On Limits:

The incomparable Winds of Change has a post called "Limits," in the comments to which Mark cited my post on the Hamadan decision. It's nice to be cited at WoC, which is one of the best thinking-blogs out there.

The author of the post is broadly correct. I honestly don't think we've begun to fight -- not, at least, to fight a war. The gamble in Iraq and Afghanistan has always been about trying to prevent the escalation of the problems we face into a world war.

If it fails -- well, a world war is what America's military was designed to fight. In many ways, the task will be rather easier if North Korea and Iran and Syria and whoever else wants in escalates the situation. We will abandon those restrictions once we pass the point at which we can credibly "police" the situation, once the threat reaches the point at which we obviously must fight rather than manage the problems.

A real war will be bloodier, by far -- but it will also be easier, because we will be liberated from the self-imposed restrictions designed to prevent escalation. We have many purpose-designed tools for such an eventuality, and there are many kinds of leverage we can apply that are only appropriate to real war.

That said, I think we ought to continue trying to win the original gamble. It is harder to do, but better for literally millions of people worldwide. People who genuinely love peace, and who are of good heart -- I think most of the anti-war crowd, particularly that faction led by the Quakers, falls into this group -- ought to support the venture.

They need to grasp that what lies behind the loss of the gamble is not peace, but real war. This is the last chance for peace.

I realize that sounds Orwellian -- 'the Iraq "war" is the last chance for peace' does indeed sound much like 'War is Peace.' Yet real peace is not possible in this world: there is always violence at some level. What matters is choosing the level. Iraq gives us a chance to have a better level of violence in our lives.

Insofar as we are acting like police, we aren't acting like soldiers; insofar as we are acting like soldiers, we aren't acting like murderers. In Iraq, we are acting like police most of the time -- indeed, we are behaving rather gentler than the police of many nations. Even on those occasions when we have escalated into properly military violence (as for example in Fallujah), it has always been with the intent of returning to a policing-level as soon as possible. Our warfighting has been about cracking pockets of enemies, so that we could set up a police force instead.

I keep thinking that the anti-war movement will come to recognize this fact. So far, they seem devoted to the fantasy that the US can be beaten into submission -- that, if only we can be made to lose in Iraq, that's it, that's all, the US will be a whipped puppy and will follow tamely the guidelines of our moral betters at the UN and in Europe, and on the US left.

Such a complete failure to understand America is not reasonable. No culture on earth has such a complete hatred of the idea of failure. Indeed, if there is any common culture that can be called American at all, it would have to be the culture of success -- the notion that a man should take care of himself, and that his failure to do so was a moral as well as a practical failure.

This is not a nation that will respond to a loss of its gamble in Iraq by becoming submissive. It will respond by becoming aggressive. If it cannot rebuild certain nations into successful, peaceful democracies, it will instead destroy those nations. It will not submit to a future of being blackmailed by the most murderous and least free nations of the earth. Nor ought it to do so.

That model of destructive warfighting was advocated by the Kerry campaign in 2004 (among other things it chose to advocate), and by John Derbyshire in the present context. It is a workable strategy. As just demonstrated, it has powerful advocates on both sides of the political spectrum.

If North Korea will not be reformed, it must not be allowed to dictate through terror and nuclear power the future of northern Asia. If Iran cannot be reformed, it must not be allowed to dominate the lives of millions of people in Iraq and elsewhere. If Syria will insist on backing terrorist groups as a matter of national policy, and if indeed it is beyond us to change them, then their state power must be laid waste. The future of humanity, a future in which every corner of the globe is increasingly important to the entirety of humanity, will be brighter if we strike down such tyrants.

I continue to believe in the gamble in Iraq. I continue to believe that we ought, morally, to avoid real war and pursue a type of fighting that will spread freedom and prosperity now. I hate the idea of laying waste even to a tyranny, for there are innocents there who are victims of these evil states. Far better if we can free them, help them shake off the sickness of the mind and heart that tyranny embeds in men, and teach them to rejoin peace-loving people abroad.

