Sunday, December 31, 2006


AP:Thousands flock to see Saddam's grave
Staff Sgt. David Earp, who also fought in 1991's Operation Desert Storm, said the execution worried him.

"In my opinion, something big is going to happen," said Earp, of Colorado. "There will be a response. Probably not today because they know we are looking for one, but soon."

Where will foreign policy go after Iraq

American Future: The Coming of Neo-Multilateralism

Even if President Bush decides to stick by his guns (literally and figuratively) and manages to pull a rabbit out of his hat, I believe that the doctrine that bears his name will be jettisoned by his successor, be he (or she) a Republican or a Democrat. The doctrine's demise will mean there will be no further efforts to defeat terrorism by using force to spread democracy. Chastened by the cost in lives and treasure, a majority of Americans want to withdraw our troops from Iraq, a preference indicating a willingness to accept an ill-defined stalemate (or even defeat) in Iraq. As in the early 1970s, the spirit of our time is "Come Home America." In the view of at least one pundit, "With hindsight we may see 2006 as the end of Pax Americana."

Where does this leave us after Bush's term in office is over? Barring an unpredictable event—in particular, a terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 or greater on U.S. soil—the signs point to a retreat to neo-isolationism, as happened after the Vietnam war.

No administration will use neo-isolationism to describe its foreign policy. Whether the next administration is Republican or Democratic, some other word or phrase will be invented to describe a policy that will amount to neo-multilateralism. Whatever it's called, this policy will eschew military interventions carried out unilaterally or by ad hoc coalitions of the willing.

The central feature of neo-multilateralism will be an American rapprochement with the UN, a process that will be made easier by Kofi Annan's departure. Many observers—here and even more so in Europe—will cheer this development, as Gulliver will be chained.

I won't be among them. As most recently evinced by its inaction over Darfur and the watered-down sanctions against Iran (Security Council Resolution 1737), the UN Security Council is structurally incapable of confronting threats to humanity. Whether the issue is genocide carried out by Khartoum or Tehran's nuclear weapons program, the Security Council epitomizes ineffectiveness. Given the agendas of Russia and China, there is no reason to hope that this will change.

Terrorist and militant groups, not just certain governments, will be among the primary beneficiaries of American neo-multilateralism. An America that's tightly-bound to the UN will feel compelled to abide by the rules of international law. These rules are supposed to apply to all parties to a conflict but, in reality, don't. The most recent example of the asymmetric application of international law was this past summer's war between Israel and Hezbollah. The vocal, widespread claim that Israel used "disproportionate force" wasn't matched by outrage over Hezbollah's installation of its rocket-launchers in civilian areas and its intentional targeting of civilians in northern Israel.

Like the UN Charter, the rules of war—in particular, rules of engagement—were agreed upon at a time when warfare meant fighting among states. That isn't the type of conflict present in today's world, nor is it likely to be in the foreseeable future. Instead, asymmetric warfare pitting a state against terrorist and militant groups will continue to be the most frequent type of violence.

As I discussed in considerable detail in an earlier post, the U.S., in order to minimize civilian casualties in Iraq, has conformed to strict rules of engagement. I concluded that post with these words:

Without maintaining that our forces have never deviated from these rules of engagement, it's clear that our intent has been to fight a "civilized" war. From a humanitarian standpoint, this objective is commendable. However, fighting with one hand tied behind our back (to borrow a phrase from the Vietnam era) has undoubtedly resulted in greater American casualties and made it more difficult to prevail against an enemy that obeys no rules. The limitations, by enhancing the ability of the insurgents and terrorists to carry on the fight, have probably resulted in more, not fewer, civilian casualties. If our rules of engagement were formulated, in part, to present a better face to the "international community," they have failed. Nobody has commended us for our good behavior.

The rules of engagement we've followed in Iraq raise an issue than couldn't be more fundamental. If our twenty-first century conflicts are going to pit us (or, I might add, Israel) against extremist groups whose tactics know no bounds and we allow our conduct to be constrained by the dictates of international law, as defined by such multilateral institutions as the UN, we are condemning ourselves to fighting protracted conflicts that erode American willpower, as has happened with Iraq. If we give precedence to conforming to international norms over winning, it won't escape the notice of militants, who will use every opportunity to weaken us.

