THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 305 April 12 - 18, 2004
Highlights this week:
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April 12, 2004
I am way behind on taxes and paying bills, and a spring cold has laid me out. I did an essay on republic, empire, and the Iraqi situation Saturday, and it follows one I did Friday. There is a good discussion of C and programming in today's mail, and there was a lot of good mail Saturday. More later.
For information on next week's Space Access Society meeting, see mail.
On Iraq: one suspects that as time goes on, the 500 or so people who have some actual influence in Iraq will conclude that it may be best to have a single leader, but NOT THIS ONE, and al-Sadr's support will begin to melt.
While there is some sentiment for an Islamic Republic among some elements, it doesn't appear to be a majority. Iraq is a comparatively well educated country, with many western cultural patterns running rather deep but imposed across a clan and tribe system.
The way out for the US is to bring in a decentralized government -- a Council of 500 -- and allow them to work out the blood prices to be paid for the Iraqi AND Coalition casualties. So long as this is under serious discussion the requirement for blood vengeance doesn't apply and in fact is forbidden.
One wonders if the sheiks of Fallujah ever read:
Last week in Note 1 to one of my essays, I apologized to the Clintons for taking them to task over Travelgate; and I have been duly castigated by many who point out that they didn't just fire the civil servants in the travel office, they abused power and accused these people falsely of crimes in order to get their slots for their friends and relatives.
In fact, I knew this, although it was not foremost in my thoughts when I wrote that. And in that sense it was an evil deed. Yet, had we not had the pretense of non-partisan civil service; if we had the old fashioned spoils system, this wouldn't have happened because there would have been no need.
One of the differences in the two parties is that the Republicans always have problems filling many of the offices that are political, because most competent people would rather do something other than work for the government, particularly in a job that by definition is temporary and won't last past the next election. This was the major fault of the spoils system: it's hard to find competent people to fill some jobs, so the notion of a non-partisan civil service that merely carries out the policies of the elected officials, and does so efficiently, is extremely tempting.
And sometimes it works. There are bureaus that are known for their competence and which do stay out of politics. This is less so now than in the past when the Hatch Act forbidding civil servants so much as to donate to a political race, much less take open sides even on "their own time", was strictly enforced. The notion of the Hatch Act was to shield the civil service from pressures; but of course doing that "deprived them of political rights" -- something they presumably knew would happen when they competed for the jobs in the first place.
So: let me assure all of you, I do know that this is not a simple issue. One the one hand, if you can't fire civil servants and roll out bureaucrats you can't make any real changes in the way government works. Of course as a conservative I do not want frequent changes in the way government works. On the other hand, I am not dedicated to the proposition that government ought to expand without limit, and I do very much believe that electi0ns ought to mean something, at least sometimes; that sometimes there really does need to be some clean sweeping.
I am not insane enough to think I know how to solve this problem once and for all.
I do think, in principle, that the less important the government becomes to people's lives, and the smaller the bite that it takes from the general income, the less serious such matters are; that the best "solution" to the problems I pose here are to cut way back on what we expect the Federal Government to do, then on what we expect from State government, and lay as many of those burdens on cities and counties as possible: whereupon many people will say to heck with it and strip those functions from any government and go back to doing them through associations and private acts, as de Tocqueville described. But that's probably dreaming.
And yet, I can remember a time when the local mayor was far more important in our lives than the President, and when the federal government had little to no impact or contact on the lives of the people of Capleville, Tennessee, who did in fact govern themselves, and rather well, as I recall. And in those times there weren't any "slots" to covet.
So: for those worried about my sanity, no, I haven't forgotten that the Clintons were rather brutal in the Travelgate issue, the more because the stakes were so low and the spoils so petty; and I don't forgive them their methods. But I will repeat that they had a point even so. We have tried to put things beyond politics, and often have simply managed to get them beyond the reach of elected officials to make any change.
I have always remembered a phrase in The Road to Serfdom about the German people becoming disgusted with the burdens of the Weimar Republic which didn't seem to be able to change anything no matter what, and turning to the National Socialists who did at least look to be able to do something, to make things change. (The lesson of course is to be careful what you wish for.)
