April 28, 2006
Mrs. Chester and I just returned from viewing United 93. It was . . . enraging, gut-wrenching, and very emotional.
I usually don't find myself getting worked up too much in movies, but at the end I realized that waves of adrenaline and anger had been coming over me for nearly the entire film. From time to time I found my pulse absolutely racing. I also realized when it was over that I had broken out in, quite literally, a cold sweat. Perhaps there's just something visceral about that day that is burned into many of us.
From time to time there were the briefest of moments when I would remember -- not just mentally, but in my bones -- what a September 10th mentality felt like. You know -- how things were just . . . different.
The film was outstanding and I highly recommend it. It bested my expectations on nearly every level: the acting was good, the story stuck to the facts, and it was apolitical as far as I could tell. Kudos to the director and producer for pulling that off. It was also refreshing not to see any big-name actors in the film. It's supposed to be about regular folks after all, right?
Mrs. Chester reports that she had an emotional response as well. She also liked that the passengers were not portrayed in some sort of gung-ho heroic super-patriotic light, but rather that they just realized that they had to try to do something to save themselves.
I wonder if it will be shown in Europe?
The theater was about 75% full. When the film ended there was a moderate level of applause.
And that's it. Go see it for yourself.
UPDATE: United 93 is apolitical as I mentioned above. But I wonder if it might have some political effects, particularly with regard to Tipping Point politics. I'll make a confession: as I reflect on my thoughts and feelings during the film, I can't help but admitting that when seeing images of the younger hijackers -- not Ziad Jarrah, the pilot, but the muscle -- I am overcome with absolute revulsion. It makes one wonder if our entire enterprise of reforming the Middle East is a fool's errand.
I don't usually think this way. In fact I rarely do (see the link in the above paragraph). Yet this is how I found myself thinking during the movie, and I don't think it was because that was the filmmakers' intended effect. I'll bet I'm not the only one who feels this way after watching. It was a fleeting thought, but there nonetheless.
Perhaps this is just me. I have rather emotional reactions when it comes to the defense of the United States. Many things I can argue or debate with cool distance and even-headed dispassion. Not so with defending America. Politics might be a messy, relativistic labyrinth in general, but one thing I know: this country is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and all who wish it harm be damned.
For better or worse, I predict Tipping Point effects from this film . . .
April 25, 2006
Hegemony, Celebrity and the Singularity
As all have heard ad infinitum, the US is the world's only superpower -- the term "hyperpower" has even been coined to describe America.
The world has a love-hate relationship with the United States. We are so much like a celebrity of sorts: all have heard of us, and everyone has an opinion, one way or another. Many hate the US, many love us, but no one is lacking in an opinion. In fact, it seems the world is frequently darn near mesmerized by the goings-on in the United States.
Conceptions of history usuallly involve a succession of hegemonic powers. No matter what school of history or international relations one ascribes to, nearly all assume a series of hegemonic powers -- masters by either economic domination, military prowess, or other factors. For two very different examples, see (as I always mention) Bobbitt's The Shield of Achilles, which relies on the centrality of warfare in history, or Giovanni Arrighi's The Long Twentieth Century, which relies more upon regimes of economic hegemony in explaining the consolidation of power in the modern world. Either way, they both rely upon the importance in history of determining which world power is the most powerful, which has hegemony, and -- whether using this to analyze strategy, as does Bobbitt, or to analyze economic domination, as does Arrighi -- which is central in world affairs.
Ray Kurzweil's much acclaimed book, The Singularity Is Near, makes a rather different case for human history, though it is more as an aside than a key part of his argument:
If we place key milestones of both biological evolution and human technological development on a single graph plotting both the x-axis (number of years ago) and the y-axis (the paradigm-shift time) on logarithmic scales, we find a reasonably straight-line (continual acceleration), with biological evolution leading directly to human-directed development.Kurzweil is here implying the point that technological progress has proceeded unimipeded over time regardless of what kinds of regime have held anything similar to hegemonic power. Even the Dark Ages was nothing more than a speed bump in the progression of technology (though certainly local conditions probably weren't so pleasant).
I don't want to imply some sort of triumphal techo-determinism to history. Certainly progress can be derailed. But all of this makes one wonder whether there is something fundamental in human nature, or in the nature of human societies, which seeks the love-hate fascination with a celebrity, or a hegemon, that most narratives of human history can so readily provide.
If Kurzweil's thesis of the singularity should prove right over the coming decades, or even only partially right, then the evolution of strategy in warfare will be most fascinating indeed, as human societies come face to face with burgeoning technological forces equally or perhaps more powerful than any single state. How might states predict or respond to a sort of independent technologically-driven creation of distributed power centers throughout the world? If Al Qaeda is but the first example of these, we are in for an interesting ride, to say the least.
April 24, 2006
Economic Determinism and Europe's Descent
Charles Boix has written a fascinating recent article in Policy Review, in which he argues that as universal as the desire for freedom may be, the conditions for the spread of democracy are limited. Chiefly, equality of economic conditions is the primary state in which democracy will take root and thrive:
The insight that equality of conditions is a precondition for democracy has a long and often forgotten tradition in the study of politics. It was apparent to most classical political thinkers that democracy could not survive without some equality among its citizens. Aristotle, who spent a substantial amount of time collecting all the constitutions of the Greek cities, concluded that to be successful, a city “ought to be composed, as far as possible, of equals and similars.” By contrast, he noticed, a state could not be well-governed where there were only very rich and very poor people because the former “could only rule despotically” and the latter “know not how to command and must be ruled like slaves.” They would simply lead “to a city, not of free persons but of slaves and masters, the ones consumed by envy, the others by contempt.” Two thousand years later Machiavelli would observe in his Discourses that a republic — that is, a regime where citizens could govern themselves — could only be constituted “where there exists, or can be brought into being, notable equality; and a regime of the opposite type, i.e. a principality, where there is notable inequality. Otherwise what is done will lack proportion and will be of but short duration.”Boix then goes on to offer a variety of empirical evidence to support this point. He takes particular aim at Islam itself, showing that it is no stronger a force against democracy than any other cultural factors in other parts of the world, and that even Islam is subordinate to economics when it comes to the flowering of democracy:
Islam has been much brandished as the cause of authoritarian attitudes and institutions in the Middle East and North Africa. But as Freedom House recently pointed out, if we take into account the large Muslim populations of countries such as India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Turkey, the majority of the world’s Muslims live now under democratic regimes. In turn, some scholars have noted that, even if Islam is compatible with free elections, the Arab world is not. Indeed, all Arab states remain undemocratic as of today — and do so by employing substantially repressive policies. The problem with this claim, however, is that it never specifies the ways in which Arab culture and behavior may be at odds with the principle of mutual toleration among winners and losers that makes democracy possible. Moreover, the few surveys we do have seem to show that Middle Eastern populations favor democracy by margins similar to those found in Latin American or Asian publics. The truth is that the politics surrounding the control of natural resources, rather than any religious or cultural factor, is what explains the preponderance of authoritarianism in the Middle East (and much of sub-Saharan Africa as well).Boix's is a great article and his ultimate conclusions are not to be dismissed.
