Dave and Gary both have both commented on Yglesias’ post on George Kennan and the appreciation of foreign policy expertise at the beginning of the Cold War. I’d like to further note that the situation that developed in the diplomatic and intelligence communities regarding China at the end of World War II is quite similar to what holds regarding the Middle East today. Although the story is a little more complex than this, essentially what happened was that knowledgeable experts on China repeatedly indicated that a Communist takeover was likely. Such warnings were ignored by policymakers, political appointees, and Congress (this was rather a bipartisan situation, although in fairness the Republicans tended to be worse than the Dems). When the Communists took over, the experts were blamed for not doing anything, and were purged as commie simps. Thus, for the first ten years or so following the establishment of the PRC, government expertise on China was in desperately short supply.
Evidence cannot discredit revolutionary doctrine, as the revolutionaries simply interpret new evidence in whatever way they see fit. Air power enthusiasts have taken rather a hit lately, first with the failure of air power to tame Hezbollah in Lebanon (to the extent that the IDF did damage to Hezbollah, it was almost entirely with ground force), and second with the recent Lancet report suggesting that the use of air power, in spite of increased precision, had led to tremendous Iraqi civilian casualties.
Undeterred, Major General Charles Dunlap Jr. (USAF) insists that air power is best available option for the delivery of US power. Disparaging “boots on the ground zealots,” he argued that great recent successes like the killing of Abu Musab al -Zarqawi point to the great capacity that air power still has to deliver victories.
Is air power the new face of successful war-fighting? Much to the dismay of the boots-on-the-ground zealots, or BOTGZ (pronounced bow-togs), the answer for today’s democracies may well be “yes.” During the summer, while U.S. ground forces in Iraq were distracted investigating potential war criminals in their midst, air power delivered a major success. The killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was, if not a decisive victory, still the best news of the season.
The summer was also marked by Israel’s extensive reliance on air power against Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Dunlap did not, apparently, give any thought to the fact that the killing of Zaqawi has had no noticeable effect on the insurgency, or that it has been widely recognized in Israel that the air campaign was a mistake, but nevertheless. Dunlap argues that air war avoids events like Abu Ghraib and Haditha, but mentions nothing of the incident of Qana or the bevy of similar misdirected attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dunlap then insists that air power can win not only conventional conflicts but also counter-insurgency campaigns, and suggests that the Marine Corps should be folded into the Army, since excessive ground forces are unnecessary. That the liberal use of air power in conjunction with extensive use of ground troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq has notably failed to destroy the insurgency doesn’t appear to have occurred to the General. General Dunlap bemoans the fact that we can no longer simply Exterminat the Brutes,
Most important, their hearts and minds are simply not amenable to the reasoned techniques that underlay classic counterinsurgency texts. They are not rational actors in the sense that they are propelled by some political or social ideology; instead, they are driven by unyielding religious fanaticism. In the past, such insurgencies did exist and were crushed the old-fashioned way: by annihilation. That is not exactly a viable option in a world where human rights groups, the media and others too often choose to find something good about the most sadistic terrorist organizations.
but his laudatory remarks about the Viet Cong were, of course, not in evidence during the actual fighting, when it was commonly argued that Asians, Communists, or both put no value on human life and therefore could not be considered rational. I won’t bore you with additional quotes, as General Dunlap launches from this into simple fantasy, asserting against all evidence that US ground forces had no major impact on the collapse of Iraqi forces, that attempts to develop a counter-insurgency strategy to fight in Iraq amount to “fighting the last war”, and that developing an Arabic linguistic capability is useless. It’s important to remember in the context of so many senior officers coming out in opposition to the administration handling of the war that there remain portions of the military utterly hostile to any of the goals that progressives ought to hold, and furthermore that such officers tend to be concentrated in the Air Force, the branch most friendly to neoconservative doctrine (and, notably enough, to particularly virulent forms of evangelical Christianity).
A recent editorial in Warship:International Fleet Review captures the air power zealotry problem in particularly blunt language:
The culprits are the false prophets of air power. An air campaign starts with a target set, which might be informed by adequate intelligence and consists of targets, which are related to the casus belli and susceptible to accurate targeting. The promise of so-called surgical strikes against legitimate targets makes the use of force acceptable to policy-makers and opinion-formers on the left and the right of politics. However, as the air campaign progresses the intelligence becomes poorer and the targeting more challenging, even for precision weapons (which are only ‘precision’ in terms of means of delivery but are otherwise just as indiscriminate in such circumstances as any other munition). Therefore, inevitably there is ‘collateral’ damage. At the same time the intelligence becomes less reliable and the targets become more and more remote from the original set. Eventually the campaign ceases altogether to be intelligence-led and becomes capability-led: Rather than search out those targets which contribute to the campaign, the planners seek desperately for the targets which are susceptible to their available technology
The result is the destruction of anything that can be targeted, even if it has no military value. But the editorial reminds us why air power and its advocates remain so seductive. To civilians who want to vigorously use military power to achieve America’s ends, air power is a godsend. Wars can be fought cheaply, cleanly, and often. Weak minded, casualty conscious civilians can be ignored. Military advice can also be ignored, as long as it comes from either the Army or the Navy. In fairness, civilians who do not hold to neoconservative principles have been seduced by the idea of airpower, but the promise of airpower for a neoconservative foreign policy should be clear.
