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March 30, 2007

Comments

Nato

"If the "bull's eye on their back" is more than a weird paraphrase of the truism that yes, soldiers at war sometimes get killed..."

I would say that this is very close to the matter at hand, but I should phrase it a little differently. If one goes outside the wire in Iraq, one is always a target and an attack could happen at any moment, and not usually from the front. So the bull's-eye being located on the soldier's back is quite appropriate and identifies the single largest source of combat stress.

As for destroying our military, well, I can't really speak to that. It's very clear that the quality of personnel has declined dramatically since I joined, but it's impossible to say how much of that has to do with the highly elevated quality of recruit just after Sept 11. I will say that I have plenty of anecdotal evidence of people who might once have considered going career disgusted by the perfidy of desperate commanders trying to fill deployment personnel rosters. (Full disclosure: my gf is the object of such rules-stretching maneuvers right now, though she wouldn't have considered going career in any case) Divorce rates are up as well, though I think they've settled down (from "double") somewhat since a lot of soldiers no longer have the opportunity to get married in the first place. I could go on, but the point of all of this is that the unit morale seems to have dropped in every unit with which I've had contact, and for readily-identifiable reasons. I'm certain there are exceptions, and for those units lucky enough to do a good job in Iraq, morale can certainly improve, but generally speaking all the trends that I can perceive are profoundly negative. Contrast with Korea, in which an originally sullen paper tiger of a US Army tempered into an extremely effective fighting force.

And finally to Vietnam-style delusion and Bush's command to Congress to just suck it up and let him continue to do what he wants: why should they? Once upon a time, Congress controlled whether we were at war or not, and it's perfectly within their Constitutionally-defined role to say "no more." Maybe you think it's craven to "give up", but I think a timeline at this point probably won't hurt Iraq's chances much more than any other particular military action. I *do* think the Democrats blaming Iraq's problems on the Iraqis is pretty craven, but that's neither here nor there. This game is over and Gen. Petraeus, capable as he is, can only preside over the very best military swan song possible. Thinking otherwise amongst those who see the intelligence reports is, from my persepective, completely deluded.

As a side note, those are 2646 combat deaths, but non-combat deaths are not just deaths that would have happened anyway. If someone is driving too fast on too little sleep to complicate insurgent targeting and meet optempo requirements, the crash death is "non-combat". Ditto if helicopters aren't getting enough maintenance because there's not enough to go around and the existing ones are constantly in use, the people who die when they crash didn't die in combat.

Nathan Smith

"General Petraeus, capable as he is, can only preside over the very best military swan song possible..."

Interesting, but what does it mean? A "swan song" is the sound that (according to legend; I don't know whether it's really true) a swan only makes just before it dies. What is dying in this case? The US military? Surely not. The Iraq War? But wars are supposed to be temporary, so the sad connotations of the phrase "swan song" don't make sense. Or is it the "swan song" for our chances of victory? That we're sure to lose? But what would it be to "lose" in Iraq? We've long since achieved our main war objective of removing Saddam's regime. Now that Saddam is dead there's no chance of it coming back. We've also held free elections and presided over the establishment of a new constitution. We've empowered the Shia majority (and the Kurds) and that not-exactly-intended-but-entailed-by-our-goals accomplishment is highly unlikely to be reversed.

There's a divergence here, I think, between the mission as it is inevitably conceived by the soldiers and the mission from the geostrategic point of view. We say we want to establish a democratic order in Iraq, and we want to prevent ethnic cleansing. That's what the soldiers are fighting for, a mission, by the way, that couldn't be more consistent with the values that liberal Democrats ought to believe in. Nothing could be more consistent than for Tony Blair to have been an old Clinton ally and then to stand shoulder to shoulder with Bush in Iraq. However, we could withdraw tomorrow and our strategic victory would be tarnished a bit but basically intact.

Anyway, Nato and I are talking past each other. He's worried about military strategy. Fine. I'm worried about the climate of discourse at home. Nato is too gentlemanly in the spin he puts on Hagel's comments. Yes, part of being a soldier is to be a target. The irrelevantly dramatic tone of Hagel's remark is not an attempt to educate the public about the nature of war, but to confuse the public by treating a basic fact of life during a war as if it were some sort of outrage for which blaming political leaders is a sensible response. Or again, reasonable people can differ about the process issue of what roles should be allotted to Congress and the president; but there is no justification for talk of "lemmings" and "monarchy." The hysterical demagogy of Kos, Hagel & company lowers the tone of public debate, displacing rational argument with rhetoric, emotion, and conspiracy theories.