His work though raises vexing questions about what he does not discuss. Namely, how does his economically determinate argument explain the rise of semi-autonomous, undemocratic groups within Europe? According to his economics-based theory of democratization, Europe should be a place where democracy continues to thrive indefinitely, not where it is threatened by some other system. Yet the growth of semi-autonomous immigrant communities in Europe's large cities -- places where the democratically created laws of the host society don't apply or aren't enforced -- is a frequent feature of the news these days (and even a slew of recent books).
How to account for this? Especially when all of these communities have one thing in common -- Islam?
My guess is that this phenomenon speaks less to the anti-democratic tendencies of Muslims than it does to the pusillanimous and faint-hearted efforts of the Europeans in defending and justifying their freedoms. But readers are welcome to differ . . .
April 22, 2006
Mary McCarthy: The Left's CIA Mole
Frequent readers will know that I'm a huge fan of the BBC series MI-5. This latest episode in the US regarding Mary McCarthy's alleged leaking of classified information to press agencies is very reminiscent of one episode of MI-5 in particular, in Season 3. Entitled "Sleeper," it begins with 5 seeking to "activate" a world-renowned chemist, a Nobel winner in fact, who long ago promised he'd be there when needed. The scientist is played brilliantly by Ian McDiarmid (Lord Sidious in another role, of course).
Scientist: [laughing] "Activate me?"It appears that Mary McCarthy might have either sold her own soul to the Democrats, or perhaps merely volunteered it of her own will. Either way, it appears that she serves a higher calling than the US Constitution: it appears she serves only one political party.
Harry Pierce, MI-5 senior officer: "You knew this would happen someday."
S: "Harry! That was . . . 20-odd years ago!"
H: "It was twenty-four years."
S: "That was bravado. When I said yes to you, I didn't take it that seriously."
H: "I did. Young MI-5 officer, you were the first sleeper I recruited."
S: "I never heard from you again!"
H: "We don't contact sleepers until we wake them."
S: "Ahh . . . No, no. Whatever it is you want me to do, no. My life is . . . set."
H: "Nobel prize winner. But did you really deserve it?"
S: "What the hell are you suggesting?"
H: "Your work which won you the Nobel . . . your discovery of the chemcial imbalance between neurons in the brain . . . that basic research came from nerve gas experiments at Port and Down which we made sure you were given."
S: "What . . . are you saying MI-5 manufactured my whole career?"
H: "We opened doors for you, and to your credit you barged right through them. That was the agreement: we'd help you become an expert in your field and if we ever wanted to call on your expertise we would."
S: "What am I Faust? I sold my soul to the devil for my success?"
H: "You sold your soul to your country. What's wrong with that?"
How else to explain both her meteoric rise in the intelligence bureacracy and the size and choice of her political contributions (!!! Jeez -- who knew that intelligence personnel were allowed political contributions. Last week I mentioned that George Marshall refused to vote when an officer in the Army. It appears no such apolitical regimen is required of our spooks.). From entry-level analyst to National Intelligence Officer in only 10 years. One might fervently hope that our civil service rewards excellent performance at such a quick pace, but one would be wrong, I believe. It just ain't so. The only explanation is political hackery of the first order.
And then there's the campaign contributions: perhaps as much as 9500 of Mme. McCarthy's dollars went to Democratic candidates in 2004.
You know I really don't want to accuse the Democrats of "planting" her at the CIA, or seeking her out for favors and advancement. I think it's more likely that she was especially ruthless in making known her political beliefs, and those were rewarded when the time was right, and punished later when Bush came to office. With her 2004 campaign contributions perhaps she hoped to earn a higher position than her likely demoted status under Bush. And when Bush won again, she set out to tarnish his administration, out of spite. That's the narrative which seems most likely to me.
All of this is hair-raising because it really makes one wonder: what the heck are the Chinese, Russians, Saudis, etc able to pull off if our own spooks are up to pranks like this? Who's minding the store while these yahoos have a go at some domestic political intrigue of their own? Seriously, what kind of people get their jollies from trying to maneuver their way into the position of First Assistant Deputy Assistant to the Undersecretary of Whatever, instead of trading espionage blows with the Russkies and ChiComs? If it seems bewildering to you too, I'm at a loss to explain it -- except to say that many years ago, Reuel Marc Gerecht of the CIA's clandestine service, writing under his pseudonym, Edward Shirley, published an article in The Atlantic about his own experiences at Langley, which asked the question, "Can't Anyone Here Play This Game?" The answer is either "no", or that they were playing a quite different game altogether.
In most spy stories -- real or fiction -- top agents are usually rewarded with money, positions of influence, medals, etc. I think it was John Walker who, on the occasion of one of his meetings with his Soviet handler, was told he'd been given the rank of Colonel in the KGB and awarded the Order of Lenin, or some such. Of course he'd never see any of that, but things like that were supposed to make the inside man feel better about his treachery. The same usually occurs in novels as well . . .
Well, Mary McCarthy may not have been promised anything by any official intelligence service or political party for her own treachery (if guilty of course), but she'll certainly receive it nonetheless. As In From the Cold notes via Belmont Club,
Within a few weeks, fired CIA officer Mary McCarthy will take her place in the pantheon of liberal heroes. Democratic politicians, left-leaning pundits and analysts in the drive-by media will hail her "courage" in exposing secret CIA prisons in eastern Europe, and providing that information to the Washington Post. There will almost certainly be a book and movie deal; I'm sure Joe Wilson's literary agent will be in touch, if he hasn't called already. However, timing for those media events will probably depend on whether Ms. McCarthy spends any time in jail for her "disclosures."That's right. She might not be a spy for any single foreign country or other master, but she certainly will be rewarded by the twisted interests of the Left, which seem foreign enough to me.
April 21, 2006
All Expenses Paid to North Korea
I've always thought it would be fascinating to go to North Korea. It's one of the most isolated countries in the world. See my review of the book Pyongyang here.
But something about this invitation just doesn't sit well with me. Perhaps it's the playing up of socialism:
Dear Duke Alumni and Friends:I bolded all the parts that bother me. Not sure how I feel about this. Will the cost of the trip be supporting the regime there in any way? Is this some sort of dog and pony show to boost images of the world's most dictatorial state? And if so few are allowed to go there, how does my alma mater rate a few slots? Who knows who?
I am pleased to extend a very special invitation. We have learned that the government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea -- the DPRK, which is North Korea -- has decided to allow a limited number of Americans into the country later this year. This small window of opportunity will be only the fourth time in fifty years that American tourists have been allowed into the DPRK.
No one knows when the next opportunity will occur.
The DPRK is a hospitable and fascinating destination, completely unique in the world. There is no U.S. State Department Travel Warning for the country. The DPRK government welcomes foreign visitors on a regular basis, and maintains a tourism infrastructure to accommodate them. The buildings we will visit are lavish showcases. North Korea's capital, Pyongyang, has huge, green parks, marble monuments, and wide, immaculate boulevards.
