Friday, July 23, 2010

Nazi Smears Old & Busted? Whip Out the Race Card!

[by Mr.Hengist]

Let me just start this off by saying that "race relations", as they used to be called when I was a boy, are of no interest to me. I was raised in a racially colorblind household, and, come to think of it, I can't recall ever having seen even mild racism in my nuclear or extended family. I attended colorblind schools with a variety of peoples of different races, and so forth. As a result of this upbringing I believe that racism is just wrong. This was an issue to press with my parents' generation, and my parents in particular, and press they did. As for me, well, waging eternal war against racism is just not my bag.

Here in America, the advocates of racial equality won, thankfully. I was born at a time when the first inter-racial kiss on Star Trek was a notable event, and what seemed generations away back then has, after a generation or two, come to pass: we have a black* POTUS, as well as black Congressmen, Governors, Mayors, CEOs, and so forth. America has come a long way, yadda yadda yadda. The color barrier has been broken and racism dare not show its face in polite society. However, I'm of the opinion that racism has not been and never will be eliminated; we waged a world war trying to eliminate the f'ing Nazis and yet there are still admirers of that abomination to this day; racism, likewise, will endure. It usually takes some generations to make societal changes like these. We should neither sanction racism by law nor countenance it personally. I don't make friends with bigots, and I keep myself from slapping them.

I find myself in good company on the American Right. In the midst of my political conversion during the Spring and Summer of 2003, I found myself visiting rightwing blogs for reasons wholly unrelated to politics and, to my surprise, I found paraphrased there the famous quotation of Martin Luther King Jr. from his "I Have a Dream" speech, to the effect that he wished for a nation that would judge people not on their skin color but the content of their character. I found it on several different rightwing blogs, actually, and it took a while before I came to believe that, rather than simply being than a cudgel with which to beat the hypocrisy out of their ideological enemies, it was indeed, as it appeared: an expression of genuine desire. After a couple of years of reading rightwing blogs, columns, and publications, I came to realize upon reflection that not only was racism absent from the places I visited on the Right, but also absent too was the soft bigotry of low expectations to which I had become accustomed in my previous life as a Liberal (not that I shared it at the time, but it's so pervasive on the Left that I'd come to hardly notice it).

Accusations of racism, however, are cudgel in the hands of Liberals. They're also big on calling us Nazis, notwithstanding the irony. Racists, like Nazis, have no legitimate currency in our realm, and no say in our national debate. That's why they demonize us by calling us these names; not because it's true, but because they would have their idological competition eliminated from the debate without having to address our arguments on merit. We end up having to defend ourselves from these scurrilous attacks which in turn reduces the time we can spend talking about the flawed policy and wrongdoings of our opponents and it taints our image in minds of the gullible and uninformed. It's a despicable political tactic.

You'll want proof, of course. By way of example I give you Rush Limbaugh, who was most recently pilloried when he tried to buy an ownership stake in a football team. The Left used one of Alinsky's tactics (see "Rules for Radicals"): "Pick the Target, Freeze It, Personalize It and Polarize It". The Left set their sights on Limbaugh and opened up with all guns blazing - blanks. The quotes used against him were either fabricated or decontextualized. That was the best they could do, and bear in mind that Limbaugh has been broadcasting for the last twenty-five years. That's an hour or two a day, five days a week, most of the year, year after year, and despite the vast wealth of material through which they are free to comb for examples to bolster their charge, again, this is the best they can do. If, like me, you think as serious an accusation as racism should be backed up by evidence, then that's not just weak tea, that's homeopathic tea, but then, Liberals neither require proof to make accusations against their political opponents, nor do they see this as being a problem.

All this brings me to my pet piƱata of a dinosaur media columnist: Eugene Robinson of the WaPo, and his latest column, "Obama needs to stand up to 'reverse racism' ploy" (WaPo - July 22, 2010 - A19). Let's start with the title, which calls out the "reverse racism ploy" of the Right. "Reverse racism" is sort of like racism, but in reverse. It's when people of other ethnicities are accused of racism - other than white, of course. That is to say that racism, as defined by the Left, is when whites discriminate against people of other ethnicities, so the reverse of that would be when people of other ethnicities discriminate against whites (or, occasionally, ethnicities other than their own). Racism is, by their definition, exclusively the province of white people; racism, when exhibited by non-whites, is the reverse of that. "Reverse racism" is, therefore, a divisive and racist term itself (it's a racist term, in that they have a special term for wrongdoing by a particular racial group). Congratulations, Eugene! Right out of the gate, you've beclowned yourself.

Let's move on to the body of the text:
"After the Shirley Sherrod episode, there's no longer any need to mince words: A cynical right-wing propaganda machine is peddling the poisonous fiction that when African Americans or other minorities reach positions of power, they seek some kind of revenge against whites."
Leaving aside the false pretense that Robinson or Liberals have up until now been mincing words, the "right-wing propaganda machine" is what Leftists imagine to be the rightwing equivalent of their own propaganda machines. Like, say, JournoList, in which Liberal journalists and academicians colluded to coordinated smears of their political opposition and spike stories which made their side look bad. They imagine that since they work together in this way, their opposition must as well, and having imagined it to be possible, they suppose that it's probable, and having supposed that it's probable, they conclude that it must be true, and so with the speed of a caffeinated ferret they know to be true that which they've only imagined. Proof is no longer necessary for Leftists to delude themselves. At any rate, the target of Andrew Breitbart's posting of the clips of Sheley Sherrod was not her; it was aimed at the group to which she was speaking, the NAACP. The NAACP, which is working together openly with the openly racist "Nation of Islam". This was in response to the NAACP calling out racism in the Tea Party, citing now-debunked accusations of racism (see Power Line's "Don't leave it to Cleaver", parts 1 through 17).

This was not, however, an accusation that when "minories reach positions of power, they seek some kind of revenge against whites." What it illustrated was that the NAACP, which hosted the event, applauded and gave approval to Sherrod's recounting of her tale of when she racially discriminated against a white farmer, not doing all she could to help him (when she was working for a non-profit). She states that she was of the opinion that he should seek help from "one of his own kind." She went on to say that she had since come to believe that poor whites are also worthy of her help. Middle class and rich whites should still, presumably, be helped "by their own kind." (in her own semi-coherent words, "That’s when…it was revealed to me that it’s about poor versus those who have. And not so much about white — it is about white and black — but it’s not, you know…it opened my eyes." )

"A few of the purveyors of this bigoted nonsense might actually believe it. Most of them, however, are merely seeking political gain by inviting white voters to question the motives and good faith of the nation's first African American president. This is really about tearing Barack Obama down."
This had nothing to do with POTUS Obama. The fact that this Marxist racist worked for the USDA was something of an embarassment to the Obama Administration, and she was fired for it. Now they've apologized for that, since, I guessing, they're of the opinion that if you're a Marxist racist, and not just a plain old racist, that's OK.

"With the Obama presidency, though, has come a flurry of charges -- from the likes of Breitbart but also from more substantial conservative figures -- about alleged incidences of racial discrimination against whites by blacks and other minorities. Recall, for example, the way Obama's critics had a fit when he offered an opinion about the confrontation between Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and a white police officer. Remember the over-the-top reaction when it was learned that Justice Sonia Sotomayor had once talked about how being a "wise Latina" might affect her thinking."
Well, no, there haven't been a flurry of charges about incidents of racial discrimination against whites by blacks and other minorities. Robinsons WaPo readers are not expected to doubt this despite having little recollection of any such thing, but rather his assertion alone, in their minds, will make it so. He imagines it, and so he asserts it, and on that basis they believe. His examples?

There's the Gates/cops incident, in which Gates threw a tantrum, ranting and shouting about how he was being racially harassed when the police came to protect his home from burglars. They had asked him to step outside of the house, which is a standard police procedure which removes a person from any potential threat in a dwelling; even if a homeowner insists from within their own house that everything is OK, the police will ask them to step outside and say the same thing, just in case the homeowner is being coerced by, say, somebody behind the door, holding a gun on him. The problem with what POTUS Obama did was that, before any investigation, and before all the facts were known, Obama characterized the police as having acted "stupidly." This was unpresidential and possibly racially motivated, as Gates is black and the police were mostly white, but not provably so. That was the attitude, by and large, of the Right on this flap; it was Gates who was the primary object of scorn on the Right, for playing the race card, and POTUS Obama a distant second for inappropriately injecting his uninformed opinion on an issue of minor national significance - and, predictably, automatically siding with the black guy screaming "Racism!"

Then there's the then-nominee for the SCOTUS Sotomayor, who made an arguably racist statement in a 2001 speech to law students at the University of California at Berkeley: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." That remark was less about wise Latinas as it was about how white men are not as wise or fair as Latinas.

That should have disqualified her for the nomination to the Supreme Court. Don't think so? Fine, let's try a little thought experiment. Imagine the SCOTUS nominee of a Republican POTUS had said the following: "I would hope that a wise white man with the richness of his experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina who hasn't lived that life." Kinda pops out at ya now, doesn't it?

Remember, these are Eugene Robinson's cited examples of false charges of racism by the Right against POTUS Obama.

He goes on:
"Before Sherrod, the cause celebre of the "You Must Fear Obama" campaign involved something called the New Black Panther Party. Never heard of it? That's because it's a tiny group that exists mainly in the fevered imaginations of its few members. Also in the alternate reality of Fox News: One of the network's hosts has devoted more than three hours of air time in recent weeks to the grave threat posed by the NBPP. Actually, I suspect that this excess is at least partly an attempt by a relatively obscure anchor to boost her own notoriety."
Robinson will not let his lack of comprehension of the arguments of his opponents stand in the way of his characterizing them as being frivolous or malevolent - a pitch-perfect Liberal. In this case, what has the Right outraged has less to do with the New Black Panther Party than the Department of Justice. The New Black Panther Party is, indeed, a tiny group of violent racists who are, on the whole, of little consequence. During the 2008 election two of them, one armed with a billy club, were stationed just outside a polling station, and were intimidating voters. It was a clear violation of law, and regardless of the merits of the case, the DOJ had the case won through a default judgement, had they but taken it. The New Black Panthers did not show up, nor did they send representative council, and so would have lost the civil suit filed against them by the DOJ had only the DOJ accepted it. Deliberately, they did not do so, and it is the contention of J. Christian Adams (and initially corroborated by two of his colleagues, now a third) that it is the internal policy of the DOJ that the voting rights laws will not be enforced in the defense of white voters. The Right has a problem with that. So should the Left, but they don't. Instead, they mischaracterize these allegations and their political opposition.

The last thing the Left wants is to have a serious discussion with their political opposition about the future of this country and Liberal vs. Conservative policies. Instead, as always, they seek to eject their opposition from the discussion by manufacturing accusations of racism against them. Granted, when your ideas are as bankrupt and divisive as theirs, it's understandable why they would like to avoid that debate, even if it means throwing serious accusations of evil around. It's understandable, and shamefully so.

Shame on Eugene Robinson, shame on the Left, and shame on you willing Liberal dupes who live in your Liberal bubbles. You will never understand your political opposition, or have a coherent political discussion with them, until you start to listen to what they have to say for themselves. When you let fools like Robinson (or the busted ThinkProgress) explain the Right to you instead of actually listening to the Right, you end up sounding incoherently disconnected from reality and dishonest.

* Regarding my usage of the word "black" instead of the more PC "African-American": yes, that's right, I still say "black". I know, I know, black people aren't actually black, they're brown, in the same way that I'm not white. As inaccurate as these hues are in describing our relative pigmentation, they are a more accurate description of the thing we're talking about than the term "African-American". There are lots of black people who are not from and have never been to Africa, just as there are lots of people who are fishbelly white who actually live there, and, perhaps just as confoundingly, black people who were born in, say, Canada are not, obviously, African-American. As far as our use of language goes, black beats colored beats negro beats darkie beats the-n-word-I-can't-say-because-I'm-white-even-if-I-do-so-in-contempt-of-it, but African-American is just silly and so I generally avoid it.

58 comments:

Mike said...

Nice analysis as usual, Mr. Hengist.

However, I do have the following questions:

- Don't your criticisms of the left above apply doubly to the right for, among many other things, turning a mediocre-looking intern felating the president into an issue critical to the nation's well being (thus, BTW, drawing attention *away* from said president's disasterous policies both at home and abroad)?

- Doesn't it bother you that you end up voting for candidates who honestly believe that the universe was created in seven days - by a giant white guy with in the sky with a big white beard - simply because you favor a hawkish foreign policy?

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I agree completely with your criticisms of the left, but I'd really like to understand why you feel the right is any better, especially in the U.S.

Mr.Hengist said...

Hi Mike! Thanks for your compliments.

I don’t think that the Lewinsky debacle was doubly-bad as compared to what the Left is doing, nor was it just as bad. Less bad, but bad, up until the point where POTUS Clinton lied under oath and deserved impeachment. Up until then the Republicans and the Right did not cover themselves in glory in the pursuit of Clinton over this matter.

The Republicans are not my team. I’m not proud of the Republicans or the Right, and although I do at times refer to myself as being on the Right (as I did in this blogpost) I am, in fact, registered as an Independent, much to my relief.

What’s important is that elections are about choices. There is no Mr.Hengist party. Ballots do not take the form of a referendum questionnaire. The practical reality is that there are two, and only two viable parties in America, and my choices are to vote for one or the other, cast a protest vote for a non-viable party, or to abstain.

I’d rather not go into excessive detail on this subject, but I’ll say this: I vote Republican these days because I’m a hawk and a fiscal conservative. The Republicans are neither hawkish enough nor fiscally conservative enough to satisfy me, but the alternatives in the Democrat party are decidedly worse. That’s why I vote Republican. Protest votes and abstentions are almost never an effective means of change, so I rarely do either.

One other thing: you refer to the Right “especially in the U.S.” The Right in the U.S. is unique to the U.S. and it’s meaningless to compare it to what’s also called “the Right” in other countries. There may be, and in some cases are, commonalities between the Right in America vs. “the Right” in England or Germany or any other country you care to name, but it’s apples vs. oranges.

As for the religion thing, well, this is less an issue having to do with political choices as it is a fact of life here in America. It’s a very odd thing for me when I’m reminded of the religion of others in everyday life, not just politics; that these folks believe in the supernatural, which often includes the popular monotheisms of our era. To me, hearing someone casually mention their god or their belief in some form of supernatural magic is like hearing an otherwise rational person casually mention in earnest something about, say, leprechauns or unicorns. It’s something to which I’m still not accustomed, but there’s not much I can do about changing the world to better suit me.

Mike said...

OK, it seems we disagree on 2 fundamental points:

1. Unless we define "fiscal conservative" differently, hawk and fiscal conservative are mutually exclusive. I think of a fiscal conservative as favoring low and simple taxes, low government spending, sound (in the sense of commodity backed) money, and balanced budgets. The "nation building" you advocate as a hawk is even more costly and more unpredictable fiscally than the huge civil engineering projects favored by the communist bloc, and is therefore anything but fiscally conservative.

2. A vote for either one of the major parties is a vote for the status quo. These days actual policy behavior is only weekly correlated to party affiliation. Protest votes, which I used to favor, do send a message, but that message is completely lost in the noise (read: lobbyist money(read: bribes)). And, as I only recently realized, even a protest vote lends credibility to a system which is broken beyond any hope of repair. My personal take: The only way to effect change peaceably is to treat the present political system as the impediment to human progress that it truly is, and work around it where possible.

Other than those 2 things, I think we're pretty much on the same page :).

As for the religious thing, I clearly stated my question incorrectly (I blame the wine :) ). What I was really getting at was not so much the religion itself (which, as you correctly pointed out, is unavoidable in the U.S.) but rather the ugly, religiously motivated social policies espoused by the Republicans. You pretty much addressed that anyway, but I thought I'd point it out.

Mr.Hengist said...

I don't think there is one exclusive definition of "fiscal conservative" and yours seems to be - how do I put this? - let's say it's robust and comprehensive. I guess I would say that I trend towards your (valid) definition of "fiscal conservative". In truth, I'm more of a "bounce the rubble" hawk than a neoconservative nation builder, but I have strong streaks of both in me. Every geopolitical situation is unique and must be evaluated on its own merits. North Korea, for example, is an entirely different situation from, say, Iraq, and the same foreign policy cookie-cutter will not work on both. In the short-term the cheapest solution is not force projection or nation building, but avoiding both carries hazards in the medium- and long-term. History does not allow us to run an alternative scenario with different parameters, but the track record of avoiding force projection and nation building has been mixed, at best.

So it sounds like you're going John Galt these days?

Mike said...

'I don't think there is one exclusive definition of "fiscal conservative" '

Agreed, which is why I mentioned it. I had written a couple of sentences about the nature of the oxymoron when I realized that we may well be talking about completely different things.

'and yours seems to be - how do I put this? - let's say it's robust and comprehensive.'

Indeed, and another reason I mentioned it :). But I'm still not quite sure what your definition is or how it allows for a hawkish foreign policy. Please elaborate.

'In truth, I'm more of a "bounce the rubble" hawk than a neoconservative nation builder, but I have strong streaks of both in me.'

Well, rubble bouncing is a lot cheaper than nation building, so I suppose that's a more conservative position :).

'North Korea, for example, is an entirely different situation from, say, Iraq, and the same foreign policy cookie-cutter will not work on both.'

