Reality Check

Friday, June 04, 2004


In its May 17 issue, the Wall Street Journal printed an opinion piece by novelist and commentator Mark Helprin.

Unfortunately, his "No Way to Fight a War" is no way to fight the war of ideas.

I agree with Helprin's primary thesis over the past years with regard to the military, that the US should have been undertaking a buildup (or a restoration, given the dismantling under Clinton) of the military commensurate with the Reagan buildup.

While the Left may be finding convenient to cite these quotes from his piece to bolster their criticism, in fact Helprin's critique is essentially of the nature that "Bush should be more Bush, not less." Or more accurately, "Bush should be more like Reagan." That is, in the very qualities that the Left criticizes Bush for, Helprin finds Bush too deficient. I'll return to this point later.

But while I agree with the "strategic" content of Helprin's criticism, I do find some fault with the "tactics" of his argument To begin with, I don't necessarily agree with his first paragraph, a generalization from the Abu Graib incident that the war has been fought incompetently. Counterexample: We have the Islamic US soldier who murdered two fellow soldiers in Kuwait. Clearly a horrible crime committed by an individual in the army. But does it prove the war has been fought incompetently?

Any crimes committed in Abu Graib do not ipso facto prove that there is a systematic problem of policy, and Helprin does not connect the dots specifically with Abu Graib in his complaint.

The photos of sex acts being performed by the soldiers in question suggest not bad policy, but individuals using an interpretation of a policy of psychological pressure as license for something entirely different and surely not contemplated by any practical policy of interrogation. Something that must contradict military and civil law, but not as serious a crime as the murders by the Islamic US soldier.

While intimidation of suspected terrorists is one thing (in-bounds), and sex acts performed in front of prisoners another (out-of-bounds and grotesque misconduct at the least), allegations of murder and rape at Abu Graib do rise to the seriousness of the known crimes committed in Kuwait. But even should they be proven to be murders and rapes by US personnel, (and not accidents, murders and rapes by others, or deaths by natural causes), the crimes of individuals in the military, with their own free will and possessing each their own moral compass, do not prove a bad policy.

What Helprin could have taken the time to do, which he did not, was to justify the citation of Abu Graib by proposing the hypothesis that our resources have been spread too thinly in the military, such that crimes and/or misconduct like this is more likely to happen. Which I believe was his point by implication, although he didn't (but should have, given the serious of the charge in the opening paragraph) make. My guess is also that, provided the space, he would have had something to say about how men and women in the military train and work together today, which it in certain branches in particular (apparently less-so in the Marines than others) has created the greater likelihood of problems of a sexual nature.

We won't in fact know whether there was a specific bad interrogation policy in any degree, or a good policy badly managed, or just criminal behavior, until all the investigations have been done.

But leaving aside Helprin's somewhat gratuitous remarks on Abu Graib and returning to his larger strategic point, regarding the conduct of the war.

Helprin has made the point before, and makes it in this piece as well, that the US should not be faced with a choice between modernization of the military and restoring the size of the military. And that avoiding the hard challenge of rebuilding our resources, so that true "shock and awe" was possible, was a terrible failing.

My inference from his harsh words in this piece, (which I fear he carries a little too far), that the US leadership has contempt for history and an overweening satisfaction with its success in the initial stages of the war last year, is that the US leadership's satisfied attitude has been unearned. An understandable point, given what Helprin perceives as the real dimensions of the problem facing us. Chamberlain's pride in making some improvements in the British position before Poland was certainly regarded by Churchill as foolish and inviting catastrophe, and worthy of flogging in public if necessary, given the stakes.

What Helprin must have given thought to, given the public criticism from the (as I call them) the Religously Left, that threatens to pull us further away from confronting our adversaries, was the timing of the criticism. And I suspect that he regarded publication of his criticism now not as "piling on" with the Left to see Bush defeated, but a clarion call to pull Bush the other way. Towards the kind of overwhelming force advantage that would cast such a shadow over the homelands of the terrorists and over their client states, that they would clearly be reminded what the US can do - and did do in WWII - leveling whole cities and crushing entire nations flat.

