Archive for the ‘strategy’ Category

One of the worst aspects of conservative “activism” is (a) the dominance of beltway pundits and their utter disconnect from the “tea party” crowd, and in particular the beltway’s contempt for the latter’s untutored and more tribal and culture-focused conservatism and (b) the right’s divisions and internal enmity, which prevents practical coalition building against a common enemy:  liberalism, its welfare state, and its numerous toxic cultural organs.

Conservatism is a simple and widely held view, which need not be philosophical, strictly speaking.  It takes nothing more than a recognition that life used to be more orderly and civilized, where such awareness comes from living memory and things easily discovered in books and conversation, coupled with contempt and hostility to those who seek more, similar changes.

Our forbears who opposed Soviet Communism had a similar problem, which is at once encouraging and sobering, when we take account of the longevity of the Soviet regime.  Consider this passage from the Age of Delirium, which chronicled the later years of the Soviet Union:

[T]here was moral political unity in the Soviet Union but not behind Marxism-Leninism.  The unity existed behind the desire to live according to an idea and to force all others to do likewise.  It was the drive towards unanimity that explained some of the negative characteristics of the dissident milieu, which was permeated with rumor-mongering and intrigues and divided by intolerance and sectarianism. . . .

The ideological atmosphere of Soviet society was reflected in relations between people who concerned themselves in any way with politics.  Among such people–and this category included the majority of the unofficial intelligentsia–friendship almost always had connotations of comradeship and its demands for uncritical idealization.  The intensity fo these friendships was evident among dissents who formed an extended family on political grounds, virtually living at each other’s houses, exhibiting photographs of each other, and interesting themselves deeply in each other’s personal affairs.  It went without saying that this type of friendship became insupportable if there was the slightest change in the political outlook of the parties.  Under those circumstances, a disagreement between friends was understood as a betrayal, and the closest friendship could turn into the most unforgiving enmity, with people suddenly waking up to and expatiating at length about the repulsive and despicable personality traits they had overlooked for years when the object of such an attacks was a close and valued friend.

What can we learn from this?  First, we should not indulge in foolish and petty infighting, particularly with those such as libertarians who have no constituency, natural or otherwise.  Yes, we should disassociate from those who would raise a false flag, such as neoconservatives, who have to some extent undermined real conservatism from within and diverted it to unnatural ends like endless Mideast Wars or conflict with Russia or open borders.  But we should spend more of our time and energy where the utterly disreputable politics of the far left is ascendent and also unpopular, such as immigration and health care.

Let’s learn from the relative success of our ideological adversaries at home.  How did they proceed?  Most notably, the Left advanced for many years on many fronts, slowly chipping away at the status quo with the lever of common American principles, such as equality and due process.  But they always have upped the ante upon success.  Consider the dramatic change in sexual mores and the rules regarding the same.  First, they argued for a constitutional right for birth control for the married.  Then the unmarried.  Then abortion.  And now we are seriously debating gay “marriage.”  This is a slow motion cultural revolution.

Under the successful leftist campaign, the newspapers, media, universities, political fundraising, and public schools all have been put to work to discredit our past, expose (and distort) its alleged flaws, replace our former authorities, destroy our economic independence, take away our guns, distract us with sensation and materialism and a lack of tribal unity, and generally move step by step towards their goals. (By contrast, the right has won back the right to bear arms through a similar strategy in reverse, focusing activism and money state-by-state.)

In other words, the left’s biggest triumphs have not been through symbolic violence by extremists far in front of the cultural mainstream–like the work of the Wobblies or Haymarket Square bombers–but rather the drumbeat of Gloria Steinem, Boasian anthropology, Freudian psychology, Keynesian economics, the haggiography of MLK, and the leaderless ideology of diversity and multiculturalism.  And the culmination:  a culture defined by the values of Hollywood, the crony capitalism of Wall Street, and the Manchurian presidency of Barack Hussein Obama.

Something like this in reverse is the answer, and, like the Left’s successes, will depend on some luck, circumstances, public relations and intellectual efforts nationally, and a certain degree of organizing locally.  The stated goals of the left must be exposed, as must their bad faith.  While there are many obstacles, there is much to work with for conservatives seeking national renewal, not least the dissatisfaction with Obama’s fiscal profligacy, his (and the neoconservatives’) open borders extremism, the Democrats’ excessive concern for America’s black minority, their contempt for our economic independence and historical freedoms, their lack of patriotism and their lack of hatred for our enemies, their hostility to Christians and rural Americans, their dominance  by unrepresentative and hostile minority factions, and much else. In other words, we need to hack away at the Left on those fronts where there is a majority, or at least strong plurality of support, rather than indulging in silly fantasies of revolutionary violence, the creation of a new pagan or quasi-scientific right wing that is anti-Christian (i.e., against 80% of the country), or the Rockefeller Republican strategy of compromise with our enemies, who will only respond by asking for more next time around.