My feeling is that the Special Forces have the right motto, which ought to guide America: De Oppresso Liber. That is the right way for us.

But if that way proves impossible, I know America well enough to know that she will not submit. All decent people should look true war in the face, and consider again if they will not back America in Iraq and elsewhere. We have now only three paths before us, and we shall take one of them whether we like any of them: We shall succeed in Iraq and elsewhere; we shall fight a true war; or we shall see the tyrants of the world, some of whom cannot even feed their people, assume a new place of power in the world.

That last one must not be. America will not let it be -- and she does indeed have the strength to stop it. Her military was made for a war of that type. We can fight and win, if we must.

Far better, though -- far better! -- the first. All people who wish the best for all mankind should join with us in bringing peace and order to Iraq, to Afghanistan, and elsewhere as we must. Let us pursue that road as long as there is any light at all to guide us on it. It is the right road, if only we can find the strength to walk it.


"I'm Surprised She Didn't Mention Us":

I see that PowerLine has picked up on Cassidy's lengthy post on the desirability of manly men. PowerLine complains that they are surprised at having been omitted.

Not so we. Judging from the pictures selected, what is wanted is a kind of man who wears cowboy hats, carries a long blade, and likes to tie his women up and carry them around thrown over his shoulders.

Grim's Hall appreciates the compliment.

Surfin' USA:

Some Soldier's Mom wants you to help send some boys surfin'. This is a great story, which you should read. They need money (as always, with charitable organizations), but also can usefully benefit from donations of airline miles -- to get some wounded soldiers out to the beach, and teach them how they can surf in spite of everything.

Which, by the way, is more than I can do. I wouldn't know which end of the surfboard was up.


CENTCOM Sends -- Iraq Handover:

CENTCOM sent out a press release this morning, that they'd like you to read. It follows:

Joint Statement by
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. George Casey
On the Transfer of Security Responsibility in
Muthanna Province

July 13, 2006

BAGHDAD – Iraq witnessed a historic event today with the transfer of security responsibility in Muthanna Province from the Multi-National Force - Iraq (MNF-I) to the Provincial Governor and civilian-controlled Iraqi Security Forces. The handover represents a milestone in the successful development of Iraq’s capability to govern and protect itself as a sovereign and democratic nation. Muthanna is the first of Iraq’s 18 provinces to be designated for such a transition.

As Prime Minister Maliki announced on June 19, 2006, the joint decision between the Iraqi government and MNF-I to hand over security responsibility is the result of Muthanna’s demonstrated abilities to take the lead in managing its own security and governance duties at the provincial level. The transition decision also reflects a joint assessment of the overall threat situation in Muthanna, the capabilities of the ISF there and the provincial leadership’s ability to coordinate security. Transition teams are in place to smooth the transfer process and multi-national forces will stand ready to provide assistance if needed.

With this first transition of security responsibility, Muthanna demonstrates the progress Iraq is making toward self-governance. Several other provinces are close to meeting the criteria necessary to assume security independence. The Iraqi government and the Multi-National Force will continue to transfer security responsibilities in other provinces in Iraq as conditions are achieved.

Australian, Japanese, and the United Kingdom forces have assisted Muthanna authorities as models of international cooperation, providing economic and humanitarian assistance as well as security and stability. As Iraq develops and its needs continue to evolve, so too will the nature of international assistance to Iraq in Muthanna and elsewhere.

The United States will provide $10 million in order to enhance the quality of life for the citizens of Muthanna as they take a bold and courageous step forward in the country’s movement toward an independent and secure nation. This event represents significant progress by the Government of Iraq to achieve a constitutional, democratic, and pluralistic Iraq which guarantees the rights of all citizens.
How will that play in the press? Well, here on the blogs, we'll play it straight -- I just gave you the release to read for yourself. In the papers, though... as Greyhawk said, "It is a shame that the Post reporter couldn't find anything in the Ambassador's prepared remarks worthy of a newspaper headline."


