Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Money Quote

This really jumped out at me from the comments section of this depressingly trenchant editorial by Dick Morris on RealClearPolitics.

"You cannot legislate the poor into riches by legislating the wealthy into poverty. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend is about the end of any nation. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it."

Dr. Adrian Rogers, 1931 to 2005

And that is about as succinct a description of the fatal flaw in the Liberal/Progressive/Socialist paradigm as I have yet encountered.

Of course, as per the editorial, there is precious little evidence that the Obama Administration possesses even the rudimentary competence to implement its own cherished agendas for the transformation of this society. Quoth the generally objectionable but frequently correct Mr. Morris:

It appears that Obama is at sea when it comes to financial policy, economic-recovery planning and credit-rescue efforts. We're stuck not only with a socialist but seemingly an incompetent one.


Which is fine by me; nekkid emperors have nothing up their sleeves.

20 comments:

Mike said...

Not that I consider a poster child for the right or anything, but only days after I read this: http://mises.org/story/3367 , you started blogging about conservative economics, rather than your usual hawkish missives. Are you guys all following some kind of script?

Noocyte said...

Dang, Mike,now you've gone and done it. You've caught me plagiarizing the minutes from the last meeting of the Vast Right-Wing Cabal and Golf Organization. Sheesh, the Grand Poobah's gonna be pissed. Thanks a bunch.

You've directed me to this Mises site before, and I've done a fair bit of poking around it it. What can I say. I see it as a classic example of the distortions which can arise when folks hew too assiduously to the Pure Form of any given philosophy. Even one which is otherwise endowed with generous helpings of wisdom and common sense.

I'll keep this short, mainly because I'm tuckered out from being the third host in my household of a short-lived but ornery stomach virus. And that's all you need to know.

Being a small-"L"-libertarian, I'm right on board with around half of what these people say, and reservedly supportive of maybe a quarter beyond that. Free markets are demonstrably superior to any centralized governmental program in assigning value and facilitating the creation of wealth and innovation.

Where I part decisively with the "Big Bold Capital 'Ls'" is in the broad generalizations which arise from the apparent need to maintain strict internal consistency in the "Libertarian Analytics" department. Markets can be too free and states can be too weak.

Wholly unfettered markets (not that such a beast can be shown to have existed at any point in history...) are apt to be anarchistic jungles of ruthlessness and greed. I would not have wanted to sell life insurance to Kaiser and Tucker in such a climate!

For the promise of truly weak states, one need only look to...well...pretty much all of Africa at some point in the recent past.

The pragmatics of history are messy, stochastic things, pitching variables around which are not dreamt of in any philosophy. These guys are sorta Parmenides to my Heraclitus. The demands of any given historical moment force us to consider these things more in terms of sliders than switches. I don't see these guys as willing to give an inch on the internal consistency of their principles, and so I see them frequently missing by a mile.

The non-interventionism of the Founders arose out of the historical circumstances under which they crafted the Republic. Those circumstances have changed. Avoiding the tangled mess of alliances and enmities which was 18th century Europe was just good fracking sense. The fundamentally different level of interconnectedness in the modern global economy presents a difference not just in degree but in kind. It is my (excruciatingly!) considered opinion that the excessive unwillingness to employ military force to give teeth to the rule sets of global trade and diplomacy invites wholesale destabilization of those global institutions, to the peril of both states and markets (not to mention a whole lot of folks!). These Miseians and other Big-Ls (like a certain obstetrician we all know so well) would have us retreat pretty much entirely to our borders, and let trade take care of everything (but no sanctions, because they're Dictated by Governments). I can only begin to imagine the sport which a Saddam, or a Bashar al-Assad or a Vladimir Putin would have in a world where the US was so disposed. When you take force off the table, you invite others to take the table by force.

So, basically, I don't see (or,more accurately, I'm not overly bothered by) the "contradiction" between my affinity for free markets and restrained government, and my support for intelligently interventionist foreign policy. States are like fire; you just have to keep your eye on the marshmallow.

Mike said...

2 exceptions:

1. Classical Liberals do not advocate a weak government, but rather a limited one. There is a world of difference here.

2. Free markets do not allow for wars of aggression in that the financing simply is not available. Sure, if somebody is firing rockets into your country, the people will rally and finance a retaliatory invasion. But if you want to go half way around the world to fight some bizarre, self-defeating ideology, you'll have to print money to finance it. Which, in a free market, would immediately devalue your currency to the point of worthlessness.

And, one final point:

So, basically, I don't see (or,more accurately, I'm not overly bothered by) the "contradiction" between my affinity for free markets and restrained government, and my support for intelligently interventionist foreign policy.

Not being bothered by contradictions is the classic mark of religious "thinking". You've beaten one religion early in your life. I hope you beat this one as well.

Noocyte said...

1. Classical Liberals do not advocate a weak government, but rather a limited one. There is a world of difference here.

Fair point, and one I'm not inclined to argue too strenuously, since I do believe that government needs to evolve into a FAR leaner and less intrusive state.

2. Free markets do not allow for wars of aggression in that the financing simply is not available. Sure, if somebody is firing rockets into your country, the people will rally and finance a retaliatory invasion. But if you want to go half way around the world to fight some bizarre, self-defeating ideology, you'll have to print money to finance it. Which, in a free market, would immediately devalue your currency to the point of worthlessness.

Curious: what does your philosophy propose to do with regional hegemons who take it upon themselves to blackmail and attack their neighbors, disrupt trade and commerce (think North Korea's incredibly convincing counterfeit dollars, for example), and rape their nations' resources and people to develop destabilizing and globally threatening weapons (specifically, CBN weapons, which can be clandestinely proliferated and deployed anywhere at any time)?

As for that bizarre, self-defeating ideology, history has shown that it does not sit quietly on its soil and consume itself, but directs its rage outward. The variety of excuses it has cobbled together (infidel boots on Holy Land, the existence of Israel, yadda-yadda) are epiphenomena, mere rallying cries. It is the very existence of secular, mercantile, democratic societies, and their seductive prosperity and vibrancy which is intolerable, and which that ideology seeks to undermine and ultimately destroy, seeing an existential threat.

Even if "left alone," such an ideology will try (is trying, with unnerving success) to exploit the tolerance and multicultural inclusiveness of free societies to carve out bigger and bigger niches for itself, to balkanize and ghettoize itself into larger and larger semi- (and fully-) autonomous enclaves of radicalism. Even if we were to bring an alternative to petroleum on-line tomorrow, and so remove the sole source of wealth to these radicals' wellsprings, all we would be doing is amplifying the disparity between the success of the secular Western societies, and the abject failure of the Islamic societies. I judge them to be highly unlikely to just say "well, the infidel dogs are finally leaving us alone, and we're still a mess. Let's try something different, since it seems they weren't the problem after all." The chronic victim mentality would kick into overdrive, and I shudder to think of what spasms it would wreak.

By using the resources of the state (including its capacity to generate wealth and prosperity and opportunity [albeit far more wisely than we have to date]), we can and should send the message that we are willing and able to defend the free passage of goods and services and people in the global marketplace, and that we will not tolerate the mischief which seeks to erode that global system. If the carrot is iPods and vaccines and universities, the stick has to be the credible threat of a smackdown for those who would violate the stable rule sets which make these things available to all.

Not being bothered by contradictions is the classic mark of religious "thinking". You've beaten one religion early in your life. I hope you beat this one as well.

Intriguing (if not especially surprising) that you should see it thus. In point of fact, it's pretty much the opposite: the willingness to subordinate the purity of my world-view to the act of viewing the world.

One of the theses from the Mises site is that the state is inherently coercive, and that rejecting this coercion in matters of the economy and individual liberties must be seamlessly coextensive with denying the state the power to extend its coercion abroad in the form of military adventurism. Makes sense. Hangs together logically. Smacks of soft-headed casuistry to see it otherwise.

Is not supported by the geopolitical data in the real world.

I choose to not allow myself the luxury of positing that returning to first principles and adhering to them without deviation will bring about a resolution to problems which comprise FAR more variables than those principles can possibly encompass. I choose to allow those principles to coevolve with the environment in which they play out, and to adapt them as the data indicate. Indeed, to do otherwise, is much more akin to analytic theology than to the hard-headed pragmatic analysis which can hope to track with the unfolding of real events in the world (I've had some professors who can, with a totally straight face, insist that learning disabilities should be treated with psychoanalysis).

So, my friend, when are you going to begin revisiting some of your religious views? ;-)

Mike said...

Oy vey. Such a long response, and so difficult to quote in this medium (not to mention the impossibility of linking properly). However, thanks to the magic of external editors and cut and paste:

Curious: what does your philosophy propose to do with regional hegemons who take it upon themselves to blackmail and attack their neighbors,

Depends on whether or not I'm one of the neighbors. If I am, then of course I respond in kind. Otherwise, it's the neighbor's problem.

disrupt trade and commerce (think North Korea's incredibly convincing counterfeit dollars, for example),

There is currently no nation that disrupts world trade as much as the U.S. with it's currency manipulation, subsidies, and military campaigns. Who's doing anything about that?

and rape their nations' resources and people

That's the people's problem. If it gets bad enough, they will rebel as they have done throughout history. It will get bad enough a lot more quickly if you stop sending them aid.

to develop destabilizing and globally threatening weapons (specifically, CBN weapons, which can be clandestinely proliferated and deployed anywhere at any time)?

This is a serious problem, but one which simply has no solution. WMD's exist (mostly as a direct result of American research) and have proliferated completely out of control. Honestly, my biggest fear in the world today is Pakistan. They have nukes, they have missles, they have a highly unstable government and lots of zealots. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be realistically done about this. The best thing is to wait it out (these weapons do thankfully degrade) and try not to make matters worse. Regardless, I'm doing my best to stay South of the Tropic of Cancer for now....

As for that bizarre, self-defeating ideology, history has shown that it does not sit quietly on its soil and consume itself, but directs its rage outward.

Only when it has the means :).

It is the very existence of secular, mercantile, democratic societies, and their seductive prosperity and vibrancy which is intolerable, and which that ideology seeks to undermine and ultimately destroy, seeing an existential threat.

You're doing a typical Fox news thing here and lumping all muslims into a single group. However, you are accurately describing a small subset. The thing about that subset is that they get much of their power and much of their following from actual, legitimate gripes against the West in general and the U.S. specifically. Absent these legitimate gripes they would probably remain a problem, but a small one.

Even if "left alone," such an ideology will try (is trying, with unnerving success) to exploit the tolerance and multicultural inclusiveness of free societies to carve out bigger and bigger niches for itself, to balkanize and ghettoize itself into larger and larger semi- (and fully-) autonomous enclaves of radicalism.

Yes, the muslim ghettos of Europe are extremely worrying. But it's important to remember that they were put there by the governments of Europe. If they (the governments) were to withdraw aid from these people they'd either integrate in a big hurry, starve to death, or run home as fast as they could.

Even if we were to bring an alternative to petroleum on-line tomorrow, and so remove the sole source of wealth to these radicals' wellsprings, all we would be doing is amplifying the disparity between the success of the secular Western societies, and the abject failure of the Islamic societies.

It's not all you'd be doing. You'd also be robbing them of the resources required to do any real damage. And, critically, whereas you can't do it tomorrow, you can do it in the next couple of years at a much lower cost than the Iraq campaign alone. I'm not holding my breath, though.

I judge them to be highly unlikely to just say "well, the infidel dogs are finally leaving us alone, and we're still a mess. Let's try something different, since it seems they weren't the problem after all." The chronic victim mentality would kick into overdrive, and I shudder to think of what spasms it would wreak.

That's a fair judgement :). However, the spasms it would wreak would most likely be death spasms. Left to themselves, these folks would self destruct, and it would be really interesting to see what arose from the ashes.

we can and should send the message that we are willing and able to defend the free passage of goods and services and people in the global marketplace.

That would be an excellent message to send. It's not the one that's being sent though. Piracy on the seas remains a major problem while U.S. forces are busy looking for some mullah in a cave and trying not to get blown up in the process. The actual message being sent is "Do what we say or we'll invade your ass (unless, of course, you've already managed to acquire nukes, in which case we'll play stupid diplomatic games with you for decades and give you lots of aid)."

If the carrot is iPods and vaccines and universities, the stick has to be the credible threat of a smackdown for those who would violate the stable rule sets which make these things available to all.

Meh, starvation is an equally effective and much cheaper stick.

One of the theses from the Mises site is that the state is inherently coercive

A bit of a quibble: It is not the state that is cooercive but rather its government. To paraphrase Max Weber, "An organization that claims a monopoly on the licit first use of force within a given geographical area." It's really the best definition I've heard, though I'm open to better ones if you have them.

and that rejecting this coercion in matters of the economy and individual liberties must be seamlessly coextensive with denying the state the power to extend its coercion abroad in the form of military adventurism. Makes sense. Hangs together logically. Smacks of soft-headed casuistry to see it otherwise.

It's deeper than that actually. One of the great insights of the Austrian school is that given fiscal responsibility, wars of aggression are simply impossible because they are impossible to fund. Show me a war of aggression, and I'll show you a devalued currency.

Is not supported by the geopolitical data in the real world.

Sure it is. Wars of aggression throughout history, going all the way back to Rome, have forced governments to devalue their currencies, invariably leading to economic collapse. The U.S. is just the latest in a very long list of empires to fall into this trap.

I choose to not allow myself the luxury of positing that returning to first principles and adhering to them without deviation will bring about a resolution to problems which comprise FAR more variables than those principles can possibly encompass.

That's not really it. In this case, "First Principles" simply state that macroeconomics is too complex to be reliably predictable (see your own dissertation for references :) ). Therefore, any actions taken at a macro scale are likely to have consequences other than the ones intended. It follows that, at a macro scale, it impossible to "bring about" any resolutions intentionally. Any attempt to do so is more likely to exacerbate the problem and/or cause new ones than it is to actually achieve it's intended result.

From these first principles, it's fairly straighforward to conclude that the mint and the military shouldn't be fucked with.

I choose to allow those principles to coevolve with the environment in which they play out, and to adapt them as the data indicate.

Careful with that. Data can be very misleading and is open to a lot of misinterpretation.

So, my friend, when are you going to begin revisiting some of your religious views?

I revisit my working assumptions (the closest things I have to beliefs) on roughly a monthly basis. I find it to be an excellent mental exercise. I would do it a lot more often if I ever found myself advocating wholesale murder or torture under any guise or by any name.

Noocyte said...

(not to mention the impossibility of linking properly)

Whatsamatter, Computer Guy, forgotten how to type out an HTML tag? ;-)

Curious: what does your philosophy propose to do with regional hegemons who take it upon themselves to blackmail and attack their neighbors,

Depends on whether or not I'm one of the neighbors.


Or trade with them for something you really need...or rely on them for a trade route...or have family there.....

If I am, then of course I respond in kind.

If you can.

Otherwise, it's the neighbor's problem.

Big Problem.

There is currently no nation that disrupts world trade as much as the U.S. with it's currency manipulation, subsidies, and military campaigns. Who's doing anything about that?

I think China is auditioning pretty ambitiously for that part, and Russia's cowboying up for a go at it as well. Regardless, the US Navy is a powerful deterrent for mischief on the high seas, with its (so-far) unmatched blue-water capabilities. The global costs which are defrayed by that deterrent are all-too frequently overlooked.

to develop destabilizing and globally threatening weapons (specifically, CBN weapons, which can be clandestinely proliferated and deployed anywhere at any time)?

This is a serious problem, but one which simply has no solution. WMD's exist (mostly as a direct result of American research)


Do have a closer look at Russia, droog.

Honestly, my biggest fear in the world today is Pakistan.

Yup. High on my Horrorshow List as well (and, speaking of proliferation and research, the name, A.Q. Khan kinda rings a bell).

Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be realistically done about this. The best thing is to wait it out (these weapons do thankfully degrade) and try not to make matters worse.

Oh, much more can and must be done than this. Even degraded nuclear weapons can make dandy dirty bombs, and denatured chemical ordnance can still kill lots of folks. Doing nothing is still action with consequences.

Regardless, I'm doing my best to stay South of the Tropic of Cancer for now....

Well, so at least you will be safer from all that cancer in the tropics!

As for that bizarre, self-defeating ideology, history has shown that it does not sit quietly on its soil and consume itself, but directs its rage outward.

Only when it has the means :).


Doesn't take much (Mumbai comes to mind).

You're doing a typical Fox news thing here and lumping all muslims into a single group.

And you're doing a typical Huffington Post/Bill Maher thing, and trotting out “Fox Noooz” as a short-hand bugaboo/straw man/deflection. I was explicitly referring to that "bizarre, self-defeating ideology," by which I meant the virulent strain of Sunni Takfiri Islamist Jihadism which I supposed you were referring to.

The thing about that subset [of Islam] is that they get much of their power and much of their following from actual, legitimate gripes against the West in general and the U.S. specifically. Absent these legitimate gripes they would probably remain a problem, but a small one.

Might want to read up on Sayyid Qutb, whose screeds against the very essence of the Western Civilization in general and the US in particular were a result of his trip to the US...in 1948-50 (i.e., even before the infamous "Operation Ajax" in Iran, which is so often touted as a prime example of the US' meddling in Muslim countries' affairs). His writing was seminal in the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and, ultimately, of al Qaeda.

I simply don't buy it. Many nations have grievous gripes with one another, without declaring Holy Wars. These are excuses, slogans in a massive Information Op, many/most of which are predicated on "issues" which are wildly distorted or simply spun from whole cloth.