SO: I do find it odd that I have had more comment about the footnote, which was a mere note, than about the essay to which it was appended.
|This week:||Tuesday, April
Friday the 13th falls on a Tuesday this month
Is this the time to point out that having civilian contractors do "civilian" jobs in military structures is probably a poor idea?
It is certainly more expensive to have military personnel running the PX and delivering groceries and doing the housekeeping for maintaining a huge military presence in an area. We had military personnel doing that in Germany during the Seventy Years War, and it was inefficient, and often denounced. The point then was that if the Russians drove for the Rhine, those jobs would still have to be done: the civilians who might have been doing them would be gone; and it would be a poor time for the Quartermaster Corp to learn how to do this while under fire. Better they had been doing it all along: at least they knew the job and what had to be done, and being trained soldiers they had a better chance of getting it done under fire.
The same and in spades with Big Casino in Iraq. I doubt a military unit would have lost a number of hostages in a raid on a food convoy.
Civilian efficiency experts are always mucking about with military structures; and while the military can develop a bureaucracy, it only takes a short war to blow much of that away.
You can't make war on the cheap, which is a good reason for not making it at all without better reasons than we had for going into Iraq. But now that we are there, the price must be paid for being there.
On doing good, Roland finds this:
(In Iraq, the survey showed the public would tolerate, as a mean figure, 29,853 American fatalities; civilian elites would tolerate 19,045; and their military counterparts would tolerate 6,016.) The data have obvious implications abroad, where Osama bin Laden boasted that the collapse of American resolve in Somalia "convinced us that the Americans are a paper tiger," and at home, where 78 percent of officers and a nearly identical percentage of their civilian counterparts agree with this statement: "The American public will rarely tolerate large numbers of U.S. casualties in military operations."
All that is needed is resolution from the top. The American people will tolerate 30,000 casualties as the price of subduing Iraq, says the co-author with Krystol of The War Over Iraq. I have heard little from the neo-conservatives about this extraordinary view; does this mean The Weekly Standard believes this?
The American people might tolerate such casualties if they could be convinced that there is some outcome of the war that leaves us better off than when we went in; but as a means of convincing bin Laden we are serious? Perhaps I misread.
One correspondent says:
On the other hand,
those of us among the "weak-kneed" who stubbornly doubt the reality of
Kaplan's conclusions are faced with the puzzle of explaining his argument.
The notorious brilliance of neocon policy thinkers and military strategists
rules out the obvious explanation, namely one of sheer stupidity.
In my CoDominium novels I called them "Welfare Islands" where the citizens were kept separate from the taxpayers...
April 14, 2004
The President has spoken, and we are committed. We will establish democratic freedom, a free society, in the Middle East, and Iraq is the place we will do it. Is the task he has set himself impossible?
I was about to put this in today's mail, but it fits here:
From J. Neil Schulman
I'm in strong agreement with your analysis that it's difficult to imagine a stable solution for a free Iraq that isn't based on the historical example of Switzerland's federal republic. But my question is why you're pessimistic about that outcome.
President Bush keeps emphasizing in his speeches, including in yesterday's press conference, that the permanent constitution for the new Iraq will be written by a popularly elected Iraqi assembly and, once drafted, voted up or down in a direct plebiscite by the Iraqis themselves. Do you envision that such a permanent constitution could win popular approval if it does not account for the region's historical ethnic and religious diversity by including a fulsome measure of local control by each of the region's ethnic groups?
Certainly Bush's position on separate states for Jews and Palestinian Arabs within the borders of the current State of Israel appears to indicate his understanding that local control is a key to the successful formation of free states.
All best regards,
A consummation devoutly to be wished; but at the moment the Shia clergy are holding out for simple national majority rule. That cannot be. Simple majority rule will not be accepted by the Sunni and Kurdish minorities.
If the Shia clergy change their pitch, then and only then can something be accomplished. And if they do, we, the people of the United States of America, must promise to enforce that constitution. No court can do it without an independent force. (Consult the Floridians: "John Marshal has made his decision, now let him enforce it.")