Nato

I just meant the colloquial sense of swan song: a farewell act. It would be best if our withdrawal was orderly, well conducted and designed to allow the Iraqis the greatest chance of filling in the vacuum in a stable way. I don't see how that is hostile to a time-line at this point. If the administration thinks that fall 2008 is the wrong time, then pick another. Not picking a time just means nothing gets planned.

Hagel's rhetoric may be overblown, but the basic complaint seems justifiable.

Nathan Smith

It seems to me that a time-line is all downside, a unilateral surrender of our own flexibility. If we say, "We'll withdraw in September 2008, no matter what," hostile elements know (a) that post-September 2008 is their best chance to take over, and (b) that we won't retaliate after September 2008. So they'll organize and engage in low-risk terror-style activity for now, then, when or just before we leave, they'll try to be the first movers if the violence escalates. I don't know enough about the situation on the ground to predict events in any degree of detail and I won't try. But it seems better to respond to events than to set artificial constraints on ourselves.

The only party other than enemies that I can see benefiting from a time-line is the Iraqi government. If we tell the Iraqi government: "We will stay until September 2008, but not later," they can plan for that. But the Iraqi government is the best judge of whether the value-added to them of knowing the dates of our stay and exit in advance is worth more than the costs of hostile forces having this information. If they request a timeline for withdrawal, fine. If our own internal dissensions lead to us imposing constraints on ourselves, that's a dysfunctional decision-making process.

Anyway, what are the reasons to withdraw in September 2008, that aren't reasons to withdraw in, say, June 2007? A sudden withdrawal, combined with an assertion of power elsewhere, in Afghanistan or Darfur (not that I've followed recent events there) could be a PR victory, showing that we're not paralyzed but are still capable of taking decisive action. A long-drawn-out withdrawal, whose pace is driven by internal political considerations and not by strategic or military ones, would look much more like a self-defeat.

Let me add that for the Democrats to *threaten* a timeline, or even to pass it and then get it vetoed by Bush, might be strategically sensible. The Bush administration can still respond to threats on the ground, while the Democrats' withdrawal threat become a useful source of leverage. I'm not necessarily unhappy with the way things are actually playing out in the political arena. But we must keep our heads. Rhetoric like Hagel's poisons the climate of discourse and makes rational policymaking more difficult.

Nato

The "no matter what" seems an unfortunate and unnecessary codicil. All plans should remain open to revision, but only for reason. No withdrawal plan results in no withdrawal, and no (good) withdrawal plans can be drawn without coordinating with the Iraqi government, from whom the insurgents will immediately get the information.

But what would they do with the news? Demonstrate that Iraq is still chaotic? Nothing new there. Gloat? Perhaps, but I think any insurgent gloating will be short-lived unless they cut a deal with the Shia. And if that happens, it's worth enduring the gloating for peace in Iraq. As for Al Qaeda, I think their gloating may well prove short-lived as well, considering that once fear subsides, the deep loathing of Iraqis - even Sunnis - may turn very bad for them. In any case, I don't see much advantage to them in gloating a little early. If anything it gives them a great platform on which to say things that will eventually embarrass or discredit them, like Saddam's information minister claiming we weren't close to Baghdad when CNN was showing our tanks in the streets.

No, setting a time line establishes a direction and an organizing concrete objective which to date have been sadly lacking. Any plans made in such a scenario would probably have to be revised as circumstances dictated, but right now I have no inkling whatsoever of any long term plan.

One begins to wonder if the common opinion that the administration's goal is to keep things going long enough to offload to the next president has some truth to it.

froclown

Perhaps if we would leave the rest of the world alone until we perfect the science of behavior on the people of our own lands, then we can expand that science to encompass those people of other lands which we do not have political control over, either my crook or by hook.

Our psychology and science teach us that punishment is an ineffective method of behavior modification, that revenge is in an ineffective way to appease grief, and that reacting with force plays into and feeds the inferiority complexes of those who provoke us. So then why do we not use our knowledge of behavior (Adlerian psychology, for example) on our children and criminals in America.