In his new exposé of the National Security Agency entitled Body of Secrets, author James Bamford highlights a set of proposals on Cuba by the Joint Chiefs of Staff codenamed OPERATION NORTHWOODS. This document, titled “Justification for U.S. Military Intervention in Cuba” was provided by the JCS to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on March 13, 1962, as the key component of Northwoods. Written in response to a request from the Chief of the Cuba Project, Col. Edward Lansdale, the Top Secret memorandum describes U.S. plans to covertly engineer various pretexts that would justify a U.S. invasion of Cuba. These proposals – part of a secret anti-Castro program known as Operation Mongoose – included staging the assassinations of Cubans living in the United States, developing a fake “Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington,” including “sink[ing] a boatload of Cuban refugees (real or simulated),” faking a Cuban airforce attack on a civilian jetliner, and concocting a “Remember the Maine” incident by blowing up a U.S. ship in Cuban waters and then blaming the incident on Cuban sabotage. Bamford himself writes that Operation Northwoods “may be the most corrupt plan ever created by the U.S. government.”
Great stuff. The Cold War military tended to be more reluctant to propose the use of force than civilian authorities, but Cuba is the important exception to that rule. For some reason, Castro drove the senior brass positively batty, to the extent that they were willing to kill people and subvert American democracy to get him. Fortunately, McNamara wouldn’t go for it, but I am again reminded of his statement in Fog of War that he wasn’t aware “in a sense” of the attempts to kill Castro.
The Wall Street Journal had decided to turn the question of the scientific value of the recent Lancet study over to…former Hair Club For Growth uber-hack Stephen Moore.
Stephen Moore. Yes, that Stephen Moore. Who’s next up, Tim Blair?
Whoops–as noted by Matt in comments, it’s actually a different hack named Stephen Moore. My apologies.
Charles P. Strite, born in Minneapolis, MN, received patent #1,394,450 on October 18, 1921 for the bread-toaster. During World War I, Strite worked in a manufacturing plant in Stillwater, MN, where he became frustrated with the burned toast served in the cafeteria. Strite, determined to find a way of toasting bread that did not depend on human attention, invented the pop-up toaster with a variable timer. In 1925, using a redesigned version of Strite’s toaster, the Toastmaster Company began to market the first household toaster that could brown bread on both sides simultaneously, set the heating element on a timer, and eject the toast when finished. By 1926, Charles Strite’s Toastmaster was available to the public and was a huge success.
Yglesias asks the above question in regards to the decision to announce unilateral space hegemony at exactly the same time that we’re trying to secure Russian and Chinese cooperation on North Korea. My short answer would be no; the elements of the administration committed to diplomacy and military policy respectively probably have so little to do with one another (and, indeed, view each other with suspicion) that it would likely not have occured to either to consult the other.
Speaking of ineptitude, someone mentioned last night at Drinking Liberally that the fact that the administration hasn’t apparently begun to plan for a post-11/7 reality in which the Dems control one or both houses of Congress should be cause for concern. Then we all had a big laugh at the notion of the administration preparing for the aftermath of anything…
…I see that Patterico endorses the Captain’s nonsensical point that outing Craig is a “personal and degrading attack.” Just to be clear, people who think that saying someone is gay is a “personal attack” and “degrading” are trying to portray themselves as the real defenders of gay rights. What a joke this is.
…and, of course, Althouse. (Shorter Althouse: “it’s appalling that during elections people discuss people’s sex lives rather than the real issues. Now let’s get back to discussing Bill Clinton’s socks.”)
For those of you weren’t aware of what this new ad is copying, note the original Jesse Helms ad above. Except that the new one seems to be for people who think that the racism in the Helms ad was a little too subtle. (The other nice touch in the new ad is the “bilingual only” job sign–what, having more skills makes you more likely to get a job? What’s the world coming to!) Admittedly, when you have accomplishments like single-handedly refusing to allow the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to be integrated to your discredit, you can be a little less explicit…
…see also Belle.
From the Times’ second most e-mailed story of the past several days (behind something on the arcane and mildly distressing subject of “preschool puberty”):
Representative Jo Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican who heads a House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.’s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, was similarly dumbfounded when I asked her if she knew the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.