We have arranged a 12-day tour, beginning and ending in Beijing, China, entry point for North Korea. The highlight of our seven days in the DPRK is the "Arirang Grand Mass Gymnastic and Artistic Performance" in Pyongyang. The performance exemplifies the ideal of a nation in total collective and artistic harmony, and is quite probably the earth's largest and most astounding human spectacle. Just imagine: 100,000 people perfectly synchronized in a socialist realism extravaganza that can only be seen in North Korea. ( For itinerary, click here ) . . .
Because we anticipate a strong response to these initial invitations, I want to provide you with information you may need before making your decision to participate:
* Visa and passport requirements: Visas for China and North Korea are included in the
cost of the program, and we will provide instructions for procuring them. Passports must
be valid for one full year after the end of your visit.
* Food: Korean food (such as beef, rice, and spicy pickled cabbage) is normally served.
Dietary requests for vegetarian fare can be met.
* Health: You should be in good health for this visit, as medical facilities are basic.
No inoculations are required.
I hope you will join us!
I love Duke, but this makes me uneasy.
April 20, 2006
A Contrarian View of China's Future
As Hu Jintao's visit to the US winds down, allow a little bit of speculation about the future of China.
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal carried an article noting Hu's upcoming visit, and stating that the Chinese government's legitimacy is dually based on economic growth and nationalism.
The WSJ today carries an editorial that ends with this line:
The larger strategic bet here is that sooner or later China's economic progress will create the internal conditions for a more democratic regime that will be more stable and less of a potential global rival.
The US strategic assumption therefore is that "sooner or later, economic growth will lead to democracy." This is a controversial statement in political science circles -- there isn't any strong agreement on this, just a kind of fervent hope. Perhaps it is because of how closely Americans associate political freedom with economic opportunity. But it's still controversial.
But a completely uncontroversial statement in economic circles is that a boom-bust cycle prevails in most if not all markets and economies. Think about it: has anyone ever heard of an economy without a recession? and usually, isn't it true that the larger the boom, the greater the bust? I'm only 28, but I remember the heady days of 1999. Anyone who said a few key buzzwords and promised ridiculous market growth could get angel funding it seems. Then the bubble burst and we had a recession and now things are humming right along again.
Has China ever had a real recession since Deng liberalized the economy in 1978? There's been some slowing of growth here and there of course, but I don't believe a full-fledged recession, in which the economy actually shrinks.
Wouldn't it seem that China is . . . overdue for a recession?
No one can know how an economic retrenchment may begin. There are many possibilities:
-a collapse in the banking sector
-a decline in US domestic consumption
-oil price shocks
-deflationary slump caused by currency revaluation (as is argued by a Stanford professor in another Journal op-ed today)
But can one say, with any reasonable seriousness, that an economy which has boomed for two or three decades will not see at least one major recession?
Moreover, compared to developing countries, our recessions here in the US have been relatively mild. Consider these other Asian economic recessions:
1. Japan in early 1990s -- deflationary slump. The Japanese economy reached such lofty heights in the 1980s that the value of downtown Tokyo real estate was gauged as being higher than all of California. Fortunately, Japan has now recovered and -- as I heard on the radio the other day -- is in the midst of its second longest expansion in the postwar period, growing for 51 straight months. But from the early 90's for about ten years, Japan suffered what has become "the lost decade." "Nihon wa ima shiniso!" my host-brother proclaimed to me in 1994. "Japan is nearly dead these days."
2. Wikipedia's article on the East Asian financial crisis of 1997 notes that per capita GDP, (measured in purchasing power parity) has declined from 1997-2005 in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. In other words, those economies have been more or less stagnant overall in terms of the net effects of growth in the economy and growth in the populations ever since the currency and financial crisis of 1997.
So suffice it to say that when China has a slump or recession, there's a good chance that it won't be pretty. It will probably make one of our domestic recessions look like a single bad day at Nordstrom.
If economic growth stalls, what is to replace it as a pillar of political legitimacy? It seems there are two possibilities, more nationalism, or, in the hope of the United States, democratic legitimacy through political freedom. At the time of its recession, Japan had had a history of parliamentary elections and representative democracy for three or four decades (one could debate this given the overwhelming dominance of one party, but Japan was democratizing for a very long time to say the least). Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia all had some form of popular representation during their crises, though the democratization was varied in degrees in each. All of these countries though, at the time of their difficulties, were much, much, much further along the way toward representative and consensual government than China currently is.
Democracy in China seems unlikely to spring forward overnight during a time of economic crisis. It seems equally unlikely that any budding manifestations of it will suddenly blossom. Indeed, during the rural uprisings and riots we've seen trickling out in the news last year, it seems China was much more likely to send in the brute squads to put them down than to expand freedom for the rioters. Some of the freedoms the Chinese currently enjy might wither on the vine if poor economic times come along . . .
Perhaps nationalism will be intentionally spread to make up the difference in regime legitimacy?
This seems at least as likely a scenario as that of economic growth leading to greater political freedom, as is the strategy of the United States.
If China's roiling economy is one of the key pillars of regime legitimacy, I fear that the regime may soon learn what a bust is . . . and what might happen then?
In short, while everyone and their grandmother expects the "Chinese economy to surpass the US by 2030" or "China to emege as a global power" etc, I think it is just as likely that China will suffer a severe economic crisis, and do something horrible that makes it a pariah in the world's eyes -- whether internally or abroad; or that the Chinese regime could collapse under a popular uprising. I'm no expert, but it seems that if there's one place where they like to riot as much as France, it might be China. Flipping through a history of China is to read again and again of peasant or other popular uprisings.
If China transforms into a democracy with no political violence or economic hardship, we'll all break out the plum wine and celebrate. But all should have their eyes wide open as to the likelihood of more dreadful scenarios as well.
Sadly, I think there's little more the US can do than what we already are: building relationships with China's neighbors to counterbalance it if things go to heck; encouraging political freedom inside the country; trading with China; etc etc etc. The op-ed by the Stanford professor makes the case that we should quit complaining about their currency evalution, as a rapidly inflating currency was what led to Japan's deflation. I'm not enough of an economist to make heads or tails of that, but perhaps it's worth considering.
Perhaps we should just darn the torpedoes and pressure China to democratize much faster than it is, for its own sake . . . Given how many other things are on the US plate at the moment, it seems more likely that we'll kick this can down the road for a while longer . . .
April 18, 2006
FLASH: Marine Sgt to receive Navy Cross
A Loyal Reader emails:
You were one of the first blogs I read as the invasion of Fallujah unfolded. You really made it feel like I was there.I'll hold on releasing the name until I hear more details.
I am writing to inform you that my son-in-law [name withheld] will be receiving the Navy Cross in a ceremony at Parris Island . . .
He earned the award for action on 12/23/04 while clearing houses of weapons and people. His 20 man squad suffered 11 wounded and 3 KIA that day.
To my knowledge, this will be the second award of the Navy Cross during the War on Terror. The first went to my Basic School classmate, Captain Brian Chontosh.