Yes, the muslim ghettos of Europe are extremely worrying. But it's important to remember that they were put there by the governments of Europe.

Partly true (and here are some of the fruits of multiculturalism, vs. the "melting-pot" ideal of integration!). But you mustn't overlook the great degree to which this self-segregation comprises a very deliberate strategy for undermining Western Civilization patiently from within.

If they (the governments) were to withdraw aid from these people they'd either integrate in a big hurry, starve to death, or run home as fast as they could.

Again, using reality as the crucible in which ideals are either cultivated or burnt away, do try to imagine what would transpire in Europe if images of starving Muslim babies in the heart of London were to start flashing up on the BBC...

That's a fair judgement :). However, the spasms it would wreak would most likely be death spasms. Left to themselves, these folks would self destruct, and it would be really interesting to see what arose from the ashes.

Lot of innocent skulls in those ashes.

Still, the argument dissolves (again) when you drop it into the solvent of reality. Even absent the hillocks of cash which they get from oil, the suddenly-impoverished Muslim extremists would find a ready supply of enablers among guilt-ridden (and more nefariously-motivated), predominantly Western nations...more than enough to keep them in A-Ks and RPGs and assorted left-over ordnance more or less in perpetuity.

Piracy on the seas remains a major problem while U.S. forces are busy looking for some mullah in a cave and trying not to get blown up in the process.

So, you're saying that the US should divert its military forces away from the mission of stabilizing Afghanistan (which, BTW, would do much to rein in Pakistan...), and devote it to interdicting pirates on the high seas?

Besides, isn't this whole piracy thing simply the result of the local problems in the effectively failed state of Somalia?

If the carrot is iPods and vaccines and universities, the stick has to be the credible threat of a smackdown for those who would violate the stable rule sets which make these things available to all.

Meh, starvation is an equally effective and much cheaper stick.


Bit of a blunter stick than a JDAM, and with bigger blowback.

One of the great insights of the Austrian school is that given fiscal responsibility, wars of aggression are simply impossible because they are impossible to fund. Show me a war of aggression, and I'll show you a devalued currency.

Probably so. This issue of currency is a real one, and I don't have an answer to it ready to hand, which will stand the test of reality. See, that pesky reality will cave in on any state which adopts such a "fiscally responsible" approach...while surrounded by others which are able and willing to ignore such considerations (say, by actively bolstering their non-viable, irresponsible economies by swallowing the resources of neighbors who are unable to fight back, and who are not protected by others).

Wars of aggression throughout history, going all the way back to Rome, have forced governments to devalue their currencies, invariably leading to economic collapse. The U.S. is just the latest in a very long list of empires to fall into this trap.

This kind of Harry Seldon scale of analysis has its uses. Ignoring the larger trajectories of history can be a severely limiting factor for one's perspective on the present. However, a wide-angle lens won't help you much if you want to determine the function of a particular ant-hill in the biosphere. Shuttling from god's-eye-wide to grunt's-eye-tight is the only way you're going to wrap your head around the events on the ground. Rome and other empires existed in contexts which share characteristics with, but also differ profoundly from the setting in which the US operates.

Besides, I have serious problems with the very idea that the US can be considered an empire at all.

In this case, "First Principles" simply state that macroeconomics is too complex to be reliably predictable (see your own dissertation [ed: chaos/complexity/dynamic systems models as the substrate for a proposed metatheory of psychological phenomena] for for references :) ). Therefore, any actions taken at a macro scale are likely to have consequences other than the ones intended.

True dat. But this is not necessarily a reason for doing nothing. It can also be a caution to maintain vigorous and nimble feedback between one's actions and their immediate effects, along with mechanisms in place for rapid adaptation as conditions change within the problem space. This is the very essence of counterinsurgency operations. Free(er) markets also do a good job of this...even within conditions which dilute their “pure” forms.

So, my friend, when are you going to begin revisiting some of your religious views?

I revisit my working assumptions (the closest things I have to beliefs) on roughly a monthly basis. I find it to be an excellent mental exercise. I would do it a lot more often if I ever found myself advocating wholesale murder or torture under any guise or by any name.


Well, buckaroo, it may just be that time of the month, because that is exactly what would befall untolled millions of people during the global grand mal which would transpire while the world reorganized (or not) into a form resembling the vision you've laid out.

Mike said...

Whatsamatter, Computer Guy, forgotten how to type out an HTML tag? ;-)

I tried a couple of times, but the tags got stripped out. I suspect that, as the owner of the blog you have access to tags that commenters do not. I will, however, give it another shot in case it was a temporary glitch. If it doesn't work, I'll just put the URL's in brackets. I really do prefer email for this type of call and response conversation, but I suppose there are a few mental patients who might enjoy reading this (Kafka's ghost could just read the email thread off our screens :) ).

Depends on whether or not I'm one of the neighbors.

Or trade with them for something you really need...or rely on them for a trade route...or have family there.....

If your country relies too heavily on trade with another, it really needs to rethink its trade strategy. Trade routes may be a different matter, especially for landlocked countries. One could certainly make a rational case for a landlocked country intervening in a war which threatens one of its major trade routes. And, in cases of large expatriate communities, one could make a very strong case for intervention in getting them out of a conflict zone. That's about it.

There is currently no nation that disrupts world trade as much as the U.S. with it's currency manipulation, subsidies, and military campaigns. Who's doing anything about that?

I think China is auditioning pretty ambitiously for that part, and Russia's cowboying up for a go at it as well.

I agree. They're both good competitors and one or both may overtake the U.S. someday. But when I hear people say, "U.S.A. #1!" I can't help but agree, when it comes to trade disruption and market distortions.

Regardless, the US Navy is a powerful deterrent for mischief on the high seas, with its (so-far) unmatched blue-water capabilities. The global costs which are defrayed by that deterrent are all-too frequently overlooked.

So how come the Somali pirates (amongst others) operate freely in one of the worlds most important trade corridors?

This is a serious problem, but one which simply has no solution. WMD's exist (mostly as a direct result of American research)

Do have a closer look at Russia, droog.

Yeah, definitely guilty as well. Hence the "mostly" above.

Honestly, my biggest fear in the world today is Pakistan.

Yup. High on my Horrorshow List as well (and, speaking of proliferation and research, the name, A.Q. Khan kinda rings a bell).

Sure does. An excellent example of just how much damage one individual can do. If not for him, North Korea would have bubkis right now.

Oh, much more can and must be done than this.

Like what? Invade Pakistan and get the nukes? Good luck with that.

Even degraded nuclear weapons can make dandy dirty bombs, and denatured chemical ordnance can still kill lots of folks.

True enough. Although, these days, things like this only seem to be a problem in the hands of Muslims. If white supremacists have it, it's fine (btw, looks like linking now works :) ).

Doing nothing is still action with consequences.

Absolutely. But, as noted below, the consequences of action at this scale, no matter how well intentioned, tend to be worse.

Only when it has the means :).

Doesn't take much (Mumbai comes to mind).

What about Columbine? Who are you going to invade to stop that? How about Oklahoma City?

I was explicitly referring to that "bizarre, self-defeating ideology," by which I meant the virulent strain of Sunni Takfiri Islamist Jihadism which I supposed you were referring to.

Well, here's the funny thing: In my orignial comment, I was actually referring to Viet Nam rather than Iraq, and the "bizarre, self-defeating ideology" I was referring to was communism :). However, Wahabism/Salafism/Whateverism and Iraq/Afghanistan work just as well.

Might want to read up on Sayyid Qutb, whose screeds against the very essence of the Western Civilization in general and the US in particular were a result of his trip to the US...in 1948-50

It goes back further than that. This kind of "thinking" goes back to al Wahhab in the early 18th century. And there are tons of other wacky militant ideologies out there. Seems to me the ones with legitimate gripes grow to become real problems.

(i.e., even before the infamous "Operation Ajax" in Iran, which is so often touted as a prime example of the US' meddling in Muslim countries' affairs). His writing was seminal in the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and, ultimately, of al Qaeda.

Yes, the "philosophical" underpinnings predate Operation Ajax (which was the first large scale ass fucking of the muslim world by the West in the modern age). The actual organizations and their power came after.

I simply don't buy it. Many nations have grievous gripes with one another, without declaring Holy Wars.

Yes, it takes more than just legitimate gripes. It takes legitimate gripes and an extremist ideology. That's the perfect storm.

Yes, the muslim ghettos of Europe are extremely worrying. But it's important to remember that they were put there by the governments of Europe.

Partly true (and here are some of the fruits of multiculturalism, vs. the "melting-pot" ideal of integration!). But you mustn't overlook the great degree to which this self-segregation comprises a very deliberate strategy for undermining Western Civilization patiently from within.

Oh, yeah, it's just that it's made possible by aid from the European governments. I read an article recently whose premise was that Europe was punishing itself for the slaughter of the Jews in the Holocaust by creating these monstrosities. If this is the case, as a second generation victim, I think I speak for us all when I say, "You can stop punishing yourselves now!"

Again, using reality as the crucible in which ideals are either cultivated or burnt away, do try to imagine what would transpire in Europe if images of starving Muslim babies in the heart of London were to start flashing up on the BBC...

Oh, absolutely. I'm not saying it's going to happen. I'm just saying that if it were to happen, these would be the results. And, this was only to underscore the fact that these ghettos would not exist absent the explicit support of the governments of Europe in the form of welfare. I certainly don't see them stopping any time soon...

Left to themselves, these folks would self destruct, and it would be really interesting to see what arose from the ashes.

Lot of innocent skulls in those ashes.

Lots of innocent skulls in all ashes. I wish it were otherwise.

Still, the argument dissolves (again) when you drop it into the solvent of reality. Even absent the hillocks of cash which they get from oil, the suddenly-impoverished Muslim extremists would find a ready supply of enablers among guilt-ridden (and more nefariously-motivated), predominantly Western nations...more than enough to keep them in A-Ks and RPGs and assorted left-over ordnance more or less in perpetuity.

Well, not in perpetuity. It's hard to say what would happen exactly, but their ability to cause serious trouble far outside their own borders would be very, very limited.

So, you're saying that the US should divert its military forces away from the mission of stabilizing Afghanistan (which, BTW, would do much to rein in Pakistan...),

Oh, yeah, before the U.S. troops arrived in Afghanistan, Pakistan was just ready to explode. It's much better now.

and devote it to interdicting pirates on the high seas?

Probably not. My point was that the message you want to send to the world (i.e. we will keep international trade safe) is not being sent.

Besides, isn't this whole piracy thing simply the result of the local problems in the effectively failed state of Somalia?

That's the major world hub of piracy right now, and yes, it is a direct result of non-existence of a real government there (well, that along with it's position along a major trade route).

Meh, starvation is an equally effective and much cheaper stick.

Bit of a blunter stick than a JDAM, and with bigger blowback.

Blunter, yes. Bigger blowback, I highly doubt it. And still much much cheaper.

This issue of currency is a real one, and I don't have an answer to it ready to hand, which will stand the test of reality.

Look for one. You'll find it doesn't exist.

See, that pesky reality will cave in on any state which adopts such a "fiscally responsible" approach...while surrounded by others which are able and willing to ignore such considerations (say, by actively bolstering their non-viable, irresponsible economies by swallowing the resources of neighbors who are unable to fight back, and who are not protected by others).

Quite the contrary. Defense is an integral part of fiscal responsibility. As an example, would you call a bank that kept all it's money in a cardboard box rather than a safe fiscally responsible? It's only offensive military action that requires fiscal irresponsibility. The budgetary differences between the two are at least an order of magnitude. This observation goes back at least to Sun Tsu.

Shuttling from god's-eye-wide to grunt's-eye-tight is the only way you're going to wrap your head around the events on the ground. Rome and other empires existed in contexts which share characteristics with, but also differ profoundly from the setting in which the US operates.

Sure, but both empires (and all the ones in between) still consist of the same animals making the same choices for the same reasons. If it was only Rome that succumbed to this type of thing, the argument would be a lot weaker.

Besides, I have serious problems with the very idea that the US can be considered an empire at all.

Yeah, I know. The peaceful nation of the United States of America has always consisted of 50 states. There was nobody living there before.

Therefore, any actions taken at a macro scale are likely to have consequences other than the ones intended.

True dat. But this is not necessarily a reason for doing nothing.

Actually, it kinda is. If nothing else, it's another in a long list of reasons for strongly preferring the null hypothesis.

It can also be a caution to maintain vigorous and nimble feedback between one's actions and their immediate effects, along with mechanisms in place for rapid adaptation as conditions change within the problem space.

Excellent admonitions at the micro (e.g. individual or small community) level. Unfortunately, not possible at the macro level. The effects can't even be understood until it's far too late.

Free(er) markets also do a good job of this...even within conditions which dilute their “pure” forms.

Bzzt! Thanks for playing! It's similar to a sensitivity to initial conditions thing. Fuck with the pure form even a tiny bit and the distortions amplify as they ripple through the economy causing huge, ugly, and unnecessary boom-bust cycles. It all looks great till you get to the bust part of the cycle. Welcome to it.

I revisit my working assumptions (the closest things I have to beliefs) on roughly a monthly basis. I find it to be an excellent mental exercise. I would do it a lot more often if I ever found myself advocating wholesale murder or torture under any guise or by any name.

Well, buckaroo, it may just be that time of the month,

Gee, I hope not. I was hoping to have sex this evening :).

because that is exactly what would befall untolled millions of people during the global grand mal which would transpire while the world reorganized

There is a world of difference between sitting idly while inevitable injustices occur and actually commiting them.

(or not) into a form resembling the vision you've laid out.

I've laid out no vision. I've merely advocated a responsible course of action as an alternative to the foibles of the last few administrations (including the current one). It wouldn't do to just attack policies without offering an alternative.

Mike said...

Addenda:

1. It is not that time of the month. Woo hoo! :)

2. The cartoon at the bottom of your blog is actually kind of funny for a change. Jon Stuart did some great stuff with that a few nights ago as well.

Noocyte said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Noocyte said...

NOTE: Blogger is doing some goofy and really annoying shit, and framing link targets in some "https://blogger-dot-yadda-yadda" which points to nowhere. Just strip all that nonsense from the URL in the address field to reach the target, and join me a hearty WTF?!? at the good sysadmins at Blogger.com!

I really do prefer email for this type of call and response conversation, but I suppose there are a few mental patients who might enjoy reading this (Kafka's ghost could just read the email thread off our screens :)).

LOL! Amazing, the mileage we've gotten out of that throwaway comment by Richard Lewis to Bob Costas, circa 1990 (Lewis: “You know who [got that joke]? Four mental patients and Kafka's ghost!”).

Normally, so would I (prefer an email format for this sort of klatsch). But my emailing has become only a bit more consistent than my blog posting in recent months, so this seems to be working better for me, for some reason.

Plus, it was the hopeful emergence of just this sort of lively comments thread which was one of the motivators for my starting the Cyte. That, and to have a ready go-to site for folks who ask “how can you believe this stuff?!” Save a lot of back-fill exposition at social gatherings. Or at least that was the theory! ;-)

If your country relies too heavily on trade with another, it really needs to rethink its trade strategy.

True enough, as far as it goes. But rethinking cannot always result in re-doing, at least on time scales relevant to staving off wholesale economic collapse and/or devastating suffering (e.g., Eastern European dependence on Russian natural gas...during an Eastern European Winter).

Trade routes may be a different matter, especially for landlocked countries. One could certainly make a rational case for a landlocked country intervening in a war which threatens one of its major trade routes.

Globally speaking, we are all 'landlocked.' (Whoooooa!)

Networks of ideologically driven terrorists with global reach are unprecedentedly empowered to inflict great pain on trade and commerce at hitherto-unimaginable scales. This remains so, even when they are relatively poorly-funded, say, due to the widespread proliferation of alternatives to petroleum; infrastructure and other high-yield soft targets abound in free, technological societies. The bang-per-buck of assaulting these in a swarm far exceeds that of large-scale 'set-piece' attacks anyway. Soon or late, the gods forfend, more of our foes are going to learn this lesson.

The “rationality” of intervention in matters of potentially general impact takes on a different meaning when viewed in terms of longer time scales, and inextricably intertwined global markets. Interdicting emerging threats (yes, even preemptively) can keep big problems from becoming insurmountable ones.

Regardless, the US Navy is a powerful deterrent for mischief on the high seas, with its (so-far) unmatched blue-water capabilities. The global costs which are defrayed by that deterrent are all-too frequently overlooked.

So how come the Somali pirates (amongst others) operate freely in one of the worlds most important trade corridors?


Actually, there are signs of that problem coming under better control. If so (and it really does look rather promising), much commerce will be able to go on more profitably.

the name, A.Q. Khan kinda rings a bell).

Sure does. An excellent example of just how much damage one individual can do. If not for him, North Korea would have bubkis right now.


Indeed. The 'hyper-empowered individual' is one of the great hazards (and assets) of this age.

What about Columbine? Who are you going to invade to stop that? How about Oklahoma City?

No need to invade anyone. Such home-grown extremist groups are legitimate targets for a law-enforcement model. International terrorists, acting as agents of a coherent and relatively widespread network of ideologically-congruent groups, are not. Some would call that “War.”

Well, here's the funny thing: In my orignial comment, I was actually referring to Viet Nam rather than Iraq, and the "bizarre, self-defeating ideology" I was referring to was communism :). However, Wahabism/Salafism/Whateverism and Iraq/Afghanistan work just as well.