“Do I?” she asked me. A look of concentration came over her face. “You know, I should.” She took a stab at it: “It’s a difference in their fundamental religious beliefs. The Sunni are more radical than the Shia. Or vice versa. But I think it’s the Sunnis who’re more radical than the Shia.”
Did she know which branch Al Qaeda’s leaders follow?
“Al Qaeda is the one that’s most radical, so I think they’re Sunni,” she replied. “I may be wrong, but I think that’s right.”
Did she think that it was important, I asked, for members of Congress charged with oversight of the intelligence agencies, to know the answer to such questions, so they can cut through officials’ puffery when they came up to the Hill?
“Oh, I think it’s very important,” said Ms. Davis, “because Al Qaeda’s whole reason for being is based on their beliefs. And you’ve got to understand, and to know your enemy.”
I’m teaching a course on the US and the Middle East this semester, and two of the first books we examined — James Bill’s Eagle and the Lion and William Quandt’s Peace Process — make the case that failures of US policy in Iran and Israel/Palestine are attributable in no small part to the lack of rudimentary historical, sociological and cultural knowledge among policymakers. In Iran, for example, the Johnson and Nixon administrations were so entranced by the power of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi that they failed to appreciate the evolving frustrations of students, the middle classes and especially the religious stratum of Iranian society; Carter’s Iranian “experts” were so insensate as to utterly miss the signs (identified by actual experts who were not in the policy loop) that the Pahlavi regime was on the verge of collapse in 1977. In the context of the post-1967 “peace process,” to cite one other example, the Reagan and first Bush administrations displayed almost complete indifference to the history of the Iraeli-Palestinian conflict, believing it was irrelevant to the pursuit of a final compromise; Richard Haass, an “expert” who directed Middle East affairs on Bush’s National Security Council, frequently cited Joan Peters’ fraudulent From Time Immemorial as an important source of insight into the problem.
It goes on like this. As Yglesias pointed out last week, the start of the cold war gave genuinely knowledgeable people like George Kennan the space to develop policy:
One might have expected something similar to happen after 9/11, but it didn’t, overwhelmingly because what longtime students of the Middle East had to say wasn’t convenient for the pre-existing political agendas of America’s bipartisan national security elite. Instead of getting analyses representing the range of views actually existing in the field, we got Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami, two people ready to tell policymakers what they wanted to hear.
Yglesias neglects to mention that within five years Kennan’s advice regarding “containment” was transformed into actual national security policies that were considerably more expansive, ideological and militaristic than what Kennan himself envisioned — which only underscores the obvious point that even well-intentioned “expertise” can only accomplish so much. Moreover, if the point of such knowledge — as Rep. Davis so gracelessly put it — is merely to “know your enemy” (assuming as she apparently does that all Sunnis constitute the enemy) and to assure even greater degrees of domination, it’s tempting (if ultimately cynical) to root for the triumph of ignorance.
Nevertheless, the contempt of this administration for basic information about the world is astonishing.
(…dammit… first link fixed…..)
Diane Nash, as Erik Loomis explains.
Sadly, the centrality of women to the civil rights movement has only become faintly visible to most Americans with the deaths of Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King in the past year. Even now, however, popular historical memory has little room to accomodate young organizers like Nash — who chafed against moderate leaders of the SCLC and other established civil rights organizations — or the thousands of anonymous working class black women who sustained the Montgomery Bus boycott for a year longer than any of its leadership initially expected. Erik’s post reminds us of how disorienting — in all the best senses of the term — the civil rights movement actually was.
In “Steel Drivin’ Man,” Scott Reynolds Nelson argues that the John Henry story was no tall tale, and Henry himself no myth. Historians have long speculated that the John Henry ballads, which began circulating in the 1870’s, referred to a real railroad worker, but Mr. Nelson, with extensive documentation in hand, proposes a candidate. His John Henry is a former Union soldier, imprisoned for theft while on a work assignment in Richmond, Va., and leased out with other inmates to blast tunnels through the Allegheny Mountains for the new Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.
Very nice post from Ezra Klein:
More pernicious, I’m starting to think, is anti-paranoid punditry in American politics, in which scary-but-plausible theories are dismissed simply by calling them conspiratorial. Because we all know the ancient Latin logical fallacy reductio ad conspiratorium that eliminates theories assuming collusion between actors in service of complicated ends. Nothing so unlikely could ever occur in this reality, pal.
The problem is that some conspiracy theories really are just beneath contempt, and don’t deserve serious responses. But the admission I just made provides an opening for a very problematic rhetorical device. Not that pundits need such an opening to avoid dealing with facts and evidence and so on, but still. “We went to war in Iraq in order to enrich Halliburton” is probably pretty wrong, and maybe even a little stupid, but it deserves an evidence based response in a way that “Bill Clinton ran drugs through Arkansas and raped a woman each day after breakfast” really doesn’t. But there’s no good standard I can identify to make that determination.