You heard it here first . . . developing . . .
Bloggers as news-fixated mavens
Some time ago, I ran across what might be called an obituary for bloggers in the Financial Times. Here are some of the takeaway lines:
. . . but blogging in the US is not reflective of the kind of deep social and political change that lay behind the alternative press in the 1960s. Instead, its dependency on old media for its material brings to mind Swift’s fleas sucking upon other fleas “ad infinitum”: somewhere there has to be a host for feeding to begin. That blogs will one day rule the media world is a triumph of optimism over parasitism . . .Well that was quite a buzzkill. But it seems to make a number of assumptions about blogging that perhaps aren't quite true: that bloggers are seeking careers as bloggers, and aren't just enjoying themselves; that the infinitessimally short half-life of a blog post renders it meaningless in the grand scheme of things (even more so than journalism); that if blogs don't replace traditional journalism, they have failed, and so forth . . .
. . . Blogging will no doubt always have a place as an underground medium in closed societies; but for those in the west trying to blog their way into viable businesses, the economics are daunting . . .
. . . The dismal traffic numbers also point to another little trade secret of the blogosphere, and one missed by Judge Posner and all the other blog-evangelists when they extol the idea that blogging allows thousands of Tom Paines to bloom. As Ana Marie Cox says: “When people talk about the liberation of the armchair pajamas media, they tend to turn a blind eye to the fact that the voices with the loudest volume in the blogosphere definitely belong to people who have experience writing. They don’t have to be experienced journalists necessarily, but they write - part of their professional life is to communicate clearly in written words.”
. . . Which brings us to the spectre haunting the blogosphere - tedium. If the pornography of opinion doesn’t leave you longing for an eroticism of fact, the vast wasteland of verbiage produced by the relentless nature of blogging is the single greatest impediment to its seriousness as a medium . . .
. . . And that, in the end, is the dismal fate of blogging: it renders the word even more evanescent than journalism; yoked, as bloggers are, to the unending cycle of news and the need to post four or five times a day, five days a week, 50 weeks of the year, blogging is the closest literary culture has come to instant obsolescence. No Modern Library edition of the great polemicists of the blogosphere to yellow on the shelf; nothing but a virtual tomb for a billion posts - a choric song of the word-weary bloggers, forlorn mariners forever posting on the slumberless seas of news.
To the economic criticism, I'd say this: thus far, in most, if not all cases, I think bloggers have made money almost tangentially to the actual work of blogging. Making money is in other words, not the raison d^etre of most blogs, but make a little of it many do, often without trying too much, or at all. There aren't many other human activities where financial rewards (however modest) can be gained from decidedly unfinancial pursuits (readers are welcome to submit counterexamples). When I was on a panel about blogging in New York last fall, I knew what all the journos wanted to know: were any of us making any dough or not? Although it's a faux pas to discuss such things, I told them that with little effort whatsoever I'd made around $2000 in a year from all sources (Amazon links, Google Ads, BlogAds, and donations), which I considered to be not so bad for a hobby. Compare it to baseball card collecting, or hot air ballooning, or bowling if you like. Mrs. Chester is a soon-to-be MD and devours her US Weekly every week. Celebrity trivia is her escape. Mine is thinking about the big stuff. I've never taken out a single ad, and as far as I know, few bloggers have. If Pajamas Media is doing financially well, then that speaks very highly of the medium: have they even placed a single ad on, say, AOL?
But beyond all those petty economic considerations, I think the idea that bloggers will fail unless they replace newspapers is ill-conceived. Those searching for signs of that outcome will certainly be disappointed. No, something else is happening . . . but what?
Glenn Reynolds points to a Guardian article which notes something curious, since as we've read above, blogs have already peaked:
Bloggers and internet pundits are exerting a "disproportionately large influence" on society, according to a report by a technology research company. Its study suggests that although "active" web users make up only a small proportion of Europe's online population, they are increasingly dominating public conversations and creating business trends . . .How to square this with the Financial Times piece above?
Although unprompted contributors are generally younger and more vocal than the wider online population, they are increasingly important as opinion formers and trend-setters. Mr Smith says businesses, media organisations and advertisers reading blogs should be wary of making assumptions about their wider significance, but that their muscle cannot be ignored.
The immensely popular book The Tipping Point identifies three types of people who are necessary for ideas to spread: salesmen, connectors, and mavens. Salesmen are, well, good at selling a given idea. Connectors are people who know a variety of other people, disproportionate to the rest of the population. Think of that one person in your workplace who knows everyone, or the friend you have who has always been good at networking and is never shy to meet new people and make the most tenuous of encounters last -- these are connectors. According to Malcolm Gladwell, the author, mavens are those who by nature are very opinionated about everything. They hold strong opinions about the big, the small, the great events of the day, and even the trivial. According to Gladwell, ideas begin to spread when mavens recommend them because regular folk know that a maven has special knowledge of his topic(s). (Ideas also spread when salesmen sell them or when connectors spread them.)
A maven may be opinionated and knowledgable about many things or only a few things. He might be a crank or a busybody, or a pleasant fellow who just loves to talk about one certain thing. Those around him know him as a maven. Gladwell's example is of the day he spends with a certain professor at the Univ. of Texas business school, who has recommendations on what restaurant they should visit, asks the waiter to move them to a better table, and if memory serves, gives recommendations on automobiles to Gladwell during their lunch.
A long time ago, I read an inflight magazine article about the Weather Channel. The network had done detailed marketing research into its audience. It found that a large number of viewers just wanted to know about the weather in their area -- while they got ready for work or school, for example. Another very large number were
curious to know what the weather was like in areas where they had family or close friends. But the largest group by far fell into a category that they called "weather-fixated." They just loved watching the weather channel and learning about weather in all its forms. They were weather fixated.
Bloggers are news-fixated mavens. This explains our outsized influence on the rest of the world. The vast majority of people don't visit RealClearPolitics or Instapundit 20 times a day, or keep track of the intricacies of whatever it is that we keep track of. Mrs. Chester and I have this conversation a lot: most people just don't care that much about all this stuff. They just live their lives -- quite happily -- and only delve into current events occasionally, or with the shallowest sustained involvement. There's nothing wrong with this. They aren't mavens.
I'd say bloggers represent the 2% of the population who are news-fixated mavens. Blog readers who don't write themselves are perhaps another 10-20%. They are much better informed than the rest of the public and pride themselves on it. And when the rest of the uninterested public needs an opinion, they turn to those who pride themselves on their opinions.
It's no wonder then that blogs are having an unusual impact upon opinions and opinion-making. If you know of this crazy guy who always thinks and reads and writes about cauliflower, 99% of the time you are going to ignore him. But if there ever comes a time when you desperately, urgently need detailed information about cauliflower, then you certainly know where to find him.
My hypothesis is that a similar dynamic is at work with the blogosphere.
I once had a boss at work -- you know, the kind of guy who skims USA Today every morning for five minutes -- come up to my cube and ask me what I thought about Iraq. As I explained it to Bill Roggio in an email later, I gave my boss the "10-minute Western Anbar treatment." Not sure if he walked away informed, confused, or just thinking, "wow, I won't make that mistake again." But if he ever needs to know more, he knows where to find me.
