Friday, June 27, 2008

Speculations About Speculation

I originally posted this in the comments section of this post over at Hot Air about Alaska Governor (and rumored McCain VP prospect) Sarah Palin. Cross-posting (with tweaks) here, to solicit feedback from any who might happen by...

Now, I’ll be the very first to admit that when it comes to economics, I’m not even a neophyte…sort of a protophyte, I expect.

So, I'm looking for some gentle reality-checks here: “Speculation” is about trading in risk, buying into the probabilities of some given commodity increasing or decreasing in value over time. Check?

The alarming proximity between the levels of Supply and Demand in the current global oil market is one of the factors which has driven the very brisk “long” (i.e., projected to increase) purchases of oil futures, which in turn amplify the upward drive in prices (albeit less than many anti-capitalist types may shriek about in their on-going quest to distribute earned capital to those who didn't earn it). Demand continues to increase, while supply is subject to a variety of all-too-plausible scenarios for interruption, with very little slack before it is actually outstripped by demand. Seems, then, a safe bet that “up” will outweigh “down,” by a pretty wide margin. Check?

If the US is seen taking active, concrete, and visible steps toward introducing more oil from domestic sources, while simultaneously incentivizing development of alternative energy and fuels, it will basically start a very public clock ticking toward the supply:demand ratio undergoing a not inconsiderable realignment. [False dichotomy to illustrate the ends of what would actually be a spectrum:] Once it becomes available, either domestically produced American oil will be used domestically (and so take a proportion of American demand off-line in the global market, leaving more available supply from foreign sources), or that domestic oil will be sold on that global market, with the same net effect. Check?

Futures traders will see this clock ticking, observe the conservation and alternative energy/fuel efforts underway, take the measure of the American zeitgeist, and may begin to judge that the future of betting on a consistent rise in petro-prices is no longer so bright. Long orders would decrease, and along with them the upward pressure on prices…before a barrel of oil is actually extracted from the ground. Check?

So the issue of what immediate benefit there would be from beginning exploration and exploitation efforts on domestic fields is tending to be interpreted too narrowly if the effects on the market of the efforts themselves are not being taken into account. Check?

Bonus round: Palin is marvelous, but it would be a mistake to decant her before 2012. Check?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Hammurabi Smiles

This press release from the Multi-National Force-Iraq site, reports that Iraqi courts tried and convicted two Iraqi individuals for crimes against the State (possession of illegal weapons). For Americans, the rule of law is more ground than figure; we threaten to sue, demand justice for crimes and misdemeanors, and try to get out of jury duty with little more reflection than we devote to parsing nitrogen from oxygen. This report is not likely to strike many of us as such a big deal.

But in Iraq, it is a very big deal. This is not to say that the offenses themselves were such big news (though the second guy did have rather a formidable cache of weapons, the seizure of which likely delayed a fair number of funerals) . Rather, what stands out is the fact that these individuals were not executed on the spot. They were not tortured, or thrown summarily into a windowless pit. They were captured, held, had their day in court, were given the chance to present evidence, and were duly convicted and sentenced.

The judicial system under Saddam's Baathist regime was anything but independent or, by Western standards, just. Political prisoners abounded, and had no recourse if they piqued the ire of the regime or its friends. Juries were non-existent, and judges had outrageously wide discretion. Saddam was the law, and woe betide those who tripped his radar.

Now, however, even terrorists caught red-handed (all-but literally!) can expect to stand before a judge who is not merely a dictator's puppet. Faith in an independent judiciary is one of the most fundamental underpinnings of a functional civil society, the firewall against the militias and vigilante 'justice' of a failed state. For Iraq to continue in its evolution into a functional Republic which represents the interests of its people fairly and evenhandedly, the further development of this institution is absolutely crucial. I have been looking out for stories such as this, and it is gratifying in the extreme to start finding them, especially after the shameful debacle which was the trial and execution of Saddam himself.

Does Iraq still have a long row to hoe? Surely. But in the land which saw one of the first codified systems of laws, it is very heartening to see progress on this front. One of the most important 'benchmarks' for Iraq may be found seated behind the bench.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Bush in The Hand (UPDATED)

OK, Life is beginning to resemble (roughly) something normal...ish. Apart from geeking out rather fiercely on my new phone, I might actually have time to blog a bit in days to come!

However, since that time has not quite arrived, it's short and linky again tonight.

Via Tigerhawk, I encountered this editorial from the Telegraph on the prospects of the Bush Presidency's long-term legacy. It is a topic to which I have devoted a good deal of thought, since I spent the first few years of that Administration in the full grip of Bush Derangement Syndrome, whose highly tenacious antibodies still linger in my system. I can still, with very little effort, summon the deep, visceral revulsion I used to experience at the mere sight of GWB, the sound of his voice, the way he steadfastly and maddeningly persists in saying NOOK-ular when he bloody ought to know better. As someone who values rationality and believes that while political judgment can (and should!) never completely be divorced from passion, such judgment must never be permitted to be dominated by it, I am not altogether unembarrassed by this period in the history of my political thought. The cult of personality cuts both ways, and one can just as surely be enthralled by an eloquent but vacuous demagogue as one can be unjustly repulsed by a clumsy but competent leader. I have come to believe that George W Bush falls squarely into the latter camp (three guesses who I think falls into the former...).

This piece is not the first place I have seen Bush compared to Harry Truman (who, as the editorial points out, was also deeply unpopular during his tenure), and I suspect it will not be the last. The Truman doctrine of comprehensive containment of the USSR took decades to prove its mettle, ultimately succeeding in acting as a global poultice which drew the toxins of Communism to the surface, where they were resoundingly outcompeted by Democratic, free-market forces. On those few occasions when a more "enlightened" coexistence policy allowed the pressure to relent (*ahem* Jimmy Carter), the results were disastrous. Similarly, while Bush's stance with respect to global Jihadism has been lambasted for simple-minded manichaeism, its devastating effects on our foes' ability to pursue their ends unimpeded is growing ever more clear, despite the inevitable setbacks and the impatience which they feed.

I have a sneaking suspicion (and enduring hope) that history will, on the whole, be kind to George W Bush. I hope he lives to hear some of its judgments; considering the withering stream of venom he so stoically endures, the guy could use some props.

UPDATE (6/24/2008, 1:54 AM): To the above, I would add this editorial from the New York Times (!!). Key excerpt:

The whole episode [of Bush stubbornly bucking conventional 'wisdom' and implementing the Surge and COIN Doctrine] is a reminder that history is a complicated thing. The traits that lead to disaster in certain circumstances are the very ones that come in handy in others. The people who seem so smart at some moments seem incredibly foolish in others.

The cocksure war supporters learned this humbling lesson during the dark days of 2006. And now the cocksure surge opponents, drunk on their own vindication, will get to enjoy their season of humility. They have already gone through the stages of intellectual denial. First, they simply disbelieved that the surge and the Petraeus strategy was doing any good. Then they accused people who noticed progress in Iraq of duplicity and derangement. Then they acknowledged military, but not political, progress. Lately they have skipped over to the argument that Iraq is progressing so well that the U.S. forces can quickly come home.

But before long, the more honest among the surge opponents will concede that Bush, that supposed dolt, actually got one right. Some brave souls might even concede that if the U.S. had withdrawn in the depths of the chaos, the world would be in worse shape today.

Life is complicated. The reason we have democracy is that no one side is right all the time. The only people who are dangerous are those who can’t admit, even to themselves, that obvious fact.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hugo's Little Friend

The ever-invaluable Doug Farah has posted on some very unnerving (if uncomfortably unsurprising) evidence of Hugo Chavez' regime's insidious collaboration with Hezbollah. In this case, two travel agencies operated by Hezbollah supporters based in Venezuela were designated by the Department of the Treasury as providing cover for the passage of Hezbollah operatives into and out of the South American nation.

This is only the tip of a very disturbing iceberg. It is still further evidence that those who scoff at the global nature of this Long War are engaged in a very perilous form of denial. In fact, the evidence is quite daunting that the Shia contingent of the Islamist threat, emanating from Ahmadinejad's Iran, is actively seeking to position assets behind our "lines," waiting to become activated, for example, should all diplomatic and economic options be exhausted against Tehran's nuclear ambitions, and a regrettable but essential military action ensue. These forces are finding all-too willing facilitators among the criminal organizations and malignantly anti-American regimes in the region.

