B After The Fact

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Two things about what Mr. Murtha said last week that I don't think are getting a lot of play:

First: There seems to be a wide-spread assumption that Mr. Murtha is acting as a front-man for more liberal Democrats who lack Mr. Murtha's credentials. But I don't know why Mr. Murtha would do that. I think Mr. Murtha is actually fronting for people in the Pentagon.

Bush and Rumsfeld keep saying that troop levels, etc., are determined by the reports they get from generals. But my sense is that the people in the Pentagon do not think that the Administration can handle what the Pentagon wants to tell them. I think they are talking to Mr. Murtha instead.

I think this exchange between Mr. Russert and Mr. Murtha from Meet The Press on Sunday is instructive:

"MR. RUSSERT: Congressman, have you heard privately from people at the Pentagon who are supportive and encouraging of you?

"REP. MURTHA: Oh, absolutely. I mean, there's nobody that talks to the people in the Pentagon more than I do. And they publicly--they have to say what the administra--and that's the way it should be. Soldiers in the field--I'll tell you how bad it's gotten in the field. I talk to sergeants who said to me "We're afraid to say anything because we'll stand to be recriminated by our superiors." I know we had a young captain come to see me that was complaining because the Geneva Convention was not being followed. And that's another point."

Second: Mr. Murtha has been very careful about making the distinction between withdrawal from the war zone, which he is clearly calling for, and bringing the soldiers home, which he doesn't seem to be saying at all. I don't know where he wants the troops re-deployed, and I don't think Mr. Murtha knows himself.

If you listen to what Mr. Murtha is actually saying, rather than focus on the political context in which he is saying it, you wind up concluding that the Pentagon feels the Administration is running the war effort into a ditch.

While the Pentagon, from McNamara to Cheney to Rumsfeld is not the source of All Knowledge, and while the partisan sniping will never cease, down in the trenches, the Administration needs to address the underlying complaint, and deal with it properly.


My own view is that the Administration has made a certain amount of progress -- Saddam is gone, they are drafting laws, they are having elections.. After all, we've been in Iraq for only three years.

I say "only three years" because the aims of the War will take forever to accomplish. When I say forever, I mean beyond the natural lifetime of any adult discussing the War.

What are the aims of the War? The aims of the War that I am willing to support, are, at a minimum

(i) leaving Iraq in a better situation than the one it was in under Saddam Hussein;

(ii)leaving Iraq in a situation where it can protect itself militarily against Iran and perhaps Turkey; and

(iii) leaving a process in place where there is a chance for internal opposition to be handled either politically or religiously -- and not through tyranny from the top or terror from the bottom. This may mean democracy, but it may not. It should mean a reduced threat of terrorism.

Are these the Administration's War Aims? Who knows. While supporters of the War talk about one war, the Administration is talking about another war. The War that is actually being fought, of course, is something else again.

On Monday, Dick Cheney hauled out a version of an old chestnut, the "domino theory" to support his war aims. Fighting Dick Cheney's War will take longer than forever.

Whatever war aims the United States has in the Middle East, they will always take forever to accomplish. That was more predictable in the winter leading up to the War than finding that Saddam had no WMDs.

How did I always know war aims will take forever to accomplish? How did the current Administration know? I'll just name one reason that does not take a lot of explanation or intellectual firepower -- I've seen "Lawrence of Arabia." Didn't anyone in the Administration see "Lawrence of Arabia"?

The Administration has done virtually nothing, in word or deed, to prepare the public for any sort of long, existential struggle in the Middle East. And long, existential struggles are the only struggles you have in the Middle East.

In my opinion, over the next year, it will be those sorts of "soft misrepresentations" about the nature of war in the Middle East, and the war aims of the Administration, rather than any sort of "hard misrepresentations" that may or may not have been made about WMDs, that will come back to haunt us, no matter how you currently feel about the situation in Iraq.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The War Goes On Forever -- A Response to The Weekly Standard

Dear Mr. Kristol:

Like Representative Murtha, I am a Democrat and a supporter of the War. Unlike Mr. Murtha, I have no military background. I am just another lawyer.

