay much more attention to a notional, fifteen years away war against potential enemies over whom we have presumptive dominance than to the wars that we’re actually fighting. Good catch, Chuckie.

The larger problem for the Air Force is that both the Army and Navy have long traditions to borrow from, such that they are capable of “re-inventing” themselves while retaining a sense of identity. Both the Army and the Navy can also borrow from the histories of foreign military organizations; the Navy rather self-consciously styles itself as the modern equivalent of the nineteenth century Royal Navy. The Air Force lacks historical traditions to borrow from, both because it is such a new service, and because it has been a worldwide leader since its inception. Put briefly, the Air Force only knows the Cold War; it only understands conflict in terms of great power struggle, and as such all future planning (in contrast to short term compromises) will be oriented around that organizational purpose. To ask the Air Force not to think in terms of great power war is to ask it not to be the Air Force, but rather some other organization born at some other time for some other purpose. As such, Gates cleaning out of the brass isn’t really going to amount to much; it is literally in the DNA of the Air Force to act in this way.

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The Midwest

[ 0 ] June 28, 2008 |

I’ll be hanging out in various quadrants of the midwest for the next two weeks, so blogging on my end will be mercifully sporadic. I lived for many years in this part of the world during graduate school, and my wife’s family hails from Illinois and Wisconsin; I absolutely love it out here, and I would gladly spend the rest of my days in any of the midwest’s fine states.

Having said that — and recognizing that the unique pathologies of American culture are sown broadly — I feel bound to suggest that something is deeply wrong with a region that could play host to a restaurant that boasts “All You Can Eat French Toast” and “Squeaky Fresh Cheese Curds.” We didn’t stop there, because I am not quite ready for the gray embrace of death. We did, however, enjoy an excellent roadside meal at Beefaroo, whose teenage workers didn’t seem to take seriously my recommendation that they change their restaurant’s name to something less, you know, awful.

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Surge Evaluation

[ 6 ] June 28, 2008 |

I mostly agree with what Ezra says here, here, and here about David Brooks Surge column. I would diverge slightly in regards to his discussion of the four trends that have led to a decrease in violence; Ezra lists the Sadrist truce, the Awakening strategy, successful ethnic cleansing in Baghdad, and the Surge, but I think it’s a little bit more complicated than that. For one, I would divide the Surge itself into tactical and material components, as one element of the Surge was a shift in tactics, while another was the increase in troops on the ground. It’s also important to note that the five trends aren’t analytically independent. Sadr certainly saw the Surge coming when he decided to pursue a political rather than military strategy. The ethnic cleansing of Baghdad was probably accelerated by the same anticipation. Similarly, the Awakening strategy is tied to the tactical evolution of US doctrine that resulted in the Surge, and the increase in troops is called for by that doctrinal development.

Ezra also reminds us…

Folks forget this, but the surge was actually part of Howard Dean’s 2004 candidacy, when he was running as an anti-war candidate. In June 2003, on Meet the Press, he said, “I can tell you one thing, though. We need more troops in Afghanistan. We need more troops in Iraq now.” I disagreed with him, but that was the plan: More troops, leading to less violence, leading to withdrawal. It was a plan that Democrats, even liberal Democrats, supported. Would Brooks like to credit Dean as a military visionary?

Indeed, although I have to wonder whether an increase in 2005 would have had the same effect as the increase in 2007. There was still plenty of ethnic cleansing to do in 2005, and Al Qaeda may not have grown sufficient in strength to make the US a good option for the Sunni tribal leadership. Just as important, the Army and Marine Corps were not the organizations in 2005 that they were in 2007; the experience of Iraq (and, in fairness, the revolutionary push by David Petraeus) has served to shift the focus especially of the Army, making it an instrument more capable of carrying out a Surge-like operation.

Still, even if Brooks is 100% off base. It wasn’t hard to predict that the Surge would fail to produce reconciliation, or that the empowering of Sunni tribal leaders would serve to facilitate the disintegration of the Iraqi state. I thought that both of these outcomes would result from the Surge in early 2007, and nothing that’s happened has changed my view. However, I did very much doubt that the expansion of US forces by only 25000 would contribute to any significant reduction in violence in Iraq. While the Surge hasn’t begun to “solve” the problem of Iraq, and certainly hasn’t been the sole contributor to the reduction in violence, I think it’s fair to say that violence since June 2007 has declined more than I would have thought possible. If someone had told me that US casualties in Iraq would average under 40/month for a nine month period, I doubt I would have believed it, and I know I wouldn’t have bought it if told that this could be accomplished in the context of increased operational tempo.

So there’s that, but it doesn’t really go anywhere; the occupation of Iraq is less costly in human terms than I would have expected a year ago, but that doesn’t, in the end, get us very far.

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700 Cell Phones?

[ 0 ] June 28, 2008 |

While recognizing the general principle that prisoners, even in Afghanistan, ought to have some contact with the outside world, I have to question the wisdom of allowing this:

This month’s spectacular prison escape in Kandahar began with a jailed guerrilla’s phone conversation with the No. 2 leader of the Afghan insurgency, according to one of the roughly 350 Taliban fighters who broke out. Speaking to NEWSWEEK by phone from his home in eastern Afghanistan late last week, Taliban subcommander Mullah Khan Muhammad Akhund, 36, said more than 700 of the prison’s approximately 1,000 inmates were allowed to have their own mobile phones. It was one of the few comforts at the antiquated and squalid Sarposa Prison, where 15 to 20 men were crammed into each tiny cell, he says. Counting on prisoners’ families to pay, prison authorities charged each inmate $100 a month for the privilege of keeping a phone, according to Akhund, who was serving an eight-year sentence in Sarposa before the escape.

Right… in a place where an active insurgency can move about more or less freely, someone thought it was a good idea to allow inmates of a prison holding over 350 members of that insurgency to use cell phones without supervision. I suppose that to make it even easier, they could have faxed prison blueprints and guard shift schedules…

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