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June 02, 2007

Comments

OCSteve, to my way of thinking, you're just thinking like a good conservative, and I mean that seriously. You're being cautious about means, lofty in aim, good-hearted, interested in what's actually done versus what's promised, looking for ways to accomplish aims with a minimum of side effects, interested in making fiscal sense...that's all perfectly fine conservative turf, and from my point of view the more people get back to homesteading it the better.

"You all have me thinking more and more like a lefty."

Don't worry: while our ultimate goal is to get you to swear allegiance to Kim Jong Il, and take up a placard and a place in the crowd for him, we're still a long way off from there.

Why, we haven't even gotten to dialectical materialism, yet.

Slightly more seriously, either ideas are reasonably sound, or they aren't. There are plenty of "rightwing" ideas I approve of -- curiously enough, I'm all for liberty, and freedom, and defending them, and there are plenty of more specific shibboleths I can affirm; it's when we start getting down further into the nitty-gritty that my ideas and some conservative ideas start to part company, or one side or another starts to tend to feel that a necessary other point is being left out.

But that's also part of why I'm such a big fan of trying to talk about concrete specifics, over airy generalities that people tend to project all sorts of differing unstated interpretations and assumptions into.

That would be to give artistic verissimilitude to an otherwise baldrick and unconvincing narrative?

Ow. Ow ow ow ow ow.

Bruce: Thanks. I do appreciate that.

the more people get back to homesteading it the better

Man, I feel lonely out here… {tumbleweed blows by…}


Gary:

Dude, you are killing me…

Bruce: Actually on a second reading that deserves more than a simple “thanks”. You may have just summed me up better than I could. I may adopt that as my motto.

You're being cautious about means, lofty in aim, good-hearted, interested in what's actually done versus what's promised, looking for ways to accomplish aims with a minimum of side effects, interested in making fiscal sense...

I can live with that, hell, I can embrace that…

Interesting post, but I don't pretend to understand how anyone can look at All the Ways That Bush Screwed Up, and not dismiss *any* hope of improvement under this horrible, horrible president.

I mean -- "got serious about counterinsurgency AFTER LOSING THE 2006 ELECTIONS." What does that tell you?

By 2004 at latest, Bush had a *duty* to realize what fools Cheney and Rumsfeld were. He didn't.

--As for "will," I just think of J.D. at the end of Heathers, shrieking "WILL, dammit!"

Gary:

Dude, you are killing me…

"Farber" will be a verb one day, if it's not already.


"'Farber' will be a verb one day, if it's not already."

It used to be -- in a small way -- in the rec.arts.sf.* hierarchy of Usenet, more or less as a synonym for "googled" (although it predates Google's existence by a couple of years). Um, actually. (Not my coinage or usage.)

I'm not quite sure what your usage means, though. :-)

OCSteve, my pleasure. I've written before that I think America needs and benefits from a serious conservative presence. Even though my own sentiments go from libertarian to liberal, I think it's good for every idea to face constructive challenge. The death or at least disappearance of sane conservatism does ill to the body politic.

Digressing, although I disagree with some language, and some bits, Zakaria also has some good stuff to say here.

[...] More troubling than any of Bush's rhetoric is that of the Republicans who wish to succeed him. "They hate you!" says Rudy Giuliani in his new role as fearmonger in chief, relentlessly reminding audiences of all the nasty people out there. "They don't want you to be in this college!" he recently warned an audience at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. "Or you, or you, or you," he said, reportedly jabbing his finger at students. In the first Republican debate he warned, "We are facing an enemy that is planning all over this world, and it turns out planning inside our country, to come here and kill us." On the campaign trail, Giuliani plays a man exasperated by the inability of Americans to see the danger staring them in the face. "This is reality, ma'am," he told a startled woman at Oglethorpe. "You've got to clear your head."

The notion that the United States today is in grave danger of sitting back and going on the defensive is bizarre. In the last five and a half years, with bipartisan support, Washington has invaded two countries and sent troops around the world from Somalia to the Philippines to fight Islamic militants. It has ramped up defense spending by $187 billion—more than the combined military budgets of China, Russia, India and Britain. It has created a Department of Homeland Security that now spends more than $40 billion a year. It has set up secret prisons in Europe and a legal black hole in Guantánamo, to hold, interrogate and—by some definitions—torture prisoners. How would Giuliani really go on the offensive? Invade a couple of more countries?

The presidential campaign could have provided the opportunity for a national discussion of the new world we live in. So far, on the Republican side, it has turned into an exercise in chest-thumping. Whipping up hysteria requires magnifying the foe. The enemy is vast, global and relentless. Giuliani casually lumps together Iran and Al Qaeda. Mitt Romney goes further, banding together all the supposed bad guys. "This is about Shia and Sunni. This is about Hizbullah and Hamas and Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood," he recently declared.

But Iran is a Shiite power and actually helped the United States topple the Qaeda-backed Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Qaeda-affiliated radical Sunnis are currently slaughtering Shiites in Iraq, and Iranian-backed Shiite militias are responding by executing and displacing Iraq's Sunnis. We are repeating one of the central errors of the early cold war—putting together all our potential adversaries rather than dividing them. Mao and Stalin were both nasty. But they were nasties who disliked one another, a fact that could be exploited to the great benefit of the free world. To miss this is not strength. It's stupidity.

