Postmodern classic?

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Who has the 'mandate of heaven'? The newly victorious Democrats will tell you that the 'People have spoken', and so they have. Such is the operation of democracy, and such is the dilemma of our present situation.

I'm not exuberant over this change, but I recognize that it has some opportunities to rectify some of the excesses that the Republicans were blindly wallowing in, to their electoral regret. Among those is an over reliance on the 'Religious Right', which while important, should never have been considered decisive. Nothing like a 'thumping' to straighten these things out.

Rumsfeld is out, a relative unknown Gates is coming in. I'm not excited- I liked the change Rumsfeld wrought, although I believe it was the right thing and the right time for him to leave with dignity. I was a Rumsfeld supporter because I felt that his change was overall positive, breaking up the bureaucratic paralysis that seems to characterize the Pentagon's overall activity. While he was brusque and caustic, those who couldn't stand up to that frankly don't deserve their positions, much less my sympathy from their whining. They, the General officers and high-ranked civilian officials of the 'Five Rings', are supposed to control the Armed Forces of the United States for Christ's sake! Now that Rummy's gone, the same problems will continue, so good luck to Gates! Two milbloggers I like are pretty skeptical of the new guy's approach, but if he can reduce friction within the intelligence services and other bureaucracies like the Department of State, that would be a positive development.

While I don't like the message some overseas will get from this election (especially the EUNuchs who are currently rejoicing), such is the burden of democracy. Ignore the populace at your peril. I'm personally amused at the shift in coverage on Iraq we can expect in the months to come, now that a different party has to gain more responsibility for the outcome abroad. So let's see how people posture in the wake of this electoral shift!

Friday, November 03, 2006

More pre-election hysteria

Donald Sensing and some of the other military bloggers are making a lot out of Ralph Peters recent 'transformation' into defeatism. Mr. Peters is a highly regarded former Army Intelligence Officer whose work as a pundit and writer has been quite prominent for nearly the past decade. I reviewed his book not quite a year ago, which I thought was well done. Evidently, in the weeks prior to the election, he's having a change of heart. It's not a novel thing, either. Another guy I like, New Sisyphus- a former Foreign Service Officer, has written about other people 'discovering the obvious failure of our war policy in Iraq'. He also mentions some other conservative notables with similar disillusionments.

WTF is going on here? I should note before I start, another friend of mine who got back from Iraq warned me I should seriously take a year before I say anything about the war and be able to relate it to people back here. But what I see is the 'popular' perception of Iraq as this distorted picture pushed about how horrible and dangerous it is... taken totally out of context. This Moqtada al Sadr thing- can no one else see how he's making his own coffin? Yeah, more people might die- but his organization is falling apart! Why did we have cordons around Sadr city? To protect the Sunni's, more or less. Now, who's against the Sunni's, or more importantly, who's there to protect them? Umm, the US?

I don't like the cynical 'conspiracy theory' aspect of some that you can't trust anything in the media. In some cases it is- but I also look at how an organization like Fox News can level the playing field by addressing an unmet need (the other half of the country!) and how those 'most partisan' sources like the NYT are having major circulation problems, while those that try to moderate (I think the Washington Post fits this best) seem to hold their ground- last week there was a good article on this based on recently released circulation figures but I can't be bothered to produce. So, IMHO, the market corrects itself- not saying that it eliminates partisanship but the competition minimizes it. But in between there can be 'irregularities' that are reflected in portrayal of the issues of the day.

But to finish my thought on Iraq- yes, if I believed that the media portrayal of our situation in the Middle East was accurate, I would be worried much more than I am. There's plenty to criticize, just keep a good hold on to your head and ego before you do.

But where do I and the rest of America, looking to the future, go from there, when contemplating the possibility that these elections which are highlighting this and other potential shifts of policy? You can't say 'Trust in Me and the Bush administration'. No, but this buildup to the election next Tuesday is causing many to rethink things, even if they won't change too much following it. Hysterical nonsense. If we could just bring the hysteric pitch down a little (just a little!), have some patience, things might just happen. Because it seems to me that manageable foreign affairs and good policy don't work too well on a short term attention span.

I am reminded of a quote I found in the third book (halfway down the page) of Thucydides, chronicler of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. Cleon, son of Cleaenetus, a popular, if violent, Athenian demagogue, in a discussion over punishing a recent rebellion of their subjects the Mytilenians, remarks that 'Democracy is incapable of Empire' due to their dramatic shifts in opinion and resulting contradictory policies. Because creative Athens, though bold and resilient, ultimately lost to the steadiness of Spartan resolve. History doesn't repeat itself, but we are wise to see how the Ancients stumbled and fell in an attempt to avoid our own calamities and minimize our own shortfalls. Draw your own conclusions.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Start of November

A friend of mine sent this, thought it was hilarious- military humor at it's best. Did Kerry probably mean something else? Yes. But given his past performance, I'm not going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Coming up on the midterm elections, what's going to happen? Having no crystal ball nor faith in polling, my personal opinion is that I don't see a Democratic upset occurring. While there is discontent, I don't see the kind of uproar that would lead to believe strongly in the popular hype of certain people's expectations. My $.02 is at worst, Republicans lose the House. From where I'm sitting that's possible, but not likely. Can't wait for all the posturing to be over and back to business...

Watching the Lehrer News report, and Fred Kagan came on. I'm quite a fan of the Kagans- their father Donald Kagan wrote what I think is just about the best book of the 20th century 'On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace'. Robert Kagan wrote 'Of Paradise and Power' which I greatly appreciated, so I just got his new one 'Dangerous Nation'. Frederick Kagan has written some good articles in the Neocon journal 'American Enterprise Institute', which I love (since I'm apparently a neocon if I believe that armed forces should be used to defend our nation abroad, ah well). He has a new book out about military transformation called 'Finding The Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy'. However, based on his performance on TV, I won't be buying it. Just another armchair general talking about how we need more troops in Baghdad, talking about how the military screwed it up.... I laugh.

Of course, in my own vanity I know the secret to winning the war on terror and if they'd listen to me everything would be good and people who disagree with me are idiots, bla bla bla. As much as I'm loathe to admit it, that's just not the case. I have substantial disagreements with individuals such as General Casey and how they're working in the context of the Bush policy in Iraq, of which I have additional 'differences of opinion'. But I respect the fact that most of these guys are making difficult decisions in a context of more updated information and political pressure from the locals and our allies that we can only guess at now but might be able to get a better idea of in the years to come. This is commonly known as the 'Fog of War', and should be respected- for it is only hindsight that is 20/20. Let there be no doubt- people should and will be held accountable for their mistakes, as well as their accomplishments. I am reminded of Teddy Roosevelts 'Man in the Arena'-

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how
the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

"Citizenship in a Republic,"
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

Having said that, I'm not going to waste more time on his policy prescriptions for Iraq. In case you were wondering about mine, let's just say they would require us relooking the Geneva Convention and then doing some majoring sovereignty trampling. Respect is earned, not preserved in meaningless treaties that are conveniently ignored at our peril. Speak softly and carry a big stick, another bit of advice from good 'ol Teddy Roosevelt. I'm sure there are some good objections to the direction my initiative would take, and if I was in that position I would appreciate an honest and constructive criticism of that, hoping that at the end we could hash out a good compromise towards the same objective.

Anyhow, life goes on. I'm certainly staying busy, whether or not I head off for a short tour or I stick around town a little longer. Wonder what kind of curveballs life will throw in the upcoming weeks and months...