So, when I hear of interdiction efforts like the above-linked, and about increasingly aggressive and successful operations against guerilla outfits like the FARC, I am heartened. In this global counterinsurgency effort in which we are engaged, it is vital that we deny our foes the footholds they seek in hostile and/or lawless regions...particularly those which lie on our side of the Montroe Doctrine line.

If nothing else, news such as this should prompt Western apologists for Hugo Chavez' increasingly hideous parody of a Workers' Paradise to take a good, hard look at their brow-ridged Bolivar. He is keeping some decidedly unsavory company.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sic Transit EUtopia

In this week's briefing from Stratfor, (go here to receive these highly useful briefings --and a few gentle nags to purchase full membership), founder George Friedman discusses last week's rejection by the Irish people of the Lisbon Treaty, and its implications for the status and form of the EU going forward. Among other things, this document proposed the revamping of voting procedures, formation of a full-time President of the European Council, and the creation of a functional Foreign minister post. In short, it would have moved the EU several steps further along in a transformation from free trade zone to federated super-state. And it appears that a majority of the Irish have added themselves to the list of those who are not at all keen on that idea. Says Friedman:

Europe is not going to become a nation-state in the way the United States is. It is increasingly clear that Europeans are not going to reach a consensus on a European constitution. They are not in agreement on what European institutions should look like, how elections should be held and, above all, about the relation between individual nations and a central government. The Europeans have achieved all they are going to achieve. They have achieved a free trade zone with a regulatory body managing it. They have created a currency that is optional to EU members, and from which we expect some members to withdraw from [sic] at times while others join in. There will be no collective European foreign or defense policy simply because the Europeans do not have a common interest in foreign and defense policy.

What the proponents of a European State are finding is that, despite their aspirations for the softening of national boundaries with an eye toward subsuming them within a superordinate political entity, people are still rather more attached to their pre-existing national identities than expected. The US was created de novo from a set of colonies peopled largely by those who sought to escape from their circumscribed roles within their country of origin. Its constitution established it as a new set of relationships within a new identity which nominally --and, over the course of its history, functionally -- existed in a form which was transcendent of prior cultural and national heritage. It was a New World.

The nations of Europe, by sharp contrast, are far more heavily invested in the cultural lineages which tie them to the land and to the national identities which have arisen from their tempestuous histories. Oceans of blood have been spilled in the formation of those identities, and it appears that it will take more than the stroke of a bureaucrat's pen to erase them. True enough, the geopolitics of the Cold War may have lent themselves to a degree of complacency with respect to the armed defense of European nation states so recently ravaged by the horrors of WW2. The zone and form of inter-state wrangling on the Continent did shift from the battlefield to the board rooms and embassies and the General Assembly, and the specter of armed conflict among major powers wilted under the prospect of the mushroom clouds which it was generally understood that it could spawn. It is, then, understandable that some would entertain the fantasy that such a process could be linearly extrapolated to a condition in which the nation state itself could be gently and rationally dissolved into a wider confederacy.

But it is one thing to reduce trade barriers and come to a consensus on currency, and quite another to voluntarily surrender sovereignty to the bureaucrats of Brussels. The former seems a perfectly reasonable response to the nightmarish hodgepodge of tariffs and arbitrage which hobbled the interoperability of trade among the cheek-and-jowl nations of Europe before the advent of the EU. The latter, however, is seeming more and more like an untenable proposition for countries which have shown quite a bit more pride and possessiveness of their independent identities than their would-be transnational overlords had banked on. In the simplest sense, Friedman points out, the EU did not have enough to offer in exchange for the precious commodity which it demanded in return.

There is a saying that some people are exhausted and confuse their state with virtue. If that is true, then it is surely true of Europe in the last couple of generations. The European Union reflected these origins. It began as a pact — the European Community — of nations looking to reduce tariff barriers. It evolved into a nearly Europe-wide grouping of countries bound together in a trade bloc, with many of those countries sharing a common currency. Its goal was not the creation of a more perfect union, or, as the Americans put it, a “novus ordo seclorum.” It was not to be the city on the hill. Its commitment was to a more prosperous life, without genocide. Though not exactly inspiring, given the brutality of European history, it was not a trivial goal.

Still, this is fairly weak tea compared to the deep-seated and hard-won character of a nation. Who better than the Irish to recognize this, and to push back the skinny end of the wedge which would have torn that national identity asunder. Frankly, I'm amazed that the margin of that defeat was a slim as it was. But defeated it was, and with it the misguided dream of a European regime. At least for now.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Vital Constituency

Posting has been all-but non-existent as the space between day care and summer camp has occupied my time with much Li'l-Cyte-related activity.

Today's edition of the WSJ Opinion Page, however, has brought me out of hiding to comment on a group with a great deal riding on the US Presidential election. The people of Iraq have endured much. The depredations of the Saddam regime saw many thousands suffer and die horribly, while the rest lived in constant (if not always conscious) terror of the brutally efficient Baathist secret police. After their liberation from that regime, however, a virulent infection of Sunni Jihadi terrorists and Iranian-backed Shiite goon squads threatened to poison their newfound chance at freedom with an even more chaotic sort of oppression and misery. Just when things seemed darkest, however, a critical corner was turned and the Iraqi people appear to have selected a government which is taking their security and self-determination very seriously. Now, for the very first time since the nation of Iraq was cobbled together after WW1, a free citizenry can see the promise of living in a state which allows them to partake fairly in the governance of their country and in the equitable distribution of its immense wealth.

Which is why those people are watching the progress of the current American election cycle with great interest. Indeed, if many are behaving as though their very lives depended on its outcome, it is because they see the situation rather more clearly than does much of the American electorate:

The administration and the Iraqi government are now wrangling over a status-of-forces agreement -- evidence that Iraq has reached a point where it can once again act like a sovereign nation. But the Iraqis leave no doubt that they want a deal, not least "so Iraq would be able to protect U.S. interests in the region," as Sheik Abu Rishah puts it. Having lost 4,100 Americans for Iraq, the Iraqis are offering to return the sacrifice -- assuming only that the alliance endures.

Throughout our interview, the men did not stop fingering their prayer beads, as if their future hinges on their ability to make their case to the American public. They're right: It does. Which is why Iraq, all but alone among the nations, will be praying for a McCain victory on the first Tuesday in November.

As huge as the gains in Iraqi security and political reconciliation have surely been, they could still be derailed, and Iraq plunged into corrosive chaos, if the checks on the still very potent entropic forces which threaten its nascent Republic are prematurely removed. And yet this is precisely what an Obama presidency would almost surely bring about, if even a fraction of what he 'promises' should come to pass when he settles into the Oval Office.

John McCain, by contrast, saw the need for a surge in troops, along with a change in strategy, long before that need was acknowledged within the Bush Administration. It should scarcely be surprising, then, if Iraqis should tend to support a candidate who has steadfastly aligned himself with their highest aspirations for their nation and coming generations of its people.

However, despite the shrill cries of many in this country that Iraq is little more than a province of the American Empire, the people of that nation have no direct say in the course of American politics. All they can do is watch, nervously, from a distance, and keep their prayer beads (and Kalashnikovs) close.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Red and Blue: More Space Between McCain and Obama

Recently, John McCain stated that he is "intrigued" by the idea of sending humans to Mars, saying that "it would excite the imagination of the American people" to know what it would be like to have humans stand on the surface of the Red Planet. Needless to say, I agree. Some argue that robotic missions can yield very significant scientific data at a fraction of the cost of sending missions which have to support the fragile human organism in the most inhospitable environments imaginable. This is not a groundless argument, but I have always felt that it rather missed some important parts of the point. The flexibility and mobility of human researchers, their ability to improvise and to stray from predetermined mission schedules to investigate "pop-up" objectives simply can't be matched by even the most versatile robotic probes, which bears on the "bang for your buck" part of the argument. But even this is not the central point.

It's funny how the argument for human space travel which seems the most "out there" is the one which addresses the most basic of human needs: raw survival. Initiating the process of spreading humanity beyond the confines of our atmosphere is a way of hedging humanity's bets for truly long-term survivability. It really is only a matter of time before the gods of orbital dynamics place us in the cross-hairs of another Extinction-Level Event like that which did for the dinosaurs. It could be a million years till the next Big One crosses our orbit at precisely the wrong time. It could be twenty minutes. I would rather we set about improving the odds that we'll have our space-legs well-developed when that particular hammer is cocked, either to have a much better chance of deflecting the bullet...or at least for there to be someone left to mourn and remember and begin again.

