State of the Union

Death of a Stereotype

Old time TAC alum Jim Antle says just about all that needs to be said about Ted Kennedy here. Jim may be overgenerous to say that Kennedy represented liberalism at its best as well as its worst, but certainly Republicans and Democrats alike found him useful as the archetypal liberal. Now that he’s gone, the Republicans may suffer the more for it since good villains are hard to come by. Senators are best because they stick around so long — Kennedy was first elected in 1962. House speakers are too obscure and transient; they’re fine for short-term direct mail, but you can’t build an ideological movement in opposition to, say, Tom Foley, or even Jim Wright. (Gingrich propelled his career as a GOP House leader by taking on Wright, but that didn’t help Gingrich in the least once he was speaker himself.) Nancy Pelosi makes an effective symbol of Democratic liberalism for now, but she won’t have anything close to the 40-year political lifespan of Ted. Jimmy Carter is the last great rogue left in the conservative movement’s gallery. And he won’t last much longer.

There are, of course, senators well to Kennedy’s left. But Bernie Sanders doesn’t have a high enough profile, and Russ Feingold is too decent. Democrats, it’s true, haven’t had a good Republican figure of perpetual hate for a very long time, maybe since Herbert Hoover. Already Obama and company sound rather quaint when they justify their policies by summoning the shades of Bush, Cheney, and Gingrich. But Democrats have been without an archenemy for such a long time that they’ve become accustomed to lacking one. GOP propaganda still leans heavily on Teddy. Moreover, the Left has more stock villains than the Right: fat-cat businessmen, oil and pharmaceutical companies, tobacco of course. Those can always rally liberals. Republicans, on the other hand, have to tread very carefully in putting welfare queens to the same use. There’s always “anti-American leftist professors” to fall back on, but relying on that stereotype won’t do anything to help the GOP win back college graduates (who now lean Democratic, 52 percent to 37 percent).

Maybe Al Gore will save the conservative movement by making another movie.

Posted in . 10 comments

War of Exhaustion

The war in Afghanistan appears to have settled into the category Delbrueck called “wars of exhaustion.” If it remains there, the U.S. cannot win. The American people will become exhausted long before the Pashtun do.

In this respect America’s situation is similar to that Germany faced in World War I. Germany knew she could not win a war of exhaustion. She therefore sought to turn it into a war of maneuver, successfully on the eastern front and almost successfully in the west in the spring of 1918 and also at sea with the U-boat campaign. The ultimate failure of the latter two efforts, an operational failure on land and, worse, a grand strategic failure at sea, meant the war of exhaustion continued. Exhaustion finally caused the home front to collapse in November, 1918.

Past is probably prologue for the U.S. in Afghanistan unless it can succeed where Germany failed. The U.S. must turn a war of exhaustion into as war of maneuver.

At first sight, such a prescription appears pointless. The granular nature of a Fourth Generation battlefield, a granularity that encompasses not only the military but also the political and moral aspects of the conflict, would appear to render any military maneuvers above the tactical level irrelevant. Great operational encirclements like those in which the German Army specialized become swords cutting through the air. Read More…

Posted in , . 3 comments

Tight Rigging

The first, partial results of Aghanistan’s elections have been announced today. The early leader is President Hamid Karzai – no surprise there. What is remarkable, however, is that his advantage is very slight. The Guardian reports,

Afghanistan’s independent election commission (IEC) said Karzai had won 41% of the 10% of ballots processed so far, while his former finance minister Abdullah Abdullah had won 39%.

Karzai must win more than half the available votes to triumph outright without the need for a second round of voting between him and Abdullah in October.

That might suggest that the election has not been as grossly corrupt as most observers feared–or at least that Karzai has had the decency to be subtle about his gerrymandering.

It is worth remembering, though, that only ten percent of ballots are in. A final count is likely to be far more favorable for the Afghan president. Votes from the south of the country, where Karzai supposedly enjoys his broadest support, have not yet been tallied.

Despite the promising first counts, almost nobody believes that there has been no foul play, and or that Karzai will not eventually triumph. An interesting first-hand report in today’s LA Times gives a taste of what really happened on election day:

the Taliban made liars of the government officials who promised us a calm day. Throughout the day, shelling could be heard in the city, and there were reports from witnesses that about half a dozen people were killed. You might not know about the violence. The defense and interior ministries ordered Afghan journalists not to report attacks.