Such overreactions are precisely what Osama bin Laden has been hoping for. In a videotaped message in 2004, bin Laden explained his strategy with astonishing frankness. He termed it "provoke and bait": "All we have to do is send two mujahedin ... [and] raise a piece of cloth on which is written 'Al Qaeda' in order to make the generals race there, to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses." His point has been well understood by ragtag terror groups across the world. With no apparent communication, collaboration or further guidance from bin Laden, small outfits from Southeast Asia to North Africa to Europe now announce that they are part of Al Qaeda, and so inflate their own importance, bring global attention to their cause and—of course—get America to come racing out to fight them.

The competition to be the tough guy is producing new policy ideas, all right—ones that range from bad to insane.

He details much more, all of which should be read, though it's been said before.

It's exactly right: the best aides Osama bin Laden could have are the people running around, frantically on the lookout for signs of Teh Islamic Threat, building it up, being scared out of their wits, and doing their best to scare everyone else out of their wits.

No one could accomplish this goal of al Qaeda's better than Michelle Malkin and all her ilk: how better to frighten moderate Muslims, and convince them that maybe bin Laden isn't nuts, after all? How better could one build up fear about Islamist groups, and an illusion of their vast worldwide power, than by the hysterical alarmism of Malkinism, and the like?

Zakaria applies this well to the current Republican candidates (aside from Ron Paul).

Bruce: The death or at least disappearance of sane conservatism does ill to the body politic.

And here we are. “Sane conservatism” sounds almost bizarre to me these days…

Wow. What a post and a discussion I missed by having my in-laws in for the weekend.

Charles, this post is a greater credit to you than anything I have seen you write. I have additional objections to your positions than what you acknowledged, and agree with Gary's position in the discussion on the importance of will, but I will save that for another day. I respect you far more for having the grace to write this than before.

"I spent a dozen years watching Michael Jordan will his way to victory, time and time again."

I appreciate your honesty, but I take exception to the above. This idea of will is more fantasy than reality. Michael Jordan didn't win games by force of will, he won by working his ass off day after day for years. George Bush will go to his grave without ever working his ass off over anything more challenging than a Nintendo box. He is not merely incompetent, he is a fool, and the will of a fool is worth fuckall.

I'm only an occasional reader of this blog, but I really ought to drop in more often. It's good to read some genuinely open-minded arguing. You all seem like a nice bunch.

Charles -- good post.

On the general question of "will", I think it goes a bit further than I suspect some people do, but only if it is understood to mean really, truly trying to do everything in your power to make sure you prevail, and if it's not just something that the troops and the people have, but something the leadership has as well. That's why I have said on various occasions that I think that one of the reasons why we have failed in Iraq -- not the only one, but one -- is a failure of will on the part of Bush and his administration.

If they had really bent their whole minds and all their power to ensuring that we would win, we might not have won, but there are a whole lot of mistakes we would not have made.

About basketball: besides the other disanalogies other people have noted, one crucial one is: armed with a basketball, a team, a court, and opponents, winning a basketball game is the sort of thing one can do by playing very well, with will and talent. I could not win a basketball game by sheer will, but a talented person could, because the goal is in principle achievable by the available means. It is not the least clear to me that the goal in Iraq was ever achievable by the available means. It might have been, but it might also not have been. And if it wasn't, then expecting us to prevail by sheer will would be like expecting a great basketball player to play basketball so well, and with so much passion and elan, that he not only won the game, but also filed his tax returns, averted a hurricane, and proved that there are infinitely many Fibonacci primes. By playing basketball.

rayc: It's good to read some genuinely open-minded arguing. You all seem like a nice bunch.

I’m guessing you have not read all the recent threads ;).

Kidding. Mostly.

About basketball: besides the other disanalogies other people have noted, one crucial one is: armed with a basketball, a team, a court, and opponents, winning a basketball game is the sort of thing one can do by playing very well, with will and talent. I could not win a basketball game by sheer will, but a talented person could, because the goal is in principle achievable by the available means. It is not the least clear to me that the goal in Iraq was ever achievable by the available means. It might have been, but it might also not have been. And if it wasn't, then expecting us to prevail by sheer will would be like expecting a great basketball player to play basketball so well, and with so much passion and elan, that he not only won the game, but also filed his tax returns, averted a hurricane, and proved that there are infinitely many Fibonacci primes. By playing basketball.

And this is why hilzoy is teh awesomest.

Just a few points.

OCSteve, not only do I reinforce what Bruce said, but I have to go just a little further. You are an example of what is good about the conservative side of the body politic. You are open to different ideas and willing to look at all the vidence.

Well, maybe except for global warming. :)

And one of the things that you have discovered, and probably taught a few of us on the left, is just how much commonality there is between the two sides in terms of the real fundamentals. We may differ in how to reach certain goals, but the goals are frequently the same.

In reality, you and I will probably never agree on many things, but I think that we have a certain respect for each other, and therefore are willing to have a type of discussion which stays on the facts, not personalities.

Secondly, and in light of the overall discussion here, the issue of the war is too often put into light of conservative vs liberal, which I think is a mistake. On one level, the idea of our intervening in another country for humanitarian reasons is more of a liberal idea than a conservative one. Bush invasion was counter to almost every conservative principle out ther. So you are not becoming a lefty, but are returning more to your real conservative roots.

I mentioned way above where I and Charles went our separate ways right from the beginning of the invasion. But where I really get ticked off about the whole "will" thing is that there is the assumption that those of us who oppose the war, either from the right or the left, have a lack of "will." In truth, it took a lot of will to speak our minds when constantly faceed with derision and being called traitors or loser-defeatists. Additionbally, although I was totally against our invasion of Iraq, I "willed" for it to be a success as much as anybody.

