Jul 26

Kurds in the Coal Mine

How will we know if the attempt to reconstruct Iraq is failing?

This is a serious question. With as much hysterical anti-Iraq-war,
anti-Bush-Administration fabrication going in the media as there has
been, it’s tempting for a rational person to dismiss every negative
report as just another load of Michael Mooronism and dismiss it. That
would be a mistake. Things could still go very bad there. How would
we tell?

Continue reading

Jul 24

Sowing Dragon’s Teeth

David Lucas’s op-ed
in the Knoxville News-Sentinel combines with this story about active-duty military personnel criticizing Edward
Kennedy and Dick Durbin’s “gulag” rhetoric about Guantanamo Bay to suggest something interesting about the long-term political impact of the Iraq War.

Historically, one of the major byproducts of American wars is politicians. While it’s rare for a career military man to carve out a successful political career as Dwight Eisenhower did, there’s a strong pattern of non-career junior officers serving in combat returning to civilian life to become successful politicians. John Kerry, though he failed to win the presidency, has had a successful enough political career to count as one of the most recent examples.

I expect the Iraq war will produce a bumper crop of future politicians from its junior officer corps — men like David Lucas who are already making public names for themselves. So it’s worth asking what these people believe, and how the lessons they’re learning in Iraq will affect the attitude they bring to careers in civilian politics.

Recent surveys showing that 80% of the serving military officer corps voted Republican in 2004 combine with exceptionally high in-theater re-enlistment rates and op-eds like Lucas’s to paint a picture of a military that believes very strongly in the rightness of the Iraq war — a belief which appears to be strong not just among careerists but among short-timers who expect to return to civilian life as well. A related piece of evidence is negative but almost equally strong; the anti-war wing of U.S. politics has failed to discover or produce any returning veterans of Iraq who are both able to denounce the war effectively in public and willing to do so.

We already know, because they’re telling us themselves in mil-blogs, that the military serving in Iraq has developed a bitter contempt for the mainstream media. Biased, shoddy, and selective reporting with a heavy sensationalist and anti-war slant has had consequences; it has played well among bicoastal liberals in the U.S. but angered and alienated the troops on the ground. They know that reality there is greatly different from what’s being reported, and increasingly they’re willing to say so.

The Washington Times story shows that anti-war posturing by leading Democrats is angering and alienating the serving military as well. An increasing number seem to think they are seeing what is in effect a conspiracy between the mainstream media and the Democrats to make a just war unwinnable in order to score domestic political points. In the longer run, this is a disaster in the making for Democrats. It means that this war’s crop of successful politicians and influence leaders probably going to trend Republican and conservative to an unprecedented degree.

This is not a prospect that fills me with glee. Given their military background, the political children of the Iraq war seem more
likely to reinforce the authoritarian/cultural-conservative side of the Republican split personality than the small-government/libertarian one. In the worst case, military resentment of the Democrats could fracture the strong unwritten tradition that keeps the serving military out of civilian politics. That could be very bad.

I think that worst case is still quite unlikely. But if it happens, the Democrats and the mainstream media will have nobody but themselves to blame. Their irresponsible and destructive political games have sown dragon’s teeth; let’s hope we don’t all come to regret the harvest.

Jul 22

American Empire Redux

A respondent to my previous post on American Empire said “For non-Americans, the concern is not necessarily “does America behave like an empire?”, but “can we trust it not to act like one when the chips are down?” (e.g. if oil supplies dwindle to the point where the US economy is at real risk).

The answer is “of course not!”. You can never trust any nation-state not to go imperialist in a crisis of that kind, if it has the power to do so. But the United States is demonstrably exceptional in one important respect; it doesn’t hold on to its gains when the survival crisis is over.

Ask the Japanese or Germans, defeated in World War II and ruled by American proconsuls for years afterwards. Both became independent and prosperous nations. Or ask the Iraqis — defeated twice by the U.S., but now drafting their own constitution.

Contrast this with the great 19th-century and early 20th-century imperia. The British pattern was to shellack the hell out of the natives when they got uppity, then rule them lightly and (with only sporadic exceptions) quite benevolently. This was a small improvement on the French and German empires (almost as civilized, rather more nakedly exploitative) and a large one on the extremely brutal Belgian, Japanese, and Russian empires. But the Americans go the Brits one better; they civilize the natives and then get the hell out.

And why is this? I was travelling in Europe a few years back, and some Euroleftie began blathering in my presence about America’s desire to rule the world. “Nonsense,” I told him. “You’ve misunderstood the American character. We’re instinctive isolationists at bottom. We don’t want to rule the world — we want to be able to ignore it.”