Heh! Neat trick, well-met.

Still, kinda illustrates my point. Communism did not fall in the period of time which it took because of the collective weight of its own absurdity crushing it on its own. I do firmly believe that that would have transpired in due (rather lengthy!) course. However, it was hastened in that collapse by the steady pressure of its capitalist rivals during the Cold War (yes, even in Viet Nam and Afghanistan...and yes, blowback's part of the dance, whatever your steps).

Yes, the "philosophical" underpinnings predate Operation Ajax (which was the first large scale ass fucking of the muslim world by the West in the modern age). The actual organizations and their power came after.

Not that far after (remember all those hijackings in the 70s?). Wahhab and company could only do so much with scimitars and the occasional musket (if even). It's the tools and transportation and funding flows of the modern world that have both exacerbated and empowered these long-simmering hatreds. Their reach has caught up with their grasp (no thanks to the perennially moribund productiveness of their own civilization, mind you).

This issue of currency is a real one, and I don't have an answer to it ready to hand, which will stand the test of reality.

Look for one. You'll find it doesn't exist.


That's a really (har-har) interesting statement. Maybe I'm becoming crotchetily (”crotchetily?!”) pragmatic in my dotage, but it seems to me that any system of thought which consistently fails to align with events in meatspace is little more than a curiosity, better suited to interesting fiction than practical policy.

Defense is an integral part of fiscal responsibility. As an example, would you call a bank that kept all it's money in a cardboard box rather than a safe fiscally responsible? It's only offensive military action that requires fiscal irresponsibility. The budgetary differences between the two are at least an order of magnitude.

The immense costs and profound societal changes which would be required for the implementation of a purely defensive military (“Fortress America”) hurt my teeth to contemplate. There are always more barbarians than gatewardens.

Besides, I have serious problems with the very idea that the US can be considered an empire at all.

Yeah, I know. The peaceful nation of the United States of America has always consisted of 50 states. There was nobody living there before.


Yup, and the proconsuls of Puerto Rico and the Philippines are up to their crested helms in the business of conscripting slave armies for the invasion of Venezuela as we speak...

It can also be a caution to maintain vigorous and nimble feedback between one's actions and their immediate effects, along with mechanisms in place for rapid adaptation as conditions change within the problem space.

Excellent admonitions at the micro (e.g. individual or small community) level. Unfortunately, not possible at the macro level. The effects can't even be understood until it's far too late.


Not impossible. Just very, very difficult. A case in point is Iraq. Leaving aside entirely the question of whether we should have gone in (not a lotta question about where we stand on that one), we can look at how it has gone. Spectacular early success, followed by systemic misjudgment and a very close brush with total strategic defeat, followed in turn by dramatic and comprehensive changes in strategy and tactics and an equally dramatic upswing in nearly every indicator of progress toward success (which at least is not escaping the notice of the Iraqis themselves). This has the authentic look and feel of a situation in which action was taken, consequences judged, and actions revised. How things will shake out on still longer scales of time is, of course, still in question. But isn't it always?

Fuck with the pure form even a tiny bit and the distortions amplify as they ripple through the economy causing huge, ugly, and unnecessary boom-bust cycles. It all looks great till you get to the bust part of the cycle. Welcome to it.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm still a bit over my head on the finer points of this stuff. However, in the “critiques” section of the linked article, it was noted (and I've seen this bit before, but blessme if I can remember where) that those business cycles existed long before the establishment of the central banks which are so oft-cited as prime enablers of these cycles, and pointed to indications that the severity of those cycles has lessened since WW2.

Besides, maybe these oscillations are part and parcel of an economic model's messy evolution and fracking too aggressively with it will spawn unnecessarily negative consequences.

Well, buckaroo, it may just be that time of the month,

Gee, I hope not. I was hoping to have sex this evening :).


Um...glad that worked out for you (red tents are such a bore).

There is a world of difference between sitting idly while inevitable injustices occur and actually commiting them.

Yes, one sends the unequivocal message to prospective enemies that they can act with impunity against your interests, while signaling to potential allies that daring to assist you will buy them only disappointment and grisly death. The other shows that you are willing to attempt imperfect solutions to complex problems, with a larger aim of reducing some classes of injustice and suffering (while, as you say, inevitably leaving some unchanged and others even worse. The 'Verse does balance its books in the end). A willingness to act and persevere (to be a “strong horse”) is not lost on those moderates and reformers who would stand against tyranny, if only they felt that their causes would find supporters. Their success would accrue to the benefit of all.

I've laid out no vision. I've merely advocated a responsible course of action as an alternative to the foibles of the last few administrations (including the current one).

Fundamentally revamp our entire financial system, withdraw from all alliances and redeploy all military personnel back within the borders of the US, doing nothing as a nation to intervene in any of the bloodbaths which would all-but certainly ensue? Did I miss anything? Apart from the repellent nihilism of throwing up our hands at the horrific suffering which would occur, I have grave reservations about the stable end-state you posit ever coming to pass. Even from the coolest calculus of national interest, I can't help but see it as falling very, very flat. Like it or not, our fates are bound up with the health and growth of a globalized economy. Our abdication of our role as key guarantors of the (quasi-) stability of that globalized system would all-but certainly precipitate its collapse. Free markets and free people would be in very short supply. I have trouble seeing anything 'responsible' about that.

It wouldn't do to just attack policies without offering an alternative.

Yeppers, that would be a job for Democrats. At least you are free of that particular affliction. ;-)

Mike said...

and join me a hearty WTF?!? at the good sysadmins at Blogger.com!

Yeah, it really is one of Google's more disappointing properties. I strongly prefer wordpress. And while we're on the subject of infrastructure: white text on a black background? Are you trying to give your readers a headache?

so this seems to be working better for me, for some reason.

So be it. my vim chops are strong :). Now if only blogger would allow blockquote tags....

If your country relies too heavily on trade with another, it really needs to rethink its trade strategy.

True enough, as far as it goes. But rethinking cannot always result in re-doing, at least on time scales relevant to staving off wholesale economic collapse and/or devastating suffering (e.g., Eastern European dependence on Russian natural gas...during an Eastern European Winter).

Well, you have to start somewhere. The fact that transition is difficult, even extremely difficult, is no reason to vainly attempt to maintain a dangerous status quo.

Networks of ideologically driven terrorists with global reach are unprecedentedly empowered to inflict great pain on trade and commerce at hitherto-unimaginable scales.

Indeed. And, as discussed below, so are crazed individuals. You can either treat them as warriors and spend trillions of dollars playing whack a mole with them, or you can treat them the same way as other destructive nut-jobs, as criminals.

The "rationality" of intervention in matters of potentially general impact takes on a different meaning when viewed in terms of longer time scales, and inextricably intertwined global markets. Interdicting emerging threats (yes, even preemptively) can keep big problems from becoming insurmountable ones.

It seems that the reverse is true. Acting to preempt these threats only seems to magnify them. Compare for example the power and prestige of Al-Queda and related organizations before and after the Iraq campaign.

So how come the Somali pirates (amongst others) operate freely in one of the worlds most important trade corridors?

Actually, there are signs of that problem coming under better control. If so (and it really does look rather promising), much commerce will be able to go on more profitably.

The situation is indeed improving, thanks primarily to the efforts of India and Japan. That in itself is somewhat gratifying. However, the city of Eyl continues to be a Pirate Haven

Indeed. The 'hyper-empowered individual' is one of the great hazards (and assets) of this age.

Yeah, the unabomber certainly did have a point there, even if he missed the "assets" part.

What about Columbine? Who are you going to invade to stop that? How about Oklahoma City?

No need to invade anyone. Such home-grown extremist groups are legitimate targets for a law-enforcement model. International terrorists, acting as agents of a coherent and relatively widespread network of ideologically-congruent groups, are not. Some would call that "War."

It occurs to me that this may well be the crux of our disagreement. You seem to feel that larger ideological groups deserve military attention, whereas I feel that the matter is better handled by policing. We'll probably never find out if my way works, but yours is failing spectacularly. I can't find the link now, but I remember reading a few months ago a quote from Al-Zawahiri (one of Bin Laden's many second-in-command's) stating that the U.S. had outspent Al-Quaeda by around a million to one in this conflict. Even if he's off by an order of magnitude, how much longer do you think you can keep doing that?

Communism did not fall in the period of time which it took because of the collective weight of its own absurdity crushing it on its own. I do firmly believe that that would have transpired in due (rather lengthy!) course. However, it was hastened in that collapse by the steady pressure of its capitalist rivals during the Cold War (yes, even in Viet Nam and Afghanistan...and yes, blowback's part of the dance, whatever your steps).

That may or may not be true. But even if it is, is a few decades less of the existence of the communist bloc worth the countless lives and billions of dollars (back when dollars were worth something) lost to prevent them?

Maybe I'm becoming crotchetily (”crotchetily?!”) pragmatic in my dotage, but it seems to me that any system of thought which consistently fails to align with events in meatspace is little more than a curiosity, better suited to interesting fiction than practical policy.

Then why do you subscribe to one? :)

The immense costs and profound societal changes which would be required for the implementation of a purely defensive military (“Fortress America”) hurt my teeth to contemplate. There are always more barbarians than gatewardens.

Costs: roughly (and I do mean roughly, it's probably a lot more) 450 billion dollars saved annually. Societal changes: Learning to live within your actual means. Sorry for the tooth pain.

Not impossible. Just very, very difficult. A case in point is Iraq. Leaving aside entirely the question of whether we should have gone in (not a lotta question about where we stand on that one), we can look at how it has gone. Spectacular early success, followed by systemic misjudgment and a very close brush with total strategic defeat, followed in turn by dramatic and comprehensive changes in strategy and tactics and an equally dramatic upswing in nearly every indicator of progress toward success (which at least is not escaping the notice of the Iraqis themselves). This has the authentic look and feel of a situation in which action was taken, consequences judged, and actions revised. How things will shake out on still longer scales of time is, of course, still in question. But isn't it always?

You're completely missing the impact of the costs of this exercise. Yes, strategies were revised and tactics changed, but the result is still a disaster domestically. The Iraqis may eventually come out of this better off than they were under Hussein (though I doubt it; I suspect the "Sunni Awakening" will go right back to sleep the second the dollars stop flowing their way). The Americans, however, are quite fucked.

There is a world of difference between sitting idly while inevitable injustices occur and actually commiting them.

Yes, one sends the unequivocal message to prospective enemies that they can act with impunity against your interests,

Perhaps this is another point of contention. I suspect I define "interests" much more narrowly than you do.

The other shows that you are willing to attempt imperfect solutions to complex problems, with a larger aim of reducing some classes of injustice and suffering (while, as you say, inevitably leaving some unchanged and others even worse. The 'Verse does balance its books in the end). A willingness to act and persevere (to be a “strong horse”) is not lost on those moderates and reformers who would stand against tyranny, if only they felt that their causes would find supporters. Their success would accrue to the benefit of all.

Maybe (and it's a big maybe), but at what cost?

Fundamentally revamp our entire financial system,

Your entire financial system is being revamped whether you like it or not. It's just being done very poorly (e.g. being revamped into something even worse, potentially much worse). I recommend instead allowing it to revamp itself into something sound.

withdraw from all alliances

All military alliances, yes. As Thomas Jefferson said, "Trade with all nations, Allegiance to none."

and redeploy all military personnel back within the borders of the US,

Yes, but slowly. You can start by pulling them out of places that have long ago stabilized like Japan and Germany. Also, since a defensive military requires much less personnel than an offensive one, you'd need to retrain a lot of them for civilian tasks.

doing nothing as a nation to intervene in any of the bloodbaths which would all-but certainly ensue?

Bloodbaths happen in the presence of American troops and frequently because of them. They may or may not temporarily increase in their absence. But since doing "something" has only resulted in bloodbaths too numerous to count, doing nothing does seem like the better option.

Did I miss anything?

Oh, yeah, a bunch of things. Off the top of my head: end the drug war, ditch the income tax, get rid of private prisons, end corporate subsidies. There's probably a few more.

Apart from the repellent nihilism of throwing up our hands at the horrific suffering which would occur,

What about the suffering that occurs now? How much worse is any of this going to be than the U.S. occupation of Iraq?

And another observation here: You and all the folks who confidently proclaimed that Iraq would be a cake walk and U.S. troops would be "greeted as liberators" continue to confidently make predictions about what would happen "if". Does being so consistently wrong for so long not give you any pause when making further predictions? Can you at least admit that maybe, just maybe, the world would be ok without your soldiers all over it?

have grave reservations about the stable end-state you posit ever coming to pass.

I never posited a stable end state. I have no idea what such a thing would like, apart from the extinction of the human race (and, actually, all other life). I'm just advocating policies which least stand in the way of progress.

Even from the coolest calculus of national interest, I can't help but see it as falling very, very flat. Like it or not, our fates are bound up with the health and growth of a globalized economy.

Deeply untrue. The U.S. has more than enough natural and human resources (though the latter require a lot of training) to function and develop completely independently. International trade for the U.S. is a luxury and should be treated as such: desirable but not strictly necessary.

Our abdication of our role as key guarantors of the (quasi-) stability of that globalized system would all-but certainly precipitate its collapse.

America uber ales? Not so much. International trade has existed and flourished both in the presence and absence of a dominant empire. Admittedly, a dominant empire (the U.S. included) does grease the wheels somewhat, but at a steep price.

Free markets and free people would be in very short supply

And they exist in such abundance thanks to Pax Americana. Give me a fucking break. More than 1% of your adult population is in jail. Your government hands out hundreds of billions in subsidies every year and prints money at will. When you have a free people and a free market, maybe you can start lecturing (lecturing, mind you, not invading) the rest of the world.

It wouldn't do to just attack policies without offering an alternative.

Yeppers, that would be a job for Democrats.

Indeed, I was going to add that to my last reply, but it's not entirely accurate. They are offering an alternative: deliberately and knowingly repeat all the mistakes of past administrations. Thanks guys :-/

Despite some of the inconveniences I've had to deal with (this hasn't happened in a long time, but we've had no water all day. One more day of this shit and my scrotum will be a WMD), I'm really glad I left.

Mike said...

Addendum: Still no water. And I refuse to let Hans Blix inspect my nether region. I'm expecting an invasion (followed by a long search for deez nuts) any minute.

Noocyte said...

Addendum: Still no water. And I refuse to let Hans Blix inspect my nether region. I'm expecting an invasion (followed by a long search for deez nuts) any minute.

Great Ganesha's goiters! STILL no water?! So how many showers are you from the Revolution?

Anyway, reply to main trunk of this thread is in the works, but just wanted to jump the queue to wish you a HAPPY BIRTHDAY, senor stinky-sack!

And don't worry about Herr Blix; I think Kim Jong Il dropped him in the shark tank anyway (no laaasers, though).

Noocyte said...

I strongly prefer wordpress. And while we're on the subject of infrastructure: white text on a black background? Are you trying to give your readers a headache?

Yah, I looked closely at Wordpress as well, before finally deciding on Blogger. If memory serves, it came down to format options and a few other things I can't recall at the moment, but the choice was close.

The text is actually a light gray. I've darkened it a smidge, if that helps. When the weather is better, I do a lot of blogging out on the deck at night (while the bats swirl around, managing the bugs. Pretty cool), where anything but a dark screen would be painful.

And yes, blockquote tags would be very welcome. Goofy that they're not present.


You can either treat [crazed individuals and networks of ideologically-driven terrorists] as warriors and spend trillions of dollars playing whack a mole with them, or you can treat them the same way as other destructive nut-jobs, as criminals.

See now, that's the interesting thing. The "whack-a-mole" strategy of attrition by mainly kinetic means was demonstrably failing in Iraq. The theory (to which I guardedly subscribed, m'self, till I opened my eyes to the mugging by reality which it was taking) was that you would relentlessly kill the bad guys, scatter their organizational structures, render their leaders ineffectual in mounting organized resistance,and ultimately precipitate the collapse of their ability to wage war, whereupon the population would turn against them. Trouble was that that population was very effectively intimidated by AQ into providing safe harbor and a steady supply of young men, so long as Coalition forces kept retreating to massive Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) and only emerging to wreck shit and kill folks...not infrequently the wrong folks.

It was only when the emphasis shifted to protecting the population and shoring up the machinery of civil society ("clear-hold-build") that things really began to turn around over there.

I agree that a similar attrition strategy writ large would be a disaster, succeeding only in pissing off lots of people, who would replenish the ranks of the moles much faster than we could whack 'em. If you recall my much earlier post on Global Counterinsurgency, you'll see that I'm talking about something very different. It's about fostering the development of societies which are inhospitable to the insurgencies in their midst (and, to pre-empt your inevitable charge of imperialism, these societies cannot be Mini-Me Americas, but must be true to the cultural idioms of their people or they will wither on the vine). These societies will then take their place in global networks of lawful trade and diplomacy (i.e., enter the "Core").

Internationally, implementing a law enforcement model for these networks of terrorists is an even more cumbersome and inefficient version of whack-a-mole than simply hunting down and killing them. It's akin to carefully surgically removing each head of a hydra, versus simply lopping them off. It does nothing to address the conditions which give rise to the insurgencies.

Compare for example the power and prestige of Al-Queda and related organizations before and after the Iraq campaign.

Dude, AQ was decimated in Iraq. After an initial "surge" in prestige and motivation to fight on the Mesopotamian Front, it lost credibility on a massive scale, and has been forced to re-group (ominously, mind you) in places like Pakistan and Africa. We didn't set out to make AQ declare Iraq as the Central Front in their Jihad...but declare it they did. And it's cost them most dearly.