The difference is that I and others came to a realization that it didn't really make any difference, and not because or solely due to incompetence. That State Department study referred to above, the one that Rumsfeld refused to allow in tyhe preparation, not only talked about all that would need to be done (almost none of which was) but also, how even if everything was done right, it would still face a high likelihood of failure.

One needs a "will" to win, perhaps, but even harder is to have the "will" to do what is right in the face of a lot of opposition. Fortunately, based upon what I now see as right, the opposition is diminishing.

Long enough, though I could go on and on and on.

I’m guessing you have not read all the recent threads ;).

I've read many of the recent threads and I think that people here are pretty nice. I'm pretty sure that everyone here loves their spouse and cares deeply for their children.

Unfortunately, nice people can still be woefully misguided, ignorant, and dangerous. Perhaps if more nice people had realized that being nice is not sufficient for morality, we might not have so much blood on our hands.

Kidding. Mostly ;-)

Just to add to John's post, which I agree with, sometimes one of the hardest things is having the will to refrain from acting when it's tempting and popular but not actually well-justified.

"You are an example of what is good about the conservative side of the body politic."

OCSteve is of the Body?

Or is the insidious left trying to Absorb OCSteve?

Beware, OCSteve! Beware!

[...] I'm pretty sure that everyone here loves their spouse and cares deeply for their children.

Unfortunately, nice people can still be woefully misguided, ignorant, and dangerous.

I have to object to this, on the grounds that you've been grossly unfair to us unmarried childless folks; we can be misguided, ignorant, and dangerous, as well.

One of the quotes that's been on the sidebar of my blog for years: "Idealism, alas, does not protect one from ignorance, dogmatism, and foolishness."
-- Sidney Hook

Ugh: And this is why hilzoy is teh awesomest.

Yup. That she is. And I only rarely agree with her. ;)


John: …but I think that we have a certain respect for each other, and therefore are willing to have a type of discussion which stays on the facts, not personalities.

You can take that to the bank. My chit, and it is good.


Turbulance: Unfortunately, nice people can still be woefully misguided, ignorant, and dangerous. Perhaps if more nice people had realized that being nice is not sufficient for morality, we might not have so much blood on our hands.

I’m trying to get mad at you for this, but it hits a little too close to home.


Gary: I was thinking more along the lines of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borg_(Star_Trek)’> this. ;)

Er, this.

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The requested URL /obsidian_wings/2007/06/’ was not found on this server.

Once more, with feeling?

"You can take that to the bank. My chit, and it is good."

What happened to the good old days of conservatism, when the only possibly acceptable form of specie or exchange was gold? Instead, you offer a chit to fiat currency?

You some kinda commie, buddy?

Keep an eye out for the holy trinity of von Mises, Hayek, and Rothbard smiting you in your tracks one day. (I believe they charge for that sort of thing, too: can't expect them to do it for altruistic reasons, y'know.)

"Er, this."

Same idea, just updated.

:-)

(Okay, not entirely, but to a large degree, actually.)

But, like I said, resistance is only futile insofar as any given idea makes sense. There is no shortage of ideas that have been part of left orthodoxy that I've never signed on for, or have always strongly or partially objected to.

This is why I've always taken my politics a la carte, although if we have to generalize, I'm more or less some variety of liberal, to varying degrees depending on the specific.

But my willingness to identify in that fashion is really as much or more based on the way that the right has been so successful in demonizing the word "liberal" and "liberalism" in recent decades (as they had to other degrees of success for some decades before taht), and my desire to stand up for certain key ideas at the core of "liberalism," which include but are not limited to defending liberty, our civil rights, freedom, the Constitution of the United States of America, the rights of the poor and the weak and those with little voice and little power, the right of the people to control their government, rather than that only the wealthy should have a say, to stand for the defense of the ideals of justice, equal opportunity, fairness, equal application of the law, and that no one in this country go without such basic needs as food, shelter, and medical care being met.

I'll stand up for the ideals of -- though not every program ever created under the aegis of -- liberalism, as it was best exemplified by the best ideas and approaches of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and -- in domestic affairs only -- Lyndon Johnson, while their goals and ideals are under vicious and scurrilous attack.

If and when we ever get back to something resembling "normal" politics, where the issues at stake aren't matters of torture, and curtailing habeas corpus, and invading other countries, and breaking our military, and corrupting the government for purely partisan or even more corrupt reasons, I'm apt to identify a lot less with "liberalism" and more with just my own notions, again.

(I was a lot less partisan in the Nineties, in point of fact, and plenty of even liberal, let alone leftist, folks in the blogosphere thought me obtusely and deeply annoyingly insufficiently partisan in tone and language and views during even 2002-3.)

But that future still seems quite some time off, for now.

On one level, the idea of our intervening in another country for humanitarian reasons is more of a liberal idea than a conservative one.

Maybe. If America honors her treaties, if her word means anything, then she is obligated to intervene in cases of genocide. So says the genocide convention at least. The notion that this country fulfills its obligations and keeps its promises might be a liberal one, but I would think some conservatives would like to lay claim to it as well.

OCSteve,

Sorry. I didn't mean you in particular, just...all of us. Myself included. I was against the war from day zero, and I'll always wonder if things might have turned out differently if I had been more active, written more letters, talked to more people, if only I had quit my job and went door to door in florida hawking Kerry for the 04 elections, etc. Probably not.