Sure the situations are different, but they have 2 very critical things in common from a U.S. perspective: Both are very distant geographically and neither poses a domestic threat. Granted, the U.S. has by this point gotten itself almost inextricably involved in both situations (along with Afghanistan, Iran, Israel and Colombia), but I think an about face, if planned, communicated and executed properly, is still possible. Digging out of the financial hole already created is unfortunately a different matter entirely.

'In the short-term the cheapest solution is not force projection or nation building'

It's the cheapest solution in any term, as long as your borders are adequately defended.

'but avoiding both carries hazards in the medium- and long-term.'

Sure, but engaging in them carries essentially the same risks plus some added ones.

'History does not allow us to run an alternative scenario with different parameters'

I know! Don't you just hate that!? :D

'but the track record of avoiding force projection and nation building has been mixed, at best. '

Actually, it's been 100% and must be so by definition. Eschew projecting force, and no lives will be lost within your nation's populace as a consequence. Further, you'll be responsible for no deaths abroad. Sure, there will be some nut jobs who will blame you for not interfering (Darfour is the best recent example of that kind of thing that leaps to mind where the U.S. is concerned, and of course these same morons were berating U.S. policy in Iraq at the same time!), but you can't please all the people all the time.

'So it sounds like you're going John Galt these days?'

Much as I dislike the term and wish the entire pseudo-philosophical school behind it would get the hell off my side, it is pretty descriptive of what I'm trying to do, within the bounds of the law. Expatriation helps a whole lot in that regard.

Mr.Hengist said...

I don’t think I could come up with a comprehensive definition of “fiscal conservative”, at least it wouldn’t satisfy me. In general terms: smaller government, balanced budgets, but always? Not as absolutes. I favor generally small social services, but I also favor a very powerful and advance military. I favor balanced budgets with the allowance that it need not be balance every year come hell or high water. I also favor simple taxes but I wouldn’t tie that directly to fiscal conservatism. I don’t have a problem with fiat money in principle but it seems to be inevitably abused, so it might be necessary.

I reconcile my hawkish pro-military, neoconservativism with fiscal conservatism by my belief that a robust economy not burdened by nanny-state cradle-to-grave entitlements should be able to afford it, and a robust, advanced military is necessary to keep our country safe.

I’m perplexed at your assertion that North Korea doesn’t pose a threat. Threats from North Korea are a regular feature of the Nork regime. Iraq doesn’t pose a threat now that we’ve changed the government to a benign constitutional democracy, but whether it did before that is far too broad a topic to be addressed in a comments thread; I’ll also plead brevity in not addressing Israel or Columbia.

However, I’m most perplexed by your inclusion of Afghanistan; the Taliban hosted and protected Al Qaeda, which not only posed a threat, but also carried out an attack, despite our having left them (the Taliban) alone. Well, except for the retaliation for the USS Cole attack, which was directed at Al Qaeda.

If I’ve gotten the gist of it right, you seem to think that defending our national borders should suffice in terms of protecting our citizens. Would you allow an external threat to, just by way of example, mass troops on our borders? What about preserving our access to space – would we be limited to geosynchronous orbit? A strategic defense predicated on protecting national borders strikes me as more suited to the limitations of nineteenth century technology, and it wouldn’t address international trade. Would you have us defend our international trade routes? How would you have had us address, say, Nazi Germany and their open plans to conquer the world?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not asking for an essay response, but any light you could shed on these questions would be illuminating.

Noocyte said...

Noocyte, parachuting briefly in from Too-busy-to-blog-istan to give maddest of props to Mr H for another grand slam of a post. And also to say I'm enjoying the shite out of this conversation in comments...almost as much as I enjoyed having one quite like it last March ;-)

Party on, gents!

Mike said...

Oh, boy, does blogger suck! The rather entertaining error message I received when attempting to reply: "Su HTML no es aceptable: Must be at most 4,096 characters."

Nice geolocation implementation, guys!

IAC, I'll see what I can do to make this thing actually post what I tell it to...

Mike said...

Aw, crap, 5371 characters. looks like I have to break it in 2. Part 1:




'I don’t think I could come up with a comprehensive definition of “fiscal conservative”'

Neither could I. I was trying to figure out what your exact stance was since we both agree that the phrase itself is at least imprecise. I think I now have and it is in fact at the very edge of what I consider conservative. And, as such, the contradiction I noted above is not as strong as I initially suspected.


"I reconcile my hawkish pro-military, neoconservativism with fiscal conservatism by my belief that a robust economy not burdened by nanny-state cradle-to-grave entitlements should be able to afford it,"

Well, it seems that even your sham of an economy, with it's various nanny-state baggage can "afford" it. Even North Korea, with no economy at all to speak of seems to be able to afford a pretty advanced military. The question is, what are you giving up for it, and is it worth it? In the case of North Korea, I think we can both easily agree that the answer is a "everything," and a resounding, "NO." In the case of the U.S., it appears we differ.

" and a robust, advanced military is necessary to keep our country safe."

From whom? Are the Canadians coming down to force you to eat maple syrup and watch hockey? Regardless of the answer, the second ammendment, if properly enforced, should provide most of the protection required by pretty much any country. A supplementary standing army is a nice thing to have in case of sudden attack, but that's about it.

"I’m perplexed at your assertion that North Korea doesn’t pose a threat. Threats from North Korea are a regular feature of the Nork regime."

Venezuela's and Zimbabwe's too. Either of them keep you up nights? To put it another way, if a 10 year old kid threatens you from across the street, do you cross the street and kick his ass just in case, or do you smile to yourself and keep walking?

"Iraq doesn’t pose a threat now that we’ve changed the government to a benign constitutional democracy, but whether it did before that is far too broad a topic to be addressed in a comments thread; I’ll also plead brevity in not addressing Israel or Columbia."

Agreed. Each of those is a long, long discussion in and of itself. It was not my intention to steer the conversation in that direction, I was just listing some of the places in which the U.S. was militarily mired.

"However, I’m most perplexed by your inclusion of Afghanistan; the Taliban hosted and protected Al Qaeda, "

Well, they certainly hosted them. They didn't so much protect (or rather try to protect) Al Qaeda as their own sovereignty.

"which not only posed a threat, but also carried out an attack"

A group of whackos which happened to be in Afghanistan amongst somewhat similar whackos probably planned a criminal attack wihin the US (said criminal attack, BTW, was carried out by Saudi's, not Afghanis or anyone with any ties to the Taliban). In response, rather than treat them like the deranged criminal nut jobs that they are, the US administration elevated them to the status of holy warriors. It's been downhill ever since.

Mike said...

And part 2 (for which I had to reload the page... what is this, 1997?):

"If I’ve gotten the gist of it right, you seem to think that defending our national borders should suffice in terms of protecting our citizens"

Yup, that's the gist. There exceptions here and there, such as cases of kidnapping by foreign governments, but those involve primarily intelligence operations, not military operations.

"Would you allow an external threat to, just by way of example, mass troops on our borders?"

Goddammit! I had started a paragraph about that in my last reply but feared I was staying too far off topic, especially since this is such a large topic in and of itself. Very briefly: depends on who is massing troops, how many troops, and why they are massing. If they pose a real, credible, and growing invasion threat and you have the option of taking them out before they attack, then of course that is the correct course of action. Otherwise, it may be much wiser to let them be.

"What about preserving our access to space – would we be limited to geosynchronous orbit?"

Who is limiting anybody's access to space?

"A strategic defense predicated on protecting national borders strikes me as more suited to the limitations of nineteenth century technology"

You'd think. But that fact is, there has to be a reason for one country to invade another, and that reason usually involves holding it and subjugating the populace. If said populace is well armed and pissed off, this becomes an impossible task.

"Would you have us defend our international trade routes? "

Since when do countries have trade routes? If specific companies are having trouble moving their goods via particular routes then they either need to invest in better security or choose different routes. Why should the taxpayer have to foot the bill for their protection?

"How would you have had us address, say, Nazi Germany and their open plans to conquer the world?"

Are you kidding me? You think Iraq is too broad a topic and you bring up WW2? I don't have nearly enough knowledge to write the book required to answer that question.

"Don’t get me wrong – I’m not asking for an essay response, but any light you could shed on these questions would be illuminating."

I hope this has been sufficiently illuminating :).

Mr.Hengist said...

[Part 1 (Google: “If you’re a man of many words, maybe Blogger’s not for you”)]
Mr.H> "[...] and a robust, advanced military is necessary to keep our country safe."
Mike> From whom? Are the Canadians coming down to force you to eat maple syrup and watch hockey? Regardless of the answer, the second ammendment, if properly enforced, should provide most of the protection required by pretty much any country. A supplementary standing army is a nice thing to have in case of sudden attack, but that's about it.

I worry mostly about China and North Korea, in terms of their military aggressiveness, capabilities, and national ambitions. I worry about other states and their regional ambitions, like Iran and Venezuela, but I’m not so much concerned about the direct threat of military confrontation with them as I am with their regional ambitions, and I think this is where we clearly differ greatly. Iran would very much like to be a hegemonic power in the Middle East; Venezuela has similar ambitions in South America. Iran’s hegemony over the MI would be a direct threat to our economy, and Venezuela’s hegemony over SA would be a threat by virtue of proximity to the U.S.

A well-armed American citizenry supplemented by a standing army would provide no protection against an Iran which cuts off a large portion of our energy imports or a Venezuela which hosts our more powerful enemies/rivals like Russia, China, or non-state actors like Hamas.

I don’t think that allowing corporations to protect their trade routes in a comprehensive way is workable. Fundamentally, this would be tantamount to allowing them to assume a military role without the accountability of a state. Would we have corporate frigates protecting ships from pirates and navies, or corporate armies defending their extra-national ground assets? Or not, and simply have them either find another route or give up altogether? This sounds tantamount to boxing ourselves to our national borders and submissively allowing other nations to economically starve us, not to mention our allies.

Aggressive, expansionist tyrannies will not be kept in check by nations which keep to themselves as they are picked off, one by one, or piece by piece (ask Georgia). Further, I think the umbrella of protection the U.S. provides to our allies creates the illusion of self-sufficient safety; Taiwan would surely be violently conquered by China if it were not for the protection we provide.

Mr.H> "However, I’m most perplexed by your inclusion of Afghanistan; the Taliban hosted and protected Al Qaeda,[...]"
Mike> Well, they certainly hosted them. They didn't so much protect (or rather try to protect) Al Qaeda as their own sovereignty.
Mr.H> "[...] which not only posed a threat, but also carried out an attack"
Mike> A group of whackos which happened to be in Afghanistan amongst somewhat similar whackos probably planned a criminal attack wihin the US (said criminal attack, BTW, was carried out by Saudi's, not Afghanis or anyone with any ties to the Taliban). In response, rather than treat them like the deranged criminal nut jobs that they are, the US administration elevated them to the status of holy warriors. It's been downhill ever since.

What would treating them like deranged, criminal nut jobs look like? I’m picturing our resurrecting Elliot Ness, handing him a tommy gun and a badge, then sending him off to Afghanistan to serve a warrant on ObL. How would a law enforcement approach effectively kill or capture a terrorist group well-stocked with military small arms? How should we have punished Afghanistan for hosting them?

Mr.H> "What about preserving our access to space – would we be limited to geosynchronous orbit?"
Mike> Who is limiting anybody's access to space?

I was just trying explore the boundaries of the national boarders defense. As a related aside, China has an active ASAT program, whereas Russia’s ASAT program under the Soviet Union, while successful, appears inactive.

Mr.Hengist said...

[Part 2 (Google: “You talk too much”)]
Mr.H> "A strategic defense predicated on protecting national borders strikes me as more suited to the limitations of nineteenth century technology […]"
Mike> You'd think. But that fact is, there has to be a reason for one country to invade another, and that reason usually involves holding it and subjugating the populace. If said populace is well armed and pissed off, this becomes an impossible task.

Oh, I wasn’t even thinking about invasion per se. I had in mind the threat of ICBMs with nuclear or biological warheads, naval blockade, or just flying airplanes into our buildings, to give some examples. The reasons for doing so range from economic rivalry to religious fanaticism, neither of which necessitates the subjugation of the opposing populace. Killing us would work nicely, too.

Mr.H> "How would you have had us address, say, Nazi Germany and their open plans to conquer the world?"
Mike> Are you kidding me? You think Iraq is too broad a topic and you bring up WW2? I don't have nearly enough knowledge to write the book required to answer that question.

Point well-taken, especially considering the limitations of replies on Blogger. Y’know, when Google ate Blogger I’d hoped they would make it a lot better, but instead they’ve let it languish. Pity. At any rate, on reflection the question is exceedingly broad; again, I was just trying to get a sense of your politics.

Mike said...

[stuff about Blogger]

Well, I will reiterate once again my recommendation that you guys move this thing off of Blogger, this time perhaps more emphatically since technology has moved forward and Blogger has not. There are so many excellent platforms out there and you really seem to have selected the worst of breed. Off the top of my head, Wordpress would work great and I think it will even import your existing posts and comments. There are probably better choices out there now, but I have no doubt you will both be very pleased with Wordpress when compared to Blogger.

Imagine, for a minute, reading this post and it's accompanying comments for the first time. Would you ever read past the second comment? Personally, as interesting as the exchanges are, I am pretty sure I'd be lost long before realizing that.

MH> Iran would very much like to be a hegemonic power in the Middle East; Venezuela has similar ambitions in South America.

And I would very much like a daily blow job from Angelina Jolie. If I'm not mistaken, Noocyte has similar ambitions with Juliana Margolese. Unfortunately, we are both in the same boat as Iran and Venezuela. Fortunately, unlike these countries' leaders, we are not stupid enough to inflict the damage upon our bodies that pursuing such ambitions would invitably involve.

MH> Iran’s hegemony over the MI would be a direct threat to our economy,

Your *current* economy, which is all smoke and mirrors and rapidly circling the drain anyway. It would definitely force a change, and any change of that magnitude would hurt in the short term, but in the longer term (and much faster than you'd think), it would be the biggest gift your economy could get.

MH> and Venezuela’s hegemony over SA would be a threat by virtue of proximity to the U.S.

Laughable as that possibility is, that threat would once again be well addressed simply by a well armed populace and a small standing army (preferably with nukes and ICBM's, more on which below).

MH>A well-armed American citizenry supplemented by a standing army would provide no protection against an Iran which cuts off a large portion of our energy imports

True enough, which only means that your entire energy infrastructure is unsustainable and needs to be replaced with forthwith.

MH>Would we have corporate frigates protecting ships from pirates and navies, or corporate armies defending their extra-national ground assets?

Good question. Honestly, I'm not sure how it would play out but that is certainly a possibility and I don't see any problem with it.

MH>Or not, and simply have them either find another route or give up altogether?

Another possibility. I imagine there would be some kind of combination of the the two. Many routes would simply prove too dangerous and therefore too expensive. Many others would just require an armed escort part way, etc. All told, security becomes part of the cost equation where shipping is concerned. What that actually leads to is anybody's guess, but the costs lie where they belong.

MH>This sounds tantamount to boxing ourselves to our national borders and submissively allowing other nations to economically starve us, not to mention our allies.

You're still in a cold war mentality. At this point, your "enemies" are manufactured. Most would prefer to be trading partners and paradoxically many already are. A sincere change in foreign policy, accompanied by the domestic policy required to make it work, would soon render the few that pose a plausible threat not only harmless, but quite beneficial.

Mike said...

Part 2 (thanks, 4096 character limit, Vic20-like bitches! Further, your mother was written in Cobol)


Mike> A group of whackos which happened to be in Afghanistan amongst somewhat similar whackos probably planned a criminal attack wihin the US (said criminal attack, BTW, was carried out by Saudi's, not Afghanis or anyone with any ties to the Taliban). In response, rather than treat them like the deranged criminal nut jobs that they are, the US administration elevated them to the status of holy warriors. It's been downhill ever since.

MH> What would treating them like deranged, criminal nut jobs look like?

Well, first off, diplomatic efforts to get Bin Laden extradited were a joke. I'm not really sure how well they would have gone had a sincere effort been made, but for the sake of this discussion, I'm willing to assume they would have yielded nothing. In that case, an operation similar to Israel's "Wrath of God" in 1972 would have been appropriate. Obviously, the circumstances were very different and thus the shape of the operation would have had to be different. But my point is that the scope was much more appropriate - a small tactical operation rather than a full blown, 9-years-and-counting occupation.

MH>How should we have punished Afghanistan for hosting them?

First, the actions actually taken have not punished the Taliban but made them stronger. The only people punished are the civilians caught in the crossfire. Second, why would they need to be punished?

Mike> Who is limiting anybody's access to space?

MH>I was just trying explore the boundaries of the national boarders defense.

Oh, I see. Well, the answer once again is that governments have no place in space (except where the possibility of space based weapons exists, but we're not quite there yet). Space exploration is for private enterprises that can reap a profit from it. The more governments interfere, the more difficult it is to make that profit.

MH> Oh, I wasn’t even thinking about invasion per se. I had in mind the threat of ICBMs with nuclear or biological warheads,

Well, nukes and ICBM's are definitely nice to have around as a deterrent and should be part of the standing army I mentioned earlier. Mutually assured destruction(TM) turns out to be a pretty good thing at this stage in history. Hopefully it won't be needed for long.

> naval blockade,

Last I checked it was 2010, not 1810. See comment above about MAD.