Given that we insist on a federal constitution for Iraq, and that we will remain for a decade to enforce it and see that the Shia do not take revenge for the past, yes: I believe it can be done. But the Shia clergy full well understand the West's Cultural Weapons of Mass Destruction (rock, hip-hop, Calvin Klein, Playboy, MTV, etc. etc.); and they can foresee the consequences of a peaceful federal union with secular states. So can Iran.
In other words: it can be done, with skill and determination. After watching the President yesterday I believe he has the determination. His opponent does not; although what Mr. Kerry would do were it his watch is not very clear. What is clear is that President Bush is determined to do this job.
Have we the force? Can it accomplish that task? Go read today's first Mail item. Given the determination, yes. It can be done. It will not be easy, and while we can't doubt the President's will, we can wonder if the American people will allow this.
Make no mistake: saving the world is not easy. The President said it is hard work, and he is doubly, trebly, correct. The reward can in fact be great: in 1942 no one would envision an American President and the Prime Minister of Japan in discussion about the role of Japan in planting democracy in the Middle East; as no one today can envision the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Iraq in discussion about the disposition of breakaway states in a Balkanized China. The one event is as probable today as the other was then: not very. But it was done.
We do not, in Bremer, have the proconsul we need: he is neither Lucius Clay nor Douglas Macarthur. That is not to say that the the United States cannot find such a proconsul. I can think of several candidates.
Should we do this? I am not sure that matters any longer. My preference remains: come home, leaving behind the stern warning that we can always come back; and make the necessary investments in defense of the realm including the science and engineering for energy independence. "We are the friends of liberty everywhere, but the guardians only of our own."
I would also devolve "national greatness" back to the States. (I do not and have never opposed using Federal funds to build impressive opulence in Washington DC; but that's entirely different from "demonstration programs" to hand out largess to the states.) My view of a self-sufficient self-governing republic isn't likely to prevail. We seem to be committed to our overseas adventures.
There is some glory in that.
"Your empire is now a tyranny: it may have been wrong to take it; it
is certainly dangerous to let it go." Pericles to the Athenians
We may already be there.
And for a more hopeful view, see mail.
The President did not say, God Wills It! But he might as well have. This is the mission of the United States of America, to carry the torch of freedom to the Middle East and to be certain it does not go out.
April 15, 2004
The Ides of April are upon us, a time to realize our status. This may be more significant to the debates we are about to undertake than one at first supposes. The people of the United States perform and act of self-government nearly unprecedented in human history, and do it with a bit of grousing but no serious talk of revolution. (But see mail.)
Now let's look at Iraq.
One major division in intellectual thought is summarized in the phrase "nature vs. nurture." Historically the radicals have believed that human nature is mutable; we are a blank slate, a tabula rasa, on which our experiences write; and those experiences form our personalities and frame our opinions. This theory was at the heart of Marxist notions of the "new man" who would emerge from the transformation of society. It was part of the theory that led Mao to send millions of intellectuals to the villages for reeducation in working class values; it was part of the theory that set up labor camps to rehabilitate criminals and class enemies into Soviet Man; it was part of the theory that led Pol Pot to slaughter every "intellectual" he could lay hands on in Cambodia.
True: the labor camps turned out to be a means in themselves as the profits from the camps paid their guards and gaolers and the bureaucracy that ran them and the secret police who filled them. These things happens in human life. The camps were run badly and did not perform their missions; but does that negate the theory of human malleability?
Radicals have generally held to these "nurturist" or "environmentalist" theories of human personality and motivation.
Conservatives have generally held to a different view: that human nature doesn't change much. People are adaptable, but not infinitely so. Great changes in society do not in themselves bring about The Good Society, and tearing down barriers does not automatically produce good.
Humans are flawed, whether by Original Sin or by imperfect evolution. Good societies do not just happen, and they are seldom if ever built by design. They grow. They have roots, they are maintained by customs and traditions, some of which we do not even understand. One approaches such a society with awe, and tends to its flaws as one would the wounds of a father, tenderly and with care, with a scalpel not an axe.