But the Taliban’s objective wasn’t to commit dramatic acts of violence. Its objective was to shut down the election, and it succeeded.

The village where I was born lies north of Kandahar, among the rocky hills of the Khakrez District. It has been under effective Taliban control for at least 18 months. My family home is a 15-minute drive from the district center, but no one can go there without explaining his business to the Taliban. In such a situation, who would risk death or amputation to cast a vote he’s pretty sure won’t count anyway?

The situation was similar in another 13 of the 17 districts in Kandahar province. In town, I was willing to take the risk and vote. But those of us who went to the polling places scrubbed our inked fingers with brushes and soap or kerosene as soon as we left. I removed the ink because I wanted to avoid an argument with my mullah, who had exhorted us not to vote; others were afraid of retaliation.

Based on the number of my friends who didn’t vote and conversations around town and at prayers, I’d estimate the turnout in Kandahar city was 20% at best. Province-wide, in all but three districts, 5% would be a generous guess. Total for the province? I’d estimate 10% to 15%.

A low turnout in the Afghan south has been described as unfavorable to President Hamid Karzai, because the bulk of his support is thought to reside there. (As though Pashtuns automatically support Karzai on ethnic grounds.) But such a description ignores the reality of political power in Afghanistan under his regime.

Karzai and his key ministers — including those responsible for security — and several handpicked governors, as well as much of the “independent” election commission staff, had no interest in holding an election, as you in America understand that word. They were concerned, I firmly believe, with ensuring that Karzai remain in power by any means. This is why they pushed so hard to officially open polling places where they knew no one would really be able to vote. They did that because they planned to cheat.

Low turnout in areas assumed to be pro-Karzai is in fact an open door to vote-rigging. All that’s needed is to declare a turnout that sounds plausible to international ears — say 50% — and then fill the boxes up to that number with ballots marked for Karzai.

In Khakrez, for example, only three of 10 polling places on the official list were actually open, according to a friend who traveled there. One was at the home of the district commissioner, a henchman of Karzai, and another was at the same man’s office. Once the polls closed, the Karzai camp was in exclusive possession of the ballot box and voting materials.

We’ll know the result by September 17. For now, though, whatever the early results may say, it still looks as if the western intervention in Afghanistan has served only to introduce a squalid, undemocratic system of disproportional representation–and we are spending billions to prop that system up.

Posted in . 2 comments

Books this Month

At the front of the books section in the latest TAC, we have an excellent review-essay by Rod Liddle about immigration in the EU and Christopher Caldwell’s highly rated new work, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe.

It can be read for free here. But, if you want to enjoy TAC’s first-rate books section in full every month, why not subscribe?

Posted in . Post a comment

Spending Ourselves to Death

“We just can’t afford it!”

Not long ago, every America child heard that, at one time or another, in the home in which he or she was raised.

“We just can’t afford it!” It may have been a new car, or two weeks at the beach, or the new flat-panel TV screen.

Every family knew there were times you had to do without. Every father and mother has had to disappoint their kids with those words. Why is it that what parents do many times a year politicians seem incapable of doing: saying no.

How many times in the last decade have the political leaders of either party stood up and declared, “No, we cannot afford this.” Read More…

Posted in . 3 comments

Enhanced Interrogation Techniques Exposed (Sort Of)

There is a lot to chew on in the long-awaited (but heavily redacted) 2004 CIA Report on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs) used in the CIA’s counterterrorism intelligence and detention activities. The ACLU sued to get this report released.

The gumshoes at The Washington Independent are doing a much better job distilling this thing, but a few nuggets jumped out at me during a first read. First, this foreshadowing, given the AG is reportedly seeking a special prosecutor to go after interrogators:

(From page 91; redaction noted): During the course of this review, a number of Agency officers expressed unsolicited concern about the possibility of recrimination or legal action resulting from their participation in the CTC (Counterterrorist Center) Program. A number of officers expressed concern that a human rights group might pursue them for activities (redacted). Additionally, they feared that the Agency would not stand behind them if this occurred.