> or just flying airplanes into our buildings.

Once again, that's for the police, not the military.

> The reasons for doing so range from economic rivalry to religious fanaticism

Economic rivalry can easily be turned into trade partnership. And religious fanatics can't attain a level of technology necessary to do any damage without a lot of help from the secular world.

Mike said...

And, Part 3 (Your sister runs Multics):

MH> again, I was just trying to get a sense of your politics.

Oy vey! All this from a post about the media tactics of the US left :D (BTW I continue to contend that the right is no better in this regard, but it's really an insignificant issue compared with what this has turned into).

Really q&d summary of my politics: It seems to me that the world is on the brink of another major transition in terms of political structure. It is my hope that the city-states return, replacing today's nation states and offering a substantial portion of the populace a choice of jurisdictions in which to live and ply their trades. I feel that such a structure would (and hopefully will) foster a golden age of human technological advancement and the improved standards of living that come with it.

As such, I am opposed to anything that stengthens the nation state (which, BTW, along with my gold investments, is why I'm loving US fiscal policy these days) and behind almost anything that distributes power within a geographical region.

You and Noocyte focus on the minutia of what I view as the last gasps of the current order. No doubt these minutia are fascinating, but at the same time they are extremely depressing, I suspect I'd go postal if they were my focus. Instead, I tend to focus on bigger picture, longer term stuff which, I have to say, is a lot more heartening. And, much as you were trying to guage my politics with the WW2 question, I was trying to guage yours with my initial questions.

Mr.Hengist said...

[Part 1: Google – “We’d let you write more, but then you would…”]

Mr.H> Iran would very much like to be a hegemonic power in the Middle East; Venezuela has similar ambitions in South America.
Mike> And I would very much like a daily blow job from Angelina Jolie. If I'm not mistaken, Noocyte has similar ambitions with Juliana Margolese. Unfortunately, we are both in the same boat as Iran and Venezuela.

When Iran gets the bomb it will be likely they will attempt to use it to achieve this goal. Venezuela has been acquiring tanks, attack helicopters, small-arms and small-arms manufacturing capabilities from Russia to achieve their goal; they’ve also expressed an interest in nuclear technology. Rather than being far-fetched, these are probable outcomes made virtually certain absent opposition.

Mr.H> Iran’s hegemony over the MI would be a direct threat to our economy,
Mike> Your *current* economy, which is all smoke and mirrors and rapidly circling the drain anyway. It would definitely force a change, and any change of that magnitude would hurt in the short term, but in the longer term (and much faster than you'd think), it would be the biggest gift your economy could get.

We’re not so far apart on this. For one thing, I’d like for the world to get away from using petrochemicals for fuel. We disagree on how long that would take and how painful it would be.

Mr.H> How should we have punished Afghanistan for hosting them?
Mike> First, the actions actually taken have not punished the Taliban but made them stronger.

I’m utterly flummoxed by this statement.

Mike> Second, why would they need to be punished?

The Taliban needed to be punished for providing sanctuary to Al Queda. It also serves the security interests of the U.S. to forcefully change the government which provided sanctuary to Al Queda in order to prevent them from doing something similar in the future and as an object lesson to the rest of the world.

Mike> Well, nukes and ICBM's are definitely nice to have around as a deterrent and should be part of the standing army I mentioned earlier. Mutually assured destruction(TM) turns out to be a pretty good thing at this stage in history.

OK, that’s the clarification for which I was looking. I was giving examples of external threats which arrive suddenly, anywhere. Having a small standing army means not having much forward military projection, but apparently your solutions are to have small scale covert or deployed military operations, or to use nukes.

As an aside, MAD is an effective threat only when your opponent isn’t afraid to die. There’s some debate as to whether the ruling class of Iran is willing to pay that price to, say, bring back the 12th Imam.

[Re: threat to U.S. of naval blockade]
Mike> Last I checked it was 2010, not 1810. See comment above about MAD.

I’m not quite following you. Some 90% of worldwide bulk shipping is done by containerized shipping; a naval blockade beyond our national borders would be disastrous. So when you refer to MAD, are you suggesting that under those circumstances we should nuke the blockade and/or the aggressor country? (and here I was calling myself a hawk…)

[Re: threat to U.S. of enemies flying airplanes into our buildings.]
Mike> Once again, that's for the police, not the military.



I actually think you addressed the answer when you suggested an Israeli-style 1972 “Wrath of God” operation in response to this threat. That operation was largely successful AFAIK but did not achieve the strategic aim of discouraging others from similar attacks, whereas building a big, long wall seems to have done wonders. I’ll chalk that up as bolstering your argument in favor of strengthening national borders, insofar as it goes.

Mr.Hengist said...

[Part 2: Google – “The Perfect Blog for Bite-Sized Comments”]

Mike> […] religious fanatics can't attain a level of technology necessary to do any damage without a lot of help from the secular world.

I think your use of the word “help” here is incorrect. The secular world did not “help” Al Queda to carry out 9/11, despite their having gotten their flight training and airplane/missiles. To use “help” here implies culpability, as in, “They were able to carry out 9/11 because we helped them” and that’s not the case.

Mike> Really q&d summary of my politics […]

Well, thanks for your exposition on your worldview and politics. We have more in common than I had suspected.

Mike> Well, I will reiterate once again my recommendation that you guys move this thing off of Blogger […]

I should point out that this is Noocyte’s blog, not mine (hence the name; I would have named it “Chicken or Feathers”); I only work on Noocyte’s farm (HEY, NOOCYTE: Still waiting for my share of the Amazon kickbacks…).

Mike> Imagine, for a minute, reading this post and it's accompanying comments for the first time. Would you ever read past

TL;DR :)

Mike said...

Part 1 (Google: we pioneered irritating arbitrary character limits years before Twitter):


MH> When Iran gets the bomb it will be likely they will attempt to use it to achieve this goal [achieving regional hegemony].

How? Who will they nuke?

MH> Venezuela has been acquiring tanks, attack helicopters, small-arms and small-arms manufacturing capabilities from Russia to achieve their goal

Please take a look at a map of South America. Notice any large countries to the South of Venezuela, with, say, 7% annual GDP growth and a population of around 200 million (to Venezuela's 27 million) that may have some different ideas on who the regional power is?

MH> they’ve also expressed an interest in nuclear technology.

So have I. Let me know if they start building anything, and I'll let you know if I do (though probably in a less public venue) :).

MH>[re: effect of Iranian hegemony in the middle East] We’re not so far apart on this. For one thing, I’d like for the world to get away from using petrochemicals for fuel. We disagree on how long that would take and how painful it would be.

Well, it's a topic of constant research for me. I can tell you with a great deal of confidence that even had it been approached as a communist style social works program right after 9/11, it would be just about done by now and would have been significantly cheaper than the ongoing occupations.

Mike> First, the actions actually taken have not punished the Taliban but made them stronger.

MH>I’m utterly flummoxed by this statement.

My apologies for the flumoxing :). Perhaps I didn't express my position properly: Granted, many in their ranks have been killed, but it seems that their ranks are now greater than before the invasion (though admittedly it's very difficult to count; sometimes they just pop out of nowhere). They've clearly lost control over parts of Afghanistan, but seem to have gained some territory in Pakistan. Further, their brand has been strengthened substantially and their ability to recruit appears endless. After the US leaves with it's tail between it's legs like all previous "conquerors" have, the Taliban will gain full control of that country within a year (something they lacked at the time of the invasion).

MH>The Taliban needed to be punished for providing sanctuary to Al Queda.

The Taliban provided sanctuary to a bunch of ***** *******s, funded by ***** ****** who then flew planes into buildings in the US. Clearly, the Taliban must be punished, while the US continues to nuzzle the bunghole of ***** ******.

***** ****** is, of course, a country whose name cannot actually be written in this context due to its sensitive relationship with the US. But it rhymes with "Gaudi a labia".

MH> It also serves the security interests of the U.S. to forcefully change the government which provided sanctuary to Al Queda in order to prevent them from doing something similar in the future and as an object lesson to the rest of the world.

Yeah, it's working out great for you. Nobody would dare try another terrorist attack in the US now...

MH>Having a small standing army means not having much forward military projection, but apparently your solutions are to have small scale covert or deployed military operations, or to use nukes.

Not to *use* nukes, but to have them as a deterrent. That's the great thing about nukes: you may have some very tense moments, but you never really end up having to use them (Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on which once again I reserve judgment, being a unique situation).

Mike said...

Part 2 (Google: 4096 characters ought to be enough for anybody. Hey, it worked for Bill Gates.):

MH>As an aside, MAD is an effective threat only when your opponent isn’t afraid to die. There’s some debate as to whether the ruling class of Iran is willing to pay that price to, say, bring back the 12th Imam.

I really doubt it. Like the vast majority of religious leaders, they're full of shit and extremely rich. When push comes to shove they are highly unlikely to give up their incredibly cushy lifestyles.

Mike> Last I checked it was 2010, not 1810. See comment above about MAD.

MH>I’m not quite following you. Some 90% of worldwide bulk shipping is done by containerized shipping; a naval blockade beyond our national borders would be disastrous.

And also impossible. Have you seen the size of the US coasts? There are two of them, you know, and each by itself is far too large to blockade effectively. And perhaps more importantly:

MH>So when you refer to MAD, are you suggesting that under those circumstances we should nuke the blockade and/or the aggressor country? (and here I was calling myself a hawk…)

No, I'm saying that MAD is an effective detterent to a blockade or any other large scale aggression.

[Re: threat to U.S. of enemies flying airplanes into our buildings.]
Mike> Once again, that's for the police, not the military.

MH>I actually think you addressed the answer when you suggested an Israeli-style 1972 “Wrath of God” operation in response to this threat.

Not exactly. What I'm getting at is that the prevention of terrorist acts is a police matter (and an intelligence matter) rather than a military matter. I mentioned "Wrath of God" as a scale-appropriate response for when such prevention fails.

MH>That operation was largely successful AFAIK but did not achieve the strategic aim of discouraging others from similar attacks,

Moreso than the invasions undertaken by the US, and several orders of magnitude cheaper.

MH> whereas building a big, long wall seems to have done wonders. I’ll chalk that up as bolstering your argument in favor of strengthening national borders, insofar as it goes.

Good fences make for good neighbors :D. Of course that situation is very different from what the US faces, so it doesn't really apply.

Mike> […] religious fanatics can't attain a level of technology necessary to do any damage without a lot of help from the secular world.

MH> I think your use of the word “help” here is incorrect. The secular world did not “help” Al Queda to carry out 9/11, despite their having gotten their flight training and airplane/missiles.

That's exactly the sense in which I was using the word "help." They simply can't do it themselves. The only reason they have access to anything resembling modern technology is that the Western world gives them money for oil and then sells them technology for the money.

MH>To use “help” here implies culpability, as in, “They were able to carry out 9/11 because we helped them” and that’s not the case.

That was not my intention. Culpability in these matters is extremely complex. The point I was trying to make is that leaving these folks alone and ignoring them is a realistic option in that, left to themselves, they will never develop the technology necessary to pose a real threat.

MH>Well, thanks for your exposition on your worldview and politics. We have more in common than I had suspected.

My pleasuree, and glad to hear it :). Although I'm tad surprised. Nothing I've read in your recent writings has led me to believe that you held any anti-state sympathies.

Mr.Hengist said...

[Part 1: Google – “10MB email storage vs. 4KB comment limits: we don’t see a problem”]

Mr.H> When Iran gets the bomb it will be likely they will attempt to use it to achieve this goal [achieving regional hegemony].
Mike> How? Who will they nuke?

How? By virtue of their having nukes and the belief of their neighbors that they’re willing to use them, they could and probably will bully them into submission. It looks a lot like what China is doing in the South China Sea; there’s an interesting article in the WaPo today, “U.S. takes a tougher tone with China” (2010-07-30) which shows how it begins. China has claimed sovereignty over the South China Sea; they’ve warned foreign oil companies not to explore there. Fishing vessels are reportedly harassed and their crews arrested. Unchecked, they make it impossible or dangerous for foreign vessels to even transit, much less conduct resource exploitation. Now imagine Iran following that model in the Persian Gulf.

As for who they’ll nuke? We both know the answer to that: Israel. I would certainly consider America to be threatened as well. I think that rather than use a ballistic missile (now being developed) they’d sneak it in by land or sea using a proxy like Hezbollah and deny responsibility.

Mr.H> Venezuela has been acquiring tanks, attack helicopters, small-arms and small-arms manufacturing capabilities from Russia to achieve their goal […]
Mike> Please take a look at a map of South America. Notice any large countries to the South of Venezuela, with, say, 7% annual GDP growth and a population of around 200 million (to Venezuela's 27 million) that may have some different ideas on who the regional power is?

In the mid-twentieth century they asked similar questions: How could poor, beaten-up Germany conquer Europe? How could little backwards Imperial Japan dominate SE Asia? Neither achieved their goals completely, or for long, but they came close. Of course, Venezuela would be in a much better position to bully Brazil if they could turn some of their near-peer neighbors like Columbia into vassal states. They’ve been working on that for a while.

Mr.H> they’ve also expressed an interest in nuclear technology.
Mike> So have I. Let me know if they start building anything, and I'll let you know if I do (though probably in a less public venue) :).

Venezuela has partnered with Iran and Russia, two nuclear rogue states; in ten or twenty years they could have a domestically produced nuke, sure.

Look, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but here’s the sense of what I’m getting in our back-and-forth, and I’ll use “they” as a stand-in for a rival/enemy country: They don’t have the bomb now, and never will (cf Venezuela). If they get the bomb, they won’t use it (cf Iran). If they use it against others, we shouldn’t care because the rest of the world can go march itself to hell it wants to. Is that about the shape of it?

Mr.H> […] I’d like for the world to get away from using petrochemicals for fuel. We disagree on how long that would take and how painful it would be.
Mike> Well, it's a topic of constant research for me. I can tell you with a great deal of confidence that even had it been approached as a communist style social works program right after 9/11, it would be just about done by now and would have been significantly cheaper than the ongoing occupations.

I don’t believe the technology is there yet, and if it were, we could and should let the market implement it. At any rate, wouldn’t a communist-style social works program be at odds with your own small-government philosophy?

Mr.Hengist said...

[Part 2: Google – “We envy the brevity of Facebook”]

[Re: Taliban are stronger post 9/11]
Mike> Granted, many in their ranks have been killed, but it seems that their ranks
are now greater than before the invasion (though admittedly it's very difficult to count; sometimes they just pop out of nowhere).

That’s not my impression.

Mike> They've clearly lost control over parts of Afghanistan, but seem to have gained some territory in Pakistan.

They’ve lost most of what they controlled in Afghanistan uncontested prior to 9/11, and much of what they now control in Afghanistan is contested. What they control in Pakistan is greater than what they controlled prior to 9/11, but all of it is contested. I don’t see they’re being, overall, better off.

Mike> Further, their brand has been strengthened substantially and their ability to recruit appears endless.

Again, that’s questionable. They had lousy branding within and outside their borders prior to 9/11, and I don’t think that’s changed. Their numbers in terms of recruiting are difficult to distinguish from the people who are pressed or paid into service.

Mike> After the US leaves with it's tail between it's legs like all previous "conquerors" have, the Taliban will gain full control of that country within a year (something they lacked at the time of the invasion).

That’s part of an excellent argument for never letting that happen.

Mr.H> The Taliban needed to be punished for providing sanctuary to Al Queda.
Mike> The Taliban provided sanctuary to a bunch of [Saudi Arabians], funded by [Saudi Arabia] who then flew planes into buildings in the US.

Correction: Saudi Arabian citizens, mostly, who made up the majority of the 9/11 hijackers and provided most of the funding. Not Saudi Arabia. Al Queda loathes the ruling family of Saud with the heat of a thousand suns. The Sauds, for their part, would like to export their problem elsewhere – anywhere elsewhere.

At any rate, I stand by my statement.

Mr.H> It also serves the security interests of the U.S. to forcefully change the government which provided sanctuary to Al Queda in order to prevent them from doing something similar in the future and as an object lesson to the rest of the world.
Mike> Yeah, it's working out great for you. Nobody would dare try another terrorist attack in the US now...

By your metric of success your preferred and endorsed model of reprisal for 9/11, the Israeli 1972 “Wrath of God” operation, had an even worse result for Israel.

Mr.H> Having a small standing army means not having much forward military projection, but apparently your solutions are to have small scale covert or deployed military operations, or to use nukes.
Mike> Not to *use* nukes, but to have them as a deterrent. That's the great thing about nukes: you may have some very tense moments, but you never really end up having to use them […]

If you’re not willing to use your nukes then that makes them about as threatening as a shadowpuppet. That leaves your forward projection limited to a small army, which is not much use if you need to, say, knock off Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. If you’re not willing to overthrow the Taliban then they’ll go on hosting enemy non-state actors like, and including, Al Queda. Al Queda will then continue to throw your planes at your buildings, despite an American version of the “Wrath of God” operation.

Forward projection is necessary to remove threats that have historically been easy to ignore, prior to the globalization provided by technology. Fifty years ago groups like Al Queda could sit and stew about the hated infidels in America all they liked, and we didn’t need to go after them because there wasn’t much they were able to do convert their desires into action. Globalization has changed that; America is not hard to get to, as we’ve seen.

Mr.Hengist said...

