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August 19, 2008

Comments

I think we're at the point where we can safely say that John McCain wouldn't know honor if it kicked him in the nuts.

McCain's a dickhead.

here's Obama's response:

    But one of the things that we have to change in this country is the idea that people can't disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism. I have never suggested that Senator McCain picks his positions on national security based on politics or personal ambition. I have not suggested it because I believe that he genuinely wants to serve America's national interest. Now, it's time for him to acknowledge that I want to do the same.

    Let me be clear: I will let no one question my love of this country. I love America, so do you, and so does John McCain. When I look out at this audience, I see people of different political views. You are Democrats and Republicans and Independents. But you all served together, and fought together, and bled together under the same proud flag. You did not serve a Red America or a Blue America -- you served the United States of America.

    So let's have a serious debate, and let's debate our disagreements on the merits of policy -- not personal attacks. And no matter how heated it gets or what kind of campaign he chooses to run, I will honor Senator McCain's service, just like I honor the service of every veteran in this room, and every American who has worn the uniform of the United States.

McCain is, quite simply, a piece of sh!t. But apparently that's what you have to be to win the Republican nomination nowadays.

I'm looking forward to another four years of having an easily manipulated idiot as president, since the last eight were so much fun, only this one has a volcanic temper to boot.

Anyway, at the rate we're going the next president is going to preside over the decline of the American republic. Obama might as well let McCain have at it.

As they say: Wheeeeeeeeeee!

Wars are too important to leave it to the professionals*! And who is interested in what the [n-word][b-word](pardon, [c-word] my dear) has to say? Does the pope ask whores (or married women) before he makes decisions about sex? Of course not! If you're directly involved in something, your perspective is tainted. Only complete detachment from reality allows proper and unimpeded judgement.
[/sarcasm]

*Yes, the original says "generals" but today any professional is suspect.

McCain questions Obama's "judgment", not his patriotism. I can see why you don't like the following passage ....

First, [Obama] opposed the surge. Then he confidently predicted that it would fail. Then he tried to prevent funding for the troops who carried out the surge. Not content to merely predict failure in Iraq, my opponent tried to legislate failure. This was back when supporting America's efforts in Iraq entailed serious political risk. It was a clarifying moment. It was a moment when political self-interest and the national interest parted ways. For my part, with so much in the balance, it was an easy call. As I said at the time, I would rather lose an election than lose a war.

Aside from the italicized portion, McCain's attack isn't on Obama's patriotism at all. (The italicized portion is a bit over the line, but no worse than ordinary political debate.) And you haven't pointed to anything untrue in McCain's charge.

What you do point out is that a lot of people -- myself included (check the archives) -- thought that the surge wouldn't work and suggested not doing it. It now looks like we were wrong, in part, although it's too early to make a final judgment.

More generally, this kind of attack is going to be pretty effective for McCain. I guess the Obama supporter's best response is to call it an attack on his patriotism and point out that a lot of other folks were on Obama's side, although this seems risky.

First, if Iraq continues to improve, it makes McCain look even more prescient while doing nothing to rehabilitate Obama.

Second, it bring Obama's patriotism into the mix without McCain even having to mention it. Were I on one of those Sunday panels and the host brought up Hilzoy's article, I'd say "McCain attacked Obama's judgment, not his patriotism. I'm sure Obama loves his country. But he displays bad judgment. He's too influenced by what's popular at the moment and doesn't see what's in the long-term national interest. All this talk about how Obama and patriotism is a smoke screen. He's not unpatriotic, he just doesn't have the judgment to be commander in chief. Frankly, this lady protests too much."

Give me a sound bite back that doesn't sound overly defensive or like you're trying to change the subject .... and which doesn't let me say three or four more times, "it's not that Obama's unpatriotic, it's that he doesn't have the judgment to be commander in chief."

I'm looking forward to another four years of having an easily manipulated idiot as president, since the last eight were so much fun, only this one has a volcanic temper to boot.

Try an easily manipulated idiot with a volcanic temper who wins Colorado and Ohio by a combined total of less than 100,000, loses the popular vote, and faces a 59-41 Democratic-controlled Senate, and a Democratic House at 250-185, who then tries to rule by fiat.

Good times. Party like it's 1642, fellow Roundheads.

BTW, Obama's response isn't that sound bite. It's way too defensive. Why wouldn't Obama say: "McCain was wrong on the war and now he's wrong on my record. Everyone, including the Prime Minister of Iraq, has now come around to my viewpoint that we need to begin withdrawing forces from Iraq. We honor our men and women who carried out the surge, but it's not a long term solution. Even McCain has to admit that. I want the US to pursue a strategy that's in its long term national interests, and those interests do not include fighting a 100-year war in Iraq. If McCain doesn't see that my position comes from heartfelt patriotism and love of country, that's his problem. Not mine."

von: What you do point out is that a lot of people -- myself included (check the archives) -- thought that the surge wouldn't work and suggested not doing it. It now looks like we were [right]

Fixed that for you. The two goals of the surge were to give Nouri al Maliki's government "breathing space" during which to advance the cause of sectarian reconciliation: and to put a stop to the sectarian violence tearing neighborhoods apart in Baghdad and elsewhere.

Neither goal has been accomplished. The "surge" has been an expensive failure.

That some people are now pretending it was a success is pretty much what you'd expect from Republicans in an election year: it was all Bush's idea, and it was another one of Bush's notions that's killed a lot of people without accomplishing what was originally aimed for.

I'd like to put in a word for "Not content to merely predict failure in Iraq, my opponent tried to legislate failure." Expecting "failure" need not indicate lack of patriotism; actively trying to guarantee "failure" definitely does.

Jes, your "fix" doesn't do much for your credibility. My statement was, "It now looks like we were wrong, in part, although it's too early to make a final judgment." I think that's a fair statement (as well as the clear majority view, based on the polls).

"With just three months to go before the election, a lot of folks are still trying to square Senator [McCain's] varying positions on the [war] in Iraq. First, he [supported] the [war]. Then he confidently predicted that [we would be greeted as liberators and the war would pay for itself]... This was back when [opposing] America's efforts in Iraq entailed serious political risk. It was a clarifying moment. It was a moment when political self-interest and the national interest parted ways. For my part, with so much in the balance, it was an easy call. As I said at the time, I would rather lose an election than [fight the wrong] war."

Von~

With all due respect, I don't believe many people argued that the surge wouldn't work militarily for at least the duration of the surge. What was at issue was whether the surge would lead to the political reconciliation necessary for political stability. McCain wants desperately to focus all the attention on the military success and wave away the fact that the political situation in Iraq is really no better than it was a year ago. If anything, the surge has made things more difficult because it has allowed Maliki to solidify his position vis a vis the Sunni tribes, thus setting up another round of violence. What has become clear in this election is that we can elect an adult to be President or we can elect a guy who still thinks he's a 30 year old fighter pilot, with all the macho bullshit that goes along with that. In all honesty, Maverick would be a crappy President.

von: if you don't think that suggesting that someone would rather lose a war than lose a political campaign amounts to questioning that person's patriotism, I frankly have no idea what you think would.

This sort of attack is not "no worse than ordinary political debate". It's not something everyone does. In this campaign, it's something that only one candidate has done. If that doesn't bother you, so be it.

I'd like to put in a word for "Not content to merely predict failure in Iraq, my opponent tried to legislate failure." Expecting "failure" need not indicate lack of patriotism; actively trying to guarantee "failure" definitely does.

Likewise, seeing that your absurd prediction of an easy war is failing and doubling down with the lives of American troops does not indicate a surplus of patriotism.

McCain wasn't making a strategic judgment when he supported the surge -- his public statements don't suggest that at all. He was making a political gamble by betting soldiers, trying to forestall "failure," and the abilities of the armed forces (which he himself credits for the "success") saved his bacon -- and now he's trying to trade on their achievement, which occurred in spite of, not because of him.