One officer expressed concern that one day, Agency officers will wind up on some “wanted list” to appear before the World Court or war crimes stemming from activities (redacted). Another said, ‘Ten years from now we’re going to be sorry we’re doing this … [but] it has to be done.” He expressed concern that the CTC program will be exposed in the news media and cited particular concern about the possibility of being named in a leak.” (pg 94) (the rest of this section is heavily redacted)

Then, it looks as though the age-old question of whether EITs (torture) really works is still left unanswered. Sorry Dick Cheney. After several paragraphs pointing out that detainee information has been helpful in fingering terrorists, the report comes to this conclusion:

Inasmuch as EITs have been used only since August 2002, and they have not all been used with every high value detainee, there is limited data on which to assess their individual effectiveness. (pg 89)

Bottom line?

The EITs used by the Agency under the CTC Program are inconsistent with the public policy positions that the United States has taken regarding human rights. This divergence has been a cause for concern to some Agency personnel involved with the program. (pg 91)

Meanwhile, Daphne Eviatar explores how DOJ lawyers appear to be up to their necks in this.

UPDATE: Great breakdown of the report and implications from Glenn Greenwald here.

Posted in , . 16 comments

Love Me, I’m a (Barney Frank) Conservative . . .

I see that the Sniper’s Tower, specifically Richard Spencer, has taken aim at my Barney Frank post. He hits his target a couple of times: I do subscribe to Mother Jones , and I haven’t contributed to discussions about health care.

The meat of Spencer’s problem with my brief post lay in the final two paragraphs:

I generally don’t go in for the whole “Liberal Fascism” thesis, but there’s no question that it contains a kernel of truth. For people like Frank, Stooksbury, and other MoJo subscribers, “Nazism” is just another word for anti-Semitism and intolerance—vile, contemptible nonsense that should never be associated with an American President. (In this regard, I like how Barney fretted over the “defacing” of the Obama icon with a Hitler mustache.) But the fact is, it wasn’t called national socialism for nothing, as Hitler & Co. were into massive public works projects, a “4 Year Plan” for industry, the banning of public smoking, euthanasia, and, yes, many aspects of socialized medicine. I think Ernst Notle is mostly correct when he contended that Nazism was a “right-wing imitation of Bolshevism.”

Put simply, that woman in Massachusetts was getting at something with her image. And it’s rather ridiculous for someone like Stooksbury, who’s uninterested or incapable of making a “substantive” contribution to the healthcare debate, to annoyingly act like he’s some enlightened gatekeeper who can tell everyone what they can and cannot say.

I’m aware that the Hitler regime had smoking bans, public works programs, etc. But Hitler and Nazism are better known for other elements such as aggressive war and genocide. Hold up a picture of Hitler and people tend to think of Auschwitz, not the Autobahn. It would have made more sense for Frank’s interlocutor to have held up a picture of President Obama made up to look like Olof Palme or Francois Mitterand. Margaret Thatcher is known as an opponent of big government, but she presided over Britain’s National Health Service for more than ten years. None of these figures are representative of unvarnished evil, though I assume that neocons execrate the first two.

So I can’t see how the young woman was “getting at” anything other than looking silly by likening government run health care to Nazism.

Posted in . 14 comments

Newsflash: Shadow Army of 74,000 Privateers in Afghanistan

Jumpin’ Joe Lieberman continues to wave the war banner, yanking out the old Nazi stand-ins one more time on CNN’s State of the Union yesterday to push for continued intervention — and what sure sounds like more U.S combat troops — in Afghanistan:

LIEBERMAN: …This is as if we were in the end of the second world war, democracy was beginning to take route in Germany and the Nazis started an offensive to take the country back. That’s what the Taliban is doing. So right now, the president has put a new team in charge, and they’re good. General McChrystal, Ambassador Eikenberry, he’s committed to 21,000 more troops. They’re beginning to arrive. They’re making a difference, those marines, in southern Afghanistan under General Larry Nicholson, doing a great job in turning the tide.

(HOST JOHN) KING: Do you see any political pressure on General McChrystal to ratchet down those numbers, to not ask for a significant number of more troops?