Having spent the weekend in Boston, I can safely say that I am not teh awesomest. My family is. Especially my m=new niece -- except also my Mom and Dan, and my siblings, and their spouses, and my little nephews. Which is to say, my family.

Myself included. I was against the war from day zero, and I'll always wonder if things might have turned out differently if I had been more active...

As someone in a similar position, all I can do is look back and say: how prescient I was, and how useless. In all senses of the word.

new niece. Mom and Dad. I cn typ. And spel.

This doesn't bode well:

Three months after the start of the Baghdad security plan that has added thousands of American and Iraqi troops to the capital, they control fewer than one-third of the city’s neighborhoods, far short of the initial goal for the operation, according to some commanders and an internal military assessment.

The American assessment, completed in late May, found that American and Iraqi forces were able to “to protect the population” and “maintain physical influence over” only 146 of the 457 Baghdad neighborhoods.

But you can put some of that down to the full complement of US troops not yet being there, right?

Well, actually, the main problem is this:

[...] The operation “is at a difficult point right now, to be sure,” said Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the deputy commander of the First Cavalry Division, which has responsibility for Baghdad.

In an interview, he said that while military planners had expected to make greater gains by now, that has not been possible in large part because Iraqi police and army units, which were expected to handle basic security tasks, like manning checkpoints and conducting patrols, have not provided all the forces promised, and in some cases have performed poorly.

That is forcing American commanders to conduct operations to remove insurgents from some areas multiple times. The heavily Shiite security forces have also repeatedly failed to intervene in some areas when fighters, who fled or laid low when the American troops arrived, resumed sectarian killings.

“Until you have the ability to have a presence on the street by people who are seen as honest and who are not letting things come back in,” said General Brooks, referring to the Iraqi police units, “you can’t shift into another area and expect that place to stay the way it was.”

So, for now, once again we have the clearing, and the holding, what holding?, leading to not so much with the building.

But I'm sure the situation will improve, any time now, and there are lots of signs to be hopeful about!

Briefly and belatedly (when this was first posted I was trying to finish up a referee's report on a 400pp. 16-author manuscript; my report [sent off earlier today] ran 20pp., single-spaced):

Charles, good post. It's never easy to admit when you are wrong, particularly in front of this kind of crowd. (I told my students this year about some of my more egregious past errors - then realized that none of them were alive when I had committed these mistakes!)

Gary (and others, but mostly Gary) - brilliant commenting, especially on the "will" question. I thought I could wander in late to add some historical wisdom, but y'all have already hit many of the most obvious/salient examples. I could still add a few details on the Japanese conquest of Singapore, but they are so irrelevant to the theme of this thread that even I blush to include them here.

Well done, All!

(And so to bed.)

At the risk of getting piled on, I think we might be understating the importance of national will. We have mentioned many of the counter examples, but how about the ones that do showcase its importance. For example, the US Civil War and the Vietnam War. In the first case, the South had most of the other factors against it (inferior population, industrial capacity, navy, etc). It lasted 5 years because the factors on its side, including national will. The North is an even better example. If did had not had a strong national will, it would have quit during the first two years of defeats.

Vietnam is another good example. The US vastly outnumbered the North Vietnamese in terms of population, industrial capacity, air power, etc. This is reflected in the relative loss ratios. The US lost 58,000 dead and the North Vietnamese between 10 and 20 times that. However, the Vietnamese believed strongly enough in their cause, and had other advantages, that they had superior national will and were willing to undergo those 10-20 times higher casualties for longer than the US was willing to accept its own. Granted, it helped that they could see the light at the end of their tunnel, while the US could not, but they still had to be willing to pay the price.

WW2 in the Pacific is yet another example. The Japanese started it under conditions (Pearl Harbor) that guaranteed the US would have the national will to crush them, regardless of the cost. I think it is questionable if the US would have been willing to pay the same price if the Japanese had carefully declared war before hand, or even just ignored US possessions and just attacked the British, Dutch, and French colonial possessions; especially if they took the effort to frame it as a war against European colonialism.

In short, I agree with those that say national will is necessary, but not sufficient for victory. At the risk of yet another sports analogy, consider mountain climbing. If a climber is poorly prepared or just insufficiently skilled, no amount of determination will get the climber to the top of the mountain. On the other hand, if a climber lacks determination, he probably isn't going to succeed at climbing, period. Determination and skill can counterbalance other factors, such as lack of supplies. That is how people climb Everest without oxygen, for example.

Charles: It's a great post, and I really don't want this to come out wrong, but:

Look, this is an awful lot of things to be wrong about. When a person is wrong about this many things, is it time to consider a full-scale ideological shift?

Ya know, if you had to put it all into a sentence, you could say something like this: this neocons created a power vacuum and they expected a democracy to fill it.

Ouch, *the neocons. I don't want anyone to think I meant 'the neocon', intending to picking anybody here.

Donald,
interesting point, but it seems to suggest view national will as a simple neutral value that is then used for whatever purpose, good or bad. The South, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan all being examples of the power of national will suggests to me that it is something that we should only summon up in really life or death situations, and invading Iraq was not one of those, imo. Much of America's reputation was based on the 'slowness to anger', so trying to pump up the national will in order to accomplish mission x seems to be a rather dangerous thing.

National Will is also relevant to other missions, such as Darfur. I don't see us as having the will necessary to do anything about humanitarian crisis like Darfur once American blood is shed.

