I Tip My Hat…

I’ve been busy with work and family (interesting meeting with an Air Force ‘officer recruiter’), and drafting some blog comments on the existing Democratic candidates and why I don’t yet like any of them, but I had to put this up:

Tyler turns bad break into big win

…Hamilton shook off lingering pain caused by his fractured right collarbone and held onto a solo breakaway win on what compatriot Floyd Landis called “the toughest stage in this year’s Tour.”

Tyler Hamilton, an American riding in the Tour de France for CSC, has not only ridden some 2,000 miles with the world best bicycle racers – and a broken collarbone – but he’s freaking won a stage – with a broken collarbone. I’m in awe at his demonstration of grit and determination.

Bicycle racing is only a sport; one hopes we can all find similar determination to persevere in arenas that matter far more.

I Want My Party Back

It’s tough.

Porphyrogenitus is challenging me with high inside fastballs – his question really can’t be avoided any more.

…given the direction you’d like to see the Democrats go in, which would be more catastrophic to you: that the Democrats follow the path they’re on and lose?

Or that they follow that path and win?

He knows how unhappy I am with the current state of the Democratic Party, and challenges me both to take a stand on this election and to do something about it. Other people are taking the same position. Max Jacobs:

Yes, Bush’s approval rating is falling but in order to be voted out of office the Democrats would actually have to find someone that people would be willing to vote for and I don’t think they have come close at all to doing so.

And Michael Totten wraps it all up:

Suicide Watch

Huh? Wha? says the Democratic Party as it’s found by its friend sprawled on the men’s room floor with a hypodermic needle sticking out of its arm. I don’t have a problem. Whatcha talkin’ about?

Get a grip, Dems.

Note that I’ve dismissed Trent’s claims that the Dems are about to self-destruct offhand, and have even put up some cash on the subject.

Michael was writing at 1 a.m., and so maybe he has a touch of the late-night blues. But I’m writing this at noon, and I’m feeling pretty blue as well.

I know that the Bush administration is immensely vulnerable on substantive issues. I think that they have several components of the answer right, and several more profoundly wrong.

On their strongest card, the war on terrorism, I think that they are just flat blowing the defense side of the equation, and moving the country a step or two toward abandoning our civil liberties. I think they have missed what should have been their best chance – to sit down with their Saudi friends and speak bluntly – as only friends can do – about what needs to happen.

I think that they are hollowing out the military that they claim to value so highly.

I think that the GOP fiscal and tax policies are outrageous. I don’t think they have a clue as to what to do to try and offer Americans who are middle-class and below a tighter grip on the ladder.

But all I hear about from the Democrats is yellowcake and “what did he know and when did he know it.”

And as I look at the field of plausible Democratic candidates, all I see are guys I would trouble supporting for Governor of California, much less President. My hand doesn’t reach for my checkbook to donate or my phonebook to call up friends and support.

And Porphy’s right, we need to do something. In my case I’ve been of some minor help to a friend who I hope will run for Lt. Governor or Treasurer of CA in the next cycle.

But that’s not enough.

I’m going to see if I can come up with a plan to give all of us – the “Disaffected Democrats” – some traction. I’m thinking about something that blends EMILY’s List and MoveOn.org; one provides seed funding to selected candidates and the other a trumpet that effectively uses the Internet to get attention for issues. I’d like to solicit input from others who feel the way I do, and let’s see if we can deliver a plan and a constituency to someone who can do something with it. I’m pretty good at thinking things up, and with some help, maybe we can find someone with the stature to execute it.

(corrected edit on Porphy’s question)

Go see Cal…

Go read Calpundit, on Iraq and the WoT here and here. I have to go earn my keep (i.e. run large unruly meetings) and will comment at length later.

UPDATE: Cal & Joe have a to-and-fro in the Comments section. Round 2 is coming. Stay tuned.