Can we please agree to a moratorium on "fixed" comments, especially when the fixer disagrees with the original comment? I think they can be funny and useful in cases where the fixer is trying to amplify or support the original comment, but when you're arguing with someone, rewriting their prose seems awfully rude. If you think, they're totally wrong or that their arguing in bad faith, please have the courtesy to say so explicitly.

I'd also like to see Obama remind everyone that the initial, catastrophic error of judgment was getting into Iraq in the first place. If the surge has "succeeded" at all, it's only succeeded in making an unnecessarily awful situation slightly less awful.

Of course, since the average American voter seems to have a memory horizon of about a year, McCain's able to go around talking like us being in Iraq is just part of the eternal and inevitable order of things.

Violence has come down in Iraq for a number of reasons--don't expect any type of sensible discussion about that, not during an election season. Or at any other time, for that matter, but especially not now. Von is right on the politics, I think, (not that anyone should take my political judgments too seriously) and his 12:34 response is a good one. Hilzoy's post just made me cringe. It tacitly concedes that McCain was right about the surge and allows him to pose as the man with vision when all the naysayers were predicting failure.

"It tacitly concedes that McCain was right"

It wasn't meant to. It was just that McCain was saying (note to von: this is the false bit) that Obama's opposition to the surge was motivated by political ambition. It might make sense to say this if, say, all and only Democrats had opposed the surge. To say it when a whole lot of people who cannot possibly be thought to have done this out of ambition (e.g., because they were working in the administration at the time) also opposed the surge is beyond ludicrous.

But since one of McCain's main pieces of evidence for Obama's alleged lack of patriotism is his opposition to the surge, I thought it might be a good idea to recall who else opposed the surge back in January 2007.

It didn't seem like McCain was attacking Obama's patriotism per se, just his judgement, when he says "And yet Senator Obama still can't quite bring himself to admit his own failure in judgment. Instead, he commits the greater error of insisting that even in hindsight, he would oppose the surge. Even in retrospect, he would choose the path of retreat and failure for America over the path of success and victory." Looking at our options in early 2007, the surge was indeed high-risk and put terrible strain on an already over-stretched military (particularly the Army who had to go to 15-month combat deployments), so it's understandable why there would be opposition. But questioning Obama's patriotism seems a little silly (the guy is running for president, that should signify that he is at least somewhat interested in trying to make the country better). IMHO, the lack of "patriotism" lies with the American public, who is more concerned with getting cheap gas than with the small percentage of the populous actually fighting two complex wars (see CNN poll for evidence, where Iraq being the most important issue clocks in at a lousy 18%, and terrorism at an even lousier 9%). It's not very heartening that the American public has managed to offload the responsibility of a national decision to a perceived "underclass" of military personnel and contractors.

Hilzoy said It was just that McCain was saying (note to von: this is the false bit) that Obama's opposition to the surge was motivated by political ambition.

Gotcha. That statement makes sense, and I see what you are saying now, and I would agree with you. The "patriotism" part of your post just confused me.

Can we please agree to a moratorium on "fixed" comments, especially when the fixer disagrees with the original comment?

Seconded. It seems like a way to argue against something that you want someone to have said, but didn't.

von, McCain didn't throw that one line about personal interest in there by accident, and there is nothing unfair about responding to only one part of an attack. Obama can't do much about the rest of the attack; he is not going to get far arguing that his judgment was well-founded even though wrong, or that it may turn out to be right yet.

From the standpoint of Obama's electoral needs (only from that standpoint), the moderate success of the surge and counterinsurgency strategy is a bad fact. All you can do with that is duck where you can (e.g., respond to the personal insult), and move on to the future.

Fortunately, Americans are usually more interested in the future than in who was right in the past. Just as "I was right about Iraq" had less effect as the campaign progressed, "I was right about the surge" will fade in power as people notice that gas still costs about $4/gallon, people are still losing their homes, we're still in Iraq, and the world is still unstable. Ironically, Obama, who was derided for running on only one issue (Iraq), is now facing an opponent running on that same issue. In the end, it will probably come down to "the economy, stupid."

It seems to me that the "we're running a nicer and more ethical campaign" argument has never been much of a winner for the Democrats. Any reason to think that it will do better this year?

Can we please agree to a moratorium on "fixed" comments, especially when the fixer disagrees with the original comment?

I actually agree with this, but are you talking about my comment? I was rewriting McCain; I felt that was fair game.

Adam, I was responding to Jes' comment, not yours. I don't really care about people fixing statements written by those that aren't here to participate in the discussion.

Von: Jes, your "fix" doesn't do much for your credibility.

Actually, you (and more to the point, Turbulence) do have a point that the "fix" there was kind of pointless.

You are the only person who can judge whether or not you were wrong to oppose the "surge", and if you think now you were wrong, well, fine: you believe you were wrong.

But, your belief that you were wrong to oppose the surge does nothing for your credibility - since the surge has done nothing it was intended to do. It is not by any definition but the Republican loyalist one of "Bush wanted it, we mustn't criticise" a success. The people who opposed it have been proven tragically, bloodily right, and the people who supported it are and were wrong. Completely, absolutely, lethally wrong.

You are the only person who can judge whether or not you were wrong to

You are the only person who can judge whether or not you believe you were wrong to

Bugger. Sorry. Need more coffee.

LTN: Ah. -- I guess I think that while there are some decisions that any politician will make for political/ambitious reasons, there are others where you really have to put ambition aside and do what's right. To my mind, decisions about war are like that -- which is one reason I was never enthused about Kerry: I believed, rightly or wrongly, that he voted for the Iraq war for political reasons, and I found that hard to forgive. Bush seemed to me much worse, and much more likely to go on getting us into trouble, but I worked hard against Kerry, and that was one reason why.

McCain says that Obama opposed the surge for purely political reasons. When he says 'he'd rather lose a war than lose a political campaign', he seems to me to add this idea: that Obama believed at the time that opposing the surge was tantamount to losing the war, and opposed it anyways, for the sake of ambition. (I mean: if someone thought that the surge would make us more likely to lose, or that we had already lost and the surge would just let us avoid admitting that fact, at the cost of more soldiers' lives, and opposed the surge for those reasons, you wouldn't describe them as choosing to "lose the war".)

If saying that someone would lose a war rather than sacrifice his own ambitions isn't accusing them of being unpatriotic, I don't know what is. -- I mean: I disagree with you on any number of points, but I would never, ever say that your views about Iraq -- the ones I don't agree with -- mean (for instance) that you'd rather lose a war than admit that you're wrong. That would be a horrible thing to say. And I would be a horrible person if I said it.

Oops: " but I worked hard against Kerry, and that was one reason why." -- I meant to say: I worked hard against him in the primaries. I worked hard for him once the choice was between him and Bush, because I'll go with OK over appalling any day.

"Seconded. It seems like a way to argue against something that you want someone to have said, but didn't."

It's a Usenet usage of decades standing. Dislike it all you want, usages don't go away because we don't like them.

I'd have to say that I don't see the above statement as remotely accurate. It's just a snappy way of pointing out where and how you disagree. People use it because it's short and makes the point. I actually have no idea how the above interpretation is even possible. When you cross out a word or phrase, you're arguing with what they said, which is what you cross out. By definition, you are arguing with what they wrote.

It's quite possibly/probably a derivative of the even longer-standing tradition/usage, dating back to the 1940s, in sf fandom, of using strikeovers to make a humorous "correction" of what you're babbling writing, incidentally. Effective writing techniques simply aren't going to disappear because someone takes offense at them.

It seems to me that the "we're running a nicer and more ethical campaign" argument has never been much of a winner for the Democrats. Any reason to think that it will do better this year?

No.

Perhaps somebody already pointed this out -- it's kinda obvs -- but isn't McCain sort of conceding that Obama's stance on the surge is also the stance that the American people possess?

Daniel: but isn't McCain sort of conceding that Obama's stance on the surge is also the stance that the American people possess?

Only the disloyal, unpatriotic, treasonous ones.

