Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Udolpho on Computers in the Classroom

Udolpho has some choice thoughts on Maine's laptops for students program.

Having substitute taught in Maine for a few months, I can confirm that most of what he assumes is happening - is, actually, indeed, happening exactly as he says.

Half the time in the classroom was spent making certian that students were paying attention to the lesson, and not to reading one-liners about Chuck Norris

At one point, some sort of security breach made it so that the school had to recall all of the laptops for a few weeks. Man, were things better for those few weeks.

That is all.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Mark Steyn Doesn't Get it

Some time ago, Matt Yglesias commented on what he called "The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics," that is, the idea that the only limit to what we can accompliosh is the strength of our wills.

Mark Steyn appears to be following that line of reasoning in his latest article, "World is watching as Iraq war tests U.S. mettle."

The essential theme is that directly after September 11, we got countries like Russia and Pakistan to give us assistance in fighting the Taliban even though it was not in their interests to do so because we had the determination to use our power to get our way. In other words, we were willing to threaten enough to scare them into complying. The reason why things are not going so well in the Middle East now is then, by implication, because we have lost that will.

All well and good, but what, I must ask, does Steyn think we need to do differently? He doesn't mention a solution, although the obvious implication is that we ought to threaten some action against anyone who opposes us.

He then goes on to criticize those who oppose this war for wanting to "cut and run," but he doesn't really give us any alternative other than (presumably) continuing on the way we have been. Unless, perhaps, he thinks we will win if we are "scarier."
Before going on to analyze the rest of the piece, let's analyze the idea that our force of will is what got us so much cooperation in 2001 and is the only thing lacking now.

Steyn writes:

What's the difference between September 2001 and now? It's not that anyone "liked" America or that, as the Democrats like to suggest, the country had the world's "sympathy." Pakistani generals and the Kremlin don't cave to your demands because they "sympathize."

But that misses the point. The question isn't whether or not Russia and Pakistan sympathize with us, but whether or not the rest of the world does to the extent that they stand behind us. Russia can afford to say "no" to the U.S., particularly if most of the rest of the developed world is also saying "no." It cannot afford to say "no" to the U.S. and Europe. In the latter case, Russia runs the risk of alienating the world, which could put it in a bind whenever trade negotiations or the like come up. In the former case, Russia will only alienate the U.S., and maybe not even that, because if we press the issue, we may be the ones finding ourselves alienated. We no longer have the support of the rest of the world to use as leverage against those who do not cooperate with us.

They go along because you've succeeded in impressing upon them that they've no choice. Musharraf and Co. weren't scared by America's power but by the fact that America, in the rubble of 9/11, had belatedly found the will to use that power.

Yes, but largely because we knew that September 11 gave us a window to do so without sanction. If we had tried the same thing a year earlier, there would have been serious international consequences for us.

Then Steyn goes crazy:

For example, within days it had secured agreement with the Russians on using military bases in former Soviet Central Asia for intervention in Afghanistan. That, too, must have been quite a phone call.

While this idea may apply to Musharraf, the idea that Putin was afriad that we would use our might against him is ridiculous. Russia has enough nukes to blow up the world. It doesn't do things because it is scared of our military might. Steyn is an idiot if he thinks that we threatened military action against Russia.

Moscow surely knew that any successful Afghan expedition would only cast their own failures there in an even worse light -- especially if the Americans did it out of the Russians' old bases. And yet it happened.

At this point, Steyn makes a big assumption - that we have a special ingredient that would make us more able to contain Afghanistan than the old USSR, and that Russia was worried that we would show them up in Afghanistan. In reality, they knew better than anyone how unlikely we were to establish anything in Afghanistan, or to accomplish much more than the overthrow of a particular regime we didn't like. If anything, this was a chance to show the world that no one can control Afghanistan, and thus eliminate the shame of the USSR loss in that country.

Next, Steyn starts criticizing Democrats for "wanting us to lose the war." That is, of course, a ridiculous way to phrase the issue. What Steyn is saying is that if we leave Iraq, we will have lost, so wanting us to leave is to want us to lose.

But that assumes that there is a way to win. Those who want us to leave believe that we have already lost, or at least cannot accomplish anythign more by staying. Discretion is the better part of valor, and there is nothing unpatriotic about wanting to cut our losses.

