Thursday, October 06, 2005

An Appeal to History!!

Mostly missing from the debate on the war is an informed sense of historical or political theory, a real sense of history. The language of such discourse has truly declined in America,part of a broader educational trend. This is not really news. It has however effected the way we discuss this war. While more and more Americans receive college degrees, their educational value has changed. Once upon a time in America a bachelors degree indicated a breadth of knowledge, and an analytical mindset. Today college education generally indicates a more specialized and technical knowledge. This is not necessarily all bad, but it does have some unfortunate consequences.

What brings this to mind is a running debate I’ve had, via comments on the blog on a liberal military focused website. The individual with whom I’ve been corresponding styles himself “Santayana” as in the historian. George Santayana most famous for predicting those who fail to understand history are condemned to repeat it. This Santayana has seemingly read a fair bit of history, and feels the US is now in the process of repeating past mistakes.

As another adage goes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. My sense is that this Santayana is an autodidact, self taught, and has read whatever history he finds interesting. He has been particularly focused on the US actions in Iran in the 1950s supporting the Pahlevi dynasty over a tenuous democracy. He uses this as a launching point for a condemnation of US foreign policy since then as morally bankrupt, irresponsible and self destructive. He plants the seeds of our current problems in Iraq and the Gulf on the events of the fifties.

While this is in some ways a cogent and accurate analysis, it is ultimately a facile one. Our Santayana willfully ignores the role that balance of power politics, great power politics play, in the decision making of national leaders, including ours. While an American president, in any era may have a range of options, these options are constrained. Other powers will react to any move with their own countermoves.
Lots and lots of Americans, like Santayana, have read historical narratives. This is not the same as reading history.

The real Santayana would never have simply looked at a single narrative thread of events and analyzed them without context. Critical thinking about History has devolved to criticizing Western Civilization. History has now become the story of dead white male oppressors, devoid of context that would enhance understanding. It seems to be a blind spot in the philosophy of the cultural relativist reformers who can rationalize the behavior of everyone but our the West's leaders. These "reformers" have slowly eroded the relevance and meaning of the study of history in America.

This goes hand in hand with a decline in the teaching of civics. It is no longer fashionable, in most school districts, to even imply that citizens have some civic duty to anyone but themselves. And so our political vocabulary has been eroded, and our discourse has become far less articulate.

Political Science is an application of History. For political scientist history is the natural laboratory. We are limited to such a lab, because for the most part we cannot conduct experiments. So political scientists, particularly in the field of International Relations (IR) study history, the source of our knowledge of how states act.

Central to most theories of IR is this idea of Balance of Power. It has many variances and can be an active measure by states, or a natural tendency like water seeking low ground. Either way it indicates a sought after state of equilibrium between nations. Nations and leaders are constrained to balance the power of others.
This occurs on a global level, as in the cold war between the US and the USSR, and on a regional level as in the Persian Gulf where states have sought to stabilize the region, including great powers from the outside.

A true understanding of this theory explains why the US, HAD to become a super power. It explains why the US has to take an interest in the Gulf. Not that we necessarily had back the Shah, or that we had to go to war with Iraq, but reality constrains our options to act or not. Our leaders are not free to ignore the world. The consequences of not taking a particular action are often more immediate then the unseen ones later.

So yes in the 1950s we backed the Shah, against Soviet entrée into the Gulf. The immediate consequences of which were foreseeable. They surely would have been worse than the fall of the Shah in ’79 and the continuing crises since. We supplied Muhajadeen with weapons, money and organizational advice in the ‘80s. The Russians were a nuclear power, threatening the balance of power in the Gulf. We were constrained to act. Not backing the groups that would become the Taliban was not an option.

Machiavelli paraphrased, says the enemy of my enemy is my friend. This truism holds no matter how bad your new friend may be. But the world is not static, it is fluid, much to the chagrin of the uneducated. Hence the Soviet threat disintegrated and the Taliban and America’s natural antagonism was revealed. Yet liberals today love to harp on how we armed Bin Laden, without considering the circumstances. This kind of shoddy thinking goes un-critiqued by the MSM, most of whom are lacking any historical or political depth. By these arguments We should never have allied with the Soviets against the Nazis, since they to became our enemy.

Interestingly my friend Santayana, has never read Machiavelli. That perhaps is what bothers me the most. Here is a man claiming the inheritance of a title, claiming to speak to, for and of the Historical context of America’s policies. But this fellow has never taken a day to read The Prince. A book that with discourses and notes is less than one hundred and fifty pages.

The young man is symptomatic of America's intellect today. Many of us pick and choose what we read, and then claim subject matter expertise. Like Tom Cruise going on about psychiatry, we have surveyed only those works that buttress our prejudices, and then we claim expert knowledge. We go to University, seeking specialized technical knowledge, to enhance our earning power and leave with a narrow band of knowledge and deem ourselves educated. A view, mostly encouraged by the system.

This is no new lament. Harold Bloom and his ilk have been on this for years. But it has reduced the articulateness of our political conversations. Now more than ever we need a sense of history. Not a simple historical narrative that underlines our own ideology, but a broad and analytical reading that highlights the complexities of the world. A reading that provides a context for the actions of the past and guidance for the present.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Army hit by MSM attacks!