One does have to give credit to McCain for framing the issue as one of the United States "winning" or "losing" in Iraq. As long as the Iraq war can be treated as if it's a sporting event, then I think it's a net plus for the P.O.S., as he goes about carrying the cross and wearing the flag, chanting "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!"

We're kicking a$$ and taking names in Iraq! Whose a$$ and whose names we don't know, but regardless, my friends, we're winning!

Gary, there is a difference between correcting your own prose, as you did above and correcting someone else's prose, as Jes did. (This is not to pick on Jes, I've mentioned it a few times before concerning other people's comments as well)

While I'm sure that changing someone else's prose so as to highlight some point you feel they are making may be effective, the question is just what exactly it is effective at doing. I would argue that it very rarely brings any clarity to the discussion, which I assume is what most folks are primarily interested in.

"I would argue that it very rarely brings any clarity to the discussion...."

It seems to me that if there were any possible confusion that the statement was actually being attributed to the original writer, you'd have a point. But since there's never any such confusion, I don't see it.

I think the reason the technique has lasted and is so popular is precisely because it lends clarity so effectively.

The shorter a bit of writing, or a change, is, the more effective it tends to be at making its point.

We'll have to agree to disagree.

It's not very heartening that the American public has managed to offload the responsibility of a national decision to a perceived "underclass" of military personnel and contractors.

LT Nixon -- True, it isn't very heartening.

My understanding is that there are severe restrictions on certain kinds of war reporting and on (e.g.) pictures of the coffins of soldiers.

If that's a deliberate decision to manipulate public opinion in the direction of "things really aren't too bad over there," we can lay at least some of the responsibility for the offloading onto the people who have kept the public from being reminded of the heavy price being paid by the few, in order that the public not be reminded of the lighter price being paid by everyone. Heaven forbid we should know what this war is really costing.

Also, I will repeat that I really do agree with you that it's disheartening. And I deeply believe that I carry some amount of responsibility for collective decisions, even if I disagree with them. But there has been a very in-your-face mood in this country since 9/11, the sound bite for which has been "United we stand." I can't tell you how many times I have wanted to say to the owner of one of those bumper stickers: Okay, if it's so da**ed important that we stand united, then how about we stand united behind my opinions instead of yours?

This "united we stand" sh** applies to the other part of this discussion too, where McCain gets to question Obama's patriotism....

Dislike it all you want, usages don't go away because we don't like them.

You mean like using pretend quotations from other people?

;)

Von is right about one thing: Obama is not fighting back effectively. Here's my Obama fantasy speech.

"John McCain wants to keep spending ten billion dollars of your money every month, in a country that has eighty billion dollars in the bank. And where do you think Iraq got that money? Been to a gas pump lately?

"John McCain rants about earmarks. Iraq has been Bush, and now McCain's, biggest earmark. It has cost you, each of you, about three thousand dollars apiece, so far. If you're a family of four, Bush has spent twelve thousand dollars of your family's money on Iraq -- and McCain wants to keep that up until he decides that America has achieved 'victory' in Iraq's civil war. What will it take for McCain to declare 'victory'? Iraq having a hundred, or two hundred billion dollars in the bank?

"Now, to be fair, John McCain has admitted he doesn't know much about economics, so the arithmetic I just gave you is probably too complicated for him. But he says he knows how to win wars. Well, the biggest clue that you've won a war is: your army gets to come home. But McCain says we lose if our army comes home anytime soon. So his surge hasn't exactly won Iraq's civil war yet, has it? And if we even start planning to bring our troops home, says McCain, that will undo whatever good Bush did with your family's twelve thousand dollars. So according to McCain we can't leave on an orderly schedule, and any military man knows we can't just sneak out some night when 'the enemy' is asleep. Well, what's left? McCain's answer is of course to defeat the enemy. He's unclear on who the enemy is, since he gets Shia and Sunni confused all the time, but it sure sounds like his idea of 'the enemy' is anybody who wants us out of Iraq. Like the Maliki government. Like a big majority of Iraquis. Like a big majority of Americans. John McCain must honestly believe that most Americans have 'bad judgement'. Whether he thinks most Americans are also 'unpatriotic', well ... you can ask him about that."

Or words to that effect.

-- TP

When he says 'he'd rather lose a war than lose a political campaign', he seems to me to add this idea: that Obama believed at the time that opposing the surge was tantamount to losing the war, and opposed it anyways, for the sake of ambition.

What seems even more egregious to me is that it's a totally non-falsifiable claim of the sort that Nixon and his crowd would level at anyone who opposed them.

I mean, Obama could claim that McCain only supported the surge for political reasons -- doubling down avoided having to admit a "loss" -- and it'd be just as provable as McCain's baseless claim that Obama opposed the surge because he wanted to lose.

One could also credibly say that:

(a) This wouldn't even be an issue if McCain and others hadn't gotten us into this fiasco that Obama opposed; how is that a less important window into their "judgment"?

(b) At least advocating drawdown doesn't put more soldiers in harm's way or cost more.

(c) McCain never made strategic assessments when "supporting" the surge -- he just talked about what he thinks constitutes "losing," which is a political question.

(d) Obama did make strategic assessments which were ultimately vindicated; moreover, it was the 2006 elections and the credible threat of withdrawal that actually created the momentum for a real solution (the surge, firing Rumsfeld, etc.) after 3 years of nothing but incompetence and complacence by supporters of this misadventure. At best, McCain and Bush, et al., were utterly intransigent about changing course until forced to. That's not something to take pride in.

Saying "he would choose the path of retreat and failure for America" isn't questioning Obama's patriotism? Is that isn't, what is?

McCain == slime

It's not very heartening that the American public has managed to offload the responsibility of a national decision to a perceived "underclass" of military personnel and contractors.

How has the American public managed to do that? What specific actions do you think the American public should take to resume responsibility? I.e., do you want a draft? Do you want every working person in the US to have to pay a special war-tax? Do you want working families to have to adopt soldiers?

Or do you want Americans to just rate Iraq and Afghanistan higher in their priority lists? If you do, can you explain why that matters? I mean, unless someone's priorities translate into real actions (see previous paragraph), who cares what they feel in their heart of hearts?

Also, I'm not sure what you mean by perceived underclass. Who is perceiving? How do you know what they perceive? And why do their perceptions matter?

I'm looking forward to the day that John McCain makes me wish George W. Bush was still President.

"You mean like using pretend quotations from other people?"

Not what I'd call a "usage," but setting that nitpicking aside, no, people not checking their facts certainly won't go away.

It's not what I'd call an effective technique for making a point, though, myself.


IMHO, the lack of "patriotism" lies with the American public, who is more concerned with getting cheap gas than with the small percentage of the populous actually fighting two complex wars (see CNN poll for evidence, where Iraq being the most important issue clocks in at a lousy 18%, and terrorism at an even lousier 9%). It's not very heartening that the American public has managed to offload the responsibility of a national decision to a perceived "underclass" of military personnel and contractors.

LTNixon,

This is a very important point, thank you for bringing it up. This is a shameful aspect of the current wars.

JanieM at 1:55 PM says what I was going to say – that much of the responsibility for this sorry state of affairs lies with the President himself, for not investing more political capital in uniting the country behind this effort. GWB did not do this, if anything he did the exact opposite, using the war as a tool for partisan polarization to benefit himself and his party. Shame on him for doing that, and shame on all of us collectively here in the US for letting him do it. We had an “accountability moment” in 2004 and we failed.

I am convinced that part of the unfolding tragedy which began with OIF in 2003 took place the way that it did in large part because George W. Bush and his advisors were able to launch an elective war using a volunteer Army safe in the knowledge that he was risking far less in the way of “political capital” than if he were the CiC of a draftee Army in the manner of Truman, LBJ and Richard Nixon. Personally I think it is time to bring back the draft, this time with no deferments or exclusions, so that this does not happen again.