The neo-multilateral foreign policy I foresee, because it will exclude unilateral American military interventions, means that interventions against terrorists and militants will rarely, if ever, take place. And when and if they do, the "international community" will employ rules of engagement that are advantageous to the instigators of violence.

Because the Iraq war has been so terribly mismanaged, the "Pax Americana"—a phrase that implies the ability and willingness of the United States to act unilaterally—may indeed be over. If it is, the only possible replacement is a "Pax United Nations." Those who favor this change may live to regret it.

I think the likely outcome of defeat in Iraq is not a chastened U.S. that cheerfully sends its protection money to the U.N. every month and sends its troops the fool's errand of the week with the Boys in Blue Helmets, rather I think the outcome is going to be Pissed Off country that is going to have little patience for international adventures. Any such involvement is going to bring the recriminations over Who Lost the Middle East to the surface, thus grinding activity to a halt while the tribes of the chattering class sling poop at each other. We could also see "To Hell with Them" hawks ascendant, but I think for at least a few years we are going to be occupied licking our wounds and assigning blame.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Laugh or Cry

Blog Them Out of the Stone Age:The Urge to Surge

I haven’t had time to write it up (and with Winter Quarter coming like a freight train can’t imagine I’ll ever find the time), but for weeks now I’ve been mentally composing a long, discursive post on the Bush administration’s dogged assertion — and apparently sincere belief — that it can still win big in Iraq. In this it is supported by a number of gifted military historians, most notably Eliot Cohen and Fred Kagan.

Since I have great respect for Eliot and Fred, I’ve tried hard to see things their way. But they don’t even begin to persuade. Their arguments strike me as basically elaborate, occasionally eloquent embroideries of the old platitude, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

And their urge to surge strikes me as particularly untenable. It’s what the United States did in Vietnam from 1964 through 1968. It’s what the Italians did in 1915-1917, the result being no fewer than twelve Battles of the Isonzo River before the Germans cleaned their clocks at Caporetto. The Germans, for their part, got the urge to surge in March 1918, and the result was complete defeat within eight months.

But those are just three historical examples. Eliot and Fred could dispute each one of them and come up with three counterexamples in a New York minute. We’re all smart guys who know a lot about military history and strategic studies.

My three examples essentially buttress a gut level conviction, which I’ve held ever since July 2002 — when the Bush administration began laying the domestic groundwork for the Iraq war — that this adventure was needless and would/will end badly. Eliot and Fred had and have the equal but opposite gut level conviction. Unfortunately, they also have the ear of the president, whose own gut level convictions have for six years had him bounding from disaster to disaster with a kind of animal joy.

emphasis added

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Mark Heard Lyrics Project:NOTHING IS BOTHERING ME

No news is good news but news is here to stay
Tightening the thumb-screws from day to day
I hear the tale of a distant fray
War is hell but it's half-a-world away

I'm alright
Nothing is bothering me
I'm just trying to keep the weight of this world
From dawning on me

We get the picture from week to week
The rich get richer and inherit the meek
Long since started preying on the weak
Am I the guilty party if I turn the other cheek

I'm alright
Nothing is bothering me
I'm just trying to keep the weight of this world
From dawning on me

Mark Heard: Victims of the Age 1982

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Best thing I've read this Christmas

The Evangelical Outpost:The Fountainhead of Bedford Falls: Comparing George Bailey and Howard Roark

.....My purpose, however, is not to defend the genius of these creators but to compare two of their protagonists, The Fountainhead’s Howard Roark and Wonderful Life’s George Bailey.

To anyone familiar with both works it would seem that the two characters could not be more different. I contend, however, that they are not only similar but a variation on a common archetype.

Howard Roark, for example, is an idealistic young architect who chooses to “struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision” by conforming to the needs and demands of the community. In contrast, George Bailey is an idealistic young architect-wannabe who struggles in obscurity because he has chosen to conform to the needs and demands of the community rather than fulfill his artistic and personal vision. (Howard Roark is essentially what George Bailey might have become had he left for college rather than stayed in Bedford Falls.)