April 16, 2006
Dear Generals: Please Stop, Immediately
The public denunciation of a sitting Secretary of Defense by several now-retired Generals is a profoundly disturbing affair. It would be equally disturbing were the Secretary a member of a Democratic administration. It would be no less disturbing were the generals advocating more aggression in our foreign policy, opposed to a Secretary who was more dovish -- the seeming opposite of the case we are confronted with today.
This is disturbing because, quite frankly, generals -- even retired ones -- are not supposed to do this. When General Newbold -- to take one example -- writes that officers swear an oath not to a single individual, but to the Constitution, he is papering over the fact that that very Constitution requires those same officers to follow the orders of a single individual.
Indeed, a public disagreement of this sort is not just bad for partisan politics. It's also bad for the very foundations of our democracy itself. Here's the reasons why I must respectfully ask these distinguished men to please cease and desist:
1. It is impossible for the outside observer to know the nature of a given General's retirement. Are any of them speaking out of spite? Were they passed over? Unless the news failed to report it, none of the several generals who have so publicly rebuked their former boss retired in protest. I think that would be the only case in which one of them might be justified in publicly criticizing a sitting administration -- and only temporarily at that.
2. For generals to publicly criticize the secretary of defense for whom they worked is to perpetuate a myth that has become prominent in our culture: the myth that participation in warfare is ultimately the provenance of the professional military, and not a joint effort with their political masters. Let us not forget Clausewitz's dictum of the link between warfare and politics. To suppose that politicians merely telling the generals to attack how they see fit would be the best way to run the Defense Department is to cede the political aspect of war to warfighters, whose political skills are understandably dwarfed by professional politicians who've made careers of reading political situations. All I've expressed in this paragraph is easily summed by another old expression: "war is too important to be left to the generals."
A corollary to this myth of the useless nature of politicians is the "chickenhawk protest:" that those who are not professional warriors have no business in warfare. As Eliot Cohen (who literally wrote the book on civil-military command issues) has noted, the generals are sometimes wrong: were Kennedy's military advisors correct when they recommended a nuclear first-strike during the Cuban Missile Crisis? As Cohen argues, only civilian leaders who actively challenge, question, and debate with their military officers are best equipped to guide the nation through its roughest times. A Cohen states, generals are experts in how to fight, not whether to fight.
For more on this, please read this article in its entirety:
3. But even that is not the most disturbing aspect of all of this. Most disturbing is the trend toward more open political expression among recently retired senior military officers. Recall the 2004 election, when each candidate lined up on stage with a few dozen retired senior officers, hoping to prove that he would make the best leader for their ranks. Are we soon to enter a period when a candidate cannot think of running successfully without vocal support from the officer class? Many democracies live with this curse, but I for one do not think it is healthy.
Suppose Rumsfeld were to resign at the behest of his generals. Would the next Secretary of Defense be more or less likely to challenge his generals in a very aggressive or pointed way? What if they all shunned him once they were out of uniform? Perhaps it would be best if he just kept his trap shut and let them have the run of things, rather than try to rock the boat, no? This is the danger that we face if we give too much encouragement to the type of behavior on display of late.
If the officer class needs some examples of how best to exhibit their professionalism, I offer three:
General George Marshall refused to even so much as vote while in uniform. He also literally wrote the first edition of the "Armed Forces Officer's Guide," a copy of which -- as far as I know -- is handed to every new officer soon after commissioning. I think Marshall would be appalled at such an outpouring of criticism toward a sitting Secretary of Defense.
In the meantime, they can best serve their country by heeding the example set by the martyred Shinseki. Since his departure from active duty, Shinseki has kept his own counsel. He has not joined the pack of those hounding Rumsfeld. His silence is a rebuke more telling than any words that he might speak. And it offers a model of true military professionalism as well.For a third example, I offer an unorthodox one: Ayatollah Al-Sistani, one of the indispensible men in postwar Iraq. He sees himself as inhabiting a special class of individuals -- a priesthood of sorts -- who should not participate in politics, but have a subtle influence on it nonetheless.
I don't think American retired brass should have nearly the influence that the clerics do over there, but retied generals are a sort of quasi-priesthood for sure. Sistani's forbearance in seizing power -- when it is clearly there for his taking -- offers many valuable lessons.
All of the generals who have spoken out in criticism of Secretary Rumsfeld are honorable men. Each has served over a period of time, and held a magnitude of responsibilities that strike awe into the hearts of the average guy like me. But I must ask them: please, gentlemen, keep your criticisms behind closed doors. To do otherwise is to take our democracy into territory best left unexplored.
April 15, 2006
Corporal Brett Lundstrom, USMC
Wow. This slideshow of the wake for Corporal Brett Lundstrom, killed by small arms fire in Fallujah on January 7th, is incredible.
Cpl Lundstrom was Oglala Sioux.
Fair winds and following seas, Devildog.
April 13, 2006
Iran Extravaganza Post
This post will be about Iran, and divided into four parts. Each is more or less unrelated, except that they are all things that have been kicking around in my skull for the last few days and weeks. Take from them what you will.
In Kenneth Pollack's work, The Persian Puzzle, he discusses several different policy options vis-a-vis Iran and then has this little gem, near the end of the work, while discussing one he calls "The Grand Bargain":
The problem with the Grand Bargain is that it doesn't work in practice. Every American administration since Reagan has put the Grand Bargain on the table and tried to coax the Iranians into accepting it. In particular, the Grand Bargain was the explicit core of the Clinton initiative. When Clinton administration officals spoke to Khatami's unofficial interlocutors, as well as to various European countries that tried to play a mediating role between Washington and Tehran, the course that they consistently laid out was a process of negotiations that would lead to a comprehensive deal over all of the different problem issues that lay between the two countries -- this is where the term "Grand Bargain" came from. The problem that lies at the heart of the Grand Bargain -- the problem that the Clinton administration stumbled over, much to its disappointment -- is the fundamental problem that lies at the heart of the Iranian-American confrontation.While that settles in, consider this excerpt from Bush's State of the Union address in January:
Whenever American officials are able to talk to Iranians about what it is that they would want from a Grand Bargain, and whenever American citizens are able to talk to Iranian officials about what it is that they would want from a Grand Bargain, one of the foremost things that the Iranians invariably say is, "Respect." In my own conversations with Iranians, in and out of government, I have found that it is usually the first of their demands -- and they often say it immediately and then have to think hard as to what their other demands might be. "Respect" is an abstract concept that needs to be made tangible if it is going to be part of a deal. So, like good negotiators, the Americans inevitably ask, "What do you mean by respect?" Typically, the Iranians cannot define what respect would be, but they are full of illustrations of disrespectful American behavior that would have to end for Iran to be willing to accept a Grand Bargain. For instance, the Iranians never fail to observe that saying that Iran was part of an "Axis of Evil" was disrespectful. The sanctions are disrespectful. Criticizing the (flagrantly rigged) February 2004 Majles elections for being flagrantly rigged was disrespectful. Any criticism of Iran's internal affairs, such as its kangaroo-court judicial procedures and its arrest of political dissidents on ridiculous charges, is disrespectful. A senator calling Iran the world's worst terrorist state is disrespectful. American newspapers writing articles about problems in the Iranian economy is disrespectful. The State Department stating that Iran supports terrorism rather than acknowledging that Iran is a victim of terrorism (both of which are true) is disrespectful. Claiming that Iran is harboring Al-Qaida personnel is disrespectful. I have personally heard every one of those statements made by Iranians in response to my question as to what "respect" means . . .