[Part 3: Google – “Try using smaller words”]

Mr.H> As an aside, MAD is an effective threat only when your opponent isn’t afraid to die.
[D’oh! … of course, what I meant was that MAD is an effective threat when your opponent >IS< afraid to die]
Mr.H> There’s some debate as to whether the ruling class of Iran is willing to pay that price to, say, bring back the 12th Imam.
Mike> I really doubt it. Like the vast majority of religious leaders, they're full of shit and extremely rich. When push comes to shove they are highly unlikely to give up their incredibly cushy lifestyles.

It was never a question when we used it to keep the Soviet Union in check. It is now with the various factions controlling Iran. That’s enough to make me want to stop them from getting the bomb.

[Re: the threat of naval blockade]
Mike> Last I checked it was 2010, not 1810. See comment above about MAD.
Mr.H> I’m not quite following you. Some 90% of worldwide bulk shipping is done by containerized shipping; a naval blockade beyond our national borders would be disastrous.
Mike> And also impossible. Have you seen the size of the US coasts? There are two of them, you know, and each by itself is far too large to blockade effectively.

I count two large coasts, Alaska, and Hawaii. Hawaii would be easy to isolate and conquer. Alaska much less so, and the East and West coasts of our mainland would be difficult. Impossible? Hardly. Bear in mind that the size of the coasts are less relevant than the ports. Ports are easy to blockade, especially when all you’ve got is a small navy to defend them. Here I’m assuming that we’d have a small navy in addition to a small army; otherwise, China already has sufficient blue water naval power to blockade us today.

Mike> […] religious fanatics can't attain a level of technology necessary to do any damage without a lot of help from the secular world.
Mr.H> I think your use of the word “help” here is incorrect. The secular world did not “help” Al Queda to carry out 9/11, despite their having gotten their flight training and airplane/missiles.
Mike> That's exactly the sense in which I was using the word "help." They simply can't do it themselves. The only reason they have access to anything resembling modern technology is that the Western world gives them money for oil and then sells them technology for the money.
Mike> The point I was trying to make is that leaving these folks alone and ignoring them is a realistic option in that, left to themselves, they will never develop the technology necessary to pose a real threat.

The asymmetric nature of the 9/11 attack effectively refutes your assertion. 9/11 was carried out with a fairly paltry sum of money. Of course they can’t “do it themselves” – they couldn’t make a ballpoint pen – but they’re easily and cheaply attainable, just as the perquisites to the 9/11 attack were. The fact that their capabilities are not homegrown is utterly irrelevant.

Mr.H> We have more in common than I had suspected.
Mike> My pleasuree, and glad to hear it :). Although I'm tad surprised. Nothing I've read in your recent writings has led me to believe that you held any anti-state sympathies.

Um, all I meant was that we have somewhat similar opinions on the Left and fiat currency. We also have some common ground in our opinions about the state of the U.S. economy and how large the Federal Government should be, but that wasn’t a surprise. I would not characterize my sympathies as “anti-state.”

Mike said...

Part 1 (Google: we simply can't manage more than 12 bits):


[re: iran nukes leading to regional hegemony]

MH>How? By virtue of their having nukes and the belief of their neighbors that they’re willing to use them, they could and probably will bully them into submission. It looks a lot like what China is doing in the South China Sea; there’s an interesting article in the WaPo today, “U.S. takes a tougher tone with China” (2010-07-30) which shows how it begins. China has claimed sovereignty over the South China Sea; they’ve warned foreign oil companies not to explore there. Fishing vessels are reportedly harassed and their crews arrested. Unchecked, they make it impossible or dangerous for foreign vessels to even transit, much less conduct resource exploitation. Now imagine Iran following that model in the Persian Gulf.

Interesting. I guess it could happen. Here's hoping, as that would be the death knell for oil as a primary source of energy in the developed world.

MH>As for who they’ll nuke? We both know the answer to that: Israel. I would certainly consider America to be threatened as well. I think that rather than use a ballistic missile (now being developed) they’d sneak it in by land or sea using a proxy like Hezbollah and deny responsibility.

Yeah, my point was not about who they want to nuke, but rather who they would nuke to achieve regional hegemony, which you've addressed. As for the possibility you brought up above, yes, a nuclear armed Iran will be yet another intelligence nightmare for both Israel and the US.

[Venezula's regional ambitions]
MH>In the mid-twentieth century they asked similar questions: How could poor, beaten-up Germany conquer Europe?

Really? You're comparing Venezuela to Germany and Chavez to Hitler? You really think it is within the realm of possibility that Venezuela will attain the kind of industrial might Germany has enjoyed for centuries? Really???

MH>How could little backwards Imperial Japan dominate SE Asia?

OK, this I can confidently say is patently false. Japan had been flexing their muscles in the region for decades with great success.

MH>Of course, Venezuela would be in a much better position to bully Brazil if they could turn some of their near-peer neighbors like Columbia into vassal states. They’ve been working on that for a while.

Chavez and Uribe have enjoyed waving their penises at each other on numerous occasions. I'm sure the new guy in Colombia will enjoy the game as well. However, even in the event that Chavez manages to swallow Colombia (with over 1.5 times Venezuala's population) AND Ecuador, the total population of his empire would be around 85 million, with a fraction of Brazil's industrial output. There is one relevant power in South America and it is Brazil.

MH>Venezuela has partnered with Iran and Russia, two nuclear rogue states; in ten or twenty years they could have a domestically produced nuke, sure.

Perhaps 10 or 20 years after they start. I'm not sure what the world will look like by that point, but at least at the late end of the range, I'm pretty confident it will bear little resemblence to today's world.

Mike said...

Part 2 (Google: when you can't see the little whatchamahoosit on your scroll bar, just stop your conversation):


MH>Look, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but here’s the sense of what I’m getting in our back-and-forth, and I’ll use “they” as a stand-in for a rival/enemy country:

Obviously, I wouldn't phrase it the way you did, but honestly it's not terribly far off. Let's try this:

MH> They don’t have the bomb now, and never will (cf Venezuela).

Don't fix a problem until it becomes a problem, or you may create the exact problem you were trying to fix. Rattling your sabre at a petty dictator (or even a petty democratically elected megalomaniac) is very likely to drive him to seek nukes.

MH> If they get the bomb, they won’t use it (cf Iran).

If they get the bomb, they join the club. Some pretty whacky governments have had nukes for a long time and only the US has actually used them (once again, judgement reserved on that particular use). I'm really not crazy about nuclear proliferation as it may increase the odds that at some point nukes will be used again. However, there doesn't seem to be much that can be done about it.

MH> If they use it against others, we shouldn’t care

Well, far be it from me to tell anyone whether or not to care, but I sure as hell will.

MH> because the rest of the world can go march itself to hell it wants to.

The two are not related. The world can, indeed, go march itself into hell if it wants to. And there is not a thing any of us can do about it, whether or not we care.

[Re: replacing Oil as an alternative to engaging the mid East milatarily]

MH> I don’t believe the technology is there yet,

Belief has absolutely no place here. The numbers very much speak for themselves and the tech is very much there. The only reason it has not yet taken hold is that the price of oil is grossly distorted to the downside by the taxpayer-funded military ops in the middle East.

MH>And if it were, we could and should let the market implement it.

Keep dreaming. I'm right there with you.

MH>At any rate, wouldn’t a communist-style social works program be at odds with your own small-government philosophy?

In much the same way that a bacon and whiskey breakfast during Ramadan with a naked and menstruating Jenna Jameson would be at odds with Wahabbi Islam. My point was that, *even* if it were approached as a communist-style social works program (the least efficient way I could think of off the top of my head), it would have been done by now and significantly cheaper than the occupations. Had the free market been allowed a go at it absent the pricing distortions, I don't even want to guess how fast it would have happened and the cost would, of course be 0.

Mike said...

Part 3 (Jeez, I'm running out of these...):


[re: Taliban post US invasion]
MH>I don’t see they’re being, overall, better off.

Well, ok. You follow this stuff much more closely than I do, so I'll defer to your judgement here. It is entirely possible that they've suffered more than I realize.

Question, though: compare Taliban 2001 vs Talivan 2010 to US 2001 vs US 2010. Does it really seem to you that the Taliban have suffered more than the US?

Mike> After the US leaves with it's tail between it's legs like all previous "conquerors" have, the Taliban will gain full control of that country within a year (something they lacked at the time of the invasion).

MH>That’s part of an excellent argument for never letting that happen.

Good luck with that. As someone who has bet the majority of his net worth on the US accelerating its decline, I am kind of glad to read that kind of thinking from someone who actually votes over there. I know it sounds snide, but It's essentially true. I've hedged a bit, but most of my money is where my mouth is: gold in Swiss vaults based on the assertion that the US will continue to expand its military operations thus debasing its currency. It's worked really well over the last 10 years or so, though I've only benefitted from it for the last 7 or so.

Mr.H> The Taliban needed to be punished for providing sanctuary to Al Queda.
Mike> The Taliban provided sanctuary to a bunch of [Saudi Arabians]

Oh no! You wrote out the name that must not be written in this context... in this context! If you end up in Gitmo, I promise to make a comical rescue attempt.

MH> Correction: Saudi Arabian citizens, mostly, who made up the majority of the 9/11 hijackers and provided most of the funding. Not Saudi Arabia. Al Queda loathes the ruling family of Saud with the heat of a thousand suns. The Sauds, for their part, would like to export their problem elsewhere – anywhere elsewhere.

Indeed, which is why it was an entirely different country whose name was redacted from the 9/11 commission report, which just happens also to rhyme with "Rowdya shmabia."

MH>By your metric of success your preferred and endorsed model of reprisal for 9/11, the Israeli 1972 “Wrath of God” operation, had an even worse result for Israel.

Really? Last time I looked at Israel's numbers, I don't remember seeing a (2,000,000,000,000 and counting) in red on their balance sheet.

MH>If you’re not willing to use your nukes then that makes them about as threatening as a shadowpuppet.

OK, admittedly, this is a game theory nightmare of the first order. However, it (very roughly) works something like this: Assuming you have nukes and are willing to willing to use them under properly defined circumstances, those circumstances are highly likely ever to occur.

MH>That leaves your forward projection limited to a small army

It continues to be my contention that forward projection should never be necessary.

Mike said...

Part 4 (OK, I'm dry for now):

MH>which is not much use if you need to, say, knock off Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. If you’re not willing to overthrow the Taliban then they’ll go on hosting enemy non-state actors like, and including, Al Queda. Al Queda will then continue to throw your planes at your buildings, despite an American version of the “Wrath of God” operation.

Aha! I think I've identified a major disconnect between our positions here. It seems to me that the subtext of what you are saying here is that terrorist organizations require or at least benefit greatly from state sponsors. OTOH, it is my position that whereas several terrorist organizations currently do have state sponsors, they neither require nor truly benefit from them. Terrorist attacks can be planned and financed anywhere, regardless of government approval.

MH>America is not hard to get to, as we’ve seen.

It's not hard to get to because it overreacts badly and consistently. On 9/11, when I got to work, I was the only person there with white skin. It was me, a few Pakistanis and Indians and one Nigerian. Not a single US or European born person showed up on my floor (out of around 150 that worked there). To those of us there, who'd grown up in the real world, this really, seriously sucked but there was still work to do. We did discuss what had happened at length and repeatedly. But we all got some code written that morning.

As I found out in the hours and days to come, to those who grew up in the US bubble, this event meant "drop everything and wait for somebody to tell us what to do."

[re: nukes]

MH>It was never a question when we used it to keep the Soviet Union in check. It is now with the various factions controlling Iran. That’s enough to make me want to stop them from getting the bomb.

I want to stop them from getting the bomb too. Unfortunately, there just isn't any effective way of accomplishing that. Better to prepare for a nuclear armed Iran than trying to wish it away or, worse, invading.

[re: naval blockade]

MH> Here I’m assuming that we’d have a small navy in addition to a small army; otherwise, China already has sufficient blue water naval power to blockade us today.

And there, my friend, is the beauty of free trade. Not only would China never blockade the US, they wouldn't allow anyone else to try. Trade freely and not only will no one *want* to blockade you, but even in the event that some nut job gets into a position to actually try it, he'll be confronted not only by you, but also by all your trade partners.

[re: tech and the islamic world]

MH> The asymmetric nature of the 9/11 attack effectively refutes your assertion. 9/11 was carried out with a fairly paltry sum of money. Of course they can’t “do it themselves” – they couldn’t make a ballpoint pen – but they’re easily and cheaply attainable, just as the perquisites to the 9/11 attack were. The fact that their capabilities are not homegrown is utterly irrelevant.

I think we're talking about different things here, which probably goes back to the disconnect I mentioned above. My assertion was about entire states (or even regions), not individual nut jobs. The latter will always be able to do damage. Even if the US is in full military control of the entire world, there will be people like Tim McVeigh and Bin Laden. In this regard, the best we can do is make it more difficult for them to carry out attacks and minimize the amount of damage they can do in any given attack.

Mr.Hengist said...

[Part 1:]
[Re: Iran’s ambition for ME hegemony facilitated by nukes]
Mike> Interesting. I guess it could happen. Here's hoping, as that would be the death knell for oil as a primary source of energy in the developed world.

It might at that, and if it plays out the way you hope (increased oil prices lead to alternatives cheap by comparison) then the economies of the developed world will suffer for it. In that respect it’s not something to hope for. We also agree that the transition would be very painful as petroleum-based machines are phased out and replaced with the alternative, also not something to look forward to.

Mike> […] a nuclear armed Iran will be yet another intelligence nightmare for both Israel and the US.

Oh, more than an intelligence nightmare like the others we face, it would be an existential threat to Israel. America could probably withstand a nuclear attack by Iran and annihilate them in return but the damage would be catastrophic. You seem to be downplaying what will happen when Iran gets the bomb.

[Re: Venezula's regional ambitions]
Really? You're comparing Venezuela to Germany and Chavez to Hitler? You really think it is within the realm of possibility that Venezuela will attain the kind of industrial might Germany has enjoyed for centuries? Really???

I’m suggesting this model as a scaled down version. Venezuela would not be facing industrialized Europe but South- and Central America. Unopposed, over time, Venezuela could very well achieve dominance regionally; I’m more concerned with the attempt than the probability of success; it makes more sense to contain Venezuela than to stand by and watch it happen, even if we believe the attempt will ultimately fail.

Mr.H> How could little backwards Imperial Japan dominate SE Asia?
Mike> OK, this I can confidently say is patently false. Japan had been flexing their muscles in the region for decades with great success.

Not to start an entirely new thread on pre-WWII Japanese militarism, but their actions were largely confined to Manchuria and were not entirely successful. Their ambitions were clear but Japan is tiny compared to SE Asia.


Mike> There is one relevant power in South America and it is Brazil.

Venezuela doesn’t need to conquer Brazil, just cow it into submissive appeasement. Venezuela becomes relevant when it tries to destabilize its neighbors, as it has with its support of FARC vs. Columbia. Recently, Venezuela has played host to Ahmadinejad and Putin and is suspected of working with Hezbollah. Their arms purchases from Russia include 50 helicopter gunships including 38 Mi-17’s, a battalion of T-72 tanks, and 100,000 AK-103’s. I’m guessing these are not strictly for parade use.

Mr.Hengist said...

[Part 2]
Mr.H, paraphrasing Mike> They don’t have the bomb now, and never will (cf Venezuela).
Mike> Don't fix a problem until it becomes a problem, or you may create the exact problem you were trying to fix. Rattling your sabre at a petty dictator (or even a petty democratically elected megalomaniac) is very likely to drive him to seek nukes.

Well, we disagree on two points here. First, I’d like to point out that although we haven’t rattled our saber at Venezuela they’re still interested in nukes. Iran (in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) and North Korea both covertly developed nukes despite the West not threatening them; I’d go so far as to say that both those countries go out of their way to pick fights with us, not the other way around.

The corollary to your statement is that if you allow bullying, expansionist thugs to push you around, you’ll get more of the same. By way of example, Iran has been a conduit for jihadists and insurgents to Iraq, and supplied them with arms, some of which are advanced. They could have sat out the Iraq war but they chose to get involved.

In the context of this discussion, if we do nothing as Iran gets the bomb, they’ll be emboldened to pursue hegemony over the ME, and their version of hegemony will look a lot different from the “ensuring safe passage” variety of the United States.

Mr.H, paraphrasing Mike> If they get the bomb, they won’t use it (cf Iran).
Mike> I'm really not crazy about nuclear proliferation as it may increase the odds that at some point nukes will be used again. However, there doesn't seem to be much that can be done about it.

Western nations have been extraordinarily judicious in their use of the bomb, up to and including nuking Japan. The idea that Iran will be a card-carrying member of the club with the same judiciousness is, to me, not serious.

Unfortunately, the only way to set their nuclear program back at this point is nothing less than a massive series of airstrikes since serious sanctions are both impossible to get from the China and Russia (and much of the rest of Europe, but those two in particular) and it’s too late for them to do any good even if we could get them. It’s not a preferable course of action but don’t tell me there isn’t anything that can be done about it.

Mike> The world can, indeed, go march itself into hell if it wants to. And there is not a thing any of us can do about it, whether or not we care.

On the contrary, when Iraq invaded Kuwait we surely did do something about it, and Kuwait is better off for it. We did something about Serbia in Kosovo, etc., etc. You don’t approve of it, OK, but don’t tell me there isn’t anything that can be done.


