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April 10, 2007


Val Larsen

Thomas writes:
"In my opinion, the most disspiriting thing is that because of incompetence the US is unlikely to attempt other regime changes in the near future. I think it's unfair to attack the general public's will on this issue considering that some polls were 80% in favor of Bush and the war in Afghanistan at the beginning. Bush even had a large majority of support for invading Iraq. Claiming that the American people are weak-willed because they don't like how things have turned out is rather silly."

Thomas, the 80% datum (and its correspondingly high number for Iraq) support my main claim: that the public will is inconstant. As I noted in my original post, the cost in lives and treasure of this war has been very small compared to most wars in our history, including some relatively minor ones, e.g., the Philipeans war of the late 1890s. So what accounts for the 40% (or more) decline in public support for the war effort, if not inconstancy of will. You will reply, "the incompetent way the Administration has waged the war." But the public of Lincoln or FDR's day would have rejoiced in such an incompetent display of incompetence as this. The screw ups on D-Day alone had a far higher price in lives than this entire war--and if troops still in the conquered country is a measure, WWII hasn't yet ended. During one week of Lincoln's war (the week of the Gettysburg and Vicksburg battles), 100,000 Americans died. With proper management, those victories could have ended the war, but the aftermath was mismanaged to such a degree that another 200,000 had to die before the South surrendered. (Would you have been a supporter of McClellan in 1864?) There are always mistakes in the management of any war. There have been fewer in this war, if lives and money are the measure, than in most that we have fought. But war is ultimately a test not of power but of will, and as I originally argued, this war has revealed that today's America is not true to its resolute past, not even to the Viet Nam war which was still well supported after 3,000 American deaths.

Val Larsen

In response to Nathanael on McCain:
Free trade is one aspect of free markets (a very important one, and I honor McCain for supporting it), but it isn't the only aspect. And McCain has been a far less reliable friend of free markets in the domestic arena. McCain voted to let the secretary of HHS set prices on prescription drugs, against a bill that would have prohibited increases in CAFE standards, for prohibiting drilling in ANWR, for draconian regulation of greenhouse gases--and against the Bush tax cut, using class warfare rhetoric to make his case. This is all of a piece with McCain-Feingold which is a major issue for politically engaged conservatives, and which seeks to regulate the one thing which the founders intended, above all others, not be regulated--political speech. Turning to another comment, though we agree on the underlying policy, I will quibble with Nathanel's quibble on nativism versus cultural conservatism. Cultural conservatism is a larger concept than nativism, but one that normally subsumes it. Like almost all broad concepts, cultural conservatism has to be defined, as Wittgenstein noted, by family resemblance. There is a constellation of attitudes that make one a cultural conservative, none of which may be essential but all of which frequently manifest themselves as part of the overall orientation. One can be a cultural conservative without being a nativist (e.g., Nathanael, me), but it is nevertheless true that nativism is one of the attitudes that typifies cultural conservatism. For example, Pat Buchannan's nativism is probably an outgrowth of a larger cultural conservatism which doesn't like the cultural change that immigrants almost always bring with them. With resepect to the courts, the Gang of 14 gets no credit for Roberts and Alito. The Republican majority was going to prevail on the rules issue had it come up for a vote. Since it didn't come up for a vote, the Democrats were able to block a number of appointees who would have been confirmed under a 50 + 1 rule if McCain hadn't blocked implementation of the Constitutional/Nuclear option. My (and many other conservative's) bottom line on McCain is that he has, on a number of occasions, taken a poke at Republicans and Republican constituencies and has seemed to play to the national press which loves no one more than a maverick Republican. More than is typical of other Republicans, he has gone out of his way to take high profile stands against his party. That may have endeared him to Independents and possibly enhanced his electabilty, but it alienated conservatives.


I wonder if Val thinks that the reason Afghanistan is far less unpopular than Iraq is because we've lost fewer troops there.

Val Larsen

I think the reason Afganistan is less unpopular than Iraq is because we are still in Iraq. If we leave Iraq, I'm willing to bet that Afganistan is the next cause celeb of those who are currently focused on Iraq. Any takers? Critics on the left are picking the low hanging fruit, but if they are victorious on Iraq, most will be coming back for another bite of the Afghan fruit hanging higher on the tree.

Val Larsen

Nato writes:
One other item - would public opinion really be changing so much against the war if there had been the same number of deaths, but actual progress on the ground? Maybe it;s people disgust with FAILURE that's turning people against Bush, not inability to stomach loss.

Iraq has a free press, an elected government, a quite prosperous Kurdish sector, an economy that has grown far, far faster than it was growing under Sadaam. The hospitals are better stocked, children are not dying from sactions as they were prior to the invasion (though they are dying from terrorist attacks). Fourteen of the sixteen Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar province are now aligned with us and lines to join the police are now long in that long suffering province. My point is that there has been progress on many fronts since the invasion and since the surge. "FAILURE" is not a complete, objective description of what has happened on the ground, but it is a good descrption of the public's perceptions of what has happened. And in my view, that fact is a FAILURE of an American press that is objectively aligned with the enemy in sapping the public will to persist in this fight. In saying this, I don't mean to minimize the difficulties we have faced and face, but when we went into this war, I committed to it because I believed (as I still believe) that there was a significant chance that we will suffer a catastrophic attack on one more more American cites (an attack which will dramatically change our culture for the worse in almost every respect), if we do not change the political culture of the Middle East. Traditionally well educated, comparatively secular Iraq was, and probably still is, our best hope for chaning that culture. But it incresingly appears we do not have the stomach to persist in this cultural transformation as we once did in Germany and Japan. I fear that we will eventually pay a very high price for our current lack of fortitude when--if we could just be firm in our purpose--a comparatively very small price has reasonable prospects of securing our objective.


It grew by about 50% in the year following the lifting of sanctions - (levied by the same people - what magic!) and since then has limped along in single digit expansions that are astonishingly meagre for a nation with the immense idle capacity it has. I also want to know where these hospitals are that so much better stocked. *Some* are better stocked, while others are barely operating at all. Meanwhile, a great deal of what I've seen built has since been destroyed and I can't really name a single success - and I've seen quite a few - that hasn't since been erased by further screw-ups*.

As for the tribal leaders "aligned with us" - well, I suppose that's close enough to the truth. They hate us as much as ever, but they've come to loathe the Takfiris more - and with good reason. The terrorists handed "us" that victory by being so vile. Of course, if we'd not aggrevated the tribal leaders so much by making promises then breaking them (We're here to stay and protect our friends! Whoops, no, we have to go to Ramadi now) then this would have happened years ago; I saw it starting to happen in 2005 but then we aggrevated everyone again and it petered out.

In any case, I'll admit that I still think we can turn this thing around. If we can just get together another 150,000-200,000 troops for the next few years, I think we can turn it around decisively. If you think the surge is going to do it, well, I hope you're right, but I don't personally know anyone who thinks it has a snowball's chance.

*To be fair here, these were screw-ups in the sense that if the unit had been really unusually competent and emjoyed some good luck, they might have been able to hold it together, so high command decided to risk it to free a larger unit to try and deal with some other crisis.

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