As it has for the past fifty years, the United States remains not only Iran's greatest political stumbling block but its greatest psychological stumbling block. The Iranians have so much emotional baggage attached to the United States that they simply cannot move past it. Just as the taking of the embassy in 1979 was more about seeking psychological gratification for twenty-five years of Iranian grievances against the United States (real and imagined), so today any political relationship with the United States remains captive to that same insurmountable sense of grievance. When Iranians talk about getting "respect" from the United States, they are demanding that the United States treat them better than we treat any other nation on earth -- that we refrain from all criticism whatsoever and not just by the administration itself, but by the Congress and even the media. We don't treat our closest allies that well.
And, tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran. [emphasis added]Well, that's certainly interesting . . . read into it however you like.
George Friedman's latest Strategic Geopolitical Intelligence Report (subscriber-only) is about the conflicts between idealism and realism in foreign policy. He goes through several past examples and summarizes them with this pithy line:
A doctrine emerges in looking at these three examples: the pursuit of political principles is possible only when one is willing to look at the long term; the near term requires ruthless and unsentimental compromise.Friedman then goes on to state that he believes this is very relevant to the present because the US just might make a deal with Iran about Iraq:
The United States may well wind up making a deal with Iran over Iraq. Alternatively, a Sunni coalition led by Saudi Arabia might give Washington the opportunity to negotiate with the Baathist guerrillas in the Sunni Triangle. Whichever path is followed, it will be condemned by both left and right for dozens of excellent moral reasons.You know, I just am not sure that I'm buying this. Well, to clarify: there is no doubt that ruthless and unsentimental compromise is a necessity in the execution of strategy. But Friedman states the necessity of such compromise with Iran in passing; he makes no detailed case for it, and I find it hard to see one.
Bush has been pursuing the path of pragmatism, however clumsily or adroitly, for months now. He will make a deal with someone because going it alone is not an option. The current situation in Iraq cannot be sustained, and all presidents ultimately respond to reality. Bush might have to eat some words about democracy and the United States' commitment thereto, but if Roosevelt could speak of the Four Freedoms while working with Josef Stalin, all things are possible.
Cutting deals across unsavory lines will be necessary regardless of the goal. But getting out of Iraq may not be that goal. The Iranians are a huge threat. If they can be used against the Ba'athist insurgency, then the Sunnis can alternatively be used against the Iranians.
There are lots of goals in the Middle East and each has little subgoals as well:
a) destroy al Qaeda (and capture those who might be more useful alive)
b) prevent Iran from having nukes (and circumscribe its influence in all parts, and foster regime change there if possible)
c) destroy the insurgency (both the Ba'athist one and Muqtada Al Sadr's simmering one)
d) foster Iraqi democracy (while at the same time keeping the place from splitting apart, or becoming too theocratic)
It's hard to say at any one point which of these is the most important to the US and Bush; the US probably prefers it that way so that its adversaries cannot guess its true intentions (Bush is rumored to have been a tremendous poker player while at business school). But my own guess is that preventing Iran from having nukes is probably going to trump all the others in the near term. And I think Friedman ascribes more power to the insurgency than actually exists. Soon they'll be gone. Violence will spike some more in the future and after the government is formed, then decline gradually over time. But Iran is a huge problem and getting worse.
Moreover, the same American government that invaded Iraq on the pretext of the danger from the nexus of rogue state, terrorism, and WMD is more or less still in place. They may have eaten a bit of crow on the issue of how the US might know when such an invasion is necessary, given how abysmal our intelligence is. But their initial logic has not been refuted: WMD in the hands of unstable regimes who support terrorism IS an enormous threat to the world. Arguing that pre-emptive action is impossible because our intelligence is horrendous is really to quibble about the execution of the policy of pre-emption, not to rebut the basic premise. Moreover, even if intellilgence is lacking, perhaps the Iranian regime's own admissions of their intent obviates the need to rely solely on the boys at Fort Meade and Langley.
Mark Steyn's latest article in Cityjournal discusses the idea that the leaders of Iran, since its Revolution, have always viewed themselves as much more than the leaders of any one country or state:
What, after all, is the issue underpinning every little goofy incident in the news, from those Danish cartoons of Mohammed to recommendations for polygamy by official commissions in Canada to the banning of the English flag in English prisons because it’s an insensitive “crusader” emblem to the introduction of gender-segregated swimming sessions in municipal pools in Puget Sound? In a word, sovereignty. There is no god but Allah, and thus there is no jurisdiction but Allah’s. Ayatollah Khomeini saw himself not as the leader of a geographical polity but as a leader of a communal one: Islam. Once those urbane socialist émigrés were either dead or on the plane back to Paris, Iran’s nominally “temporal” government took the same view, too: its role is not merely to run national highway departments and education ministries but to advance the cause of Islam worldwide.Steyn is here hinting at something that is little discussed outside of the abstract: how Iran would use its new nuclear status. Everyone generally assumes that its entry into the club would be bad because it would empower the Iranian state. But what Steyn touches upon is the idea that instead Iran is making its bid for supremacy over an entire religion. An earlier section in the same essay:
Take Iran: it doesn’t fit into any of the groups. Indeed, it’s a buffer zone between most of the important ones: to the west, it borders the Arab world; to the northwest, it borders NATO (and, if Turkey ever passes its endless audition, the European Union); to the north, the former Soviet Union and the Russian Federation’s turbulent Caucasus; to the northeast, the Stans—the newly independent states of central Asia; to the east, the old British India, now bifurcated into a Muslim-Hindu nuclear standoff. And its southern shore sits on the central artery that feeds the global economy.
If you divide the world into geographical regions, then, Iran’s neither here nor there. But if you divide it ideologically, the mullahs are ideally positioned at the center of the various provinces of Islam—the Arabs, the Turks, the Stans, and the south Asians. Who better to unite the Muslim world under one inspiring, courageous leadership? If there’s going to be an Islamic superpower, Tehran would seem to be the obvious candidate.
The excellent little book Grand Strategies in War and Peace contains an essay on Soviet Grand Strategy, from the Revolution through the 1980s. Among other things, the essay discusses one key decision point of the USSR early on in its life: the leaders had to decide what was more important, continuing to prosecute the revolution abroad, or focusing on shoring up security within the boundaries of Russia first? The answer was important as it would determine things like who might or might not be invaded, where to spend military outlays, and so forth. The answer, as you can guess, was to first shore things up at home, lest the revolution become overstretched and then stall -- making it vulnerable to rollback.