"Conservatives Without A Conscience"

The latest attempt at defining conservatism as a mental illness is available thanks to John Dean. His new theory, which is really the same old theory, is that conservatives draw from a 'personality type' called "doubhle high authoritarian." He describes it as "self-righteous, mean-spirited, amoral, manipulative, bullying." Of greatest importance, Dean says, is that it is slavishly devoted to authority. The true conservative obeys his leaders without question.

Against which I offer as evidence not merely the recent conservative revolt against Harriet Miers (say what you like about the merits, but it was certainly a rough handling of "authority" by conservatives); but also this post from Chris Roach of "Man-Sized Target." Many readers probably recognize Roach from his own site, and comments on other sites, as one of the staunchest traditional conservatives out there.

I have a tendency deeply rooted in my psychology . . . perhaps it's all too common among blogger types and other highly opinionated people. I am a contrarian, finding fault among the right and the left. Perhaps, I am seeking some Aristotelian mean, or perhaps I'm just plain mean. I don't quite know.

I think part of it is I've never expected much of the left and have always been critical of its excesses, its utopianism, its sentimentalism, and its disregard for truth. Among the right, though, my story has been one of disillusionment and increasing discontent. I've become disillusioned as I've realized how much of the Republican establishment and even the right-wing blogoshere and intelligentsia is not that intelligent, not that committed to principle, and not that consistent.
The post goes on to examine contrasting positions he's taken, and is remarkably insightful as a self-analysis.

I think our Mr. Dean would like to find in Roach a "self-righteous, mean-spirited" fellow of the type he's describing. Roach describes himself in almost those terms -- "contrarian," "just plain mean," many other Republicans are "not that intelligent," etc.

Yet the effect is exactly the opposite of the one Dean posits. It doesn't lead to blind obedience to authority, but a rigorous questioning of all claims from all sides. As the self-analysis shows, Roach even questions his own stands and tries to understand how -- or if -- they are really principled:
I accept the possibility I'm just ornery and inconsistent. But I'll let my readers be the judge. Here I stick up for what might be regarded as a certain authoritarian set of values, poo-pooing those that worry about administration data mining that can be and has been used to interrupt terrorist plots. And here I castigate the knee jerk response to various war crimes allegations against American service-members. Are these positions reconcilable? Is my concern for administration authority capable of being balanced with my concern for militaristic trends in our political culture.

Maybe the answer is as simple as the mantra of one of my misanthropic friends: "Everybody sucks."
I have tired of the concept, so often repeated on the Left, that conservatives are just "authoritarian" personalities who refuse to question authority. I'm afraid that dog doesn't hunt, and no amount of so-called "social science" will make it do so. Even among those conservatives who really are "self-righteous and mean-spirited" -- and proudly so -- authority is constantly in danger of rejection, refusal, and rebellion.

India bombs

Bombs in India:

Reader S.F. writes to ask me to show you this link, to a site where you can send encouraging words to the people of India. As you know, yesterday bombers struck Mumbai. S.F. thinks we should all show our support to the Indians who, as we have ourselves, are suffering from the problem of murderers traveling under the name of "militants."


Piece of History:

Blogger David Hardy points to an article he's written about the American military, the NRA, and World War I. He brought it up because the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme occurs this month; it gave cause for him to remember why the American military of that time wasn't regularly subject to the massive losses seen on the Somme by the British and French.

The thesis of this article is that the NRA played a significant role in making the American military victorious in the first World War; this also caused a fundamental change in infantry tactics used by miliataries around the world. Plenty of supporting facts are offered, including personal correspondence between President Wilson and the Secretary of War.

Continuing my ideas from the previous post, it is possible that Hardy is only telling part of the story. But unlike the most troublesome historical story-tellers, his account doesn't ask me to believe that most of the other scholars are wrong about a subject area. Instead, his account asks me to believe that most other scholars haven't noticed (or have forgotten) what he is writing about.

In terms of being a careful historian, Hardy's article is full of verifiable information. In my reading, I didn't notice heavy use of inference to fill in gaps in knowledge.

