Saturday, August 14, 2004

I Rule!

My life has just been validated. I've been called "lucid" on a comment board at Daniel Drezner's blog. For those of you who don't know, I idolize Prof. Drezner, and his blog is the reason that I started mine. So while it would be better to get a compliment from Prof. Drezner himself, this is a pretty good substitute.

The article on which I was commenting on is here. Here's the run of comments which preceded the compliment:

"Superior process tops grand strategy every time. I don't think there is one meta-philosophy that can solve every single foreign policy problem that will ever pop up. A good policy process allows one to examine each problem individually and come up with solutions tailored to the unique situation. Sometimes that's sweet talk diplomacy, sometimes it's hardball, sometimes it's multilateral, sometimes it's unilateral, and sometimes it's war. I feel better knowing that a Kerry administration won't limit itself to one mindset."

Mark Safranski:
"'Superior process tops grand strategy every time.'

Just like in Vietnam ?

'A good policy process allows one to examine each problem individually and come up with solutions tailored to the unique situation'

What if the problems are interdependent and interrelated ?

Strategy is about accomplishing goals within a dynamic system which requires recognizing the variables and being honest with oneself what will move them. *Tactics* are the *how* you move the variables and this is where you are well served by a good policy process. Without a strategy though, you may be solving the wrong problem with your good tactics.

Great strategy is a lot like a great novel...the two are alike in that they are very seldom ever created by a committee."


I don't consider myself particularly knowledgable about the Vietnam war, but wasn't "grand strategy" at least partly to blame there? We had a "grand strategy" of Containment/Rollback, to counteract the percieved Domino Effect. Thus, we viewed every single nation where communists seemed to be gaining ground through the same lens, as the first step to a catastrophic system crash where every country would become instant-marxist.

This blinded us to the fact that in Vietnam Ho Chi Minh was a national hero (ironically enough, because he attempted to convince President Wilson to actually apply his rhetoric on self-determination to places outside of Europe), and that the US supported politicians and dictators were extremely unpopular and not likely to be seen as an acceptable substitute for the communists. Thus, the strategy of "winning their hearts and minds" was fatally crippled by tactical mistakes such as supporting hopelessly corrupt leaders.

Its all speculation of course, but perhaps a process-based view of Vietnam would have revealed to US policymakers that Vietnam was not a huge threat to geopolitical stability, that it was relatively mild in terms of its affront to American values (as compared to say, Cambodia), and that it was a poor target for intervention because it played to virtually every stereotype the Communists put out about the West: The US rushing to the aid of ex-colonialists to prop up a universally despised dictator at the expense of a bona fide national hero. It really shouldn't have taken that much insight to see this was a bad idea.

Obviously problems can be interdependent and related, and a good process would account for that. "looking at situations individually" is not the same as "looking at them in a void." A solid policy process would look at all the variables from the ground up and then create a response tailored to those variables, which might include simultanous responses to other problems if need be. What it wouldn't do is artificially impose an preconcieved external narrative on events that might not (and probably will not) match the reality.

...The Bush administration underestimated the degree to which foreign populations resent US influence over their national affairs. It must bruise Iraqi pride to see their nation patrolled by uniformed, English-speaking Americans. As a result, sympathy for the bold insurgents inevitably rises.

So, we've gotten ourselves into a situation where in order to provide some measure of security in Iraq, we have to clamp down on the insurgents, but by doing so, we risk alienating significantly larger sections of the population. It's a no-win situation and a consequence of Bush's failed diplomacy.

I encourage everyone to read David Halberstam's article on Bush in the current issue of Vanity Fair (the one with the lovely Reese Witherspoon on the cover). Halberstam correctly states that Bush (and Cheney,and others) continually fails to apply the lessons learned in Vietnam. David Schraub lucidly points out above what those lessons are, so it hardly bears worth repeating here ...

Am I probably taking way too much pride in something that, objectively is really minor? Sure. But it makes me happy, and that's what counts right?

Next stop, the blogosphere royalty!

Friday, August 13, 2004

Good for Bush!

I just read this article on I post it because I think it reflects better on President Bush than anything I've read in the past 4 years.

Some highlights:
Bush, who was joined for the interview by his wife, Laura, also took issue with a proposal by Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry to set a six-month time frame to begin reducing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.

"That says to the enemy, 'Wait for six months and one day,' or it says to the Iraqis, 'The Americans aren't serious,'" Bush said. "The timetable is this -- not one day more than is necessary, and the commanders on the ground will let us know when."

He's absolutely right. I'm not positive if the terrorists really would just 'wait 6 months and a day,' but we have an obligation to stay in Iraq until our job is done. Kudos to the President for recognizing that.

"Senator Kerry is justifiably proud of his record in Vietnam and should be. It's noble service," Bush said. "The question is who can best lead the country in a time of war. That's really what the debate ought to be about. And I think it's me, because I understand the stakes."