My one regret regarding this perhaps mostly timely criticism by Helprin is the failure to really give any substantive credit to the US leadership. We can agree that a Reaganesque restoration of the military budget was the good Bush failed to call for, even if the call would have been drowned out by static on the Left. And let it be agreed that the overall budget policy on Defense is indeed part of fighting the war and that the government, in the tug-of-war between the Left and Right, failed the country in its prosecution in that largest sense.

But given the President's choices of buildup vs. reform of the military and given the constraints then that the Secretary of Defense and the Generals have been working with, have they done a good job of undertaking necessary modernization? Do not they and Tommy Franks - and the many, many officers and soldiers under him who planned and executed within those policy constraints - deserve some words of praise for what they did in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Without giving any real credit where credit is certainly due, Helprin reduces the likelihood that his criticism will reach his audiences as effectively as it could. Those audiences being both the Administration, the Pentagon, the Generals and Admirals, and the American public, including other scribblers of broadsides who could join the flank with him.

And therefore, the likelihood is reduced that Bush and his administration will be both chastened and strengthened in going to Congress to restore the scale of the military necessary to confront the foe.

And even worse, what the lack of a gracious dose of credit does is that the substance of Helprin's criticism will be forgotten and all that will be remembered by its publication now, at the apex of our troubles and the downward slide of national election, is that another supposed ally on the Right has turned on Bush, ushering in the anti-Reagan: John Kerry.


In the May 2004 Washington Monthly, Wesley Clark appears to believe that from a crazy quilt of accusations and claims, if raveled at sufficient length, he will fashion an actual argument without seams, all in order to justify his concluding conceit: "But if the events of the last year tell us anything, it is that democracy in the Middle East is unlikely to come at the point of a gun. And Ronald Reagan would hae known better than to try."

But naked assertions are the fashion of the day, and appeals to authority - which turn out to be someone else's naked assertions - the only recourse of the Religously Left.

I have read the article, and it is a piece of work. I could do a whole thesis on Freshman logic errors and sins of commission.

Example: "For every report of a growing conversation in the Arab world about the importance of democracy, there's another report of moderate Arabs feeling their position unercut by the backlask against our invasion. For every example of progress (Libya giving up its WMD program), there's an instance of backsliding (the Iranian mullahs purging reformist parliamentarians)."

Here we have important points, on which later argument hinges, asserted without the kind of support required for proving any kind of generalization. He effectively asserts that, by deposing a dictator in Iraq and working to move that company's new government towards representative government, we have been equally encouraging and discouraging of democracy elsewhere, that there is an exactly equal number of reverses as well as gains from our actions - an exact 1:1 ratio.

Where's the tabulation of the major examples to prove this (or at the very least two or more), either as an exact ratio, or even in the main? He asserts only one supposed instance - citing Libya offsetting Iran, and generalizes from that one instance a supposed "parity." And yet the offsetting examples cited (Libya and Iran) are not even of the same type! - they are apples and oranges. Libya is an example of induced disarmament, and Iran is supposedly an example of democracy discouraged.

However, and a worse infraction, the Iran example does not prove discouragement of the pro-democracy movement in Iran at all - it only shows that the mullahs have reacted to the trend of democracy. It says nothing about whether the real pro-democracy elements in Iran have been encouraged, or now see light at the end of the tunnel and are planning anew to end the rule of the mullahs. In fact, careful attention to spokespeople of those pro-democracy elements in Iran show that they have been vastly encouraged, and that we may see the fruits of this encouragement in the years to come. Notable are Khomeini's grandson, Hossein Khomeini - check out for other voices.