Speaks For Itself

From Daniel Weintraub’s great California politics newsletter:

Some of the San Francisco peace activists who protested to save Saddam before the war have now gone to Baghdad to keep a close eye on the U.S. military occupation forces and the private companies working on the reconstruction, reports the SF Chronicle. “This is a test of our rights –of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly — and we will press those to the full extent,” San Francisco activist Medea Benjamin tells the Chronicle. Among other things, the activists hope to establish Iraqi labor unions and an organization to work for human rights. Strange. I wonder why they waited until after the fall of Saddam to set up their human rights shop in downtown Baghdad.

(emphasis mine)

Actually, I have an idea on this which came from reading Rawls. I’ll try and elaborate in the next day or so.

Dear Kofi: They’re Our Troops

Sometimes I read the paper and grit my teeth. In today’s NT Times:

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has called on the American-led forces in Iraq to set out a “clear timetable” for a staged withdrawal, noting that numerous Iraqis had told United Nations officials that “democracy should not be imposed from the outside.”

While welcoming the formation last weekend of the 25-member Governing Council for Iraq, Mr. Annan said in a report distributed to Security Council members on Friday that “there is a pressing need to set out a clear and specific sequence of events leading to the end of the military occupation.”

This is the same Kofi Annan who is quite willing to put US troops at risk in Liberia:

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan kept up pressure on the United States to lead intervention in Liberia on Monday as troops strengthened defenses around battle-worn Monrovia in fear of another bloody rebel attack. West African countries pledged troops for a peacekeeping force on Sunday, but they want help from the United States to prevent a bloodbath in the capital and end nearly 14 years of violence that have infected the impoverished region. “There are lots of expectations that the United States will be able to lead the force,” Annan told reporters in Geneva. “But that is a sovereign decision for them to take.”

Sorry, Kofi, you’re being a little heavy-handed in asserting the UN’s primacy over my country. We’d really like to have the UN’s help in this, but there’s a cost which is simply too damn high.

In the same March post I quote below, I criticized Bush for doing a crummy job of building an international coalition in the months leading up to the war.

But Bush has failed to sell this war in three arenas.

He has failed to sell it (as well as it should have been) to the U.S. people. The reality of 9/11 has sold this war, and our atavistic desire for revenge is the engine that drives the support that Bush actually has.

He has failed to sell it diplomatically. Not that he could have ever gotten the support of France or Germany; as noted above, even with an AmEx receipt for the 9/11 plane tickets signed by Saddam himself, France would find a reason to defer this war. But he should never have let them get the moral high ground, which they have somehow managed to claim.

He has failed to sell it to our enemies, who do not believe today that we are serious about achieving our stated goals. This is, to me the most serious one, because the perception that we are not deadly serious is a perception that we are weak; and we will have to fight harder, not because we are too strong, but because we will be perceived as too weak.

Somehow Kofi seems to assuming that we’re so weak that he can direct our foreign policy.

Sorry, don’t think so.

And if Bush & Co. cave on this, and get outnegotiated in this situation, they’re clowns.

Unlike Skateboarding, Terrorism Is Not A Crime

Kevin (Calpundit) pretty clearly delineates the distinction between his position on the War in Iraq and mine here. He says, in summary:

…I guess maybe that’s at the core of the schism in America today. Lileks and his compatriots think the terrorists have the power to bring western civilization to its knees, whereas I think of them as simply a threat that we will rather quickly and efficiently dispatch. They may be scary, but in terms of actual power they are the merest flea on the back of the United States and the rest of the western democracies.

I wonder what it is that causes such vast gulfs in instinctive reaction between people who probably more or less agree on the actual nature of the threat itself?

Actually, I’ve covered much of this already, in a post I did in March, before the war. I said then:

The pattern of Arab terrorism, unlike Irish terrorism, or Tamil terrorism, has been expansionist and ambitious. Unlike the IRA, who at the height of the recent insurrection, struck at British power either through attacks on British soldiers in Ulster or through largely symbolic attacks on the British mainland, the Islamist battle against the West has escalated from aircraft hijackings to Olympic terror, to hijacking ocean liners, to the original attack on the WTC, to the Cole to 9/11.

