Another attempt to justify our Af-Pak war, and show the path to victory

This morning’s recommended reading:  “How to Lose in Afghanistan“, Anthony H. Cordesman (Center for Strategic and International Studies), op-ed in the Washington Post, 31 August 2009.

Nothing illustrates the essential irrationality of our Af-pak war better than the illogic of the war’s advocates.  They must exist in a self-referential bubble to believe this nonsense.  {This post was expaned on 31 August}

I was going to write about this latest example, but others have done so  faster and better: 

  1. Afghanistan Mission Creep Watch – The Cordesman Version“, Michael Cohen (New America Foundation), Democracy Arsenal, 31 August 2009
  2. Defining ‘Victory’ in Afghanistan“, Matthew Yglesias, ThinkProgress, 31 August 2009
  3. And Still No Definition of What ‘Winning’ Means“, Bernard Finel (American Security Project), 31 August 2009

Excerpts

Cohen’s rebuttal is brilliant and complex. I recommend reading it in full. It’s brillant and brief, so I will quote it in full below. Yglesias has a few pithy observations, which appear in the following excerpt.

(2)  Defining ‘Victory’ in Afghanistan“, Matthew Yglesias, ThinkProgress, 31 August 2009 — Excerpt:

Another note I would offer on the Cordesman piece is that he defines the problems we need to confront in the region as including not only the Taliban, but also the government of Afghanistan … and the government of Pakistan … This of course raises the question of on whose behalf this fighting is happening? The stability of Pakistan is often offered as the reason we need to be fighting the Taliban, but if it’s folly to be treating Pakistan as an ally then how much sense does this make? And if Karzai is part of the problem, too, then who’s side are we on?

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The decay of our government, visible for all to see

Some headlines require no story, as they tell the story.  Today we see confirmed the fear that the Obama Administration would be staffed with inexperienced liberals, whose only qualification are diplomas from elite schools, fine connections in the power structure, and sound ideology.

Of course, it does not matter.  We’re sheep, and will accept this unqualified new addition to our shepherds without protest.  Get into the spirit of our nation:  while reading this say “baa baa baa“.

Are we capable of self-government?  Are we worthy of the privilege of self-government?  If you believe the answer is yes, I suggesting getting angry soon.  The situation is sliding downhill fast, and we cannot count on the Blue Fairy to fix things.

Today’s example:  “The 31-Year-Old in Charge of Dismantling G.M.“, New York Times, 1 June 2009 — Opening:

It is not every 31-year-old who, in a first government job, finds himself dismantling General Motors and rewriting the rules of American capitalism.  But that, in short, is the job description for Brian Deese, a not-quite graduate of Yale Law School who had never set foot in an automotive assembly plant until he took on his nearly unseen role in remaking the American automotive industry.

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Reading Recommendations – about our infrastructure

Important and interesting articles and reports published recently about America’s infrastructure.

  1. High Speed Rail Proposals Map“, Matthew Yglesias, ThinkProgress, 21 April 2009 — Cost be dammed thinking from a young leftist journalist.
  2. Infrastructure Madness“, Jack Shafer, Slate, 21 April 2009 — “Don’t believe everything you read about the failing bridges and antiquated waterworks.”
  3. The 2009 Report Card for American Infrastrstructure”, published by the the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)

Excerpts

(1)   High Speed Rail Proposals Map“, Matthew Yglesias, ThinkProgress, 21 April 2009 — There is no point reading the “cost be dammed” thinking from a young leftist journalist, the graphic is nifty — and this comment provides the perfect response.  By Rich in PA:

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How to stage effective protests in the 21st century

Discussions how to reform America frequently end on one set of rocks:  the ineffectiveness of mass protests in 21st century America.  In this post Joshua Keating explains the problem (“Do protests ever work?“, blog of Foreign Policy, 2 April 2009 ):

Collins names Gandhi’s march to the sea and Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington as the ultimate effective demonstrations in this sense. They mobilized huge groups in support of a definable and achievable goal rather than opposing an amorphous concept like “capitalism.”

The fact that much of the street activism against the U.S. war in Iraq has been led by a group called Act Now to Stop War & End Racism is a good indication of why the antiwar movement has never really been a factor in debates over U.S. foreign policy. Rather than organizing around a specific political goal, ending the war, these marches tend to devolve into general lefty free-for-alls encompassing everything from Palestine to free trade the environment to capital punishment.

… Recent examples of effective protests would be the unbelievably effective demonstrations in Pakistan that led to the reinstatement of chief justice Iftikhar Chaudry or the pro-Thaksin demonstrators who have Thailand’s government on the brink of capitulation. Strangely, it also seems to be the case that demonstrations in partially free or inconsistently democratic societies tend to be the most effective.