Donald Clarke: I don't think anyone here would dispute the necessity of will to winning a war. It's how important will is to victory -- and to the particular victory conditions one is trying to attain -- that's at issue. I don't think anyone can dispute that we, as a country, had the will to invade Iraq in 2003; I also don't think anyone can dispute that we, as a country, did not have the will to not invade Iraq in 2003. Whether we might have had such if our leaders and pundits had approached the war differently is a counterfactual I don't feel qualified to answer, but my wild-assed guess is that we didn't and never really would have had the will to occupy and reconstruct Iraq as was needed.

[IOW, I pretty much trust the implied Bush/Cheney calculations in early 2002.]

To pick two further examples from your post: I agree that in WWII the US had the will and the way to overcome the Japanese. I don't believe that the US had either the will or the way to win in Vietnam given our stated victory conditions. Obviously, we could've just nuked the damn country (shades of MacArthur in Korea) to "win" -- and we might've even had the will to do it -- but that wouldn't have constituted a "victory" under our own terms, and it's this confusion which is IMO responsible for the ephemeral legitimacy of the "We lacked the will to win!" meme common to the Vietnam War. What's more, I don't see how on earth we could have achieved "victory" in Vietnam given the means at our disposal. We were in a war we couldn't win, because the key issue of the war -- winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people to prevent them from turning to Communism -- simply wasn't amenable to the kinds of force we could (were willing?) to bring to bear.

I used "the will and the way" partly as an homage to a D&D supplement I'm fond of (: but partly because the two, while inextricably linked, can also be independent. "Whatever happens we have got/the Maxim gun and they have not", etc. As in Vietnam*, I didn't see then and don't see now any way the US could have accomplished its stated goals in Iraq irrespective of "the will to win". Put bluntly, the task was too monumentally huge for us -- too many assumptions about foreign culture that were just wrong, too little planning and sacrificing but mainly too many variables over which we simply couldn't have contorl -- all the more so because the arguments that we could frequently boil down to "we're Americans, we can do anything once we put our minds to it!" This is, as I noted above, hubris; and pride goeth before the fall, as I think we're seeing here... and certainly, it's what damn near everyone else thinks.

* Ok, I hadn't actually been born during the Vietnam War, but you get what I mean.

Turbulance: I didn't mean you in particular, just...all of us

Oops – there was supposed to be a smiley at the end of that. I shouldn’t be posting past my bedtime…

Just to chime in late on the notion of will.

A surplus of will/desire/conviction will not cause you to win a war; but a dearth of it will cause you to lose a war. If you are not willing to struggle past the set-backs and defeats, then you'll lose when they'll happen.

The only way to win a war without conviction is to have so much overpowering force that you win without a set-back or signficant set-backs. However, unless you learn and change strategy to surpass the road block, you'll just hit it again.

You have have the conviction to achieve an objective, not a conviction to a methodology to achieve an objective.

jrudkis,
the point about Darfur is excellent, and really hits me, having been one of those internationalist type liberals. Now, I'm not so sure, though where that leaves me on things like Darfur, I'm not really sure.

This country, in terms of national will, was never sufficiently behind our going into Iraq.

Fully 1/3 was totally against any intervention and another 1/3 was, up until the bombs started falling, against it under the terms we did it. Without a strong and widespread coalition, without UN sanction, etc.

Only 1/3 was really gung ho from the beginning. And that doesn't equate to national will. And starting from that point, any problems or signs of incompetency will ultimately trun that middle thrid off. And keep in mind, as I stated above, many of the first 1/3, myself included, and I suspect people like hilzoy, were really hoping and willing for a quick and efficient follow up to the invasion.

lj, I am with you and that is why I addressed that same point to OCSteve above. The problem is that if we are going to intervene, we have to do it in a manner that does not run counter to our goals and expectations.

And this is why I talk about the primary issue of intervention or war not being a cut and dried left vs right thing, and the same goes for will.

The right didn't have the "will" in regards to Somalia or Lebanon. The left didn't have it for Vietnam or the current situation. (I speak here in terms of how I perceive Charles to view "will", as persevering through all obstacles to a distinct victory.)

The question of will may also depend on whether one is on the attacking or the defending side. There are many historical examples of the defenders/occupied people prevailing because the attackers/occupiers ran out of steam/will. Rome could have given in to Hannibal (who simply wanted a return to the times of coexistence and had no intention to destroy Rome or conquer Italy for carthage) or Spain accepted Napoleon's brother as king (actually an improvement over(for?) the rotten Spanish political system). In both cases the "rational" path was not taken and the invader/occupier had to retreat in the end (Scipio/Wellington only accelerated the process).

OT: Am I the only one reminded of a late medieval pikemen battle by this ">http://i183.photobucket.com/albums/x97/Swatopluk/The-Rostock-riots.jpg"> photo?

I'm not sure I agree regarding Darfur. We don't have the will now, its true. But if we had a real president, and if our military was not completely bogged down in Iraq, I could imagine the President addressing the American people and convincing them.

The speech practically writes iteself: "My fellow Americans, We can no longer afford to sit idly by while another genocide happens. After the Holocaust, we swore...We as a nation have been blessed by God...for this specific purpose....not to solve all conflicts, but to make some effort to end the most horrific slaughters humanity has yet witnessed...it will be difficult, and American servicemen will die, just like many died while liberating the camps..." While the President speaks, intermix pictures from concentration camps and Darfur today. This approach isn't very subtle, but Americans of late have not been masters of nuance.