The decision to go to war (and the decision when to negotiate an end to wars that we are unable to conclude on the deck of a battleship in Tokyo harbor) is one of the most consequential and morally freighted decisions which a small-d democratic electorate and their representatives will ever be called upon to make. It should be a personal decision for each one of us, not something we can just ignore and then go shopping to forget about, assuming we are fortunate enough to belong to an economic stratum of our society where shopping is an option.

I understand that this might produce a step down (at least in the short run) in the tactical professionalism of the troops, but surely by now after the way the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have unfolded we should understand that tactical factors are not the only thing determining success or failure in war, and that having a healthy rather than a dysfunctional relationship between the troops and the civilians on whose behalf they are sent into combat is also an important factor worth investing in, even at the cost of giving up some other things.

"Second, it bring Obama's patriotism into the mix without McCain even having to mention it. Were I on one of those Sunday panels and the host brought up Hilzoy's article, I'd say 'McCain attacked Obama's judgment, not his patriotism. I'm sure Obama loves his country. But he displays bad judgment. He's too influenced by what's popular at the moment and doesn't see what's in the long-term national interest. All this talk about how Obama and patriotism is a smoke screen. He's not unpatriotic, he just doesn't have the judgment to be commander in chief. Frankly, this lady protests too much.'"

I have to agree w/ von on this one.

The Republicans have become so good at attack politics that I think Dems have become hyper-sensitive.

The moment I tuned into Keith Olbermann's program last night, I practically tuned out because it was clear he was going to spend an hour whining about McCain impuning Obama's patriotism.

I'd rather see debate on real arguments, not manufactured ones.

I.e., do you want a draft? Do you want every working person in the US to have to pay a special war-tax?

This is not to answer for LTNixon. These points also touch on the comment I just posted, so I'm going to proactively address them.

Yes, we should have a draft.

Yes, we should have a tax increase sufficient to pay for all of the costs of both wars. I want it to be a progressive tax, not a regressive one as you may have implied by using the term "working class" (not sure if the intent was there or not).

Our wars must be paid for, morally, physically, and fiscally. There is nothing more ignoble than launching a war on extended revolving credit terms - GWB has done this in every sense of the word. It is his shame that he did this, it is our shame that we have not held him accountable for it.

I'd rather see debate on real arguments, not manufactured ones.

I'd rather see debate on real arguments, too, but this is NOT manufactured: "he would choose the path of retreat and failure for America"

That sounds pretty unpatriotic to me.

After agreeing w/ your overall point, Von, I would like you to answer Hilzoy's charge that "if you don't think that suggesting that someone would rather lose a war than lose a political campaign amounts to questioning that person's patriotism, I frankly have no idea what you think would."

Of course, McCain didn't make that charge in yesterday's speech and I don't think Obama responded to this attack very well when it was made.

BTW, did anybody see Obama give his speech today? He sounded very, very tired -- somebody needs to fire this guy up (maybe Biden will).

"Yes, we should have a draft."

I have a major moral problem with the idea of a draft unless society is under existential threat without it.

I don't see us as presently under existential threat that a draft will cure.

A draft would be awesome, provided that it was fair. One of the things that the Iraq war has demonstrated is that wars are no longer exclusively a young man's affair. We have many many contractors in Iraq performing vital services like driving trucks, doing laundry, and preparing meals. Most of those jobs can be done by 30 and 40 and 50 year olds without difficulty. So instead of paying contractors outrageous sums, we should have a draft, and it should cover everyone under 65, not just young men. Let's make those 45 year old lawyers who commute 2 hours every day drive supply trucks from Kuwait to Diyala. Let's make housewives who cook nutritious family meals every day cook for the troops. Let's make 50 year old master electricians wire up our bases in Iraq; at least we'll reduce the number of soldiers electrocuted by faulty wiring.

Of course, shipping out to a foreign country for months at a time is extremely disruptive. It can screw up your business, ruin your family relationships, impede your education and just generally deprive you of your liberty. Yet we're perfectly willing to breezily declare that young men should be deprived of their liberty at the drop of a hat. This enrages me. It would be one thing to enslave young men in a draft if the country where in existential peril, but it is not: our nation is in no danger at all.

So, my plea to everyone who thinks a draft is an awesome idea: what type of work do you plan on doing in Iraq to make yourself useful there?

Jeff,

I think that's simply hardball politics.

If McCain's agrgument is that the Obama policy is "the path of retreat and (hence) failure for America," I think it is incumbent on the guy I am going to vote for to (1) defend his Iraq policy and (2) say why it is better than General McCain's.

BTW, I am not looking for McCain to cast Obama in anything close to a patriotic light because, deep down, this guy probably believes that Obama is nowhere near the patriot he is -- IOW, McCain truly believes what he's throwing out there.

Bedtime, it's not about whining. It's yet another part of the attack on the ludicrous idea that McCain is principled. It's crazy enough that McCain gets to benefit from "independent" groups smearing Obama while also benefiting from being an "honorable" man and denouncing the smears. But to allow him to claim that he doesn't approve of questioning Obama's patriotism when he himself is questioning Obama's patriotism is beyond insane, and he needs to be called on it.

btfb: McCain said, "Then he tried to prevent funding for the troops who carried out the surge. Not content to merely predict failure in Iraq, my opponent tried to legislate failure." That goes beyond a question of judgment about success/failure and accuses Obama of wanting to lose in Iraq, and of actively trying to bring about losing. How does that *not* question Obama's patriotism?

"A draft would be awesome, provided that it was fair."

I had no problem signing whatever it was that I signed when I turned 18.

But now that I have a son, I must say that I don't like the idea of sending him off to war unless he volunteered.

Again, Hogan, I think Senator Obama needs to do a better job of stating his own case -- whether what McCain is doing is fair or unfair.

So if neither Obama nor hilzoy nor Keith Olbermann should call McCain out for sleazy behavior, should anyone?

I have a major moral problem with the idea of a draft unless society is under existential threat without it.

Gary,

This in no way invalidates your position, so take this with a very large grain of salt please. But I used to feel the same way.

The problem as I see it is that realistically a nation as wealthy and powerful as the US is highly unlikely to ever face existential threats, excepting those which either happen too fast to adjust our military force structure to deal with and for which the infantry is no help in any case (e.g. a massive nuclear attack using ICBM's, a global pandemic of some terrible disease), or those which happen very slowly and for which the military is also a poor tool to use in addressing, at best (e.g. Peak Oil, Global Warming).

So what does that leave us with? Elective wars, that’s what. We haven’t had a non-elective war since 1945. And lots of people die in our elective wars, the great majority of them not-Americans. Is it moral for them to die as a result of political decisions made in our democracy regarding which the vast majority of our electorate are paying poor attention to and have little direct personal stake in (at least in the short run)?

I submit that the immorality of such results outweighs the morally questionable coercive aspects of a draft in a free society. See also Mahmood Mamdani’s “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror” for a worrisome viewpoint on what moving to a volunteer Army meant in terms of freeing US Presidents from the political constraints imposed when we have a draft.

Second: we are in the very early stages of something which worries me if it gets worse – a political polarization between the people in the military and the civilian population. It would have to get much worse than it is today, but I don’t think sedition (we had a very small taste of this in the Bill Clinton administration) and conspiracy against the civilian govt. from within the ranks of the military are totally out of the question if we go further down this path. See Spain in the 1930s for details. Or the 1860 Presidential election, if you prefer.

Finally, I think an argument can be made that mass participatory politics, of which democracy is one variant (that I’m kind of sentimentally attached to) has a complex bicausal relationship with mass conscript armies. See Philip Bobbitt’s book “Shield of Achilles” for details. If this argument is correct, then our move towards a 17-18th cen. style long service professional army is actually undermining the foundations of democracy by breaking the relationship between participatory citizenship and the state.

But now that I have a son, I must say that I don't like the idea of sending him off to war unless he volunteered.

This is a feature, not a bug.

(nothing personal - I feel the same way)

You and I (and everyone else in our electorate) should think about these things at a deep and personal level every time we step into a voting booth.