Finally, in my case, the reading of this article changed my understanding of the course of World War I--the War to End All Wars, as it was styled at the time. When one nation is training its soldiers to use their weapons with high precision while the other combatants are training their soldiers to fire barrages and march into the fray with bayonets, there is little reason to be surprised that the soldiers who shoot with better precision end up on the winning side. I don't believe it was the sole cause, but it was a strong contributing factor in the victory.

It is also not a surprise that when the American military decided to implement a strict riflery-training regimen that they enlisted the services of the many experts at the NRA.

The article looks good, and reminded me of the way in which warfare was changed by the introduction of better weapons technology and training to use the technology. The combination of technology and training was much more effective than technology all alone.


Doc Russia Needs You:

Well, some of you. Seems the gentleman is having a hard time of it at his new station -- far from home, far from his beloved wife, and the duty is rough too.

Unfortunately, the scoundrels who frequent Doc's place are unsympathetic:

1. Moriarty made this comment,

"I got puked on something good and proper by a patient."
Congratulations! *Now* you're a doctor.


5. Grim made this comment,

Just wait until you're a father. Then you'll get puked on every night for a year.

Perhaps some of our gentler readers might want to drop by and give Doc some encouragement.

The Purges Continue

The Purges Will Continue:

The Commissar has an interesting post on the subject of how the anti-Lieberman campaign reminds him of the leftist infighting in the Spanish Civil War. I noted in the comments:

A fine professor I once had, a self-described socialist, said that this pattern appears in all “democratically oriented revolutions” (by which he meant Jacobin revolutions and other leftist events, rather than republic-oriented revolutions of the American and British type). I assume there is a body of leftist scholarship on the subject, he seemed so confident in his assertion. Indeed, he was and is a fine scholar, however foolish the politics to which he subscribes, so I don’t doubt that the body of scholarship not only exists, but is fairly well-founded.

The idea, as I recall, is that the initial success of the revolution leads to the establishment of a class of revolutionaries who find — wonder of wonders — that they don’t actually agree. So, they begin to restrict control to smaller and smaller circles, with those left in the outer circles exercising less and less control, and finally being the controlled instead.

A student of Soviet history such as yourself won’t need elaboration to see how this applies there, but it apparently is usual for these sorts of events, starting with the French revolution. Purges of the impure are to be expected in “people power” revolutions.

The difference here is only that the “initial success” of the Kossack revolution was just in building an online community. They never actually had any real-world success. They seem, however, to have gotten right on to the purges.

I think the reason you don’t see this set of events in the Anglospheric model of revolution is the focus on federalism and traditional freedoms. The problem with “democratic” revolutions is that they wish to assert a single correct solution, which is to be binding on everyone — that’s why it is so important to purge the impure. We must all live by the same law, so it must be the correct law.

The idea that the state can include spheres of influence not directly under the sway of the central government is a profoundly radical idea — the existence of states that have real rights, religious institutions that the central government may not regulate, etc. Yet those radical, free institutions provide a space for people with different preferences to each have (at least most of) their way. As a result, classical liberal revolutions do not lead to the cycles of purges, but rather to the unsatisfied minority turning its attention to local politics when it fails to control the federal politics.
The Democratic Party is apparently collapsing along these lines. I'm not sure why, but consider the comment by "West" at Captain's Quarters. They had run an anti-Lieberman sneer, and he responds:
I live in CT. Registered Independent, vote mostly Republican at the federal level. I will sign petitions, etc., and vote for Joe, not because I like his politics, but because I respect his integrity. You don't get much of that these days. In some ways, Joe could be viewed as he liberal counterpart to Zell Miller. He did not leave the party, the party left him.
It was the same party.

Once it had room for both of them, and others besides. A few years ago it moved to run out the Zell Millers, and prevent traditional Southern Democrats from being able to support the national platform. Now, it's moving on genuine liberals like Lieberman.

For a point of comparison: David Brooks mentioned that Lieberman's "Christian Coalition" rating was 0. I looked up Zell Miller's. It was the full 100.

In the American system, a party which can maintain that kind of real diversity is strong. The Democratic Party had room for serious disagreement on the kinds of social issues the Christian Coalition cares about, not that long ago. Now, even the zeros are being attacked if they don't heave-to on every other issue.

