Thursday, December 6, 2007 66 Comments

Matthew Yglesias: anatomy of an intellectual crackhead

I hasten to say that I have nothing against Matthew Yglesias, though I have picked on him before. Perhaps my real problem with the man is just that he's younger than me, but also more prominent and accomplished. In any case, I'm sure Yglesias is perfectly pleasant in person, although if he reads this he may want to at least fantasize about Macing me. (Let's just hope he doesn't team up with Tryfon Tolides.)

Needless to say, this crack thing will come as a surprise to him. It goes without saying that a successful blogger such as Yglesias, especially one with the skills to get hired by a genuine party organ such as the Atlantic, does not think of himself as being a crackhead, a crack dealer, a crackpot, or in any way, shape or form involved with the crack industry, the crack-rights lobby, grassroots crack organizations, etc, etc, etc. Intellectual, or otherwise. Oh, no! Yglesias is a fully-paid member of the reality-based community.

Of course, if you or I were good friends of Yglesias, people he met at an art opening or a reception for frequent NPR guests or a cocktail party for the Obama campaign, and we had all had a few drinks or toked up a little or whatever, at least enough to consider ourselves past the usual public decorum of pas d' ennemis a gauche, we could probably identify a few individuals and institutions, with names you would recognize, who while being very much a gauche, really impeccably a gauche, not even gauchely a gauche like Al Sharpton or something, do strike Yglesias as a bit acquainted with the Cocaine Badger. Or at least its progressive equivalent. (The Social-Justice Badger, perhaps?)

But Yglesias is a moderate, darn it. He's not one of these Kos Kidz. He knows there's crack on his side of town. He just believes that he's not one of the ones ingesting. Of course, how he can maintain this belief while steam-shoveling these piles of snow up his beak is open to question. And indeed, it is this very question we shall answer today.

(Do you imagine a Yglesias in a sort of NPR-Malibu-Marin hot-tub dreamworld, doing organic lines off a naturally-finished sustainable redwood cokeplank, while beautiful interns from Yale caress his shoulders and tell him about their goals for environmental justice? Regardless of the actual facts, I feel this is exactly how we must see him. As Camus said: one must imagine Sisyphus happy. Yglesias' work as a shill for the State will never be complete, any more than Sisyphus' will, and if said State isn't compensating him according to his actual talents it darned well should be. The man is a top-notch writer, for cripes' sake.)

No - I have no information at all about Yglesias' personal lifestyle. (And I'm not sure he'd indulge in this sort of puerile, pejorative drug humor.) But Yglesias definitely knows there is such a thing as a progressive moonbat. And he definitely doesn't consider himself one.

And there is certainly no possibility that Yglesias has just drawn the line between pragmatic centrist and progressive moonbat in the wrong place. That not only he, but also almost all his so-called conservative opponents, are best defined as progressive moonbats and intellectual crackheads. Why, there is no possibility of such a thing! The line always goes down the middle! And as long as you're in the middle, you're sane by definition, not to mention sober. Right?

Well, okay, maybe not right. But I'm sure Yglesias has duly considered and rejected this interpretation of his pragmatic centrism. After all, he's a very intelligent and obviously thoughtful young man. I exaggerate, of course. There really is no possibility that he is an intellectual crackhead. We are just going to run a few tests. Just to be sure.

First, a definition. An intellectual crackhead is anyone who happens to be engaged in the generation, incubation, or dissemination of intellectual crack. Intellectual crack is any nonsense that is widely and confidently believed by a large population of full-grown adults. Perhaps we can take this book as the original bible of intellectual crackology, in which case "intellectual crack" is just a snappy way to say "extraordinary popular delusion."

There is only one procedure for dealing with an intellectual crackhead. First, identify him. Second, ignore him. Third, persuade others to ignore him. Fourth, if all these precautions fail, see if you can "borrow" some of his crack. Because it must be awfully good stuff.

Being an intellectual crackhead is sort of like being a zombie. When the zombie uprising happens, you stop worrying about zombie profiling. If someone displays the first sign of zombism - exposed muscle tissue, oozing eyes, partial amputations, etc, etc - you assume he or she is a zombie, and react accordingly. You have two categories: zombie and non-zombie. There is no point scale, for degree of zombie-nature or whatever. It's a binary flag.

Note that this is exactly how normal, sensible, educated people today think of the Nazis. Either you are a neo-Nazi, or you are not. If you allow as to any doubt about the matter, if you denounce the Holocaust but have a few good words for Hitler's environmental vision, etc, etc, you are a neo-Nazi.

In other words, Nazism is a classic specimen of intellectual crack. This does not mean that every intellectual crackhead is a Nazi. It does mean that every Nazi is an intellectual crackhead. I really hope this is not an overly recondite distinction.

Using the example of Nazis, here is how normal, intelligent people avoid being categorized as intellectual crackheads. They simply use their normal social grasp of good manners, and take normal, sensible precautions to avoid allowing others to get the impression that they may, in fact, be Nazis.

They don't plant tulips in their yard in the shape of a big red, white and black swastika. Even if they think it's a very attractive geometric pattern. They don't grow a mustache shorter than their upper lip. Even if they know it'd be dynamite in the back room at the Manhole. When they start startup companies, they don't pick Nazi names, like Reinhard-Heydrich LLC, Iron Cross Linux, or Dr. Morell's Fanatical Energy Juice. Even if the last would really stand out on the beverage rack. Etc, etc, etc.

They take these precautions, which may not even be justified by any actual moral imperative (is there really this community of young, tender-minded Holocaust survivors, whose fragile minds may be scarred for life at the sight of a swastika?), not because they are unusually good or moral people (any sufficiently large majority being average by definition), but because they happen to live in a society that considers Nazism, or anything even remotely like Nazism, shameful and embarrassing.

Which, in Theodore Dalrymple's definition of the word, is a prejudice. And quite a sane and healthy one at that. (Of course, any prejudice can be taken too far - as we'll see.)

Our Dalrymplean prejudice against Nazism is a sensible response to a well-known strain of intellectual crack. Nazism is especially dangerous because it can affect basically the whole population, even in a modern and civilized society, and cause them to set up a Crackhead Reich which is crazy and behaves in ways dangerous to itself and others. We know this because it happened. We may not be sure exactly how it happened, because any such understanding would require us to think hard enough about Nazism that it might accidentally unfreeze the virus, and cause a worldwide nuclear Nazi death plague heavy-metal holocaust, basic fourth-grade history informs us that Nazism did in fact happen and is therefore scary and dangerous. QED.

Of course, what's odd is that the 20th century had another brand of 200-proof intellectual crack. Its name was Communism. And our society is not prejudiced against Communism, or anything even remotely like Communism, in anything like the way it's prejudiced against Nazism. Unless you are reading this through some kind of 1950 Internet time warp, neither you nor I nor Yglesias finds any association with Communism shameful and embarrassing.

And yet life, somehow, goes on. Now isn't that interesting? Why do you suppose that would be? How could one prejudice be necessary and the other not, and yet the difference between Communism and Nazism, at least as far as anyone in 2007 is concerned, is basically a matter of graphic design? I exaggerate, of course. Slightly.

I am by no means the first person to discover this weird crease in our moral reference frame. However, the good folks at GNXP have given it a sharp name: the blank-slate asymmetry.

I must stress that it's entirely possible that the BSA is just a normal, benign moral asymmetry. That it has some sensible explanation that for some reason has eluded me and everyone else in the world. I have also seen plenty of non-sensible explanations for it. And I have seen plenty of people try to argue that it doesn't need explaining at all. (I worry about this last bunch.)

But here is the interesting thing. People who are on intellectual crack do not know they're on intellectual crack. (Eliezer Yudkowsky has a good bit on this.) Rather, they think they are perfectly normal. It is always you who are on crack. (If you doubt, try this movie.)

So - perhaps if you find a little, unexplained crease like this - how can you test whether you yourself are an intellectual crackhead? Obviously, if there was some trivial test, there would be no such thing as intellectual crack. Everyone would learn the test and remember it, and apply it to any doubtful intellectual material that seems to be headed in the direction of their nose. Perhaps it would be a liquid test, carried in a little eyedropper. "Wait!" you'd say. "I can't snort this! The paper turned pink! It must be crack!"

No. In the real world, we are everywhere surrounded by crack. It's in the water supply. (As the BMJ recently put it, "it does seem that Base Commander Ripper may have had a point.") And in newspapers and on TV and in magazines and on the sides of buses and on everyone's lips. (Spend a little quality time over at fightglobalwarming.com, then read this discussion. Crack, gentlemen, pure intellectual crack.)

Escaping from intellectual crack is almost impossible in general. With the purity of our modern neuropharmaceuticals, it's basically inconceivable. As Tolstoy put it:
I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.
However, we can always give it a shot. And one way to practice is to try out your algorithm not on yourself, but on some hack intellectual for rent, some deputy-assistant wormtongue, some apparatchik NGO-blogger of the official press, some Yglesias. If we can't explain to this man, in one post, that he is an intellectual crackhead, our litmus drops need some work.

An fun way to start the crack detection process is to find these little creases in the fabric, these small inconsistencies in commonly accepted reality, whose meaning is by no means obvious and which may just be natural color variations. Like the BSA, like water fluoridation, like overfitted circulation models and bogus paleoclimate series.

These kinds of mistakes are like continuity errors in a movie. They could mean nothing. Nothing at all. But, at least if your little neurological Truman Show detector is in proper working order, they should at least initiate a complete philosophical self-test. "Hey, wait a minute," you should say. "Am I on crack? Maybe I'm just on crack here."

If you've never had this reaction, let alone come to the conclusion that you actually were on crack, you must be an exceptionally dogmatic and stubborn person.

Which does not mean you are wrong about anything. On the other hand, nor does it make you right, and all I can give you is Cromwell. "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken." Note that Christ lived in the Middle East, not a region known for its friendliness to the bowel.

On the other hand, while noticing these inconsistencies is a fun game, it is not really an effective approach toward addressing your crack problem. The trouble is that once you notice any such inconsistency, by definition you are no longer deluded by it. You can still investigate this little piece of rock in your hand, which is basically dead crack, and surmise that similar crystals, still pulsing with delicious cocaine vibrations, are embedded in the brains of those around you. But you yourself are cured - at least of this particular strain.

If the inconsistency is commonly suspected, after all, it must have skeptics and defenders, who are very likely to be on different sides of some political line. If you are a defender, and you are wrong, you probably have some tribal emotion wrapped up in your bizarre and indefensible explanation of this little piece of crack. Faced with the inconsistency, you will simply deny it.

No, what always gets you is the things you know that ain't so. And on that: back to Yglesias.

I thought of running a crack test on Yglesias when I saw this post of his. It was linked from this Julian Sanchez post. Please read both. Then read this post - including the comments.

Since Yglesias is a progressive whereas Sanchez is a libertarian, their approaches diverge a little. Yglesias is a little more articulate, at least on this subject. But I like Sanchez's term, Care Bear Stare, and I'll take the liberty of identifying it with Yglesias' Green Lantern Theory.

And that other thing? Oh. That was just to remind us that while it's wonderful to bandy slurs with libertarians and progressives on the Internet, there is a real world out there. And ideas do have consequences. And yes, there is a connection to the Care Bear Stare, but I'll have to leave you hanging on that one. (Perhaps when the Care Bear Stare won't do the job, the Care Bears have to resort to their pangas.)

What we're going to do is dive into this Care Bear Stare issue. Give it a really solid historical working-over. We're going to test it for crack, the little drop will be pink, indicating crack, and then we'll decide what to do next.

We are not going to discuss any other beliefs or opinions that Yglesias may hold. We are going to focus entirely on this one issue. If we find crack, we will declare Yglesias a crackhead. If he wishes to argue that he is "only chipping," or "only does it on weekends and holidays," or "stays away from that brown shit," he certainly has a platform from which to make that case.

Now, what's interesting about this Care Bear Stare contretemps is that Yglesias and Sanchez are accusing their political opponents - in this case, Reuel Marc Gerecht - of being on crack. Without accepting or refuting this accusation (it's certainly interesting to compare Gerecht's style of thought to those of Sanchez and Yglesias), let's try to abstract it slightly, separate it from its immediate political context, and construct a more general description of this strain of crack.

The Care Bear Stare or Green Lantern Theory is what a less hip writer might call an invincibility myth. An invincibility myth is a belief that, in any conflict, some faction is invincible and will prevail regardless of any material evidence. For example, said faction might have God on its side. Or it might have the Green Lantern. Or the Care Bears could show up and deliver their Stare. Or perhaps it just has a blessed +7 rustproof panga.

Regardless of the purported mechanism (this is crack we're talking about here, after all), an invincibility myth is of tremendous military usefulness. After all, if you really are invincible, it's obviously a pretty bad idea to oppose you. If your enemies are acting in their own best interests, they will surrender now, and get the best deal they can. And your allies certainly have no incentive to waver.

For example, let's consider the faction that Gerecht represents: the Pentagon. (Yglesias talks about "American military might," but we here at UR are sly and know that Washcorp is not exactly a single unitary actor.)

If the Pentagon's adversaries believed that it was invincible, they would not even consider opposing it. They would just give up now, to avoid the trouble. Similarly, those of us whose attitude toward the Pentagon can best be described as "wavering" would find it profitable to overcome our doubts, and jump on the bandwagon while it's still uncrowded. As Osama bin Laden once put it, everyone likes a strong horse.

So the situation seems quite uncomplicated. Gerecht is clearly a follower of the Pentagon. He is promoting, through the usual nefarious device of assuming it implicitly and then making an argument based on it, the idea that the Pentagon is invincible. Who does this benefit? The Pentagon. No surprises at all.

This is about the level of thinking you'd expect from the reality-based community. I've worked through it at some length to demonstrate that it is, indeed, thinking. (This may not be obvious to all UR readers.) So where is the crack?