A well known quotation about something concentrating the mind wonderfully seems apropos here.

And if in the best judgment of a properly informed and motivated electorate we still need to start an elective war, then I too will serve in whatever capacity I can, per Turb's comment above.

It is immoral to selectively send a disproportionate share of our more economically vulnerable young people to fight and die so the rest of us can go shopping, and to do so because too many of us enjoy the luxury of pretending that elections don't have consequences. Period. End of story.

I'd call McCain, as cleek called him, a "dickhead" but I wouldn't call him "sleazy."

Ted Stevens is sleazy.

John McCain is maniacal.

And however distasteful we Democrats may see it, I think he has been doing an effective job of making his case lately as evidenced by his recent rise in the polls.

Here's one measure: RealClearPolitics has highlighted a box featuring the same Battleground States -- Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, Virginia and Florida -- the past two months and today is the first time McCain is winning more of them than losing. I think that's telling.

Simply put, I'd like to see Obama recapture the mojo he had in the primary against Senator Clinton.

"This is a feature, not a bug."

LeftTurn,

I don't understand that comment.

Excuse me for going meta here for a second, but I find the uncritical usage of the word "patriotism" on a lefty/liberal blog such as this one rather odd, or risible, or worrisome - not really sure.

One thing is for sure, though: buying into conservative language games is not a winning strategy.

Hogan,

David Gergen does a better job of voicing my concern.

novakant,

I'm not exactly sure I understand what you mean.

FWIW, I think so much of "patriotism" is in the eye of the beholder.

For example, Obama gave a wonderful explanation why he didn't see the need to wear a flag pin. Yet I suspect a lot of voters just couldn't grasp their fingers around such an answer -- which is probably why Obama now usually wears one.

One thing is for sure, though: buying into conservative language games is not a winning strategy.

too too true.

and on a slightly-related matter, i wish people would stop prefacing every criticism of McCain with "while i honor and respect his service..." . at this point, there's no need to remind people of his service - and if people want to accuse you of denigrating it, why not go ahead and let them run the risk of looking stupid ? there's no need to highlight McCain's major selling point for him.

"there's no need to highlight McCain's major selling point for him."

Yes, cleek, and that's all these debates over patriotism do in the end.

Hilzoy Said "If saying that someone would lose a war rather than sacrifice his own ambitions isn't accusing them of being unpatriotic, I don't know what is."

Now I understand. It's just that I'm conditioned to think specific attacks on Obama's patriotism are lame smears like "Obama didn't recite the pledge of allegiance that one time!" or "Obama's birth certificate is phony!". You know, nonsense like that.

ThatLeftTurn, as usual, you've given me lots to think about.

Is it moral for them to die as a result of political decisions made in our democracy regarding which the vast majority of our electorate are paying poor attention to and have little direct personal stake in (at least in the short run)?

But under a traditional draft, the vast majority of the electorate still have little direct personal stake in wars. It is so easy to be blase about enslaving young men. After all, most people don't have sons in drafting age range and besides, everyone knows that the young people of today are always and everywhere inferior to the young people of yesteryear; even Socrates says that. Consequently, a draft is good for them: enslavement makes young men better and that helps society in the long run. Or something. Drafting young men is the ultimate in not having a stake.

In addition, drafting people doesn't really address the problem that productivity improvements in warfare have reduced the number of people needed for effective military operations in certain forms of warfare (counterinsurgency does not appear to be one of them). If you want to bomb Serbia into submission, you don't really need a draft: a tiny skeleton officer corps can get the job done. Even if you do have draftees involved in the bombing, you may very well not need enough to matter electorally speaking. If the Air Force can do their bombing after having drafted only 0.1% of the population (about 300,000 people), then "we the people" don't really have a personal stake in the war.

Moreover, bombing people doesn't necessarily expose draftees to the horrors of war, so it need not motivate them to avoid war. If lots of people get drafted for some future bombing campaign and they spend their time servicing and launching the next generation of armed Predator drones from a cushy air base in a friendly country, then there's no real cost to war. After all, killing all those people in Laos and Cambodia didn't have a significant political cost. Politically, those killings were "free".


Overall, I agree with what you say, but I don't think it will be enough to keep us from launching stupid wars that kill lots of innocent people. My gut feeling is that you're looking at this problem from the demand side (what the electorate asks for) and my focus is skewed more to the supply side. On the supply side, we have a vast armaments industry and an institutionalized military that controls vast sums of cash and a tremendous amount of raw political power. Industry wants war because was brings in cash like nothing else. The upper echelon of the military wants war because if you're not seen in the public eye "defending the nation", people start asking annoying questions like "do you really need all that money?"; the fastest way to kill talk of a peace dividend is to get yourself a war. There are plenty of other reasons too: going to war is a great way to win bureaucratic turf wars by proving your pet theories and thereby seizing a bigger chunk of the budgetary pie. It is a great way to advance your career.

(I highly recommend that people watch HBO's Generation Kill. It is based on a book and is mostly true. It does a very good job of illustrating how "careerism leads to poor tactical decisions" as an eager to please Colonel insists on getting missions for his unit that they're ill-equipped to handle because doing so earns him the praise of his commanding General. By ill-suited, I mean sending a reconnaissance unit in unarmored humvees up against Iraqi tanks with no armor, air, or artillery support.)

So it seems to me that no matter whether we have a draft or not, as long as we sink such an enormous fraction of our wealth into the defense establishment, we are going to have more wars. Those wars will probably be structured so as to minimize the manpower intensive combat associated with counterinsurgencies where our hardware edge is less useful. The military as an institution learned its lesson in Vietnam and decided it would do everything it could to avoid getting caught in a manpower intensive conflict where American technology wasn't very useful. I suspect that it will learn the same lesson from Iraq. The defense industry clearly prefers that dollars be spent on hardware, especially expendable hardware, than on soldiers. Teaching hundreds of thousands of soldiers counterinsurgency theory just doesn't bring in the cash like an order of F-22s or the DDX-1000 destroyer.

LTN: yeah. -- It's one of the things that drives me nuts: I think that there are certain accusations that you Should Not Make unless you are willing to really back them up. As in: people call people annoying all the time, and if they do so loosely, it's not good, but it's not the biggest deal in the world. But there should be a real line separating those kinds of criticism from, say, calling someone a pedophile or a thief. To my mind, saying that someone is willing to lose a war to win an election is in the pedophile category.

I also think that when people make charges like that, they should suffer some real social consequences if it turns out that they were either making them without evidence, or making them to do the other person harm. And in real life, if one of your friends started spreading rumors that someone else you knew was a pedophile, and it turned out your friend was just making stuff up, or trying to ruin that person's chances to get a job that your friend was also applying for, or something, I imagine your friendship with that person might be seriously damaged.

Yet oddly, the same thing doesn't happen in politics. I wish it would. There are lines you don't cross.

To people wondering about patriotism: I take it to mean love of one's country. I do not think love means uncritical rah rah cheering -- not love of another person, not love of your country. It means wanting what's best for it, and being willing to try to bring what's best into being.

I think Katherine's work on Maher Arar, for instance, was supremely patriotic. She did it because she wanted our country to be better.

That's what I mean by it.

Well, if we can't have a draft because that enslaves young men and we can't have an all volunteer armed forces because that places a disproportionate burden on certain segments of society as well as making it too easy to go about killing scary foreigners, perhaps we should just disband the United States Army and Marine Corps, turn the Navy into a higher powered version of the Coast Guard, and slash the Air Force in half (or more).

Problem solved.

Ugh, that works for me.

JanieM said "My understanding is that there are severe restrictions on certain kinds of war reporting and on (e.g.) pictures of the coffins of soldiers."

Yeah, that restriction has been around since the first Bush. I don't really agree with laws that restrict the domestic media either.

Turb asks "I.e., do you want a draft? Do you want every working person in the US to have to pay a special war-tax? Do you want working families to have to adopt soldiers?