Again, a fair assessment. Kerry was a good soldier, and no one (should) deny that. But ultimately the election is about who will be a better leader today, not 25 years ago. I disagree with President Bush that its him. But its the right framing of the issue.

To be sure, there still is alot here I disagree with. But overall, I thought it struck some very good notes. I'm not so dug in that I won't admit a fine gesture by President Bush, and this was one.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Gay News Day

Two bombshells dealing with gay Americans hit the news today. The first was the release of a decision by the California Supreme Court in Lockyer v. San Francisco. The court ruled that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom did not have the authority to ignore a state law because he deemed it unconstitutional, and annulled all of the marriage licenses issued to gay couples by the city. The ruling was 7-0 on the question of whether Mayor Newsom overstepped his authority, and 5-2 on the question of whether the same-sex marriages issued should be annulled.

Speaking as an avid supporter of gay rights and gay marriage, I think this decision was correct. The proper avenue for determining the constitutionality of a law is through the courts, that's been a key tenant of our constitutional scheme since Marbury v. Madison and the rejection of the position of the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions. I would be as unwilling to reject 200 years of precedent for a position I find favorable as I would be if a local mayor decided, for example, that a local ordinance banning assualt weapons violated the 2nd amendment and refused to enforce that. This does not, of course, absolve all the conservative groups of their hypocrisy on this matter. Their "core belief" in federalism, decentralization, judicial restraint, and "the will of the people" seemed to not slow them down very much in their rush to ask the courts to nullify the actions of an elected official. They happened to be right in this case, but the inconsistancy is troubling and reflects poorly on them.
The second part of the ruling is a closer question I think. I'm inclined to agree with the dissenters that the marriages shouldn't have been invalidated until after the decision had been reached on the constitutionality of California's marriage laws. However, I see where the majority is coming from, and certainly don't think their holding is that outrageous.

The second bit of news falls into the "simply bizarre" category. New Jersey Governor James McGreevey (D) declared he was homosexual, admitted he had an extra-marital gay affair, and announced his resignation effective November. A transcript of his speech can be found here (thanks to How Appealing for the link).
I don't even know what to think about this. I suppose the resignation was the honorable thing to do (for the affair, not simply because he was gay). And the speech seemed to hit the right note to my ears. On the other hand, I'm not even convinced his career is over. This man was seen as a rising star in Democratic circles. Could he run for congress or state office as a spokesman for the gay community? I'm not sure we can write off Mr. McGreevey yet.

Overall, a very strange day for Gay activists.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Judgment Day: Crowley v. Robbins

The debate between The New Republic's Michael Crowley and The National Review's James Robbins has finally come to a close. The topic was "Has the Bush administration fumbled homeland security?"

First of all, let me say that I've obviously weakened some of the conventions from a traditional debate round. Obviously, there isn't a "standard" to be impacted to, no one is extending anything, and there isn't a clear line by line. I tried to put the analysis side to side so I could see where points were being refuted.

In a close decision, I vote for Mr. Crowley.
1) The first thing that needs to be cleared up is "what constitutes fumbling." Mr. Robbins says that its giving the initiative over to the other side, as in a football fumble. Mr. Crowley gives the counter response of "have we done all we can to make ourselves safer?" I'm inclined to go with Mr. Crowley's interpretation, as it leaves more ground for debate. However, this is limited by the point Mr. Robbins brings up, that we have to be REASONABLE, and at some point you need to make balanced risk assessments.
2) At this point, we simply look to the areas of offense given by Mr. Crowley and see if they stand up. He gives three main areas of attack: Port Security, Chemical Plant Security, and Nuclear Security. Robbins does a good job with the former, but doesn't really knock out the latter two. His own evidence contradicts his point about Chemical Sec. cost, as Mr. Crowley points out. And Mr. Crowley aptly points out that Nunn/Lugar still needs more money because most of Russia's loose nuclear assets are still loose. All the experts agree on this, and the Chait article Crowley cites talks about this too. Mr. Robbins asserted positive actions by the Bush administration (outside of Mr. Crowley's framework)might be enough to outweigh, but they are only listed in the last post, where obviously they can't be contested by Mr. Crowley, so I can't look to them.
3) I think 2 is reason enough to pull the trigger, but the politics point Mr. Crowley makes is apt as well. Mr. Robbins admitted that the original opposition to DHS by President Bush was politically motivated. Thus, Mr. Crowley's claims that Bush cares more about what's politically convienant rather than pragmatically necessary gain alot of weight. The Chait evidence shows off a myriad of ways Bush has harmed HS in favor of tax cuts. Considering that Mr. Robbins claims "scarce resources" are the major barrier to remedying the harms outlined by Mr. Crowley, and the Chait analysis traces that action back to Bush's political decisions, that's a serious turn by Mr. Crowley.