The problem is that there is actually such a thing as invincibility. There are many conceivable conflicts whose outcome involves negligible uncertainty.

For example, the other day I was walking down 16th Street in San Francisco when I was confronted by a typical "only in San Francisco" scene: a large group of policemen, firefighters, and other public safety personnel, trying to convince a man to come down from a tree. (It was not a large tree, either.) It was not clear to me why the fellow was in the tree, but he was a full-grown adult male who even appeared to have had a shower in the last few days. Apparently he had been there since 2am. At the rate things were going, it seemed that he might remain until 2am again.

Doubtless Tree Man was thinking something. Perhaps he thought he could remain ensconced indefinitely. But you and I are aware that, in a conflict between the SFPD and a temporarily arboreal neohominid, the SFPD is effectively invincible.

So when reasoning about invincibility, we can make either of two errors. We can (a) detect invincibility where no invincibility is present. Or we can (b) fail to detect invincibility when invincibility is indeed present. Yglesias accuses Gerecht of (a). I suspect Tree Man of (b).

The only way to see who is right is to look at the actual facts of the matter. In other words: in a military conflict between the Pentagon and Iran, what will happen?

In case we are insufficiently armed against Pentagon propaganda, let's select as our expert judge the world's leading theorist of war. I refer, of course, to Major-General Carl Philipp Gottlieb von Clausewitz, director of the Prussian Kriegsakademie and author of the great On War. Not only does Clausewitz predate the Pentagon by a clean century, this paladin of the Hohenzollern state would have nothing but contempt for George W. Bush's crusade to make the world safe for democracy.

So, General von Clausewitz, what is war?
We shall not enter into any of the abstruse definitions of war used by publicists. We shall keep to the element of the thing itself, to a duel. War is nothing but a duel on an extensive scale. If we would conceive as a unit the countless number of duels which make up a war, we shall do so best by supposing to ourselves two wrestlers. Each strives by physical force to compel the other to submit to his will: his first object is to throw his adversary, and thus to render him incapable of further resistance.

War therefore is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfill our will.

Violence arms itself with the inventions of Art and Science in order to contend against violence. Self-imposed restrictions, almost imperceptible and hardly worth mentioning, termed usages of International Law, accompany it without essentially impairing its power. Violence, that is to say physical force (for there is no moral force without the conception of states and law), is therefore the means; the compulsory submission of the enemy to our will is the ultimate object.
Excellent, dude. Couldn't have put it better myself. So - how exactly do you compel the enemy to submit to your will? What's the procedure, man?
Now, philanthropists may easily imagine there is a skillful method of disarming and overcoming an enemy without causing great bloodshed, and that this is the proper tendency of the art of War. However plausible this may appear, still it is an error which must be extirpated; for in such dangerous things as war, the errors which proceed from a spirit of benevolence are just the worst. As the use of physical power to the utmost extent by no means excludes the co-operation of the intelligence, it follows that he who uses force unsparingly, without reference to the quantity of bloodshed, must obtain a superiority if his adversary does not act likewise. By such means the former dictates the law to the latter, and both proceed to extremities, to which the only limitations are those imposed by the amount of counteracting force on each side.
[...]
If our opponent is to be made to comply with our will, we must place him in a situation which is more oppressive to him than the sacrifice which we demand; but the disadvantages of this position must naturally not be of a transitory nature, at least in appearance, otherwise the enemy, instead of yielding, will hold out, in the prospect of a change for the better. Every change in this position which is produced by a continuation of the war, should therefore be a change for the worse, at least, in idea. The worst position in which a belligerent can be placed is that of being completely disarmed. If, therefore, the enemy is to be reduced to submission by an act of war, he must either be positively disarmed or placed in such a position that he is threatened with it according to probability. From this it follows that the disarming or overthrow of the enemy, whichever we call it, must always be the aim of warfare.
Cool. And what determines the strength of each side? Who will disarm or overthrow who?
If we desire to defeat the enemy, we must proportion our efforts to his powers of resistance. This is expressed by the product of two factors which cannot be separated, namely, the sum of available means and the strength of the will. The sum of the available means may be estimated in a measure, as it depends (although not entirely) upon numbers; but the strength of volition, is more difficult to determine, and can only be estimated to a certain extent by the strength of the motives.
Thank you, General von Clausewitz. "The sum of available means and the strength of the will." That's exactly what I was looking for.
You're welcome, Mencius. Please feel free to pitch me softballs any time.
Now, let's compare these factors in the case of Pentagon vs. Iran. First, the available means.

The Pentagon can produce an explosion at any point in Iran, any time it likes, as often as it likes, with no fear of retaliation. It can of course completely devastate the entire country. It has substantial ground forces, perfectly positioned for an invasion, which have twice defeated the ground forces of a country which defeated Iran.

Is it even worth discussing Iran's "available means"? Barely. It is simply impossible to imagine a situation in which Iran survived for more than a month in a war with the Pentagon. At least if we are comparing only the "available means."

Does the Pentagon really need the Care Bear Stare, when it has three carrier battle groups and a couple of armored divisions? Not to mention JDAMs? Against Iran? I mean, suppose we used our Ouija board to contact, say, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Against Iran? "Young man..."

But then there's the will. Ah, the will. But this is precisely what both Gerecht and Yglesias are talking about.

Yglesias mocks Gerecht for thinking that, if the Pentagon had the will (for example, imagine if Congress actually - horrors! - declared war on Iran), it could dictate the law to Iran, just as the SFPD dictated the law to Tree Man, and compel it arbitrarily.

(This is definitely a caricature of Gerecht's views. But no matter - even the caricature is more reality-based than Yglesias. It may even be more reality-based than Gerecht.)

Yglesias would probably do better to just mock Clausewitz. All hail, Major-General Matt von Yglesias, director of the Blogakademie! "Caesar. Napoleon. Clausewitz. Morons!"
Because if you have the will and the means, what don't you have? Nothing. According to Clausewitz. But not, apparently, according to Yglesias. Perhaps he should elaborate on these interesting military theories of his. Can we expect an On War, Part Deux? Perhaps we can.

Now let's examine this fascinating strain of crack we've isolated. The truth is that I'm not terribly interested in Yglesias, who is the sort of cheap, fashionable writer every age produces in scads, or in the conflict between the Pentagon and Iran, which will presumably end in one of the usual military clusterfucks. What I'm interested in is crack, and how it works.

This variety is what might be called a counterintuitive mindfuck. Basically, you have a simple intuitive reality, which is that the Pentagon is way, way more studly than Iran and can turn it into Farsi-flavored mulch any time it manages to get the urge and sustain it. This reality is so obvious that it can be understood by a six-year-old boy with Down's syndrome.

The counterintuitive mindfuck operates by constructing weird, Byzantine theories which explain why this obvious reality is "simplistic" and should be ignored. For example, in this case, it tells us that anyone who believes that the Pentagon can just kick Iran's ass, any time, any how, in any kind of war, must be a victim of Pentagon propaganda.

Counterintuitive mindfucks are very common in the general progressive complex. The essential attraction of progressivism is that most smart, educated people are progressives. Therefore, any theory that posits that non-progressive people are simply too dumb or deluded to understand it, especially if the theory actually is hard to understand, has an open door to the progressive heart - a situation that lends itself perfectly to the mindfuck.

We treated this particular mindfuck by actually making a conscious effort to put aside all propaganda, from either side, and looking at actual military reality. Didn't George Orwell say something about the front of your nose?

Now, interestingly enough, googling that Orwell quote produces this fascinating Paul Krugman column from 2004. (Aren't we all happy to say goodbye to the NYT's memory hole?) Krugman really goes beyond smugness. Searing arrogance is more like it. I am reminded of the tone of the famous Soviet humor magazine, Krokodil, which loved to parody the buffoonish, corrupt doings of the hooligan dissidents. Alas, Krokodil is no more. But perhaps we can remember the entire trope in which the smug and powerful mock the hooligans, peasants and barbarians as crocodile humor.

Yglesias is also a master of crocodile humor. In fact, I can't think of a better example than his Green Lantern post. Which you've already read, but let me just quote the end again:
But a lot of people seem to think that American military might is like one of these power rings. They seem to think that, roughly speaking, we can accomplish absolutely anything in the world through the application of sufficient military force. The only thing limiting us is a lack of willpower.

What's more, this theory can't be empirically demonstrated to be wrong. Things that you or I might take as demonstrating the limited utility of military power to accomplish certain kinds of things are, instead, taken as evidence of lack of will. Thus we see that problems in Iraq and Afghanistan aren't reasons to avoid new military ventures, but reasons why we must embark upon them: "Add a failure in Iran to a failure in Iraq to a failure in Afghanistan, and we could supercharge Islamic radicalism in a way never before seen. The widespread and lethal impression of American weakness under the Clinton administration, which did so much to energize bin Ladenism in the 1990s, could look like the glory years of American power compared to what the Bush administration may leave in its wake."

I don't even know what else to say about this business. It's just a bizarre way of looking at the world. The wreakage that the Bush administration is leaving in its wake is a direct consequence of this will-o-centric view of the world and Gerecht takes it as a reason to deploy more willpower.
I love this passage. It is just a miracle of progressive crack. It displays the entire worldview in three paragraphs. There is no shame whatsoever, no belief that there is anything to conceal.

Now we know exactly what Yglesias is thinking when he says that it will take the Green Lantern or the Care Bear Stare for the Pentagon to defeat Iran. This is not really thinking in the sense that we normally use the word. It is more a series of semiconscious associations. But we can try to analyze it anyway.

The first association is with the Pentagon's experiences in occupying Afghanistan, Iraq and of course Vietnam. I think we can agree with Yglesias - and probably also with Gerecht - that these experiences cannot be characterized as successful. The question is: why?

But let's step back a second. Note that nowhere in his essay does Gerecht propose that the Pentagon occupy Iran and turn it into New Jersey. In fact, I read a lot of neocon material, and I have never seen anyone propose the occupation of Iran.

If you want a sensible, militarily plausible plan in which the Pentagon exercises Clausewitzian compellance over Iran (note that Safire's plan was followed for Serbia, to a T, and regardless of your opinion of that conflict, it worked perfectly), try this approach by Arthur Herman. Note that this is far more aggressive than Gerecht's "Osirak II" bombing strategy.

Note that Herman's strategy is on the extreme militaristic wing of neoconservative opinion, which is on the extreme militaristic wing of American public opinion in general, which is on the extreme militaristic wing of world public opinion. On the other hand, by 19th-century standards, Herman is a pussy. In fact, by World War II standards, Herman is a pussy.

So Yglesias has constructed a completely fictitious strawman which involves occupying Iran, and trying to convert it into a normal, civilized Western state. He then sneers at this strawman in the grand old crocodile-humor style. Is this fair? Is a crocodile ever fair?

And you have to understand where Yglesias is coming from. Yglesias is a follower of the political movement which has ruled the US for the last 75 years, and the world for the last 60: the New Deal.

A New Dealer, or at least a postwar New Dealer, does not really see a place like Iran as an independent country, in the sense that that word was used in the 19th century. He sees it as a village in the new global community. He feels responsible for it. There is not a single spot on the planet which does not command the attention of a substantial number of officials in Washington whose job it is to feel responsible for it. The fact that American officials are elected only by American citizens often strikes them as a sort of anachronism, like the fact that DC itself has no senators or representatives. Policymakers in Washington feel the same basic paternal concern for Australians, Iranians, or Zimbabweans that they feel for Americans. It is not fiduciary responsibility, it is simply noblesse oblige. People with power always feel this way. It's part of the human tribal instinct, and a damn good instinct it is, too.

So the thought of just bombing Iran, as if it was some kind of enemy, is deeply horrifying to a Yglesias. It's a step away from the global community, from the Parliament of Man. These instincts are old, and they go deep.

When Woodrow Wilson stated that the US was at war with the German government, not the German people, he set the tone for the entire experience of American internationalism. The message was: German people, your true masters are in Washington, not Berlin. The Kaiser is a criminal who has kidnapped and enslaved you. Submit to our tender, fatherly care, and we will make you free and prosperous. It took a couple of wars - nasty wars, with real bombing and stuff - to get this message through, but in the end it worked quite well.

Obviously, I feel American internationalism is well past its sell-by date and needs to be taken out and shot like a rabid, fecally-incontinent dog. But let's play along with it. I cannot find a single neoconservative hawk who proposes the occupation of Iran. Which is pretty pathetic if you ask me - given what Wilson did at Veracruz. But, okay, fine. I propose the occupation of Iran.

True, it is not consistent with my Carlylean foreign-policy instincts. True, I am no fan of the Pentagon or of Washcorp, and have no desire to see them expand - I would rather see them dissolved. True, I dislike violence in general, and while Iran's government is obviously awful, it is not so awful that I would volunteer my life or even my pocketbook to improve it.

But I have no patience at all for the idea that it's militarily impossible. Because that's just BS. It's crack, pure crack. I mean, for how many centuries have hominid tribes been conquering hominid tribes? If the Pentagon can't conquer Iraq, how in the name of holy Jesus could William I conquer England? Perhaps I'm not reading the Bayeux Tapestry right, but I don't recall as the Normans brought along any flying laser beams of instant death. They were, on the other hand, pretty "will-o-centric."

This is the real mental problem with a Yglesias. He really has no interest at all in any area of history that cannot be used to attack his enemies. For most progressives, history seems to start with the Kennedy assassination. Or maybe World War II. The idea that any analogy outside the postwar American period is at all relevant to current affairs strikes them as just plain wacky. Unless, of course, it implies something bad about conservatives.

But wait. Are we being reality-based? Isn't the reality that the Pentagon, despite its laser beams or whatever, failed in Vietnam, and has at the very least struggled immensely in Iraq and Afghanistan?

I encourage you to read this fascinating little piece by one Edward Luttwak, who comes about as close as 2007 comes to a Clausewitz. If you are short on patience for some reason, just skip to the section labeled "The Easy And Reliable Way Of Defeating All Insurgencies Everywhere."