That all said, arguing with crazies or getting caught up in distractions like the cult of Charles Johnson (the erstwhile militant neocon at LGF) or crackpots on the neo-nazi movement is a big waste of time.  Let’s instead speak to normal people on those areas where we agree and cooperate today, even if we must part ways and have smaller, more manageable disagreements about finer points of policy and strategy, tomorrow.

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You can usually tell things are going well in Iraq when the media is silent; they have been for weeks, focusing their attention instead on the economy. As always, their silence on important matters is a few steps behind the eight ball. They said little of al Qaeda’s growing reign of terror when Bill Clinton was in charge, nor much criticism of his assertion of Iraqi WMDs during his periodic bombing campaigns, and on the economy, they had little to say when the seeds of that disaster were being planted in the name of expanding home ownership. Nonetheless, here we are.

This small window of tactical success should permit us to make up for the strategic failure that is Iraq, a failure premised on the twin pillars of “democratic nation building” as a means of reducing al Qaeda’s appeal and disarming terrorist-supporting states of WMDs, even when those WMDs are nonexistent.  Yesterday’s mistakes should not be continued simply out of fear of embarrassment, particularly if they can be undone in a way that does not have substantial collateral damage to other strategic interests. Further, developments in Pakistan, Russia, and elsewhere demand a more substantial strategic reserve than the last five years in Iraq have permitted.

The always curmudgeonly Bill Lind makes the point as follows:

The only source for additional troops for Afghanistan is Iraq. The September 2008 issue of Army magazine quotes Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen as saying, “I don’t have troops I can reach for, brigades I can reach, to send into Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq.”

Without railways running on interior lines, we cannot move three brigades from Iraq to Afghanistan this week, then move them back to Iraq again a few weeks later if the situation there demands them. That means any shift of forces requires long-term stability in Iraq.  Neocon voices in Washington are now claiming “victory” in Iraq, which, if it were true, would release American forces stationed there for redeployment. This appears to be what Secretary Gates is counting on when he says we should be able to meet commanders’ request for 10,000 more troops in Afghanistan next spring or summer.

But I fear this represents a falsely optimistic reading of the situation in Iraq. In my view, the current relative quiet in Iraq is merely a pause as the parties there regroup and reorient for the next phase of the war. Unless we have the good sense to get out of Iraq now, while the going is good, we will be stuck there when that next phase starts. We will not then be in a position to shift forces from Iraq to Afghanistan, because without interior lines, any such shift much be long-term.

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Andrew Bacevich–West Pointer,  conservative, father of KIA 1st Lt. Bacevich–criticizes the war in a way that should be persuasive to conservatives, including conservatives like me who initially supported the war for punitive reasons. Namely, it’s now clearly a waste of resources and a strategic error to continue on this course. It’s important not to continue this path, even though leaving Iraq would violate a normally good means to discover good policy: staying would enrage liberals.

Just because many anti-American liberals oppose something, doesn’t make it right. This war, like others, might be wrong for reasons pacifists and unpatriotic globalists don’t appreciate. As Bacevich observes, the war is a strategic failure and will continue to murmur along without any real progress indefinitely:

The costs to the United States of sustaining this dependency are difficult to calculate with precision, but figures such as $3 billion per week and 30 to 40 American lives per month provide a good approximation.

What can we expect to gain in return for this investment? The Bush administration was counting on the Iraq War to demonstrate the viability of its Freedom Agenda and to affirm the efficacy of the Bush Doctrine of preventive war.

Measured in those terms, the war has long since failed. Rather than showcasing our ability to transform the Greater Middle East, Operation Iraqi Freedom has demonstrated just the opposite. Using military power as an instrument for imprinting liberal values in this part of the world has produced a failed state while fostering widespread antipathy toward the United States.

Rather than demonstrating our ability to eliminate emerging threats swiftly, decisively, and economically—Saddam Hussein’s removal providing an object lesson to other tyrants tempted to contest our presence in the Middle East—the Iraq War has revealed the limits of U.S. power and called into question American competence. The Bush Doctrine hasn’t worked. Saddam is long gone, but we’re stuck. Rather than delivering decisive victory, preventive war has landed us in a quagmire.