[Re: Replacing oil as an alternative to engaging the ME militarily]
Mr.H> I don’t believe the technology is there yet,
Mike> Belief has absolutely no place here. The numbers very much speak for themselves and the tech is very much there. The only reason it has not yet taken hold is that the price of oil is grossly distorted to the downside by the taxpayer-funded military ops in the middle East.

So you say, but I’d have to see those numbers to be able to address your argument. Nevertheless, I’d point out that the liberation of Afghanistan is completely unrelated to oil, and the liberation of Iraq was predicated on the perceived threat of WMDs, not to keep the oil flowing. Both of those wars were also fought with the explicit intent to liberate them from oppression.

Mr.Hengist said...

[Part 3]
Mike> Had the free market been allowed a go at it absent the pricing distortions, I don't even want to guess how fast it would have happened and the cost would, of course be 0.

The cost of switching our infrastructure away from oil is not 0.

Mike> […] compare Taliban 2001 vs Talivan 2010 to US 2001 vs US 2010. Does it really seem to you that the Taliban have suffered more than the US?

Yes. They used to control most of Afghanistan unopposed – no longer. Their casualties have been an order of magnitude greater than our own. We’ve had low casualties at a much higher monetary cost.

Mike> As someone who has bet the majority of his net worth on the US accelerating its decline, I am kind of glad to read that kind of thinking from someone who actually votes over there. I know it sounds snide, but It's essentially true.

Yes, that really does sound snide. Because it is.

Mike> I've hedged a bit, but most of my money is where my mouth is: gold in Swiss vaults based on the assertion that the US will continue to expand its military operations thus debasing its currency. It's worked really well over the last 10 years or so, though I've only benefitted from it for the last 7 or so.

I don’t begrudge you your investment choices or your profits. I just hope this country can get its financial house in order, but I’d still be sorry to see you lose your shirt. Reminding myself of your snideness would help me shake that off.

Mr.H> By your metric of success your preferred and endorsed model of reprisal for 9/11, the Israeli 1972 “Wrath of God” operation, had an even worse result for Israel.
Mike> Really? Last time I looked at Israel's numbers, I don't remember seeing a (2,000,000,000,000 and counting) in red on their balance sheet.

You did say that the U.S. should have responded to 9/11 in much the same way that Israel responded with the “Wrath of God” operation to the Munich attack. My point was that if it was Israel’s intent to dissuade future attacks, the operation was ineffective at best – Israel’s terrorist attack problem only got worse. Our war against Al Queda, on the other hand, has resulted in their having an objectively diminished capacity to carry out attacks against us. You are switching the metric of success to one of how much money has been spent spent; I was addressing your criticism of the Afghanistan war when you said “Yeah, it's working out great for you. Nobody would dare try another terrorist attack in the US now...”

Mike> Assuming you have nukes and are willing to willing to use them under properly defined circumstances, those circumstances are highly likely ever to occur.

If you clearly define the circumstances under which you’ll use nukes you allow your enemies to make a cost/benefit calculation. It’s always better to leave it fuzzy so they’ll assume the worst. At any rate, you were asserting that you could have your nukes and never have to use them. My point was that if you preclude the use of those nukes then they’re shadowpuppets.

Mr.Hengist said...

[Part 4]
Mr.H> That leaves your forward projection limited to a small army […]
Mike> It continues to be my contention that forward projection should never be necessary.
Mr.H> […] which is not much use if you need to, say, knock off Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. If you’re not willing to overthrow the Taliban then they’ll go on hosting enemy non-state actors like, and including, Al Queda. Al Queda will then continue to throw your planes at your buildings, despite an American version of the “Wrath of God” operation.
Mike> Aha! I think I've identified a major disconnect between our positions here. It seems to me that the subtext of what you are saying here is that terrorist organizations require or at least benefit greatly from state sponsors. OTOH, it is my position that whereas several terrorist organizations currently do have state sponsors, they neither require nor truly benefit from them. Terrorist attacks can be planned and financed anywhere, regardless of government approval.

I think we went off on a tangent about the proper size and role of national defense forces. However, we do disagree on this: Non-state actors greatly benefit from state protection and support.

Mr.H> America is not hard to get to, as we’ve seen.
Mike> It's not hard to get to because it overreacts badly and consistently.

America reacted judiciously to the 9/11 attacks. We went after them where they were because playing defense is a losing strategy (because America is not hard to get to). Also, you’ve got the timeline mixed up: 9/11 came first, then we reacted.

[Re: America’s reaction to 9/11]
Mike> As I found out in the hours and days to come, to those who grew up in the US bubble, this event meant "drop everything and wait for somebody to tell us what to do."

Your contempt for America and its people is as palatable as your misunderstanding of them.

[Re: MAD and nuclear nonproliferation]
Mr.H> It was never a question when we used it to keep the Soviet Union in check. It is now with the various factions controlling Iran. That’s enough to make me want to stop them from getting the bomb.
Mike> I want to stop them from getting the bomb too.

No, you don’t – you hope things will work out in the end, but you don’t want the U.S., Israel, or anyone else to do anything to stop them.

[Re: naval blockade]
Mr.H> Here I’m assuming that we’d have a small navy in addition to a small army; otherwise, China already has sufficient blue water naval power to blockade us today.
Mike> And there, my friend, is the beauty of free trade. Not only would China never blockade the US, they wouldn't allow anyone else to try.

If we were reduced to the level of national defense that you advocate it would be a very different story. China was only an example, the most likely one as they are our nearest near-peer competitor and rising fast; as the balance of power shifts it would be strategically sound to blockade the U.S. to keep us from defending Taiwan. The beauty of having strong armed forces is that no one would ever try.

Mike said...

[Re: Iran’s ambition for ME hegemony facilitated by nukes]

MH> It might at that, and if it plays out the way you hope (increased oil prices lead to alternatives cheap by comparison) then the economies of the developed world will suffer for it.

In the short term, no doubt. In the mid to long term, they'd benefit greatly. These economies are all in the middle of a major shake up anyway. The urgent need to rebuild the entire energy infrastructure would likely become helpful pretty quickly. Certainly moreso than any military action.

MH> We also agree that the transition would be very painful as petroleum-based machines are phased out and replaced with the alternative, also not something to look forward to.

Actually, it is something very much to look forward to. It will necessitate serious technological improvements, put a lot of idle people to work (at least temporarily), and result in a much more sustainable way of life. Change is never easy but beneficial change is worth the pain. In that regard, it's the same for societies as it is for individuals.

Mike> […] a nuclear armed Iran will be yet another intelligence nightmare for both Israel and the US.

MH> Oh, more than an intelligence nightmare like the others we face, it would be an existential threat to Israel.

It would not be the only intelligence nightmare Israel faces that is also an existential threat. That country has faced existential threats from the day of its inception and will continue to face them until one of them actually becomes a reality. It's a terrible thing (and this is, after all, my tribe that's sitting there), but it's true.

MH> America could probably withstand a nuclear attack by Iran and annihilate them in return but the damage would be catastrophic.

No question, which is why it would be an intelligence nightmare rather than an intelligence nuissance.

MH> You seem to be downplaying what will happen when Iran gets the bomb.

Well, I'm just a lot less sure about it than you are. There are a lot of things at play here.

[re: Venezuela]

OK, let's put this one to rest as it is REALLY speculative and far off. The Iran situation is much more real and current and, having started as many tangential threads as we have, it'll be really nice to end one :).

MH> Iran (in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) and North Korea both covertly developed nukes despite the West not threatening them;

When you're sitting on ICBM's with nuclear warheads, including a country in the "Axis of Evil" is VERY threatening. I don't even want to think about how that phrase translates into Farsi or Korean; it's bad enough in English.

MH> Iran has been a conduit for jihadists and insurgents to Iraq, and supplied them with arms, some of which are advanced. They could have sat out the Iraq war but they chose to get involved.

Of course they have. There are sites which these people consider holy, through which American tanks are riding with the words "Jesus Kills Mohammed" painted on them. And not halfway around the world, but right there on their doorstep. Plus, it's an opportunity for them to do real damage to a long time and very dangerous enemy. Did you seriously expect them to sit this out?

Mike said...

MH> Unfortunately, the only way to set their nuclear program back at this point is nothing less than a massive series of airstrikes since serious sanctions are both impossible to get from the China and Russia (and much of the rest of Europe, but those two in particular) and it’s too late for them to do any good even if we could get them.

Agreed completely, and I'm not even all that confident that mass airstrikes would be really effective either by this point (though I'll defer to you on this since it is another situation the details of which you are more familiar with than me).

MH> It’s not a preferable course of action but don’t tell me there isn’t anything that can be done about it.

OK, withdrawn. There is, however, nothing that can be done realistically. For any course of action you care to name (including massive airstrikes), the cost-risk-benefit equation is simply wrong.

[Re: Replacing oil as an alternative to engaging the ME militarily]

Mike> Belief has absolutely no place here. The numbers very much speak for themselves and the tech is very much there. The only reason it has not yet taken hold is that the price of oil is grossly distorted to the downside by the taxpayer-funded military ops in the middle East.

MH>So you say, but I’d have to see those numbers to be able to address your argument.

Well, it's obviously a bit more complex than just this, but this alone should adequately address the question of whether or not industrial societies need oil for energy at this stage. See also here for some nice short term stop-gaps which should at least allow us to use existing machinery through its useful life.

MH> Nevertheless, I’d point out that the liberation of Afghanistan is completely unrelated to oil

Are you kidding me? Where did the funding for 9/11 come from again? Selling televisions?

MH> and the liberation of Iraq was predicated on the perceived threat of WMDs, not to keep the oil flowing

It was *sold* as being predicated on the threat of WMD's. It was actually done to keep the money flowing to the military and its various contractors and to help keep the oil flowing (though in hindsight it may have been a miscalculation on the latter front).

MH> Both of those wars were also fought with the explicit intent to liberate them from oppression.

Explicit, sure. Realistic... not so much.

MH> The cost of switching our infrastructure away from oil is not 0.

The cost to the taxpayer would be 0. Also, the long term costs to everyone would be negative as energy would become cheaper and cleaner and it would simplify the geopolitical situation immensely.

Mike> […] compare Taliban 2001 vs Talivan 2010 to US 2001 vs US 2010. Does it really seem to you that the Taliban have suffered more than the US?

MH>Yes. They used to control most of Afghanistan unopposed – no longer. Their casualties have been an order of magnitude greater than our own. We’ve had low casualties at a much higher monetary cost.

Interesting take. Not sure I agree, but as I've said you are much more familiar with the situation than me.

Mike said...

Mike> As someone who has bet the majority of his net worth on the US accelerating its decline, I am kind of glad to read that kind of thinking from someone who actually votes over there. I know it sounds snide, but It's essentially true.

MH> Yes, that really does sound snide. Because it is.

OK, let's take the money out of it then. It will be a lot less snide that way: In my view, the US government in its present form is amongst the biggest impediments to human progress currently in existence. Further, I feel that it's rotten to the core and beyond remediation. My sentiments therefore lie with with its fall. Of course, I favor as peaceful a fall as possible - an economic rather than a military death, much like the Soviet Union (and oddly for many of the same reasons). And It really looks to me like there's a good chance it will play out that way. That said, these ongoing military campaigns, as costly as they are in terms of lives and infrastructure, are very helpful in bringing about that economic death. It therefore with no small amount of morbidity that I accept, if not actually cheer, said campaigns.

MH> You did say that the U.S. should have responded to 9/11 in much the same way that Israel responded with the “Wrath of God” operation to the Munich attack.

Not in the same way, but on the same scale. A larger scale would also have been acceptable. But there is a lot of scale between a few targeted assasinations and an all out occupation.

MH> My point was that if it was Israel’s intent to dissuade future attacks, the operation was ineffective at best – Israel’s terrorist attack problem only got worse

Well, Israel's terrorist problems did get worse but that's because the situation morphed and they did not persist with this strategy. I think that, had they been consistent about finding and assasinating the people responsible, it would have borne much better fruit. So, for example, the fact that Arafat and his family lived a lavish lifestlye unmolested for decades sort of undermined what was accomplished by "Wrath of God."

MH> Our war against Al Queda, on the other hand, has resulted in their having an objectively diminished capacity to carry out attacks against us.

I don't know about that. You're now in a game whack a mole with them. You got them largely out of Afghanistan, and now they're in Marocco and Somalia and Yemen. If you get them out of there, they'll show up in e.g. Nigera, the Sudan, Algeria, Chad, Indonesia, the Philippines, etc, etc. Looks to me like a war of resource attrition you're losing badly.

MH> You are switching the metric of success to one of how much money has been spent spent;

Not switching the metric, just adding a metric. Neither plan worked very well, but yours was a hell of a lot more expensive. Much better a million dollar failure than a trillion dollar failure.

Mike said...

MH> I think we went off on a tangent about the proper size and role of national defense forces. However, we do disagree on this: Non-state actors greatly benefit from state protection and support.

OK, good. We have isolated a major point of contention, which I hope is pretty easily addressed thus: please explain to me how Tim McVeigh benefitted from state protection and/or support. For bonus points, throw in the same info for the Unabomber.

MH>Your contempt for America and its people is as palatable

Yeah, it would be hard to obscure it even if I tried. It would also be impossible to express in words just how disappointed I am in them.

MH>as your misunderstanding of them.

I've spent the majority of my life among them. I've also spent significant amounts of time in a variety of other countries among those people. I got the view from the inside and from the outside. I therefore think it fair to claim that my understanding of them is better than yours.

Mike> I want to stop them from getting the bomb too.

MH>No, you don’t – you hope things will work out in the end, but you don’t want the U.S., Israel, or anyone else to do anything to stop them.

Only because I don't think it's feasible. If there was a realistic way to do it, including a few targeted bombing runs by Israel, I'd actually be ok with it (not crazy about it, but ok with it). For the record, I also think that around 5 years ago or so, this may have been feasible and perhaps even advisable.

MH> If we were reduced to the level of national defense that you advocate it would be a very different story. China was only an example, the most likely one as they are our nearest near-peer competitor and rising fast;

There you go with the competitor thing again. Replace "competitor" with "trade partner", and bear in mind that this particular trade partner is the only thing holding your economy afloat right now, and your world view changes completely. Xenophobia is very counterproductive.

MH>as the balance of power shifts it would be strategically sound to blockade the U.S. to keep us from defending Taiwan.

My ass. All China has to do to COMPLETELY bury the US is to sell all their dollars and dollar denominated holdings on the open market. Granted, it would be costly, but a lot less costly, a lot more effective, and a lot faster than a naval blockade.

Mr.Hengist said...

[Part 1]
[Re: Venezuela]
Mike> OK, let's put this one to rest as it is REALLY speculative and far off. The Iran situation is much more real and current and, having started as many tangential threads as we have, it'll be really nice to end one :).

Agreed. I’m pruning out some of those threads too since they are tangential and played out. Feel free to resurrect anything you’d like me to address.

Mr.H> Iran (in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) and North Korea both covertly developed nukes despite the West not threatening them;
Mike> When you're sitting on ICBM's with nuclear warheads, including a country in the "Axis of Evil" is VERY threatening. I don't even want to think about how that phrase translates into Farsi or Korean; it's bad enough in English.

I don’t agree that referring to these countries as being part of an “Axis of Evil” is threatening, per se. Note, however, that both nuclear programs were well underway by the time POTUS Bush said that, so the timeline doesn’t fit your assertion. At any rate, both of these countries regularly spew threats and bluster that far exceed in hostility anything (almost) anyone in the U.S.GOV has said (SecState Clinton did say something to the effect that if Iran nukes Israel, Iran’s toast). So, by your standard of what qualifies as a threat, what with nuclear North Korea and their promises to turn the U.S. into a lake of fire, etc., the U.S. should be feeling quite threatened, actionably so. Would we have to wait until they’ve fully developed their long-range missile capability? Iran’s promises to put an end to Israel, the U.S., and the West – they’re working on nukes, if they haven’t got them already – are these words actionable?

Mr.H> Iran has been a conduit for jihadists and insurgents to Iraq, and supplied them with arms, some of which are advanced. They could have sat out the Iraq war but they chose to get involved.
Mike> Of course they have. There are sites which these people consider holy, through which American tanks are riding with the words "Jesus Kills Mohammed" painted on them.

Meh. I don’t believe that their support of Iraqi insurgents is anything other than a pretext. For example, if, as Gen. Petraeus has said, they’re aiding Al Queda, then their religious motivations can be ruled out. Besides which, I’m not inclined to pander to their religious superiority and bigotry.

Mike> And not halfway around the world, but right there on their doorstep. Plus, it's an opportunity for them to do real damage to a long time and very dangerous enemy. Did you seriously expect them to sit this out?

Yes, because it would have been the smart thing to do. 130,000+ combat veteran troops in Iraq, along with carrier groups; it would be awfully stupid of them to aid our enemies, but they did.

Mr.Hengist said...

[Part 2]
[Re: Replacing oil as an alternative to engaging the ME militarily]
Mike> Well, it's obviously a bit more complex than just this, but this alone should adequately address the question of whether or not industrial societies need oil for energy at this stage. See also here for some nice short term stop-gaps which should at least allow us to use existing machinery through its useful life.