Matthew Yglesias’ blog features many of the best comment threads I’ve seen on the Internet.  Frequently better than his posts.  Here are selected comments from his post about Keating’s article, in 5 sections.

  1. About goals
  2. About tactics
  3. Who is protesting?
  4. Why are people protesting?
  5. About Violence

(1)  About goals

Ian, #38:

  • Montgomery Bus Boycott: Racial segregation on its public transit system
  • Selma: Equal voting rights in Selma

MLK & co. had a big broad issue in mind, but narrowly targeted protests proved extremely effective.

Ragout, #53

In line with Matt’s point, let me note that King’s 1963 march was called “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” It was organized around a list of demands; covering everything from desegregating schools to a higher minimum wage.

lfv, #5

… the things Ghandi and King fought for and won were things that honest, reasonable people overwhelming agree are right. Ending capitalism? Really? Or world trade? OK. Whatever you say.

(2)  About tactics

StevenAttewell, #45

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All you need to know about Ayn Rand, savior of modern conservatism

Summary: Ayn Rand has become a hot intellectual property, whose wisdom many conservatives recommend guide our actions.  Here is the essence of her teaching.

The classic cover to any Ayn Rand

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Here are two columnists exchanging volleys about Rand.

  1. Obama Needs AIG’s Liddy, Not Other Way Around“, Caroline Baum, op-ed at Bloomberg, 19 March 2009
  2. Carol Baum: Welfare CEOs are Just Like John Galt“, Matthew Yglesias, ThinkProgress, 19 March 2009

I have not read any of her books.  I gave up after trying to go through both Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead (life is too short).  But perhaps we can find all we need to know about Rand in the comments to Yglesias article.  Here are a few of the best.

#13 Mnemosyne Says:

In defense of Ayn Rand (and that’s the last time you’ll see me say that), in her books the heroes were people who actually made and built things, like railroads and buildings. The financiers – the kind of guys who would sell and re-sell the same mortgage 20 times – were always the villains. They’re a bunch of James Taggarts trying to convince everyone they’re John Galt.

#15 burritoboy Says:

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President Bush gets in a few last blows on America before he leaves

Say good riddance to the Bush Administration.

Conservatives Want More Dirt in Your Water“, Matthew Yglesias, ThinkProgress.org, 1 December 2008:

As Kieran Healy observes, this Robert Pear article {in the New York Times} focusing on the Bush administration’s efforts to weaken labor rights so as to make it easier for businesses to poison their workforce and so forth also contains a few more doozies mentioned offhand:

“The Labor Department rule is among many that federal agencies are poised to issue before Mr. Bush turns over the White House to Mr. Obama. One rule would allow coal companies to dump rock and dirt from mountaintop mining operations into nearby streams and valleys.”

Yes, that’s right. In these troubled times, the right-wing has reached the conclusion that one of the primary issues facing the country is that it’s unduly difficult for coal companies to dump dirt into nearby streams. Because everyone wishes there was more dirt in their stream!

Note that this is one of those issues where nothing about a commitment to free markets or property rights or liberty compels one to slavishly adopt the business-friendly view that people should have unlimited rights to ruin the water quality of people downstream. But that’s conservative governance in action.

Background on this issue

The whining about loss of scenic vistas seems absurd to me — we have no shortage of mountains.  The pollution of streams is a serious matter.  The apparent inability of some greens to distinguish between these two issues seems quite odd, IMO.

Appalachia Is Paying Price for White House Rule Change“, Joby Warrick, Washington Post, 17 August 2004 — The accompanying graphic is also helpful.  A small excerpt from this powerful article:

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Conservatives should look back before attempting to move forward

Matthew Yglesias raises a good point here, that conservatives need to reflect on past errors before condeming Obama’s future errors — let alone offering America new solutions:

Part of the effort to pull the wagon of conservatism out of the ditch into which Bush piloted the country is going to be an effort to deny that George W. Bush was a real conservative. In reality, Bushism should be understood as the highest form of conservatism. In particular, the High Bushist years of 2001-2006 represent the only time that the post-war conservative movement has had total control over the federal government. If the practical consequences of pre-Bush conservatism were less disastrous, that’s largely because conservative political power was more constrained in those earlier eras.

Meanwhile, it’s worth recalling that at the peak of his political power, when Bush was making his most disastrous decisions, conservatives not only thought he was a good president, but a great one. There was practically a line around the block to write paens to his genius.

The dates should be 2003 – 2006 (not 2001-2006), but the concept seems valid.  As an example Yglesias cites David Gelertner’s “Bush’s Greatness” from the 13 September 2004 Weekly Standard:

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