Nothing - not the incredible, unsupported and dishonestly constructed statement that the US "never directly (emphasis added) invaded any nation under Soviet control" (what is "indirectly invaded," and how does one define-away fighting worldwide Communism militarly in Korea, Vietnam, and Central America?) nor the implication that freedom is not desired "from the hearts" of enough people in Iraq to count (does Clark read hearts, or is a propaganda organ like Al Jazeera, the Pravda/Goebbels of Islamic fascists, his direct line to each mind in Iraq?) - add up to prove the concluding assertion about Reagan.

It may be worth someone else's time to plunge down the rabbit hole after Clark and chase after his every evasive twist and turn, but I don't have the time to go through every paragraph.

For now, I've got to at least deal with the substance of the citation itself. Democracy has indeed been achieved everywhere in history "at the point of a gun" - in all cases, before there is freedom, there is tyranny, and the history of democracy in lands around the world is of armed revolution that deposed tyrants.

Few are the examples of a monarch who has lain aside his powers voluntarily - Spain is the outstanding case. (And that was a monarch who was never a tyrant, and inherited a title with no intent to continue the rule of Franco). Virtually in every other case in history, power was wrested away, either by veiled or velvet-clad gauntlet, or by drawn sword. In the modern age, the grand-daddy of them all, The American Revolution, comes to mind, doesn't it? Achieved at the point of a gun, in the hands of Patriots - and ironically, in some cases guns paid for in effect by outsiders (alas France)

The very formulation "democracy in the Middle East is unlikely to come at the point of a gun", is in fact a pure sophism in the context Clark used it. If one enters the country on the side of patriots who lack guns, and fight on their behalf and beside them with your own, that is not the same is putting a gun to Saddam's temple and ordering, "become good! become a democrat! believe in freedom!" And yet Clark frames his argument implicitly as if the only possibility is that we are trying to force a barbaric people to become civilized at the point of our guns, rather than help liberate majorities we believe to be civilized "in their hearts" from their oppressors. He assumes his own argument.

For someone who's basic thesis is that the neocons can't cite Reagan as precedent, Clark's essay is a travelogue, not proof. It all leads up to his final statement about Reagan. Why would Reagan "have known better?" Reagan of the City on the Hill? Who put missiles in Europe? Who was charged with pushing the world to the brink of war? Reykjavik?

Finally, my favorite sophistry, which he implicitly relies on to arrive at his final "reading" of Reagan's mind, is his little appeal to his own authority. Clark's bald equivocation between the necons who "served under" Reagan and he himself, who "served under" Reagan, is something. He is to paraphrase, "proud to have served under Reagan, as they did."

But the two "served unders" are not the same. Perle was an assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration. He was part of setting policy, and could be presumed to be closely acquainted with Reagan's thinking and knew his mind. Wesley Clark was on the army planning staff, in various roles, but never part of the civilian policy setting body, and thus never close to Reagan. His career really entered its curent orbit, jumping to Supreme Allied Commander Europe under Clinton, a fellow Rhodes scholar.

I worked as an assistant economist in the Treasury Department "under Reagan" in 1984, and I think I can claim to better know the policy perspective of that president than Clark.

In the end, pull at a thread in Clark's crazy quilt (this like all his others) and the seams fly apart - patches of hyperbole and undigested bromides fall to the ground in a soggy pile. Leaving this Emporer fully Unclothed.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Return from Hiatusville

Re-reading my posts from before the war offers a perspective: the methods of the mad are unchanged. When predictions by the Left before the war exploded like the gaseous balloons that they were, no lessons were learned - they simply let loose new balloons, as untethered to reality as the ones before.

At least I spent the time between posts constructively, founding a new technology company. Now, while the new company is cruising along, taking the time to get back to writing my book, and let loose some broadsides in this space, while time remains in this season of political insanity to perhaps make a difference.

En garde!

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Let's Call Chirac's Bluff and Post 250,000 Frenchman in Our Place

The spectacle of France demanding that the US and UK stand on the Iraqi border indefinitely, with an army at the ready, would seem to be the Marie Antoinette moment of the 21st Century.