Of Australian politicians, he says:

Unlike Bush and Blair, they've succeeded in making the issue not whether the nation should have gone to war but whether the nation should lose the war.

But neither is the real question. The real question is can we win this war, and if so, how?

Finally, he misinterprets this entirely:

to begin something and be unable to stick with it to the finish is far more damaging to your reputation than if you'd never begun it in the first place.

Most people would see that as a caution against taking on ambitious projects like democratizing the Middle East. Neocons like Steyn, however, see it as an excuse to keep doubling down whenever you made a bad decision, the way a compulsive gambler keeps going for that one big jackpot that will set him right.

The fact of the matter is, that if beginning a project and not finishing it is worse than not beginning it, then it is also true that the longer you spend on the project, the worse not finishing it will be. "Cutting and running" in five years will be a lot worse than doing it today. Is Mark confident enough that we will be able to win that he will risk making an eventual defeat that much worse?

That is all.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Hmmm... Isn't this a Regular Feature?

In a recent column about Lebanon, the Editors at National Review Online write:

If current trends continue, the Bush administration’s project in the Middle East will require the same sort of expedient we have just seen in the Israel–Lebanon conflict: a papering over of what is essentially a failure.

Which reminds me, when is Bill Crawford's next "Good News from Iraq" column coming out?

That is all.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Mark the Date - "Wolf! Wolf!"

Is August 22 the day Iran will strike?

I think we should all mark this on our calendars so that if, as is likely, nothing happens, we become a little more skeptical of such latter-day William Millers in the future.

Like the predictions earlier this year about North Korea, this is likely overblown. This type of urgency-building by picking near-future dates and worrying about them being the flashpoint for some monumental catastrophe is rather counter-productive in the end, if the real goal is to prepare us to deal with potential threats from Iran, North Korea, or other hostile states, because in the end, such predictions wind up discrediting the threats in the eyes of those you most want to convince.

It's the boy who cried "wolf."

That is all.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Poddy and Iraq-nam

As I recall, there are some people who argue that we won the Vietnam War. The problem was that the South Vietnamese lost after we gave what we had won back to them.

In essence, the idea was to divide the Vietnam War into two separate wars, so that the final outcome would not be seen as our loss.

This column by John Podhoretz seems to me to be in the same vein.

I think that one can clearly divide the Iraq War into two wars: the war for conquest and the war to maintain occupation. We clearly won the first, throwing out Saddam and taking over the capital in three weeks.

The second we have not won.

Podhoretz's attempt to divide the second Iraq War in two, into a second and third war, strikes me as disingenuous.

The division he wants us to believe in is thus:

The grinding Second War may have come to a successful conclusion due to two events: The formation of the Iraqi government on May 20 and the killing of Zarqawi on June 8. The inability of the enemies of progress to prevent the government from coming to power must have been a huge blow, and certainly the death of its key strategist may have been the coup de grace. The Coalition casualty toll has decelerated radically in the last 9 weeks.

The milestones he cites, for one thing, are largely irrelevant. The goal of the insurgents was always to drive us out (eventually) and in the meantime to cause us as much damage and to alienate us s much from the Iraqi people as possible. Preventing elections was not essential, and the fact that we have managed to get a government set up in Iraq is hardly a defeat. What matters is whether the government actuall has control over the country, not whether we can get a bunch of politicians to agree to consider one another legitimate statesmen and so declare themselves a united government. It hardly represents a defeat for the insurgents if we get a united Iraqi government with little actual power.

Moreover, the killing of Zarqawi hardly represents the destruction of the insurgency. There are plenty more like him, and it is unlikely that he led more than a small fraction of the insurgents anyway. Referring to his death as marking the end of one phase of the war is, I think, obliquely a way to try and convince us that the insurgency was less Iraqi than it was (a facorite tactic of the neocons, who would have us believe that the insurgents are mostly foreign, when 90-96% are domestic).

Thus, we have three wars, the one against Hussein, the one against foreign fighters, and the one involving the Iraqis in a civil conflict, one which the neocons assured us would not occur (I'll try to find a reference later).

Right. Methinks that Johnny simply wants to be able to keep declaring victory if we cut and run, and is defining the "three wars" so as to save face.