Luttwak, of course, pulls his punches. "It is enough to consider these methods to see why the armed forces of the United States or of any other democratic country cannot possibly use them." While I am not a fan of democracy, the contradiction between democratic election and effective martial law in an occupied territory is entirely beyond me.

Lincoln's Unionist regime, which was not only a democratic country but fought its entire war under the banner of democracy, used Luttwakian techniques to a T and was marvellously effective. If you think the surprising paucity of Confederate insurgency and terrorism, and their near-complete cessation after Appomattox, is entirely a reflection of Confederate nobility, you may need to think again.

American forces also used Luttwakian techniques in the Philippines, where again they were remarkably effective. Between the Philippine Insurrection and the end of World War II, the Philippines were ruled as an American possession whose loyalty was proverbial. Note that the Lieber Code, under which both the South and the Philippines were governed, authorized (according to the traditional rules of war; see also Vattel) soldiers to shoot non-uniformed combatants on sight. Take that, Guantanamo-phobes. Furthermore, Americans were quite prepared to do the same in Germany and Japan.

And finally, for a complete and up-to-date instruction manual in how to defeat a modern insurgency, there is no better teacher than Roger Trinquier. Note that France, at the time that it defeated the FLN, was most certainly a democracy - for better or for worse. Probably the latter.

What's fascinating is that here again, we detect our old friend - intellectual crack. Pentagon forces today operate by what are certainly the most strict rules of engagement in military history. Official doctrine is constantly informing Pentagon soldiers that any violation of these rules will endanger the mission by causing civilians to turn against them. And yet, the missions only seem to get less and less effective. Perhaps human nature has simply changed since the Norman Conquest, or at least the Philippine Insurrection? The results would seem to argue that it has not.

Let's analyze this particular strain of crack with our usual attention to detail, taking Trinquier as a guide. (Remember also what Clausewitz said about philanthropic warfare. And I seem to recall old Billy Sherman had some thoughts on the matter.)

The goal of all counterinsurgency warfare is to capture and retain the support of the population. Counterinsurgency warfare can be seen as a sort of sedentary slave raid on a Wagnerian scale. The normal relationship between sovereign and subject, which applies in every stable country regardless of its formalities of government, is that the latter complies with all demands of the former and does not support or condone violence against it. In other words, whatever nice words you want to cloak it in, the relationship between government and citizen is the relationship between master and slave. Again, this is just the definition of government.

When this relationship breaks down, there are only two approaches to restoring sovereignty: massacre or deport the population, or recapture it. Stalin was a big fan of the former, and carried it out with impressive effect. However, as a sovereign, your subjects are your capital, and abusing them wantonly is seldom the best way to generate positive return on investment.

So. as Trinquier puts it:
We know that the sine qua non of victory in modern [ie, guerrilla] warfare is the unconditional support of a population. According to Mao Tse-tung, it is as essential to the combatant as water to the fish.
If this sounds familiar, it should. Everyone believes this. In today's Pentagon circles, the task of gaining popular support is generally known as winning hearts and minds.

But look at what Trinquier says next:
Such support may be spontaneous, although that is quite rare and probably a temporary condition. If it doesn't exist, it must be secured by every possible means, the most effective of which is terrorism.
Yikes! Note, however, that Trinquier's definition of terrorism is a little different from 2007's. Please allow me to translate.

What Trinquier is saying is that winning hearts ("spontaneous" or emotional support) is really a secondary objective. The critical task of counterinsurgency is winning minds, ie, persuading the population that it is in their rational interest to support you, rather than the enemy. As in any war, any technique that will lead to victory is effective.

Since reading Trinquier, I have been noticing this little phrase, winning hearts and minds. Almost every time I hear it, it turns out to be in the context of winning hearts.

What a contemptuous view of the natives this implies! The winning-hearts approach treats them like six-year-olds, for whom affection is everything and rational decisions are impossible. Whereas if you or I were civilians caught in a war zone, who would we support? Whoever was most likely to win, and least likely to kill us in the process.

Now, you might think that the Trinquierian approach, while possibly more effective than "winning hearts," is less moral. Of course, we cannot derive "ought" from "is," and if you truly believe it is immoral for a government to handle its subjects using procedures that are not compatible with the US Bill of Rights, nothing I can say can change your mind.

When I think about morality, however, I think not about one alternative, but two. Suppose, for example, that the Pentagon had preemptively applied a Luttwakian or Trinquierian approach in Iraq, not in 2007 but in 2003. If Luttwak and Trinquier are right about their field of work - and I suspect few of my readers have the expertise to disagree - this would have saved thousands of lives and eliminated all kinds of mayhem. On the other hand, Iraqis would have been issued ID cards, organized in a pyramidal structure which reported to the Pentagon, and subjected in general to a system of fascist totalitarian control. And some, some of whom were probably innocent, would even have received electrical shocks to the nipples. Better, or worse, than massacre, mayhem and war? Only you, dear reader, can make the call.

But we have a further puzzle to unravel. After all, if I, whose closest connection to the Pentagon is that I get my car insurance from USAA, can understand these things, how can they be lost on the Pentagon itself? Wasn't that Trinquier book hosted on a Pentagon site?

The answer is that the Pentagon is tactically right to do everything it can to avoid collateral damage. Moreover, its enemies are tactically right to do everything they can to try to trick the Pentagon into causing collateral damage (ie, via the use of human shields).

But the reason that human shields work has nothing to do with winning hearts. In fact, the very existence of human shields completely negates the winning-hearts hypothesis, because it's obvious that anyone hurt while serving (by definition, involuntarily) as a human shield will blame whoever put him in the way of the bomb, not whoever dropped it.

In fact, winning hearts is crack, pure and simple. As Trinquier points out, every successful "liberation movement" in the 20th century has terrorized the population into submission. Even Pentagon attacks on civilians in South Vietnam - with far more liberal rules of engagement than apply today in Iraq - were generally accidental and uncoordinated, whereas massacring their civilian opponents was standard operating procedure for the VC.

Explaining that Americans need to win hearts because they are white imperialists, whereas Taliban or Viet Cong or FLN guerrillas can cut them out and eat them because they are swarthy indigenous peoples, requires falling back on hoary nationalist cliches that really shouldn't require an answer. I'm sorry, people - if you genuinely believe it is unnatural and impossible for a foreign military occupation to become a stable government and eventually an ethnically-distinct ruling caste, you know no more about human history than a cat knows about tennis. Go read about, say, India, sometime.

So the puzzle remains: why worry about civilian casualties? Isn't collateral damage just the Air Force's way of telling you not to hang out within the blast radius of insurgents? Didn't we do a lot of collateral damage to Germany and Japan? And where are their insurgents?

The answer, which Trinquier would certainly have understood, although it would have appalled him and struck him as disastrous, is that the Pentagon does suffer as a result of civilian casualties, because any such event strengthens the Pentagon's true enemies. Who tend to live not in Kabul, but in Bethesda or Silver Spring or maybe Manhattan.

Furthermore, all of the Pentagon's adversaries in recent years have understood that their most effective strategy is to defeat the Pentagon politically, not militarily. Clausewitz would be proud, because of course the two are the same thing.

And finally, the ugliest trope of all is that everyone on the battlefield - Pentagon soldiers, their native adversaries, journalists, and even the local civilians whose support is so crucial - understands this perfectly. It's war, after all. If you're involved in war, you understand it.

The result is that even local civilians see civilian casualties as a point scored for the insurgents. So human-shield tactics, which cannot possibly do anything to win hearts, are winners nonetheless. Every time a human shield gets fragged and the fact gets to the press, the Pentagon's chances of winning decrease. Every time the Pentagon's chances of winning decrease, the insurgents' chances of winning increase. Every time the insurgents' chances of winning increase, rational civilians have more motivation to join the insurgency.

I assure you that although this seems complicated to you, it is not at all complicated to those in a war zone. Moreover, human instincts for collective action are deeply rooted (even chimpanzees have tribes which fight wars), and the human ability to construct a moral rationale for the decision to side with the strong horse is always impressive. In other words, martyrs are martyrs, even if someone forced them to be martyrs. As long as martyrdom is a militarily effective strategy, we will continue to see more of it.

One way to see this is to look at insurgent or terrorist movements which have no possibility of gaining the support of Western human-rights activists. A good example is the OAS in Algeria, founded by colleagues of Trinquier who knew exactly how to run an insurgency, and had a substantial local support base. It went nowhere, because it only alienated its supporters in France. The fate of the AWB in South Africa is even more pathetic - it had no foreign sponsors at all. Insurgency simply does not work without political protection.

If this analysis is correct, these Third World insurgent wars exist only because of Western human-rights activism. So why don't Western human-rights activists recognize this? Why don't they notice that they are creating violence and destruction, rather than suppressing it?

A simple explanation of this phenomenon is that Western human-rights activists are in fact political activists, seeking power by the only means that are available to them. It is not that opposing the Pentagon is a necessary method of their human-rights activism. It is that their human-rights activism is a necessary method of their opposing the Pentagon. The US military is as necessary to these people as drugs are to anti-drug warriors.

Thus, it is inconceivable that they would conclude that the best way to end the war in Iraq is for the US to impose martial law, dismiss the Iraqi government and suspend all civil liberties. We saw exactly how much Western human-rights activists cared about their swarthy mascots in the '70s, when they finally managed to force South Vietnam to surrender to the North. As tens of thousands of Vietnamese were shot, hundreds of thousands imprisoned without trial, and millions fled on boats, these watchdogs of humanity uttered not even a meow. I'm sure most of the "peace" protesters of the '60s sincerely believed that they loved their little brown brothers, but the real political motor of their movement was their hatred of their American enemies, and their desire to achieve power by defeating them. Same old, same old.

No, what's truly amazing about these "liberations" is their assiduous avoidance of every technique for governing foreign populations that might, actually, possibly, work. This is because all of these techniques were practiced under "colonialism," and we know colonialism is bad. Because we heard it in school.

For example, the Pentagon may not dissolve the corrupt, murderous, and dangerously ineffective "democratic" government it has installed in Iraq. It may not declare that democracy has failed in Iraq, and hand the place over to a Hashemite, Saudi or other Gulf prince, or even better split it into UAE-like emirates. Because that would be just too British Empire.

For example, the Pentagon may not under any circumstances create hybrid organizations, military or political, in which the leaders are foreign and the front-line employees are native.

Britain governed half the world, at costs which are negligible compared to the Iraq bill, by creating military forces with British officers and native troops. To call this a no-brainer would be an insult to the brainless. Yet it has not been done, nor can anything like it be done. Similarly, it is absolutely verboten to create an Iraqi government run by foreign executives with Iraqi personnel. That would be colonialism, and colonialism is wrong.

In fact, to the extent that the Pentagon has achieved any success in Iraq, it has been the almost accidental success of the Awakening movement. It is very unclear whose idea this was, although it may be traced to the late Capt. Travis Patriquin. It certainly did not come from Washington, and its inspiration may well owe as much to Iraqis as Americans.

And, most important, it's a stone-cold ripoff of a classic colonialist technique. It worked immediately as soon as it was tried. Basically, indirect rule was to the Iraq war as penicillin was to gangrene. Unfortunately, because it is the only such technique the Pentagon is allowed to use, I suspect it will prove fruitless in the end. But whose fault is that? It is yours, my dear progressive friends, my lovers of humanity everywhere.

So here is my short proposal for a successful occupation of Iran:
  1. Invade Iran. Impose martial law.
  2. Declare Iran a United States territory. Use the Philippines as a model.
  3. Disband all Iranian military forces and governmental structures.
  4. Create a new military and government with Western officers and managers.
  5. Profit!
Is this bizarre? I'm sure Yglesias would find it bizarre. I'm sure Lord Cromer would find it perfectly normal and sensible. One of these two gentlemen is on crack, surely. And it's a pity the other is not with us to make his case.

If we can summarize this hellacious strain of crack in one sentence, it might come down to the declaration that a people can only be stably, peacefully and lawfully governed with their own consent.

Note the complete meaninglessness, and in fact ungrammatical nature, of the word "a people." What defines a set of individuals as "a people"? Are all the people whose names start with M "a people?" Where is my President of M? Or should we use geographical boundaries, and birth coordinates? Or linguistic boundaries? But what makes either of these divisions meaningful? And we haven't even gotten into the definition of "consent."

Remember, this statement is firmly within the boundaries of Hume's is. It is not a moral assertion. It is a statement of military reality. Or rather, it would be a statement of military reality. If it wasn't 100%-pure Andean high-test blue-powder crack, that is.

So here is a question for the reader: what does this brand of crack have to do with some poor woman in South Africa, whose face is hopefully starting to resemble a face again? If anything?

And if the answer is anything, can we associate this crime - which is certainly not unique, or even unusual - with Yglesias and his smug ilk, just as we associate the Holocaust with neo-Nazis? What a prejudice this would be! Would it be a good one, or a bad one?

66 Comments:

Anonymous Randy said...

Well said. I've had many discussions in which I had to remind people that the NVA rode into Saigon on tanks.

My belief is that an insurgency, popular uprising, etc., is a symptom of a power vacuum - the solution is to fill it.

December 6, 2007 at 7:49 AM  
Blogger Alrenous said...

Have you noticed that the libertarian idea that taxation is theft is directly descended from the idea that people should be governed with their non-terror induced consent?

Incidentally, all Pentagon surface ships are essentially Spanish Armada 2.0.

Would you know who decided colonialism was bad, and when?

December 6, 2007 at 9:26 AM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

Nobody in the world thinks that the U.S. military couldn't in theory successfully occupy Iran, including Matthew Yglesias. Your presentation of his argument is pure strawman.

You accomplish this strawman by exploiting the ambiguity of the concept of "willpwer." Yglesias isn't responding to people like you who are pointing out that the U.S.'s reluctance to use all means necessary is a historical aberration that is harmful -- he's responding to the neocons who think that the lesson of Vietnam is that we gave up too early, that if we'd had the "willpower" to stay a little longer, we would have won.