And while in fact, the Clinton Administration was somewhat effective in following a ‘legalistic’ arrest and try strategy, it obviously hasn’t worked. I’ve always been annoyed at the righties who claimed that Clinton was snoozing at the switch and that the only U.S. response to terrorism was to lob a cruise missile into an aspirin plant.

The reality is that Clinton’s team was highly focussed on terrorism…but on terrorism as crime, as opposed to as an instrument of war. We focussed on identifying the actual perpetrators, and attempting to arrest them or cause their arrest.

This is pretty much the typical liberal response to 9/11. Send in SWAT, pull ‘em out in cuffs, and let’s sit back and watch the fun on Court TV.

I’ve been ambivalent about whether this is a good strategy conceptually, and looking at the history…in which we’re batting about .600 in arresting and trying Islamist terrorists…I have come to the realization that the fact is that it hasn’t worked. The level and intensity of terrorist actions increased, all the way through 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan.

And a part of what I have realized is that as long as states – particularly wealthy states – are willing to explicitly house terrorists and their infrastructure, or implicitly turn a blind eye to their recruitment and funding, we can’t use the kind of ‘police’ tactics that worked against Baader-Meinhof or the Red Army Faction. The Soviet Union and it’s proxies offered limited support to these terrorist gangs, but they didn’t have a national population to recruit from and bases and infrastructure that only a state can provide.

So unless we shock the states supporting terrorism into stopping, the problem will get worse. Note that it will probably get somewhat worse if we do…but that’s weather, and I’m worried about climate.

The specific climate I’m worried about is one that is effected by two things; one is pragmatic, and one philosophical.

The pragmatic issue is that the ratio of damage to effort that a committed amateur can do is rising rapidly, and pretty arguably approaching the hockey-stick upswing so loved by venture capitalists. In an autarkic (self-sufficient) region or nation, it is hard to deeply damage a society or an economy. In a deeply interpenetrated world economy, where we have days of food, fuel and water on hand at any location, it is actually rather easy to have a truly significant impact. Now I’m obviosuly an immense believer in the resilience of humans and human systems. I’ve never been one to see THE COMING COLLAPSE as likely or even significantly possible. But I’m convinced that it wouldn’t be hard for a substate actor, or a group of moderately wealthy fanatics to cause enough damage to truly impact our lives for a really long time. It’s already been done.

The philosophic issue is that the engine that drives our resilience is faith – in our futures and each other – and hope. The same circumstance may be a hardship to some and a Holocaust to others. Looking at our society, I’m seeing more and more that convinces me that not only do we have a deficit of hope and faith, but that the deficit in some is so vast that it tilts them toward the kind of mad actions that we worry about.

While the reality of Arab terror is that it is today a sign of political and cultural weakness, not strength, our culture and politics are weak as well, and I worry about contagion.

Someday, in my lifetime, we will see an animal rights or anti-abortion fanatic don an explosive vest and step into a crowded room and then on to history.

I want to make that less likely.

I want to make it clear to the state sponsors of terror that it is a losing proposition, and that they should find other ways to divert the frustrations of their population.

I want terrorism to be an aberration, rather than a way of life. When it is truly an aberration, we can reduce it to the status of crime, and treat it as Kevin suggests.

Until then, I’ll see it differently. And the difference in vision leads me to a far different kind of response.

Rawls and Yugioh

Just back from taking Littlest Guy to a Yugioh tournament at the local toy store; about 15 kids, ranging from 7 (him) to an estimated 25 (guy with his wife and baby) playing a role-playing card game that is just astoundingly popular.

In my spare time, I did addition and scorekeeping while I was reading my way through Rawls, the ‘incidental time’ book I’ve been reading.

As might be imagined from the wide discrepancy in ages and abilities, playing involved a number of controversies and adjustments on the part of the players.

And as I sat there reading Chapter 3, I realized that I maybe would learn more about justice and fairness from watching and listening to the kids than I would by reading.

So I watched and listened and learned. And yes, I think Rawls would have learned a lot as well.