If a mediocre President could get the country fired about restoring a dictatorship in the middle east (Bush I), then I really think a good President could get the country fired about stopping a genocide. Americans want desperately to believe that they are good and noble people; a smart politician could tap into that.

Of course, because of Iraq, this is all fantasy. Regardless of will, we lack the capability to intervene.

Once we are involved in a place like Darfur, we would immediately become the enemy and the "cause" of the problem. The minority being exterminated now would take the opportunity to get vengeance, and we will be tarred with their crimes. Inevitably, some soldier somewhere will commit a crime, and that will tar the presence. We would be seen as choosing sides. There would be no exit strategy, because once we were gone, the ethnic cleansing would return. We have no one trained in local languages or culture.

And most importantly, we do not have a vital US interest that would provide any staying power once soldiers start to die.

I don't see it as a possibility (that we would intervene long enough to matter), no matter who is President.

Late to the party, of course. Couldn't a very similar piece be written about the boshevik revolution -- Collectivization of the farms could have been handled more smoothly, but I still think it was an important milestone, etc.

There is a terrible disaster (imposed on other people) brought about by the policies you supported (if forced into an up or down vote). It is simply not acceptable yo go back and cherry pick things you would have done differently and wash your hands of the deaths of hundreds of thousands.

jrudkis,

I admire your skepticism. Tell me, were you as skeptical about Iraq in 03? Or does your skepticism reflect lessons learned from the Iraq debacle?

Part of me really agrees with you when you say that the US should not intervene unless its vital interests are threatened. If we, as a nation, decide that that is what we value then we have three options:

1. We withdraw from the genocide convention. We tell the world that all the crap we spouted about "never again" after WWII was just that: crap. We explain politely that it doesn't really matter how many Jews or Tutsis or Armenians you systemically exterminate as long as you don't harm American national interests.

2. We decide that our national interests includes the prevention of genocide and find some means to stick with our treaty obligations.

3. We internally decide to go with option 1 while making the noises associated with option 2. In other words, we lie through our teeth so that people getting slaughtered will place false hope in us, believing that the richest most powerful nation on Earth will actually follow through on its promises.

So, which option do you choose? Not choosing an option seems the same as choosing option 3.

On second reading, that first question sounds more accusatory than I intended. It really is just curiosity. Insert smiley faces as appropriate.

Iraq, sitting centrally in a region with 70% of known oil reserves, does have a vital US interest. It is therefore different from Darfur. I was skeptical about our staying power in Iraq, assumed from the beginning that it would take ten years and we only had five because we could not muster the will to stay longer, and that the occupation would be worse than the war. But I saw in Iraq an educated and relatively industrious people for whom democracy seemed a reasonable goal, and one that would hasten change throughout the middle east.

I don't think that is true of Darfur, and I don't know what we would leave behind even if it was best case scenario.

I would probably choose option 4 in Darfur, where we aid neighboring regional governments in intervening, but do not intervene ourselves.

I will respond to comments, but not 'til tonight or tomorrow. My schedule is intruding.

Look, this is an awful lot of things to be wrong about. When a person is wrong about this many things, is it time to consider a full-scale ideological shift?

Put another way, why is it so much easier for Charles to see Hugo Chavez as the disaster he is, but not George W. Bush? Maybe that was the inchoate irk that I felt in Charles's otherwise unobjectionable Chavez post the other day.

jrudkis,

Can you please explain the precise US interest that you believe justified the invasion at the time? Mumbling about how Iraq is in a region with a lot of oil doesn't make much sense. Venezuela is too as is Saudi Arabia. Does that justify American invasions of those two nations? Furthermore, if the goal of the war was to secure access to oil, it was a huge failure: Iraq is producing less oil now than before and pipeline and production facility security within Iraq have greatly deteriorated.

Perhaps I'm misreading you. Are you trying to suggest that America should invade countries that have lots of oil provided that there is a convenient pretext?

I don't believe that throwing some cash at neighboring countries is sufficient to discharge our treaty obligations, but I will have to check the precise wording later.

No, I am saying that having a vital interest makes intervening against one despot or genocide possible or in our interest, and not intervening against others who are as bad or worse. In Iraq, we had a regime that was bad, did kill many, and had invaded two neighbors. That is not enough to make intervention worthwhile. We beleived that they were trying to get WMD's that could hold the gulf hostage, whether they could reach the US or not. Having the life blood of the world economy straddled by that regime did make it in our interest, or at least arguably so.

I'll try not to mumble next time.

I will only note the lack (AFAICT) of a corresponding entry at Bizarro World.

Although I should answer this one, Ugh. There are plenty of posts at Redstate and theForvm without corresponding entries at ObWi, Ugh. I wrote this with ObWi readers specifically in mind. I don't have hard and fast rules anymore for what I post or where. I should also mention that RS isn't some comfy ideological cocoon for me, at least not in the last year or so. I've taken plenty of positions contrary to the directors' editorial stands, including the immigration bill, and my relationships with some of the moderators range from frosty to hostile. Just ask Thomas.

Vietnam is another good example

At the risk of a threadjack, I'd like to make a couple of comments about Vietnam and "national will".

The US was involved in Vietnam for about 25 years, roughly from 1950 to 1975. Serious US troop levels began around '65, after the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

Our involvement there actually had pretty broad popular support up until the very late 60's and early 70's. There was an anti-war movement prior to that, but they were generally considered to be more or less nutty fringe types.