I am no fan of reality TV, but I am compelled in this context to reflect on its broad appeal. Starting with "The Real World" on MTV, millions of people have voted with their remotes on the value of participating in the lives of other people in unusual situations. We are a species of voyeurs, whose interests range from the prurient to the profound. We are constantly seeking to expand the range of our experiences, which I believe is a hard-wired trait of our tribal heritage, our need to belong to a community like our lives depend on it (gotta know what's going on in the yurt next door; might happen to me someday). As extraordinary as the data and images from our robotic probes in space and on the surface of Mars may be, the 'experiences' of these inanimate explorers is far too abstract to energize most people's imagination. We need the sense that someone's been there, and access to at least a vicarious experience of that being. The daily drama of humans en route to and on the surface of another world can scarcely be matched by any earthbound reality show (and smart mission financiers would charge a premium for the rights to broadcast that drama to dirtside viewers).

In addition to the drama, however, the inspiration which would flow from an undertaking of such magnitude would energize a generation which, for all its global interconnectivity, has grown all too inner-directed (planet-provincial, if you will), to the cost of our frontier-spawned culture. Giving this generation, and the ones to follow, a truly endless frontier (this time free from indigenous societies over which to steam-roll!) is one of the greatest gifts we could bestow. The Apollo program saw a burst in interest in science and engineering which continues to benefit us to this day. Think of how many young people would be motivated to expand the parameters of their perceived possibilities given the availability of such an adventure!

By contrast with this sort of vision, we have Obama's focus further down the Maslow pyramid. His thought appears to be that the 'diversion' of resources skyward would constitute a wasteful expenditure, and his equivocation on the matter of human spaceflight does not bode well for the fate of such programs under an Obama Administration:

In that new policy, Obama pledged to reduce the gap between the 2010 retirement of the shuttle and the first mission of Constellation, its successor program, now slated for 2015.

The new stance appeared to conflict with a previous Obama plan that would raid the Constellation budget to help pay for education reform set. That plan also called for delaying Constellation by five years.

But campaign sources said Obama would not delay the development Constellation, only later stages of the mission that would send astronauts to the moon and Mars.

However, it’s unclear what that policy would mean for NASA and Constellation, as the moon-Mars plan was the underlying reason President Bush pushed for the development of Constellation.

Plus, raiding the Constellation budget would not cover even a third of the $72 billion Obama needs for his education plan in a prospective first term.

Last year, NASA estimated it would spend about $23 billion on Constellation between 2009 and 2012; Obama has called for $18 billion annually for education reform.

Now, obviously I do not meant to imply here that exploring space is somehow "more important" than educating our young. What I take issue with is the proposition that the two are necessarily in conflict. That assumption is reflective of the strikingly narrow focus which has characterized the Obama campaign, despite all of its soaring rhetoric about Hope and Change. It's analogous to his penny-wise, pound-foolish notions about trying to raise revenues by doubling capital gains taxes, which will only disincentivize people from realizing their investments, and so ultimately take revenue out of the economy. In this case, he is essentially talking about diverting funds into the creation and maintenance of educational programs, and out of the kinds of societal-level projects which can help to provide the intrinsic motivations for young people to vector their educations toward the pursuit of broader dreams. This also bears on his approach to global trade and international relations (protectionist and non-interventionist), which will almost certainly drain the dynamism from trade and dangerously dilute the stabilizing effects of a robust American presence abroad.

In essence, then the difference between McCain's and Obama's approach can be described in terms of Red and Blue Planet models. Each is a state of mind which recurs throughout their respective theories of governance, one directed outward toward open-ended possibilities and their associated risks, while the other is a closed-loop, risk-averse vision.

Of course, in the fullness of time, these questions may in large measure be mooted by the increasingly robust private space projects which have been popping up in encouragingly large numbers of late. Private, for-profit ventures into orbit and thence to the moon, and even beyond would stand a far better chance of arising from and feeding back into a societal will for exploration than Kennedy-esque Programs, forever at the mercy of the vagaries of election cycles and the wrangling of various constituencies. However, here too the difference between the candidates is all-too relevant; it would be foolish to take Big Chances on the promise of profit from the development of space in a climate which stifles entrepreneurship as an Obama presidency doubtless would.

In the end, it comes down to which candidate demonstrates the greater faith in the ingenuity and vision of the American people for their future and the future of humanity. McCain is by no means my ideal candidate, but where it counts, he pretty much gets it, and his commitment to human space exploration is one of those areas which will win him my vote.

After all, it would be nice to have some hope...for a change.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Iraq: Choice, Necessity,and Adaptation

Making my way through Doug Feith's superb War And Decision (a long and worthwhile journey, with many side-trips), I've been reflecting on the multiple justifications and objectives which came together in the decision to topple Saddam's Baathist regime. Establishing a democratic government in the heart of the Middle East is but one of those threads. As vitally important as that objective may be for the broader aim of eradicating global Jihadi terrorism, it would be inaccurate to portray that as the prime and proximate cause for going into Iraq. Invading countries in order to install what we might view (however defensibly) as a better form of government is not exactly in keeping with a respect for the sovereignty of other nations. Had this been the sole or even primary original justification for invading Iraq, there would be a far better case for Liberal claims that OIF was a war of "Choice," an Imperial adventure which stood on dubious moral and legal grounds.

Instead, what emerges from a careful reading of the months leading up to our invasion of Iraq is a picture of a long-standing threat which was gathering perilous momentum as it became increasingly clear that the sanctions regime was crumbling, and Saddam stood ready to burst from his "box." As Mr. Hengist's excellent series debunking assorted memes of the "anti-war" Left illustrates, a credible and unacceptable danger to our interests and citizens at home and abroad existed in the form of Saddam's regime, a threat which the apparatus of "international law" was showing no signs of meeting to any reasonable degree of satisfaction. Even in the absence of the expected WMD stockpiles, there is ample reason to conclude that Saddam had the intent and ability to reconstitute his unconventional weapons programs to the point that such stockpiles could be accumulated at a brisk pace, once he was free of international oversight. Now, I suppose you could set the bar for a "necessary" war anywhere you see fit, up to the point where an invading army is gathered at your borders. But in the wake of a watershed event like 9/11, it would be a very hard sell for anyone who had sifted the threat landscape of the time with a cool eye to depict OIF as a mere "war of choice."

So, we went in. With astonishing rapidity, American and Coalition Forces demolished Saddam's much-vaunted war machine (again), and the initial objective of removing Saddam as a threat to the US and to international security and stability was accomplished. So much has been written about how the ensuing post-invasion period was allowed to slip toward chaos, that I hardly know what to link. Many of these criticisms hold all-too much water. However, as Ralph Peters points out --with characteristic acerbic clarity-- this turbulent period did not so much suffer from a lack of planning (which Feith's book reveals to have been very extensive), but too broad an agenda:

In a classic example of how to get wartime goals wrong, our 2003 invasion of Iraq began as an attempt to be all things to all people: a campaign against weapons of mass destruction; an anti-terrorism effort; the removal of a malignant dictator in the interest of human rights; a commitment to unleash the yearning for democracy supposedly simmering in the Middle East; a move to guarantee oil supplies; and, for some, a proactive move in defense of Israel. It was inevitable that not all of these extremely ambitious goals could be achieved.

Part of Iraq’s tragedy is that, when the administration promised so much to so many different factions to get its war, it set itself up for a perception of failure, no matter how well things went (and, thanks to the administration’s own folly, things went far worse than necessary for almost four years). Had the administration set realistic goals, the perception of the results in Iraq — as well as our behavior once we reached Baghdad — might have been very different. Of course, the administration might not have gotten its war at all, had it failed to promise all things to all credulous people (among whom I must include myself.)

In fact, some of the administration’s professed goals were achieved: A murderous dictator and aggressor was toppled, and then, in a classic example of how the situation evolves unpredictably in wartime, al-Qaida, which had not had a presence in Iraq under Saddam, foolishly chose to declare Iraq the “central front” in its anti-Western jihad. At that point, the stakes changed profoundly, and an unintended, but certainly welcome, result of Operation Iraqi Freedom has been a catastrophic strategic defeat for al-Qaida — near-annihilation on the battlefield and, even more vitally, the rejection of the terrorist organization’s vision by millions of Sunni Arabs who experienced its savagery first-hand.

The point is that the ultimate results in Iraq are not going to look much like those merrily proposed by administration supporters in early 2003. As a result, even tangible, critical successes on the ground encounter skepticism or outright dismissal. By promising far too much, the Bush administration gave its enemies, foreign and domestic, a gift that keeps on giving.