For the above reasons, I vote for Mr. Crowley

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Nature of Duties

In debate one often finds alot of high level talk of "duties" and "obligations." Below is a good card to keep people grounded and make sure that what they are saying is pragmatically feasible.
Professor James Urmson of Stanford University, Philosophy Dept., writes
If we are to exact basic duties like debts, and censure failures, such duties must be, in ordinary circumstances, within the capacity of the ordinary man. It would be silly for us to say to ourselves, our children and our fellow men, 'this and that you and everyone else must do,' if the acts in question are such that manifestly few could bring themselves to do them, though we may ourselves resolve to try to be of that few. To take a parallel from positive law, the prohibition laws asked too much of the American people, and were consequently broken systematically; and as people got used to breaking the law a general lowering of respect for the law naturally followed; it no longer seemed that a law was something that everybody could be expected to obey. Similarly in Britain the gambling laws, some of which are utterly unpractical, have fallen into contempt as a body. So, if we were to represent the heroic act of sacrificing one's life for one's comrades as a basic duty, the effect would be to lower the degree of urgency and stringency that the notion of duty does in fact posses. The basic moral code must not be in part too far beyond the capacity of the ordinary men or ordinary occasions, or a general breakdown of compliance with the moral code would be an inevitable consequence; duty would seem to be something high and unattainable, and not for 'the likes of us.'

Libertarians for Kerry!

How did I miss this one? (Ok, so alert readers may notice that it was written before I even started the blog. But I was still paying attention to the blogosphere even before I staked my claim to it).

For those of you who don't know, Jacob Levy is a Asst. Professor of Political Science at U. Chicago, and a writer I respect greatly (behind only his colleague Daniel Drezner at UC). As he says, he's never even VOTED for a major party candidate, and it ain't because he's a socialist lefty folks. And yet it looks like he's ready to bite his tongue and cast a ballot for Kerry come November.

Though I am not a libertarian like Mr. Levy, this passage does capture part of my opposition to President Bush:
I know a lot of Libertarians are leaning Democratic this year because they oppose the Iraq War. I'm leaning that way in part because I supported it, and thought it was a truly important project. Some combination, or some complicated interaction, of terrible incompetence; an absolute prioritization of political over policy considerations; and a serious contempt for outside, contrary, disinterested, or expert opinion have made a serious mess of Iraq, trade policy, fiscal policy, and much else besides.

I may be the only "liberal democrat" left who still unequivicably supports, in principle, our attack on Iraq. I have problems with how it was carried out, and the way the Bush administration seemed to place preconcieved notions on what ought to happen above their own experts notions about what was really going to happen. In other words, I think its because Iraq was so important and such an integral part of how America is going to be seen for the next 50 years that blowing it is unforgivable on the part of the Bushies.

And while it unfortunately wasn't Mr. Drezner himself endorsing Kerry, I did get this link from him. Ok, well not HIM exactly, but the people who are running his blog while he's off doing...something. How many degrees of seperation are we up too at this point?

Come on Mr. Drezner, stick your pride, get off the fence and endorese Kerry already!

Monday, August 09, 2004

Japanese Internment Blogwar

An incredible online blog war is going on over Michelle Malkin's new book, In Defense Of Internment: The Case for Racial Profiling in World War II and the War on Terror.

Eric Muller a Law Prof. at UNC, starts the shooting at The Volokh Conspiracy (you may have to scroll down a little bit, he has 10 posts, the last one should be the first one you see under August 5th, the first one should be the third post ABOVE August 3rd (IE, it was posted earlier on August 4th).

Ms. Malkin posts a lengthy response to Mr. Muller on her blog, where she takes on all 10 of Mr. Muller's points (and Mr. Greg Robinson's another internment expert whose comments Mr. Muller interspersed with his on Volokh).

Mr. Muller then proceeds to defend his original attacks here, and here. Again, you'll have to do a bit of scrolling past innane other stuff to read all of his arguments. But on the plus side, he has his own archive of his comments on his site that's undoubtedly far better than mine.

I can't think of anything more positive than dialogue like this. It proves that people are still paying at least some attention to what the other side says.

Blown Cover

TNR's Spencer Ackerman reports on the immense damage the Bush admin's leak of an undercover source has down to our war on Al-Qaeda. Just another example of how the Bush administration cares more about politics than it does about safeguarding Americans.

Also, The New Republic's Michael Crowley takes on The National Review's James Robbins on Opinion Duel on the issue of the Bush administration and National Security. Its truly a sight to see.

Finally, a new feature. To bone up on my debate judging credentials, and because I think it would be cool, I'm going to start judging any blog debates I see online (including and starting with the Opinion Duel debates). Before y'all start claiming "biased judging!" let me say flat out that I'll be judging on a tabula rasa paradigm. And also, tragically, that The National Review has so far been smacking the New Republic at this so far. Enjoy!