Why? What game is Chirac playing? Most in the US and the UK are wondering. Does he think the US and UK are stupid? Or...instead of a bad parody of the famous French Queen, is it a con?

Chirac says "inspections are working." They "must be allowed to continue." Iraq throws the UN a grudging bone, and that's "progress" and a sign of "genuine disarmament."

While Saddam doles out the bare minimum necessary to give the illusion of cooperation, what is the unnamed fact that France and its allies are counting on to continue, but which they refuse to thank or truly acknowledge?

The 250,000 US-UK troops massing on Iraq's border, poised to depose Saddam. The credible threat of war, led by the US and the UK.

That is what the French and others counting on in their "disarmament process": the absurd contradiction of a perpetually "imminent" threat of war on the Iraqi border. War always on the verge of starting...but never...quite...starting.

Provided by and paid for by the US and the UK.

The French want their "disarmament process" (crumbs thrown by Saddam) AND a military buildup that is real and credible. They want their cake (inspections) and a countdown for war (war = an end to inspections), all at the same time. For as long as Saddam has crumbs to pass out.

Do they expect such a situation to continue forever? The US and the UK tilting on the verge of invading...indefinitely?

It fails the sniff test of simple logic. It is in fact wildly illogical. (You'd think the French, with their history, would still care about logic). Eventually, the threat of war becomes empty, especially as war becomes impractical in the heat of summer.

So, the question is again whether the French are seriously counting on a serious threat to be there forever, and, like modern Marie Antoinettes, taking us for granted. Wanting to use the threat of war...while opposing war absolutely.

Or, are they fully aware of the absurdity, and, as has been regretfully suggested, cynically conning us and the world into thinking that they even want disarmament.

Well, perhaps it is time for the US and the UK to call Chirac's bluff. France and its cohorts want the necessary pressure - the real pressure - that makes inspections "work" applied for "as long as it takes."

OK, now its their turn.

We want, immediately, 250,000 French troops to mass on the border of Iraq. They can take over the summer watch, keep up the pressure, enforce the no-fly zone.

No more eating the fruit of our labors and sticking it to us. Let them do the work.

And then the world will see whether they're just a silly French Monarch who takes the US and UK, her former liberators, for granted, or actually a cynical con artist.

Saturday, September 14, 2002

Asman Begins the Unmasking of a Moral Delinquent

There is a saying that "logic is the way of honesty," and that those who defy logic, don't care about honesty and are functionally incapable of even BEING honest. Mr. Ritter's pretzel logic is indeed the sign of someone evading facts, not "facing" them. David Asman on Fox News did a great job of unmasking Mr. Ritter's double-talk in his interview the other day.

Appealing to his own credibility and history, furthermore, doesn't help Mr. Ritter's case. It is immaterial whether Ritter fought for the U.S. before. Virtually every high-level spy and traiter to the U.S. in the past had a background that made their later actions seem impossible. At this point, his say-so has little-to-no value, despite his past military service and time spent in Iraq.

Starting with that deficit, he tries to build on his case with the solid building-blocks of his own ignorance of what Saddam has been doing. He's got four years of ignorance and lack of access to whatever classified intelligence is availble, and yet he draws conclusions.

Saddam, who has the motive and history to commit further crimes against humanity, is assumed by Ritter to have accomplished NOTHING of significance in those four years. Does Ritter know how long it took in Saddam to build up his weapons the first time around - recalling that he did so in part during a war against Iran that devastated his army? It is dishonest, pure and simple, to believe that Saddam is incapable of building up WMD's under duress and difficulty. He's done it before.

The FACT is, Mr. Ritter does not have access to the classified intelligence of the last four years, and can not equate his knowledge with the President's.

Finally, Mr. Ritter seems to have a problem with the very idea of spying on a mass-murderer on behalf of the U.S. Without assuming that Ritter is correct about Butler - and Ritter's evidence amounts to referring to his own earlier accusations (the memoranda!) - it is morally repugnant for him to uphold adherence to bureacratic procedures of the U.N. over spying on behalf of the freest nation on earth, for the purpose of preventing more mass-murder. He treats defending his own country as some kind of crime or corruption. Disgusting.