Peters' point is well-taken: in setting such far-ranging goals for Iraq, the US pretty much set itself up for some of those goals to fall short of the mark, and so to provide a bountiful board of red meat for critics of the Administration and of the US' use of military power. More basically, though, setting too broad an array of goals for any military campaign leaves little room for the unexpected. In the oft-quoted words of renowned Prussian strategist, Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy." While the initial rationale for invading Iraq was that of removing a dire threat, the success of that mission set the stage for the emergence of circumstances which were only dimly glimpsed (if at all) in the planning for OIF. For example the scope and organization of the insurgency which was able to coalesce around a number of pre-existing elements of Iraq under Saddam, its ability to spin rapidly up by capitalizing on a too-long period of post-war chaos and on the availability of plentiful ordnance, and its willingness to form alliances with foreign Jihadi factions were --to put it charitably-- not fully appreciated in the run-up to war.

OIF was a necessary war. Saddam simply could not be allowed to persist in his long-standing habits of Machiavellian maneuvering and outright aggression. However, as is so often the case, one necessity gave rise to a number of others. I suppose one could choose this as the locus of "choice," and propose that, once having unseated Saddam, we could have pulled up stakes and left the Iraqis to write the rest of their history on their own. The circumstances surrounding the Iraqi insurgency were not what the public believed it had signed on for, leading many to complain that the Administration was moving the goal posts. However, the advent of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) was a development from which it would have been folly to walk away. Its goal of collapsing Iraq into a failed state, riven with sectarian civil war which would prevent the stabilization of any indigenous government with which we could live, created a whole new set of necessities. Fouad Ajami, in an editorial for the Wall Street Journal, reflected on this very shift in the initial conditions of our action in Iraq, and on the way critics have seized on that shift to cry shenanigans:

Nor is there anything unprecedented, or particularly dishonest, about the way the rationale for the war shifted when the hunt for weapons of mass destruction had run aground. True, the goal of a democratic Iraq – and the broader agenda of the war as a spearhead of "reform" in Arab and Muslim lands – emerged a year or so after the onset of the war. But the aims of practically every war always shift with the course of combat, and with historical circumstances. Need we recall that the abolition of slavery had not been an "original" war aim, and that the Emancipation Proclamation was, by Lincoln's own admission, a product of circumstances? A war for the Union had become a victory for abolitionism.

America had not been prepared for nation-building in Iraq; we had not known Iraq and Iraqis or understood the depth of Iraq's breakdown. But there was nothing so startling or unusual about the connection George W. Bush made between American security and the "reform" of the Arab condition. As America's pact with the Arab autocrats had hatched a monster, it was logical and prudent to look for a new way.

This Administration elected not to withdraw from Iraq as the insurgency raged and AQI visited its horrors on Iraqi civilians --as congressional Democrats repeatedly bleated that we should-- and instead used the occasion of these new developments to devise and execute a fundamental change in strategy. As a result of the COIN approach and its supporting surge in troops, AQI has been decimated (and there are indications that support for radicalism in the wider Muslim world may be showing signs of waning), the Sunni insurgency has been largely co-opted into the legitimate architecture of an increasingly inclusive Iraqi government, and there are very promising portents of a growing acceptance for the fledgling Iraqi state among its Arab neighbors, despite its continued affiliation with its American midwife. The latter cannot help but make the Mullahs of Iran sleep rather less well.

The circumstances which prompted us to take the Iraqi bull by the horns could still be seen by some as having constituted a "choice." There are some for whom the very fact of war represents a failure, whatever the situation. The best I can say about such a philosophical position is that it fails to take into account the exigencies of living in a world at least partially populated with people who do not share it. Confronted with the reality of a house on fire, calling the decision to fight the flames a "choice" signals nothing but an over-reliance on abstractions. In toppling Saddam, we addressed one set of necessities. In belatedly but decisively adapting to the ensuing necessities eventuated by that decision, we have achieved goals which even our initially over-optimistic and broad menu of aims did not anticipate.

I choose to call that a net gain.

UPDATE: 6/12/2008. Fixed link to Pew survey on Muslim attitudes toward extremism to reflect more recent research.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Rebutting the Iraq War Critics - Part IV

[by Mr.Hengist]

This is Part IV of an informal series looking into Liberal arguments against the Iraq war, as precipitated by an interview of Robin Wright on the Hugh Hewitt show. See here for Part III.

Wright concludes her string of sad lamentations with this:
“But my fear is the long term tragedy is that it made people in the region even more nervous about change. People who are willing to put their lives on the line are now worried about democratic openings, because they fear it will lead to instability, chaos, death, insecurity, fewer jobs, limited electricity, and on and on.”
Let me start by addressing the bit about “limited electricity.” The real story of electricity in Iraq does not fit the Liberal MSM narrative of gloom, doom, and defeat. What she says is obviously in reference to the oft-lamented limited availability of electricity in post-war Baghdad, but it’s out-of-place in here. She’s suggesting that the would-be reformers in the Middle East are now more reluctant to try to implement change because, amongst other things, it might limit the availability of electricity. It’s a silly addition and a stunning statement, really, thrown in like a afterthought after having tossed in what are more serious concerns. Instability, chaos, death, joblessness, and, ah, what else? Limited electricity. I suppose I can let go of this frivolous toss-off in light of the fact that it was said extemporaneously in a live interview, and so I shall.

What I’d like to address, however, is the old Liberal stand-by complaint about Iraq: that Baghdad has fewer hours of electricity now than it did pre-war. Do note that whenever they mention this it’s always specific to Baghdad, and there’s good reason for that: it would not be true to say that of the surrounding provinces and it would not serve their argument well to mention it. That’s because, in pre-war Iraq, Saddam diverted electrical power to Baghdad from those surrounding provinces to better serve his Baathist supporters. That was one of the first things that the Coalition Provincial authority changed in Iraq, as they redistributed the available electricity more fairly to the provinces in which it was generated. Naturally that meant that Baghdad would get less, but it was being fairly shared so that meant that the surrounding provinces were enjoying more hours of electricity than they had under Saddam.

Furthermore, Iraqi infrastructure has long been a target of the insurgents, from roads to water, markets to electricity, all the ways in which the Coalition was making life better for Iraqis made for targets of the insurgents, for obvious reasons. When coalition reconstruction teams entered Iraq they found that the infrastructure was in far worse shape than had been imagined; the hardware was antiquated and had been jury-rigged for decades.

That hardware is being replaced or repaired in a multitude of multi-year projects, but when insurgents were solely responsible for having attacked that infrastructure and diminished the amount of electricity available to the residents of Baghdad and elsewhere, the Liberal MSM finds fault in the resulting shortage and insinuates a failure of the Bush administration.

Furthermore, in the post-war period the demand for electricity was dramatically increased as citizens used their increased prosperity to purchase electrical appliances. Baghdad's limited hours of electricity are more acute but much akin to the rolling backouts of California in that regard.

What really galls me about Wright’s objections here is the demonstrable falsehood that the Iraq invasion would make local reformers in other countries less likely to try to garner change. While the Bush Administration was still vigorously promoting democratic change and freedom in the Middle East we saw a remarkable breakout of domestic protest and reformation movements. Remember the Orange revolution, or the Cedar revolution? That's what it looks like when the sole superpower fights wars of liberation and gives material and moral support to those who yearn for freedom.

Wright does not credit the Iraq war with having given the Iraqi people their only chance for freedom, and the ability to fight for it and create their own destinies; she implies that those who live under tyranny are less nervous with the tyrants’ boot on their necks. Under the brutal and thuggish police state of Saddam’s security services there was no hope for change. In the grip of Saddam’s iron fist, reformers and their families were made to be examples of why change was impossible and only brought misery and death; when the Coalition rolled into Iraq they found that every Iraqi police station had a torture chamber and most had a rape room. Wright, as a long-time historian of the Middle East, knows this to be true. Change from within is the biggest fear of tin-pot dictators like Saddam Hussein, and time and time again history teaches us that outside help is usually welcome and often helpful to dissidents, and in some cases – like that of Saddam’s Iraq – internal change is made impossible and must come from the outside.

Shame on Robin Wright.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Rebutting the Iraq War Critics - Part III.

[by Mr.Hengist]

This is Part III of an informal series looking into Liberal arguments against the Iraq war, as precipitated by an interview of Robin Wright on the Hugh Hewitt show. See here for Part II.