LIEBERMAN: I haven’t seen any. I sure hope there’s not. If there’s a lesson we should’ve learned from Iraq, some of the pressure that was put on our generals there not to ask for what they thought they needed to win meant that we lost a lot of lives, spent a lot of money. My own opinion coming back from Afghanistan with a new team, new strategy, we ought to take the option that General McChrystal gives us that has the least risk.

In other words, don’t dribble it out, don’t go for incrementalism. That’s a lesson we learned in Iraq. Frankly it’s a lesson we learned a long time ago in Vietnam that give our troops and our civilians there State Department, economic assistance, people, the support that they need as quickly as we can get it to them, and then demand that the Afghan government do the same. Raise the number of security forces that they have in the battle and produce a good government for their people.

Let’s put aside Lieberman’s curious references to Marines “turning the tide” in Helmand (did he not listen to  Adm. Mullen on the same show?) and the “lessons” we supposedly learned from Iraq, given that last week’s bombings seem to present the biggest, loudest ones so far, and not in the way he and fellow warhawks have been bloviating about for the last year. Lieberman is on the losing end of this debate and he knows it. McChrystal is likely to ask for more troops after finishing his much-awaited review, and considering the pliancy of this congress in the past, he will probably get them. Maybe. Everyone seems to be bracing for a fight, pointing to plummeting approval ratings for the war overall.

But a little noted news item in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal might point the way for Lieberman and McChrystal, et al, to have their war and man it too (on the QT). Seems like they’ve been doing it already. According to the report, private contractors now outnumber U.S troops in Afghanistan. This heretofore unknown statistic is somewhat staggering: as of June 30, there were almost 74,000 civilians contracted by the military, compared to the roughly 58,000 U.S soldiers there. When I wrote about this in May, I pointed to estimates of 70,000 contractors by 2010.

Without the contractors, the story goes, the administration wouldn’t be able to sustain its current, nor long-term presence in Afghanistan. Just like in Iraq, which still has 120,000 contractors. That’s why huge sums of taxpayer dollars keep flowing to contractors with mile-long allegations and charges of fraud and abuse, like the $15 billion dollar package that just went in part to Dyncorp International to build U.S bases and “other infrastructure” in Afghanistan, for an occupation that our President has insisted won’t be open-ended. Now we need them more than they need us. Not a very good position to be in. But as far as Mr. Lieberman is concerned, whatever it takes to stay the course. We wouldn’t want another Vietnam, would we?

Posted in . 9 comments

Read TAC and End the Fed

The new issue of The American Conservative features an exclusive excerpt from Ron Paul’s forthcoming book End the Fed. You can read it on-line right now in PDF form by subscribing to TAC.

Also in the new issue: Michael Brendan Dougherty profiles Peter Schiff, the economic mastermind who predicted the crash and is now contemplating a move into politics; Andrew Bacevich examines our increasingly Soviet strategy in Afghanistan; one important philosopher and conservative thinker considers another as Kenneth Minogue discusses Michael Oakeshott; Patrick Allitt reviews John Derbyshire’s forthcoming We Are Doomed; and much more.

If you’re already a subscriber, consider giving the magazine for thinking conservatives to a friend or family member — it makes a great gift for Constitution Day.

Posted in , . One comment

Wagering on Multilateralism

In the latest issue of TAC, which went to press yesterday, I’ve written a report about the possible legalization of online gambling in the U.S. Unfortunately, I missed this delightful little nugget, picked up by the Global Dashboard. It’s the extraordinary response of Casino Gambling Web — “the top online casino gambling news reporting association” — to Susan Rice’s recent speech to the UN.

The Obama Administration has made it known that he does not want the US to be viewed as troublemakers anymore throughout the world. On Wednesday, Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the United Nations made it know that the US will work with the UN.

That is a completely opposite stance than the Bush Administration had, one in which they spurned any UN global efforts. The announcement Wednesday has many people in the online gambling industry believing that the move is another step towards legalized Internet gambling in the US. ….

Wednesday was a day of hope for anyone in the US who enjoys online casinos. There have been many of these days in the past six months, but with every clue that the US is trying to mend foreign relation ties, comes another wave of enthusiasm.

Quite. I mean, when the Obama administration makes noises about improving international co-operation, everybody knows that they are really talking about Internet poker. Faites vos jeux.

Posted in . One comment
← Older posts Newer posts →