But we shouldn't be too surprised. Timothy McVeigh fought in the Gulf War as well, and it appears that he too later developed a bizaare sympathy for the regime he formerly fought against.

While Ritter hasn't blown up anything, one can only imagine what Great Britain in WWII would have thought if one of their colonels had made a friendly appearance before Hitler's Reichstag after the Blitz. Ritter is on the same moral level - worse than an appeaser, he is giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

Friday, September 06, 2002


Time and distance are conspiring to obliterate the reality of tragedy, and the proximity of danger.

One can only react with dismay to the spectacle of Mssrs. Scowcroft, Eagleburger, and Baker arguing for postponment of military action against Iraq, and to the effect their editorials seem to have had on public support for George W. Bush's plans to deal with Saddam. The "Troika" from Bush 41 seem to have succeeded in encouraging an increasing percentage of the American people to blink. The three have served us a meal of comfort food, singing a soothing chorus of "don't rock the international boat," and in effect suggesting we should do nothing for now but get on the U.N. inspections-and-coalition merry-go-round again. Procrastination - it's so much less stressful than confrontation, isn't it? And the Three Wise Men are helping Americans feel that procrastination and postponement are not only less stressful than walking out the door and taking the gun away from the killer, but wiser.

So, we're left with Eagleburger admonishing us to, in effect, wait until we've got the x-ray of the nuke sitting in a warehouse in Baghdad. OK. So let's leave military action until the 2 minute warning, and until then, cross our fingers and hope. Whistle and wait, while the unseen conspires on the other side of the planet. Out of sight, out of mind.

It reminds me of the old joke about the wimp drawing the line in the sand that the bully promptly steps right across...whereupon the wimp takes a step back and draws another "line in the sand." And another and another, again and again.

And so the reality of September 11, and the tragically rude awakening it delivered to the United States, begins to fade away, and we return to the state of mind that prevailed before the ballistic missile attack on New York City and on our nation's capital . Not since Hitler's buzz bombs raining down on London has there been something quite like September 11 and the flying fuel bombs that killed 3000 - and might have killed ten times that, if they had hit the Towers later in the morning when they were full.

The frisson of recognition that one hopes to get by making the comparison to the buzz bombs, by reminding us of the terrible historic context of all this, suggests an antidote to the soporific effect of the Troika and their allies of convenience on the Left. Numbed by the repetition of the original images of the planes exploding through the World Trade Center Towers, the public now needs to be reminded of the reality of tragedy, and the proximity of danger. We must be reminded that those who wage war against us do so by remote-control, and by proxy. We must overcome the sense of Iraq receding to a great distance from us, on the other side of the world and practically in another era, and remind ourselves of the clear and present danger that is posed by an Axis that is not only abstractly evil, but actively conspiring to destroy us by wholly unorthodox means.

Parallels to Shock Us Awake Once Again

The Chamberlain Decade: As George Shultz pointed out so convincingly in his editorial of September 6, the Troika (plus Daschle/Gephardt) is saying something that renders the U.N. agreement to suspend hostilities in '91 completely meaningless. We agreed to suspend hostilities if Saddam complied with the second great objective of the Gulf War: eliminate his weapons of mass destruction. A Sword of Damocles was supposed to be poised over his neck unless he did everthing we demanded and cooperated fully with disarmament of WMD's. The American people, and the world, were thus effectively lied to by appeasers when Saddam was able to break his agreements for a decade, and no sword came down to cut off his head.

Thus the failure to react with overwhelming force after he broke his agreements, especially in 1998, is the terrible proof of appeasement by the Clinton administration. Just as Congressional Democracts like Daschle who opposed the Gulf War don't relish being branded for the Chamberlains that they were, neither does Clinton. And it is Clinton who's inaction in 1998 has the dread feeling of a Chamberlain appeasement on a potentially tragic scale. One senses that so much of the opposition to Bush is a frantic flight from the logical conclusion that, "if Bush is right, then we were Chamberlain."