Then we can teach those techniques, integrate them into our collective psyche, and use them on our "enemies" such as these terrorists so called, rather than dominate by brute force, we can apply the correct reaction to their tantrums, forcing them to respect us and enter into a democratic discussion.

Without mutual respect there can be no communication, without communication there can be no understanding, and without understanding there can be no healing, no peace.

If a child throws a toy at a parent the child wants, may want attention because he feels neglected or inferior. If he feels even more inferior he may want revenge to make he parent angry, he wants to be punished. only the extremely self-defeated child withdraws completely and loses even concern for his own survival.

Anyway if we treat the "enemy" as the Adlerian would treat a child, and adress his true goals, which is to contribute meaningfully to the world community, rather than react to his tantrums based on his false goals (the desire to feel superior or important) Then we can appease this situaiton without blood shed.

froclown

"Most of the methods employed today to solve pressing problems in the lives of peoples or groups are obsolete and inadequate. They are mostly based on stimulating nationalistic and religious passions and lead to oppression, persecution, and war. An education based on the principles of individual psychology would eliminate these delusions of egotism and folly and would substitute a general zeal for common welfare. Individual psychology could rally all the latent forces for good which are inherent in groups just as it is already rallying such latent forces in individuals. War, national hatreds and class struggle, these greatest enemies of humankind, root in the desire groups to escape or compensate for the crushing sense of their inferiority. Individual psychology, which can cure individuals from the evil effects of this sense of inferiority, might be developed into a most powerful instrument of ridding nations and groups of the menace of their collective inferiority complexes." (Alfred Adler)

"To all those who walk the path of human cooperation war must appear loathsome and inhuman. But if a generation, or some part of one, grows up without an adequate sense of community, so that their personal desires loom larger than the general welfare, then war may seem a justifiable means of satisfying personal and selfish interests." (Alfred Adler)

"One thing can save us: the mistrust of any form of predominance. Our strength lies in conviction, in organizing strength, in a world view, not in the violence of armament and not in emergency laws. With such means other strong forces before us have fought in vain for their existence."

"We need the conscious preparation and advancement of a mighty social interest and the complete demolition of greed and power in the individual and in peoples. What we all lack and for which we struggle relentlessly are new methods to raise the social sense..."

Nato

"To all those who walk the path of human cooperation war must appear loathsome and inhuman. But if a generation, or some part of one, grows up without an adequate sense of community, so that their personal desires loom larger than the general welfare, then war may seem a justifiable means of satisfying personal and selfish interests."

Takfiri extremists - and other such extremists - have a strong sense of community, tend to be very open-handed with their resources and teach their youths to be the same. Many - perhaps most - are eminently willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good as they perceive it and frequently work very hard to subordinate their personal desires to the goals of the group.

But of course, these are the same people blowing up truck-bombs in the Tal Afar market.

I would say that selfishness is perhaps one of the more positive forces in the middle-east, since ultimately women will selfishly refuse to subordinate themselves to the extremist's idea of a woman's role, and individuals will selfishly insist on order and economic wealth rather than some nebulous sectarian good, and people in positions of power will selfishly make deals with opposition so that they can continue to live and rule rather than sacrifice themselves on the pyre of sectarian purity.

froclown

This has nothing to do with if people are selfish or not.

The point is that people have inferiority feelings, which have many causes including as children they develop complexes about not being as capable as adults. Other factors include oppression and ridicule, rather than egalitarian co-operation and encouragement of individual contributions.

Groups can be treated in a sense as whole individuals, rather than as divisible unites, for these purposes.

Thus, even if an individual is a healthy member of a particular group, if that group is unhealthy and as a group strives with inferiority feelings, then conflict between this group and other groups manifests itself.

This conflict is due to a person or group trying to overcome inferiority feelings by striving to be superior. This striving to be better, is an attempt to punish others to makes them feel inferior to oneself, or one's group.

This desire to be superior is a mistake, it perpetuates the cycle, that caused the original inferiority feelings in the first place.

The cause of the inferiority is alienation. The person/group feels like they are outsiders because they are not capable of contributing to the world (human community). By puffing themselves up and making others feel smaller, they only alienate themselves even more from others. This frustrates the desire to belong and causes even more superiority striving, which leads to more alienation.