Although I am a supporter of the War, I have to take great issue with the following sentence in your recent posting:

"Victory is in fact possible, though it will require a longer war than anyone would like, but not so long a war as to be intolerable."

It seems to me that the United States cannot leave Iraq until (i) Iraq is a functioning "free" state, however loosely that gets defined and (ii) Iraq can stand on its own militarily, which means, at least, that Iraq can stand on its own against Iran.

Those conditions were forseeable when the overthrow of Saddam was just a gleam in the eye of your magazine. It was also reasonably foreseeable, even then, that meeting those conditions would take forever. How long is forever? Forever is longer than the lifetime of anyone currently talking about the war in Iraq.

Is forever intolerable? Probably not to you and me, but it is most definitely intolerable to most of the citizens of the United States.

It is the obligation of people who support the war, and take the war seriously, to clearly explain -- every single day -- what is meant by the aims of the war, and why, given the enormous amount of work that needs to be done, the war effort has had a measure of success.

The war will take forever, and if we are not willing to stay forever, then there is a strong argument to be made that we might as well leave this afternoon. This is a situation where half measures will avail us less than nothing, and the longer we apply half-measures, the larger the hole we dig for ourselves.

P.S. -- Contrary to the behavior of the Republicans on the floor of the House today, and contrary to some of the implications of your article, do you really believe that someone like John Murtha would call for troop withdrawals without the blessing of at least some critical mass of the Generals?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The War Goes On Forever

Sorry I haven't blogged recently, but I think I have said everything I need to say for a while.

For example, in September, I wrote an impossibly long rant called "Damn Right I've Got The Blues"

Buried in all that I said (in relevant part) (Really accurate predictions in bold) (Current Comments in italics):

It was never about WMDs to me, and I have written about it in "The Man Who Would Be King" (I will excerpt from that post -- my Election Day 2004 post -- next time), but those of us who feel that way dropped the ball.


The notion that we should have seen all along that Bush would expletive everything he touches doesn't change my support for the war. You can't wait 8-12 years for the Republicans to get kicked out, and probably even longer for a War Democrat, to fight a war, which, contrary to public opinion, we did not start.

Democrats are going to have to live with the scenario -- not talked about, and obscure then -- not talked about, but obvious now -- that we should have taken greater action after the first WTC bombing in 1993, we should have retaliated when they bombed the Khobar Towers, we should have bombed anything when they bombed the U.S.S. Cole during the Presidential election campaign. If we had, then Al Gore would have been President, and they probably would have never bombed our building in the first place.

To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld (yeesh), you go to war with the President you have. But you still have to go to war.

And when Boy George pulls out of Iraq next summer, because the Republicans don't want a draft, and don't want to face the voters in 2006 for an election campaign, it will be too soon.

Or when Boy George pulls out of Iraq in 2008, because Cheney has taken all the money out of Iraq he can, and his Vice-Presidential immunity from prosecution is expiring, and they don't want Jeb saddled with Iraq in the Presidential election campaign, it will be too soon.

(T)he earliest possible date we can leave ... is not when Iraq is a democracy, but the much longer time when Iraq is in a position to defend itself against Iran (whether or not Iran throws off the mullahs).


Tragically, Bush 43 thought and behaves as if he still thinks, just like Michael Moore, that this was a war of choice.

(Otherwise, why would he be vacationing in Korea in the middle of a war)

That's why Bush thought -- Bush still thinks -- he could fight this war on the cheap, with one hand tied behind America's back -- putting domestic political considerations and profiteering first. Putting short term victories in front of both the military war aims and the more important cultural/ moral war aims (like the information you gleaned from the terrorists at Abu Gharib and Gitmo is not worth the hit we take to our self esteem. Like what if the terrorists bomb New Orleans?)

We are still fighting with one hand behind our back.

Since we are planning to leave in the forseeable future (don't listen to the politicians, look at the generals), we must be ok with losing.