No need to invade anyone. Such home-grown extremist groups are legitimate targets for a law-enforcement model. International terrorists, acting as agents of a coherent and relatively widespread network of ideologically-congruent groups, are not. Some would call that "War."

It occurs to me that this may well be the crux of our disagreement.


I think we face a multi-crux scenario, but, yes, this is a key point.

You seem to feel that larger ideological groups deserve military attention, whereas I feel that the matter is better handled by policing. We'll probably never find out if my way works, but yours is failing spectacularly.

I think you may be rather prematurely announcing the return of the jury on that score. See me, a little under a year ago, and this more recent article. As with the Cold War, the current conflict is pretty much certain to proceed in incremental stages, many of them hidden from direct view, with multiple setbacks and advances. It will very likely end like that bloke from The Sun Also Rises went broke: "gradually...then suddenly." My honest appraisal of the situation is one of heartening progress and very worrisome challenges, with the ultimate outcome still in doubt.

I can't find the link now, but I remember reading a few months ago a quote from Al-Zawahiri (one of Bin Laden's many second-in-command's) stating that the U.S. had outspent Al-Quaeda by around a million to one in this conflict. Even if he's off by an order of magnitude, how much longer do you think you can keep doing that?

Well, considering the relatively minuscule (compared to the US) funding available to AQ, and in firm hope that the Democrats (and inexcusably misguided Republicans) don't utterly wreck the economy, then for quite a while, actually.

And, much as it is important to pay careful heed to the words of our enemies, it is unwise to take too literally the taunts of a psychopath from his undisclosed location, as he engages in what is clearly a campaign of Psy Ops (a campaign, BTW, on which the US has failed to engage in anything like the seriousness which it requires!).


That may or may not be true. But even if it is, is a few decades less of the existence of the communist bloc worth the countless lives and billions of dollars (back when dollars were worth something) lost to prevent them?

Well, it's not like legions of lives weren't being lost anyway. As for the dollars, do consider how an emboldened communist bloc would have been taking markets off-line as it swallowed country after country (guarded by a commensurately swollen nuclear arsenal which, free from pressure by the West, it could have developed at a much swifter rate). There's simply no telling how large the "second World" would have become without serious push-back from the First, and how much of the world would have succumbed to its rapacious parasitism before it ultimately imploded. Challenging tyranny is expensive and painful, but it is my considered opinion that it is generally money (and, alas, lives) well-spent.

The immense costs and profound societal changes which would be required for the implementation of a purely defensive military (“Fortress America”) hurt my teeth to contemplate. There are always more barbarians than gatewardens.

Costs: roughly (and I do mean roughly, it's probably a lot more) 450 billion dollars saved annually. Societal changes: Learning to live within your actual means. Sorry for the tooth pain.


To be clear, I do believe that homeland security is getting woefully short shrift, and much more can and should be done to guard our borders.

That said, if we are to endeavor to create a truly hermetic seal against the free-floating pathogens which assail us, we will need to spend LOTS of money, and implement procedures which will give any Libertarian seizures (not to mention searches. Har-har).

You're completely missing the impact of the costs of this exercise. Yes, strategies were revised and tactics changed, but the result is still a disaster domestically.

Don't even get me started on the previous Administration's chronic failure to communicate its aims and means and progress (including setbacks) on the Iraq campaign. The degree to which OIF was allowed to become the domestic disaster which it surely has become is a direct result of how inexcusably the Bush Administration ceded ground on the information war being waged by the Transnational Left, and the paleoconservative and Libertarian Right. It could have been very different, if the story had been told more truthfully and forcefully (not that folks like Cindy Sheehan and yourself would have been swayed in the least, mind you. ;-) But lots of folks closer to the middle might have had a very different set of factors to consider in their decision-making. It's a Shanda).

The Iraqis may eventually come out of this better off than they were under Hussein (though I doubt it; I suspect the "Sunni Awakening" will go right back to sleep the second the dollars stop flowing their way).

I really don't think so. The transition from US to Iraqi funding of the Sons Of Iraq is proceeding apace (if, as always, imperfectly). Things over there show very promising signs of having passed a tipping point.

The Americans, however, are quite fucked.

If so, then far less so than would have been the case, had Saddam finally escaped his box if we had not unseated him, or if Iraq had slipped into a chaotic failed state if we had not ultimately found a way to pacify and empower it.


Yes, one sends the unequivocal message to prospective enemies that they can act with impunity against your interests,

Perhaps this is another point of contention. I suspect I define "interests" much more narrowly than you do.


Too narrowly, IMHO.

The other shows that you are willing to attempt imperfect solutions to complex problems, with a larger aim of reducing some classes of injustice and suffering (while, as you say, inevitably leaving some unchanged and others even worse. The 'Verse does balance its books in the end). A willingness to act and persevere (to be a “strong horse”) is not lost on those moderates and reformers who would stand against tyranny, if only they felt that their causes would find supporters. Their success would accrue to the benefit of all.

Maybe (and it's a big maybe), but at what cost?


Colossal. But arguably less over the long haul than the cost in blood and treasure (and not just for the US!) should they be allowed to fail, and defrayed substantially by the emergence of new markets (not to mention less tangible benefits of new thinking and cultural contributions) if they are encouraged to succeed.

Your entire financial system is being revamped whether you like it or not. It's just being done very poorly (e.g. being revamped into something even worse, potentially much worse).

No argument there. All the moreso if Barry's Bonanza of Bountiful Budgeting should continue to be allowed to unfold without serious checks (bring on 2010!).

As Thomas Jefferson said, "Trade with all nations, Allegiance to none."

A point which I am compelled to make with no small degree of repetitiveness: trade is far more difficult when one's trade routes and trade partners are routinely threatened and swallowed up by the depredations of unchecked barbarians and thugs.

and redeploy all military personnel back within the borders of the US,

Yes, but slowly. You can start by pulling them out of places that have long ago stabilized like Japan and Germany.


I do think some of this can and maybe should be done. But it would not do to do this in an ill-considered fashion; the presence of US military forces in such places is less about stabilization of the places themselves than it is about influencing the perceived range of action by other regional players (e.g., a newly-bellicose Russian Federation in Europe or the "People's Republic" of China).

Also, since a defensive military requires much less personnel than an offensive one, you'd need to retrain a lot of them for civilian tasks.

Think about that for a moment: what might happen to posse comitatus in your Fortress America?

end the drug war,

Absolutely! This hideously expensive boondoggle is draining the life out of this Nation at an alarming rate. The amount of revenue which NORMLization would generate would be immense!

ditch the income tax,

A guarded yes. The tax code is a gargantuan labyrinth which creates far more waste than it generates revenue. This is not a solution without its own difficulties, but very significant reform is badly needed in this area.

get rid of private prisons,

Not sure what you're referring to here.

end corporate subsidies.

A careful "yes" here as well. Certainly as an aspirational goal, though too precipitate a withdrawal of government backing for some industries would likely be ruinous...though this might be one of the areas where we more-or-less agree that the pain justifies the gain.


Apart from the repellent nihilism of throwing up our hands at the horrific suffering which would occur

What about the suffering that occurs now? How much worse is any of this going to be than the U.S. occupation of Iraq?


Oh, gods, incalculably. Compared to the suffering which would be inflicted by unchecked hegemons and thugocrats if the US were to abdicate its role as watchdog for the Core, the sectarian conflict in Iraq before the COIN/"Surge" would look like a friendly rugby match.

Oh, and point of order: the "occupation" was fairly brief; we no longer administer the affairs of the sovereign nation of Iraq.

And another observation here: You and all the folks who confidently proclaimed that Iraq would be a cake walk and U.S. troops would be "greeted as liberators"

Actually, initially we kinda were, and the purely kinetic segment of the campaign ("OIF 1") kinda was. It's when the post-conflict stabilization portion was so clearly fracked that things really began to fall apart in earnest.

...continue to confidently make predictions about what would happen "if". Does being so consistently wrong for so long not give you any pause when making further predictions?

Predictions whose stakes are so high should always be occasions for very careful pause. However, the consistency which you posit is quite debatable (hence this thread).

Can you at least admit that maybe, just maybe, the world would be ok without your soldiers all over it?

Anything is possible.

However, unlike where your journeys have taken you, mine have taken me to a place where I look at that question, and say "Could be, but it is not likely, and not worth the risk to find out." It is a conclusion which many Iraqis (mostly privately, due to Arab pride, but some very publicly) share...along with many millions of people in Eastern Europe (well, until lately, anyway...).

have grave reservations about the stable end-state you posit ever coming to pass.

I never posited a stable end state. I have no idea what such a thing would like, apart from the extinction of the human race (and, actually, all other life). I'm just advocating policies which least stand in the way of progress.


The "stable end state" I was referring to was one in which unfettered markets and strictly voluntary trade, rather than the actions of the governments and militaries of nation states are empowered to act in inter- and intranational matters. It was not so much any particular configuration of detailed policies, or course, but a very general modus operandi which I synthesize from your descriptions of particular cases. Am I way off base with this?

Even from the coolest calculus of national interest, I can't help but see it as falling very, very flat. Like it or not, our fates are bound up with the health and growth of a globalized economy.

Deeply untrue. The U.S. has more than enough natural and human resources (though the latter require a lot of training) to function and develop completely independently. International trade for the U.S. is a luxury and should be treated as such: desirable but not strictly necessary.


It is very likely true that the US is capable of functioning as a society using only its indigenous resources. It is a very rich country. This cannot be said of many other nations on this planet, which would (and do) need to trade with (or conquer) others. It could be argued that these nations simply need to realign their societies in order to do without these things...but when have people ever done that?

More likely, in the absence of a vigilantly-guarded global network of trade, which lends itself to lawful, generally peaceful interdependence (cf Europe today, versus 100 years ago), the merciless Hobbesian logic of conquest and colonization would return to ever-greater swathes of the world. It would only be a matter of time before that wave of chaos would sweep toward our fortified shores, having been able to evolve, unmolested, from a gnarly breaker into a terrifying tsunami.

Our abdication of our role as key guarantors of the (quasi-) stability of that globalized system would all-but certainly precipitate its collapse.

America uber ales? Not so much. International trade has existed and flourished both in the presence and absence of a dominant empire. Admittedly, a dominant empire (the U.S. included) does grease the wheels somewhat, but at a steep price.

Again with the Empire thing. Empires seize, hold, administer, and demand tribute from their conquests. They do not hand sovereignty back to those countries which they invade, let alone consider themselves bound by treaties with them. They do not permit referenda within their territories on the question of whether those territories still want to be so designated (nor allow them to petition for full inclusion as states, as 31 of the current US states have done).

While hardly a sainted and unblemished figure on the world stage, the US bears only the most superficial resemblance to the empires of old. It is a trope which is becoming tedious in the extreme.

What the US does do (albeit imperfectly, of course) is to patrol the sea lanes, act as a credible deterrent to those who would act to disrupt global trade (i.e., to act in ways which violate the rule sets which govern the peaceful mercantile interactions between nations), and project force to curb the predatory ambitions of would-be hegemons and rogue states. Does it do this with perfect even-handedness and beneficence? Hell no. Does it possess any intrinsic right to do this, beyond the fact that it can? No. Is it unique in the history of the world among nations with such staggering strength in its exercise of restraint in the aggressive use of that strength? You betcha (witness the fact --among many others-- that Hugo Chavez continues to exist in such a way that he would show up against the background on a thermograph).

Free markets and free people would be in very short supply

And they exist in such abundance thanks to Pax Americana. Give me a fucking break. More than 1% of your adult population is in jail. Your government hands out hundreds of billions in subsidies every year and prints money at will. When you have a free people and a free market, maybe you can start lecturing (lecturing, mind you, not invading) the rest of the world.


Well, according to your very narrow definition of what would constitute a "free" market, then there are vanishingly few (none?). As with all things in the messy space of the real world, it is a matter of degree. Once we depart from the land of Pure Forms, we see that, yes, there are far more democratic (and thus freer) mercantile nations in the world, in no small measure due to the US' role as the check on totalitarianism in its various stripes.

As for the bits about jailed citizens and stupid economic policies, you do appear to be continuing to imply that I am idealizing this country in some jingoistic fashion (you may not be doing this, mind you, but you do keep seeming to). My love for this country is not blind, nor is it unconditional. This Nation is flawed and evolving (not infrequently in retrograde fashion!). But I continue to maintain that it has a vital role to play in bringing about the conditions which will significantly decrease the need for any nation to play that role.

[Democrats] are offering an alternative: deliberately and knowingly repeat all the mistakes of past administrations. Thanks guys :-/

+1!

Despite some of the inconveniences I've had to deal with (this hasn't happened in a long time, but we've had no water all day. One more day of this shit and my scrotum will be a WMD),

...Aaaaand here's another from the "Images I didn't need in my head" files!

Criminy! I hope they get that water flowing soonest! What's the cause?

I'm really glad I left.

I'm not...but that's just me being selfish. As I've said before, whatever I may think of your reasons for emigrating, I'd have a fair bit less respect for someone who believes the things you do, and who still stuck around. Not none, mind you (many might choose to "work within the system," and still be mensches).

Also, point of grammar: I note a lot of second-person formulations about the US. Can I gather that you have decided to renounce your citizenship when you find a suitable landing spot?

Mike said...

The text is actually a light gray. I've darkened it a smidge, if that helps.

It does, thanks.

When the weather is better, I do a lot of blogging out on the deck at night (while the bats swirl around, managing the bugs. Pretty cool), where anything but a dark screen would be painful.

Nothing wrong with light on dark. However, black a as a background color is nearly as hard on the eyes as white. I personally use light grey on dark grey (the vim 'evening' theme) for most of my editing.

It's about fostering the development of societies which are inhospitable to the insurgencies in their midst (and, to pre-empt your inevitable charge of imperialism, these societies cannot be Mini-Me Americas, but must be true to the cultural idioms of their people or they will wither on the vine). These societies will then take their place in global networks of lawful trade and diplomacy (i.e., enter the "Core").

How, exactly, do you propose to achieve that? It sounds like you're advocating a non-military strategy here, but that really doesn't jibe with what I generally perceive your position to be.

Internationally, implementing a law enforcement model for these networks of terrorists is an even more cumbersome and inefficient version of whack-a-mole than simply hunting down and killing them.

I imagine it could be cumbersome if you really try to deal with the networks. If, however, you just deal with the individual cells, it's just law enforcement as usual with a couple of twists (e.g. infiltration at local mosques, etc).

Dude, AQ was decimated in Iraq. After an initial "surge" in prestige and motivation to fight on the Mesopotamian Front, it lost credibility on a massive scale,

Coulda fooled me.

Challenging tyranny is expensive and painful, but it is my considered opinion that it is generally money (and, alas, lives) well-spent.

I couldn't agree more. Question is, who's money and who's lives.

The immense costs and profound societal changes which would be required for the implementation of a purely defensive military (“Fortress America”) hurt my teeth to contemplate. There are always more barbarians than gatewardens.

Costs: roughly (and I do mean roughly, it's probably a lot more) 450 billion dollars saved annually. Societal changes: Learning to live within your actual means. Sorry for the tooth pain.

To be clear, I do believe that homeland security is getting woefully short shrift, and much more can and should be done to guard our borders.

From whom?? Are you expecting an invasion from Canada or Mexico any time soon? Is old Europe coming for you across the Atlantic?

That said, if we are to endeavor to create a truly hermetic seal against the free-floating pathogens which assail us, we will need to spend LOTS of money, and implement procedures which will give any Libertarian seizures (not to mention searches. Har-har).

Damn straight! But that's not what I'm advocating at all. What I am advocating is maintaining a military that is an insurmountable deterrent to invasion, and nothing more. I've heard several Generals' appraisals of the costs of such a military and they ranged from about $50 billion per year to around $100 billion per year. Given the current U.S. military budget of around $500 billion a year, these estimates jibe well with (I think) Sun Tsu's observation about the relative costs of defensive versus offensive armies.

It's a Shanda).

What is a Shanda? A Wikipedia search yielded a games company...

The Americans, however, are quite fucked.

If so, then far less so than would have been the case, had Saddam finally escaped his box if we had not unseated him, or if Iraq had slipped into a chaotic failed state if we had not ultimately found a way to pacify and empower it.

Lemme get this straight: Today, in 2009, with your economy falling to pieces, your influence waning and your enemies multiplying, you can sit there and seriously assert that the Iraq war has been good for the U.S.? You really think an unmolested Hussein could have done more damage in that time?

You really think some of that money couldn't have been put to better uses, like maybe covering the American Desert with solar thermal plants and updating the nation's power grid?

Barry's Bonanza of Bountiful Budgeting

Lol.

get rid of private prisons,

Not sure what you're referring to here.

I'm referring to this. The have their own lobbyists and are among the primary reasons why 1% of your adult population is in jail.

ditch the income tax,

A guarded yes. The tax code is a gargantuan labyrinth which creates far more waste than it generates revenue. This is not a solution without its own difficulties, but very significant reform is badly needed in this area.

Reform is not needed in this area. Ditching is needed in this area. With extreme prejudice.

What about the suffering that occurs now? How much worse is any of this going to be than the U.S. occupation of Iraq?

Oh, gods, incalculably. Compared to the suffering which would be inflicted by unchecked hegemons and thugocrats if the US were to abdicate its role as watchdog for the Core, the sectarian conflict in Iraq before the COIN/"Surge" would look like a friendly rugby match.