What he means with the green lantern theory is that the neocons believe that we can win any war under the current or similar rules of engagement simply by willing it. This certainly seems to be a fair representation of the neocon's foreign policy -- if not for the 2006 elections, we'd probably still have Rumsfeld in there "staying the course" for a "resolute" Bush.

Yglesias isn't denying that we could occupy Iran if we didn't care about democracy or war crimes or committing terrorism -- that's a discussion you have on your site, but as you are well aware, is not part of the national discourse because it's considered resolved.

Hell, we could simply carpet-bomb Iran every five years for as long as we want in order to prevent them from getting nukes or, well, doing much of anything. Nobody's saying that's theoretically impossible. What they are doing is taking it for granted that such options are off the table.

This is Universalism, I suppose, but it's a moral stance, not a factual one, and therefore it cannot be intellectual crack. It may even be the case that being less "Universalist" in our actions would have a better end result, but for most Americans, the ends do not justify the means, and regardless that is not a debate we are currently engaged in.

You can't criticize someone for responding badly to your argument when they aren't responding to your argument at all, but rather to a completely different argument. I know that you're smart, so I have to wonder if you're being disingenuous when you portray Yglesias as mocking "Gerecht for thinking that... it could dictate the law to Iran."

Do you believe that if Gerecht had his way with Iran, it would result in a net positive for the U.S.? I sure doubt it. So does Yglesias. And that's his point.

December 6, 2007 at 9:51 AM  
Anonymous Randy said...

JA,

If we self limit our methods, and then the remaining methods don't work, I guess the only option is to quit - in which case you'd be right that there's not much room for debate. But I think the question is; why are we self limiting our methods? You say its a moral stance. I tend to agree with MM that its a crackhead moral stance.

December 6, 2007 at 10:35 AM  
Blogger TGGP said...

Had you already read the Yglesias/Sanchez posts before this? Just interested in how far back your posts are planned (Eliezer discusses that here).

It's funny that you link to "crackpot realism", since it's actually more dovish than the center-left.

The discussion recently at Econlog about global warming has been interesting. I think Caplan has gotten the better of the argument against Kling, but on the other hand I already agreed with him.

the faction that Gerecht represents: the Pentagon. (Yglesias talks about "American military might," but we here at UR are sly and know that Washcorp is not exactly a single unitary actor.)
Your theory of Red Government being represented by the neocons is flawed. Greg Cochran says the Joint Chiefs are likely purposefully misleading the President in order to stop him from bombing Iran. There are reports that if ordered to attack Iran, the air force would simply refuse.

He is promoting, through the usual nefarious device of assuming it implicitly and then making an argument based on it, the idea that the Pentagon is invincible.
He admitted that we screwed up in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is saying, in effect, that we have to double down in order to cover our losses. Anyone who has spent much time in Vegas should recognize him as a sucker.

Who does this benefit? The Pentagon.
Not if they are quite aware of their limitations and don't want policians to demand the impossible of them.

For example, in this case, it tells us that anyone who believes that the Pentagon can just kick Iran's ass, any time, any how, in any kind of war, must be a victim of Pentagon propaganda.
We kicked Iraq's ass, and nobody denies it, but even Gerecht acknowledges that is has proved to be an embarrassment. He advocated no changes to our Iraq policy, just hoping we do better in Iran.

He feels responsible for it.
I didn't detect that at all. Neoconservatives are far more likely to give off that vibe.

When Woodrow Wilson stated that the US was at war with the German government, not the German people, he set the tone for the entire experience of American internationalism. The message was: German people, your true masters are in Washington, not Berlin. The Kaiser is a criminal who has kidnapped and enslaved you. Submit to our tender, fatherly care, and we will make you free and prosperous.
Sounds just like a neocon.

Lincoln's Unionist regime, which was not only a democratic country but fought its entire war under the banner of democracy, used Luttwakian techniques to a T and was marvellously effective.
A democracy, but not a 21st century first-world one.

Also, what Jewish Atheist said.

December 6, 2007 at 11:31 AM  
Anonymous Tom said...

JA,
All Mencius is saying is that somehow the tactics that were used, and considered moral, to defeat the Confederacy and the Nazis are off the board, and considered immoral, when it comes to Iran, and he is noting how intellectually odd and ahistorical this is. And yes, if any possible means that could defeat Iran are ruled "immoral," and unusuable, then no, the United States could not defeat Iran; but obviously, this is something of a circular argument, especially if those means are ruled out as immoral precisely BECAUSE they might defeat Iran, which is what seems to be going on in some circles.

For fifty years, there has been a movement to tighten up the rules of "Just" war to the point where any possible use of military force is deemed immoral, and then to constrain U.S. military action on the grounds that a given war is "unwinnable" using "moral" means. This obviously cannot go on, and will in fact be thrown overboard as soon as liberal interests are sufficiently threatened...

December 6, 2007 at 11:35 AM  
Blogger Alisdair said...

This time I have to agree with Jewish Atheist (it had to happen some day). It was disingenuous to equate the lack of will to see it through with lack of political courage to break the post war orthodoxy and do the job properly (Malaya anyone?).

Once past that point the rest was very well put and thought provoking. We have condemned Africa to hell with this universalist stuff, looks like the middle east is going the same way.

December 6, 2007 at 11:42 AM  
Blogger Bruce G Charlton said...

I am surprised that people seem so confident that the Iraq war has been a disaster - but maybe that is because I read the Back Talk blog by Engram - who analyzes the Iraq situation quantitatively - rather than going by gut instinct based on the MSM reporting.

So far his methods have been spectacularly vindicated. And he has argued recently that the Iraq war has probably produced a lot of benefits:

http://engram-backtalk.blogspot.com/2007/

12/what-invasion-of-iraq-has-wrought.html

December 6, 2007 at 11:46 AM  
Blogger Studd Beefpile said...

pbp The difference between how Vietnam and Korea were fought is instructive. In both cases the Communist part of a partitioned country invaded the other part. In both cases the goal of American policy was to preserve the existance of the non-communist state, which in both cases were run by a rather nasty group of people. We all know how those wars ended.

The seperate paths these wars took seems to indicate that the difference between the New Dealers and the New Left are substantial. MM, if you intend to keep Universalist logo from just being another flavor of crack, I think you need to explain how we got from Truman to Carter in such a short period of time. What made Johnson, who certainly wasn't raised brahmin, turn into such a pussy?

December 6, 2007 at 12:25 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

Studd Beefpile, aren't you overlooking the differences between the South Korean and South Vietnamese regimes? People talk about how western europe is engulfed in suicidal liberalism and won't defend itself, but South Vietnam exhibited that to an even worse extent (not saying it was liberal, just that it would not preserve itself).

December 6, 2007 at 2:01 PM  
Blogger Independent Accountant said...

Amazing. I found the Luttwak piece through Jewish Atheist. I have quoted some of the same things you have. Reinhardt Heydrich for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs! "War is Hell" said Sherman in 1879. A quote you missed, when asked what is the job of the US Army, Patton said, "To kill people and break things". Where is Patton now? I see Petreaus as an Ivy League clown with a PhD from Princeton's Woodrow Wilson school! Wilson was the worst president we ever had! Wilson portrayed the Kaiser as a monster and brought us Hitler. Who needs Petreaus? My father was a staff sergeant in WWII; my uncle a master sergeant. If either of them saw how the Iraq war is being run, attempting to create a "polity" before defeating the enemy, he would take Petreaus aside and thrash him. That American blood and treasure is less valuable than Iraqi civilian lives is crazy. "War is the continuation of policy by other means". Tell Connnie Rice.

December 6, 2007 at 4:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what's the big deal? let them have nukes... the proliferation bogeyman is overrated. the more the merrier; all you need is love and nukes -- how's that for universalism?

like losing your virginity, nukes are almost a requirement for a nation to _grow up_ nowadays; you're less fixated on some preconceived notion of greatness that you can focus on actually making something of your country.

if nukes are what it takes to gain a little civilisational perspective and maturity (and some technical proficiency and appreciation for scientific endeavour in the process) MAD is a small price to pay; indeed, i think of it as less a bug, and more a feature...

December 6, 2007 at 4:54 PM  
Blogger drank said...

JA said: What he means with the green lantern theory is that the neocons believe that we can win any war under the current or similar rules of engagement simply by willing it.

I'm not sure I get the distinction you're trying to make here. The statements:

"In WWII, the US ROE allowed the firebombing of Japanese cities"

and

"In WWII, the US had strong political support for the war with Japan, and thus was free to firebomb Japanese cities"

strike me as pretty much equivalent. Both of them are about what von Clausewitz and MM described as "willpower". The reason we are not using more aggressive ROE in Iraq is that there is no political support for such actions, and everyone from George Bush to Mencius to Matt Yglesias knows it. When Gerecht argues for more "will" and "resolve", it's hard for me to read that as anything other than a call to build the necessary political support for the military measures he favors.

For what it's worth, I like reading Yglesias because he writes things like this. I think Mencius has pegged him pretty much correctly as a mouthpiece for the Blue Government, but unlike the actual members of that government, Matt will come right out and say it in straightforward terms with no shame or obfuscation. And where else are you going to find someone to seriously defend the proposition that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is "hip"?

December 6, 2007 at 5:27 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

I like the title So Iran Gets Nukes. So What?, but the post itself doesn't do enough to advocate apathy.

Also, Mencius, leaving aside progressives and libertarians would you agree that "realists" like those associated with National Interest magazine are less crackpotty than neocons?

December 6, 2007 at 5:43 PM  
Blogger Studd Beefpile said...

>TGGP

I've read a lot of different things about hte state of the vietnamese government, most of them are contradictory. That said, it seems likely that if history had followed the Korea Script (invasion of North Vietnam, fight to stalemate, and kept a presence after the war ended) the odds of the South pulling its shit together seem pretty good. South Korea was not exactly a prosperous or well run place in 1953.

December 6, 2007 at 6:26 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

What JA said.

Your analogy of Krugman to Krokodil is strange, to put it mildly, unless you consider George Bush and his administration to be dissidents valiantly struggling under the corrupt tyranny of the NYT op-ed page. Which perhaps you do.

The notion that we are in the middle east building liberal democracies does not belong to Krugman and Yglesias, but to the neoconservatives whom they oppose. That was the moronic premise upon which the Iraq war was sold, which makes the perpetrators either extremely stupid or extremely corrupt, or some combination thereof. In any case, it would be a little difficult to maintain that fiction if we were to take the scorched-earth approach to governing the country that we have invaded and occupied. And what goal of the United States, even if it were to give up its moral pretensions and become the overt imperialist aggressor that you would like it be, would be served by reducing Iran to "Farsi mush"? What rational plan is served? If our goal was to get at Middle East petro resources, I seriously doubt whether spending upwards of $2 trillion is a cost effective way to do so.

You say So the thought of just bombing Iran, as if it was some kind of enemy, is deeply horrifying to a Yglesias.

It's horrifying to me, because Iran is not some kind of enemy. What has Iran done to us? Or Iraq, for that matter?

You expect us to be shocked by a story about a brutal attack on one person (and I was), while blithely proposing the murder of 70 million Iranians. Stalin had something to say about that sort of attitude.

December 6, 2007 at 7:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Wilson portrayed the Kaiser as a monster..."

The Germans invented city bombing and lethal chemical warfare. Is your problem that that is not monstrous, or that it wasn't the Kaiser's fault? It's funny that, after the German atrocities in Belgium, the thing that really gets people pissed off today is the fact that some Allied newspaper exaggerated them. I maintain that while the pen may be "mightier" than the bayonet, the bayonet hurts worse.

Universalism is bad because the Allies were almost as bad as the Nazis, because of city bombing...? Now we should bring Iran to heal with...? It's odd that the city bombing of the Allies in WWII is such a bitter pill on this site, when comparable acts by Germany in WWI are presumably fine and dandy? And comparable acts by Bush today would presumably be fine and dandy as well? This site is full of fresh perspectives, but on times it verges on using Wilson, the New Dealers, and LBJ as whipping boys. Darn those Democrats, being too violent and not violent enough.

What would your ideal American leader have done with Germany in 1914 or 1917 or 1939 or 1941? Sit it out, presumably. Because Germany is less of a threat to world piece than whoever you're currently mad at in the Mideast or South Asia? Make a case, folks.

December 6, 2007 at 7:56 PM  
Blogger Leonard said...

I second Jewish Atheist.

There is no puzzle about why people are now demanding much more civilized wars. It is because we are connected to our victims with far higher bandwidth, including information flow in both directions. So, yes, we lack "will". This is because we can see pictures, even moving pictures with full sound, of little kids with their legs blown off, their mothers screaming damnation at us for doing it. Or, cute little children running naked, burnt and screaming from our napalm strike. That sort of thing. Being an imperialist supporter is much easier when you never see any of the suffering that is entailed, and can coldly contemplate the words "collateral damage", and can ooze back, "it's worth it".

December 6, 2007 at 8:27 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Looks like you are loosing your audience Mencius. You make interesting points, but they really only make sense in the context of a larger theory. You could take some lessons from Eliezer (http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/12/fake-fake-utili.html#more) on how to build up the parts of your world-view for ease of use, otherwise it's just going to be the two of us, and as you know, I think you are on crack regarding several key issues such as the likely rate of immigration given open borders, how terrible Brezhnevization is, appropriate discount rates and likely courses for the world's future, (Most importantly) the efficiency of large corporations, and the existence of an alternative to what you call universalism, to name a few things.

December 6, 2007 at 10:41 PM  
Blogger Bruce G Charlton said...

I found this an excellent posting - which clarified the for me the 'Hulk will smash' emotion that almost overwhelms me when reading (to take an example) Yglesias.