While both represent the artistic, ambitious, talented individual who is surrounded by stifling mediocrity, each character’s story unfolds in dramatically different fashion. Rand portrays Roark as a demigod-like hero who refuses to subordinate his self-centered ego for the wishes of society. Capra, in stark contrast, portrays Bailey as an amiable but flawed man who becomes a hero precisely because he has chosen to subordinate his self-centered ego to society.

(Ironically, Rand’s protagonist has become something of a cult figure, an ideal to aspire to, while Capra’s hero, a far darker and complex character, is considered an “everyman.” Such a misreading is laughably absurd. Howard Roarks can be found just about anywhere. Although they may not be as talented as drafting or speechifying, the self-centered libertarian fratboys found on every college campus exemplify Roarkian morality. But while Roarks are all around us, where can the George Baileys be found?

Every Christmas audiences flatter themselves by believing the message of Wonderful Life is that their own lives are just as worthy, just as noble— just as wonderful—as the life of George Bailey. Despite the fact that the left their smalltown communities for the city, put their parents in an “assisted living facility”, and don’t know the names of their next door neighbors, they truly believe that they are just like Capra’s hero.)

But what makes George Bailey one of the most inspiring, emotionally complex characters in film is that he continually chooses the needs of his family and community over his own self-interested ambitions and desires – and suffers immensely for his efforts.

Although sentimental, Capra’s movie is not a simplistic morality play. In the end, George is saved from ruin but the rest of life remains essentially the same. By December 26 he’ll wake to find that he's still a frustrated artist scraping out a meager living in a drafty old house in a one-stoplight town. In fact, all that he has gained is recognition of the value of faith, friends, and community and that this is worth more than anything else he might achieve. Capra’s underlying message is thus radically subversive: it is by serving our fellow man, even to the point of subordinating our dreams and ambitions, that we achieve true greatness.

This theme makes Wonderful Life one of the most counter-cultural films in the history of cinema. Almost every movie about the individual in society—from Easy Rider to Happy Feet—is based on the premise that self-actualization is the primary purpose of existence. To a society that accepts radical individualism as the norm, a film about the individual subordinating his desires for the good of others sounds anti-American, if not downright communistic. Surely, the only reason the film has become a “Christmas classic” is because so few people grasp this core message.

The fans of The Fountainhead are therefore not likely to appreciate Wonderful Life. Indeed, the messages are so antithetical that only a schizophrenic personality could truly appreciate both George Bailey and Howard Roark. For even though they are surprisingly similar characters, when the spell of sentimentalism has faded the contrasts become clear.

For instance, Roark lives to create inspiring works of architecture but cannot do so without relying on others. When society fails to appreciate his “genius”, his egotistical purity leads him to engage in a massive destruction of private property. By the end of The Fountainhead Roark is revealed to be an infantile, narcissistic, parasite.

Bailey, on the other hand, has all the marking of a repressed, conformist, patsy. He lives for others (a sentiment that would make Ayn Rand gag) rather than “following his bliss.” He compromises everything but his integrity. And yet he discovers that he has all that makes life worth living.

I admire the genius of Capra and Rand. Each has given the world an enticing vision of the role of the individual. But given the choice, I’d much prefer to live in a world with more George Baileys and fewer Howard Roarks.

I was watching "Miracle on 34th Street" with the family Christmas Eve and Mr Macy is depicted bridling at being depicted as a "moneygrubber". Compare and contrast with today's corporate philosophy.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Great Quote

Church of the Masses in the context of a review of Flags of our Fathers

For the Watergate generation, however, unmasking dirty politicians is always what it is about. "See, if we can unmask corruption in the establishment, maybe nobody will see the rot and inconsistency and meaninglessness of our own disastrous sexual revolution racked lives. If we can say that "The Greatest Generation" wasn't really that great, maybe we can drown out the voices of our kids who hate us for our selfishness? If we can say that there are no heros, even on a place like Iwo Jima, then maybe we can rid ourselves of the uneasiness we feel for our own pampered narcissitic lives?"