The third amendment prevents involuntary quartering of troops. But it has been grossly irresponsible for the administration to run up the national debt ($9.6 Trillion and counting!) to fund two long-running wars without adequately increasing taxes. There is a desire to limit the impact of war on the public mind to prevent social upheaval and to continue garnering votes for the status quo. As TTLT notes on this thread better than I ever could, that is an incredibly dangerous model for democracy. Speaking towards a concern for discipline, a draft would bring a whole slew of problems to the military (drug usage during the Vietnam-era, people going AWOL on a frequent basis, etc.), plus the libertarian in me kind of shudders at forced conscription. But an American public that is at least concerned with current events in which their countrymen are fighting and dying would seem to be a better paradigm for our nation than just tuning in to the mindless drivel of entertainment that keeps us apathetic.

Also, I'm not sure what you mean by perceived underclass. Who is perceiving? How do you know what they perceive? And why do their perceptions matter?

I was talking about studies that show that the military is traditionally composed of people from more disadvantaged backgrounds. While this may be true, many people suggest that "They're just serving in the military because they don't have any other opportunity". That line of thinking diminishes their sacrifice, and doesn't adequately examine the individual.

The military as an institution learned its lesson in Vietnam and decided it would do everything it could to avoid getting caught in a manpower intensive conflict where American technology wasn't very useful. I suspect that it will learn the same lesson from Iraq.

My hope is a little different from that one.

The British found that they could maintain a global empire with a small army and a big navy only as long as their army didn't sustain some spectacular failures. Beginning with the Boer War and especially after WWI and the opening phase of WWII, it was clear that British power was largely an illusion and that ships alone, no matter how many or how big, wouldn't keep them in Asia and Africa without a much larger ground force than they could sustain as a country, even if the political will were there after 1945.

I think we're making the same discovery about air power: it's going to be a lot less impressive after our overreach in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have tons of destructive force, but little to no ability to take and hold any but the friendliest territory outside our immediate neighborhood, and now everyone knows it.

So this whole discussion about a draft sounds like an effort to figure out the ways and means of maintaining our empire, when I think we should be figuring out how to let it go less destructively than the British did theirs.

von,
McCain questions Obama's "judgment", not his patriotism.... Aside from the italicized portion...

So, what you're saying is that he did, in fact, question Obama's patriotism. He didn't do it in every sentence, but he did it.
A couple of people have pointed this out already, but I do find your viewpoint pretty puzzling here.

More generally, this kind of attack is going to be pretty effective for McCain.

Perhaps associating him with miscegenation is also effective; McCain's trying that as well, so I guess we'll find out. I only hope that you won't restrict your commentary to 'well that was pretty effective'- some moral condemnation might be appropriate as well.
I mean, you either don't think McCain questioned Obama's patriotism (which doesnt seem to be the case given your italicization above), or you do and 1)you think it's Ok or 2)you think it's not Ok.
Ive love to know the answer to that.

Second, it bring Obama's patriotism into the mix without McCain even having to mention it....Give me a sound bite back that doesn't sound overly defensive or like you're trying to change the subject ...

Oh, yeah, except the part where he did. So I guess my sound bite would be replaying the part where McCain questioned Obama's patriotism (and he's done it plenty of times, maybe Id put together a little montage). If you'd want to keep claiming that it's not a question of patriotism, Id ask if you think that putting one's own interests above that of the country is patriotic.

On the more general point- I think it's an effective tactic for McCain to show off the surge- for the moment. But it's very risky for three reasons:
1)the economy looks more and more like the central issue of the campaign, with other economic issues (gas prices, healthcare) tagging along
2)as casualties go down, Iraq becomes less and less important to the public. Iraq is only an important issue if it's going badly
3)it ruins his campaign if Iraq goes backwards, and puts it at risk if things don't progress

Given the way the wind is blowing, maybe it's the only way McCain can scratch out a win- although Id say that an alternative strategy would be continuing to create distance between himself and Obama on domestic issues (eg pushing his healthcare plan, talking about drilling)- if both sides are talking about domestic issues that may look good for Obama, but it also leaves the foreign policy debate on the sidelines with McCain in the lead. Either way, I wish he'd make his case without the all of the personal attack stuff.

It's just that I'm conditioned to think specific attacks on Obama's patriotism are lame smears like "Obama didn't recite the pledge of allegiance that one time!" or "Obama's birth certificate is phony!". You know, nonsense like that.

Not to dogpile, but I think it's a bit ironic that you're so used to lame smears, that when a big bold one comes along, you can't readilly see it.

Sad but ironic.

Ugh for SecDef

Not only that, Jeff, but it seems like LT Nixon should distinguish between what some blogger or Fox News propagandist says and what McCain himself is saying.

McCan't...can't...he's a Republican, remember?

Eric Potruch, Hilzoy doesn't do schoolyard nicknames, and I think that's a good thing. It doesn't add to the argument, and that's not the sort of place ObWi is.

“This is a feature, not a bug."
LeftTurn,
I don't understand that comment.

I’m sorry – that comment was both cryptic and perhaps a little too flippant.

The idea is that yes, of course you don’t want your child to have to be put at risk unnecessarily. Who would? I certainly don’t.

But right now for many of us the risks which are inevitably undertaken by somebody’s child when we as a nation decide to go to war are a rather distant and impersonal sort of cost for us to factor into the cost-benefit analysis, because it is not in fact our child that is being put at risk, unless they consent to that risk by choosing to volunteer. This has several effects, both good and bad.

Amongst the good effects, we have a highly trained, highly professional military because the people in it who have chosen to enlist spend more time in the service than a comparable batch of draftees would. There may also be positive differences in motivation levels, but I’m not sure if those are independent of the differing nature of the sorts of wars that nations with or without draftee armies are willing to wage (IMHO it is hard to say if the troops in WW2 were more or less motivated than say the troops in OIF, since the conflicts were so different, for example).

Amongst the bad effects are that too many of us can avoid directly bearing the costs which some portion of our citizenry are forced to bear as a result of the wars which all of us collectively choose to start (or not to start) through our representative system of government. This means that people are presented with a temptation to engage in benefit analysis (i.e. cost-benefit analysis without taking the costs into account) when making these decisions – which creates a structural bias in favor of going to war in situations where we have a choice (an elective war, as distinct from Dec 7, 1941, where we didn’t choose the war, the war chose us, metaphorically speaking).

It is like how people tend to take greater risks when they are gambling with somebody else’s money, not out of malice, but unconsciously because their intuitive sense of the risks are distorted.

LT Nixon:I was talking about studies that show that the military is traditionally composed of people from more disadvantaged backgrounds. While this may be true, many people suggest that "They're just serving in the military because they don't have any other opportunity". That line of thinking diminishes their sacrifice, and doesn't adequately examine the individual.

So, let's "examine the individual". Why does a young man (or woman, nowadays) volunteer to join the military? Is it just another career choice, like joining the Post Office? Or is he motivated by something else?

I can easily imagine all sorts of motivations, many of them honorable. "Serving a cause greater than self-interest", for instance. But what cause, exactly? A cause personally believed in, or whatever cause the military's civilian masters dictate?

If LT Nixon cares to address those questions in the concrete, rather than the abstract, I welcome a specific discussion of the (hardly economically disadvantaged) volunteer Pat Tillman.

-- TP

Turb,

As usual, you find many of the holes in my chain of logic and evidence, for which I don’t really have good answers. Here’s a feeble attempt to answer your objections:

But under a traditional draft, the vast majority of the electorate still have little direct personal stake in wars. It is so easy to be blase about enslaving young men. After all, most people don't have sons in drafting age range

So we don’t have a traditional draft.

Eliminate socioeconomic loopholes like the deferment system. Extend the age and gender range beyond traditional restrictions.

Many of the technological changes in weapons and tactics which you cite also mean that the traditional requirements for physical strength and vitality are no longer as directly relevant to all of the various possible roles that someone can play.

Young males will still be disproportionately represented at the “tip of the spear”, but the older and fatter (no insults intended as I resemble that remark) can still do something useful.