I think MMs diagnosis is spot on - there really is a systematic underestimation of US military power among people like MY. Which is completely unsurprising - why could anybody imagine that someone like MY had anything relevant to say about stuff such as international politics and war? Movie reviews, lifestyle obervations, fashions... yes, fine. But that's all.

I try to take an evolutionary and dynamist view (Dynamism is a very useful but not yet popular term coined by Virginia Postrel in The Future and its Enemies).

On this basis I see the Universalist religion of political correctness - which could be summarized in the phrase 'You can't say that!' - coming ver closer to a smash with biology. And in the smash PC will be the casualty (in a global sense).

A religion which tries to make taboo (or at least to confine and control) the hottest area of science is itself doomed - and so-much fascinating stuff is emerging in genetics which explicates sex differences, national differences, eugenics (as a good thing), dysgenics (as someting worth avoiding), genetic engineering, IQ differences, personality differences, disease and therapeutic differences... well, it is an irresistable tide which will drown PC in just a few years.

I am pretty sure this will happen because of the exponential (I mean literally exponential) rise of East Asian science - China has now (it happened last year) overtaken the UK as the second biggest producer of science in the world. And PC has no traction in East Asia. If the US, UK and Europe don't want to think about genetics, there are millions of East Asians who do - and who can take advantage of this knowledge.

Once this becomes apparent, the US will change its tune pretty rapidly and dump PC almost overnight - because PC does not go very deep or stretch very far in the USA, hence the hysterical tone in which it is defended.

Without PC, Universalism will lose its most potent, most magical, most crack-headed weapon - and will have to return to the 'common-sense' world of identifying and manipulating incentives and deterrents.

December 7, 2007 at 1:52 AM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

One of my relatives who returned from a Nazi deathcamp defined truth as follows: believing it does not increase your chance of dying.

I think that it is a good starting point and it is actually a miracle begging for explanation why truth happens to be consistent with other truths by the rules of formal logic. Empirically, however, formal logic is true for this same reason.

Thus, internal inconsistency is a good indicator of intellectual crack, but really good crack can still slip past the test undetected: (internally) consistent crack, that is.

The myth of invincibility might very well be of that kind. It certainly has the potential to hurt believers in case of its falsehood.

For starters, Washcorp may not be able to cause explosions anywhere in Iran. Operators of bombers can and it is not immediately clear that Washcorp can motivate them into action. Since Washcorp might very well be on the brink of bankruptcy, there might be higher bidders motivating the bombers to stay put. And not all of them are in Washington, either. There's a certain very powerful institution with headquarters in Frankfurt am Main, Germany that is profoundly interested in Washcorp's ignominious defeat in the Middle East. They have some very powerful motivators at their disposal.

Causing a remote explosion by building an explosive device and a delivery system (manned or unmanned) is passé. In the age of camera-equipped cellphones and the internet, it is obviously cheaper and faster to transfer information than explosives:
Just offer good money for a video-recording of the explosion, and an explosion you shall have. In terms of accuracy and quality of evidence it sure beats those crude JDAMs. All you need is a good credit reputation. And Washcorp is developing huge problems in that department.

December 7, 2007 at 2:43 AM  
Anonymous PA said...

I understand Leonard's and others' points about humane war. The thing is, that when a war is in support of Universalist ideologies, like the bombing of Serbia, those humanitarian concerns fly out the window.

December 7, 2007 at 5:12 AM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

drank:

When Gerecht argues for more "will" and "resolve", it's hard for me to read that as anything other than a call to build the necessary political support for the military measures he favors.

I see it as a call for more patience and willingness to let the administration continue in a relatively similar vein. If Gerecht is calling for carpet-bombing and terrorism, I didn't see it.

And where else are you going to find someone to seriously defend the proposition that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is "hip"?

Oh, come on! The man's a perfect Bond Villain. Nice suits, fashionable stubble, charming... and evil. What's more hip than that? :-)

December 7, 2007 at 7:05 AM  
Blogger drank said...

JA:

In the specific Gerecht article linked here, he argues for air strikes against suspected Iranian nuclear facilities. So when he says we need "will" and "resolve" in that context, what does he mean?

His argument on the air strikes themselves can stand or fall on its own merits. But I don't read this as a call to "stay the course" or "use the same rules of engagement as in Iraq" (what you say Yglesias is criticizing). I think you could reasonably interpret him as saying that US political leaders need to resolve to take these action regardless of political support, or as saying that US political leaders (and readers of his article) need to build sufficient public support for these actions.

Either way, this doesn't seem like an unreasonable prescription on Gerecht's part. There are plenty of cases where similar measures have garnered public support (WWII, Israel's Osirak raid, Kosovo are three examples) and were judged acceptable military actions. On the other, I think we probably agree that if such air strikes happened this afternoon, they would have almost no political support, would be decried as illegitimate by all the usual suspects, and could not be sustained as a military policy. In other words, right now we have insufficient national will to take such actions.

December 7, 2007 at 1:40 PM  
Blogger Tanstaafl said...

An intellectual crackhead is anyone who happens to be engaged in the generation, incubation, or dissemination of intellectual crack. Intellectual crack is any nonsense that is widely and confidently believed by a large population of full-grown adults.

There is a pot/kettle, stones/glass houses problem with this essay.

But I have no patience at all for the idea that it's militarily impossible. Because that's just BS. It's crack, pure crack. I mean, for how many centuries have hominid tribes been conquering hominid tribes?

Funny you should mention tribes. Freud said something about that I think.

Ever since Israel failed to conquer Lebanon the Israel Lobby has successfully manipulated its US military golem into action on its own bloody behalf - the interests of and costs to the golem be damned. To see philo-semites argue about what that golem is or isn't capable of and how to best use it against Iran makes me nauseous.

Hominids are successful at conquest to the extent they don't operate under politically correct rules of engagement. Mencius notes this even as he ignores what it means. The solution to our inability to win wars is simple. Discard PC. That includes, first and foremost, lifting the ban in "polite society" against criticizing the Israel Lobby's influence over US policy. In other words Mencius' own anti-neo-Nazi Green Latern crack must go. The US military could then not only more easily win its fights, it might also avoid some.

P.S. The jihadis do not limit their studies to Clausewitz. They take much more from and follow more closely the teachings of Sun Tzu.

December 7, 2007 at 2:45 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

A "Dynamist"? Ugh. The same idiotic worship of "progress" or the "Zeitgeist" of the left combined with the worst aspects of what passes for the right these days.

In the age of camera-equipped cellphones and the internet, it is obviously cheaper and faster to transfer information than explosives:
Just offer good money for a video-recording of the explosion, and an explosion you shall have.

Wouldn't that be incredibly easy to debunk? If the bombing didn't actually happen, it would be easy to show.

There is a difference between rules of engagement and overall goals which people seem prone to conflating here. Like Mr. Traven, I don't give a damn about Iran. I don't know why Mencius cares either. The neocons are and have for a long time been interested in regime change. That's different from turning places to mush, which is why they've never done so and don't intend to. Mencius' suggestion is thus irrelevant to them. The neocons are also interested in attaining stability and some degree of control over Iraq, which bombing Iran would not be very conducive towards (this is my own estimation, they rationalize their inability to manage Iraq by blaming Iran when it is the Sunni Arab countries that are destabilizing it the most).

December 7, 2007 at 3:05 PM  
Anonymous z-anon said...

Tanstaafl: This essay has many problems, but pot/kettle stones/glass houses is not one of them.

One may have many problems with MM arguing that *if* the US conquers another country, it should then occupy it the "right" way, ie. place it under American governance, impose totalitarian martial law, and empower the army to shoot any native, uniformed or not, on sight. You can say this is crazy. You can say this will fail. You can even dismiss it as nonsense. But you cannot claim that it "nonsense that is widely and confidently believed by a large population of full-grown adults", which was the definition of "crack" given in this essay. Ergo MM may be a lot of things, but not a "crack head". Perhaps looney?

That said, you cannot but help to notice that one half of the american government (the republicans, and the army) are trying hard to win the war in Iraq, while the other half of the government (the democrats, the state department, the justice department) and quasi government (universities, NYTimes) are doing things that constrain the military's ability to act. These constraints include rules of engagement never before seen on any battlefield, including american battlefields, frequent calls to withdraw ASAP, and an orchestrated campaign to demonize the broader "war on terror" campaign. There is a reason Democrat politicians are touchy about their patriotism being called into question, it's because they are quite obviously making it as hard as possible for the US Army to win overseas.

Suppose those opposed to the war in iraq changed their minds for some reason, and instead actively supported the military in whatever it needed to do to win. Suppose that "winning" was defined down from "liberal democracy" to "peaceful stability". The US Army could certainly accomplish this goal by bringing in old-school colonial tactics, including indirect rule, foreign administration, martial law, and occassionally, unmerciful, brutality. If anything, the technological superiority of the US over modern Iraq is greater than the superiority of the British over colonial India, and they ruled it for pennies on the pound for over 200 years.

The change needed is clearly not one of means, but it is one of will, so saying that the missing ingredient is "will" is not crazy.

Similarly, if the US really wanted to stop Iran from getting nukes it could do this. It could arclight the country from end to end, creating a wasteland and calling it "peace" a la the Romans. It could nuke all government buildings in Tehran, plus the villages where the ruling groups families came from. It could nuke a fraction of the above, and say to the Tehran authorities that unless they complied with Washington's demands, it will continue.

Such actions are unthinkable, which is precisely why Tehran is so comfortable ignoring the US. Given the constraints the US places on itself, or rather the contraints Blue America places on Red America, Khomeini is quite right, the US “cannot do a damn thing.”

What does Blue America think it is accomplishing by restraining Red America? Are the Iraqis better off for this "restraint"? Is Bongi's 60 year old woman better off? Is Pakistan better off now that the yoke of colonial oppression has been thrown off? Was 1970s Harlem (at least the parts that were not on fire) a better place to live than 1950s Harlem? Someone is clearly on something.

z-anon

December 7, 2007 at 3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is no puzzle about why people are now demanding much more civilized wars. It is because we are connected to our victims with far higher bandwidth, including information flow in both directions. So, yes, we lack "will". This is because we can see pictures, even moving pictures with full sound, of little kids with their legs blown off, their mothers screaming damnation at us for doing it. Or, cute little children running naked, burnt and screaming from our napalm strike. That sort of thing. Being an imperialist supporter is much easier when you never see any of the suffering that is entailed, and can coldly contemplate the words "collateral damage", and can ooze back, "it's worth it".

That higher bandwith, information flow and being more connected with their victims sure doesn't seem to make our muslim enemy demand a more "civilized" war. If anything, they'd like faster internet connections and better computer equipment, digital cameras and such so, not to mentione a better connection so that the video they shoot of infidels being decapitated, snipers shooting people, IEDs going off, car bombs etc...looks better when put on the internet. Daniel peral didn't turn too many muslims off as far as I can tell. In fact they seem to enjoy it. After 9-11 the US media didn't really want to show their victims, you know, the people that jumped to death rather than be burned alive in NYC because they were worried it might inflame public opinion. I wonder why? This is also the media that pretty much uncritically accepts Palestinian faked photos, employs stringers who are terrorists and urges Americans to "get angry" over New Orleans.
Imperialism? I wish. The death toll of Americans and Iraqis would have been much lower if we actually acted like real imperialists instead of worrying about what vomit the NYT or CNN would spew out. We let looters well, loot and didn't kill assholes like Sadr. The US is afraid of bad public relations. We are the only nation I know of that has lawyers "help" to pick targets. We give our enemies trials and representation in a summer camp down in Cuba, not to mention good food(the average prisoner gains something like 12 lbs) medical care and fucking Korans. They even released a jihadi (guess where he popped up again and what he was doing!). I don't know what you'd call all that but it isn't imperialism. Because we are nice guys, there is certain stuff that is "off the table", whereas as someone pointed out, liberals/leftists have had no problems with those methods being used on Nazis or Japanese, but used on our muslim enemies, it is somehow wrong. This isn't some gentleman's arguement, our enemy is serious. We are not. these people are not afraid of us and because of that this thing is going to drag on killing more of us and of them.

December 7, 2007 at 5:41 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

z-anon: When Mencius puts forth his fanciful theories and tries to link a murder in South Africa with our confused policies in the middle east, he has enough wit and learning to make it almost convincing. When you or others who take his theories straight (up your nose, to continue the metaphor), it sounds like what it is, crackpottery. We used to be strong, but some foreign element has weakened us! I suppose this is actually an echo of the Dolchstosse, but for some reason it reminds me more of this passage from Dr. Strangelove:

General Jack D. Ripper: Mandrake, do you realize that in addition to fluoridating water, why, there are studies underway to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk... ice cream. Ice cream, Mandrake, children's ice cream.
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Lord, Jack.
Ripper: You know when fluoridation first began?
Mandrake: I... no, no. I don't, Jack.
Ripper: Nineteen hundred and forty-six. Nineteen forty-six, Mandrake. How does that coincide with your post-war Commie conspiracy, huh? It's incredibly obvious, isn't it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual. Certainly without any choice. That's the way your hard-core Commie works.
Mandrake: Uh, Jack, Jack, listen, tell me, tell me, Jack. When did you first... become... well, develop this theory?
Ripper: Well, I, uh... I... I... first became aware of it, Mandrake, during the physical act of love.
Mandrake: Hmm.
Ripper: Yes, a uh, a profound sense of fatigue... a feeling of emptiness followed. Luckily I... I was able to interpret these feelings correctly. Loss of essence.
Mandrake: Hmm.
Ripper: I can assure you it has not recurred, Mandrake. Women uh... women sense my power and they seek the life essence. I, uh... I do not avoid women, Mandrake.
Mandrake: No.
Ripper: But I... I do deny them my essence.