One of the major lessons – and what I see as one of the major flaws in Rawls. Fairness in games is crucial; if we feel the game is unfair, we won’t play. I saw it today, as the older players had to adjust their play to accomodate the younger, less experienced players – or else the younger players simply wouldn’t play. They would negotiate limits on the more experienced player’s gameplay, and where they couldn’t a reach satisfactory result, they would refuse to play.

What does this imply for political society?

Not much. It’s like this…my son could refuse to play this morning if he felt that the terms were unfair.

But he can’t refuse to participate in political society.

The classic restatement of the three laws of theremodynamics provide a lesson here:

1. You can’t win.

2. You can’t break even.

3. You’ve gotta play.

A Liberal Plans

In my earlier post, I’m amazed that I didn’t get taken to the woodshed for saying “Bush has no ‘grand plan’ that he’s shared with us or our allies on how we deal with the real issues of the enemies of America and the West. We do, and here it is” (emphasis added) and not saying what the plan actually might have been…

So where’s the plan?

Calpundit (who I would choose in a heartbeat over Atrios as my liberal team’s Instapundit, in case anyone happened to ask) leads us to an article by John O’Sullivan in the NRO about appropriate standards for foreign military intervention, which seem like the core of a plan. Greg Wythe follows up with his own comments, and here I’ll add mine.O’Sullivan lists 6 basic principles:

# In foreign policy, prudence governs all and no principle is absolutely sacred.
# Humanitarianism is not enough. If the crisis has no effect on American interests, then we should be extremely reluctant to put American GIs in harm’s way in order to resolve it…
# National interest is needed to justify intervention … but national interest is not always self-evident…
# But be realistic, not optimistic, about the costs of intervention…
# Even so, where possible, have allies to share the burdens of intervention…
# As well a national interest to justify intervention, however, you also need a clear aim … which does not necessarily include an exit strategy…

bq. These principles would seem to require something more ambitious than a brief U.S.-led intervention in Liberia … something on the lines of an Anglo-French-U.S. condominium that, with the collaboration of West African states, would not only restore order in failing states there but also provide them with 30 years of good government in which civil society, an open free-market economy, and a tradition of democratic political restraint might develop and take root. In other words … liberal imperialism

I’ll suggest that these are somewhat limited, and don’t in themselves offer enough of a framework to make decisions, as well as offering enough weasel-phrases ‘… but national interest is not always self-evident…‘ to make it hard to determine whether a specific action fits or not.

Here is what I’ll set out as the initial draft of ‘The Armed Liberal Doctrine’, and intend as a framework to provoke some more discussion about all this and possible clarify my own murky thinking.

We have two hierarchies that determine our decision-making; one is threat, and the other possibility.

The threat hierarchy looks like this:

* A response to an attack on the American nation, our people, or our vital national interests
* An immediate threat to the American nation, our people, or our vital national interests
* An imminent threat…
* A likely threat…
* A possible threat…

At some point in between ‘Likely’ and ‘Imminent’ threat, our response changes from observation, through tacit intervention, to overt intervention. Note that all of these triggers are defensive in nature; i.e. we are responding to an overt threat of violence.

I’ll note that I specifically say ‘our people.’ I proudly carry a US passport, and I’ll suggest that we ought to make a habit of singling out and punishing people who harm Americans abroad and who otherwise might not be brought to justice. If other countries won’t protect our people as well as theirs, or won’t offer the same protections to our people, that’s an issue that needs to be addressed.

I’ll suggest an additional axiom to this basic hierarchy: political violence that threatens America is political violence, even if it is in a good cause. I won’t support – in any way – any cause that believes it can advance the interests of any group or the moral perfection of the world on the bodies of dead Americans.

The possibility hierarchy is harder to articulate (i.e. is not as well thought out) but is generally suggested by the notion that we have a hierarchy from chaotic failed states up through liberal (rule of law liberal) advanced states.

If intervention can keep a nation from slipping backward on that hierarchy (i.e. Yugoslavia) or stabilize it in moving upward (i.e. the UK intervention in Sierra Leone), it is likely to be a good thing.

The difference between the two hierarchies is that one is a hierarchy of national interest and the other a hierarchy of human interest…i.e. by definition transcending national interests. Clearly, there are intersections; there are connections between catastrophes of possibility and threats to our national well-being.

