Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Sunday, January 21st, 2007.


Drafty

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Bush Administration, Iraq War

Andrew J. Bacevich has an intriguing op ed in today’s Boston Globe that presents another side to the question, “to draft, or not to draft.” His argument is that an all-volunteer army has created a U.S. Army that is completely estranged from U.S. society. I’m not necessarily endorsing a draft, but I am presenting Bacevich’s view for your consideration.

Historically, Americans had viewed a “standing army” with suspicion. After Vietnam they embraced the idea. By 1991 they were celebrating it. After Operation Desert Storm — with its illusion of a cheap, easy victory — soldiers like General Colin Powell persuaded themselves that “the people fell in love with us again.”

If love, it was a peculiar version, neither possessive nor signifying a desire to be one with the beloved. For the vast majority of Americans, Desert Storm affirmed the wisdom of contracting out national security. Cheering the troops on did not imply any interest in joining their ranks. Especially among the affluent and well-educated, the notion took hold that national defense was something “they” did, just as “they” bus ed tables, collected trash, and mowed lawns. The stalemated war in Iraq has revealed two problems with this arrangement.

The first is that “we” have forfeited any say in where “they” get sent to fight. When it came to invading Iraq, President Bush paid little attention to what voters of the First District of Massachusetts or the 50th District of California thought. The people had long since forfeited any ownership of the army. Even today, although a clear majority of Americans want the Iraq war shut down, their opposition counts for next to nothing: the will of the commander-in-chief prevails.

The second problem stems from the first. If “they” — the soldiers we contract to defend us — get in trouble, “we” feel little or no obligation to bail them out. All Americans support the troops, yet support does not imply sacrifice. Yellow-ribbon decals displayed on the back of gas-guzzlers will suffice, thank you.

Bacevich is a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran with 23 years of service in the U.S. Army. Today he is a professor of international relations at Boston University.

It so happens I have an advance review copy of Chalmers Johnson’s upcoming book, Nemesis. I’ve read enough of it to know that lots of you folks will probably want to read it. Anyway, Chalmers Johnson quotes Bacevich,

Americans in our own time have fallen prey to militarism, manifesting itself in a romanticized view of soldiers, a tendency to see military power as the truest measure of national greatness, and outsized expectations regarding the efficacy of force. To a degree without precedent in U.S. history, Americans have come to define the nation’s strength and well-being in terms of military preparedness, military action, and the fostering of (or nostalgia for) military ideals. [Andrew Bacevich, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 2]

Now, lots of us have noticed that while righties romanticize the military, and they fancy themselves great supporters of the military, they aren’t real big on joining the military. This seems to me to support Bachevich’s thesis. To see an example of the weird way the Right objectifies the troops, see this recent post by Dean Barnett. Barnett has a snit because Pelosi referred to the late Marine Corporal Jason Dunham, who died in Iraq at the age of 22, as a “young man.” Barnett writes,

I know the Democrats have developed as one of their pet Lakoffian tics the habit of describing our warriors as defenseless children. Thus, when Pelosi refers to Dunham as a “young man” and the men he saved as “other young people,” she’s merely falling into a bad habit.

But it’s a real bad habit; a truly offensive one. This is a matter of more than just mere semantics. Jason Dunham was a Marine. So, too, were the men he saved. They see themselves as warriors, and that’s what they are. The term “young people” is meant to demean them, and in Dunham’s case denies him the dignity that he has so completely earned.

A 22-year-old man is a young man. This is not demeaning. I don’t see anything demeaning about referring to people as, well, people, young or otherwise. And soldiers are people. But not to Barnett, it seems.

Additionally, the failure to use the word “soldier”, “Marine” or any other term that acknowledges a connection between Dunham and the military is borderline grotesque. In Pelosi’s formulation, it almost sounds as if some random “young people” were frolicking in Iraq and stumbled upon a live grenade.

One other thing: If Dianne Sawyer really wants to see human beings that are like “galvanized steel,” she might consider turning her journalistic gaze to Iraq and the Marines still there like Jason Dunham.

It is not an insult to Marines to acknowledge that they are human beings. But to Barnett, Marines are not people. They are not made of tender flesh and blood, but galvanized steel. They aren’t human, but objects.