Your view that "blue america" is somehow restraining "red america" from being appropriately brutal has no basis in fact. The military has absolutely no desire to undertake counterinsurgency warfare under any rules of engagement, because it is painful, messy, and much less fun than making flanking moves with tanks and strategic bombers. In fact, the military appears to be exercising opposition againt its civilian leadership in the matter of engaging with Iran. See also here. Partly this is because such an attack would be clearly illegal under international law, which I suppose is just another example of pussification to you great armchair warriors. But it's also based on the fact that it's an insanely stupid idea, which is glaringly obvious to anyone and even more so to someone who has had to be flailing around in Iraq for the last few years.

Or, as Donald Rumsfeld said, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you wish you had, which in your guys case appears to be the Wehrmacht. Maybe the thought of massive invasion, large-scale murder, collective reprisal, and rule by brute force gives you a stiffy. If so, please do us a favor and deny us your essence.

December 7, 2007 at 6:07 PM  
Blogger Tanstaafl said...

Silly crackpots, don't you know the real threat is neo-Nazism!

December 7, 2007 at 6:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the anon who thinks that we don't wage real warfare because we can see it on TV, not because modern Westerners have become soft, why did previous generations consider gladiatorial combat and public executions a form of entertainment? Surely that was much more vivid, given that it happened in real life right in front of your face, not on a screen.

Also, here are some examples of the Roman Empire's closest equivalent to Fox News, artwork from columns depicting Roman rules of engagement:

From the column of Marcus Aurelius:

Romans making German prisoners cut the heads off of other German prisoners:
http://www.udel.edu/ArtHistory/nees/209/images/2-03.jpg

A Roman soldier slaughtering a German:
http://www.livius.org/a/italy/rome/col_marcus/column_marcus05.JPG

Romans doing God knows what to some terrified German mother:
http://www.livius.org/a/italy/rome/col_marcus/column_marcus04.JPG

There's also a depiction on the same column of a Roman soldier impaling a German woman with a spear, but I can't find it online.

Remember that this is something that made them proud enough that they carved it in stone for everyone to see, not atrocity propaganda from the other side, as something like this would be today. One can only imagine what their 24 hour cable propaganda news organs would have been like if they had existed. The point is that the kind of compassion for enemy civilians we see today is not a human universal, it's a product of modern liberal society.

Mtraven, the dolchstoss analogy does not hold up. Germany had already lost its chance of winning in 1918 when the dolchstoss (which was real, but was more of a mercy killing than a true betrayal) occured, whereas America has now lost 2 wars against pissant countries, which was completely unnecessary. You try to associate mencius and his fellow extremists with the Nazis by bringing up the dolchstoss and the Wehrmacht, but a comparison with Rome would be more apt, the difference being that Rome was a strong country capable of imposing peace which was not extremely evil to conquered people by historical standards, while the Nazi regime were genocidal butchers who only had the power to cause a lot of trouble before their inevitable defeat.

Despite the atrocities committed by Rome (see above), their sphere of influence was remarkably peaceful for as long as their hegemony lasted - which was surely a lot longer than our current system will last.

c23

December 7, 2007 at 9:55 PM  
Anonymous z-anon said...

mtraven: you can call me all the names you like, but can you honestly say that you don't think it's a little weird that, in a war situation, the US military is consulting US lawyers about whether they can shoot or bomb something? Has anything like this happened before? Is there any doubt that this dramatically makes the army's job harder?

moreover, do you honestly deny that the State department, and those who fly the flag of human rights have actively made the US army's job harder in Iraq? I think the State department would certainly agree.

don't you think it's a little remarkable that when the US Army reaches out to anthropologists to help them be more effective in a war zone, the Academy calls for a boycott?

You don't need to have drunk the MM koolaid to think that all of these things are weird. I assure you that there are perfectly normal people in the US, who have never heard of this blog, who nonetheless believe:
1) legal nicities have no place in a war zone
2) the state department and the armed forces are not on the same page re: Iraq
3) it's smart for the US military to bring on anthropologists to help them, and while individuals may choose not to participate, there's no reason this overture should be shunned by the entire profession in the form of a coordinated boycott.

Maybe I'm wrong and these three things that seem patently obvious to me are not obvious to you. I cannot change your mind, but clearly one of us is on some serious crack.

you are clearly no fan of massive invasion/rule by brute force style of occupation, but do you really think the "softly softly, call in the lawyers first" approach that the US has taken in Iraq is better? if you are an iraqi, do you really prefer a weak US presence that lets a hot head rabble rouser like Sadr live (while bickering internally over how soon it can withdraw) to a strong US presence that seriously cracked down on crime and provided the basic security to let you and your family get on with life in peace, with the confidence that they will stick around for a few decades making sure the militants don't come back?

Let me ask this another way -- suppose, just suppose, that the brutal, no-democracy approach, actually worked and created a secure, low-crime environment in Iraq. It would do this by seriously infringing on what american's would consider their civil liberties, but the body count would be an order of magniture lower than the body count racked up by militia, suicide bombings, etc. I know this is hard to image, but just suppose, for the sake of argument, that this was the case. would you then support a brutal, no-democracy approach?

December 7, 2007 at 11:10 PM  
Blogger Black Sea said...

mtraven said:

"The military has absolutely no desire to undertake counterinsurgency warfare under any rules of engagement, because it is painful, messy, and much less fun than making flanking moves with tanks and strategic bombers. In fact, the military appears to be exercising opposition againt its civilian leadership in the matter of engaging with Iran."

I agree with him on this point, and for me, this is where the red state - blue state dichotomy breaks down and goes all maroon.

Given its preference, I believe that the Pentagon's plan for a post-Soviet world consists of Cold War II, with the Chinese playing the role of devious, calculating, but still rational opponent with whom we can, to some degree, identify. In other words, they pursue their interests and try to thwart ours, bu they don't really want to go all-out with us, anymore than we do we them.

One might say that the Cold War was a godsend for the Pentagon, but when you carefully craft something for your own benefit, I suppose it isn't a godsend. The Cold War elevated the influence of the military in American foreign policy, not to mention procurement funding. The Pentagon got all the neat, high-tech toys, and a considerable social prestige and political influence, without too much scrutiny or criticism. Who wouldn't want this to go on forever?

The "lessons" of Viet Nam may have been forgotten by the public, but they sure as hell haven't been forgotten at the Pentagon. And one of the main lessons, as m traven points out, is that counter-insurgency warfare is a loser for military's long-term interests. I'm not saying they won't do it, I'm just saying they'd always prefer not to have to do it, and so, maybe, they don't really want to get too good at it. Once you're good at something, these stupid politicians expect you to keep doing it.

Though the US body count isn't nearly so high in Iraq as it was in VN, Iraq is in some ways a harder sell to the public, and the Pentagon is trying to control the situation there with an all-volunteer force.

Do you think the military really wants to engage in scorched-earth tactics under these conditions? How would that affect their recruiting and retention numbers, and what kind of people do you think they'd be recruiting and retaining anyway, people who really get off on hosing down an entire village with machine gun fire every time somebody pops off a sniper round? Again, this is not in the military's long-term interest.

If they HAVE to fight a war, they'd prefer that it be something involving tanks, planes, precision bombs (with all that cool, nosecone camera footage), and a quick exit strategy. You can't sanitize war in the public eye indefinitely, and the American public simply doesn't have the stomach to accept the scorched-earth approach unless they genuinely believe the people being incinerated constitute a immediate and lethal threat to the United States.

December 8, 2007 at 6:32 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

1) legal nicities have no place in a war zone
You are quite wrong. Soldiers have a law they are under and can be prosecuted if they violate it. Perhaps you don't like the Geneva conventions and the results of the Nuremburg trials. You want a military that is lawless and practices unconstrained brutality. See above, you want the Wehrmacht. It seems like the entire civilized world disagrees with you.

it's smart for the US military to bring on anthropologists to help them, and while individuals may choose not to participate, there's no reason this overture should be shunned by the entire profession in the form of a coordinated boycott.
I'm not sure what point you are trying to make. If the anthropological profession as a group wants to dissociate themselves from war, surely that is their business? Or are you, despite your escape clause, proposing that the all-powerful State not only have unlimited license to practice brutality on any foreign people it feels like invading, but also have the ability to draft its own citizens to be instruments of its violence, against their own will?

You seem entirely confused about the role of the State Department in Iraq. In fact they have been mostly ignored, and if the military planners had paid more attention their job would be easier, not harder, since the State department actually knew some things about the country we were invading. This includes the very thing you cited, the post-invasion looting, which you (ludicrously) blamed on the New York Times and CNN. In fact it was the fault of the war planners and their failure to actually plan. See also here.

suppose, just suppose, that the brutal, no-democracy approach, actually worked and created a secure, low-crime environment in Iraq. ... would you then support a brutal, no-democracy approach?
Of course not. A "brutal, no-democracy apparach" is not a low-crime environment, it's an environment where crime is monopolized by a single gang, in this case, a gang that has no business being there in the first place, and no chance of ever obtaining legitmation or consent of the ruled.

Of course, Iraqis had a brutalist regime with Saddam Hussein. They probably would like to return to those days if they could. But the entire rationale for the US invasion was to replace that regime with a more democratic, less brutal one. This was a stupid idea. I think we probably agree that the US form of imperialism is a complete disaster, but our solutions are different. You want us to be more like the Wehrmacht or Saddam, I think we should get out of the empire business. We clearly aren't very good at it.

December 8, 2007 at 8:25 AM  
Blogger Tanstaafl said...

Sounds more like the Boogeymacht.

December 8, 2007 at 8:55 AM  
Anonymous z-anon said...

mtraven: Given your refusal to even countenance that a "fewer lawyers, more shooting" approach to counterinsurgency could bring about a low-crime environment, we'll stop talking right here.

You argue that a "brutal, no-democracy approach" is not low crime because it means crime has been monopolized by one gang that does not have legitimacy or consent to be ruled.

I think it's clear that low crime is, by definition, a monopoly on crime (or at least violence) by one gang, and having that monopoly means it does *not matter* whether it has legitimacy or consent. Real world third world dictatorships are the very essence of this situation, as was colonial India, colonial hong kong, modern pakistan, ancient china, modern china etc. Heck, Saddam-era Iraq was low crime (at least compared to post-Saddam Iraq) and it perfectly fits your description of "crime has been monopolized by one gang that does not have legitimacy or consent to be ruled". Areas where crime/violence is monopolized are peaceful. Areas where it is not are violent. There is no concept of legitimacy/governance in the rulers. But you think legitimacy and/or consent are required, and i would certainly say they are preferable, but cannot say they are required given all the evidence to the contrary, so we'll have to agree to disagree.

Personally, I am a big fan of the Geneva conventions precisely because they explicitly do not cover those who violate them -- a very sane clause in my opinion, that gives the whole legal framework some actual enforcement. Insurgency groups violate the Geneva convention by definition since they do not wear uniforms and hide amongst civilians, therefore, by the terms of the convention itself, it does not protect insurgencies. Those who would extend Geneva Convention protection to insurgencies are, in fact, violating the terms of the Geneva Convention. I wish people would get this straight because the convention is actually very good and clearly was written by people with some practical familiarity of War.

The Saddam regime was brutal, and it also produced bad governance. We both agree that the US democracy idea was a bad one. But I don't see why a brutal US regime that produced *good* governance is not preferable to Saddam's regime. I suspect it would be more popular in Iraq than the current situation. You, however, seem to feel that brutal US regimes per-se are just a bad idea because the US does not do brutal well (and brutal does not mean indisriminant slaughter, but it does mean the willingness to be, well, brutal). I agree, the US currently does *not* do brutal well, but it *has* done brutal well in the past. What has changed between it's ability to do brutal well in the past, and it's inability to do brutal well now? Is it because the means it has to apply Brutality have somehow degraded over time, that the US Military's arsenal is less potent in 2007 than it was in 1945? Or is it a change in, here's that word again, will?

(black sea: I quite agree with your assessment that the US military would prefer to fight with tanks, planes, and precision bombs. It is precisely this preference that insurgents are exploiting to defeat the US military. Ultimately the US military will have to decide what it wants more -- to fight with tanks, planes, and precision bombs, or to defeat the enemy).

MM's whole point is that this preference for "legitimate rule", whether it's through democracy or rule by someone of the right skin color, or by some other means, is actually quite distinct from "good governance". Ian Smith produced better governance in Rhodesia than Mugabe has produced in Zimbabwe, even though Smith is a white guy and Zimbabwe is a black country. The intellectual preference for legitimacy of rule over quality of rule is not a historical given -- in the past people have not thought this way. Moreover, the intellectual notion that legitimate rule somehow segues into high quality rule is also not a historical given. Legitimate rules can be awful. Illegitimate rules can be quite good. How did the focus turn from seriously assessing the quality of the rule to looking at the legitimacy of the rule? Why did legitimacy end up being so important? To some people this new focus makes total sense, and to other people it's just a crazy religious belief. Someone is on crack.

December 8, 2007 at 9:18 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

The Saddam regime was brutal, and it also produced bad governance. We both agree that the US democracy idea was a bad one. But I don't see why a brutal US regime that produced *good* governance is not preferable to Saddam's regime.
You have to explain to me why a brutal regime headed by a US occupying force is better than a brutal regime headed by Saddam. What makes it "good" as opposed to Saddam's "bad"? Especially if, as you seem to favor, the occupying military forces are unconstrained by law or moral considerations. I'm really quite eager to hear how that is supposed to work.

December 8, 2007 at 11:15 AM  
Blogger drank said...

mtraven said: You want us to be more like the Wehrmacht or Saddam

I think you're doing a disservice to the argument that MM and others in this thread are advancing, if that's what you think they are saying. I would suggest doing some reading on the US counter-insurgency in the Philippines, or the British rule in India to get a better idea of the tactics at issue. A Luttwak-style counter-insurgency does not call for wholesale slaughter, and it does not ask soldiers to become psychopaths. It does require less restrictive rules of engagement, less concern about collateral damage, and more willingness to be openly brutal to the actual insurgents.