Are not the Iranians pursuing a similar strategy now? Surely they've sent influence abroad, but it has been of the softer kind than invasions. Instead, they are focusing on getting nukes -- the ultimate guarantor of state security -- and then, as Steyn mentions, they'll really be able to flex their muscles.
Fortunately for all of us, the essay on Commie strategy described above was written by none other than Condoleezza Rice.
Thus far I have implied a link between proliferation and deterrence, suggesting that the society of states as a whole can determine when proliferation poses a systemic threat by asking whether a state's acquisition of nuclear weapons strengthens of weakens the prevailing system of nuclear deterrence. That system is currently underpinned by United States nuclear forces. It rests on the assumption that the United States will not use nuclear weapons as a means of aggression, but that it will actually destroy another state if that state cannot be otherwise dissuaded from attacking a state protected by the American nuclear deterrent. If the United States were to change its policies in either aspect, the current system of deterrence would be difficult to sustain, as formerly protected states raced to arm themselves and formerly deterred states began to explore the rewards of coercion.Now let's just say for argument's sake that you completely disagree: deterrence will work in an "n-polar" world, even if one of those poles is Iran. Let's consider the assumption there that the Iranians are rational actors. There are many who argue that Ahmadinjad is a "madman," thus attempting to rebut those who think deterrence would work, even with him.
This present system would be gravely undermined by multipolarity -- the acquisition of a third superpower nuclear arsenal -- for two reasons. First, multipolarity introduces a complexity that tends to weaken American commitments by blurring the identity of the states to be deterred: in a tripolar or n-polar world, responsibility is diffused. The persuasiveness of the argument, often heard in the United States during the Cold War, that the United States must act to suppress international violence or parry aggression, because if the United States doesn't, no one else will, fades in a multipolar world. The sheer complexity of deterrence in a multipolar world, coupled with an understandable American willingness to let other powers take up burdens long carried by the United States, creates a situation similar to that of the paralyzed crowds that attend emergencies. Second, the system of deterrence is stressed whenever a crisis triggers the threat of the use of nuclear weapons to deter aggression; such crises call the American bluff and require the United States to run potentially fatal risks to enforce dissuasion. Multipolarity can only increase, perhaps exponentially, the number of nuclear crises. We could have had another system of nuclear deterrence, perhaps managed by other powers, but this is the one we have, and this is the system bequeathed us by the Long War. [emphasis in original]
"Madman" is so simplistic. What might be a more complex way of describing his thinking? Since my desire to find new material for you loyal readers out there knows no bounds (or because I'm truly addicted to this stuff, I don't know which is worse), one evening I found myself trolling through the RAND site, where I encountered this splendid paperby David Ronfeldt: Beware the Hubris-Nemesis Complex: A Concept for Leadership Analysis. The hubris-nemesis complex is defined thus:
In the years ahead, the United States will assuredly find itself in new international crises involving nations or groups that have powerful leaders. In some cases, these leaders may have a special, dangerous mindset that is the result of a "hubris-nemesis complex."What are some of the attributes of the complex?
This complex involves a combination of hubris (a pretension toward an arrogant form of godliness) and nemesis (a vengeful desire to confront, defeat, humiliate, and punish an adversary, especially one that can be accused of hubris). The combination has strange dynamics that may lead to destructive, high-risk behavior. Attempts to deter, compel or negotiate with a leader who has a hubris-nemesis complex can be ineffectual or even disastrously counterproductive when those attempts are based on concepts better suited to dealing with more normal leaders.
- a destructive-constructive messianism;THe study goes on to list some leaders who exhibit this complex: Castro, Saddam Hussein, Hitler, Khadafi, Khomeini, and probably Slobodan Milosevic, Kim Il Sung, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Some who are unsavory but nonetheless have different personalities are: Lenin, Stalin, and Mao.
-high, moralizing ideals that justify violence;
-a demand for absolute power, loyalty and attention;
-a fierce sense of struggle that may turn self-sacrificial;
One interesting aspect of the study is its mention of fictional examples. Captain Ahab in Moby Dick and Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost come in for scrutiny:
Aboard ship, Ahab imposes an "irresistible dictatorship" to go after a superpowerful beast, Moby Dick, that had injured him physically, and in Ahab's view, intellectually and spiritually too. This "grand, ungodly, godlike man" fulminates like a vengeful match for any power in heaven, in hell or on earth. His consuming pride and rage for revenge against the White Whale blaze in the great speech before his crew where he proclaims, "I will wreak that hate upon him . . . I'd strike the sun if it insulted me." And while others think him mad, Ahab knows he is but "demoniac" -- and that "for this hunt my malady becomes my most desired health." The Whale of course proves to be his nemesis.This made me want to pull Melville off my shelf and read one memorable part again:
Toward thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale: to the last I grapple with thee: from hell's heart I stab at thee: for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee.Can Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be the Captain Ahab of the Muslim world? It's a thought worth considering, whether he exhibits hubris-nemesis tendencies. Ronfeldt wrote his study on behalf of the CIA.
April 12, 2006
Through the Looking Glass
Austin Bay's piece today about The Quiet War Against Muqtada Sadr has this interesting bit:
Sistani's aides told Iraqi and coalition officers: "Let us deal with Sadr. We know how to handle him and will do so. However, the coalition must not make him a martyr."I have a feeling many more than the Iraqis would understand, just not many Americans. Politics, when not democratic, makes a messy affair.
I left Iraq with the impression that Sistani's plan for handling Sadr would be a python-like squeeze only an Iraqi insider would fully understand.
Two of Alan Furst's historical novels of espionage in World War II contain moments when the soon-to-be agent realizes just what business he is about to become involved in.
The World At Night has this recruitment scene:
"So, what I"m working on." Simic lowered his voice, leaned closer to Casson. "What I'm working on is a nice private Spaniard for the British secret service. A general. An important general, respected. What could he do? What couldn't he do! He could form a guerrilla force to fight against Franco. Then form a military junta and restore the monarchy. Prince Don Juan, pretender to the Spanish throne, who is tonight living in exile in Switzerland, could be returned to Catalonia and proclaimed king. See, Franco took the country back to 1750, but there's plenty of Spaniards who want it to go back to 1250. So the junta would abolish the Falangist party, declare amnesty for the five hundred thousand loyalist fighters in prison in Spain, then declare that Spain's strict neutrality would be maintained for the course of the war. And no German march to Gibraltar."And Night Soldiers contains a similar scene, but for a different master:
Slowly, Casson sorted that out. It had nothing to do with the way he thought about things, and one of the ideas that crossed his mind was a sort of amazement that somewhere there were people who considered the world from this point of view. They had to be on the cold-hearted side to think such things, very close to evil -- a brand-new war in Spain, fresh piles of corpses, how nice. But, on the other hand, he had been reduced to crawling around like an insect hunting for crumbs in the city of his birth. It was the same sort of people behind that -- who else?