The play of expressions on his face as he rethought his history was hilarious to watch. The other Europeans laughed at him, as well they might. Because it’s true. Whatever Americans may get up to abroad when some Hitler or Hussein needs squashing, at the end of the day they invariably do the one thing no previous global hegemon’s soldiers ever have. They go home.

Jul 21

American Empire

The American Left, and some of the Buchananite/isolationist elements of the American Right, have spent a lot of time and rhetorical energy fretting about the “American Empire”, and/or the “global system of American hegemony”. Lee Harris has written a very informative essay on Hegemony vs. Empire in which he points out that these two words mean different things, and delves into the history of “hegemony” as a form of voluntary organization of groups of states against external threats.

Harris’s implicit point is that in the post-9/11 world, confusion between “hegemony” and “empire” serves the ideological purposes of the enemies of our civilization — the head-hackers, the suicide-bombers, and the rogue states behind them. But even if the word “hegemony” had not been misappropriated and trashed by the anti-American left, the phrase “American Empire” would still have a sting. The implication, quite intentional, is that the U.S. aims to rule the known world after the manner of the Romans or the British.

Does the United States have an empire? There are at least two ways to address this question. One is extensional: ask to what extent the U.S. behaves as imperial powers have historically behaved. The other is intensional; ask what purpose empire serves for the people who control it, and then ask if the U.S. has created a structure of control that achieves the purpose. (The second question is useful partly because it may enable us to discern imperialism that dare not speak its name.)

Let’s take the second question first. What is the purpose of empire? In fact, this turns out to be an easy one. The one consistent feature of all empires, everywhere, is that commerce between subject regions and the imperial center is controlled so that the imperial center imports goods at below-market rates and exports them to the subject regions at above-market rates. The mailed fist, the satrap, and the gunboat are just enforcement mechanisms for imperial market-rigging.

This economic criterion may sound dry and abstract, but it is the one thing that relatively benign imperia like the British Empire have in common with out-and-out despotisms like the Russian or Persian empires. Thus, for example, the Roman grain ships feeding the population of Rome with wheat harvested by slaves in conquered Egypt; the British destruction of the Indian textile industry so its customers would be effectively forced to buy shoddy cloth made in the English Midlands; and, more crudely, the tribute wagons rolling to Persepolis.

Over time, imperial means of squeezing their subject nations’ economies have become more subtle. Early empires looted; later ones used discriminatory taxation; still later used preferential tariffs (all, and this is the point, enforced by the imperial military). Does the U.S. have an empire by this criterion?

Some would argue that it does, and cite U.S. attempts to force an American-style patent regime and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act on its trading partners. The trouble with this theory is that the U.S.’s negotiating leverage comes from the size of its economy, not fear of its military. Not even the most tinfoil-hatted of paranoids imagines that U.S. troops will ever land in (say) Brazil to enforce the DMCA; rather, it’s the prospect of being locked out of the world’s biggest export market that alarms Brazilian politicians. Reasonable people may reject the U.S. patent regime and the DMCA, or differ about the fairness of the Brazilo-American relationship, but “empire” is not a good word for it.

(Arguably the U.S. in fact did have an empire by this criterion until the 1950s, in parts of Central and South America and the Pacific. However, that is the past. I am addressing the question of whether “American Empire” is a true or useful description of the present.)

To reduce the market-rigging claim to absurdity, consider oil. If the U.S. truly were an empire, Venezuela (which supplies 25% of U.S. oil needs) would have been subjugated and annexed long since rather than left to the tender mercies of an unstable anti-American dictator like Hugo Chavez. The corrupt and despotic House of Saud (supplying a much higher percentage I don’t have at my fingertips) would likewise have been replaced by American puppets, not left unmolested to dole out billions of back-channel petrobucks to any anti-American terrorist who can pronounce the word “Wahhabi”.

In both cases, these would have been distinct improvements and among the best arguments one could muster for imperialism in the 21th century. But the U.S. has neither done them nor sought the power to do them. It fails the intensional test of empire.

To perform the extensional test, let’s look at some things that previous empires normally did and ask if the U.S. does them. To make the anti-American case as easy as possible, I won’t pick straw-man brutalities like crucifying, impaling, or machine-gunning entire populations in order to suppress revolts, the sorts of things the Soviets or Mongols or Japanese routinely got up to; instead, I’ll confine myself to the subset of common imperial practices engaged in by the Victorian Britons. If the U.S. fails even to replicate the behaviors of that least oppressive empire in human history to date, it’s hard to see how the term “empire” can sensibly be applied to the U.S.’s situation at all.