Let’s go back to Bacevich’s Boston Globe column:

Stipulate for the sake of argument that President Bush is correct in saying that failure in Iraq is not an option. Then why limit the “surge” to a measly 21,500 additional troops? Why not 50,000? With the population of the United States having now surpassed 300 million, why not send 100,000 reinforcements to Iraq?

The question answers itself: There are not an additional 100,000 Americans willing to commit their lives to the cause. Even offering up 21,500 finds the Pentagon scraping the bottom of the barrel, extending the tours of soldiers already in the combat zone while accelerating the deployment of those heading back for a second or third tour of duty.

After the Cold War, Americans came to see war as something other than a human enterprise; the secret of military superiority ostensibly lay in the microchip. The truth is that the sinews of military power lie among the people, who legitimate war and sustain it.

For the United States to remain a great military power will require a genuine reconciliation of the military and American society. But this implies the people exercising a greater say in deciding when and where American soldiers fight. And it also implies reviving the tradition of the citizen-soldier so that all share in the burden of national defense.

Now, I’m sure it’s the case — it’s what everybody says, anyway — that from a purely military perspective a professional force is superior to an army of draftees. But what about what Bacevich writes, about the relationship between society and the military?

Add to this what I wrote in an earlier post, that America will have to choose between being an empire and being a republic; we cannot be both. I am more and more persuaded this is so, and that we have already reached the fork in the road (if not passed it).

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Dinesh D’Souza Jumps the Shark

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big picture stuff, conservatism, Terrorism

I haven’t read Dinesh D’Souza’s new book, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11. Nor have I read any of D’Souza’s old books. D’Souza resides in Deep Wingnuttia, a place I do not go. But if Alan Wolfe’s review of Enemy is halfway accurate, D’Souza’s fellow wingnuts might be having second thoughts about him.

D’Souza has told interviewers that his book is about the causes of 9/11. According to this interview, these causes can be traced back to President Jimmy Carter’s failure to prevent the Shah of Iran from being overthrown — a variation on the Right’s traditional “who lost China?” theme. The other cause is “values that are being globally pushed by the left.” These “values” are what persuaded Muslims that America is their enemy. Corporatism, economic globalism, U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, support for Israel — D’Souza denies that any of these things triggered bin Laden’s fatwas against America. No, it was the Left’s values — “gambling, adultery, fornication, prostitution, undermining the family.”

According to Alan Wolfe, D’Souza respects bin Laden as a righteous guy doing what had to be done:

At first Dinesh D’Souza considered him “a dark-eyed fanatic, a gun-toting extremist, a monster who laughs at the deaths of 3,000 innocent civilians.” But once he learned how Osama bin Laden was viewed in the Muslim world, D’Souza changed his mind. Now he finds bin Laden to be “a quiet, well-mannered, thoughtful, eloquent and deeply religious person.” Despite being considered a friend of the Palestinians, he “has not launched a single attack against Israel.” We denounce him as a terrorist, but he uses “a different compass to assess America than Americans use to assess him.” Bin Laden killed only 3,000 of us, with “every victim counted, every death mourned, every victim’s family generously compensated.” But look what we did in return: many thousands of Muslims dead in Afghanistan and Iraq, “and few Americans seem distressed over these numbers.”

There’s enough stuff in that paragraph alone to keep you gasping for a while. But let’s go on —

D’Souza’s cultural relativism hardly stops with bin Laden. He finds Ayatollah Khomeini still to be “highly regarded for his modest demeanor, frugal lifestyle and soft-spoken manner.” Islamic punishment tends to be harsh — flogging adulterers and that sort of thing — but this, D’Souza says “with only a hint of irony,” simply puts Muslims “in the Old Testament tradition.” Polygamy exists under Islamic law, but the sexual freedom produced by feminism in this country is, at least for men, “even better than polygamy.” And the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement that the West has a taboo against questioning the existence of the Holocaust, while “pooh-poohed by Western commentators,” was “undoubtedly accurate.”