How can you possibly know that? You say these things with such confidence. Maybe you need to reread your own dissertation or spend some time looking at the Lorenz Attractor again.

However, unlike where your journeys have taken you, mine have taken me to a place where I look at that question, and say "Could be, but it is not likely, and not worth the risk to find out."

There's that unwarranted confidence again.

The "stable end state" I was referring to was one in which unfettered markets and strictly voluntary trade, rather than the actions of the governments and militaries of nation states are empowered to act in inter- and intranational matters. It was not so much any particular configuration of detailed policies, or course, but a very general modus operandi which I synthesize from your descriptions of particular cases. Am I way off base with this?

Not entirely off base, no. That's a state I'd love to see, but I don't really view it as realistic in the foreseeable future. It could, however, come to pass eventually if communications technology continues to improve at the present rate. Or, the singularity could happen first (and no, I'm not a true believer in the Singularity, I just consider it a realistic possibility).

In the mean time, the best course of action for individual countries is military non-interference and completely open trade where feasible.

It is very likely true that the US is capable of functioning as a society using only its indigenous resources. It is a very rich country. This cannot be said of many other nations on this planet, which would (and do) need to trade with (or conquer) others.

Yes, absolutely. Where there are countries that can't sustain themselves, either borders need to be moved, or free trade blocs formed. As an aside, I'm very psyched about the prospect of living in Mercosur. It's a very promising structure.

More likely, in the absence of a vigilantly-guarded global network of trade, which lends itself to lawful, generally peaceful interdependence (cf Europe today, versus 100 years ago), the merciless Hobbesian logic of conquest and colonization would return to ever-greater swathes of the world. It would only be a matter of time before that wave of chaos would sweep toward our fortified shores, having been able to evolve, unmolested, from a gnarly breaker into a terrifying tsunami.

And again with the unwarranted confidence. Why does trade have to be global right now? What's wrong with free trade blocs forming and growing and eventually merging when conditions are favorable?

Again with the Empire thing. Empires seize, hold, administer, and demand tribute from their conquests. They do not hand sovereignty back to those countries which they invade,

Read up on your history. Every sizable Empire has done exactly that. Historians call these "client states." We can quibble about the definition, but any country that consists of 5% of the worlds population and consumes 20% of it's resources (while falsely claiming to produce 10%) is a de facto empire regardless of the administrative details.

As for the bits about jailed citizens and stupid economic policies, you do appear to be continuing to imply that I am idealizing this country in some jingoistic fashion (you may not be doing this, mind you, but you do keep seeming to).

Well, the line between nationalism and jingoism is very fine and fuzzy in my mind, so I can see where you'd get that impression.

My love for this country is not blind, nor is it unconditional.

Coulda fooled me. Your country jails 1% of it's citizens (including Cancer patients trying to grow their own medicine), kidnaps people, tortures people, spies on its own citizens and those of other countries, seizes the property of its own citizens, projects force all over the globe, ignores the laws of other countries while insisting its own laws be obeyed, and supports horrible murderous dictators (and those are its good points :) ). So what would it take, at minimum, for you to stop loving it? Would gas chambers do the trick?

And, while we're at it, what is it exactly that you love? You don't support the current administration, the constitution is a sick joke, so what is it? The whole nationalism thing strikes me as very odd...

Criminy! I hope they get that water flowing soonest! What's the cause?

Apparently there was a burst pipe between here and the nearest public reservoir. The entire town had no water, with the exception of a few communities and individuals who have their own wells. Thankfully, it appears to be fixed and I have had a much needed shower. I guess we can call off the six nation talks :).

Can I gather that you have decided to renounce your citizenship when you find a suitable landing spot?

No, that's not the plan. In all my reading and travels, I have not yet encountered a national government that fails to make me sick to my stomach. As such, the plan is to remain a citizen of the world, changing home bases as we tire of the local annoyances and/or visit a place we like better.

Unfortunately, the counties of the world do not allow the world's citizens to travel from country to country without some indication of nominal national allegiance, usually in the form of a passport. Fortunately, by birth, I am entitled to 3 passports: U.S., Romania, and Israel.

The last of these is really more of a liability than an asset at the moment, so I have no plans to pursue it. The second is actually an excellent asset as a backup, and a visit to the Romanian embassy in NYC during our next visit should culminate over 2 years of paperwork(!) and yield me one.

As for my U.S. passport, for the time being at least, it's more of an asset than a liability. Whereas the U.S. is the only country in the world that taxes it's expatriates, there is currently a large enough deduction for expatriate earnings from non-U.S. sources that my only tax liability is a few hundred dollars in state/local fees. And we travel to the U.S. frequently enough that those few hundred dollars are well worth the reduced hassle at the airport.

However, since I have no actual allegiance to the U.S. at this point, I feel the pronoun "you" is a lot more appropriate than "we" in the context of this discussion.

Noocyte said...

It's about fostering the development of societies which are inhospitable to the insurgencies in their midst (and, to pre-empt your inevitable charge of imperialism, these societies cannot be Mini-Me Americas, but must be true to the cultural idioms of their people or they will wither on the vine). These societies will then take their place in global networks of lawful trade and diplomacy (i.e., enter the "Core").

How, exactly, do you propose to achieve that? It sounds like you're advocating a non-military strategy here, but that really doesn't jibe with what I generally perceive your position to be.


Kinetic operations (conventional and Special Forces) comprise only a part of COIN doctrine (and arguably not even the most important part). The "Clear" part of "clear-hold-build" does not differ all that greatly from the standard attrition (whack-a-mole) tactics which have proven so ineffective without the other two parts (except that COIN tactics have counterinsurgent forces scattered "outside the wire" among the communities they are tasked with defending, rather than being holed up on huge FOBs, and so chronically out of touch).

The "Hold" part is also a largely military endeavor (though local police forces and carefully-managed friendly militias --i.e., prevented from pillaging and avenging and such-- play a larger role in this phase), keeping insurgents from flowing back in and undoing any gains. You know when the host nation's population trusts you when you get a spike in intel on insurgent activity...as we've been getting in great, useful torrents from the populations of Iraqi communities).

It is this "hold" part which sets the stage for the "build" portion of COIN strategy. Here, you have mainly civilian workers (ideally drawn as much as possible from local populations, providing jobs and a sense of authorship for their own communities), reconstituting (or, in many cases establishing de novo) the infrastructure of civil society. Here is also where NGOs can kick into high gear, providing training, aid, and other services. When this part works, you can fade your military assets (or at least replace them with indigenous forces, as is the case in most of the communities in Iraq, with the role of your forces limited, for example, to providing close air support and logistics until those systems spin up in the host nation's range of capabilities...whereupon your military bugs out altogether [unless you're an Empire, anyway...]).

Internationally, implementing a law enforcement model for these networks of terrorists is an even more cumbersome and inefficient version of whack-a-mole than simply hunting down and killing them.

I imagine it could be cumbersome if you really try to deal with the networks. If, however, you just deal with the individual cells, it's just law enforcement as usual with a couple of twists (e.g. infiltration at local mosques, etc).


The "twist" you're describing here is the targeting of the networks. Infiltrating mosques and such is a way of gathering intel with an eye toward characterizing the organizational structure of the cells and larger units of your foes' (sorry..."suspects'") nefarious activities. How you execute your warrants and other instruments of law enforcement once you have identified those organizational structures is where you run into problems with a purely crime-fighting mentality. What are you to do when your evidence points you toward an international system of radical mosques, funded from abroad, and serving as meeting-places for operatives of trans-national networks of terrorists, their handlers, financiers, etc.? That is simply bigger than a standard law-enforcement model has typically been able to handle (imagine taking down a cooperative of mob families whose members are scattered across the globe, in many cases supported by the governments of the nations whose permission you would need to serve your warrants on key members...). At best you'd be pruning the buds and some whole branches, while leaving the shrub essentially untouched, and in some cases even more robust.

Dude, AQ was decimated in Iraq. After an initial "surge" in prestige and motivation to fight on the Mesopotamian Front, it lost credibility on a massive scale,

Coulda fooled me
.

I do not think that article illustrates the point you think it does. For example:

"The PIPA poll, which was conducted between December 2006 and February 2007, also found that large majorities reject Al Qaeda itself and its core tactic of attacking civilians. More than 75 percent of those surveyed in the four countries – Egypt, Pakistan, Morocco, and Indonesia – say attacks on civilians is un-Islamic. Majorities in three countries say they oppose Al Qaeda's attacks on America; in Pakistan, 68 percent declined to answer this question, rendering it difficult to gauge attitudes there."

This sure does sound like a rejection of al Qaeda's M.O. Further, while there is relatively widespread support for "Sharia," the poll also shows widespread support for "democracy," which Wahhabists like AQ and other Islamists see as heresy (man cannot make laws, only God).

The idea is not to look for a widespread rejection of Islamic culture (as imperialistic a goal as I can imagine...not to mention a futile one), but for a widespread repudiation of the insurgents' tactics (and of the insurgents themselves), as well as a general moderating trend in the population which will make it less amenable to infiltration and cooption by militant ideologues.

All of which appear to be present to ever-increasing degrees in Iraq.

Also, note the timing of the poll (12/06 - 2/07). This was during the height of the COIN/"Surge" (or as SecState Clinton described it, the period of "suspension of disbelief.")


Challenging tyranny is expensive and painful, but it is my considered opinion that it is generally money (and, alas, lives) well-spent.

I couldn't agree more. Question is, who's money and who's lives.


Whoever can and does stand forth to beat it back.


To be clear, I do believe that homeland security is getting woefully short shrift, and much more can and should be done to guard our borders.

From whom?? Are you expecting an invasion from Canada or Mexico any time soon? Is old Europe coming for you across the Atlantic?


Yes, but the Wolverines will stand forever!

That said, if we are to endeavor to create a truly hermetic seal against the free-floating pathogens which assail us, we will need to spend LOTS of money, and implement procedures which will give any Libertarian seizures (not to mention searches. Har-har).

Damn straight! But that's not what I'm advocating at all. What I am advocating is maintaining a military that is an insurmountable deterrent to invasion, and nothing more. I've heard several Generals' appraisals of the costs of such a military and they ranged from about $50 billion per year to around $100 billion per year. Given the current U.S. military budget of around $500 billion a year, these estimates jibe well with (I think) Sun Tsu's observation about the relative costs of defensive versus offensive armies.


You're talking about preparing the nation for the invasion of another nation's military. Not a bad thing to do...but that's not the crux of the threat we face today. Arguably, this is so because we have already built our military into the insurmountable deterrent that it is, forcing prospective aggressors to rely more on asymmetric approaches. And there's the rub. Attacks on the homeland will not come in the form of massed forces of an enemy power's military, but of sneak attacks on an assortment of hard and soft targets. Global guerrillas will assail us (have assailed us!) through the very porosity which defines us as an open society. A purely defensive approach to such a threat must come at the cost of closing that society against the threat of infiltration (say, a few shipping containers filled with conventional explosives in key ports...or worse).

This is the essence of my judgment that "the best defense is a strong offense" in these matters. Interdicting threats abroad is pricey and painful, but it enables us to preserve the openness of our society while undermining the effectiveness of the sub-national forces arrayed against us.

It's a Shanda).

What is a Shanda? A Wikipedia search yielded a games company...


Yiddish word, meaning a shame or a scandal.

Lemme get this straight: Today, in 2009, with your economy falling to pieces, your influence waning and your enemies multiplying, you can sit there and seriously assert that the Iraq war has been good for the U.S.? You really think an unmolested Hussein could have done more damage in that time?

I never claimed that Saddam could have done such damage to the US in the six years of OIF. I asserted that, if he'd held onto power, he would have escaped the sanctions regime, and there is compelling evidence that he stood ready to reconstitute the weapons programs which he'd so successfully convinced just about everybody that he still possessed. There is ample evidence of Saddam's aggressive, expansionist, destabilizing proclivities, and no reason to believe that these would have subsided or moderated. He'd had his eye on Kuwait, and thence on Saudi Arabia.

Ultimately, it is not reasonable to assume that Saddam would not have resumed his depredations in that strategically crucial region of the world. The impact on the global economy of a Middle East held in the stranglehold of a megalomaniacal despot can plausibly be imagined as quite severe, even by the standards of the current economic cluster-frack.

So, yes, I do think that, on balance, the US is better off for having liberated Iraq and set it on a path toward the stabilizing example for its neighbors which it appears to be walking at an accelerating rate.

You really think some of that money couldn't have been put to better uses, like maybe covering the American Desert with solar thermal plants and updating the nation's power grid?

I think those things would be splendid, and would jibe most felicitously with the campaigns abroad, by pressuring Middle Eastern nations to diversify their economies (and thus their societies) to accommodate for the decrease in demand for what is essentially their sole source of lucre.

But we must do this in such a way to not harsh the mellow of tortoises and cacti, of course (/sarc).

Oh, and the funding for the Iraq War came (for good or ill...mainly ill, IMHO) from emergency streams, not from normal budgeting. It is irrational to assume that funding not so allocated would have automatically been available for such projects (as opposed to dissolving into the usual pool of porcine pilferage into which 'free' funds like these tend to get sucked). There is zero-sum thinking here which does not stand the test of reality.

get rid of private prisons,

Not sure what you're referring to here.

I'm referring to this. The have their own lobbyists and are among the primary reasons why 1% of your adult population is in jail.


Not something I've really thought of till now, so my thinking on this is likely to evolve. As much in favor of privatization as I am wherever practicable, this may be one of the areas where public control would protect against the distortions of lobbying and other tactics. OTOH, the effectiveness of a private, market-driven environment might be preserved via significant reform of such things as lobbying rules. I need to think on this.

...Compared to the suffering which would be inflicted by unchecked hegemons and thugocrats if the US were to abdicate its role as watchdog for the Core, the sectarian conflict in Iraq before the COIN/"Surge" would look like a friendly rugby match.

How can you possibly know that? You say these things with such confidence. Maybe you need to reread your own dissertation or spend some time looking at the Lorenz Attractor again.


I can know this because I've seen evidence of it in places like Somalia, and Sudan, and a raft of others where locally chaotic dynamics operate without meaningful external checks. I know it because I looked carefully at the trend lines in Iraq, prior to the implementation of the COIN doctrine, and saw them as converging on similar sets of dynamics. While Sudan and Somalia are horrid messes, those messes are relatively contained (aside from the aforementioned pirates, that is...). Iraq is centrally located and strategically vital, and possessed of very significant petroleum wealth and the immense leftover ordnance of the Saddam regime. From these data, I extrapolate (with confidence tempered by humility borne of my understanding of dynamic systems) that the severity of the spasms and their potential for breaching the borders of Iraq itself and infecting the region and thence the world would have been commensurately great.

In the mean time, the best course of action for individual countries is military non-interference and completely open trade where feasible.

It's the "where feasible" part which is such a bone of contention between us in these things. That feasibility would be contingent on an environment in which open trade could occur with all parties being reasonably confident that the laws and contracts which make it possible will be adhered to. I need to know that my trading partner won't simply seize my cargoes, refuse to pay, and dare me to do something about it. I need to know that my neighbor's neighbor won't jack my freighters en route to their ports of call.

Failing all of this, trade becomes a treacherous (and far less profitable) business. Private security could handle a portion of this (though, again, cutting savagely into profits), but the interests of a state in the preservation of its sources of revenue (not to mention goods and services) will ultimately result in the utilization of its resources (including its military) to protect those interests. I can't help but think that proactive interdiction of potential threats is a solution set which would emerge again in due course.

It is very likely true that the US is capable of functioning as a society using only its indigenous resources. It is a very rich country. This cannot be said of many other nations on this planet, which would (and do) need to trade with (or conquer) others.

Yes, absolutely. Where there are countries that can't sustain themselves, either borders need to be moved, or free trade blocs formed. As an aside, I'm very psyched about the prospect of living in Mercosur. It's a very promising structure.


First of all, people tend to be a mite twitchy about this whole matter of moving borders.

Also, the formation of free-trade blocs, and their coalescence into meta-blocks, is very much in keeping with how I understand globalization to work. It is not a homogeneous broth so much as a hearty stew.

More likely, in the absence of a vigilantly-guarded global network of trade, which lends itself to lawful, generally peaceful interdependence (cf Europe today, versus 100 years ago), the merciless Hobbesian logic of conquest and colonization would return to ever-greater swathes of the world. It would only be a matter of time before that wave of chaos would sweep toward our fortified shores, having been able to evolve, unmolested, from a gnarly breaker into a terrifying tsunami.

And again with the unwarranted confidence. Why does trade have to be global right now? What's wrong with free trade blocs forming and growing and eventually merging when conditions are favorable?


Again, there is nothing at all wrong with this. It is how globalization works, in that these trade blocs tend to trade with each other, and in the process develop rule sets for interacting with each other. In this way, lawfulness and peaceable commerce spreads like a succession of "oil spots" and becomes global. I do not think it is "unwarranted" confidence to hold that these blocs will want a measure of stability and predictability in their internal and external dealings. It is that stability and predictability which is vulnerable to disruption by entities which do not consider themselves bound by the rules of lawful interaction.

Again with the Empire thing. Empires seize, hold, administer, and demand tribute from their conquests. They do not hand sovereignty back to those countries which they invade,

Read up on your history. Every sizable Empire has done exactly that. Historians call these "client states." We can quibble about the definition, but any country that consists of 5% of the worlds population and consumes 20% of it's resources (while falsely claiming to produce 10%) is a de facto empire regardless of the administrative details.