I suspect that the self-destruction will spin off into two separate events. The internal disintegration of the Kossacks will continue. Within the Democratic Party as a whole, however, the next group to be purged will be the Kossacks themselves. The practical politicians will recognize the destruction that these people are bringing to bear on their electoral power, and with it their fundraising capabilities (which are largely based on the ability to deliver actual results, which requires actual power).

How long will it take for that round of purges to get here? I doubt they'll be in time for November.

The Best Defense

Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution states:
Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

I read in the news that there is discussion in Japan on re-interpreting their self-defense clause to allow a pre-emptive strike on North Korean launch sites.

The best defense has always been a good offense.

Bill Faith virgins

Bill Faith...

...and the Virgins of Paradise.

History and Story-telling

History and Story-telling
[This post is a slightly-edited verson of something posted elsewhere. The novel which helped ignite this train of thought was I, Claudius, written by Robert Graves.]

One of the books I've been reading and commenting about is a work of fiction which tries to present itself as history.

This book raises several questions in my mind.

Robert Graves wrote his book in a way that made it hard to distinguish from translations of actual 1st-Century Roman writings. The bare factual outline of the story is hard to dispute: the succession of the first four Caesers (Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius); the death/banishment of many members of the Imperial family; the military victories of the armies of Augustus; the position of lowly Sejanus during Tiberius' years on the isle of Capri; the uneasy stasis between Tiberius' armies and the Germanic tribes; the madness of Caligula. All of these things are attested to in at least one ancient source.

Yet the tale that Graves weaves around these events isn't strictly history. Part conjecture, part prejudicial reading of the available data, this story places blame heavily on certain characters, and absolves or exonerates others. The tales of political intrigue within the complicated familial connections of the Julio-Claudian dynasty are told with a particular slant in mind.

I don't know if I agree or disagree with Graves--the details are too distant, and the crimes seem too unimportant. History has moved on; the vast Empire that was claimed by the power-struggles has crumbled.

But the methods Graves used to arrive at his conclusions and weave his story are methods that are regularly used by historians.

Historians often work with more information than they can present to their audience. Some of the data are from doubtful sources; some of them are widely-known but poorly sourced; some of them are indisputably true. The historian selects these items and arranges his historical rendition around them.

It is simple to say that good historians select only obviously true information and discard the rest. It is too simple: the set of obviously true facts doesn't contain all of the historical data. The historian may have three good sources about Caligula's military campaigns at the northern edge of the Empire. But if they all disagree about the sequence of events and the trail of the campaign, which one is dependable?

Also, facts by themselves don't assemble into history by themselves. The information needs a story to bind them together. Is it a story about the madness of an Emporer who thought he was divine? Is it a story about an army that was sent out without a clear objective or strategy? Is it a story about generals playing politics while politicians played generals?

So the historian often fits the information into a framework--a story--that helps him figure out what the information means. (Of course, scrupulous historians pay a great deal of attention to the information itself, and to its pedigree of trustworthiness. But even that process has subtle interactions with the pre-existing story.) This inner meaning puts some of the information at the forefront, and reduces other information to irrelevance.

Historians also must deal with a different problem. Sometimes, an event will be known to have happened, but the direct cause of the event can't be determined. Many members of the Imperial family died of poisoning: the perpetrator in most of these cases is unknown, as is the motivation.

How does a historian tell that story? Does he invent a plausible story to fill in the blanks in his knowledge? Does he pick the most plausible explanation advanced by contemporaries? Or does he say that he does not know why this event happened? If he uses speculation, does he warn his readers which part of his history is speculation and which is known fact?

I suspect that these processes are also used by other people (non-historians) on an everyday basis. When a person hears information about the world that is outside of their direct experience, they compare the new information to a story about that subject that already exists in their minds. If the information doesn't fit the story well, some accomodation must be made. Either the information is suspect or the story is suspect. The story, if suspect, may need extension, revision, or a complete rebuilding.