I would add that the absolute worst reason to stay in this war is for some emotional notion of national honor and commitment to the troops, impulses that undergird the very unstrategic thinking John McCain and numerous buck sergeants. We don’t go to war to do the conquered a favor. We don’t stay to avenge deaths like some armed camp of Zulus. A nation goes sends its army to war to accomplish foreign policy goals. This same nation can and should withdraw these troops when it’s in our interests to do so, when those goals are out of reach, no longer important, or too costly. It’s not like Iraq is sacred American soil; this is a foreign land, half way around the world, in a very bad neighborhood, populated mostly by uncivilized people whom we do not understand and who do not understand or appreciate our soldiers’ sacrifices.

Sure, we can pig-headedly spend $20 or $30 trillion over another decade, but even if everything turns out for the best, it will be a strategic benefit worth some fraction of that. And then what? We’ll still have al Qaeda to worry about. We’ll still have North Korea. Our borders will be too porous. Our ranks of third world immigrants will remain too numerous. The Middle East will still have large numbers of pissed off young men who are given sanction to vent their anger by their religion.  The deterrent value of staying or leaving is a wash. Iran knows we won’t easily commit to a similar adventure on its territory. Russia and China will still be ascendant in their spheres of influence. Oil will still be scarce and in the hands of unstable autocrats and their resentful subjects.

Vast swaths of people all around the world will not appreciate Iraq as a model, it ends up as stable as Pakistan or Indonesia when all is said and done. Instead of seeing idealistic U.S. sacrifices for democracy, most Arabs and Muslims will perceive a marginally successful bid for power and domination of Iraq’s oil wealth. Most of the worlds peoples will continue to be more passionate about religion, nationalism, ideology, wealth, prosperity, and tribalism than democracy and the rule of law. Not only that, they’ll treat these tangible goods as more desirable than democracy–whether originating from bloody revolutions at home, or imposed from without by an idealistic and ideological United States.

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I’m sure glad that I didn’t recently write anything in praise of the surge, or the calm in Iraq, or the great progress we’ve made. I was even tempted at times to temper my earlier, very negative opinions of a year ago. My original suspicions are confirmed: violence is always just around the corner.  Iraq is still an unstable country of selfish tribes. There is no unifying principle, leader, or interest among its many peoples.

It’s not surprising that as soon as the Sunnis and Shias stop killing one another–in part because they’ve ethnically cleansed one another from mixed areas–that the various Shia factions start fighting over power and oil revenues. There is no hope for a stable Iraq without a strong leader or a winning tribe in charge of the others. There seems little prospect of either. If Basra’s Shias under Sadr come under control, some other faction will pop up. It’s a hopeless mess, and the patina of democracy and legality masks the enduring reality: the “insurgents” are Iraqi cops, Iraqi soldiers, Iraqi government officials, and others with ties to the pro forma institutions of government. There is no Iraq. Only tribes that ignore, employ, or attack Americans as it is to their perceived advantage. This goes for the Sunni Awakening folks, the Shias in the government, and the Kurds in the North.

McCain suggests national honor is at stake in whether America leaves Iraq. This charge is a reason for pause. But it’s not persuasive. It’s just a habitual response. I imagine that someone like McCain could never tell us when a war is worth quitting:  his soft-hearted and romantic notions of “doing right by the fallen” will be a disaster in a civilian commander in chief. Our honor is intact. It was there the day we handed over sovereignty, toppled the Saddam statue, captured Saddam, graduated the first class of Iraqi soldiers, painted the first school, etc. We tried. The folks who have worked with us have been paid handsomely. We tried too much, in fact, and gave the Iraqis too much credit. These people do not deserve American efforts, American lives, American blood, or American prestige, truly valuable and irreplaceable resources wasted every day in Iraq on some of the worst savages on Earth.

The war is a waste of time and resources. Now we know–as we should have known five years ago–Iraq has no nuclear weapons or nuclear prospects. Now we know–as we should have known three years ago–that no Iraqi democratic model is emerging to inspire its neighbors. Now we know–as we could easily see only one year ago–that the Surge has done very little to alter the permanent, political realities of Iraq; the country is still a chaotic, tribal dump, little better than Somalia. Now we know–as we could see in the 2004 Fallujah battle–that our very presence there increases the appeal and reach and recruiting efforts of al Qaeda, equally as much or more than it does anything to fight them on a strategic level.

The only reason the US should have gone to Iraq was to stop Saddam from getting nuclear weapons, scare would-be threats to the United States, and keep Iran and Iraq’s other neighbors from seeking the power that comes with Iraqi oil. We can do this more effectively today from aircraft carriers and troop ships in the Persian Gulf. It’s time to go, and this silly flare up of intra-Shia tensions is as good of a reason as any to tell the Iraqis that we’ve had enough of their moronic squabbling.

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