On the contrary, the "administrative details" are definitive here. The country you describe above is merely a very successful (if not nearly a frugal enough) one. To call that success "Imperial" doesn't make sense...except to Transnational Progressives, for whom any concentrations of wealth and power are seen as intrinsically unjust.

As for client states, the US (and the USSR) can very clearly be described as having had them in spades during the Cold War. Now, given the power and influence of the US in the world, I suppose one might say that any smaller, less powerful nation into which the US enters a treaty relationship is going to take careful heed to the wishes of the US. This is not the same thing as saying that the US controls the doings of such a state in the same way that it did its proxies against the USSR. Who are the US' client states (in the strict sense) today?

My love for this country is not blind, nor is it unconditional.

Coulda fooled me. Your country jails 1% of it's citizens (including Cancer patients trying to grow their own medicine),


The "Drug War" is stupid and senseless and poisonous and wasteful. There's a condition.

kidnaps people, tortures people,

A legitimate conversation needs to happen (and is) on the parameters of what constitutes justifiable measures to head off active threats to the people of this country. I am confident that unpardonable excesses have occurred and should come to light (there's another condition). But the protection of the people and territory and assets of this nation is within the charter of the government, and unwillingness to push any envelopes is arguably a dereliction of that duty. It's been established that the few confirmed instances of waterboarding, for example, have yielded information which probably saved thousands of lives.

spies on its own citizens and those of other countries,

All countries do this to some extent (and the Bush Administration is anything but unique in this nation for having done so!). The circumstances of modern telecommunications makes older models of privacy difficult to reconcile with the exigencies of interdicting malicious operators here and abroad. Do I think that the US under Bush overreached on this at times? Kinda, yeah (and there's another condition). I also, however, firmly believe that activities such as the "Terrorist Surveillance Program" have had a hand in the lack of follow-on attacks after 9/11/01. Do such ends justify all means? Of course not. But when the stakes are so high, I judge a certain amount of slack to be indicated.

seizes the property of its own citizens,

If you're talking about "eminent domain," then I share your revulsion for it. Property is pretty much sacrosanct, or should be.

projects force all over the globe,

As I've discussed at length, I see this as a feature, not a bug.

ignores the laws of other countries while insisting its own laws be obeyed,

Hard to know just what you mean here. In general terms, though, I think it is legitimate (even if in certain particulars it is unsavory) for the US to act in a way which protects its sovereignty and freedom of movement against certain international bodies' efforts to hamstring it. This is part of what it means to be a nation-state.

and supports horrible murderous dictators

Not nearly so much of that going on as there used to be, during the Cold War. Any particular horrible, murderous dictators you see us supporting today?

And, while we're at it, what is it exactly that you love? You don't support the current administration,

I don't support the policies of the current Administration (to put it very mildly). However, I do recognize the legitimacy of that Administration, and the electoral process which put in in office (even as I chafe at the systematic distortion of that process through the Liberal control of most of the mainstream media). I love that such a contentious election, with both sides perceiving the stakes to be so very high, could have proceeded and concluded with nary a shot fired, nor any serious actors contending that that conclusion lacked legitimacy.

the constitution is a sick joke,

No, the Constitution is a work of pure genius which is unmatched in history for the elegance of the the structure it defines. If that Constitution has been mangled and ignored at times (as it surely has...and there's another condition), then that is not the fault of the founders. No blueprint can cover every contingency (indeed, it is part of the artfulness of the Constitution that it does not even try to do this, but incorporates structures which allow it to evolve with circumstances [but not too easily] while preserving its basic structure).

Even the most beautiful of stages may still host horrid actors.

so what is it? The whole nationalism thing strikes me as very odd...

Suffice it to say that, on balance, and with eyes wide open, I judge this Nation to do more good than harm on the world stage (which does not pardon the harm...anymore than that harm altogether negates the good), and to provide uneven but still voluminous opportunities for a citizenry whose vibrancy and diversity and inventiveness transcends even the vapidity and parochialism which they can also exhibit.

My love for this country is a synthesis of many judgments large and small. It is not in and of itself rational (can you say that your love for your family and your wife is altogether rational?), though it rests in part on rational processes. Nationalism is not necessary (and, for someone who chooses to live as you do, I suppose it would be a nuisance at best), but it is how I feel about this country. It would be foolish for me to say that nothing could ever change that feeling, since I already know that I am capable of changing some pretty fundamental things about how I see the world when I judge that the evidence warrants it. I have simply failed to encounter any durable and comprehensive enough iniquities in this Nation's conduct to warrant the wholesale repudiation of that allegiance.

I don't expect you to understand.




Criminy! I hope they get that water flowing soonest! What's the cause?

Apparently there was a burst pipe between here and the nearest public reservoir. The entire town had no water, with the exception of a few communities and individuals who have their own wells. Thankfully, it appears to be fixed and I have had a much needed shower. I guess we can call off the six nation talks :).


Well, that's a relief. I think a moldering Zombie-Blix might have created more problems than he solved!

Mike said...

[Your description of COIN ops omitted because it appears above and this page is really getting long and unwieldy]

Well, let's for a moment assume that this is working in Iraq (I'm by no means convinced of this, but it's certainly a possibility). Let's also assume that lessons learned there can be applied for more efficient such future operations (almost a given if the first point is granted). How do you plan to fund all this? Thanks largely to the accounting tricks of the previous administration, the true cost of the Iraq operation will probably never be accurately known, but it's gotta be several trillion. Where are you going to come up with that kind of money again?

This question really speaks to my initial comment about your original post: Hawkishness (is that a word?) and fiscal conservatism (as defined in the U.S.; confusingly, the terms are essentially reversed in Europe) are entirely and intrinsically incompatible.

whereupon your military bugs out altogether [unless you're an Empire, anyway...]).

Out of which country has the U.S. military bugged altogether? Didn't you just flush your whole "The U.S. is not an empire" argument down the drain?

The "twist" you're describing here is the targeting of the networks. Infiltrating mosques and such is a way of gathering intel with an eye toward characterizing the organizational structure of the cells and larger units of your foes' (sorry..."suspects'") nefarious activities.

Not necessarily. It's also a great way to find individuals who are planning attacks, as has happened several times. In fact, these groups are increasingly structuring themselves as entirely self-sufficient cells with few if any remaining links to other parts of the organization (very smart strategy, that) making what you're suggesting a lot more difficult.

What are you to do when your evidence points you toward an international system of radical mosques, funded from abroad, and serving as meeting-places for operatives of trans-national networks of terrorists, their handlers, financiers, etc.?

You hand over as much information as you can to the relevant law enforcement agencies of the countries involved.

At best you'd be pruning the buds and some whole branches, while leaving the shrub essentially untouched, and in some cases even more robust.

Well, the shrub in this case is an ideology. These are notoriously difficult to kill. The best you can really do is minimize it's ability to do damage in the short run and wait for it to destroy itself in the long run. The more you fuck with it, the stronger it gets.

I do not think that article illustrates the point you think it does.

Funny, you focus on the 75% against, I focus on the 25% for :). That's a whole lotta people that support both Al-Quaeda's aims and its means. 25% of Indonesia, for example, is about 50 million people.

From whom?? Are you expecting an invasion from Canada or Mexico any time soon? Is old Europe coming for you across the Atlantic?

Yes, but the Wolverines will stand forever!

LOL, but I'm still curious why you feel the borders of the U.S. need better guarding. They seem more than adequately guarded to me.

You're talking about preparing the nation for the invasion of another nation's military.

Actually, the nation is more than adequately prepared for that. What I was trying to say is that any military spending beyond that is a complete waste at best.

Attacks on the homeland will not come in the form of massed forces of an enemy power's military, but of sneak attacks on an assortment of hard and soft targets.

You mean like Oklahoma City and Columbine?

A purely defensive approach to such a threat must come at the cost of closing that society against the threat of infiltration

Not at all. I can't for the life of me remember who said this after the Georgia Tech shooting, but it was definitely on TV, and as such, it's rationality shocked me: "These things happen in a free society. Let's move on."

(say, a few shipping containers filled with conventional explosives in key ports...or worse).

Once again, it doesn't have to be a shipping container. It can just be some local nut job in his basement like the white supremist I mentioned above. You simply can't stop all of these things, and the costs of pursuing them have to be kept under some kind of control.

What is a Shanda? A Wikipedia search yielded a games company...

Yiddish word, meaning a shame or a scandal.

Oy, vey! That's embarrassing :).

There is ample evidence of Saddam's aggressive, expansionist, destabilizing proclivities, and no reason to believe that these would have subsided or moderated. He'd had his eye on Kuwait, and thence on Saudi Arabia.

Yes, and I remain strongly suspicious that the latter is the real reason for the Iraq operation.

The impact on the global economy of a Middle East held in the stranglehold of a megalomaniacal despot can plausibly be imagined as quite severe, even by the standards of the current economic cluster-frack.

Quite the contrary. If the entire Middle East was held by one asshole, it would absolutely and finally force the rest of the world to take the simple steps necessary to cease its dependence on oil. The economic benefits would be immense (not to even mention the environmental benefits which would translate into further economic benefits later on).

So, yes, I do think that, on balance, the US is better off for having liberated Iraq and set it on a path toward the stabilizing example for its neighbors which it appears to be walking at an accelerating rate.

OK, but I'd really like us to revisit this question in a year or two, after the other shoe drops on this whole economic collapse. I hope you still have internet access at that point...

You really think some of that money couldn't have been put to better uses, like maybe covering the American Desert with solar thermal plants and updating the nation's power grid?

I think those things would be splendid, and would jibe most felicitously with the campaigns abroad, by pressuring Middle Eastern nations to diversify their economies (and thus their societies) to accommodate for the decrease in demand for what is essentially their sole source of lucre.

More to the point, it would have robbed radical Islam of its primary source of funding.

But we must do this in such a way to not harsh the mellow of tortoises and cacti, of course (/sarc).

LOL. Would it be too much to ask for a genuine ecological management/preservation movement to arise? What's become of the environmental movement has passed sad and become dangerous.

Oh, and the funding for the Iraq War came (for good or ill...mainly ill, IMHO) from emergency streams, not from normal budgeting. It is irrational to assume that funding not so allocated would have automatically been available for such projects (as opposed to dissolving into the usual pool of porcine pilferage into which 'free' funds like these tend to get sucked). There is zero-sum thinking here which does not stand the test of reality.

The amount of wealth a country can muster at a given time is finite. Every dollar used for military purposes is a dollar not used for peaceful/development purposes. Economics is by no means a zero-sum game, but government spending is real close to one.

...Compared to the suffering which would be inflicted by unchecked hegemons and thugocrats if the US were to abdicate its role as watchdog for the Core, the sectarian conflict in Iraq before the COIN/"Surge" would look like a friendly rugby match.

How can you possibly know that? You say these things with such confidence. Maybe you need to reread your own dissertation or spend some time looking at the Lorenz Attractor again.

I can know this because I've seen evidence of it in places like Somalia, and Sudan, and a raft of others where locally chaotic dynamics operate without meaningful external checks.

Ummm... Somalia has no meaningful government. Darfur had too many warring factions to count (as an aside, it was really disheartening to watch many of the same people who opposed the Iraq invasion advocate a Sudan invasion). Iraq under Hussein had a strong government that managed to provide services (such as clean water, electricity, hospitals and security) which the new one can't match even with all the American aid. How can you possibly draw any lessons from one about the others when they are in no way related or similar?

Iraq is centrally located and strategically vital,

Only because oil is still vital. Take away the significance of oil and Iraq is just some obscure backwater of historical significance only (and much of that was taken away by the post-invasion lawlessness).

and possessed of very significant petroleum wealth and the immense leftover ordnance of the Saddam regime.

And largely provided by the U.S. in the 80's, lest we forget.

From these data, I extrapolate (with confidence tempered by humility borne of my understanding of dynamic systems) that the severity of the spasms and their potential for breaching the borders of Iraq itself and infecting the region and thence the world would have been commensurately great.

That's a hell of an extrapolation! Seriously, spend some time with the Lorenz attractor again. It'll do you good.

In the mean time, the best course of action for individual countries is military non-interference and completely open trade where feasible.

It's the "where feasible" part which is such a bone of contention between us in these things. That feasibility would be contingent on an environment in which open trade could occur with all parties being reasonably confident that the laws and contracts which make it possible will be adhered to. I need to know that my trading partner won't simply seize my cargoes, refuse to pay, and dare me to do something about it. I need to know that my neighbor's neighbor won't jack my freighters en route to their ports of call.

Yeah, that's actually a pretty good definition of "where feasible."

Failing all of this, trade becomes a treacherous (and far less profitable) business

Hence, trade should be avoided in areas where any of this fails.

Private security could handle a portion of this (though, again, cutting savagely into profits),

You'd think that was true, but as it turns out, it isn't always. For example, throughout the late 90's and into the beginning of this century, Mogadishu was one of Africa's most prosperous ports. The lack of a government meant that shipping companies had to provide their own security, but this turned out to be a lot cheaper in a lot of cases than paying taxes to the governments of adjacent countries. It's hard to say what would have happened to Mogadishu had the UIC been allowed to take over the country, but with Ethiopia invading and Al-Shabab splitting off and all the fighting, the place is now a disaster. What a shanda :).

but the interests of a state in the preservation of its sources of revenue (not to mention goods and services)

you just re-flushed your no empire argument down the drain. what do you call a country whose sources of revenue are external? hint: it starts with an 'E' and rhymes with 'Lempire.' more below.

yes, absolutely. where there are countries that can't sustain themselves, either borders need to be moved, or free trade blocs formed. as an aside, i'm very psyched about the prospect of living in mercosur. it's a very promising structure.

first of all, people tend to be a mite twitchy about this whole matter of moving borders.

they sure do, which is why borders tend to move primarily through wars.

also, the formation of free-trade blocs, and their coalescence into meta-blocks, is very much in keeping with how i understand globalization to work. it is not a homogeneous broth so much as a hearty stew.

then why interfere outside your own local trade bloc? why even interfere within it rather than just change its composition when necessary?

we can quibble about the definition, but any country that consists of 5% of the worlds population and consumes 20% of it's resources (while falsely claiming to produce 10%) is a de facto empire regardless of the administrative details.

On the contrary, the "administrative details" are definitive here. The country you describe above is merely a very successful (if not nearly a frugal enough) one.

No, it isn't. By it's own admission, the U.S. consumes about twice as much as it produces (and these numbers are violently "massaged", the real multiplier is hard to pin down, but definitely great than 2). That means it gets half of what it consumes without giving anything back. That's not success, it's theft (well, ok, successful theft :) ).

To call that success "Imperial" doesn't make sense...except to Transnational Progressives, for whom any concentrations of wealth and power are seen as intrinsically unjust.

And people who can do math :).

Who are the US' client states (in the strict sense) today?

Well, there is really no "strict sense", but the most obvious client states of the U.S. today are the U.K., Mexico, and Colombia.

The "Drug War" is stupid and senseless and poisonous and wasteful. There's a condition.

How is this a condition? The drug war continues, and you still love the country. A condition would be something that would make you stop loving it.

I am confident that unpardonable excesses have occurred and should come to light (there's another condition).

Once again, not a condition. These excesses have, as you say, occurred, and you continue to love the country that committed them.

I also, however, firmly believe that activities such as the "Terrorist Surveillance Program" have had a hand in the lack of follow-on attacks after 9/11/01.

"This rock keeps away tigers. You don't see any tigers around here, do you?" -Lisa Simpson

"I'll give you $100 for it!!!" -Homer Simpson

seizes the property of its own citizens,

If you're talking about "eminent domain," then I share your revulsion for it. Property is pretty much sacrosanct, or should be.

I am talking about eminent domain and search and seizure laws and proceeds of crime laws amongst others. Property is not even close to sacrosanct in the U.S.

projects force all over the globe,

As I've discussed at length, I see this as a feature, not a bug.

Once again, let's revisit this when the economic repercussions of this feature make themselves felt a little more fully in the U.S.

The people of e.g. Nicaragua have been feeling them for a long time.

Any particular horrible, murderous dictators you see us supporting today?

Well, this guy springs to mind.

the constitution is a sick joke,

No, the Constitution is a work of pure genius which is unmatched in history for the elegance of the the structure it defines.

Perhaps an overstatement, but I agree in principle. The fact that it has lost all it's teeth and is now merely a set of suggestions or, as GWB put it, "just a goddamn piece of paper" is the reason it's a sick joke.

If that Constitution has been mangled and ignored at times (as it surely has...and there's another condition),

Not at times. Consistently and increasingly. And, once again, not a condition :).

then that is not the fault of the founders.

Well, it is and it isn't. I've given this particular issue a lot of thought over the years because the Founding Fathers cause me a great deal of cognitive dissonance along several lines. The most obvious of these is the fact that they owned slaves. That makes them the most horrible people that I manage to admire, and is their most dissonant aspect for me. However, it is not relevant to this discussion, so I'll set it aside.

What is relevant is the structure of the constitution. Specifically, its lack of remedial instructions. The constitution is full of "Congress shall make no law," but it doesn't say anywhere what should happen if congress does make such a law. As a consequence of this omission, unconstitutional laws get passed routinely. Some are struck down and are then reworded a little by the same people, who then proceed to pass them again. Nobody gets tried for treason. Nobody even loses his job defending the constitution which he just attacked!