I’m all in favor of nuclear power, although we need much better battery tech to make it really work for transportation. As for the Fischer–Tropsch process, it seems less promising in the short-term, but I’m hopeful that the economies of scale and further technological process improvements will make it practical on a large scale. I’d also love to get flex-fuel in all new cars (IIRC it’s only about $100 added cost); the support infrastructure would follow in the decades to come.

I think where we really differ is in our timeframe. You seem OK with a shock in the oil economy forcing rapid change; I’m not.

Mr.H> Nevertheless, I’d point out that the liberation of Afghanistan is completely unrelated to oil […]
Mike> Are you kidding me? Where did the funding for 9/11 come from again? Selling televisions?

The cost of carrying out 9/11 was estimated to be on the order of about $50k, which is hardly Saudi-sized oil money.

Mr.H> […]and the liberation of Iraq was predicated on the perceived threat of WMDs, not to keep the oil flowing […]
Mike> It was *sold* as being predicated on the threat of WMD's. It was actually done to keep the money flowing to the military and its various contractors and to help keep the oil flowing (though in hindsight it may have been a miscalculation on the latter front).

Not so. Iraqi oil was flowing just fine before the war, and the U.S. never made any attempt to profit from the oil post-invasion. The oil revenue was overseen by both the U.N. and the World Bank and flowed directly to the Iraqi government coffers, and contracts were not steered towards U.S. firms. Needless to say, American oil supertankers were not lined up at Iraqi ports to carry the booty to America. As for the motivation to keeping the money flowing to the military & contractors, well, no.

Mr.H> Both of those wars were also fought with the explicit intent to liberate them from oppression.
Mike> Explicit, sure. Realistic... not so much.

Not realistic? Afghanistan showed real promise before the Taliban resurgence, and Iraq seems to be working out well.

Mr.Hengist said...

[Part 3]
Mr.H> The cost of switching our infrastructure away from oil is not 0.
Mike> The cost to the taxpayer would be 0. Also, the long term costs to everyone would be negative as energy would become cheaper and cleaner and it would simplify the geopolitical situation immensely.

Medium- to long-term, yes, although I doubt it would be cheaper than oil. Parsing out the costs of what you call the artificial subsidy to oil is not so easy, and would exceed the costs of transitioning our oil-consuming infrastructure in the short-term. A medium- to long-term transition would make those costs more manageable while giving the technology a chance to improve. Crashing our oil economy would certainly provide motivation to make an immediate switchover, or it might just destroy the economy before we can manage the transition.

Crashing the oil economies of the oil producing states would be gratifying in most cases, but boy, if you think the hostile oil-producers are pissed off at us now, just wait. It may “simplify” the situation but it’s got its own complications.

Mike> OK, let's take the money out of it then. It will be a lot less snide that way: In my view, the US government in its present form is amongst the biggest impediments to human progress currently in existence.

Wow - I have exactly the opposite view.

Mr.H> My point was that if it was Israel’s intent to dissuade future attacks, the operation was ineffective at best – Israel’s terrorist attack problem only got worse
Mike> Well, Israel's terrorist problems did get worse but that's because the situation morphed and they did not persist with this strategy. I think that, had they been consistent about finding and assasinating the people responsible, it would have borne much better fruit. So, for example, the fact that Arafat and his family lived a lavish lifestlye unmolested for decades sort of undermined what was accomplished by "Wrath of God."

Interesting. Not altogether different than what Israel had been doing during the second Intifada, punctuated by invasions when that strategy proved inadequate to stop the Palestinian terrorist attacks.

Mr.H> Our war against Al Queda, on the other hand, has resulted in their having an objectively diminished capacity to carry out attacks against us.
Mike> I don't know about that. You're now in a game whack a mole with them. You got them largely out of Afghanistan, and now they're in Marocco and Somalia and Yemen. If you get them out of there, they'll show up in e.g. Nigera, the Sudan, Algeria, Chad, Indonesia, the Philippines, etc, etc. Looks to me like a war of resource attrition you're losing badly.

Their capacity to carry out attacks is objective diminished, as evidenced by the last ten years of smaller-scale and more infrequent attacks, more often failed than not. At any rate, I’d rather play whack-a-mole than not to whack them at all. It’s a perfectly reasonable assumption that, had we not killed them in significant numbers and forced the survivors out of Afghanistan, they would have spread to other third-world countries nonetheless.

Mr.Hengist said...

[Part 4]
Mr.H> I think we went off on a tangent about the proper size and role of national defense forces. However, we do disagree on this: Non-state actors greatly benefit from state protection and support.
Mike> OK, good. We have isolated a major point of contention, which I hope is pretty easily addressed thus: please explain to me how Tim McVeigh benefitted from state protection and/or support. For bonus points, throw in the same info for the Unabomber.

Obvious answer: they didn’t! I suppose I should have qualified my statement; not all non-state actors benefit from state protection and support. And, no, we’ll never be able to stop the occasional nut-job. It’s a different matter when they’re able to, say, set up training bases in a safe haven, so turnabout is fair play: tell me how pre-9/11 Al Queda didn’t benefit from state protection and support in Afghanistan.

[Re: Iranian nukes as existential threat to Israel, catastrophic threat to U.S.]
Mike> No question, which is why it would be an intelligence nightmare rather than an intelligence nuissance.

OK, we agree, but where we differ is how to address the problem. Leaving aside the problem of Iranian ME hegemony, I don’t believe that this can be simply an intelligence problem; playing defense is a losing strategy for both Israel and the U.S.. Israel has well-guarded borders and excellent internal security, but if a few nukes get smuggled in it’s the end for them. Conversely, although better able to withstand nuclear attack, the U.S. has poor border security and internal security.

Mike> I want to stop them from getting the bomb too.
Mr.H>No, you don’t – you hope things will work out in the end, but you don’t want the U.S., Israel, or anyone else to do anything to stop them.
Mike> Only because I don't think it's feasible. If there was a realistic way to do it, including a few targeted bombing runs by Israel, I'd actually be ok with it (not crazy about it, but ok with it). For the record, I also think that around 5 years ago or so, this may have been feasible and perhaps even advisable.

This brings me back to your ideal small army which wouldn’t have had the capability of doing this, and your assertion that “forward projection should never be necessary.” Forward projection can be very useful for addressing problems that aren’t simply an intelligence nightmare.

Mr.Hengist said...

[Part 5]
Mr.H> If we were reduced to the level of national defense that you advocate it would be a very different story. China was only an example, the most likely one as they are our nearest near-peer competitor and rising fast;
Mike> There you go with the competitor thing again. Replace "competitor" with "trade partner’ […]. Xenophobia is very counterproductive.

First of all, you’re being ridiculous in calling me a xenophobe.
Secondly, taking what you want can be a lot cheaper than paying for it. Thus, China declares sovereignty over the China Sea. Of course, it’s not our sea, but it’s not theirs either; these are international waters and about half of the world’s seagoing cargo transit through there – about 41,000 ships a year, compared to 4,000 transiting the Panama canal. This dispute has been going on since China first made the claim in 1992, and the upshot is that they’re not negotiating a resolution to this claim, they’re expanding forcibly by shoving everyone else out, treaty to follow, or not (see also, occupation of Paracel and Spratly islands, China harassing U.S. surveillance vessel last year).

Nibbling away at us, and their neighbors, forces us to continually evaluate how much we’re willing to sacrifice to keep the peace, whether that means starting a diplomatic, trade, or shooting war. The U.S. is calling for dialogue and is not responding in-kind to Chinese provocations, while the other parties to this dispute (Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Taiwan) have little recourse but to take it to the U.N.. The facts on the ground (er, sea) are that they are both a trade partner and an economic rival to the U.S. and the rest of the world, as their own actions demonstrate. There’s no speculation in the assertion that it’s American naval power that has kept Taiwan free.

Mr.H> [...] as the balance of power shifts it would be strategically sound to blockade the U.S. to keep us from defending Taiwan.
Mike> All China has to do to COMPLETELY bury the US is to sell all their dollars and dollar denominated holdings on the open market. Granted, it would be costly, but a lot less costly, a lot more effective, and a lot faster than a naval blockade.

If all they want to do is take Taiwan by force and keep the U.S. from defending them, then a temporary blockade would be a sound part of an overall strategy, whereas what you’re describing, even in partial measures, while it would be persuasive – does not actually keep naval vessels in port.

Mike said...

MH>I don’t agree that referring to these countries as being part of an “Axis of Evil” is threatening, per se.

Once again, when they can be destroyed at the press of a button it is. And doubly so when their leaders are paranoid to begin with.

MH>Note, however, that both nuclear programs were well underway by the time POTUS Bush said that, so the timeline doesn’t fit your assertion.

The timeline fo the Iranian program is rather hazy, but L'il Kim had all but shut down his nuke program when POTUS Bush made that speach only to reopen it within a year of said speach.

MH>At any rate, both of these countries regularly spew threats and bluster that far exceed in hostility anything (almost) anyone in the U.S.GOV has said

No they don't. Their leaders do. It's one of their primary means of maintaining power.

MH>So, by your standard of what qualifies as a threat, what with nuclear North Korea and their promises to turn the U.S. into a lake of fire, etc., the U.S. should be feeling quite threatened, Iran’s promises to put an end to Israel, the U.S., and the West – they’re working on nukes, if they haven’t got them already – are these words actionable?

Well, if Iran could obliterate the US at the push of a button without the US standing a chance of being able to retaliate, it would certainly be actionable in the sense of closing that gap as quickly as possible.

Mr.H> Iran has been a conduit for jihadists and insurgents to Iraq, and supplied them with arms, some of which are advanced. They could have sat out the Iraq war but they chose to get involved.
Mike> Of course they have. There are sites which these people consider holy, through which American tanks are riding with the words "Jesus Kills Mohammed" painted on them.

MH>Meh. I don’t believe that their support of Iraqi insurgents is anything other than a pretext.

I'll grant you it's convenient, but it's not just a pretext.

MH> For example, if, as Gen. Petraeus has said, they’re aiding Al Queda, then their religious motivations can be ruled out.

Not necessarily. Extreme situations make for strange bedfellows. See the US and USSR during WW2 for example (at the risk of opening that pandora's box again).

MH> Besides which, I’m not inclined to pander to their religious superiority and bigotry.

Nor am I. It makes me sick to my stomache when material that is "offensive to Islam" is suppressed in the supposedly free world. That said, if I walked into a mosk and started urinating on a copy of the Koran, I would expect a rather violent response, justified or not.

Mike>Did you seriously expect them to sit this out?

MH>Yes, because it would have been the smart thing to do. 130,000+ combat veteran troops in Iraq, along with carrier groups; it would be awfully stupid of them to aid our enemies, but they did.

I completely fail to see how that's stupid. Taking the religious and cultural stuff out of the equation, they have inflicted very assymetrical damage on an enemy and further taken advantage of the situation to better arm themselves. All told seems like a very good move for them. Am I missing something?

[re: replacing oil with alternatives]

MH>I think where we really differ is in our timeframe. You seem OK with a shock in the oil economy forcing rapid change; I’m not.

It's not so much that I'm ok with it, it's just that it seems inevitable to me. If everything works out perfectly, it may be possible to postpone the price shock for another 10, maybe 15 years at the outside. But it at some point it will come, and delaying it only further entrenches the fossil feul economy thus increasing the pain when it does.

Mike said...

MH>The cost of carrying out 9/11 was estimated to be on the order of about $50k, which is hardly Saudi-sized oil money.

That's the cost of that particular operation. The cost of setting up and maintaining the organization behind it is considerably higher and well outside the reach of a non-industrial society absent oil, state actors or no.

Mike> It was *sold* as being predicated on the threat of WMD's. It was actually done to keep the money flowing to the military and its various contractors and to help keep the oil flowing (though in hindsight it may have been a miscalculation on the latter front).

MH> Not so. Iraqi oil was flowing just fine before the war,

And the money was going into all the wrong pockets. But that's still not the point; see below.

MH> and the U.S. never made any attempt to profit from the oil post-invasion.

OK, let's back up one step. The US has no national oil company so talking about the US attempting to profit is not really logical. That said, US companies that were hoping to step in and profit from this were indeed completely snookered by their Chinese counterparts.

Regardless, this was less about the oil flowing from Iraq proper and more about making sure that Hussein didn't pull the same kind of shit Iran is now pulling. Hence my parenthetical statement about the possibility of it having been a miscalculation.

MH> As for the motivation to keeping the money flowing to the military & contractors, well, no.

That's a really convincing argument. I'm sold :).

Mr.H> Both of those wars were also fought with the explicit intent to liberate them from oppression.
Mike> Explicit, sure. Realistic... not so much.

MH>Not realistic? Afghanistan showed real promise before the Taliban resurgence, and Iraq seems to be working out well.

At least we agree about the current state of Afghanistan. As for Iraq, it is much improved, which is to say the shit there is back down to knee level from neck level where it had been. That's a far stretch from working out well.

Addendum: I did a quick news crawl between revisions of my reply and happened to run into this and this. I wasn't looking for it or anything, just taking a break and checking my feeds. This is still going on after 7 years, more American lives lost than on 9/11, and simply immeasurable (thanks to new-fangled "accounting practices") amounts of money down the drain. If you consider that working out well, I'd hate to see what you consider a mild failure, let alone a complete disaster.

MH>Mr.H> The cost of switching our infrastructure away from oil is not 0.
Mike> The cost to the taxpayer would be 0. Also, the long term costs to everyone would be negative as energy would become cheaper and cleaner and it would simplify the geopolitical situation immensely.

MH>Medium- to long-term, yes, although I doubt it would be cheaper than oil.

What makes you say that? My feeling at this point is that the opposite is true.

MH>Parsing out the costs of what you call the artificial subsidy to oil is not so easy

That's a hell of understatement. Everywhere I turn I seem to find some previously unknown to me subsidy distorting the price of oil to the downside.

MH>and would exceed the costs of transitioning our oil-consuming infrastructure in the short-term

Either the above is a typo or I'm simply unable to make any sense of it. Please clarify.

Mike said...

H>A medium- to long-term transition would make those costs more manageable while giving the technology a chance to improve.

Unfortunately, that's not tenable. The longer oil prices are kept artificially low the greater the disconnect becomes between the free market price and the current price. At some point, that's just going to break. Delaying that point may give alternative technologies time to develop further, but no incentive. Every new tech that comes along has to compete with "cheap" oil energy and simply can't because it doesn't benefit from hundreds of billions in subsidies annually.

MH>Crashing our oil economy would certainly provide motivation to make an immediate switchover, or it might just destroy the economy before we can manage the transition.

I'm thinking the second thing. It's gotten to the point where rebuilding from scratch is just easier and more feasible than fixing what's there.

MH>Crashing the oil economies of the oil producing states would be gratifying in most cases,

I can't think of any exceptions.

MH>but boy, if you think the hostile oil-producers are pissed off at us now, just wait.

I know! I'd give my right arm to see Ahmedinejad's face when he is told that the Western world will no longer be importing oil, or even for an accurate count of the number of colors it turned :).

MH> It may “simplify” the situation but it’s got its own complications.

In the short term (until all the petro-riche run out of money), which once again, is quite fucked up as it is.

Mike> In my view, the US government in its present form is amongst the biggest impediments to human progress currently in existence.

MH>Wow - I have exactly the opposite view.

Are you sure you're not confusing the status quo with progress? It's an easy thing to do when you're caught up in the former.

Mike>You're now in a game whack a mole with them. You got them largely out of Afghanistan, and now they're in Marocco and Somalia and Yemen. If you get them out of there, they'll show up in e.g. Nigera, the Sudan, Algeria, Chad, Indonesia, the Philippines, etc, etc. Looks to me like a war of resource attrition you're losing badly.

MH>Their capacity to carry out attacks is objective diminished, as evidenced by the last ten years of smaller-scale and more infrequent attacks, more often failed than not.

First of all, the attacks have been more, not less frequent. Before 9/11, the last attack on US ground by AQ was in 1992. Since 9/11 there have been several. Second, the fact that these attacks have been dramatically less sophisticated and clumsily executed does not necessarily imply diminished capacity on the part of AQ. These folks are clearly in it for the long haul and willing to wait many years between serious attacks. These often entertaining small attacks (this almost made me piss myself on the last page) in the interim may well be distractionary or news fodder or just misguided low level idiots acting more or less on their own. There could easily be something bigger in the works that we won't find out about for a few years.

MH> At any rate, I’d rather play whack-a-mole than not to whack them at all.

Which is exactly what they want as far as I can tell.

MH> It’s a perfectly reasonable assumption that, had we not killed them in significant numbers and forced the survivors out of Afghanistan, they would have spread to other third-world countries nonetheless.

Hard to say. Seems to me the US presence in Afghanistan, and especially in Iraq, has been an excellent source of funding and recruiting for them. But as you've said, there's no replay-with-different-parameters button for history so we'll never know.

Mike said...

Mike> OK, good. We have isolated a major point of contention, which I hope is pretty easily addressed thus: please explain to me how Tim McVeigh benefitted from state protection and/or support. For bonus points, throw in the same info for the Unabomber.

MH>Obvious answer: they didn’t! I suppose I should have qualified my statement; not all non-state actors benefit from state protection and support. And, no, we’ll never be able to stop the occasional nut-job. It’s a different matter when they’re able to, say, set up training bases in a safe haven, so turnabout is fair play: tell me how pre-9/11 Al Queda didn’t benefit from state protection and support in Afghanistan.