Popular support for Vietnam failed when it became clear (a) that the war could not be won, and (b) that the civilian leadership had been deliberately lying about how well things had been going up until then.

There are, perhaps, a number of reasons that the war was unwinnable. But one that is almost never mentioned is that the military strategy was inherently flawed. The US would not take and hold territory in the north.

We refused to do this, in turn, because the next stop after North Vietnam is China, and the memory of our experience in Korea was still fairly fresh in the minds of military planners.

Vietnam is not a case of a US war being unwinnable because of the failure of popular support. It is a case of US popular support failing because the war was unwinnable, at least on the terms we set ourselves for fighting it for strategic and other reasons.

The greatest damage done by Vietnam was the undermining of national confidence in US foreign policy per se. People lost confidence in the credibility and wisdom of their leaders.

This happened not because the US people lost their spine, but because their leaders made bad decisions, and then lied about them.

The issue then, and in fact now, has nothing to do with the lack of will. It has to do with a lack of confidence in the wisdom and good faith of the leadership. That lack of confidence, in both cases, is IMO more than justified.

There's no value in willing yourself to do stupid, ill-advised, damaging things.

Thanks -

Charles, it just seemed to be your pattern that when you posted here of late (for at least the past year or so, IIRC) there was always a corresponding post at RS, and the lack of one for a "my bad" post seemed notable (plus I try to link to your RS posts for the fun contrasts in comments here and there).

You have been notably less insane (;-)) than your fellow editors over there.

"Charles, it just seemed to be your pattern that when you posted here of late (for at least the past year or so, IIRC) there was always a corresponding post at RS, and the lack of one for a 'my bad"'post seemed notable (plus I try to link to your RS posts for the fun contrasts in comments here and there)."

I'm not going to offer the following as any sort of attempt to read Charles' mind, since I could only guess what his thinking was/is, and the probablility of my missing endless alternative possibilites is very high, but I will observe that it's not unreasonable to suspect that the same post, made at RedState, would provoke some disagreement, perhaps some rather sharp, and disgruntlement, more or less in the opposite direction from which the post got here, and that there is absolutely no obligation that I'm aware of that requires Charles to put him through the strain of trying to defend his various points to two different sets of people at the same time.

There's just no such obligation on Charles, that I can see. It might be more impressive if he managed the task, but that's hardly an obligation. It seems to me that he's free to choose whom he wishes to address, when he wishes to take on the time-consuming effort of addressing them, as he likes.

It seems to me that we all have that freedom, and that under few circumstances -- and I don't see that this is one of them -- put us in a situation where we deserve criticism for exercising that freedom.

Other's mileage may, of course, vary. In which case perhaps we can start posting lists of where we think they're really obligated to post a given set of points they've made here, and defend them.

Re Vietnam,

IIRC the South fell to a massive conventional military attack from the North in 1975. I have seen various people put forward the notion that the South could have withstood this attack if it had received logistical support from the US. I have also seen commentaters claim that the South had plenty of supplies, but corruption in the South Vietnamese government prevented those supplies from getting where they were needed.

I don't know the history well enough to judge between these two points of view, but would appreciate any suggestions of where to look. My best guess at this point is that the South might have withstood the 1975 attack with enough US logistical aid, but probably would have fallen in 1978 or 1981. I don't think it would have survived long enough to become a country like South Korea.

Gary - I didn't mean to imply that Charles had some soft of obligation to also post at Red State.

On the point of will,
isn't it obvious that a government that has to obfuscate or even invent reasons to go to war,
has little confidence in the will of its people if it made an honest case?
I mean, Charles seems to think there was a good reason to invade Iraq, and it could be done competently.
I think, if that reason and those real plans, with their cost and sacrifices, would have been presented, the will to do it would not have been there.

Popular support for Vietnam failed when it became clear (a) that the war could not be won, and (b) that the civilian leadership had been deliberately lying about how well things had been going up until then.

Russell,

Don't overlook the many and complex effects of the draft, which were increasingly being felt.

OT: Charges against Omar Khadr dropped.

robd: On the point of will, isn't it obvious that a government that has to obfuscate or even invent reasons to go to war, has little confidence in the will of its people if it made an honest case?

BOO-yeah!!!

I try not to think about that, b/c it suffuses me with rage, but for the White House to lie us/itself into war, treat the voters with thinly-veiled contempt, AND THEN for the goons to rail against the public for insufficient support/will ...

... man, there's got to be some prescription medication to help me deal with that.

Anderson - try a pint of vodka and a few beers.

Donald Clarke: On the end of the war in Vietnam, the most readable account is Frank Snepp, Decent Interval; Snepp was a CIA agent in Saigon during the last couple of years. The major NVN account available in English is Van Tien Dung, Our Great Spring Victory, but it's not terribly insightful. (At that it's far better than the pamphlet he nominally co-wrote with Vo Nguyen Giap, How We Won The War, which is little more than an expansion upon the principle that the Party Is Glorious.)

Of secondary accounts, I might recommend Stanley Karnow, Vietnam and Robert D. Schulzinger, A Time For War. William Duiker knows far more about Vietnam itself (as opposed to US policies and politics) than any other author; I think his Sacred War is probably more germane to this topic than his other books, but any would be good. On US policies at the end, see, inter alia, Arnold Isaacs, Without Honor; Stanley Kutler, The Wars of Watergate; and James Cannon, Time and Chance. The first two of these cover the end of the Nixon years; the last is on Ford. Ignore the self-serving memoirs of liars like Kissinger, which have no evidentiary value, so far as I'm concerned.