… Wright says this:
“We didn’t do the kind of international homework to ensure the international community was with us. We could have waited longer at the United Nations to win some kind of agreement. But we were in a hurry, because we didn’t want our troops to languish there for a long time. We wanted to get in and fight a war before the hot summer set in, and we had our own election schedule to think about.”
It’s altogether unclear as to what, exactly, the Bush Administration neglected to do which would have ensured more support amongst “the international community,” and that’s intentional; as I’ve commented previously in this blog, Liberals think of diplomacy as a kind of magic pixie dust – sprinkle enough of it on a problem and the problem goes away. Ergo, since we did not have deep international support for the Iraq war, it must have been because of Bush’s insufficient application of diplomacy. Unspoken is the embedded assumption common to Liberals that, given a disagreement between the United States and some other country, it is America that is at fault (i.e., Jeane Kirkpatrick’s “Blame America First”), a telling insight into the Liberal mindset.

Unspecified by Wright are the constituent members of this “international community”, and I will be charitable in declining to speculate as to what countries she has in mind other than those of Old Europe, primarily France and Germany. At the time these two countries were not merely unconvinced at the necessity of war; they were actively opposed to it. It wasn’t so much that they disagreed with our assessment of the WMD capabilities of Iraq, about which they agreed the Saddam regime was being deceptive, or even that Iraq was in material violation of binding U.N. resolutions regarding WMDs and the requirements of transparency and cooperation they mandated. As Hans Blix of the UNMOVIC team of weapons inspectors reported to the U.N. just before the war began, Iraq was not in compliance with WMD disarmament requirements. The Bush administration claimed that every Western intelligence agency agreed that Iraq retained WMD capabilities, a claim that has never been refuted or denied by those governments. Although it’s unusual to get public confirmation of intelligence findings, we now know that declassified documents from Denmark show that their intelligence concurred our own. German intelligence told the U.S. that they believed Iraq was as little as three years away from making a nuclear bomb, amongst other dire predictions.

In fact, the U.N. inspectors did find violations in the run-up to war, and lots of them. Just to present a single example amongst many, the Al Samoud missiles represented multiple violations in and of themselves, in that the Iraqis were not allowed to develop those missiles, they were not allowed to build manufacturing facilities to produce those missiles, they were not allowed to import some of the parts they used in those missiles, and they were not allowed to manufacture those missiles. Iraq did not declare these violations as required by treaty, and when caught they denied the missiles exceeded the range allowed by treaty, and when confronted with the evidence argued that the violation was insignificant. After the U.S. insisted that Iraq destroy the missiles, Iraq refused, until it began slowly destroying them a few at a time.

As for the obstructionism of France, their hostility towards and sabotage of American interests abroad is fairly well documented (by way of example, an Italian court case revealed that the infamous fake Nigerian documents Powell presented to the U.N were planted by a French intelligence agent). However, of primary importance in any discussion of this topic is that France and Germany (and Russia, for that matter) vowed not to vote to use force in Iraq regardless of what U.N. weapons inspectors found, and let me further note that this was front-page news at the time. Let that sink in for a moment: France, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council with veto power, along with Germany, our ally of fifty years from Old Europe, and Russia, still an important player in the world arena and an important voice in the U.N., each vowed to oppose the use of force in Iraq, no matter what the U.N. inspectors found there. They declared, in essence, that they could not be convinced on the basis of evidence found by U.N. inspections, and let’s not forget that their preferred course of action was – more time for more U.N. inspections.

As then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said, we know what compliance looks like, and Iraq was clearly not in compliance. Weapons inspectors can only serve to verify compliance, but they are not and cannot act as international policemen, chasing down violations. Obviously the weight of evidence could never have been sufficient for these countries to support military action against Iraq.

Despite all of this, Wright, Democrats, and Liberals blame the Bush Administration for not doing its international homework. I suspect that what they really mean is that they blame the Bush Administration for not changing its foreign policy to match those of other Western European nations. When it comes to intenational diplomacy with hostile nations, these Europeans have only carrots to offer, having discarded their sticks; they condemn rogue nations with harshly worded memos while never threatening anything more scary than weak and loosely enforced economic sanctions. Besides the long history of repeated failures of the international community to make substantial progress in Iraq, we have an excellent example in Iran of what the Europeans could achieve when unencumbered by the cowboy Bush. After years of abject failure the EU has achieved nothing except an acceleration of Iran’s nuclear program. This is the model which American Liberals would have the U.S. follow.

Wright goes on to echo what Liberals often call “the rush to war,” and complains that we might have worked out some kind of agreement. Again, there’s that magic pixie dust of diplomacy providing some kind of vague “agreement” which would solve everything, or at least prevent war. It appears to matter not a whit that Iraq had been repeatedly violating the terms of the 1991 ceasefire for eleven years and had in fact violated every one of the sixteen United Nations Security Council Resolutions – and those were binding resolutions of the Security Council, not the toothless variety issued by the General Assembly. Wright says she thinks Iraq and the U.N. could have come to “some kind of agreement,” but it’s unclear if she actually believes it would have been one by which the Iraqi regime would have abided, in full, with neither the intransigence nor deception for which it was infamous – and it’s unclear whether that matters to her, bearing in mind the unbroken string of failures of past agreements with Iraq.

At this point there hardly seems any point in addressing the rest of her litany of accusations, but let’s persevere. She says the real reason we went to war when we did was to keep our soldiers out of the hot sun, and because the U.S. elections were coming up (in, ah, a year and half, which apparently seems to be just around the corner to Wright). The one point here I’ll concede is that we did not want our soldiers to languish on the borders of Iraq, because that’s true. It’s very expensive, it’s hard on the soldiers and their families, it’s burdensome to the host nations (although they’re always compensated, their citizens often have objections the presence of large numbers of foreign troops), and despite all of this it does not offer the prospect of a resolution to the problems that led to their being sent there in the first place. If compliance was only partially possible with the threat of an invasion army just outside the borders of Iraq then that was clearly not an effort which was indefinitely sustainable and was thus doomed to failure.

With war we had the possibility of a resolution to this ongoing threat that was favorable to the West. We did go to war, and Iraq is no longer a threat to the international community.

Although I do not intend for this series to be a comprehensive justification for the war in Iraq, in a cursory manner I think it does demonstrate that war was long overdue and well-deserved. Equally importantly, I think it demonstrates that some of the common memes thrown about offhand by Liberals like Wright that I’ve addressed in these blogposts are, and always have been, bunk.

In Loco Parentis

One of my favorite books about parenting and teens carries the brilliant title, Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall. This is one of those rare instances when you can judge the book by its title. One central theme of this wonderful little book is that teens are struggling with the lingering specter of dependency which defined their relationship with parents during childhood, and the regression back into which they simultaneously crave and dread. They need parents to remain authoritative, to keep them safe and nourished --physically and emotionally-- yet are compelled by their march toward adulthood to rail against that protection...even as they would feel devastatingly betrayed and abandoned were it ever actually to be withdrawn. So they constantly engage in pointless arguments in order to remain connected, while simultaneously reinforcing their need for a sense of autonomy. They push their parents away, then drag them along with them.

It was this dynamic which kept intruding on my mind as I read this editorial from The Australian, via TigerHawk, about anti-Americanism in the world. This section in particular stood out for me:

There is a teenaged immaturity about the rest of the world's relationship with the US. Whenever a serious crisis erupts somewhere, our dependence on the US becomes obvious, and many hate the US because of it. That the hatred is irrational is beside the point.

We can denounce the Yanks for being Muslim-hating flouters of international law while demanding the US rescue Bosnian Muslims from Serbia without UN authority. We can be disgusted by crass American materialism and ridiculous stockpiling of worldly goods yet also be the first to demand material help from the US when disaster strikes.

The really unfortunate part about this adolescent love-hate relationship with the US is that, unlike most teenagers, many never seem to grow out of it. Within each new generation is a vicious strain of irrational anti-Americanism. But unlike a parent, the US could just get sick of it all and walk away.

Now, it may seem terribly condescending and more than a touch arrogant to compare other sovereign nations of the world to petulant teen-agers, and the US as some beleaguered parent figure acting for their own good. To some extent this would be a valid criticism. What can I say: no metaphor is perfect. Still, it is hard not to entertain such notions when the US does so very much across the globe to rescue victims of natural and human-made disasters, only to be the subject of such withering vitriol and disdain. The doublethink required for one to rail that the US is a meddlesome Imperialist power...then to turn around and slam it for being provincial and stingy and self-serving on the world stage has a distinctly adolescent flavor to it, and it was a relief to read this editorial and see that I am not the only one to have made this connection. US carrier groups and medical ships are the first to arrive and offer desperately-needed assistance after tsunamis and cyclones, while the UN struggles over the wording of a resolution of intent to consider the case for assigning a committee to study the feasibility of rendering aid at the earliest opportunity...then takes the time to complain that the US is callously arrogating to itself the "moral authority" to offer help. Meanwhile, the press wrings its hands over the hypothesized ulterior motives of positioning military assets in this place at this time.