  • Does the U.S. impose U.S. law by force on conquered peoples without giving them citizenship or representation in the national government?

  • Are there any places outside the U.S. where treaties with subject nations stipulate that an American citizen will be subject only to U.S and not local law?

  • Does the U.S. routinely conscript large portions of its armies from subject peoples who lack U.S. citizenship?

The answer to all these questions is, of course, “no”. The U.S. fails the extensional test of empire as well.

Nevertheless, I am certain the charge will continue to be flung. The most forgivable reason for flinging it is gross ignorance of history and what actual empires are like. Far too often, however, people raising the cry of “American Empire” would not actually care about the facts if they had them; it is the emotion of anti-Americanism that drives their convictions, rather than the reverse.

Jul 18

The Hollywood Left is from Venus?

David Koepp, the screenwriter behind the current blockbuster movie
War of the Worlds has said:
“the Martians in our movie represent American military forces invading
the Iraqis.”

As InstaPundit observed, you just can’t make this stuff up. It’s
hard to lampoon the Hollywood left any more, because they keep
uttering inanities that venture beyond far, far beyond parody —
yea and verily, into the Land of the Barking Moonbats. Nevertheless,
here at Armed and Dangerous we’re not afraid to
try…

OK, Mr, Koepp, let’s see if I have this straight. The Americans in
the movie aren’t Americans. they’re Iraqis. The Martians aren’t
Martians, they’re Americans. Fine, I follow you so far. Is there a
scene where the Martians collect toys from the Red Planet to give to
American children? Do they build schools and powerplants for the
Earthlings who are blowing them up with IEDs? Is there a scene where
the Martians depose the brutal American dicator George Bush —
you know, the one who fought a pointless war with Mexico and
nerve-gassed the population of the upper Midwest? Do we get to see his
twin daughters amusing themselves by feeding dissidents feet-first
into industrial shredders?

Koepp would have it that War of the Worlds is a fable
about the perils of military adventurism. As an anarchist who
believes that war is the health of the State and an overly healthy
State is a damnably bad thing, I daresay I’m more dead set against
“military adventurism” than he is; I’ll bet he thought it wasn’t so
bad when, say, Soviet tanks were rolling into Prague in 1968, if he
was alive then.

But “adventurism” is a peculiar word to use in this context. Not
the movie, but what he claims it refers to. Um. Just checking,
now…four years before the movie began, did the two tallest buildings
on Mars get flying saucers crashed into them by terrorists operating
from Guatemala? Did every intelligence service on Mars believe, and
tell their leaders, that the terrorists had been getting training and
logistical support from the CIA? Did the Martian press repeatedly
publish investigative stories about the terrorist/American connection
and urging Mars to do something about it — stories that were
believed clean across the political spectrum before a campaign for
Supreme Xyglfrntz made it convenient for one faction of Martians to
forget that?

Probably not. But that’s the movie I want to see. You know,
the one where John Kerry does a cameo as a failed candidate for Supreme
Xyglfrntz who voted for the invasion before he voted against it.

Jul 06

Gayness is hard, lesbianism soft

Fascinating. This NYT article bears out a suspicion I’ve held for a long time about the plasticity of sexual orientation. The crude one-sentence summary is that, if you go by physiological arousal reactions, male bisexuality doesn’t exist, while female bisexuality is ubiquitous.

I’ve spent most of my social time for the last thirty years around science fiction fans, neopagans, and polyamorists — three overlapping groups of people not exactly noted for either sexual inhibitions or reluctance to explore sexual roles that don’t fit the neat typologies of the mainstream culture. And there are a couple of things it’s hard not to notice about them:

First, a huge majority of the women in these cultures are bisexual. To the point where I just assume any female I meet in these contexts is bi. This reality is only slightly obscured by the fact that many of these women describe themselves and are socially viewed by others as ‘straight’, even as they engage in sexual play with each other during group scenes with every evidence of enjoyment. In fact, in these cultures the operational definition of ‘straight female’ seems to be one who has recreational but not relational/romantic sex with other women.

Second, this pattern is absolutely not mirrored in their male peers. Even in these uninhibited subcultures, homoerotic behavior involving self-described ‘straight’ men is rare and surprising. Such homeoeroticism as does go on is almost all self-describedly gay men fucking other self-describedly gay men; bisexuality in men, while an accepted and un-tabooed orientation, is actually less common than gayness and not considered quite normal by anybody. The contrast with everybody’s matter-of-fact acceptance of female bisexual behavior is extreme.