Given that the US Army seemed to have a full grasp of these tactics in 1899, what accounts for their failure to apply them in Iraq in 2004?

Here are some of the reasons that I see. You and others have advanced a number of them yourself on this thread.

1. Political leadership that was slow to recognize there was an insurgency to counter for ideological reasons.
2. Military leadership far more interested in stealth bombers and JDAMs than in messy urban infantry and MP operations.
3. 24x7 media coverage largely driven by shock and scandal. "If it bleeds, it leads".
4. NGOs which will reliably publicize and condemn collateral damage, violence, crime, and prisoner mistreatment, regardless of whether these things are caused by US or insurgent actions.
5. International law, as sometimes expressed in treaties to which the US is a signatory, but more often expressed as assertions about international norms by foreign leaders and academics.
6. Heavily-lawyered targetting and ROE policies, with many combat decisions requiring approval by stateside lawyers.
7. Opposition to the war by career bureaucrats in Defense, CIA and State, resulting in regular leaks of embarrassing material about the war and its conduct.
8. Significant political opposition to the war in general, and to the current administration.

Now I'd hope you agree that (3)-(7) are pretty much synonymous with what Mencius calls the Polygon or the Blue Government. Plainly the Polygon has restrained US military power in Iraq, and done so consciously - most of the people involved are quite forthright in their belief that the Iraq war is wrong/stupid/immoral/illegal and that they are doing their part to end it.

Do you agree with my list of reasons for why 2004 was not like 1899? Or do you have your own?

You may be tempted to say that the Polygon and western civilization are just a kinder, gentler people these days. But I will point out that in recent examples, such as Gulf War I or Bosnia, most of the Polygon elements (but not all - it's not quite the monolith that MM portrays) did not act in this fashion. If all of the people in the Polygon woke up tomorrow convinced that the Iraqi insurgency must be crushed, how would you anticipate that the facts on the ground in Iraq would change?

December 8, 2007 at 11:22 AM  
Anonymous z-anon said...

mtraven asks: You have to explain to me why a brutal regime headed by a US occupying force is better than a brutal regime headed by Saddam. What makes it "good" as opposed to Saddam's "bad"? Especially if, as you seem to favor, the occupying military forces are unconstrained by law or moral considerations. I'm really quite eager to hear how that is supposed to work.

That's a very good question. A "good" regime is one that keeps law and order, and leaves people free to conduct their daily business, take care of their families, spend time with their friends. Examples of "good" regimes would include the US, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong; so a Republic, a Kingdom, a Dictatorship, and a British Colony that is now a province of a one-party State. All of these regimes provide basic law and order, and an environment where people can be peaceful and prosporous. They vary widely on the "civil liberties" scale, from "quite a bit" in the US, to "very little, depends on your skin color/country of origin/connections to the party" in other places. Please also note that these regimes vary in their brutality. Dubai, Singapore, and China are not known for being soft and cuddly.

A "bad regime" is one where the State makes it difficult for you to go about your business, take care of your family, and spend time with your friends. This can be through truly inept economic policy, rampant crime/corruption/violence, pointless and self-destructive wars with other nations, etc.

A US occupying regime would run Iraq like the British ruled Hong Kong, the Maktoum family rules Dubai, or Mr Lee & Co rule Singapore. Or like the US occupied and ruled Japan from 1945-1952. Or like the British ruled India from 1776-1947. Or like the US military operated in the Philipines from 1902- 1913. Or like the US Northern armies operated in the South from 1861-1877. I have no idea exactly what the right operating model is, but there are examples from history and the current world that differ from current policy in Iraq, and all share a "no better friend, no worse enemy" posture towards local insurgent groups.

Morover, the military force would be unconstrained by any law apart from its own (being sovereign) and the morality of the NYTimes at least, although it would have whatever morality it, itself chooses to have. It would be severly constrained by practical considerations -- so questions like "does this policing policy make it easier or harder for insurgents to control this neighbourhood", or "does this policy make it more or less likely that informants will cooperate with us instead of insurgents", or "does brutally breaking down this uprising make it more or less likely that there will be more, similar uprisings in the future" etc. In no way am I recommending Mai Lai massacres, but I am putting much more emphasis on "minds" rather than "hearts".

December 8, 2007 at 12:06 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

If you bring up the brutal US occupation of the Phillipines as some model of "good governance", than I think we just have to face the fact that we are on opposite sides. You favor indiscriminate slaughter, torture, and oppression. I don't. You are on the side of the oppressors, I am on the side of the victims. You love violence, you love authority, you love the state, you love empire. I am congenitally opposed to these things. I doubt there can be any reconciliation of such divergent values.

In no way am I recommending Mai Lai massacres... but of course you are. Or are you recommending brutality without actual brutality? You seem to have trouble facing up to the consequences of your own beliefs.

December 8, 2007 at 12:56 PM  
Anonymous z-anon said...

Mtraven: I'm perfectly happy that we disagree and go our seperate ways. After all, you've pegged me as someone who favors "indiscriminate slaughter, torture, and oppression" and loved "violence, authority, the state, and empire." You, on the other hand oppose all those things and are on the side of the victims. No doubt you feel we both have very different ideas about the merits of motherhood and apple pie.

Since I am clearly a bad guy and a monster I will take my leave. But I humbly suggest that there may be different levels of "monster" and the people blowing up cars in crowds in Iraq are not the US Army, and if the US Army had to consult lawyers a little less, and worry about how things would look on the evening news back at home a little less, then maybe they could do a little bit more about the folks blowing up the cars.

You are free to disagree

December 8, 2007 at 3:53 PM  
Anonymous z-anon said...

For other readers who are interested in the Philipine American War, and want a perspective that is perhaps a little different from mtraven's CommonDreams/Just Peace link, I would recommend Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippine_American_War#Philippine_war_strategy

30 years after the brutal occupation described by CommonDreams, the Philipines and America fought side by side as allies in WW2.

December 8, 2007 at 4:10 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

But you cannot claim that it "nonsense that is widely and confidently believed by a large population of full-grown adults", which was the definition of "crack" given in this essay.
MM called Nazism a form of crack, even though it is not popular today.

That said, you cannot but help to notice that one half of the american government (the republicans, and the army) are trying hard to win the war in Iraq
The army pretty much always tries to win, I don't think the republicans have been pulling their weight. They'll attack democrats for saying "unpatriotic" things but they won't make sure the troops have armor, don't have any reasonable goal for the troops to achieve and would rather stir shit up with Iran than find a political solution in Iraq.

while the other half of the government (the democrats, the state department, the justice department) and quasi government (universities, NYTimes) are doing things that constrain the military's ability to act.
I don't know what actions "Blue Government" has taken that made any difference, MM just has to use them as a scapegoat for his Dolchstoss theory. The quasi-government is impotent.

These constraints include rules of engagement never before seen on any battlefield
I thought we've had the same ones all throughout the post-WW2 era, and it wasn't "Blue Government" that decided to impose them right as we began the Iraq attack.

frequent calls to withdraw ASAP
Maybe from Ron Paul, Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich, but they don't have any power. Calls by themselves don't do anything either. The Democrats could have ended the war by denying more spending, but of course they declined to do that. People who are actually opposed to the war fear Hillary Clinton taking office.

and an orchestrated campaign to demonize the broader "war on terror" campaign
There is no "war on terror", just war with some terrorists. Most Democrats don't seem to have any problem with the Afghan campaign, which is the only one that has a damn thing to do with fighting terrorists that attacked us.

they are quite obviously making it as hard as possible for the US Army to win overseas.
Obvious if you're on crack, point to some damaging legislation they've passed recently.

Suppose those opposed to the war in iraq changed their minds for some reason, and instead actively supported the military in whatever it needed to do to win.
Waves of good or bad vibes wafting from the homefront don't actually change anything in Iraq.

Suppose that "winning" was defined down from "liberal democracy" to "peaceful stability".
It was Bush and the neocons that made a fetish of bringing democracy to the Middle East in the first place, they've been defining success downward for years now and they can't even achieve that.

The US Army could certainly accomplish this goal by bringing in old-school colonial tactics, including indirect rule, foreign administration, martial law, and occassionally, unmerciful, brutality.
That would be great if we wanted a colony, but that's not part of the goal.

If anything, the technological superiority of the US over modern Iraq is greater than the superiority of the British over colonial India, and they ruled it for pennies on the pound for over 200 years.
WE DO NOT WANT TO BE THERE FOR 200 YEARS! Before going in Karl Rove said the cost of regime change could be "the cost of a bullet" is someone else shot Saddam. We were supposed to be in and out with a stable client/"friendly" state. That didn't happen and it isn't happening any time soon.

The change needed is clearly not one of means, but it is one of will, so saying that the missing ingredient is "will" is not crazy.
I could solve my problem of being hungry by burning myself to death, assuming I dropped my goal of staying alive.

Similarly, if the US really wanted to stop Iran from getting nukes
Personally, I'm rather indifferent and think it might even be a good thing. I miss the Cold War and M.A.D. I think trying to stop nuclear proliferation is a losing strategy.

It could arclight the country from end to end, creating a wasteland and calling it "peace" a la the Romans.
We're not the Romans and that would still be a sub-optimal result from their perspective. Bush has been trumpeting democracy in Iran for a long time and been trying to get Iranians to topple their regime.

What does Blue America think it is accomplishing by restraining Red America?
What the hell is Red America trying to accomplish? If all the neocons had been thrown in a mental asylum a decade ago, would America be any worse off?

Are the Iraqis better off for this "restraint"?
I think they'd be better off if we got the fuck out and then the Shi'ites cleansed the Sunnis, if only because most of the casualties have been from aerial bombs which are less accurate than small arms. Tell me, foe of "restraint", how many Iraqis do you think coalition forces have killed?

Is Bongi's 60 year old woman better off?
Fuck her, what does she have to do with America?

We let looters well, loot and didn't kill assholes like Sadr.
Looting strikes me as a non-issue, but one reason we haven't killed Sadr is that he is a nationalist who has been trying to downplay the Sunni-Shi'ite split and attacks Iranian influence. I think we should just hand over the country to Iran and let the Sunnis rot, but the neocons disagree. They should have thought of this before invading.

We are the only nation I know of that has lawyers "help" to pick targets.
Has that actually happened in Iraq? So many bombs have been dropped there I have a heard time believing lawyers went over the decision.

We give our enemies trials and representation in a summer camp down in Cuba
I think a lot of them never got representation. Some of them got tortured and had no real evidence for their guilt. I don't mind people captured on the battlefield being treated differently from run-of-the-mill criminals, but others need a trial.

This isn't some gentleman's arguement, our enemy is serious.
Who is our enemy? To me, it is clearly al Qaeda. SO WHY THE FUCK ARE WE DICKING AROUND WITH IRAN AND IRAQ!

this thing is going to drag on killing more of us and of them.
Here is my two part solution, which would cost a hell of a lot less in money and American lives than yours and MM's:
1: Get Us out of There.
2: Keep Them out of Here.
That's it. Is there some glaring flaw I'm overlooking?

Silly crackpots, don't you know the real threat is neo-Nazism!
There are a number of neo-Nazis that opposed the Iraq war and attacks on Iran. I would rather be considered friends with them than the pro-war folks.

why did previous generations consider gladiatorial combat and public executions a form of entertainment?
See Steven Pinker.

whereas America has now lost 2 wars against pissant countries, which was completely unnecessary
The war itself was certainly unnecessary, and as far as I'm concerned we won when Saddam's statue came down and should have left right after.

do you honestly deny that the State department
Like I say to MM, point to some actions the State department has taken.

don't you think it's a little remarkable that when the US Army reaches out to anthropologists to help them be more effective in a war zone, the Academy calls for a boycott?
I don't want anything to do with Iraq, and I would want all individuals to have the right to say "fuck off" in such a situation.

it's smart for the US military to bring on anthropologists to help them
How many wars have we won with the help of anthropologists?

there's no reason this overture should be shunned by the entire profession in the form of a coordinated boycott.
A boycott is just a lot of individuals choosing not to participate.

but do you really think the "softly softly, call in the lawyers first" approach that the US has taken in Iraq is better
I would say the U.S approach has been stupid, but calling it soft in the face of all the people killed is laughable. I want NEITHER approach because I DON'T THINK WE SHOULD HAVE A FUCKING THING TO DO WITH IRAQ.

that lets a hot head rabble rouser like Sadr live
Hand over the country to Sadr, he'd likely do a better job of running it than the U.S has.

to a strong US presence that seriously cracked down on crime and provided the basic security to let you and your family get on with life in peace, with the confidence that they will stick around for a few decades making sure the militants don't come back?
Everyone nows we're going to leave eventually, and shit won't get settled until that happens. We're not making it any more secure and leaving would likely improve the situation.

Let me ask this another way -- suppose, just suppose, that the brutal, no-democracy approach, actually worked and created a secure, low-crime environment in Iraq. It would do this by seriously infringing on what american's would consider their civil liberties, but the body count would be an order of magniture lower than the body count racked up by militia, suicide bombings, etc. I know this is hard to image, but just suppose, for the sake of argument, that this was the case. would you then support a brutal, no-democracy approach?
Response

Of course not. A "brutal, no-democracy apparach" is not a low-crime environment, it's an environment where crime is monopolized by a single gang, in this case, a gang that has no business being there in the first place, and no chance of ever obtaining legitmation or consent of the ruled.
Creating a monopoly on violence often means there is less total violence because there is no competing with violence. That's one reason I'm a minarchist rather than anarchist. The U.S does not have a monopoly on violence in Iraq, and the reason it will never "obtain legitmation or consent of the ruled" is that they quite accurately assume we'll be gone relatively shortly.

I'd be all for bringing back Saddam, but they killed him.

The Saddam regime was brutal, and it also produced bad governance.
It was arguably better than what the U.S has provided.

But I don't see why a brutal US regime that produced *good* governance is not preferable to Saddam's regime.
Because it costs American lives and money.