Following the fall of the USSR, the US emerged as the sole superpower in the world, possessing the most formidable blue water navy, and thus the ability to project power (and also aid) on a global basis. Love it or hate it, this is the reality. As I wrote earlier on another subject, the Cold War saw the de-emphasis of conventional military power among those nations which fell under the US and Soviet umbrellas. That long-standing bipolar power balance --harrowing as it was at times-- afforded distinct advantages to those nations which rationally judged that they were duly shielded from aggression by their respective centers of gravity in that protracted standoff. Western Europe in particular turned its attentions inward, developing a system of social programs which it was able to fund quite generously in the relative absence of military spending on anything remotely approximating the level of that expended by the US. Much of Eastern Europe, under the control of Moscow, had the Red Army to "protect" it. When the latter imploded, the ensuing pandemonium ultimately created situations into which the US found it necessary to project its power for humanitarian and stability operations. Legitimate conversations can be had about the 'legality' and long-term advantages of the US' action in the former Yugoslavia. Tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians can join in that conversation, seeing as they were rescued from wholesale slaughter in the process. Nature abhors a vacuum, and the disarray in the former Second World which followed the fall of the Soviet Union was but one of the arenas into which the US was, alone, able to wade in and contain the chaos.

However, it is this very unipolarity which has engendered such profound ambivalence. For one thing, there was throughout the Cold War a certain tacit understanding among the world's more unfree regimes that they would be left more or less alone as long as they stayed out of the Soviet sphere of influence. They may have been tyrannical bastards, but at least they were our tyrannical bastards. These conditions no longer pertain, and this has made many of the aforementioned bastards exceedingly nervous (and rightly so!). On another front, though, a rather more subtle phenomenon has emerged: The US is now seen as a relatively unchecked would-be global hegemon, a military and economic powerhouse now unfettered by a countervailing force, and thus free to pursue its interests as it sees fit. The member nations of the UN have consistently clambered to position themselves as a counterweight to American power, and the EU arguably exists in large part in order to re-create some semblance of the Soviet leash on that power. But against what exactly is it that they feel so urgently in need of protection?

Hardly a day goes by that I don't encounter some article or editorial or blog post crying out against "American Empire." I'm still not exactly sure what that is supposed to mean. As I was writing this, I was reminded of an article I read some time ago. It took some digging, but I finally turned it up. I hope the author will forgive this lengthy excerpt:

America has got to be the strangest empire ever known to man. In every war we've fought, we've either returned the land we've taken, or paid for what we've kept. When fighting overseas, rather than force conquered countries to pay homage, and obey our dictates, we strive to assist them in reconstruction, and building free and self-ruling nations. We do these things at great cost in both lives and funding, for no return other than the hope that it will bring free trade and more allies in the future.

You could make the argument that America has territories, but even that line of debate is flawed. All the territories now under American control have the option of remaining territories, petitioning to become states once they've reached a certain size, or petitioning for independence as the Philippines did after World War II. These territories are given non-voting representation in our government, and voting rights in the Presidential Primaries. They derive benefits from their affiliation with the US, rather than the other way around.

An empire, by its nature, seeks to spread its dominion as far and wide as possible, forcing its rules and laws on those they conquer. An empire usually engages in wars of aggression, without provocation, to expand its territory. It demands tribute, and obedience from its subjects. Not once, in recent American history has that been the case. While some may argue that the battle in Iraq is an example of this kind of imperialism, you will note that the hue and cry in this country is not about how much money we are demanding from the Iraqi people in tribute. It is not about the unreasonable demands we've made that the Iraqi people follow our laws and make themselves subject to our governmental rule. The complaint is that we are spending too much, and not demanding enough. Seems to me, this isn't any way to run an empire.

Indeed. If anything, the US and the Coalition Provisional Authority spent the months after the ouster of Saddam's Baathist regime falling all over itself to transfer sovereignty to the people of Iraq as quickly as could be. Similarly, one of the first things which the US and its allies did after routing the Taliban in Afghanistan was to install a sovereign government, which was subsequently legitimized by popular elections (much to the chagrin of Osama bin Laden, who had dreamed of a Soviet occupation, redux, in which to bleed the US as the USSR had been exsanguinated before them). Going back still further, to the period following the end of WW2, the nation of Germany, which can very legitimately be said to have been conquered, might very well have expected severe punitive actions and administration under an Imperial American Proconsul. Instead, it got the Berlin Airlift, whose goal was to protect the citizens of West Berlin --desperate and starving under a Soviet blockade-- from ruin, and to ensure the reconstitution of the German economy for the benefit of Europe as a whole. Similarly, Japan was placed under a sweeping and comprehensive (some might even say draconian) American occupation government, in order to defang and liberalize its highly militaristic society...only to have that government handed right back to the Japanese people, who proceeded to undergo a profound economic and cultural renaissance which continues to this times to our cost.

History is replete with examples of American power being utilized for the purposes of nurturing (and in some cases creating) free societies with which diplomatic and trade relations can be established, to mutual benefit. Have we overreached at times? Of course. My intent here is not to paint the US as some kind of sainted figure, devoid of blemishes and even outright sins. However, on balance, it is difficult for me to find in our history over the better part of the last century any examples of the sort of behavior which would warrant the virulent anti-Americanism which we see with such tedious frequency.

So, given the apparent lack of objective bases for that level of animus, it seems reasonable to look to less rational motives, which brings me back to the comparison with adolescence. Strange as it may seem, given the relative youth of the United States as a nation, nonetheless it stands as the oldest continuously existent republic in the world (after San Marino, anyway). While often derided as childish and impetuous, in point of fact, the US is the grown-up on the scene. It is to the US that other nations look when Something Needs To Be Done, only to berate it when its performance does not meet whatever arbitrary and shifting criteria of perfection those nations set. Adolescents are notorious for for setting impossible standards for their parents to meet, since that facilitates a compromise between their tacit knowledge that they are unable to fend for themselves, and the resentment of that dependency which so threatens their emerging adult identities.

The US was chastised for "unilateral" action in Iraq after engaging in a months-long gavotte at the UN in which it sued for the privilege to enforce the multiple binding resolutions by the UN Security Council which Saddam had been routinely and brazenly flouting for over a decade. Threatened by a veto by nations which had been doing covert and illegal business with Saddam himself, the US went ahead and led a coalition to defend its interests by enforcing the rules which the UN claimed the authority (while lacking the will) to enforce itself. For its trouble, the US has been upbraided for "Cowboy Diplomacy" and accused of "war crimes" by nations for whom the use of that term to refer to another is the very definition of chutzpah. Adolescents are master negotiators, who demand the right to establish the parameters of what is "fair," and insist that those legalistic constructs be adhered to without deviation...until they find themselves on the receiving end of their penalties. Thus can a teen rail against the confiscation of her favorite bong on the grounds that her privacy had been violated.

Dealt a horrific blow in September, 2001, the US embarked on a global effort to pluck the rotten fruits and dig up the blighted roots of international terrorism which threatened not only itself but every nation of the free world. Utilizing military (conventional and Special Forces), diplomatic, and economic means, the US has been assailing the various perpetrators and enablers of terrorism at home and broad, and has been making real progress. Denizens of the Transnational Left -- whose liberal beliefs and freedoms would be the very first casualties should our foes prevail-- describe this effort in terms of "endless war," "assault on civil liberties," "hubristic imperialism," and a host of other bumper stickers. Europe's style of 'dealing' with terrorism --at best treat it as a law enforcement matter, and at worst attempt to buy off the perpetrators and their sponsors through concessions to redress the "root causes" of their grievances-- offers precious little in the way of realistic deterrent value, given, for example, the depth of many European nations' business dealings with Iran's Mullahcracy. They accuse the US of spoiling their party, insisting that they would have matters well in hand were it not for the boorish Americans' ham-handed meddling. This reminds me of nothing more than an addiction-prone teen's rage against his parents' firm efforts to come between him and a group of coke-dealing 'friends.'