It is also an observable fact that many women in these cultures change either their sexual orientation or their sexual presentation over time, but that this is seldom true of men. That is, a woman may move from being sexually involved mostly with other women to being mostly involved with men, and back, several times during her adolescent and adult lifetime; nobody considers this surprising and it doesn’t involve much of a change in either self-image or social identity. Not so for men in these cultures; they tend to start out as straight or gay and stay that way, and on the unusual occasions that this changes it tends to involve a significant break in both self-image and social identity.

Until I read the abovementioned NYT article, I thought these were peculiar, contingent traits of this group of subcultures (which are influenced by each other). That is, I thought that (in the jargon of postmodernism) SF fans, neopagans and polyamorists had arrived at a common social construction of sexuality with no privileged relationship to the biological substructure.

Now I wonder. If the studies the article references are correct, the distribution of behaviors I’ve been describing is exactly what you see when you bypass self-consciousness and social construction entirely, and just measure how aroused people get when they look at pictures of other naked people. This actually is how our biology ‘wants’ us to be! Who knew?

Jul 05

Punishment, Coercion, and Revenge

Because I’m both both a libertarian and famous for conducting a
successful propaganda campaign, libertarian activists sometimes come
to me for tactical advice. During a recent email exchange, one of these
criticized me for wishing (as he thought) to “punish” the Islamist
enemies of the U.S. and Western civilization.

I explained that I have no desire to punish the perpetrators of
9/11; what I want is vengeance and death. Vengeance for us, death for
them. Whether they experience ‘punishment’ during the process is of
little or no interest to me.

My correspondent was reflecting a common confusion about the
distinctions among coercion, revenge, and punishment. Coercion is
intended to make another do your will instead of their own; vengeance
is intended to discharge your own anger and fear. Punishment is
neither of these things.

Punishment is a form of respect you pay to someone who is at least
potentially a member of the web of trust that defines your ethical
community. We punish ordinary criminals to deter them from repeating
criminal behavior, because we believe they know what ethical behavior
is and that by deterring them from crime we help them re-integrate
with an ethical community they have never in any fundamental sense
departed.

By contrast, we do not punish the criminally insane. We confine
them and sometimes kill them for our own safety, but we do not make
them suffer in an effort to deter them from insanity. Just to state
the aim is to make obvious how absurd it is. Hannibal Lecter, and his
all-too-real prototypes, lack the capacity to respond to punishment
by re-integrating with an ethical community.

In fact, criminal psychopaths are not even potentially members of
an ethical community to begin with. There is something broken or
missing in them that makes participation in the web of trust
impossible; perhaps the capacity to emotionally identify with other
human beings, perhaps conscience, perhaps something larger and harder
to name. They have other behavioral deficits, including poor impulse
control, associated with subtle neurological damage. By existing,
they demonstrate something most of us would rather not know; which is
that there are creatures who — though they speak, and reason,
and feign humanity — have nothing but evil in them.

On the behavioral evidence, Saddam Hussein and his now-deceased
serial-rapist son Uday fit the DSM-IV criteria for psychopaths
exactly; by contrast Qusay, the other deceased son, appears to have
been a merely ordinary thug. But it would be a dangerous mistake to
dismiss Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and their ilk as merely
psychopathic — they don’t have the deficits in impulse control
and other areas that would imply. I fear they are examples of a
phenomenon even more troubling — neurologically normal
non-psychopaths who speak, and reason, and feign humanity, and
have nothing but evil in them.

Osama bin Laden is a religious fanatic, not a psychopath. He
suffers not from lack of conscience but from a particular kind of
conscience, principles that drive him to plan and execute mass
murder. Like a psychopath, he apparently lacks any capacity to
identify with his victims; but rather than being neurological, his
disorder is possession by a killer idea. He is a memebot.

Fanatics of bin Laden’s intensity are like psychopaths in that
reason cannot reach them and punishment only fuels their rage. We
have seen bin Laden’s like before in Hitler, Savanarola, and a
thousand pettier examples. Their belief systems are closed, circular,
self-justifying, bordering on if not becoming actually delusional.
You can confine them or kill them, but they cannot be re-integrated
into the ethical web of trust by the measures we use on mere
criminals.

The attempt to fit the treatment of fanatical terrorists into
a “criminal” frame, as though they were shoplifters or second-story
men or even ordinary murderers, is symptomatic of a deep blindness
in all too many Westerners — often a willful blindness. It
is as though, by denying that these people are irredeemably evil,
the tender-minded think they can edit evil out of the world. The
rest of us, if we ever had that illusion, lost it on 9/11.