As I said initially, they do HAVE state support. My point is that they don't need it. Everything that happened in Afghanistan pre 9/11 could just as easily have been accomplished by email. Training camps are not necessary for commiting terrorist acts, nor do they provide any tangible benefits. I think it was Bill Maher who said, "You don't need monkey bars to highjack a plane."

MH>Mike> I want to stop them from getting the bomb too.
Mr.H>No, you don’t – you hope things will work out in the end, but you don’t want the U.S., Israel, or anyone else to do anything to stop them.
Mike> Only because I don't think it's feasible. If there was a realistic way to do it, including a few targeted bombing runs by Israel, I'd actually be ok with it (not crazy about it, but ok with it). For the record, I also think that around 5 years ago or so, this may have been feasible and perhaps even advisable.

MH>This brings me back to your ideal small army which wouldn’t have had the capability of doing this, and your assertion that “forward projection should never be necessary.”

OK, let me clarify here: my ideal small army is for a country with a very different foreign policy than that of the US. Having already "projected forward" many times, the US is now in a position where it will be very difficult to scale back. Nonetheless, scale back it must as it slowly loses it's ability to finance its military behemoth.

MH> Forward projection can be very useful for addressing problems that aren’t simply an intelligence nightmare.

Or, absent forward projection, such situations may never arise. Do remember that this whole situation in Iran right now is continuing blowback from Project Ajax. Had the US not interfered 60 years ago, it would not be facing this situation today. He who lives by sword, dies by the sword and all that.

[re: China]

MH>First of all, you’re being ridiculous in calling me a xenophobe.

It's not just you. It's almost your entire country.

MH>Secondly, taking what you want can be a lot cheaper than paying for it.

Only in the short term. Eventually, there's always a much higher price to pay. See my comment above about Project Ajax for an example.

MH>Thus, China declares sovereignty over the China Sea.

Yeah, that is an interesting little trick they are pulling there. I'm really not sure what the significance of that move is yet or exactly what they are trying to accomplish. The obvious objective, to extract a toll from traffic passing through, seems a little too dumb for the bunch currently in charge. But I guess you never know.

MH>Nibbling away at us,

How are they nibbling at you?

MH> and their neighbors, forces us to continually evaluate how much we’re willing to sacrifice to keep the peace, whether that means starting a diplomatic, trade, or shooting war. The U.S. is calling for dialogue and is not responding in-kind to Chinese provocations,

Indeed, because even the present leadership of the US is not so dense as to miss the fact that China can easily effect a soft kill of the US any time it wants (more on which below).

MH>There’s no speculation in the assertion that it’s American naval power that has kept Taiwan free.

True enough. Still don't know why it's the US's business.

Mike said...

MH>If all they want to do is take Taiwan by force and keep the U.S. from defending them, then a temporary blockade would be a sound part of an overall strategy,

Oh, come on! A blockade on the US is an act of war pure and simple.

MH> whereas what you’re describing, even in partial measures, while it would be persuasive – does not actually keep naval vessels in port

I don't think you appreciate the scale of Chinese holdings or the effect that liquidating them would have on the US. Quick summary: It would suddenly become impossible to buy anything outside the US for dollars. No oil imports. No food imports. No manufactured goods imports. No way for american companies to pay their overseas workers. The powers that be in the US would be far too busy trying (and most likely failing) to prevent complete chaos within their own borders to worry about Taiwan. Further, since most naval vessels require oil to leave port, it kind of would keep them there.

For good or ill, meet the new boss.

Mr.Hengist said...

[Part 1]
Mr.H> I don’t agree that referring to these countries as being part of an “Axis of Evil” is threatening, per se.
Mike> Once again, when they can be destroyed at the press of a button it is. And doubly so when their leaders are paranoid to begin with.

And, once again, we simply disagree over whether that qualified as threatening language. Moreover, if they’re paranoid then not only doesn’t it matter what we say because they’ll see it through their paranoid prism, but paranoid leaders wouldn’t need to be provoked to want to build nukes, would they? In fact, it would be extremely difficult to convince a paranoid leader not to build them, wouldn’t it? So why blame the U.S.?

Mr.H>Note, however, that both nuclear programs were well underway by the time POTUS Bush said that, so the timeline doesn’t fit your assertion.
Mike> The timeline fo the Iranian program is rather hazy, but L'il Kim had all but shut down his nuke program when POTUS Bush made that speach only to reopen it within a year of said speach.

I think you’re referring to the 2007 NIE which claimed that Iran, not North Korea, had shut down its nuclear program in 2003. That dubious report included the conclusion (with “moderately high” confidence) that the program remained frozen; we now know that it did not. Note the timeline: in 2003, shortly after we changed the regime in Iraq, the Iranians shut down their nuclear program, only later to restart it.

[Re: Hostile words of Iran & North Korea]
Mr.H>So, by your standard of what qualifies as a threat […] are these words actionable?
Mike> Well, if Iran could obliterate the US at the push of a button without the US standing a chance of being able to retaliate, it would certainly be actionable in the sense of closing that gap as quickly as possible.

So, let me get this straight: Iran and North Korea would have to achieve the capacity to obliterate the United States without our being able to retaliate before we should act on their threats to obliterate the United States, whereas they are justified in acting on POTUS Bush calling them part of an “Axis of Evil”. Wow – just, wow. I guess that’s part of your philosophy of not addressing a problem until it’s already a problem, and even then you preclude action by us because, as you well know, we will always have the ability to retaliate.

[Re: Stopping Iran from getting the bomb with military strikes]
Mr.H> This brings me back to your ideal small army which wouldn’t have had the capability of doing this, and your assertion that “forward projection should never be necessary.”
Mike> OK, let me clarify here: my ideal small army is for a country with a very different foreign policy than that of the US.

To believe that you have to convince yourself that Iran is only building nukes as a result of U.S. policy, and you’ve succeeded in that. Otherwise, you might have to consider Iran a rogue, hostile country which is a threat to the world all by itself (by virtue of its leadership, not its general population), and you’d have to come to terms with the necessity of having a forward projection capability to deal with it militarily.

On the other hand, as above, you also believe the U.S. shouldn’t act on their threats by using military strikes to stop them from getting the bomb (something you said you would have supported, say, five year ago, even though you think the U.S. should neither have nor use forward projection) unless they could utterly obliterate us without our being able to retaliate.

Mr.H> Besides which, I’m not inclined to pander to their religious superiority and bigotry.
Mike> Nor am I. It makes me sick to my stomache when material that is "offensive to Islam" is suppressed in the supposedly free world. That said, if I walked into a mosk and started urinating on a copy of the Koran, I would expect a rather violent response, justified or not.

Between those two extremes is a middle ground – which they reject, so I see no reason to pander to their bigotry.

Mr.Hengist said...

[Part 2]
Mike>Did you seriously expect them to sit this out?
MrH>Yes, because it would have been the smart thing to do. 130,000+ combat veteran troops in Iraq, along with carrier groups; it would be awfully stupid of them to aid our enemies, but they did.
Mike> I completely fail to see how that's stupid. Taking the religious and cultural stuff out of the equation, they have inflicted very assymetrical damage on an enemy and further taken advantage of the situation to better arm themselves. All told seems like a very good move for them. Am I missing something?

Yes. I expected them to sit this out for fear of getting their asses kicked. They apparently judged the protection afforded them by American liberals better than I.

[Re: replacing oil with alternatives]
Mr.H> I think where we really differ is in our timeframe.
Mike> […] delaying it only further entrenches the fossil feul economy thus increasing the pain when it does.

I don’t see the oil economy getting more entrenched, I think the oil economy can be gradually supplanted which gives us the opportunity to spread the costs over time as the replacement technologies improve.

Mr.H> A medium- to long-term transition would make those costs more manageable while giving the technology a chance to improve.
Mike> Unfortunately, that's not tenable. The longer oil prices are kept artificially low the greater the disconnect becomes between the free market price and the current price.

Have you seen the price of crude lately? It seems to me that, despite subsidies, alternative technologies are becoming more attractive as it goes up.

Mr.H>The cost of carrying out 9/11 was estimated to be on the order of about $50k, which is hardly Saudi-sized oil money.
Mike> That's the cost of that particular operation. The cost of setting up and maintaining the organization behind it is considerably higher and well outside the reach of a non-industrial society absent oil, state actors or no.

I’ve never seen good cost figures. At any rate, you are correct in that Al Queda was receiving Saudi oil money, and we can also say that the Saddam Hussein tyranny was oil funded. So, yes, oil money is funding bad actors.

[Re: The reasoning behind the Iraq war]
Mike> […] this was less about the oil flowing from Iraq proper and more about making sure that Hussein didn't pull the same kind of shit Iran is now pulling.

Mission Accomplished!

Mike> As for Iraq, it is much improved, which is to say the shit there is back down to knee level from neck level where it had been.

Mission (mostly) Accomplished!

Mr.H> As for the motivation to keeping the money flowing to the military & contractors, well, no.
Mike> That's a really convincing argument. I'm sold :).

I wasn’t going to try to refute an argument you hadn’t made.

Mike> This is still going on after 7 years, more American lives lost than on 9/11, and simply immeasurable (thanks to new-fangled "accounting practices") amounts of money down the drain. If you consider that working out well, I'd hate to see what you consider a mild failure, let alone a complete disaster.

Your attitude seems to be that America should just take it on the chin every so often, shrug our shoulders, and that’s about it. Oh, sure, maybe we’ll deploy a squad of ninjas to hit ‘em back, but nothing too expensive because it probably won’t do much good anyway.

I like our way better. We overthrow an awful government and give the people a chance to have a constitutional republic of some sort, with freedom of expression and open markets. That might actually improve their part of the world, and it beats the alternative of bombing them until we’re only bouncing the rubble. Needless to say, I reject outright what I perceive to be your preferred course of action, as I described it, because it is detrimental to the security interests of the United States – taking it on the chin and shrugging.

Mr.Hengist said...

[Part 3]
[Re: The short-term high cost of the replacement to the oil economy]
Mike> What makes you say that? My feeling at this point is that the opposite is true.

Right, because you believe that transitioning away from the oil economy is not cost-effective specifically because the oil economy is artificially supported by subsidies. You have made that assertion but you have not yet made that case. I would need to have a better handle on what subsidies there are and in what amounts, as compared to the costs of transitioning to an alternative technology. I can’t be more specific because I can’t argue against a case you haven’t made, but I’m looking at a lot of petroleum-using infrastructure that would need refit or replacement in addition to the new replacement-specific infrastructure that would be required.

Mr.H> Crashing our oil economy would certainly provide motivation to make an immediate switchover, or it might just destroy the economy before we can manage the transition.
Mike> I'm thinking the second thing. It's gotten to the point where rebuilding from scratch is just easier and more feasible than fixing what's there.

Considering your disdain for America and Americans, I can see the appeal. No wonder you advocate an oil shock. Why do you even try to convince me, a patriot, that an oil shock would be a good thing, when you think it would destroy our economy before we could make the transition to another energy source?

Mr.H> Crashing the oil economies of the oil producing states would be gratifying in most cases […]
Mike> I can't think of any exceptions.

Hey, what have you got against Canada? :)

Mike> In my view, the US government in its present form is amongst the biggest impediments to human progress currently in existence.
Mr.H> Wow - I have exactly the opposite view.
Mike> Are you sure you're not confusing the status quo with progress? It's an easy thing to do when you're caught up in the former.

Um, yes, I’m sure I’m not confusing the two. I think it’s safe to say that we have different criteria when it comes to evaluating the degree to which America is hindering or facilitating human progress as compared to other countries. I think it’s also safe to say that this is not a topic we really want to get into now; perhaps you were just burping up some anti-American spew.

[Re: Playing whack-a-mole with Al Queda]
Mr.H> Their capacity to carry out attacks is objective diminished, as evidenced by the last ten years of smaller-scale and more infrequent attacks, more often failed than not.
Mike> First of all, the attacks have been more, not less frequent. Before 9/11, the last attack on US ground by AQ was in 1992.

Nice exclusion of the attack on the USS Cole: didn’t take place on U.S. ground (or even in U.S. waters), and (from your perspective) it was only there because of the oil. Still counts, though.

Mike> Second, the fact that these attacks have been dramatically less sophisticated and clumsily executed does not necessarily imply diminished capacity on the part of AQ.

Actually, it directly implies that. Let’s disregard the “sudden jihad syndrome” pop-up attacks. You can wave your hands at failed attempts – and I wouldn’t call the London Tube attacks or the Bali attack “amateur hour”, not to mention the Madrid attack which may or may not have been Al Queda - but I don’t think that’s appropriate. The shoe-bomber attempt, for example, was clumsy, but had it been successful, as it damn near was, we’d have a downed airline to chalk up to their list of devastating, effective attacks. The first attempt to strike the USS Cole ended in failure when the bomb-boat sunk from being overloaded with explosives. What was 9/11 but a bunch of guys with boxcutters; had they been caught before they got on the planes you would probably be dismissively waving your hands at that, too.

Mr.Hengist said...

[Part 4]
Mr.H> At any rate, I’d rather play whack-a-mole than not to whack them at all.
Mike> Which is exactly what they want as far as I can tell.

Is that supposed to make me feel bad or something?

Mike> Training camps are not necessary for commiting terrorist acts, nor do they provide any tangible benefits.

Training camps are not necessary to carry out terrorist attacks, and I never said they were. They do, however, facilitate exactly that, and more. They train recruits in how to make explosive devices specifically for in-country manufacture and use. They also train recruits in the use of small arms and the like, skills that are useful vs. the second-rate armed forces found throughout the ME. Even disregarding the merits of destroying their training camps, if you want to kill Al Queda terrorists, that’s where to find them.

Mr.H> Forward projection can be very useful for addressing problems that aren’t simply an intelligence nightmare.
Mike> Or, absent forward projection, such situations may never arise. Do remember that this whole situation in Iran right now is continuing blowback from Project Ajax. Had the US not interfered 60 years ago, it would not be facing this situation today.

Sort-of, sort-of not. The Iranian government keeps such wounds festering because it serves to keep them in power by focusing anger outside and in support of their own aggressiveness. You, of all people, should appreciate that aspect of the “Operation Ajax” grievance mongering in Iran.

Mr.H> […] you’re being ridiculous in calling me a xenophobe.
Mike> It's not just you. It's almost your entire country.

Xenophobe? Me, and America the nation-of-immigrants? You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Mr.H> Secondly, taking what you want can be a lot cheaper than paying for it.
Mike> Only in the short term. Eventually, there's always a much higher price to pay.

Not true – not by a long shot. Why, just look at the shameful history of this country, what with the taking of land from the natives. Not a whole lot of blowback from that, it seems to me.

[Re: China declares sovereignty over the China Sea.]
Mr.H> Nibbling away at us,
Mike> How are they nibbling at you?

For example, by declaring the international waters of the China Sea to be theirs, they preclude our economic interests there (or extract a tariff, we’ll see).

Mr.H> There’s no speculation in the assertion that it’s American naval power that has kept Taiwan free.
Mike> True enough. Still don't know why it's the US's business.

Superpower America protects its allies and trading partners from external threats. It’s an American thing - you wouldn’t understand.

Mr.Hengist said...

[Part 5]
Mr.H> If all they want to do is take Taiwan by force and keep the U.S. from defending them, then a temporary blockade would be a sound part of an overall strategy,
Mike> Oh, come on! A blockade on the US is an act of war pure and simple.

Yes, it certainly would be an act of war. However, acts of war seldom lead to war; more often than not they’re dealt with in other ways (diplomacy, sanctions, covert action, whatnot). So, imagine a future in which the U.S. is diminished in military power (as you both advocate and predict) and China decides that it’s time to take Taiwan by force. As a part of that strategy they blockade the U.S. to keep what naval assets we have from thwarting them and put temporary economic pressure on the U.S. to convince us to stand down.

Remember that this hypothetical example I gave you was supposed to demonstrate to you that having a strong military, in this case a strong blue water navy, would preclude this scenario from becoming a reality.

Mr.H> whereas what you’re describing, even in partial measures, while it would be persuasive – does not actually keep naval vessels in port
Mike> I don't think you appreciate the scale of Chinese holdings or the effect that liquidating them would have on the US.

It would be like an economic neutron bomb all-out first strike. Yup, got it. First of all, American armed forces have sufficient strategic reserves that they can continue to operate in the complete absence of international trade. That’s why the Chinese would need a means to keep our naval vessels in port or otherwise boxed up or pinned down in a physical way. Secondly, consider the possibility that they might not want to economically obliterate the U.S., but rather just, say, take Taiwan and not have us interfere. Think of it like taking small bites (nibbles) rather than going all out.

On the other hand, we have nukes, and we could retaliate against an economic kill-shot by nuking them until all that’s left of China is an empty wasteland of roads leading to glass craters. And, as you said, having nukes means never having to use them, so by your reasoning China would never ever do this.

Mike said...

Hey Mr. H, I am going to Chile for the weekend to fulfill my visa requirements. I will therefore not be able to reply until mid next week.

Really enjoying the conversation, though, and I have a couple of misunderstandings to clear up above.

Enjoy your weekend.

Mike said...

[Re: Hostile words of Iran & North Korea]
Mr.H>So, by your standard of what qualifies as a threat […] are these words actionable?
Mike> Well, if Iran could obliterate the US at the push of a button without the US standing a chance of being able to retaliate, it would certainly be actionable in the sense of closing that gap as quickly as possible.