But it offers a useful dividing line between actions we should take alone, and those which we should take in concert with others.

Iraq was arguably undertaken to secure the US from further attack by radical Islamists – it did this, first, and foremost, by waking their financial and cultural sponsors up to the fact that attacking the U.S. is no longer something that can be done free of political/military consequences (as opposed to legal/individual ones), and by depriving them of a nation that certainly supported organizations with ties to Islamist terror (Hamas, etc.).

Now because we were arguably justified in invading by ourselves doesn’t make it a great idea. As we’re discovering, some help would be nice to have, and the burden – while not intolerable – would certainly be easier if shared.

Liberia is clearly a humanitarian intervention, and as such should be undertaken internationally. This doesn’t just mean under color of the UN, it means with troops from other nations riding alongside ours.

This is long enough. I’m not expert in large-scale military deployment, but there are some broader, citizen-level issues raised about the effects on the morale of the military and polity brought by the lack of a clear plan and the inability to connect goals with resources.

Over the weekend…good news only for tomorrow and Saturday.

More Yellowcake

Fellow hawkish liberal Michael Totten places the ‘yellowcake’ issues in perspective:

Even if Bush and Blair did lie, this is still a trivial distraction under the circumstances.

If North Korea sells a nuclear weapon to Al Qaeda, New York City and Washington could be destroyed. Our government would be finished. The United States would then be ruled, at least temporarily, by a military dictatorship. Then we would be at total war.

Think about that for a minute and get some perspective.

I don’t expect it will happen. A devastating war on the Korean peninsula is a far more likely event, and tragic enough.

Here’s a more pragmatic extension of my earlier comments about the political tactics involved in the discussion, and my thoughts on what the message should be instead…

  1. I think that Bush, charitably, puffed the heck out of this. I tend to forgive him because I think that he did the right thing; but I also am wary because I’m unconvinced that he has a clear plan except ‘hit the weak guy’ (and Saddam definitely was – weak in conventional military, weak in alliances) and see if that has any effect on the others (Saudi Arabia, Iran) that are less so. To quote our buddies, the French, we did it pour l’encourager les autres.

  2. I think we need a plan, because our original plan…that 25 American troops led by Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz would win the war and somehow manage Iraq by themselves…hasn’t quite proved out. I don’t see anything resembling a quagmire, but I do see a coming test of endurance. And we haven’t been quite so good at endurance in the past. For a variety of reasons (largely led by the increasingly wacky but preferable to anything else political system which we are enjoying), ‘sticking it out’ seems to be hard for us. A plan makes sticking it out easier to handle, and, more importantly, it makes sure that we match our resources to our obligations.

  3. I’m frustrated by the Democratic waffling on these issues; it is going to cost them the election in 2004 (even though Trent and I disagree by how much and have a dinner staked on it…where do you live again, Trent??), and more important, it is driving the dialog toward the kind of inane drivel that we’re seeing in the news cycles right now and away from a discussion about what’s really important (like Korea).
I think that a Democratic party that could stay on message in these three areas would be a better party:

[a] We think Bush is blowing the national defense with his ludicrous homeland security programs and shortchanging military families and retirees, which can’t be good for retention;

[b] Bush has no ‘grand plan’ that he’s shared with us or our allies on how we deal with the real issues of the enemies of America and the West. We do, and here it is;

[c] We can’t afford an American Empire. Empires don’t make money in the modern age, they cost it. We need to secure the world to prevent more 9/11 attacks, and to end the pervasive collapse of the marginal states. We need help doing it. Right now, the rest of the civilized world is getting a free ride, and that’s because the Bush team blew what chances there were to pull allies other than the UK and Australia along with us, and instead bought Hessians from second-tier countries. Unwinding twenty-five years of bad diplomacy wouldn’t have been easy, but it was necessary.

We need to keep our eye on the ball, and while I do think the Dems are getting traction in the polls with these issues, I do think they are losing their best chance to display leadership and sell the nation that they are safe to elect.

Oh well, maybe next election.