I'm sure that many of my teen-aged clients would want to hurl a lamp at my head for saying this, but I can scarcely imagine a worse outcome for them than their parents taking them at their word when they say that they would be better off if "they just left me alone." Parents are not infallible, and there are many cases (trust me!) when they err far to the side of excessive micromanagement. However, the opposite extreme is arguably worse since teens, while possessing many of the superficial characteristics of adulthood, are nonetheless still not fully formed for truly independent functioning in this ever-increasingly complex and demanding society. They will constantly push and test the limits of the 'container' offered by their parents...but they do this in order to discover that there are limits, and to use those limits as the scaffolding which will help them learn how to organize their energies against the day when the scaffold is removed. Pushing against limits, and discovering that there are none there to push back is the psychological analogue of stepping off a precipice, fully expecting that there will be a ledge there, and finding out -- too late-- that there is nothing but the void.

Similarly, the liberty and security which permit European-style Transnational Progressives to explore the boundaries of that liberty, and of their idealistic visions of How The World Ought to Be, are free to flourish because The World As It Is, with its merciless Hobbesian logic of might as right is diligently held in check. Were the isolationists of the Left (and their strange bedfellows on the Paleoconservative and Libertarian Right) to get their wish, and see the US "bring the boys [and girls] back home," I have no doubt that they would reap the whirlwind. For, unwelcome as it may be made to feel, there is simply no greater guarantor than the US military against the ambitions of tyrants and terrorists. There is no more lucrative trading partner than the US economy (yes, even now). There is no more effective source of aid and comfort in times of disaster than the American aid agencies and military and the private largess of the American people. Indeed, the few occasions when the US has been unable to be of invaluable help in times of crisis have generally been when it has been actively thwarted in its efforts by anti-American recalcitrance. What amazes me is the capacity of those who are seemingly most invested in reviling the United States to ignore or repress the cognitive dissonance which arises from the fact that, with very few exceptions, the supposedly arrogant and venal US has steadfastly respected the sovereign right to self-determination of even its most vocal and pernicious critics. If the US embodied even a fraction of the evil which is so often attributed to it, can any reasonable person truly believe that it would not simply have withdrawn from the UN, set about conscripting a huge percentage of its population into an Imperial Military (versus maintaining a professional force of volunteers who sign up of their own free and well-informed will), and simply crushed dissent across the globe?

Having defeated the Soviet Union in a civilizational clash of wills, the US finds itself in a position of immense power. But, like Uncle Ben said, "With great power comes great responsibility." The US should definitely not hold itself to be above scrutiny, nor become complacent and cavalier with its power (any parent who creeps from authoritative to merely authoritarian has lost a crucial patch of the high ground). But nor should it be expected to sacrifice its responsibilities in a vainly self-effacing effort to undermine its own power because that power makes others uncomfortable. To do so would be to unduly indulge the essentially irrational impulses of those who would stand to lose the most if the US were to simply take them at their word. For, like a teen who would be well and truly lost if her parents were to give up on her, the established and emerging democracies of the world would find themselves in grave jeopardy from an atomic-armed, Hezbollah-wielding Iran, a much-emboldened al Qaeda, an unchecked Hugo Chavez, and a horde of other would-be bullies and conquerors if the US were to abdicate its role as control rod in the world's great nuclear family.

If reading these words makes you a little uncomfortable, then that is a good thing; the sense that one is acting as a surrogate parent for others has been a prime rationalization for all manner of excesses throughout history. At the end of the day, sovereign nations are responsible for their own destinies, and a metaphor should never be mistaken for a reality. But if you can read these words and not see anything past the images of "manifest destiny," or "white man's burden," etc., then you have been overexposed to a very dangerous flavor of Kool Aid. For, imperfect and evolving as it is (and should be!) the US currently occupies an indispensable role in the developmental process of the human species beyond the zero-sum tribalism which has been its legacy from the savannas of its infancy. No one hopes more fervently than I do that the centrality of that role will drop away as we move through adolescence toward an adulthood in which a broader community of strong, stable democracies shares responsibility for reining in the errant throwbacks which will always exist among us. That day has not yet arrived.

But you try explaining that to these kids today.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Rebutting the Iraq War Critics - Part II

[by Mr.Hengist]

This is Part II of an informal series looking into Liberal arguments against the Iraq war, as precipitated by an interview of Robin Wright on the Hugh Hewitt show. See here for Part I.

… Wright says this:
“I think the military action itself, we did not commit enough troops to pull it off in a way that would have prevented the insurgency.”
This argument goes back to the debate in the Pentagon regarding the invasion & occupation strategies of the Iraq war, and we can start by assigning them to their respective advocates, Gen. Franks and Gen. Shinseki. Contrary to the popular narrative, it was not SecDef Rumsfeld who did operational planning for the invasion; that was done by military professionals in the Pentagon and the man in charge of it was Gen. Franks. As former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith writes in his book (and see here for a fascinating interview with Feith by Hewitt that touches on this), it was Gen. Franks who had difficulty accepting the input of both the civilians in government and other generals. To be sure, Rumsfeld was in favor of a much smaller force of about 100,000 troops, somewhat larger than a Division, carrying out a lightning strike aimed directly at Baghdad and overthrowing the Saddam regime, followed by a fairly rapid withdrawal. However, the role of the Executive Branch in working with the Pentagon on a military course of action is to set clear objectives and then choose from amongst the options that the military provides. Once a unanimous consensus is reached the Executive Branch then must see to it that the Pentagon receives all the support that is needed to accomplish the mission. During this process Gen. Shinseki expressed his belief that the invasion force would be insufficient for the subsequent occupation and he advocated having an overall footprint of several hundred thousand troops to keep civil order in the post-war.

SecDef Rumsfeld concurred with Gen. Franks in his disagreement with Gen. Shinseki, and they were almost certainly wrong. We can now look back on the post-invasion history and it’s pretty clear that the Jihadists and insurgents would have filled in the power-vacuum in much of the rest of Iraq after we had taken Baghdad. I think it would have looked somewhat similar to what we saw after we overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan, where control was solid in the capital of Kabul but the rest of the country was largely controlled by warlords with some Taliban enclaves (and I’ll just note here that the situation there has been dynamic for the last several years as the Karzai government has extended control using NATO and the increasingly numerous and respectably effective Afghanistan National Army – read the excellent reporting at The Long War Journal to keep up with the latest news).

What Rumsfeld (and Wolfowitz, for that matter) envisioned was an Iraq free from a post-war insurgency, and that was overly-optimistic. They did not take into account that a substantial number of Sunni Baathists would rather take up arms than let a democratic process hand power to the majority Shiites and minority Kurds whom they had brutally subjugated and, at various times, slaughtered. They also did not anticipate that Osama bin Laden would, after Baghdad fell to the Coalition, declare Iraq to be the central battlefront in the Jihad, and call upon his followers to go there to kill the infidel invaders and establish the first province of a new Caliphate, although that can be more easily forgiven as being a part of the changing dynamics of war. War is about moves and countermoves by all sides, and we are facing a thinking enemy.

It should be noted that the size of the initial invasion force was upped to about 148,000 troops. Three divisions were slated to invade Iraq, although when the time came we could only send in two because the parliament of Turkey tried to extort tens of billions of dollars from the United States before they would honor their pledge to allow the 4th Infantry Division to pass through Turkey to Iraq. This Turkish perfidy forced the 4th ID to pack up and sail around to Kuwait, arriving just in time to help with post-war security. It should also be noted that General Shinseki gave his approval and signed off on this invasion plan, a fact that rather dramatically undercuts his later claims to Congress that his objections to the smaller invasion force had been ignored.

Feith also notes in his book that Gen. Franks turned this to our advantage by invading with an even smaller force than had been deployed. Let me quote Feith here from his interview with Hewitt:
“There was a general assumption that Saddam knew we were coming. And so the question was if we can’t get strategic surprise, can U.S. forces at least get tactical surprise? And one way to try to achieve that, Franks and Rumsfeld worked out, was if we could start the war with a much smaller force than Saddam would think we would need to initiate the operation. And that’s in fact what happened. And one sign that it worked was Saddam had put wires and explosives at various key points in the country to destroy infrastructure, like bridges, oil equipment and the like. And we know that he had done that back in the Gulf War in 1990-91. And he put that stuff out this time around, but didn’t hook it up. So it was clear that he was making preparations for a war that he thought was not going to start for a while yet. And so we were able to achieve an important degree of tactical surprise by starting the war with a smaller force than Saddam thought we would need.”
Where Gen. Shinseki and Liberals are mistaken is in their wholly unsupported belief that a large footprint with the initial invasion would have quelled the insurgency before it began. In retrospect that seems even more unlikely than it was when Gen. Shinseki made his case at the Pentagon, and wherever I’ve heard this claim from Liberals – in this Hugh Hewitt interview with Wright and elsewhere – I have yet to see any justification for this claim presented. The 2007 Surge was more than the addition of some tens of thousands of troops; it also carried with it, as Noocyte has noted, major changes in the ROE and COIN strategy. Furthermore, even during the height of the Surge, Coalition troop levels never rose to the level of the “somewhere on the order of several hundred thousand” that Gen. Shinseki testified were necessary before the Senate Select Armed Services Committee, and yet the success of the Surge has become obvious to all but the most partisan. It is therefore incorrect to ascribe the success of the Surge to a late implementation of Gen. Shinseki’s recommendations.