The man and the woman at the next table laughed. She began it, he joined in, one of them had said something truly amusing -- the laugh was genuine. You think you know how the world works, Casson thought, but you really don't. These people are the ones who know how it works.
"You understand, do you not," Antipin said, "that they meant for me to kill him."
"If that's his name."
"Why. To create an incident, to make politics, to give their newpapers something to say: bloody-fanged Bolshevik murders local policeman. Yes?"
Khristo though about it for a time. He understood it, but it seemed very strange. Events occurred, newspaper stories were written. That the sequence could be staged -- events made to happen so that stories would be written -- had simply never crossed his mind.
"The murder was an alternative, a second scheme to try in case their first one failed."
Khristo squinted with concentration. The world Antipin was describing seemed obscure and alien, a place to be explained by an astrologer or a magician. Violence he knew, but this was a spider web.
Or maybe such is not confined to non-democratic politics after all . . . Bruce Bawer notes this about the French in his article in the Hudson Review:
All of which makes it even more fascinating to read Timmerman on Chirac’s shabby little demimonde of bribes and bagmen. From the cash stashes in Chirac’s office toilet to the Quai d’Orsay diplomat caught poking through garbage bags outside a Houston home to the classified U.S. and UN data that Chirac, unforgivably, shared with Saddam right up to the invasion of Iraq, Timmerman’s account makes the entire history of Washington scandals from Watergate onward look like a Girl Scout cookie drive. He makes a point that’s actually occurred to me before, too: that the French are so accustomed to their politicians being profoundly cynical and corrupt that they naturally assume all American politicians are like that, too. One recalls the cheers at Cannes for Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, that pastiche of falsehood and cheap innuendo; the bitter irony is that the scale of French leaders’ real-life avarice and perfidy dwarfs even the worst of that film’s accusations against their American counterparts.If America's perpetual tale is one of innocence lost, then innocence regained, perhaps we are in the midst of the eye-opening portion of that cycle . . . and once opened, what might our eyes tell us to do?
April 8, 2006
The US-Iraqi Security Treaty of 2007
Belmont Club points to an article I noticed in Opinionjournal last week, in which Amir Taheri fleshes out his belief that the strategy in many Muslim capitals is to wait out the end of Mr. Bush's presidency, the assumption being that whoever follows will not be so prone to an aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East:
According to this theory, President George W. Bush is an "aberration," a leader out of sync with his nation's character and no more than a brief nightmare for those who oppose the creation of an "American Middle East." Messrs. Abbasi and Ahmadinejad have concluded that there will be no helicopter as long as George W. Bush is in the White House. But they believe that whoever succeeds him, Democrat or Republican, will revive the helicopter image to extricate the U.S. from a complex situation that few Americans appear to understand.Allow a bit of speculation . . .
Mr. Ahmadinejad's defiant rhetoric is based on a strategy known in Middle Eastern capitals as "waiting Bush out." "We are sure the U.S. will return to saner policies," says Manuchehr Motakki, Iran's new Foreign Minister.
The Bush administration is probably equally as concerned as Mr. Ahmadinejad that its successor will pursue a, for lack of a better term, more "traditional" foreign policy in the Muslim world. Moreover, the Bush team has proven fairly adept at forcing military actions to conform to domestic political timeframes. I think an oft-overlooked facet of the timing of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was its relationship to the election cycle. Bush et al. knew that they wanted to get rid of Saddam, and knew that they had to do it in his first term, because there was no way to guarantee that he'd have a second. Letting the inspections drag on then, as an alternative strategy for example, would have been more than just backing down; it would have lessened the chance that the regime would be changed before November of 2004.
Likewise, the Second Battle of Fallujah coincided with the end of the US election in 2004, as Bush could not risk the media's coverage of a dirty, urban battle while he was shoring up his own electoral position at home.
Some might think this is a poor way to plan: manipulative of policy for the purposes of political gain . . . but to think such is to ignore the intricate ties between warfare and politics . . . Clausewitz would understand what the President is up to, as would Lincoln, I think . . .
In any case, assuming Mr. Taheri is correct in his assessment of the "waiting Bush out" strategy he describes, we now encounter a new foreign-policy conundrum for Bush's team. First an inescapable fact: after January 20th, 2009, we'll have a new President, who might have altogether different ideas of how the US should be involved in the Middle East.
So assume that Bush wants his strategy to continue beyond his own tenure. How might he ensure that? One way might be through a security treaty with the new Iraqi government. Such a treaty might detail the nature of continued US intervention for the next decade or so: where bases might be located; how aid should be distributed; how intelligence might be shared between the two; how the two countries' forces could cooperate in a variety of endeavors . . .
It is unlikely that such a step could be taken in 2006 because of political conditions in both countries: the Iraqi government is in no shape to begin deliberating it, as it does not yet exist. And in Washington, things have entered the twilight zone that occurs in the runup to elections: little other than the election itself is on anyone's mind, and passing a major piece of foreign-policy legislation is unlikely (the immigration debate is certainly foreign-policyish, but is also certainly more driven by reelection concerns than anything else). Moreover, after 2007, Bush will probably have missed his chance to attempt such an initiative . . . by 2008, he'll have entered full-scale lame duck status, and most everything will be on autopilot as the politerati totally focus on the presidential election.
Back to Iraqis: one thing's for sure: whoever does end up running the government over there will not run it for long if security is not his highest priority . . .
So there's an interesting confluence of interests: US desires to extend its forward presence in the Mideast for the intermediate term, perhaps 10 years or more; and an Iraqi political need to appear to shore up domestic security, while at the same time addressing the status of the large US presence within the country.
And then there's the timing: the formation of the Iraqi government, and what could be called the continual reformation of the US government, both won't be complete until early 2007 . . .
My guess is that if the Bush team wants to enshrine some sort of aggressive US transformational policy in the Middle East, 2007 will be the year to make it happen, and a treaty, or other similar agreement, might be the means . . .
One interesting side note is that treaties must be approved by the Senate . . . and the number of Senators who are preening for 2008 is as large as ever . . . and the Bush team also has a habit of skillfully employing the tactic of forcing a vote on an issue so that legislators are thereby defined by that vote in an upcoming election (think the DHS bill of 2002 for example) . . . interesting . . .
A principle of grand strategy is to ensure that one's policies live longer than one's own administration -- for if they are the correct course, then they should not be limited in the timeframe of their execution . . .
April 3, 2006
New Comment Policy
Well, comments are back on. Spam should be harder to come by 'round these parts. The comments section of each post will now close after a few days of the post's publication.
As usual, I have my tech-savvy consigliere to thank for these improvements: Bill Roggio. Thanks, Bill!
On another note, there are now a few text ads in the sidebar. If anyone is interested in the products and services advertised, feel free to check them out. If anyone is interested in placing text ads with The Adventures of Chester, just shoot me an email.
Should have a post or two up this week. I know it's been awhile. Been very busy, but the good news is I put my house on the market on Wednesday evening of last week, and am signing a contract tomorrow. The market is pretty hot down here in San Antone.
Thanks, loyal readers, for your patience with the comments.