It appears that the MSM and allied liberal organizations are launching a full on campaign against the Army now. There’s the continued inaccurate and misrepresented story of recruiting shortfalls, which can’t seem to explain that the Army was only short of about 1000 recruits this year. We fell seven thousand short of a goal that was higher by 8,000 than last year. Re-enlistment more than made up the difference to keep the Army numbers the same. We are only short of our goal to grow the Army.

Worse yet is the campaign by the GI Right’s Hotline. This group, like a military oriented ACLU from hell, provides information about how to back out of your military commitment, at any stage. But now they have taken to advocating AWOLs. A USA Today story describes how the Army has mostly not chosen to prosecute IRR soldiers who have ignored last year’s activation orders. The folks at GIRH have taken to counseling IRR soldiers that it’s okay to be AWOL to the point of desertion, SINCE THE Army is not pursuing cases. This is akin to the ACLU encouraging violent hate speech because no one is prosecuting it.

The Army is not charging these people for a variety of reasons. I saw the list of billets that the IRR call up was meant to fill, and I remember seeing they needed one Army band soldier. Many of the billets should have been filled from other resources. And the Army is looking to avoid the negative publicity that the MSM will bring to bear if it chases down a few civilian soldiers for this crime. But a crime it is. And the crime of being AWOL, now a year later can be charged to these soldiers as desertion. No statute of limitations here. This “rights” group is encouraging these soldiers to break the law in a way that can land them long stretches in military or federal prisons, if the Army suddenly finds its interest served by a prosecution. Not very good legal advice.

The subject of Army prosecution, is at the heart of this week’s most egregiously anti-Army stories. On Sunday Dayton Daily News ran a group of Articles about military prosecutions in Iraq. Three reporters, not soldiers, not lawyers and not statisticians or social scientists, reported on what they see as inequities in the military system. The articles explore the facts that the military has pursued cases of misconduct against Soldiers more often when other soldiers are victimized, than when Iraqis were. Well duh!

We are at war in Iraq. And while most Iraqis are not insurgents most insurgents are Iraqis. An army at war does not investigate every act of violence that its soldiers commit, that would be institutional suicide. The articles make some strong statistical claims:

“A Daily News analysis of records from the Army Court-Martial Management Information System database found that 226 soldiers were charged with offenses between the first deployments and Jan. 1, 2005. Of the 1,038 separate charges, fewer than one in 10 involved crimes against Iraqis. Virtually all of the rest, more than 900 charges, involved crimes against other soldiers, property, drug or alcohol offenses and violations of military rules.
Charges involving Iraqi victims were three times more likely to be dismissed or withdrawn by the Army than cases in which the victims were soldiers or civilian military employees, the examination found.”

“The Dayton Daily News found many examples in which soldiers were punished more severely for property crimes than for violent crimes that involved foreign victims.”

One Article goes on to label this a pattern. These are reporters doing the analysis. What was there methodology? What are the margins of error? And most importantly do they understand conditions on the ground? Soldiers in a war zone NEED to able to apply violence! They need to be able to apply it in an instant. Without hesitation! Any thing less and people can die. This of course opens the door for abuses, but that is what the chain of command is there for.
What these Reporters can’t know is that allegations of crime follow soldiers wherever they go. On my fifth night in Iraq, I found myself on my first raid. As we approached a village identified by an intelligence source as a meeting place and rocket launching site, we came under fire from three sides. A few 40mm HE grenades chased off the shooters. And then we proceeded to take down the hamlet of seven buildings. The only occupied building had two women and a dozen or so kids. But all were thoroughly searched.

When we returned in daylight, we were told that we had been mistaken for cattle thieves, and we were accused of stealing a large quantity of gold. Should the Army have investigated these claims? They didn’t! And interestingly similar claims followed us around our area for our tour. We were always “mistaken for thieves” when we took fire. We always stole something when we left.
Counter-insurgency warfare is one of the most difficult missions the military has. The balance between aggressiveness and compassion must be found. Yes there probably are some abuses. But there are no blanket panaceas, and many of the allegations of abuse are hollow and pro forma.

I am proud of the soldiers I served with. I can’t imagine anyone in my company stealing from civilians. We used violence on people sure. That was the job. And at times soldiers were tempted to cross the line on violence, but my chain of command was always there supervising. And soldiers did monitor themselves.

I remember one pesky teenager last November. He wouldn’t move on when instructed. After repeated and increasingly angry “IMSHEE!”s, I finally gave him a shove. In my annoyance momentarily forgetting I outweighed him by 100 lbs. and was several times stronger I launched him a dozen feet or more. He was angry and his pride was hurt, I was sheepish about it. I had violated no policy, no order. I had used appropriate force, but in stretching it to the limit I had embarrassed myself. But I knew to tone it down henceforth. That happens a lot to soldiers. We police ourselves.

Worth a good look: No oil for Pacifists

Monday, October 03, 2005

Today's Post

No Post today except the NY Post!!!!!