From the Jeffersonian point of view, this kind of makes sense. He wanted to see a revolution every 20 years or so and, indeed, the constitution seems to grant the government enough power to fuck the people and the people enough power to revolt when they've gotten sufficiently fucked (thanks in large part to the second amendment). Problem is, like the storied boiling frog, the people never revolted (well, a few groups tried, but by the time they did it was too late; the government had grown too powerful) and now they find themselves in a place where fucked is just a way of life and the constitution is "just a goddamn piece of paper."

Whether or not this is the fault of the Founding Fathers is truly problematic. Granted, they had a Herculean task before them. But I can't help but wonder what this country would look like now had they just put in a simple provision removing from office any elected official that voted for a law found to be unconstitutional. And, with 20/20 hindsight, it's really easy to see that they relied far too heavily on the second amendment.

Suffice it to say that, on balance, and with eyes wide open, I judge this Nation to do more good than harm on the world stage (which does not pardon the harm...anymore than that harm altogether negates the good)

Spend some time reading about economics and you may change your mind.

Nationalism is not necessary (and, for someone who chooses to live as you do, I suppose it would be a nuisance at best)

Much more than a nuisance. It is one of the twin memetic viruses plaguing mankind. The other, religion, is (finally!) getting some blowback from folks like Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher (what an odd pairing!) and they are finding some small measure of success. Nationalism, however, continues almost completely unchecked and may be the downfall of humanity if the latter doesn't wake up sometime soon.

It would be foolish for me to say that nothing could ever change that feeling,

OK, but you haven't answered the question: what would it take, at minimum, for that feeling to change? I really hope that gas chambers would, in fact, do the trick. But would anything short of that?

Noocyte said...

Hawkishness (is that a word?) and fiscal conservatism [...] are entirely and intrinsically incompatible.

Here, I suspect we have come across an authentic and irreducible clash of axioms. When it comes to a general preference for fiscal conservatism, we more-or-less differ more in degree than in kind. However, in demanding absolute and comprehensive prioritizing of such conservatism over all other considerations, we do rather decisively part ways.

You see, it is my judgment that certain priorities take precedence over the adherence to fiscal conservatism in its strictest sense. This is so even if the fiscal policies which support the pursuit of those priorities would be appropriately deemed terribly profligate and unsustainable if employed over matters of lesser gravity. Wars are always fought on a deficit. I concur with the position that we are at war. You do not.

Out of which country has the U.S. military bugged altogether? Didn't you just flush your whole "The U.S. is not an empire" argument down the drain?

Well, France for one. The Philippines also come to mind, as do Thailand,Cambodia, and Panama. Saudi Arabia is also pretty clear, but for some residual forces (a few hundred[?]) who remain in the country at the request of the Saudi government, for training and support. It is this last point which leads to the more important question (and the one most relevant to this whole notion of Empire): "Which countries' governments have asked us to leave and we haven't?" Recall recently, the Obama Administration's characteristically foolish and feckless failure to show seriousness in the process of bidding with the government of Kyrgyzstan to keep our air base open there. That government (predictably) asked that we close the base and withdraw forces...which we are gearing up to do, even though the Kyrgyzstani corridor would have provided invaluable alternatives to the supply lines through Pakistan into Afghanistan, and so increased our options in the latter, and our leverage with the former. Would an Empire have bothered to ask, let alone take "no" for an answer?

Troop deployments abroad are not prima facie evidence of imperialism; they serve many purposes (excellent article here, BTW), and oversimplifying/sloppily defining this matter of "Empire" for the sake of advancing a reflexively anti-American posture obfuscates far more than it illuminates. It is hard to dispute that the US occupies a hegemonic role, but this is a very different thing from empire (fine article, till the last three paragraphs, where it lapses into self-contradiction for the sake of Bush-bashing).

What are you to do when your evidence points you toward an international system of radical mosques, funded from abroad, and serving as meeting-places for operatives of trans-national networks of terrorists, their handlers, financiers, etc.?

You hand over as much information as you can to the relevant law enforcement agencies of the countries involved.


And what are you then to do with threats of international scope (piracy, terrorism, human trafficking, etc.) which are actively abetted by those governments...or when no meaningful governmental authority exists (like, say Somalia) which could make effective use of such evidence?

At best you'd be pruning the buds and some whole branches, while leaving the shrub essentially untouched, and in some cases even more robust.

Well, the shrub in this case is an ideology. These are notoriously difficult to kill. The best you can really do is minimize it's ability to do damage in the short run and wait for it to destroy itself in the long run. The more you fuck with it, the stronger it gets.


An ideology is not a discorporate entity, like some energy being from Star Trek. It operates through the humans who believe in it and act accordingly (or fail to prevent the actions of others, which amounts to much the same thing). The 'shrub' here is the ideology of radical Islam (which is itself one of many iterations of the totalitarian impulse in human history), it is true. But the locus of action is among the human operatives of that ideology, and its beneficiaries/victims.

Again, the essence of counterinsurgency is the de-legitimization of the insurgents' ideology and effectiveness by showing them to be unable to protect themselves or to provide a more just and prosperous existence for the mass of people among whom they operate. You starve the ideology (even as you transiently inflame it) by confronting it and making it show its true colors, just as you show yours...then the people among whom this occurs make choices based on who seems to be doing the most for them and offering them the opportunity to do more for themselves.

LOL, but I'm still curious why you feel the borders of the U.S. need better guarding. They seem more than adequately guarded to me.

Are you kidding? Someone once said that the best way to smuggle a WMD into the US is hidden in a bale of weed. One might also consider the ruck-sacks of a group of Mexican illegal immigrants. The borders of this Nation are incredibly porous. To a great extent, they will always be, unless we adopt the "Fortress America" posture (which will make it somewhat less porous...but still dangerously so). That said, a greater emphasis on radiological/biological/chemical assay at our ports and other points of entry, as well as more rigorous standards for verification of cargo manifests coming into the States need very much to be pursued, as well as more intelligent management of our border regions (physical and virtual fencing, UAV patrols, etc.).

My point is that this in itself will only go so far in deterring a concerted effort by militant ideologues bent on doing us harm. This is why going after the proponents and eroding the legitimacy of that ideology in a global fashion is an essential component in a truly comprehensive strategy for defending this Nation against attacks.

Attacks on the homeland will not come in the form of massed forces of an enemy power's military, but of sneak attacks on an assortment of hard and soft targets.

You mean like Oklahoma City and Columbine?


You keep going there, and it keeps undermining your argument. OK City was, what 14 years ago? These school shooting rampages have occurred a total of how many times? Shall we compare this to the total number of AQ and other radical Islamist attacks (successfully executed and verifiably thwarted) on US citizens here in the States and abroad (including tourists, journalists, businesspeople, embassy personnel, etc.) over the same period of time (not even counting those attacks which took place in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan)? Is it your position that such domestic terrorist activities represent a comparable threat to Americans to the actions of AQ, Hezbollah, Hamas, etc? Really?

(say, a few shipping containers filled with conventional explosives in key ports...or worse).

Once again, it doesn't have to be a shipping container. It can just be some local nut job in his basement like the white supremist I mentioned above. You simply can't stop all of these things, and the costs of pursuing them have to be kept under some kind of control.


And once again, the nut-job White Supremacist is a legitimate target of law enforcement. The Hezbollah operative, plotting an act of Jihad at the behest (if not necessarily under the direct operational control) of an international terrorist organization is a qualitatively different sort of beast, closer in kind to the Lone Russian Spy of yesteryear than the troubled, angry youth or whacked-out skinhead. There is no evidence of any serious, organized program by, say, anti-government, anarchist, racist, or any other such domestic fringe group to bring down the US by coordinating their efforts and hitting multiple targets. We have abundant evidence that AQ has a major hard-on to do just that, and has made multiple attempts.

A lone nut-job or small group of nut-jobs will always be able to inflict local harm in an open, free society. This is indeed a lamentable reality we have to accept. We do NOT have to accept that foreign fanatics can set up shop in our country, and pursue their goal of killing our citizens and mortally wounding our nation because their perverted ideology has gone largely unconfronted where it has run rampant across the world.

We may not end up being able to stop it, mind you. But to not try would be a dereliction of the most basic duty of a government.

There is ample evidence of Saddam's aggressive, expansionist, destabilizing proclivities, and no reason to believe that these would have subsided or moderated. He'd had his eye on Kuwait, and thence on Saudi Arabia.

Yes, and I remain strongly suspicious that the latter is the real reason for the Iraq operation.


Yes and no. It is likely true that protecting the Saudi oil fields (and its at least/most nominally pro-US "government" of clown princes) from the near-certain future aggressions of Saddam was one of the factors behind OIF. However, it was also all-but certainly a way to apply indirect pressure on the Saudis to modify their behavior, vis-a-vis resolutely looking the other way from the radicals' activities within their borders. Everyone knows that Saudi Arabia (SA) was the source of most of the 9/11 terrorists, and of the ideology which motivated them. But you can't put boots on the sands of the Land of the Two Holy Cities (indeed, the Saudis attempted to pressure us into relenting on Iraq by threatening to ask all of our forces to leave their country...and we shocked the hell out of them by pulling them out without a fuss!).

One of the benefits of having gone into Iraq (alongside the wash of pro-democracy "[insert color or arboreal name] Revolutions," the "voluntary" dismantling of Libyan nuclear programs, etc) was that the Saudi security forces became markedly more aggressive about pursuing radical Wahhabist agitators on the peninsula (albeit far less than we'd like).

If the entire Middle East was held by one asshole, it would absolutely and finally force the rest of the world to take the simple steps necessary to cease its dependence on oil. The economic benefits would be immense (not to even mention the environmental benefits which would translate into further economic benefits later on).

Can you provide any links to evidence that these steps would be "simple," and some accounting for why such simple steps have not been taken, despite their obvious benefits to causes Left and Right (and broad statements to the effect of "the oil companies would never allow it!" don't count)?

Unless there is indeed such a clear path, then what you propose would result in a catastrophic upheaval in the economies of every nation in the world. Ultimately, I too am confident that such pain would motivate the creation of an alternative (humans are pretty good at adapting when their backs are to the wall). In the meantime, the extortionate prices which the aforementioned asshole could charge for petroleum while the world scrambled for an alternative would pour great oceans of cash into the tunic pockets of the very people who would indeed ultimately find themselves looking for a good gig as a used camel salesman...but not before a very great many people died untimely and violent deaths at their hands.

So, yes, I do think that, on balance, the US is better off for having liberated Iraq and set it on a path toward the stabilizing example for its neighbors which it appears to be walking at an accelerating rate.

OK, but I'd really like us to revisit this question in a year or two, after the other shoe drops on this whole economic collapse. I hope you still have internet access at that point...


Deal. I'll practice my Morse code in the meantime...just in case.



But we must do this in such a way to not harsh the mellow of tortoises and cacti, of course (/sarc).

LOL. Would it be too much to ask for a genuine ecological management/preservation movement to arise? What's become of the environmental movement has passed sad and become dangerous.


Indeed! The problem is that the "environmental" movement has become/remained perniciously yoked to the Transnational Progressive and frankly Communist ideologies (leading to the term, "Watermelon" [green on the outside, red on the inside] to refer to them). Big Shanda!

...Compared to the suffering which would be inflicted by unchecked hegemons and thugocrats if the US were to abdicate its role as watchdog for the Core, the sectarian conflict in Iraq before the COIN/"Surge" would look like a friendly rugby match.

How can you possibly know that? You say these things with such confidence. Maybe you need to reread your own dissertation or spend some time looking at the Lorenz Attractor again.


Once again, I look to history. There are too many examples to cite comprehensively, but I can point to the wholesale slaughter of ethnic Albanians by the Serbs in the former Yugoslavia, a slaughter which would have reached truly genocidal proportions if there had not been an intervention by US-led forces. An imperfect solution, to be sure...but the universe laughs at those who insist on perfection of outcome as a precondition for any attempt at remediative action.

You see, one of the premises of my dissertation was that complex systems are indeed unpredictable in detail...but the overarching point was that they could be managed (otherwise, what's the point in engaging in therapeutic interventions at all?).

I can know this because I've seen evidence of it in places like Somalia, and Sudan, and a raft of others where locally chaotic dynamics operate without meaningful external checks.

Ummm... Somalia has no meaningful government. Darfur had too many warring factions to count (as an aside, it was really disheartening to watch many of the same people who opposed the Iraq invasion advocate a Sudan invasion). Iraq under Hussein had a strong government that managed to provide services (such as clean water, electricity, hospitals and security) which the new one can't match even with all the American aid. How can you possibly draw any lessons from one about the others when they are in no way related or similar?


My point here was that post-invasion Iraq was in danger of slipping into a state similar to that of Somalia or Darfur...only with great rivers of oil money to support whatever Hobbesian nightmare emerged.

As for the services which the Saddam regime provided...well, I suppose that depended on who one was and where one lived in Iraq. Didn't mean a lot if you were a Shia or a Marsh Arab. Much of what power generation there was was siphoned predominantly into Baghdad and other areas where Saddam enjoyed support. Regarding the state of the grid after OIF, our own Mr. Hengist has written most effectively on that very subject. See also this article about the current (as of 8/08) state of the Iraqi electric infrastructure. Upshot: overal megawattage is up to Saddam levels...but fewer people are getting full coverage, because the power is being more equitably distributed, and because of a dramatically increased demand due to newly free and relatively affluent Iraqis buying --and expecting to run-- such things as air conditioners, refrigerators, TVs, and other appliances.

A more modern and robust power grid is being built --albeit at a rather frustratingly slow pace-- now that the security situation has been stabilized to such a profound degree, consequent to the COIN strategy in Iraq. Every day the lights stay on for most of the day in a secure Iraqi family's home is another increment of victory.

From these data, I extrapolate (with confidence tempered by humility borne of my understanding of dynamic systems) that the severity of the spasms and their potential for breaching the borders of Iraq itself and infecting the region and thence the world would have been commensurately great.

That's a hell of an extrapolation! Seriously, spend some time with the Lorenz attractor again. It'll do you good.


Lorenz Attractor...pretty, pretty owl's eyes......Yes, thanks. That was most tranquil.

It bears mentioning that you are also engaging in some significant extrapolation, to wit: "If we make ourselves independent of/disengage from that region, and allow it to endure whatever ensues as it finds some new shape we cannot predict, that new shape will constitute a lesser threat to the one we face now, as we attempt to intervene." Can you look the owl in the eyes and deny that this is one of the assumptions implicit in your reasoning?


Failing all of this, trade becomes a treacherous (and far less profitable) business

Hence, trade should be avoided in areas where any of this fails.


Thus rendering those areas more isolated and impoverished and desperate. And this will help, exactly, how?

Private security could handle a portion of this (though, again, cutting savagely into profits),

You'd think that was true, but as it turns out, it isn't always. For example, throughout the late 90's and into the beginning of this century, Mogadishu was one of Africa's most prosperous ports. The lack of a government meant that shipping companies had to provide their own security, but this turned out to be a lot cheaper in a lot of cases than paying taxes to the governments of adjacent countries. [...].


No doubt that private security would offer a more attractive option to reliance on corrupt and inefficient governments for protection from assorted brigands. More profitable still is the protection of the US Navy, which does not levy tribute from the nations whose sea lanes it patrols.

but the interests of a state in the preservation of its sources of revenue (not to mention goods and services)

you just re-flushed your no empire argument down the drain. what do you call a country whose sources of revenue are external? hint: it starts with an 'E' and rhymes with 'Lempire.' more below.


Um...I was referring here to the safety of a state's trade partners and routes. Is it your position that only Empires engage in profitable trade, and so enjoy sources of revenue which lie outside their borders?

also, the formation of free-trade blocs, and their coalescence into meta-blocks, is very much in keeping with how i understand globalization to work. it is not a homogeneous broth so much as a hearty stew.

then why interfere outside your own local trade bloc? why even interfere within it rather than just change its composition when necessary?


Changing the composition of any going concern is a pretty extreme form of interference. Such trade blocs will want to act to preserve their interests...which in many cases requires that they join forces with or take measures against other blocs. The world's boundaries are (I would argue) irrevocably enmeshed. Globalization is an emergent phenomenon, a grown/growing thing. We can swim with or against such a formidable flow. I've got a frosty beverage on the beach for the one who makes it there first...or at all.

Who are the US' client states (in the strict sense) today?

Well, there is really no "strict sense", but the most obvious client states of the U.S. today are the U.K., Mexico, and Colombia.


Actually, there is a rather strict sense. The countries you cite may choose to align their policies with the US', This does not make them vassals.

The "Drug War" is stupid and senseless and poisonous and wasteful. There's a condition.

How is this a condition? The drug war continues, and you still love the country. A condition would be something that would make you stop loving it.


Not at all. Madame 'Cyte snores like Kodiak bear with a deviated septum. Doesn't mean I plan to leave her.

I also, however, firmly believe that activities such as the "Terrorist Surveillance Program" have had a hand in the lack of follow-on attacks after 9/11/01.

"This rock keeps away tigers. You don't see any tigers around here, do you?" -Lisa Simpson

"I'll give you $100 for it!!!" -Homer Simpson

Heh.

And heh.

Any particular horrible, murderous dictators you see us supporting today?

Well, this guy springs to mind.


Um...that guy is kinda, y'know, dead. Is this "Weekend at Ahmed's," here?

Anyone else?

the constitution is a sick joke,

No, the Constitution is a work of pure genius which is unmatched in history for the elegance of the the structure it defines.