D’Souza’s in mid-shark jump at this point. Wolfe continues (emphasis added),

Dreadful things happened to America on that day, but, truth be told, D’Souza is not all that upset by them. America is fighting two wars simultaneously, he argues, a war against terror abroad and a culture war at home. We should be using the former, less important, one to fight the latter, really crucial, one. The way to do so is to encourage a split between “radical” Muslims like bin Laden, who engage in jihad, and “traditional” Muslims who are conservative in their political views and deeply devout in their religious practices; understanding the radical Muslims, even being sympathetic to some of their complaints, is the best way to win the support of the traditionalists. We should stand with conservative Muslims in protest against the publication of the Danish cartoons that depicted the Prophet Muhammad rather than rallying to the liberal ideal of free speech. We should drop our alliance with decadent Europe and “should openly ally” with “governments that reflect Muslim interests, not … Israeli interests.” And, most important of all, conservative religious believers in America should join forces with conservative religious believers in the Islamic world to combat their common enemy: the cultural left.

The shark, it is jumped.

I can’t help but think of what Richard Hofstadter wrote of McCarthyist Cold War redbaiting in Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (Vintage/Random House, 1962), in particular pp. 41-42 (emphasis added):

The inquisitors were trying to give satisfaction against liberals, New Dealers, reformers, internationalists, intellectuals, and finally even against a Republican administration that failed to reverse liberal policies. What was involved, above all, was a set of political hostilities in which the New Deal was linked to the welfare state, the welfare state to socialism, and socialism to Communism. In this crusade Communism was not the target but the weapon, and it is for this reason that so many of the most ardent hunters of impotent domestic Communists were altogether indifferent to efforts to meet the power of International Communism where it really mattered — in the area of world politics.

Alan Wolfe also brings Joe McCarthy to mind when he writes,

“The Enemy at Home” is clearly designed to restore his reputation as the man who will say anything to call attention to his views; charging prominent senators and presidential candidates with treason can do that.

That was McCarthy’s pattern, also. He began by charging foreign policy experts in the State Department with treason, and by the end of his volatile career he had charged General George Marshall, President Dwight Eisenhower, and the United States Army with treason. He had no one left to charge but God.

But I give D’Souza credit — he seems to be dragging the social pathology that is Wingnutism into the light, if not all the way into the petri dish. Many of us have noticed for a long time that there are frightening parallels between extreme Christian fundamentalism and extreme Muslim fundamentalism. Many of us have noticed that righties’ full-throated cries in support of freedom of speech only apply to Danish cartoonists, not to critics of the Iraq War or Christian fundies or anyone else the Right identifies as fellow tribesmen. It has been well noted that righties are, at heart, authoritarians who are terrified of freedom (per Eric Fromm).

But while most righties lack the moral strength and courage to be honest with themselves about themselves — their literature promotes “freedom” and “liberty” as ideals even as they crusade to destroy freedom and liberty — D’Souza’s latest rantings might be seen as an attempt at honesty, transparency, even. Perhaps he has looked deep into himself — well, half an inch into himself, anyway — and realizes that freedom must be crushed if his vision of moral utopia will ever come to pass. At some level he may be dimly aware that achieving his moral vision requires surrendering to totalitarianism. And if that’s what it takes, he thinks, so be it.

Alan Wolfe concludes,

Like his hero Joe McCarthy, he [D’Souza] has no sense of shame. He is a childish thinker and writer tackling subjects about which he knows little to make arguments that reek of political extremism. His book is a national disgrace, a sorry example of a publishing culture more concerned with the sensational than the sensible. People on the left, especially those who have been subjects of D’Souza’s previous books, will shrug their shoulders at his latest screed.

And that would be too bad, because we may never find a clearer revelation of the dark heart of wingnutism. We liberals should take D’Souza’s book firmly in hand and commence bashing the Right with it.

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Jane Hamsher

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Bush Administration

John at Crooks and Liars reports that Jane Hamsher is doing well after her recent surgery. Christy at firedoglake says she might be out of the ICU by tomorrow.

Miss Lucy, of course, commiserates. Miss Lucy is proof that with some TLC and plenty of attitude, a person (or cat, as it were) can come roaring back from breast cancer. The first few days after surgery is always a rough time, however, so keep sending Jane those healing thoughts.

Update: John at Crooks and Liars reports that Jane is out of the hospital entirely. Two days after major surgery and then dropped-kicked ot the door. Doncha love American health care?

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