Had we committed the troop levels Gen. Shinseki advocated it’s more likely that more American troops on the ground would only have provided more targets for the insurgents rather than having provided a substantial increase in security. If Shinseki’s recommendation had been implemented and were proven wrong, as I believe it would have been, then it would have put the United States in a more difficult bind further down the road in the post-war. If you believe as do I that the Armed Forces of the United States are being stretched thin now, imagine what would have happened post-invasion when we had to rotate out our forces with a division or two fewer to relieve them.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Rebutting the Iraq War Critics - Part I

[by Mr.Hengist]

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a podcast of Hugh Hewitt’s interview with Robin Wright, who was promoting her book, “Dreams and Shadows.”

Hewitt is marvelous when he interviews book authors; it’s clear that he’s read their book in-depth and has detailed notes upon which he draws to ask insightful questions. Despite having spent the entire show on the interview he left some assertions she made on the Iraq war stand unchallenged. Bothered me, it did, as I’ve heard the gist of them repeated (and refuted) for years, and while they’re common currency amongst Liberals I say they’re bunk.

Bunk, I say. I’ve got my keyboard, I’ve got my pajamas, and I’ve got the time, so I’ll have at it.

Wright begins her complaints:
“[…] the steps we took at the early stage to disband the government were serious mistakes. I think there’s universal agreement on that. That includes disbanding the army, leaving 400,000 people without jobs, without being able to support their families, and no alternatives in place.”
Wright says she thinks there’s universal agreement on this; when I hear a Liberal claim that an assertion they make is universally agreed upon, it usually means it’s a universal belief amongst their fellow Liberals. That’s why we call it the “Liberal bubble.” I know it all too well. I lived in one for many years.

At any rate, the Iraqi Army disbanded itself. Unlike Gulf War I when Iraqi soldiers surrendered by the tens of thousands, in 2003 Iraqi soldiers were literally casting off their uniforms and abandoning their positions, so that by the time Baghdad fell there was no Iraqi Army.

What irks me the most about this meme is that it the Bush Administration made what was obviously the better choice between the alternatives. As if Sadr’s ragtag “Mahdi Army” militia weren’t bad enough, Liberals are implicitly asking us to believe that having been reconstituted, rearmed, and refielded, the Iraqi Army would not then have taken the opportunity to insurrect. As we rebuilt the Iraqi army up from scratch we allowed former Iraqi Army members into the new Iraqi Army after they were vetted and spent weeks under the close personal supervision and training of the Coalition. It’s true that the process is susceptible to failure, as no screening procedures can be perfect. Everyone from the top down in CENTCOM knows it, and the Liberal MSM frequently reports on it in their efforts to undermine war support. I don’t deny that infiltration is a problem in the Iraqi Army, I’m just downplaying it as a decisive factor in that conflict, and contrasting it with the absurd idea that we should have restored Saddam’s army of thugs, as if that would have been a better plan than what we did and are doing.

For the sake of argument I’ll grant the supposition that we could have resurrected the Iraqi Army and they would not have insurrected. In a best-case scenario we would have put ourselves in charge of the incompetent, corrupt instrument of Saddam’s brutal oppression. We would have had to weed out the incorrigible thugs and killers – putting them out on the street, unemployed – and until they could be identified and ejected or prosecuted we would have been responsible for every act of brutality they inflicted upon the Iraqi people. It is implausible that anti-war Liberals would not have held the Bush Administration to account for any and all Iraqi soldiers who committed an act of atrocity on an Iraqi or a member of the allied Coalition. It takes no stretch of the imagination to hear the accusations that we had taken ownership of and were the new masters over an army of oppression, as if it were merely a change in management but not function. If that weren’t bad enough, I can’t imagine how difficult a sell it would have been to convince the Iraqi people that we wanted to help them create a better way of life by putting their former oppressors in charge of their security.

I have some sympathy for her lament that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers were left unemployed. However, it’s disingenuous of anti-war critics to make this argument because, had they been successful in stopping the war before it began, these soldiers would still be enforcing the Saddamist tyranny by brutalizing the Iraqi people, which hardly seems to be the better alternative.

So, yes, we put Saddam’s army of oppression out of a job. Cry me a river.

Wright continues:
“Disbanding the Baath party was also a mistake, because a little bit like communist regimes, to get a job as a schoolteacher, any kind of civil service job, you had to be a member of the party. And that put a lot of people on the streets, or disqualified them from getting any kind of job at a time there were no alternatives. And that set us up for an insurgency.”
It may have been unintentionally apt of Wright to have compared the way both the Baathists and Communists required membership in the party in order to get a decent government job. Both parties shared ideological roots and common methods and were, from my Western Capitalist perspective, more closely matched as variations of a like kind. Wright could also have analogized this to similar practices of the German Nazi party of the early-mid twentieth century, which also shares a common ideological basis with both Baathism and Communism, but Wright is trying to generate sympathy for these ex-Baathists. Thus, she gives them a light whitewash with the Baathists being only a little like the Communists.

At any rate, her assertion regarding employment was not entirely true in that these Baathists were only disqualified from employment in the new Iraqi government, and the Iraqi government was not the sole employer in the state of Iraq, although there were not enough jobs for everyone who got kicked out of a government job and needed a new one. I’d be willing to entertain her criticism as being valid if Wright would have gone on to explain how we could have quickly and easily distinguished these harmless just-tryin’-ta-get-me-a-job Baathists from the hard-core, oppressive bastards who had tyrannized Iraq for the previous thirty years. Absent that, the better course of action is to keep the lot of them out of the positions of power en masse during the critical early formative years of the Iraqi government.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

"Fatima the Frisker?"

There are some new faces among Iraqis who have made it their business to protect their neighborhoods and their nation from lawlessness and nihilism, and they are not what you might expect. The Sons of Iraq are being joined by a small but growing number of daughters.

The LA Times reports that approximately 900 out of the roughly 90,000 citizen security sentinels are women who have come forward to perform duties like searching females at some checkpoints and within key facilities such as government buildings and hospitals. Islamic proscriptions against such tasks being performed by men have created a marked security hole, through which an alarming number of female suicide/homicide bombers have slipped. The "Daughters of Iraq" are thus far prohibited from carrying weapons in the performance of their duties, and cannot operate at open-air checkpoints or markets. However, their presence creates a deterrent which cannot help but increase operational risk for planners of suicide operations utilizing women.

But the significance of having women perform these duties goes even beyond the obvious benefit of allowing the search of potential female bombers. The presence of women in societal roles which are traditionally the exclusive province of men could be a tremendously empowering factor. It creates a strong counter-narrative to the idea that women cannot handle such jobs, a precedent which will be extremely difficult to erase from Iraqi society going forward. Naturally, the example of "Rosie the Riveter" comes to mind. The American women who worked in WW2-era factories may have been de-mobbed after the War, but the imprint of strong, capable females stepping up to a plate which didn't have dinner on it was permanently etched on the American zeitgeist, and had a profound influence on subsequent feminist thought and activism. I sincerely hope that a similarly salubrious set of memes will inoculate the women of Iraq against passivity in the face of reactionary pressures to retreat back into the home and hijab.

It is a telling dichotomy indeed which exists between al Qaeda in Iraq, and the irregular security forces of the legitimate Iraqi government. The former taps into the rage and helplessness of women who have no path to honor and productiveness, and seduces them into laying down their lives in the cause of their own servitude. The latter offers a way to earn a respectable income protecting their families and their communities from the depredations of enemies whose berserker rage erupts from a pathology of powerlessness...and to discover a measure of their own power in the process.

EDITED: 6/4/2008, for clarity and flow