I suspect you'll find that the consensus is not far from what you've surmised yourself - more US aid to RVN in 1975 might have postponed defeat, but not for long enough to make any real difference. The final campaign was remarkably quick - Van Tien Dung himself admits it was not even supposed to be the final campaign, just the set-up for the big push a year later - due to the complete implosion of the RVN leadership and armed forces. Talk about a failure of will! There were certainly sufficient supplies for the ARVN to fight, if they had chosen to, but they faced a major drawdown - and, implicitly, a complete re-orientation of their military strategy - in the near future, and apparently decided it was hopeless. At least that's how I read it.

Hope this helps.


While this is deep in the thread, I just wanted to write my appreciation for your efforts in writing this post Charles. Thank you.

Anderson - try a pint of vodka and a few beers.

Bush and vodka both make me want to vomit, tho only vodka has yet actually precipitated the real thing. I'll self-medicate with Lagavulin tonight.

Southern Comfort?

I'm not going to offer the following as any sort of attempt to read Charles' mind...

I appreciate that, Gary. If you want to see a glimpse of my current state of mind, try here. I seldom front-page at Redstate anymore, only for the ones that I feel are really important or need to be said there. Similarly with ObWi. Lately, I've been taking my business to theForvm and to the blog section at RS. Since last January or so, I've decided to post when and where I please. Forgive my going meta, but to me the ideal blog would be one that has the dynamism of the comments here, the tone and tenor and balance of theForvm, and the content of ObWi and the better ones at RS.

At this point, I don't have to much else to add commentwise, only that I've read all the comments. I'm basically in read-and-ponder mode for the time being as it pertains to this thread.

Good post, Charles. I've often thought your writing was best when it was most personal, explaining how you came to a decision or changed your mind, or how you understood what evidence or argument you found.

Don't overlook the many and complex effects of the draft, which were increasingly being felt.

I think the draft was a huge factor, because it made the consequences of the war palpable for a lot of people.

I also think, however, that the draft was more a multiplier of opposition to the war, rather than a source. That is, had popular support been present, the draft would have been less of an issue.

In other words, the fact that there was a draft, which meant that you or your kids might serve and die, meant that a lot of folks, for whom the issue of the war might otherwise have been sort of academic, got off their butts and did something. But the reasons for opposing the war were, I think, rooted more in the failure of confidence in the leadership.

Thanks -

Anderson,
I know many people share your frustration.
But I am trying to understand Charles his position as a former supporter of Bush.
He still seems to think the faillures of the administration are a bug;
I think they are a feature.
For example, the appointments of partisan hacks over competent people is central to this government.

Dr Ngo,

Thank you for the information. I will try to follow up on your reading suggestions when I get back from Iraq.

Charles,

It is a liitle late, but thank you for the post which started this. I hope I can face up to my errors as well as you have, when my time comes.

Southern Comfort?

Waste of bourbon -- when I'm dictator-for-life, possession or distribution of Southern Comfort will be a Gitmo-level offense.

He still seems to think the faillures of the administration are a bug;
I think they are a feature.

Something like that. I was actually spending a few moments this morning trying to be sympathetic to Bush.

The guy doesn't care about foreign policy, he's happy to see that Cheney's all into it and willing to trust him on it. After 9/11, Bush doesn't know what the eff to do; Cheney and Rumsfeld are chock-full of ideas. Why not go with their take? They're the experts, after all.

So I can see Bush being led by the nose, including his being deceived by Tenet w/out realizing the pressures placed by Cheney/Rummy on CIA to get the "slam dunk."

But after the looting of Baghdad and the beginning of the insurgency -- in short, no later than the end of 2003 -- Bush should've known what was obvious, that Cheney and Rumsfeld were fools.

By then, an election was up. Rove doubtless persuaded Bush that it would be suicided to fire Rumsfeld or ditch Cheney.

But that's no excuse for not doing so after the 2004 election, or for continuing to let them run amok.

So, even with my best effort, I can't do other than despise George W. Bush. I don't know if he's a wicked man, but he's not especially distinguishable from one -- compare gross negligence with intentional acts.

Clarke,
Are you in Iraq right now? If so, what are you doing and are you able to give us some firsthand observations of what you're seeing?

Charles Bird said
"Clarke,
Are you in Iraq right now? If so, what are you doing and are you able to give us some firsthand observations of what you're seeing?"

Yes, I am in Iraq right now, and have been since last July. Hopefully we will be leaving soon. We were at one point going to be extended until September, but I think they decided it was too politically expensive to extend reserve units unless absolutely necessary.

I work at a large forward operating base (FOB) in southern Iraq. The main mission of the FOB is detainee operations. As for news, you probably get more than I do, because for the most part we are all fobbits (semi-derogatory term referring to those who never leave the FOB). A few personnel get off the FOB, but not often, and mostly for logistics reasons. The nearest town is about 3 miles away, but we only visit it on business and I have never been there. I have gotten up to Baghdad twice.

As for what I am seeing, if the rest of Iraq was a peaceful as Bucca, we would have won by now. In the 11 months or so I have been here, there have been 3 US deaths, one suicide, one negligent homicide, and one from enemy action (IED off the FOB), out of a population over 1,500. Things have been heating up lately, with more indirect fire attacks in the last three months than in the preceding two years, but so far they have not been very effective.

A late response, Donald, but thanks for the info. Stay safe out there.

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