In addition, drafting people doesn't really address the problem that productivity improvements in warfare have reduced the number of people needed for effective military operations in certain forms of warfare (counterinsurgency does not appear to be one of them).

COIN operations have been well represented in our post-1945 elective wars. Also, the increased manpower provided via a draft might (if handled correctly) give us the ability to restructure some portion of our forces to deal with quasi-peacetime activities like peacekeeping (e.g. Bosnia) and disaster relief (e.g. post-Tsunami aid distribution) tasks which our military has been taking on with increasing frequency over the last few decades.

Perhaps we need to put together a force in being which is a sort of cross between the conventional Army and the Peace Corps. Would it not have been better if when we invaded Iraq in 2003 we had a fairly large body of people already organized who both had some familiarity with the traditional military and a more extensive background in the languages and cultures of the Middle East, as well as practical experience with post-disaster civilian relief and infrastructure recovery?

IIRC from some of the stores I’ve read (from Fred Kaplan at Slate for example) it seems like the traditional Army is being pushed by pressure of events into developing this sort of hybrid force anyway on a small scale as part of revisions to our COIN doctrines, but at the cost of overstretching its manpower, which means the results may not be as good as what we could achieve otherwise.

Overall, I agree with what you say, but I don't think it will be enough to keep us from launching stupid wars that kill lots of innocent people.

Agreed. I’m looking to cut the problem down to size, not nourishing utopian hopes to make it go away altogether. Does my solution help or hurt?

My gut feeling is that you're looking at this problem from the demand side (what the electorate asks for) and my focus is skewed more to the supply side.

Agreed. No reason why these two approaches have to be exclusive.

Having said all this, I’m going to lurk for a while without much additional commentary because my comments on this thread have already been rather lengthy and I don’t like it when it seems like I’m trying to impose my views by sheer weight of verbiage. Please engage, I am here listening.

Everyone should read McCain on Jan 5, 2007:

http://www.aei.org/events/filter.,eventID.1446/transcript.asp

Even McCain was against the surge if there were not enough troops.

Even McCain warned of possible defeat in Iraq, even with the surge.

It is also obvious that "surge" as defined by McCain meant a long term escalation, not a six month deal.

He also appeared to understand a lot more things back then, like Sunni and Shia.

This is a great discussion: civility in disagreement, repeated exchanges refining and sharpening thought trains, a variety of angles of approach giving perspective on the subject matter.

TLTIABQ -- I was just about to write a note of appreciation for the time you take to formulate such cogent comments. I have no sense whatsoever that you're trying to impose your views. I have a sense, rather, that you're trying to express your views, with a willingness always (as in this last response to Turbulence) to reconsider and refine.

I was going to say I'm learning a lot, but "learning" isn't quite the right word. I'm having my "take" on this subject greatly enriched. If you've got other things to do, I can understand, but please don't retreat from view because you feel like you've said to much.

"Would it not have been better if when we invaded Iraq in 2003 we had a fairly large body of people already organized who both had some familiarity with the traditional military and a more extensive background in the languages and cultures of the Middle East, as well as practical experience with post-disaster civilian relief and infrastructure recovery?"

No it would not, or rather, it depends on what you're trying to accomplish. You're enmeshed in something resembling a contradiction here--you advocate a draft as a way of cutting down the likelihood that we'll engage in stupid unnecessary and I might add criminal wars, and then you point out that a draft might supply us with a better tool with which to fight such wars.

One point against a draft--once we are engaged in a stupid war then the very fact that everyone has a relative over there might give people a stake in wanting to believe it was a good idea, at least at first.

Well, LeftTurn, I guess the simple point I was making was that if my son volunteers to go to war, that's his choice -- rather than others making the choice for him.

Do you want every working person in the US to have to pay a special war-tax?

I do want a war tax. It should be progressive, or at least a percentage surtax as was briefly used in the 60's.

The critical points are:

1. It should be clearly identified on the income tax form as a separate item.

2. It should reflect not just ongoing costs but an accrual for future costs, such as treatment of wounded veterans, increased veterans' benefits due to hgher enlistments, etc.

3. The revenue to be collected should be determined by independent public finance experts and actuaries, not the Treasury.

Perhaps we need to put together a force in being which is a sort of cross between the conventional Army and the Peace Corps. Would it not have been better if when we invaded Iraq in 2003 we had a fairly large body of people already organized who both had some familiarity with the traditional military and a more extensive background in the languages and cultures of the Middle East, as well as practical experience with post-disaster civilian relief and infrastructure recovery?

Quite possibly. On the other hand, there are reasons that such a force did not exist in 2003. The military will look disdainfully on any such project: from their perspective, you're talking about a force that does not excel at its core competencies. This is a force that can't really integrate with a military culture focused on killing and the deployment of overwhelming force. We have a group of people who respond to dangerous situations by unleashing overwhelming force: we call them Marines. We also have a group of people who (mostly) respond to dangerous situations by de-escalating conflicts and trying to avoid bloodshed when possible: we call them police officers. An organization staffed by people in the first group will not look kindly upon an organization of people from the latter group, especially when the groups are competing for missions and money.

In addition, the defense industry is not going to support this: such a force will not generate significant hardware revenue and will displace defense acquisitions that do generate revenue. With the defense industry and the military working hard to subvert it, I can't see how your force would ever get off the ground. If it ever did, it would be the first on the block for execution. After all, no serious person looks at Somalia or the Iraq War and says "Gee, our military really fscked up, I guess we should eliminate the military" but I promise you that at the first sign of trouble your force encountered, we'd be assaulted with op-eds screeching about the failure of the ThatLeftTurn combination force experiment and how we need to do the responsible thing and eliminate it right away. Because your force isn't associated with factories in every congressional district in the country, it won't have every Representative in the country howling in rage at the suggestion that its budget might be trimmed.

IIRC from some of the stores I’ve read (from Fred Kaplan at Slate for example) it seems like the traditional Army is being pushed by pressure of events into developing this sort of hybrid force anyway on a small scale as part of revisions to our COIN doctrines, but at the cost of overstretching its manpower, which means the results may not be as good as what we could achieve otherwise.

The Army and Marines have demonstrated astonishing progress in (re)learning COIN. But the military has never liked COIN and since Vietnam has resisted efforts at developing competency in COIN in order to ensure that it would not be tasked with COIN campaigns. Obviously, this did not work. Being a COIN expert has, until recently, not been good at all for one's career in the officer corps. Even now, some of the best COIN specialists are dropping out of the military after watching their careers stagnate; Nagl and McMaster are two examples that come to mind. David Ucko makes the case here that it is extremely unclear whether or not the US military as an institution will integrate the lessons of COIN.

While I'm sure that some units are having great success deploying COIN tactics in their area of operation, COIN is the sort of thing that can only work well when employed globally. Calling in an airstrike that kills civilians hurts COIN operations far removed from the air strike target.

Agreed. I’m looking to cut the problem down to size, not nourishing utopian hopes to make it go away altogether. Does my solution help or hurt?

I just don't know anymore. On the one hand, I think it would help somewhat. On the other hand, it might just make us reemphasize bombing campaigns by raising the political costs of ground force invasions while enhancing the electorate's underlying militarism through national service. In other words, we might get the militarism version of the "government and taxes are EVIL but don't you dare touch my home mortgage deduction" schizophrenia that's afflicted us for the past few decades.

The bigger issue is the opportunity costs: I think there is little political support for systematically reducing the electorate's liberties in this way. The military and defense industry will fight tooth and nail against it. Even if we could overcome the political hurdles, the capital expended doing so might be better used elsewhere.

One bad idea I've had is that the best way to deal with American militarism is establish an NGO that distributes packages containing a laptop, a satellite internet terminal, and digital cameras. Make the whole package dirt simple to use ala the One Laptop Per Child package and what what kind of pictures and videos show up on youtube. Occupation is ugly, and might not be sustainable in the face of constant exposure.

Agreed. No reason why these two approaches have to be exclusive.