Ultimately the US military will have to decide what it wants more -- to fight with tanks, planes, and precision bombs, or to defeat the enemy
I'm hoping for the former because I don't give a shit about the "enemy" in Iraq who never did a damn thing to me.

Plainly the Polygon has restrained US military power in Iraq
Doesn't seem like it to me.

But I will point out that in recent examples, such as Gulf War I or Bosnia
Hmm, we've got a single day's conventional battle followed by not occuppying and a war fought by air. Exactly the kinds of wars the military loves, rather than shitty counter-insurgency! Sounds like Red Government rather than Blue is your culprit.

convinced that the Iraqi insurgency must be crushed
And why must it?

A "good" regime is one that keeps law and order, and leaves people free to conduct their daily business, take care of their families, spend time with their friends.
Are modern day Vietnam and Iran "good" regimes?

unconstrained by [...] the morality of the NYTimes
I don't see how the NYTimes has actually restrained anything.

It would be severly constrained by practical considerations
I guess that means there wouldn't be any neocons in charge.

but I am putting much more emphasis on "minds" rather than "hearts".
I actually think that's a great quote and I agree with it.

You are on the side of the oppressors, I am on the side of the victims.
Everyone imagines the world that way. I say FUCK THEM BOTH.

December 8, 2007 at 4:54 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

the people blowing up cars in crowds in Iraq are not the US Army

What's the moral difference between them? Especially if the US gives up what little restraint it is under now, as you advocate.

This is war we are talking about. Both the US and the various insurgent groups want to establish themselves as the dominant force in the region. Both are attempting to achieve their goals with violence, which includes plenty of violence against civilians. The US has uniforms and better equipment, but its moral superiority escapes me.

... and if the US Army had to consult lawyers a little less, and worry about how things would look on the evening news back at home a little less, then maybe they could do a little bit more about the folks blowing up the cars
It seems equally possible that if the US Army didn't have lawyers and the media to hold it in check, it would become even more like the folks blowing up cars. You yourself cited Mai Lai -- if the media hadn't been able to expose that, there would no doubt have been more incidents like that than there actually were.

For other readers who are interested in the Philipine American War, and want a perspective that is perhaps a little different from mtraven's CommonDreams/Just Peace link, I would recommend Wikipedia.

Wikipedia's description of the Philipine occupation is hardly less damnning, so what is your point?:

The shift to guerrilla warfare, however, only angered the Americans into acting more ruthlessly than before. They began taking no prisoners, burning whole villages, and routinely shooting surrendering Filipino soldiers. Much worse were the concentration camps that civilians were forced into, after being suspected of being guerrilla sympathizers. Thousands of civilians died in these camps. In nearly all cases, the civilians suffered much more than the guerrillas.

the Philipines and America fought side by side as allies in WW2.
Stalin and the US fought as Allies in WW2, that doesn't mean they loved each other, it means they hated/feared Hitler more. The Philipines were attacked by Japan, so naturally they fought on the same side as the US. I'm not sure what that is supposed to prove. France and Germany were allies in NATO a few decades after France had been occupied by Nazi forces -- does that somehow prove that the Nazi occupation was "good governance"?

December 8, 2007 at 5:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The US has uniforms and better equipment, but its moral superiority escapes me."

Who would you rather be captured by: the US Army or Al Qaeda in Iraq?

December 8, 2007 at 11:08 PM  
Blogger drank said...

tggp: my goal in this thread in to gain insight, not to persuade you to some position about Iraq. I'm at least open-minded about the one you seem to hold: we should leave, let some gang of violent thugs beat the other gangs of violent thugs, and then buy oil from the winner.

But, we have a mystery to explain here. US leaders decided to invade Iraq and shortly thereafter faced an insurgency. A century ago, the US demonstrated a set of effective counter-insurgency tactics. But those tactics were not used, and our counter-insurgency efforts were ineffective (at best) in 2004-2005.

So what's the explanation for this? Why did we not trot out the tactics from the Philippines and crush the insurgency?

I gave my list of 8 possible reasons earlier on this thread, and noted that many (but not all) of them are closely related to MM's Polygon. You responded:

Plainly the Polygon has restrained US military power in Iraq. Doesn't seem like it to me.

mtraven has given his explanation: those tactics are morally repugnant, and no right-thinking person would employ them. Fair enough, and I'm glad to see that he has enough perspective on the Bush Administration to credit them with making moral choices even at the cost of failure of their military policies.

But what's your explanation for why 2004 was not a replay of 1899?

December 9, 2007 at 10:51 AM  
Blogger TGGP said...

the one you seem to hold: we should leave, let some gang of violent thugs beat the other gangs of violent thugs, and then buy oil from the winner.
I'm having a Robert Lindsay moment: someone understands me!

But, we have a mystery to explain here. US leaders decided to invade Iraq and shortly thereafter faced an insurgency.
They didn't expect an insurgency. They claimed we'd be greeted with hugs and roses (which was correct for a few seconds), that it would only take about a month, then the insurgents were just Ba'athist "dead-enders" who hadn't gotten with the program.

A century ago, the US demonstrated a set of effective counter-insurgency tactics.
A century ago the U.S wasn't run by neo-conservatives and was more comfortable seizing land for itself like a Great Power is wont to.

Lastly, I'd like to ask everyone here, have you actually ever been in the military/at war? I'm not saying your opinion isn't valid if you haven't but it just strikes me as odd that people like to cloak themselves in the glories of war they have never experienced. godless at GNXP had a reasonable discussion of the issue here.

December 9, 2007 at 12:15 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

Lawrence Auster puts it well here: stop blaming the left for the incompetence of the right.

December 10, 2007 at 8:16 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Isn't it all about will? If we're just ultimately totalitarian thugs - the kind which we rebelled against not simply because it was expedient but also because we believed it was our moral imperative - what will would most of our 'machine' have to fight with? This is what the left wants to do - they want to redefine what is moral & right until it is impossible to do anything.

But that aside - I somewhat doubt most soldiers, low and high, would want to be involved in a conflict where we just basically bootheeled a bunch of people somewhere. We will only do it if they really threaten us, and only to make the point of not to do s*** like that.

So we 'could' do what you're talking about, but not really. The will to do that only exists under extraordinary circumstances with Americans. This is why there may have been 'faked' attacks from time to time in the past: trying to generate that 'outrage' that fuels Americans using all-out force.

But ultimately, it's pointless to fake it. And really stupid, in the end, as it amounts to shooting yourself in the foot to gain sympathy. It's illegal, so it requires a bunch of conspiracy bullcrap and track-covering, which in the end will bite you in the arse.

Either they'll find out through a leak or discovery, or they'll find out you destroyed a lot of evidence. It's a lose-lose.

In fact, with our level of technology and power the only real issue is will. And there will be no sustained will to remove tyrants without ethical warfare, and the will to wage Clausewitzian war only lasts for short periods and can not be artificially made. America-hating leftists do 1. change 'ethics' to mean basically whatever stops us from fighting at all in the real world, or 2. undermine all possible sparks for engaging Clausewitz mode.

Like Sayet pointed out, these people who hate America really do. It's not just hyperbole. They're our enemies, even if they are our fellow-citizens. We can not remain ethical or moral people and take direct physical action against these enemies; It's the triumph of their strategy. However, you can still lose Othello even if you have all four corners. Being an idiot is a surefire way to lose any game, even if you're a well-advised idiot.

The idea about American force that I attest is probably most accurate is here. The makeup of the classical-age and later human is slightly different than the prior; it makes him a better fighter and inventor than any before him, but also means that he can't simply be deployed at the will of some capricious prince. A price we pay, will it be worth it? Who knows.

As for the 'nobility of the South', that's a little bit of Intellectual crack. If there was any nobility it was in Lee; the others urged him to do insurgent bullsh*t. He saw the strength of the north and its willingness to fight and decided that he didn't want to run his state into the ground any more than it was. That's statesmanship and nobility. I'm not sure how many believe that dogmatically; mostly it is cited as an attitude or in jest.

Here's a little something that goes along with it:

"The noble man surrenders on his clear defeat."

"The magnanimous man grants mercy on his victory."

In doing so, having already won minds through his strength, he wins hearts through his mercy.

But ultimately, this rests on the notion that the Will of the American people is not tied to Profit. Which when you get down to it, is quite true.

December 10, 2007 at 8:40 AM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

tggp, you do realize that we're going to be taking you a lot less seriously around here after that little kos-kiddie rant. performing your bush-hatred in all-caps obscenities is not the path to cred on this blog.

December 10, 2007 at 2:16 PM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

River Cocytus, you fail at history. we happily invaded, conquered, and held the philippines, without the slightest (effective) qualms about tactics. before that, there was mexican land we outright stole. before that, the indians. this phenomenon is almost entirely twentieth-century based (though with roots earlier). it's not even remotely consistent with "human nature" to consider your enemies deserving of human rights.

December 10, 2007 at 2:21 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

Aaron Davies, if you take me less seriously, it would not mean much to me. I find it funny though to be likened to a "Kos kiddie" as the average joe would consider me a right-wing extremist and for years I generally took up the task of defending W against the sufferers of "Bush derangement syndrome". I'll use caps when I think appropriate, which can be quite often when skulls are thick or people wish to ignore something. Provided that a comfortable majority of the text is lower-case it helps it to stand out so that a reader will dwell on it long enough for the simple point to sink in.

December 10, 2007 at 4:09 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

There seems to be an unquestioned assumption that there is a struggle between the military classes who are just itching to release unlimiited violence against the world, and "the Polygon", who is holding them back by means of the almighty power of the New York Times editorial page. This seems to be at best a drastic oversimplification. If you think that the only people opposed to wars of imperial aggression are effete liberal rootless cosmopolitans ("the Polygon" seems to be just an updated term of abuse for this class) you should check out this guy. As far as I can tell, the contemporary military has very little interest in prolonged occupation and counterinsurgency warfare, but as I myself am an effete liberal etc I really don't have a very good sense for the military mind. Plenty of high-ranking former officers have spoken up against the war, but I don't know how representative they are. I suspect nobody posting here has any better access to this knowledge than I do.

December 10, 2007 at 8:35 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

"human nature"

I argue with a materialist, so I am by default, incorrect. In other words, If I cannot demonstrate the ideal it does not exist.

Suffice it to say the world changes, and to judge what human nature is strictly by history and especially by the action of what happened in the Philippines is erroneous. We can not disregard history, but if we miss critical components of it we're no longer studying human history, but the history of shuffling matter. Which frankly, is really boring.

If you can fully explain the apparent contradiction between the Clausewitzian reaction in the Philippines and the reticence to do so in other cases, then do so. Otherwise be careful to consider evidence that is contrary to your point and to not throw the word 'fail' around so freely.

December 11, 2007 at 2:00 PM  
Blogger mikes2653 said...

To Mtraven's comment, I remember how during the 'sixties one heard derisive comments from left-wing types about 'the military mind' and its supposed sword-rattling lust for combat. I have to say it rang false to me at the time and still does.

Especially since the experience of Vietnam I believe the senior officer corps of the United States armed forces has been very reluctant to engage in any combat it is not absolutely confident it can win easily and quickly. Colin Powell exemplifies this line of thinking. Recall the incident in which Madeleine Albright, as Clinton's secretary of state, braced Gen. Powell over his objections to one of Clinton's adventures abroad, to the effect that what good is an army if you don't use it? I'm not sure what Gen. Powell's response was, but I imagine it would be rather like that of a policeman asked what good was his pistol if he didn't use it - the point is not to _have_ to use it.

I have known for some years the officer the Pentagon has put in charge of the now largely dormant Selective Service system. This is his job because someone has to do it. Congress has not seen fit to abolish selective service, and boys must still register at age 18, but there is no draft and the mechanisms for administering it exist only on paper.

My friend is like an admiral in charge of a mothballed fleet - and he likes it that way. He has told me that no military professional wants to see a return to conscription because they are all too aware of the problems it causes - and that no one wants to see warfare on the scale that would call for it. The present well trained and highly skilled volunteer armed forces would be the first to suffer in such a war, to be replaced by less-skilled and much less well motivated conscripts.

Massive redundancy in force and materiel is seen by most senior military as the prerequisite to accomplishing an operation swiftly and decisively, and it was over this thinking that Donald Rumsfeld found himself in frequent conflict with his uniformed subordinates.

December 12, 2007 at 10:25 AM  
Anonymous z-anon said...

mikes2653: I think all of your comments are quite right. It is certainly true that the military does not want to see a draft. And I think it is also true that Rumsfeld, over the advice of military advisors, picked bad tactics and strategy for Iraq War 2. Interesting.

I still think there is a real difference between "lust for war" and actually *fighting* a war to win it. There is surely some middle ground between the Mai Lai massacre and asking a lawyer (from supposedly your own side) before being allowed to pull the trigger. The US did not always exist in its current state of lawyer-lead warfare. And lawyer-lead warfare seems a certain path to defeat.

drank has a good list of possible reasons why the US employes loser tactics in 2007, even though it had winning tactics in 1899. I'm sure there are more.

I also think you Colin Powell comment is quite right -- Powell was extremely risk averse as a military commander. Quite a contrast from the UK in Argentina, the IDF in Entebbe, etc. That in itself is also interesting.

December 12, 2007 at 5:13 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

Could you provide a link on the importance of lawyers in the Iraq war?

December 12, 2007 at 10:36 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

Here's another post from Auster on the silly blaming of the left by neocons for the failures of the Bush admin.

December 13, 2007 at 1:11 AM  
Blogger Moshea bat Abraham said...

There is a bitingly sarcastic post about how much progressives love counterintuitive ideas on a neocon blog here.

July 18, 2008 at 4:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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January 31, 2009 at 10:35 PM  
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March 2, 2009 at 9:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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March 2, 2009 at 9:57 PM  
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March 6, 2009 at 6:57 AM  
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March 18, 2009 at 9:57 AM  

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