It’s easy to miss the fact that Bill Kristol has, somewhat at random, targeted Somalia for an invigorating little naval bombardment and perhaps invasion in a column mostly centered on a proposal to award torturers the
Order of Lenin Medal of Freedom on the explicit basis of their job well done torturing, the better to galvanize public enthusiasm for continuing the Bush administration’s seven-and-a-half-year globe-spanning wave of crimes against humanity and the Constitution. But there you have it:
[Bush] could tell various admirals to stop moaning about how difficult it would be to deal with the pirates off the coast of Somalia (isn’t keeping the shipping lanes open a core mission of the Navy?) and order the Navy to clobber them. If need be, the Marines would no doubt be glad to recapitulate their origins and join in by going ashore in Africa to destroy the pirates’ safe havens.
To riff off of a couple of points from Matthew Yglesias, the fact that Naval officers have accurately documented logistical problems that arise from piracy off the shore of East Africa neither entails that the means exist to succeed permanently where Pompey couldn’t, nor that the benefit would be worth the cost.
At the same time, Kristol’s presumption in describing admirals as “moaning” and announcing that it is as certain as Descartes’ Cogito that Marines think it would be swell and exciting to open up a new front of war — it’s not as if they’ve taken heavy casualties or been overextended in tactically and strategically dubious conflicts anytime recently — tells you nearly all you need to know about how much respect Kristol and people like him actually have for soldiers and sailors as people rather than abstractions useful for agitprops. I know, I know, the whole “you hate America if you don’t want to proclaim David Petraeus Imperator Augustus effectively immediately and his apotheosis into godhood effective upon his death” routine seemed so heartfelt and genuine.
Now it’s tempting to think of neoconservatism as the denial of the principle of scarcity, combined with various demagogic and slanderous attacks on the character and loyalty of those who disagree — and you won’t go very wrong thinking that way — but as this latest bright idea from Kristol highlights, things are a bit more complicated than that.
After all, it’s not as if neoconservative opponents of the incoming administration’s agenda have refrained from arguing that it is irresponsible given present constraints on resources to embark on any major government spending initiatives (and their substantive position wouldn’t necessarily be wrong though the economic crisis isn’t a good basis for it). Rather, it seems to be the case that they think that scarcity and the other basic axioms of economic decision-making are magically suspended by the initiation of war, or else they love war in general so much that they think of it as the one economic activity we should treat as if it’s not governed by scarcity etc. (If there’s a third alternative besides hedging between these two, it’s beyond my powers of imagination.)
Either way of cashing out what’s behind the neocons’ proselytism for the idea that war can be cost-free and even a fun diversion helps illustrate that while Joseph Epstein’s contention in the same issue of the Standard that upper-echelon academic success is exclusively a reflection of craven political conformism and not remotely of merit is a bizarre and ridiculous caricature, any minuscule kernel of truth behind it consists exhaustively in anecdotes like the seven-plus digit sum of dollars wasted on elite private education for the neoconservative pundit class, which might have turned out better if it had spent a little more time learning basic quantitative and analytical concepts, and less time nursing resentments.