Indeed.

I’m going to lurk for a while without much additional commentary because my comments on this thread have already been rather lengthy and I don’t like it when it seems like I’m trying to impose my views by sheer weight of verbiage.

Tis our loss then.

This is a great discussion: civility in disagreement, repeated exchanges refining and sharpening thought trains, a variety of angles of approach giving perspective on the subject matter.

Yeah, I sure hope ken is Ok.

Perhaps we need to put together a force in being which is a sort of cross between the conventional Army and the Peace Corps.

The closest thing I can think of is the PRT, which involves both the State Department and the military. I provided a link to the Iraq one, but there's one Afghanistan one too.

Why does a young man (or woman, nowadays) volunteer to join the military? Is it just another career choice, like joining the Post Office? Or is he motivated by something else?

Lots of reasons really: Patriotism, the benefits are pretty good, you learn a trade useful on the outside (sometimes), maybe your parents did and they expected you to live up to the expectation, get to travel abroad, provides discipline that is lacking in your civilian life, money for college. The myriad of reasons goes on and on, but once you are in, it becomes a moot point to those around you, because you are all part of the same organizational structure. Does that make sense? Hard to answer this question...

Why does a young man (or woman, nowadays) volunteer to join the military?

I think a better question is why do people stay in the military after they've been shot at. John Keegan, the military historian, wrote that the US Army conducted extensive research in WWII and concluded that people stayed because they bonded emotionally with the soldiers around them. That was it. Patriotism didn't play a significant role, and neither did honor or duty or family expectations.

"If this argument is correct, then our move towards a 17-18th cen. style long service professional army is actually undermining the foundations of democracy by breaking the relationship between participatory citizenship and the state."

I agree with all of your points, and share your concerns, but I'd prefer to think there are other solutions.

I don't, to be sure, have a three-point plan to offer at the moment.

A truly strong War Powers Act, and more importantly the political will in Congress to enforce it, or even a constitutional amendment along similar lines, might be a start, but perhaps the dynamics of mass politics will never allow that.

A more enlightened citizenry that more fully realizes the horror of mass violence and killing is what's called for, and you might be right that a fair draft, making people truly feel some of that pain being inflicted on members of their own families (though not their homes and own towns) is the only way.

Pfui to these hard moral choices: I say droid armies are the solution, and being sure to not care about killing The Other. Life is much simpler that way.

One small not-quite-a-nitpick: "It is immoral to selectively send a disproportionate share of our more economically vulnerable young people to fight and die so the rest of us can go shopping,"

I don't think the "more economically vulnerable" needs to be there. For one thing, if it's there, it means that if you remove that part (say, because most volunteers tend to be motivated by patriotism, or some other notion or reason), the objection is undercut.

And then we get to the fact that it's not the key point: if the people sent off are self-selected for any number of other reasons, good or bad, the problem of our political leaders still find it far more easy than they should, given the relative lack of popular political resistance due to the relative lack of pain felt by most citizens, to send our military off on wars that cause vast suffering and death to Others than our own citizens is still there.

And that's the key problem, isn't it?

"The upper echelon of the military wants war"

That's quite a generalization: do you have any cites to support it?

"Having said all this, I’m going to lurk for a while without much additional commentary because my comments on this thread have already been rather lengthy and I don’t like it when it seems like I’m trying to impose my views by sheer weight of verbiage"

I'll take your verbiage over forty times as much for most other contributors.

"Even now, some of the best COIN specialists are dropping out of the military after watching their careers stagnate; Nagl and McMaster are two examples that come to mind. David Ucko makes the case here that it is extremely unclear whether or not the US military as an institution will integrate the lessons of COIN."

I blogged this because I knew I'd have occasion to refer to it soon enough.

"Yeah, I sure hope ken is Ok."

I'm still pining for Jay Jerome.

Lots of reasons really: Patriotism, the benefits are pretty good, you learn a trade ...

LT, your list includes a litany of self-oriented reasons (the kind that figure in almost any career choice) plus 'patriotism'. Patriotism kinda sticks out, like an even number in a list of odd ones. So that's the one that interests me.

It interests me because I can't make up my mind whether to consider it unique to the military. In a sense, cops, firemen, even teachers and (gasp!) some politicians choose their careers partly out of a desire to serve their countrymen. Are they patriots too, or is that defining 'patriotism' too broadly?

What I'm asking, I suppose, is whether the kind of patriotism involved in joining the military is qualitatively different from other kinds -- in the minds of military volunteers, I mean.

-- TP

The upper echelon of the military wants war

That's quite a generalization: do you have any cites to support it?

Ummm...I'm not really interested in defending tiny fragments of my writing that have been ripped out of context. What I originally wrote was (please read it carefully):

The upper echelon of the military wants war because if you're not seen in the public eye "defending the nation", people start asking annoying questions like "do you really need all that money?"; the fastest way to kill talk of a peace dividend is to get yourself a war. There are plenty of other reasons too: going to war is a great way to win bureaucratic turf wars by proving your pet theories and thereby seizing a bigger chunk of the budgetary pie. It is a great way to advance your career.

There is a difference IMHO between stating that X wants Y and stating that X has extremely strong incentives to get Y. I think in context it is clear that my comment was claiming the latter and not the former.

I blogged this because I knew I'd have occasion to refer to it soon enough.

That is indeed good news, but it remains to be seen whether the promotions signify major institutional change. Promoting a few Generals is easy; changing budget allocations is much harder.

"I think in context it is clear that my comment was claiming the latter and not the former."

Might have been better to, in context, actually claim the latter, and not the former, then, but fine: so what you're saying is that you take back "The upper echelon of the military wants war"? Okay.

Might have been better to, in context, actually claim the latter, and not the former

Maybe. No one else seemed to be confused, and I'm a little shocked that an editor of your gifts would fail to understand such common and effective usage. People write things that are unsupportable when deliberately misread and stripped of context all the time; this does not seem to be a problem that can be avoided.

so what you're saying is that you take back "The upper echelon of the military wants war"?

Gary, I stand by the statement that I wrote. I do not stand by a butchered version where you eliminate all context so as to give a false impression of what I wrote.

Since I don't think you're arguing in good faith on this point, I'm not terribly interested in continuing the discussion with you.

Having said all this, I’m going to lurk for a while without much additional commentary

First of all, thank you everyone for the kind words and encouragement.

Second, a clarification since many of you seem to be misinterpreting my statement as some sort of vow of monastic silence (oops! so much for all that).

Not so - the key words were "for a while" (i.e. hours, perhaps a day or two depending on my personal time budget which is pretty thin on disposable time right now), and "much additional", as in I will probably be able to follow up with a few quick comments, but not at the length which the replies you've all made really deserve.

That was the real intent - I was apologizing in advance for not being able to reciprocate in a manner which the quality of your replies really deserve.

My other point about weight of verbiage was that I've seen a common pattern in blog discussions where one person posts a lengthy extended comment which attracts multiple critiques, the orginal author then replies to each of them in turn, which generates more replies, etc., but the thread as a whole tends to settle into a hub-and-spoke pattern with the original author sitting at the hub and endlessly engaged with filling logical or evidentiary holes in their original argument, and other commentators engaged in the task of finding new holes to poke in it.

I don't like to do this, and especially not on a topic where IMHO problems are much easier to identify than solutions - I'd rather have just the sort of many-to-many conversation which is occurring here (and which this particular blog seems especially good at) in which multiple viewpoints are mutually engaged, and thread drift carries the discussion in different directions.

That is why I wanted to stand on the sidelines for a little bit and let the conversation wander under its own momentum for a while.

So please do carry on. The more the rest of you talk, the more I'll be tossing in my $0.02 as well, as time permits.

I'd rather have just the sort of many-to-many conversation which is occurring here

Minor clarification: I'd rather have all that except the part where two of my favorite commentators get all pissy with each other because of misreadings of each other's comments and mistaken assumptions about bad faith arguments and other forgiveable human frailties.

That kinda sucks.

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