MH>So, let me get this straight: Iran and North Korea would have to achieve the capacity to obliterate the United States without our being able to retaliate before we should act on their threats to obliterate the United States, whereas they are justified in acting on POTUS Bush calling them part of an “Axis of Evil”. Wow – just, wow.

No! That's not what I'm saying at all. What I'm saying is that the situation is highly assymetrical. If the U.S. threatens Iran even subtly, Iran has to take the threat very seriously because the US can wipe them off the map at the push of a button, without the ability for Iran to retaliate. If Iran threatens the US overtly, the US can pretty much laugh it off for the same reason.

So to reiterate, were the situation reversed, Iran's threats would certainly be actionable, at least as far as closing the defense gap as quickly as possible. And as it is, even a subtle threat from the US toward Iran justifies the same actions.

This is not to say Iran's leadership generally behaves in a rational or justifiable manner but rather that on this one issue their behavior is at the very least understandable.

Mr.H> This brings me back to your ideal small army which wouldn’t have had the capability of doing this, and your assertion that “forward projection should never be necessary.”
Mike> OK, let me clarify here: my ideal small army is for a country with a very different foreign policy than that of the US.

MH>To believe that you have to convince yourself that Iran is only building nukes as a result of U.S. policy

Which it clearly is, as we discuss further below.

MH>Otherwise, you might have to consider Iran a rogue, hostile country

Well, by the standard US definition of rogue state: "any state that does not behave as instructed by the US in a timely manner," it clearly is one.

MH>which is a threat to the world all by itself

Newsflash: The US is not the world.

MH>On the other hand, as above, you also believe the U.S. shouldn’t act on their threats by using military strikes to stop them from getting the bomb (something you said you would have supported, say, five year ago, even though you think the U.S. should neither have nor use forward projection)

I said they might have been *advisable* 5 years ago by *Israel*. Firstly, Israel is in a very different situation than the US. Secondly, even the advisability of said actions by Israel 5 years ago is only the consequence of previous US, UK, etc. interference in the region.

MH>Mr.H> Besides which, I’m not inclined to pander to their religious superiority and bigotry.
Mike> Nor am I. It makes me sick to my stomache when material that is "offensive to Islam" is suppressed in the supposedly free world. That said, if I walked into a mosk and started urinating on a copy of the Koran, I would expect a rather violent response, justified or not.

MH>Between those two extremes is a middle ground – which they reject,

There is, in fact, a middle ground, but tanks driving around "holy" sites with the words "Jesus Kills Mohammed" written on them is not it. I can't say for sure whether or not they'd accept a middle ground, but it hasn't been offered to them.

MH> so I see no reason to pander to their bigotry.

We are very in agreement here, and I suspect we feel equally strongly about the subject. However, as a practical matter, there is a big difference between a cartoon portrayal of Mohammed and tanks in "holy" sites.

[Re: Iran interfering in Iraq]

MH>Yes. I expected them to sit this out

Mike said...

for fear of getting their asses kicked. They apparently judged the protection afforded them by American liberals better than I.

Really? You'd have the US now invade Iran for interfering in Iraq? How many more of these campaigns do you expect the Chinese to finance?

[Re: replacing oil with alternatives]

MH>I don’t see the oil economy getting more entrenched,

Every car that rolls off an assembly line further entrenches the oil economy. Every oil well that gets drilled does the same.

MH>Have you seen the price of crude lately?

Yes, I follow it regularly. It's about half what it was 2 years ago. Also, if you plot it against gold, it's remarkably flat over the last decade or so, even dipping down a bit. The perceived increase in the price of oil is simply a refelection of the declining value of fiat money vs useful things.

MH>It seems to me that, despite subsidies, alternative technologies are becoming more attractive as it goes up.

They are indeed becoming more attractive and more viable.

[Re: The reasoning behind the Iraq war]
Mike> […] this was less about the oil flowing from Iraq proper and more about making sure that Hussein didn't pull the same kind of shit Iran is now pulling.

MH>Mission Accomplished!

For now, and at great cost, only to be troubled by exactly the same problems right next door. Well done!

Mr.H> As for the motivation to keeping the money flowing to the military & contractors, well, no.
Mike> That's a really convincing argument. I'm sold :).

MH>I wasn’t going to try to refute an argument you hadn’t made.

I'm not sure what you consider an argument, but my point was that funneling funds to the military was a major motivation for the Iraq campaign. These people did, after all, need to justify their budgets post Soviet Union. What would be required to make this an argument? Would it need to take place in room 12A, next door, YOU VACUOUS TOFFEE-NOSED MALODOROUS PERVERT!? :D

MH>Your attitude seems to be that America should just take it on the chin every so often, shrug our shoulders, and that’s about it. Oh, sure, maybe we’ll deploy a squad of ninjas to hit ‘em back, but nothing too expensive because it probably won’t do much good anyway.

That's pretty close (BTW, you have a knack for very nearly summing up my positions :D ). The only thing I would add is basic security measures. And maybe replace the ninjas with pirates :).

MH>I like our way better. We overthrow an awful government and give the people a chance to have a constitutional republic of some sort, with freedom of expression and open markets.

OK, I assume you're talking about policy in the current conflicts as opposed to the attrocities of the past (Iran, Nicaragua, etc). If so, all you've done so far - and it's been quite a while - is overthrow two awful governments and replace them with two different awful governments at great cost in both resources and human lives.

MH>and it beats the alternative of bombing them until we’re only bouncing the rubble.

I know there are a lot of bombs just sitting there in storage and a lot of brown people just sitting there un-bombed and these things bothers Americans (to paraphrase Geore Carlin). But there are alternatives that do not involve any bombing.

MH>Needless to say, I reject outright what I perceive to be your preferred course of action, as I described it, because it is detrimental to the security interests of the United States – taking it on the chin and shrugging.

Whether or not it's detrimental to the security interests of the US is of course debatable. But it would certainly have been beneficial to the economic interests of the people of the US.

MH>Right, because you believe that transitioning away from the oil economy is not cost-effective specifically because the oil eco

Mike said...

nomy is artificially supported by subsidies. You have made that assertion but you have not yet made that case. I would need to have a better handle on what subsidies there are and in what amounts, as compared to the costs of transitioning to an alternative technology.

Well, there are unfortunately no hard numbers available. To obtain them, you'd have to answer questions like, "what would the US military budget be if there was no need to import oil from the middle East?" and "how much of the national highway budget amounts to an oil subsidy?" How about tax rebates on SUVs? Bailing out the car companies? The list goes on and on.

TBH, I may have overstated my case regarding oil alternatives, and I would not at all mind being proven wrong absent the myriad market distortions currently present. Let's say I have a strong, well informed intuition that the true cost of alternatives is lower than that of oil.

Perhaps the most obvious argument I could make for it is that whereas oil has a very high energy density, the energy density of the overall mechanism required to extract the energy is actually quite low. The reciprocating engines required max out at around 55% efficiency, are very heavy, run very hot thus requiring cooling, and have very tricky torque curves.

All the alternatives involve much simpler and more efficient machinery using less dense energy gradient sources and yield higher energy densities overall. This may appear less relevant in the context of stationary applications, but the cost of fuel transportation (along with all the inherent risks) must be borne in mind.

Mr.H> Crashing our oil economy would certainly provide motivation to make an immediate switchover, or it might just destroy the economy before we can manage the transition.
Mike> I'm thinking the second thing. It's gotten to the point where rebuilding from scratch is just easier and more feasible than fixing what's there.

MH>Considering your disdain for America and Americans, I can see the appeal.

Please bear in mind said disdain is (hopefully) temporary. It is my sincere hope that both people and country will change drastically for the better when suddenly confronted with the consequences of their folly. I'm not holding my breath or anything, but it's sincerely what I'm hoping for.

MH>No wonder you advocate an oil shock. Why do you even try to convince me, a patriot, that an oil shock would be a good thing, when you think it would destroy our economy before we could make the transition to another energy source?

Well, it's been my experience that patriotism, like other religions, does not respond well to reason. However, it's all I'm willing to use, so here goes: The "economy" you're concerned about amounts to almost nothing. Not quite nothing - some very valuable stuff is produced in the US - but nearly nothing because as a whole, Americans consume a great deal more than they produce. As a consequence, not only is the national debt growing, but the rate at which it's growing is increasing (which is to say the deficits are increasing).

Compounding this problem is the fact that the federal government, though subsidies, bailouts and monetary manipulation, is preventing any meaningful price (and hence value) discovery from taking place within the market. The result is a sort of zombie economy in which debt keeps accumulating and resource misallocation keeps increasing because nobody knows what anything is worth.

The "credit crunch" in 2007 should have corrected much of this, and would have absent Fed interference. To some, it seemed like the magnitude of the crash was such that it would overwhelm even the Fed's ability to interfere (for the record, I was on the fence but leaning toward that camp and learned some very valuable lessons from what did end up happening). Alas, they were wrong and the zombie economy continues.

Going forward,

Mike said...

oil shock or no, a fracture point will inevitably come. The feds overcame the last crisis, and maybe they'll even overcome the next one, but eventually and hopefully soon, something will happen that will force them to allow nature to take its course.

Why hopefully soon? Because the sooner it happens, the less time there is for resources to be misallocated as a consequence of these gross price distortions.

For example, there are already many malls in the US whose existence can no longer be justified by present consumer patterns. Yet, they remain open and continue to employ people who add absolutely nothing to the overall economy. And while these people are thus employed, they are not obtaining new skills which are actually needed in the economy. And they continue to get older which makes skill acquisition more difficult.

Of course, in spite of all this, there are many who argue that it is possible to engineer a "soft landing." But, much as I wish they were right, pretty much all of human history contradicts their position. It's going to be a very hard landing, and the more it's delayed the harder it will be.

So, if you want what's best for the US populace, you should welcome an oil shock, and the sooner and the bigger the better. It would, with the help of the internet, bare the bulk of the deception currently being perpetrated, tear down the entrenched powers, and allow a new, more sustainable structure to emerge.

Jefferson famously said, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." The tree is indesperate need of manure.

MH>Hey, what have you got against Canada? :)

Two words: Bryan Adams :( .

MH>I think it’s safe to say that we have different criteria when it comes to evaluating the degree to which America is hindering or facilitating human progress as compared to other countries. I think it’s also safe to say that this is not a topic we really want to get into now;

Unfortunately, you're right. It's a topic I'd love to get into, but I couldn't design a worse medium for it if I tried (Been too long since I took a shot at Blogger :) ). More on which after the rest of my response.

MH>perhaps you were just burping up some anti-American spew.

You're right, Hannity. That's exactly what it was :).

Mike> First of all, the attacks have been more, not less frequent. Before 9/11, the last attack on US ground by AQ was in 1992.

MH>Nice exclusion of the attack on the USS Cole: didn’t take place on U.S. ground (or even in U.S. waters), and (from your perspective) it was only there because of the oil.

Thanks :).

MH> Still counts, though.

OK, let's count it then. Still more frequent attacks since than before. Especially since if you count the USS Cole, you need to count at least the London attacks as well :).

MH>What was 9/11 but a bunch of guys with boxcutters; had they been caught before they got on the planes you would probably be dismissively waving your hands at that, too.

9/11 would indeed have failed had the US implemented the most basic of security measures prior to the attacks. The fact that the attacks worked coupled with the US response is proof positive that the US was still fighting the last war. Unfortunately for everyone (with the possible exception of China and its partners) it still is.

Mr.H> At any rate, I’d rather play whack-a-mole than not to whack them at all.
Mike> Which is exactly what they want as far as I can tell.

MH>Is that supposed to make me feel bad or something?

Nah, just an FYI.

MH>Training camps are not necessary to carry out terrorist attacks, and I never said they were. They do, however, facilitate exactly that, and more. They train recruits in how to make explosive devices specifically for in-country manufacture and use. They also train recruits in the use of small arms and the

Mike said...

like, skills that are useful vs. the second-rate armed forces found throughout the ME.

So the upshot is that this whole long war thing won't eliminate terrorist attacks but may force these training camps to change their host countries once in a while? And that's worth the financial and human cost? Really??

MH> Even disregarding the merits of destroying their training camps, if you want to kill Al Queda terrorists, that’s where to find them.

True dat.

Mike>Do remember that this whole situation in Iran right now is continuing blowback from Project Ajax. Had the US not interfered 60 years ago, it would not be facing this situation today.

MH>Sort-of, sort-of not.

Seriously, it's not a sort-of situation. Cause and effect are very clear here.

MH> The Iranian government keeps such wounds festering because it serves to keep them in power by focusing anger outside and in support of their own aggressiveness. You, of all people, should appreciate that aspect of the “Operation Ajax” grievance mongering in Iran.

Absolutely. But had project Ajax not been carried out, this bunch would not be anywhere near power at this point. Further, the fact that they have a legitimate gripe adds a lot of strength to their rhetoric.

MH>Mr.H> […] you’re being ridiculous in calling me a xenophobe.
Mike> It's not just you. It's almost your entire country.

MH>Xenophobe? Me, and America the nation-of-immigrants?

Yup, a nation of immigrants each wave of which does its level best to prevent the next. Currently, it's the Mexicans coming in and the present American population is freaking out in its typically ugly way.

MH>You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

From Wikipedia: "Xenophobia is the uncontrollable fear of foreigners." It fits the US better than any other place I've ever visited.

Mr.H> Secondly, taking what you want can be a lot cheaper than paying for it.
Mike> Only in the short term. Eventually, there's always a much higher price to pay.

MH>Not true – not by a long shot. Why, just look at the shameful history of this country, what with the taking of land from the natives. Not a whole lot of blowback from that, it seems to me.

Oooh, good point and excellent counter example. I guess it does work sometimes, though I suspect it's substantially more difficult these days than it was 200 years ago.

MH>Superpower America protects its allies and trading partners from external threats. It’s an American thing - you wouldn’t understand.

That right there is one of the things that you (as a nation) need to ditch before you can make any progress.

Mr.H> If all they want to do is take Taiwan by force and keep the U.S. from defending them, then a temporary blockade would be a sound part of an overall strategy,
Mike> Oh, come on! A blockade on the US is an act of war pure and simple.

MH>Yes, it certainly would be an act of war. However, acts of war seldom lead to war;

When committed on the US they almost inevitably lead to war. In fact, I can't think of any exceptions off the top of my head but I really think there are a couple. Please feel free to jog my memory.

MH>Remember that this hypothetical example I gave you was supposed to demonstrate to you that having a strong military, in this case a strong blue water navy, would preclude this scenario from becoming a reality.

Oh, ok. I thought you were really starting to reach there...

Mike> I don't think you appreciate the scale of Chinese holdings or the effect that liquidating them would have on the US.

MH>First of all, American armed forces have sufficient strategic reserves that they can continue to operate in the complete absence of international trade.

Indeed, they can for some time. Question is, assuming this has happened and China decides to take Taiwan, would it even show up on anybody's radar in the US? My feeling is tha

Mike said...

it wouldn't, since trying to maintain order within the US would require all available resources. Worst case scenario from China's perspective: they'd have to wait a few years until the reserves ran out.

MH>On the other hand, we have nukes, and we could retaliate against an economic kill-shot by nuking them until all that’s left of China is an empty wasteland of roads leading to glass craters.

True. But I don't think even the US is fucked up enough to obliterate a country in retaliation for selling their bonds.

MH>And, as you said, having nukes means never having to use them, so by your reasoning China would never ever do this.

Yes, if the US makes it clear that they would retaliate for a bond sale with nuclear annihilation, it would leave China in a bind. It would also create geopolitical havock. Should such a thing happen, it would make me very glad that I'm in the Southern hemisphere...

----------

OK, I think I've had all I can take of this Blogger shit. I'd written most of the above by the time I realized this, so I figured I'd (mostly) finish it and post it. Please feel free to reply again, but I will reply to you only if I have once again failed to make my views clear.

Noocyte and Mr. Hengist: I have a hosting account that I use primarily for backups and data transportation. If you guys want, I would be happy to host any domain you want with any software you want and give you both full admin access to it. If interested, please shoot an email or something and we'll discuss. I'm really enjoying having these conversations but I'd enjoy it a lot more if I didn't have to wrestle with this archaic, poorly designed crap.

Mr.Hengist said...

Hey Mike,

Well, one thing upon which we both agree is that Blogger kinda sucks. Thanks for taking the time to express and clarify your views; please do feel free to step into the Blogger sandtrap when the spirits move you. Even if we don’t get into an extensive discussion your comments are welcome here. Thanks also for the generous hosting offer; as for myself, I have no desire to have a blog of my own, and what Noocyte decides regarding this blog is entirely up to him.

Mike said...

Excellent. I'm glad you enjoyed it too. One more thing I think we can agree on: the Left in the US is much less open to discussion and disagreement than the right (try this at a dinner party in NYC: "I'm really not sure about this whole global warming thing..." :D).

Also worth pointing out: this back and forth has inspired me to seek out better media for it and I've come up surprisingly empty handed.

this looks at least somewhat promising, but I haven't really had a chance to look at it in any depth. If it turns out to suck, we may have accidentally identified a completely unserved niche.

I'll look into it a bit further and if I decide to host something, I'll definitely let you guys know.

If I'm not mistaken, shitstorms.net is available :).