It seems to me that if Mr. Murtha is carrying water for anyone this week, it is not for liberal Democrats. Why should Mr. Murtha care about liberal Democrats? He is carrying water for the Generals. It is telling that when the Representative from Ohio went after Murtha on the floor of the House today, she said she had spoken to a Marine colonel. Perhaps the Colonel ought to speak to his own General before he shoots off his mouth. Maybe the Representative ought to speak to a General, too.

Maybe we should have known that the Republicans (c.f. -- Bob "there are only Democrat Wars" Dole) would lack the fortitude to see the war through. But even then, you had to go in, and hope that the Republicans would find the courage somewhere along the line to stay the course, and expand the war to where it ought to be fought and won -- both on the battlefield of the Middle East, and in the creation of the more perfect union here in the United States. It is still possible they will stay the course. Can't hedge a bet on this one. You've already put down the "all-in."

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Unrepentant After The Fact

A couple of days ago, I had posted a short response at The Unrepentant Individual complaining about "business is good; government is bad" thinking. Brad graciously responded, and I have spent the last two after-midnight hours responding in his comments section. I said quite a bit. Hope my spelling held out.

My major points (i) that business can be, and often is, as corrupt as government, (ii) it is government regulation of business, and not the inherent nature of business, that sometimes makes business look better than it is and (iii) government is forced into taking on inefficient, money-losing projects for reasons that business does not need to be concerned about (for example, to prevent the insurrection of its citizens), and that role tends to make government look worse than it is.

With apologies to the Unrepentant Individual, I feel equally unrepentant in the belief that the individiual in society, in any society, faces odds that are too long to cover without some huge power providing the back up. Admitedly, every huge power demands its due.

My basic view on the subject Here and Here remains the same.

The bottom line (well, the bottom paragraphs:)(I know -- I've said it before, and without characterizing whether, or if, the Unrepentant Individual -- or libertarianism in general -- represents any of the Horsemen I mention below)

"People say that the government should not do it, that people can do it themselves, and better.

"As a Democrat, I would prefer to put it like this (although I agree that this may not be the official Democratic position):

"If the government does not do it, individuals (Republicans) will be left alone --- and they will starve to death. What will keep individuals from starving will not be their own efforts, because they lack the resources to do it themselves. Communal efforts of their fellow citizens won't do it, because their fellow citizens are hungry as well. What keeps everyone from starving is the largesse of some other large actor, either the church or the landlord (the corporation in modern parlance). Given these four bad Horsemen --- church, state, corporation, starving to death --- I agree that Democrats do tend to cast their lot with the state. Excessive state will kill you. History is full of examples. However, excessive church also kills, excessive greed by landlords and corporations also kills, and starvation ...

"So when people talk about limiting the government to its smallest possible level, I get the sense that they are not trying to make me more free, but are trying to switch the power to the church, the moneyed interests, or they're simply trying to starve me to death."

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A Supreme Court Nominee Ought To Be Filibuster-Proof

52 Senators represent 18% of the population.

The filibuster is fundamental in our Constitutional system.

Each Senator has the same vote, they don't represent the same number of people. Filibusters, and other super-majority tactics, are fair because they prevent a minority representing 18% of the people from rolling a majority representing 82% of the people.

This comes up most obviously in things like giving each State a base-line percentage of Homeland Security money even though New York needs a lot of money and it is unclear whether Nebraska needs the base-line percentage it gets.

But it also makes sense when you are giving a Supreme Court justice a lifetime to change rulings that favor city-folk and maybe not the people who live in sparsely populated areas.

A Supreme Court nominee -- voted to a life-time powerful position --- with the Advise and Consent of the Senate -- ought to be filibuster proof -- notwithstanding the machinations of the Gang of 14.

For the representatives of 18% of the people to decide something as important as the next Supreme Court -- doesn't sound like a democracy to me.

[Some methodology
According to the April 2000 census , the population of the United States (not including Washington D.C.) 280,849,847

Total Population of 24 most heavily populated states (California to Colorado)230,938,671

Total Population of 26 least heavily populated states (Kentucky to Wyoming)

That is 82% to 18%