Context like this is essential to reminding the public of the reality we're facing. When Scowcroft worries that Saddam will attack Tel Aviv and unleash disasters if he is cornered, he is dropping the entire context of why Saddam is a who he is, and why he's been building those weapons in the first place. To place them on a Scud and bomb Tel Aviv, at the best possible time! To use proxies to bomb the U.S., so we'll become paralyzed by fear of another strike from an unknown, secret enemy - revert to isolationism, and pull out of the Middle East. Saddam's objective accomplished. The net sum of the Troika's arguments, delivered even more stridently by Clinton, Carter et al, thus amounts to thinking a chess game two moves ahead, when thinking four moves ahead completely undoes their logic. They want to want us to mentally return to that indeterminate, unconcerned, paralyzed state prior to 9-11, by throwing up a forest of question marks, when most of those question marks already have answers, and they know it. They're playing the "what if" game, but not doing it honestly.

The sad fact is that they just dont want to look guilty for exposing us to a terrible real risk. They have too much invested in their failed policies, and perhaps dare not admit to themselves the magnitude of their error. If we can be convinced that Saddam isn't a real threat, then they won't look guilty for doing nothing in 1998...or for opposing the Gulf War in 1991...or for failing to take him out during Bush 41, when all those inspection agreements were clearly a ruse and a shell game to buy Saddam time.

The American Public needs to hear about the Chamberlains among us, and needs to be reminded that they've been wrong every time before, and have endangered the nation more than once in the past.

Tim Hames in the Times of London, Oct 6, thus argues brilliantly that if Bush had had the kind of evidence about Al Qaeda's plans to bomb us a year ago that we now have about Iraq, neither Daschle, Eagleburger, nor Gerhard Schroeder would have heeded a Bush call for preemptive action in Afganhistan to head off 9-11. And that would have meant blood from September 11 on their hands. It is a dangerous game now to time our action on waiting for courtroom evidence in advance of a crime that is clearly intended, but whose timing and delegation is obscured by espionage.

Hames' reminder of what today's Chamberlain's would have stopped us from doing only a year ago is just the kind of thought-provoking "what if" that can slap awake those American's too ready to sit back in their hammocks now and relax, taking false reassurance from the "don't rock the boat" crowd.

Iraq Really is Right Next Door: Yes, it is a Small World After All. You don't need to take off from Baghdad and fly a bomber to the U.S., or launch an ICBM from the "SCUD box," to deliver a bomb to our shores. A small boat working its way from port to port, or a car crossing a busy border, can do the job fine. And if you want the U.S. out of the Middle East, why take specific credit for the deed that results in retaliation? Those who assasinated Kennedy - was it about taking the credit afterwards, or was it about getting rid of JFK? If taking credit means Baghdad's a crater, then you better believe Saddam will leave the credit to others, and simply reap the harvest of American withdrawal.

So, let's ask Americans, what if Iraq were in Central America? Would we be content to give Saddam yet another "chance," while he was two borders away from us? With his footsoldiers mingling with crowds at borders, flying into international airports that miss 70% of handguns hidden in luggage, and stowing away on cargo ships or small boats that pour into our ports every day. Yes, Saddam might as well be right next door, because a well-planned effort by Islamic terrorist surrogates, who don't mind being killed in the deed, means Saddam's assets-in-place, like a global "fire brigade," are just minutes away from passing weapons of mass destruction across our borders.

Yes, be afraid, and be very afraid - as if you were standing on the 100th floor of Trade Center Two, looking out the window, and saw a plane coming right at you.

Remember, you won't be alive to see the trial. But Daschle and Eagleburger will wait to get their proof of the sponsorship of atrocity, even if it is ex-post-facto.

We can't go back to the olden days. Even now new surprse attacks are being planned. That snake is back in the grass, and we must cut off its head, or be bitten again.