Revision of this pre-existing story is much less drastic than rebuilding from scratch. Extension is less drastic than either, although extension and revision are not always distinct.

This process looks simple at first, but can quickly take on confusing complexity. The story isn't constant. Every time information is added or rejected, the story's structure has to change a little bit to explain why.

Other examples from ancient history can be found. Did the end of the Roman Empire occur when it was split into Eastern and Western halves? What about when Rome was sacked? What about the fall of Byzantium? Each one represented a diminution of the power and prestige of Rome. Each event is important in the decline and fall of the Empire.

What about the difference between Medieval Culture and Renaissance Culture in European history? Medieval culture is often defined by its focus on religious thought. The Renaissance culture is described as based on humanistic thought and making heavy use of the rediscovered literature of Rome and Greece.

The greatest poet of Medieval Europe was Dante; his Divine Comedy is peppered with mentions of people and stories from Classical times. Plato and Aristotle (as well as legendary characters like Aeneas and villains like Brutus), appear in Dante's Inferno. The greatest religious scholar of Medieval times was Thomas Aquinas; yet Aquinas read and commented heavily on Aristotle. Classical literature was not unknown during that time. The growth of humanistic thought is probably measurable, but the beginning of the Renaissance is still hard to pinpoint. The historian who tries to draw such a line must depend on a story--usually the growth of challenges to Church authority, the growth of natural philosophy and the sciences, or the growth of voyages of exploration--to help him define where the dividing line should be put.

Examples of overarching stories that define how history is told abound in the political history of the past few centuries. Ask a Marxist disciple about that history, and he will tell you it is a story about class warfare and the exploitation of the laborers. Ask a trans-nationalist progressive about history, and he will tell you about the rise of international institutions which overshadow the dominant nation-states of the world. Ask an American of the Jacksonian tradition, and he will tell a story of America trying to deal honorably with the world--and of America needing to send her soldiers to deal with various enemies around the globe.

This is not to say that none of these stories are truthful, or that all have equal validity. Some of these stories are more trustworthy when used for predictions. Some of these stores produce a need for large conspiracies that beg for the application of Occam's Razor.

When Cuba became a Socialist Worker's Paradise, what happened to its agriculture and economy? Before the Revolution, Cuba was home to a significant number of tractors and other mechanized farming tools. At that time, the street-markets were awash with lemons and oranges, among other products of agriculture. Today, most of the farm work is done by hand and oranges are reputedly rare. Starvation is an ever-present worry. As a more important question, why weren't people getting in rafts to go from oppressive capitalist America to Worker's Paradise in Cuba?

(I have my explanation, which is that "Worker's Paradise" does not describe what was and is going on in Cuba. Likewise for "oppressive capitalism" and America.)

Which returns me to revision of the Big Story, the meta-narrative that I use to analyze history. I don't want to change my version of the story at the drop of a hat. But I also don't want to keep a bad or unusable version of the story. I suspect that I'll continue doing what I've been doing for some time: analyzing incoming data for information that looks discordant with the meta-narrative that I am analyzing it with. I will then test the data to see if it is trustworthy, as well as testing my meta-narrative to see how trustworthy it is. I try to make the overall story, the meta-narrative, more robust as I go on. Generally, this method is successful.

Most of the time, this process goes on without too much conscious thought. Sometimes, it requires a great deal of thought. Occasionally, it produces vociferous disagreement with people who use a different story to define and analyze the information that they come across.

Sometimes, the disagreement is about whether scientific study precludes religious belief; sometimes the disagreement is about the guilt or innocence of soldiers charged with war crimes; sometimes the disagreement is about the necessity of higher mathematics in college curricula; sometimes the disagreement is about the choice of a candidate to vote for; sometimes the discussion is about the definition of "sensible gun laws".

But now, every time I enter into such a discussion, I come fore-armed with the knowledge that the disagreement is probably not about data--it is about the interpretation of which data is important, and why the data is important.

The hard part is convincing the other participants in the discussion that they may need to re-evaluate the story they use to analyze and interpret the data at hand.

Place bets DPRK

Place Your Bets:

The line on North Korea is now available.