If we can help the individual or the group feel competent, then they will stop trying to prove themselves superior, they will not act aggressively. The problem with Islamic groups is that they feel like thier are alienated, and we only contribute to their self image as superior when we attack them. When we fight them, they say "look the world persecutes us because we are better then them, more holy" just like when they attack us we say "Look we are superior to them, they hate us because they are jelous of our freedom".

Instead both sides need to stop trying to prove who stronger, freer, holier, or whatever they are better than the other. Instead both sides need encouragement to contribute peacefully and meaningfully to the human condition. We all suffer, we all need food, water, shelter, etc.

Instead of fighting each other, we can belong to one community which works to alievate the suffering inherent in the human condition.

Physical violence only leads to more alienation, dominations, and inferiority complexes.

Also, for example a discouraged child may try to pull the teacher into a fight or arguement, as soon as she enters the fight she has lost, because they child is getting what he was after, to make himself feel superior to the teacher, making her feel angry, disracting her from her class, etc.

The attacks of 9-11 where no different than a child who throws a pencil at the teacher, he wanter her to get rufflled and smack him. They wanted us to strike back, that's how they fuel their illusion of superiorty.

What they don't want is for us to ignore them, engage them with something non-related, turn the other cheek and ask them to use their Islamic economic tradition to help us balance our trade deficit.

Make them feel needed useful and encourage their natural abilities and cultural traditions, and they will stop acting up and start contributing meaningfully to the world community.

Nato

"Make them feel needed useful and encourage their natural abilities and cultural traditions, and they will stop acting up and start contributing meaningfully to the world community."

Is it possible to do so, given the serious problems with their cultural traditions and their currently somewhat anemic abilities? Similar problems led to the American Civil War, after all; initial hopes that slavery would fade away on its own came to nothing, nor could the South modernize their industrial infrastructure while it remained a slave-based agricultural aristocracy. If we condemn patriarchy and prejudice in our own society, how can we pretend the same criticism does not apply to conservative Islamic cultures? If we are to compliment conservative Islamic culture, what have we to say? I guess we can point to generosity and bravery, but this is already poisoned since so much of both are devoted to extremist causes.

I dunno. Maybe it's just hard to address the topic right now since I just got finished reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali's "Infidel", which is not the most positive portrayal of traditionalist and conservative Islamic culture. Whatever the case, I have a hard time seeing how to apply froclown's insight in the real world.

froclown

One sure fire way to fail, is to not try.

I know it seems that these nations are so far behind the times that they may not offer much in way of contribution, however the amish are far behind the times, and yet we are able to co-exist with them peacefully. Of course they alienate themselves on purpose and they so we just don't interfere with eachother. The problem is the middle easy are not self sufficient without oil. Our need for the oil draws them into the modern economic system and thus the modern social paradigms which they oppose.

They want the power to act as indiviual agents in this global social-economic system, while at the same time they do not want to lose their identity which is tied into thier religion and cultural practices.

This is a complex situation and like a well built explosive devise it requires a skilled hand to defuse the situation, it seems to me that we are attaking this bomb like a monkey with a hammer, rather than as a skilled profesison bomb defuser. Hit a bomb with a hammer and is explodes all over your face, defuse it carefully and no one gets hurt.

I should think that america and the western world as a whole has developed out understadning and technology of behavior and psychology as well as media control, economics, politics, etc just as much if not more so that out millitary weaponry. If my assumption is correct, I fail to see why we can't reduce or remove out millitary might, and employ proffessional psychologists, propagandists, and other such technicians.

For the same reason we don't call in air strikes to fix computer viruses and we don't use assassins to rid us of autistics. It only makes sense that we apply the proper type of force and technology to the problem.

How can millitary stikes make people feel safer, more secure, and less threatened by those who called in the attack?

Nato

It should be noted that Hagel is not alone in his rhetorical verbiage. A complaint from Bruce Fein associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan and founder of the conservative Liberty Coalition:

"The Democrats in Congress have done absolutely nothing to tell the president he is not a king and we do not live in a monarchy. They are allowing him to trash the Constitution because most of them know nothing about the Constitution and are concerned only with making headlines about minor issues and getting themselves reelected."

jordan retro 1

If you would convince others, you seem open to conviction yourself. What do you think?

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