Wednesday, January 10, 2007


We Can Win Iraq - But We Don't Want To

We lack the will to win Iraq.

Regular readers should be surprised to learn I believe victory in Iraq can be won. Not only can we win the war, but we can also win the peace. Moreover, the problems we face have more to with our own irresponsibility, stupidity, self-centeredness and lack of resolve than the recent explosion of sectarian violence in that horrible place.

In short, we are unwilling to make the sacrifices needed to win.

Tonight, as I write this, the president is expected to repudiate former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's war policies by announcing a substantial increase in the number of American solders sent to Iraq. He is also expected to announce a jobs program for Iraq.

Mr. Bush remains true to form with too little, too late. But why too little?

In thinking about what it takes to conquer a nation with a dictatorship form of government and install a genuine, functioning democracy, we should look to the successes of the past. We need not look too far, because we can fairly claim success in Germany and Japan.

At the end of the Second World War, Germany lay shattered and broken. The vaunted German military machine which had rolled over the European continent with astonishing speed was smashed; the great arms factories shattered, along with much else. Clearly, they no longer threatened us or our allies.

We could have withdrawn, as we did at the end of WWI, but we did not. Instead, under the brilliant Secretary of State George C. Marshall, we gave Europe $20 billion, a staggering sum in those days. The Marshall plan required the Europeans to work together to decide how to spend the money, which they did. Some thinkers believe the bodies created by the plan eventually evolved into the European Union. (Read more about the plan here.)

We also established many military bases in Europe, and especially Germany. And guess what - we're still there, some sixty years later.

Not that it took them sixty years to establish an effective democracy; that probably took much less time. However, you can bet it took more than four years.

The United States made huge sacrifices for WWII. People at home accepted rationing and wage-price controls, while the nation fielded huge armies in a titanic struggle.

Nowadays, the vast majority of Americans are unaffected by the war. We continue to drive our gas-hogging SUVs, much to the delight of our enemies. We mourn the loss of over 3,000 American lives over the course of the last four years, but really, that's a tiny fraction of the number killed on our highways each year. (42,000, or 168,000 over four years.)

During WWII, everyone bought bonds to finance the war. But this is being financed by the Chinese buying up our debts. We are not even expected to pay higher taxes to support the war, though it appears likely our children and grandchildren will.

Many of the same things principles that applied to Germany also applied to Japan. That nation is the only one in history to have been attacked with nuclear weapons. We're still there, too.

While we're considering the lessons of history, let's think about the big war we lost - Vietnam. We tried to install a democracy there, too. We tried to turn the war over to the local forces there, too. We left, promising the South Vietnamese aid that, as it turned out, the Congress was too stingy to send. President Lyndon Johnson's request for a half-billion dollar aid package was turned down, and Siagon fell two months later.

If we pour enough into Iraq, we can the outcome we want. To win would require genuine sacrifices. Not an increase in troops of ten or twenty percent, but a doubling or tripling of the forces there. The aim would be to disarm the Iraqi people, and to protect the defenseless survivors. We would need to search every shed, every house, every building for weapons on micro-destruction; pistols and rifles, as well as bomb making supplies. We would need to watch and patrol every street in every city, day and night; siezing arms and explosives and arresting people. At the same time, we would need a new Marshall plan. Money could be given to the Iraqis, conditioned on their internal agreement on how to spend it.

Lastly, we would have to recognize we are there to stay. It might be possible to reduce our troop levels after two or three years of intensive pacification, but we would still need a sizable force, more or less permanantly.

This would work. But we do not have the will to make it work.

It would require tremendous sacrifices of the American people. It would require a military draft, and untold billions of dollars, and tax increases. It would take too much.

But too little effort can only worsen the situation. We cannot build a house with just one nail, or a village with a single barrel of nails. Anything we put up will fall back down. In a previous post, I detailed why the "surge"can only worsen the situation.

Perhaps the president will explain tonight why he is ignoring the lessons of history. Perhaps he will put forth a compelling case for his "surge" in troop level. Perhaps he will give us an intellectually honest, rigorous and thorough discourse which will persuade us that our assessements and the assessements of his generals are mistaken.


But don't bet money on it.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007


I Fear to Speak

I fear to speak.