On the other hand, if it gets us out of the quagmire, who am I to complain?

That is all.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Israeli Lobby Targets Israel

Charles Krauthammer is angry at Israel for not fighting Hezbollah hard enough in a proxy war between the U.S. and Iran which is actually designed to achieve what Krauthammer and his ilk assume are Israel's interests.

Confused? Yeah, me too. Layers and layers here, like an onion.

There's some interesting commentray on this article at TPMCafe.

One quote from Krauthammer that deserves mentioning:

Unlike many of the other terrorist groups in the Middle East, Hezbollah is a serious enemy of the United States. In 1983 it massacred 241 American servicemen. Except for al-Qaeda, it has killed more Americans than any other terror organization.

The implication is that Hezbollah is a threat to the U.S. But operations against the U.S. seem to be limited to Americans who are in Lebanon. In the case mentioned here, they were soldiers who had taken sides in a civil war and who were in the country undergoing the civil war. The idea that Hezbollah threatens the U.S. because it attacks our soldiers on its own territory is bizarre, although many neoconservatiuves have used the Marine barrack bombing to argue that Hezbollah is a threat whom we must defeat.

It seems to me that this is largely a way to try and conflate our enemies and Israel's, but it also may stem from the neoconservative belief that we have the right to do whatever we want to other countries and to force other countries to bend to our will, and that anything that prevents that is a threat to us (because we are only secure if no one else has sovereignty). This belief often comes out when neocons are discussing why other countries (e.g. IRan) should not have nuclear weapons.

In any case, the motivations behind this different pro-war factions can get rather complex, and it sometimes takes a little thought to even scratch the surface of figuring it out.

That is all.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Who is Controlling Whose Foreign Policy?

Is the U.S. trying to get Israel to attack Syria, asks Margaret Griffis.

Of course, to the extent that the neoconservative policy is based on supporting perceived Israeli interests, if it is true that they are encouraging an Israeli attack on Syria, it would indicate pretty much once and for all that they are working for policy goals that they think would be good for Israel or for their conception of what Israel should be, not working on behalf of Israel for the goals it wishes to pursue.

That is all.


In my previous post I wrote:

Regardless of Iranian (and some say Syrian) support for Hezbollah, it could not have the power in Lebanon that it does if at the very least a large minority of Lebanese did not support it. Those who deny this are either trying to stir up conflict between us and Syria, or else are trying to maintain the lie that the Lebanese are natural-born western-style democrats (small "d") by shifting all of the blame for Lebanese problems onto foreigners.

I think some may have misunderstood what I was saying here.

My reason for bringing this up wasn't that because there is Lebanese support of Hezbollah, Israel has the right to do whatever they want to Lebanon.

I brought this up because I wanted to point out that in attacking Hezbollah, you attack Lebanese people. Claims by folks such as Joseph Farah that Israel is liberating the true Lebanese from evil Iranian and Syrian interlopers are full of manure.

Prior to last year we were relentlessly told that the problem in Lebanon was Syria (and Iran) and that once Lebanon was independent, it would go back to being the wonderful westernized modern place it was before the civil war (which we were told was entirely due to Syria disupting the Lebanese people's naturally multiculturalism). Now that that has proven a lie, and that we see that Lebanon has not reverted to what it was, rather than admit they were wrong the neocons will insist that the Lebanese are wonderful westernized people who love Israel and the U.S. and that the evil Iranians and Syrians are preventing them from expresing their love. Actions taken against Lebanon will be portrayed as liberating the Lebanese from Iranian or Syrian "occupation."

Moreover, this will be used as a reason to "deal with" (i.e. make war on) Syria and Iran.

Basically, what offends me more than anything are attempts to pretend that the people whom we or whom our allies are attacking are really on our side, and we on theirs (In Iraq, this happens when we call insurgents the "anti-Iraqi forces, refer to our occupation as a liberation, o talk about us protecting the aspirations of the Iraqis from "foreign fighters" or portray the insurgents as the occupiers who are trying to put Iraq under iranian rule), and I wished to rebut this. Basically, I was calling for honesty in how the attacks are portrayed (i.e. Israel's attacks are against the Lebanese, not in suppot of the Lebanese in their battle against whoever).

That is all.