Perhaps an overstatement, but I agree in principle. The fact that it has lost all it's teeth and is now merely a set of suggestions or, as GWB put it, "just a goddamn piece of paper" is the reason it's a sick joke.


Not all its teeth, but I will grant that its chewing power has been rather undermined by anti-federalists on both sides of the aisle.

Oh, and as for that plastic turkey of a "goddamned piece of paper" meme, do please have a care what discredited canards you propagate.

What is relevant is the structure of the constitution. Specifically, its lack of remedial instructions. The constitution is full of "Congress shall make no law," but it doesn't say anywhere what should happen if congress does make such a law. As a consequence of this omission, unconstitutional laws get passed routinely. Some are struck down and are then reworded a little by the same people, who then proceed to pass them again. Nobody gets tried for treason. Nobody even loses his job defending the constitution which he just attacked!

[....]

Whether or not this is the fault of the Founding Fathers is truly problematic. Granted, they had a Herculean task before them. But I can't help but wonder what this country would look like now had they just put in a simple provision removing from office any elected official that voted for a law found to be unconstitutional. And, with 20/20 hindsight, it's really easy to see that they relied far too heavily on the second amendment.


This idea has a certain amount of appeal; I do agree that the "living document" crowd has had far too easy a time of it. But it is worrisome in the scary amount of power it would place in the hands of the Judiciary Branch...

Nationalism is not necessary (and, for someone who chooses to live as you do, I suppose it would be a nuisance at best)

Much more than a nuisance. It is one of the twin memetic viruses plaguing mankind. The other, religion, is (finally!) getting some blowback from folks like Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher (what an odd pairing!) and they are finding some small measure of success. Nationalism, however, continues almost completely unchecked and may be the downfall of humanity if the latter doesn't wake up sometime soon.


Since you know me to be a philosophical materialist, I'll shorthand the endorsement of the position that religion is an unnecessary hypothesis which has led to some abominable things throughout history. However, the very rationalism by which we may dispute the validity of religious thought can trace a very direct line back to such thinkers as Bonaventura, whose tome "The Mind's Road to God" posits (among many other things) that the nature of the Divine can be perceived though a rational understanding of the characteristics of the Creation.

It should be noted that similar attempts at rationalism in Islam did not go so well...with results which we see around us to this day...

It would be foolish for me to say that nothing could ever change that feeling,

OK, but you haven't answered the question: what would it take, at minimum, for that feeling to change? I really hope that gas chambers would, in fact, do the trick. But would anything short of that?


Huh, boy. You threw in the "gas chamber" bit before, and I tried to dodge it. OK, so, Godwin's will be done.

Yes, gas chambers would most emphatically disabuse me of my love for this country as it would have to be configured for such things to occur.

But my love for the idea of America would endure...indeed, it would burn more brightly for how horridly it would have to have been polluted for those gas chambers to arise. This is the part of which I have no expectation, nor desire to convince you. You appear to take umbrage at the idea that any sub/trans/meta-rational principle should be allowed to animate one's world-view, preferring a cool appraisal of what one judges to be the relevant facts. I choose to allow such organizing principles to provide a scaffolding for my appraisals of the facts and their relevance...so long as I maintain a vigilant awareness of the facts which may constitute structural weaknesses in that scaffolding. And that's just fine.

What America means to me is a thing both noble and practical: the jealous (if inevitably flawed) guarding of liberty and opportunity, the vibrancy and resilience of a society which is constituted on the idea that diverse groups of people may come together and begin anew without shedding their heritage. It is an idea which transcends the particulars of the ways in which it falls short, measuring these against the myriad examples of how it gets it right. It is what I love about this Nation, and consider to be worth fighting for in the ways that I can, within the parameters of the life which I am able to carve out within its sphere.

We have clear and profound differences on the ways in which this Nation can and should comport itself on the world stage. The irony is that our contrasting ways of viewing the US' behavior (nay, its very essence) represent the freedom which that Nation offers us both...including the freedom to leave if we so choose.

Mike said...

Here, I suspect we have come across an authentic and irreducible clash of axioms. When it comes to a general preference for fiscal conservatism, we more-or-less differ more in degree than in kind. However, in demanding absolute and comprehensive prioritizing of such conservatism over all other considerations, we do rather decisively part ways.

I think you're overstating this a bit. My objection to parting with conservative fiscal policy is not axiomatic, but rather inductive. I've searched through history (and continue to) for instances where unsound fiscal policy had no disastrous after effects. So far I've found only one: World War II. But that was a truly unique set of circumstances and appears to be the exception that proves the rule.

Granted, my search has by no means been exhaustive or even terribly thorough since I only have so much time to devote to it, but if I ever run into a set of good counterexamples, I'll be forced to modify my view.

You see, it is my judgment that certain priorities take precedence over the adherence to fiscal conservatism in its strictest sense.

I suspect that's because you haven't studied history from this perspective. I invite you to do so and see if you come to conclusions different from mine.

Wars are always fought on a deficit. I concur with the position that we are at war. You do not.

No, I completely concur that the U.S. is at war. And I think we both agree that this is a brand new kind of war. We merely disagree about who started said war and who's winning it (just to clarify the latter, I contend that both sides are losing big time and the winners will be the ones who aren't fighting in it; don't discount Brazil as a candidate for the world's next superpower).

It is hard to dispute that the US occupies a hegemonic role, but this is a very different thing from empire (fine article, till the last three paragraphs, where it lapses into self-contradiction for the sake of Bush-bashing).

That really is a good article and certainly points out some subtleties of the definitions involved. It misses a few details such as the fact that U.S. law enforcement operates freely in several countries where it lacks a significant military presence (for example, a friend of mine was stopped and searched by English speaking DEA agents in DEA uniforms and a DEA marked car on his way back from Panama into Costa Rica). If it makes you feel better, I'll use the word "hegemony" instead of "empire" and concede that the U.S. is kind of a hybrid.

What are you to do when your evidence points you toward an international system of radical mosques, funded from abroad, and serving as meeting-places for operatives of trans-national networks of terrorists, their handlers, financiers, etc.?

You hand over as much information as you can to the relevant law enforcement agencies of the countries involved.

And what are you then to do with threats of international scope (piracy, terrorism, human trafficking, etc.) which are actively abetted by those governments...or when no meaningful governmental authority exists (like, say Somalia) which could make effective use of such evidence?

Those are dead end cases. They happen in law enforcement (unlike what the cop shows would have you believe).

Again, the essence of counterinsurgency is the de-legitimization of the insurgents' ideology and effectiveness by showing them to be unable to protect themselves

Might makes right?

or to provide a more just and prosperous existence for the mass of people among whom they operate.

As we are seeing, just and prosperous are culturally defined terms. To a huge number of muslims, a just and prosperous life (and I still have a hard time accepting this) is one defined by Sharia and marked by phycial poverty to improve their lot in the after life. Strikes me as incredibly dumb, but it really seems to be what hundreds of millions of people want. And it's the Talebans and Al-Shababs of the world that are giving it to them.

The borders of this Nation are incredibly porous. To a great extent, they will always be, unless we adopt the "Fortress America" posture (which will make it somewhat less porous...but still dangerously so).

Oh, ok, I see what you mean now. Yes, this does fall under the rubrik of border protection, and it does need to beefed up dramatically. That said, the best first step toward such beefing up would be easing immigration restrictions and ending the drug war. That way, you're really just looking for things that go boom (and biological agents, etc).

My point is that this in itself will only go so far in deterring a concerted effort by militant ideologues bent on doing us harm.

About as far as can be gone practically. Well, that plus appropriate internal policing.

This is why going after the proponents and eroding the legitimacy of that ideology in a global fashion is an essential component in a truly comprehensive strategy for defending this Nation against attacks.

Which is draining your economy dry and helping their recruiting efforts.

You keep going there, and it keeps undermining your argument. OK City was, what 14 years ago?

Yeah, roughly. And this happened yesterday.

These school shooting rampages have occurred a total of how many times? Shall we compare this to the total number of AQ and other radical Islamist attacks (successfully executed and verifiably thwarted) on US citizens here in the States and abroad (including tourists, journalists, businesspeople, embassy personnel, etc.) over the same period of time

That's really an excellent question. I would love to see some stats on this but I'm really not sure any have been compiled.

Is it your position that such domestic terrorist activities represent a comparable threat to Americans to the actions of AQ, Hezbollah, Hamas, etc? Really?

Yes, and increasingly so as the empowerment of individuals grows.

And once again, the nut-job White Supremacist is a legitimate target of law enforcement. The Hezbollah operative, plotting an act of Jihad at the behest (if not necessarily under the direct operational control) of an international terrorist organization is a qualitatively different sort of beast

Seems like exactly the same beast to me. Does it really matter where his training and funding come from? All the information he needs is readily available on wikipedia, and what he wants to do really doesn't need to cost much.

A lone nut-job or small group of nut-jobs will always be able to inflict local harm in an open, free society. This is indeed a lamentable reality we have to accept. We do NOT have to accept that foreign fanatics can set up shop in our country, and pursue their goal of killing our citizens and mortally wounding our nation because their perverted ideology has gone largely unconfronted where it has run rampant across the world.

So it's ok if they're local, but not ok if they're foreign??

It is likely true that protecting the Saudi oil fields (and its at least/most nominally pro-US "government" of clown princes) from the near-certain future aggressions of Saddam was one of the factors behind OIF. However, it was also all-but certainly a way to apply indirect pressure on the Saudis to modify their behavior, vis-a-vis resolutely looking the other way from the radicals' activities within their borders.

Eliminating the only realistic military threat to them in the region is a way to apply pressure? Next time I need to put pressure on a vendor, should I write an article criticizing his competition?

Can you provide any links to evidence that these steps would be "simple,"

Well, here are a few: Solar Thermal article on Wikipedia, Algae Fuel article on Wikipedia, La Times article about an Interior Department report on wind power with a link to the pdf report, Tesla motors. There are lots of others if you're interested.

Admittedly, I'm using simple as a relative term here, as in at least an order of magnitude simpler than dealing with the myriad consequences of fossil fuel use.

and some accounting for why such simple steps have not been taken, despite their obvious benefits to causes Left and Right (and broad statements to the effect of "the oil companies would never allow it!" don't count)?

Yeah, "the oil companies would never allow it" is such a vast oversimplification as to be completely useless. It's kind of like saying a car moves because the spark plugs cause the gasoline to explode.

The real reason is that the current world economy is built around fossil fuels. The interests involved here go way beyond the oil companies and include traditional car manufacturers and the entire military industrial complex of the U.S. I'm not suggesting any conspiracy exists here, with the exception of a conspiracy of circumstances that binds all these interests and leads each in turn to hinder the development of a sustainable energy infrastructure for its own short term gain.

Unless there is indeed such a clear path, then what you propose would result in a catastrophic upheaval in the economies of every nation in the world.

Even with a clear path, such upheaval would necessarily occur. But unlike the current upheaval, the West would be fairly assured of coming out a lot stronger on the other side of it.

In the meantime, the extortionate prices which the aforementioned asshole could charge for petroleum while the world scrambled for an alternative would pour great oceans of cash into the tunic pockets of the very people who would indeed ultimately find themselves looking for a good gig as a used camel salesman...but not before a very great many people died untimely and violent deaths at their hands.

Hang on. Said asshole would only control a small percentage of the world's oil (25% I think, assuming we're talking about the entire Arabian peninsula and Iran?) and there would really be no reason to buy from him for long.

OK, but I'd really like us to revisit this question in a year or two, after the other shoe drops on this whole economic collapse. I hope you still have internet access at that point...

Deal. I'll practice my Morse code in the meantime...just in case.

Hmmmmm... I imagine I'll be able to find a good HAM rig in Buenos Aires :).

I suggest you also stock up on canned food. It's likely to get very expensive over there once the dust bowl hits.

My point here was that post-invasion Iraq was in danger of slipping into a state similar to that of Somalia or Darfur

Post invasion, yeah. Pre-invasion, not so much (although somewhat, pending the death of Hussein the elder).

..only with great rivers of oil money to support whatever Hobbesian nightmare emerged.

Not really. Extracting oil in significant quantities these days is a major industrial undertaking, highly unlikely to occur in the absence of some kind of social order. Yes, it goes on in areas of Nigeria that are all but lawless, but none of the money stays in those areas and output is falling as the lawlessness increases.

It bears mentioning that you are also engaging in some significant extrapolation, to wit: "If we make ourselves independent of/disengage from that region, and allow it to endure whatever ensues as it finds some new shape we cannot predict, that new shape will constitute a lesser threat to the one we face now, as we attempt to intervene."

I make no such assumption. I do, however, deem it extremely likely that it would constitute a lesser threat than you face now plus the costs of attempting to quell it actively, plus the additional costs of the West's continued reliance on fossil fuels. The threat of terrorism by itself could go either way, especially in the short term.

Failing all of this, trade becomes a treacherous (and far less profitable) business

Hence, trade should be avoided in areas where any of this fails.

Thus rendering those areas more isolated and impoverished and desperate. And this will help, exactly, how?

By putting pressure on the populations of these areas. If they want to benefit from international trade, they need to create conditions conducive to it.

then why interfere outside your own local trade bloc? why even interfere within it rather than just change its composition when necessary?

Changing the composition of any going concern is a pretty extreme form of interference.

How so? Saying something along the lines of, "The costs of doing business with you have gotten to the point where they outweigh the benefits. If you get you shit together, give us a call," is something businesses do all the time. It's hardly interference.

The world's boundaries are (I would argue) irrevocably enmeshed.

How so? How, for example, does Russia's dispute with Georgia over Ossetia/Abkhazia affect Brazil's trade with Argentina? How does it affect the U.S.'s trade with China?

Who are the US' client states (in the strict sense) today?

Well, there is really no "strict sense", but the most obvious client states of the U.S. today are the U.K., Mexico, and Colombia.

Actually, there is a rather strict sense.

First sentence of that article: "Client state is one of several terms used to describe the subordination of one state to a more powerful state in international affairs. It is the least specific of these terms and may be treated as a broad category which includes satellite state, puppet state, neo-colony, protectorate, vassal state and tributary state. (See also unequal treaty.)"

Not real strict...

The countries you cite may choose to align their policies with the US', This does not make them vassals.

Under the threat of being crushed or at least severely harassed economically and/or militarily. One need only look at Cuba to see what befalls a country that consistently defies the U.S. (and doesn't have large reserves of oil).

Heh

To quote from the end of the article: "one of the most damaging leaks of classified information since the war on terror began because it allows al Qaeda to train against the techniques."

In reality, the single most damaging leak is the fact that torture is being used because it allows al Qaeda and others to prepare plausible misinformation for all their operatives to spew in the event that they are tortured. The fact that it worked once makes this even more dangerous.

Um...that guy is kinda, y'know, dead. Is this "Weekend at Ahmed's," here?

Anyone else?


Oops, wrong guy :). My bad. I meant this guy.

Oh, and as for that plastic turkey of a "goddamned piece of paper" meme, do please have a care what discredited canards you propagate.

Whether or not he said it is immaterial to this discussion. The fact that if he said it, he's absolutely correct is much more relevant. My bad again, though, for not checking up that first.

Since you know me to be a philosophical materialist, I'll shorthand the endorsement of the position that religion is an unnecessary hypothesis which has led to some abominable things throughout history. However, the very rationalism by which we may dispute the validity of religious thought can trace a very direct line back to such thinkers as Bonaventura, whose tome "The Mind's Road to God" posits (among many other things) that the nature of the Divine can be perceived though a rational understanding of the characteristics of the Creation.

History is replete with deeply religious people making invaluable contributions to science. This does not make religion an acceptable thing.

It should be noted that similar attempts at rationalism in Islam did not go so well...with results which we see around us to this day..

Let's not be harsher on the ancient Muslims than is warranted. Modern science owes its basic structure to Alhazen, and this is incredibly impressive.

Like all religions, Islam ended up being a force suppressive of science, but it wasn't always so.

Huh, boy. You threw in the "gas chamber" bit before, and I tried to dodge it. OK, so, Godwin's will be done.

:)

But my love for the idea of America would endure...indeed, it would burn more brightly for how horridly it would have to have been polluted for those gas chambers to arise.

I also love the idea of the U.S. as initially envisioned, tainted as it is by slavery and the genocide of the native Americans. Jaded as I am, I can't help but marvel at the depth of the ideas put forth by the Founding Fathers.

But here's where we perhaps fundamentally part ways: I don't need gas chambers. I just need one doctor rotting in jail for perscribing Cannabis to his terminally ill patient, one programmer rotting in jail for pointing out obvious flaws in some company's supposedly secure product, one farmer deprived of his property because some company's proprietary seeds flew into and took root in his field, or hell, a quick glance at a Federal Tax form to realize that the reality of the U.S. today is diametrically opposed to the vision of the Founding Fathers.

If Jefferson were to come back to life today, it would probably take him all of a half an hour of reading to decide to kill himself again. Ditto Franklin. I don't think they'd even bother to try to revolt again. Hamilton might have been pleased :-/.

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OK, that's about all I have to say about this thread as I must start my preparations for our NYC trip. Please feel free to have the last word (it is your blog :) ), and hopefully we can continue the discussion over a few cold ones in the coming weeks. I'll continue to give you shit about future posts :).

Noocyte said...

Nope. No last word privilege claimed, except to say that I have been enjoying the living bejebus out of this thread. Most bracing and energizing conversation I've had on suchlike matters in many a lap round old Sol.

Looking forward in the biggest way to the aforementioned cold ones!

Buen viaje, viejo amigo!