I fear the words in this space will be used against me.

I know that my fear seems a little, well, paranoid. Most any reasonable person, looking at my writing as a whole, would conclude that I am a patriotic American.

But reasonable people do not worry me. The people I fear measure your patriotism by how closely your words match their thoughts. They say it is unpatriotic to disagree with the president - which I do. They say opposition to the war encourages the enemy - and I oppose the war.

Reasonable Americans value our long traditions of civil liberties, freedoms that come to us earlier than the Bill to Rights to pre-revolution days and back to very old British common law. I fear the guys who arrested and held an American citizen without trial. I fear the guys who feel that they should be allowed to torture anyone they suspect of being a terrorist - and they decide who that is.

I fear the equation that says opposition to the war equals aid to terrorists equals being a terrorist.

In todays news we learned that the NSA, the most secretive spy agency in the country, has established a cozy relationship with Microsoft. Read about it here. The spies helped the giant software company create security for their newest operating system, Vista. We also learned that other operating systems, including Apple's OS X and Windows XP, have been operated on by the wizards at NSA.

Who knows more about electronic security than the master spy agency? No one.

But in a climate of warrentless wiretaps and expanded presidential power to open our mail, the thought that the NSA may have written code used in computers all around the world gives one pause. Who know what they did with that opportunity? It's plausible that they could plant a few lines of code to enable them to spy on any computer, any time, for any purpose.

Six years ago, anyone saying the United States would launch a war on Iraq based on thin, possibly fabricated intelligence would have gotten zero airtime. The notion that we would spy on our own citizens and open mail without a search warrent would have been dismissed as absurd. That we would hold people without trial or charges, that we would operate secret prisons and condone torture would have been labelled hopelessly insane.

Paranoid beyond belief.

Like the Germans in the 1930s, we would be saying, "It can't happen here."

I fear speaking out. I feel paranoid.

But I fear remaining silent even more.

Friday, January 05, 2007


Drownings of the New Year

Well, here we are, with the New Year lapping over our heels, and no resolutions in sight. Not that I'm all that enthused about New Year's resolutions, or the New Year, for that matter. But it seems a fit topic for thought, before 2007 gets any deeper.

Individuals and cultures change, over time. My boss and I had a short philosophical discussion about that change, and the shape it takes. His thesis is that people no longer care about anything that does not directly affect them; moreover, interest quickly dies beyond the very short term. He thinks people used to care - our parents' generation did.

They are all of sufficiently advanced age, if still living, not to care any longer.

Pinpointing the sea changes of the culture one belongs to must be one of the hardest tasks imaginable. I cannot imagine how to do that. It's like swimming in an ocean and trying to rise up high enough to see beyond the waves.

We often observe how we detest that awful rap music, just as our parents hated rock-n-roll. Of course, our grandparents hated the music of their children, and so on, beyond living memory.

And people still complain of the same flaws from generation to generation. Ever since the sixties (my generation) the indifference of the young to social and moral responsibility appears to worsen continually.

But does it, really?

We can point to the structure of TV shows, movies and video games to see an erosion of attention spans. The news cycle gets shorter and shorter. People not much younger than myself don't read newspapers - our house is the only one on the block with regular delivery. Ours is also the only one with a re-cycling bin at the curb every week.

But we can see very clearly that something in American culture has changed - as if the waters we swim in had cooled, or the waves become rougher. Silly us, we forgot to pack the thermometer.

It is said that a culture and a society, particularly a democracy, gets the leadership it deserves. A rougher, cruder nation earns rougher, cruder leaders. Where are the Truman's, the Adlai Stevensons, the Kennedys of today? If we don't vote - and the number of people exercising that right continues to decline - we mute our own voices. The loudest, emptiest voices are all that's heard. We get stuck with dull, dumb leaders lacking in foresight but full of themselves and arrogant pride, drowning out the sounds of moderation, temperance and wisdom.

If we remain silent when injustices are inflicted on others, then only time lies between us and fresh pain.

This New Year marks the start of a new presidential campaign. (Does a shorter attention span require a longer campaign season?) As of today, ten men and women are running for president.

How's this for a resolution: I resolve to work to deserve the best leadership.

Happy Bloody New Year.

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