Edmund Burke expressed this in political terms, and is the intellectual father of modern political conservatism, but the view has its roots in the ancients including Cicero and Aristotle. Plato wrote of his ideal Republic in which the philosophers would be kings and guardians, and build the perfect state in which there was the theory of freedom, but not much in practice: his Republic looks more like Sparta than Athens. Aristotle by contrast studied the constitutions of hundreds of states, and had what conservatives believe is a more realistic view: man has a nature; it is malleable but not infinitely so; and the affairs of men follow patterns.
When The Bell Curve was published, with its theory that the top limit of human intelligence is determined by heredity and is fixed at birth, academia was instantly divided. It was an unequal division: many in the "social sciences" could not wait to read the book before denouncing it. I myself heard a "distinguished" professor at AAAS denounce the book while proudly proclaiming that he not only had not read it, but never would. Most intellectuals in the United States claimed in essence that Nurture, nor Nature, ruled human development; that limits are in general not set by heredity; and social constructs, such as affirmative action, and equal opportunity everywhere, if rigorously enforced by the State would end the effects of racism and intellectual poverty (which was largely an outgrowth of economic poverty). Given forced equality, the people of the United States would become better citizens, worthy of a free republic, and hereditary factors such as race wouldn't matter much.
This brings us to Iraq.
The President of the United States has solemnly taken the position that inherent in every human breast is the desire for freedom and liberty, and given the chance, everyone will seize liberty eagerly. The United States will bring this about: we will carry liberty to Iraq on the points of our bayonets and the treads of our Abrams tanks, on the wings of our Apache helicopters. We have only to remove the barriers to liberty and the Iraqi will seize it.
This is a breathtaking concept. It is one held by some of the Framers and many of the Patriots who were not Framers; but it was not held by those who wrote the Philadelphia Constitution in that hot summer of 1787. Those men may have read Locke, but they followed Burke even if they had not yet read him (and indeed Burke learned at least as much from the Americans as the American conservatives later learned from him). They built carefully on the institutions they saw in place, and they built with care.
The President's vision is a breathtaking concept, but it is a dangerous experiment to undertake de novo. Do the institutions of freedom exist in Iraq? Can they be built, and quickly? And even if they can be built are we the people to build them?
The ancients would not have thought of attempting such a transformation. To them a man was a product of his society as well as of his birth.
When Hydarnes counseled the Spartans to be friends with the King, for the Persian King well knew how to treat his friends,
"Hydarnes," they answered, "you are a one-sided counselor. You have experience of half the matter, but the other half is beyond your knowledge. A slave's life you understand, but never having tasted liberty, you cannot tell whether it is sweet or no. Had you known what freedom is, you would have bidden us to fight for it, not with the spear only, but with the battle-axe."
Have the Iraqi tasted freedom? And do they consider what we bring to them to be freedom?
We live in interesting times.
April 16, 2004
In a tearing rush to get down to the beach house, have to arrange for dog walkers and be sure there are provisions here for the housekeeper and such like.
I will process a lot of mail on the train. There's a good bit, but I should have some time to catch up.
Well it takes a long time to import a large Outlook pst; hours, actually. So I did not have so much time on the train as I thought. I have Outlook configured, more or less now, and I have access to all the mail, but we are in Solana Beach and headed for San Diego so I won't have much time to post and answer mail after all. The more of this story is to do all that BEFORE you leave on a trip.
I am still looking for a good FrontPage compatible editor to use on the Apple PowerBook, which is a better laptop than this excellent TC1100 Compaq Tablet. But it's not a tablet and I have been making notes on the tablet, on the subway, in a bus, in my lap on the train. It works. I love tablets and this one is fast -- except when importing an enormous pst file into Outlook 2003...
April 17, 2004
On the beach. I still have not recovered from whatever crud is infecting my upper respiratory system and sinuses. It's hard to think when your head is stopped up to the point that your ears ring.
Ed Hume tells me that he keeps various parts of his mail in different PST files. I only have the archive file and the main one, which has grown to 1.2 GB, and I ought to think about partitioning it, only I don't know how. Importing the file and sorting everything into the proper folders took well over an hour on this 1 GHz Tablet; I could have imported only the most important files and started work had I kept these things partitioned. I need to learn how to do that.
No better friends. No worse enemies:
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Sue Ferrara sends this link:
Solitude and the Fortresses of Youth
April 18, 2004
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