James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States, and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book, China Airborne, was published in early May. More
James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.
Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His two most recent books, Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009), are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book, China Airborne, was published in early May. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.
In most budget fights, the Republicans -- holding more than one-third of the seats in one or both legislative chambers, so enough to block a budget or revenue increase -- would make their support contingent on a list of demands. Many involved either cutting taxes or boosting spending for their own constituents -- even in times when the budget was out of balance ....Gee, it would be a shame if we were to have this problem on the national level** .
This form of hostage-taking became the norm. As long as the minority party could remain cohesive, the strategy would work. The legislative majority felt the burden of governing the state. But the minority could delay the most basic task of the legislature -- passing a budget - without being held responsible....
This two-thirds system, as it hardened, obscured responsibility and prevented political accountability. In a majority-vote system, the Democrats would have been accountable for the state's budget problems.... But in a two-thirds system, no one could fairly say that a budget belonged to one party or the other... [It] was a license for irresponsibility and inaction.
It's true that we came close to nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis. But according to a well documented article in the Atlantic [plus others], the missiles themselves were an inflated threat, i.e., according to US generals at the time did not materially hurt US security and could easily be traded, as they eventually secretly were, for US missiles in Turkey.Again, reflect on this. Virtually all of the danger-to-the-nation warnings we've received in modern history prove to have been false, or overblown and hyped. Also, from MM in Massachusetts:
We're in heated agreement about the danger of threat inflation and the Cuban Missile crisis in particular. Building on that notion, Able Archer 83 was another incident not in the public discussion (as much) but was a terrifying moment in history: a moment where two nuclear giants almost had it out over little more than a lack of communication.2. The 'bomb Iran' resolution. I mentioned the efforts of Senators Lindsey Graham, Robert Menendez, et al to promote a Congressional resolution backing the government of Israel on whatever it decides to do about Iran. YR and others pointed me to the text of the resolution, which includes this sentence:
Nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an authorization for the use of force or a declaration of war.Noted. On the other hand, and for the record, here is what the parts of the resolution just before that say:
Congress ... (7) declares that the United States has a vital national interest in, and unshakeable unbreakable commitment to, ensuring the existence, survival, and security of the State of Israel, and reaffirms United States support for Israel's right to self-defense; and
(8) urges that, if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.
I might argue that Tony Blair has been held more accountable than most U.S. politicians - at least in his home country.From reader DG in Texas:
At the time, the propaganda machine made anyone opposed to the war "unpatriotic" - unfortunate way to limit free speech. It is now too hard to even discuss because of the damage to our young generation - remembering how we treated Viet Nam Vets. The whole thing is just too sad to think about.And from CJ :
One suggestion (not exactly original to me -- I believe Timothy Noah of Slate made this point previously [JF note: for instance here] re: accountability: not only are the people who got Iraq wrong treated as wise men, but those who got Iraq right (with the highly notable exception of President Obama) remain marginalized as too radical or (as Paul Krugman said today) as "hippies". Why aren't people like former Senator Graham [Robert Graham of Florida] called upon more in the places where public opinion is shaped?
Ten years ago I was profiled in a WaPo piece, by Linton Weeks, on ordinary Americans who supported the war; I filled the role of token leftist:To answer the questions in the final paragraph: let's assume that many Iraqis may indeed be better off. For Americans that's not the relevant fact. After all, many people in Cuba, North Korea, etc might be better off if the U.S. invaded there too.An avowed leftist, Alan Thomas, 33, doesn't like Bush, but he believes in the war. "I don't support the president. I'm skeptical about his sincerity in wanting democracy in Iraq. But I feel he's committed to it," Thomas says.I for one still stand by everything I said. But then, I never advocated for the war based on the WMD argument anyway, and acknowledged at the time (though Weeks didn't use those quotes) that it was a thin pretext used to sell it to the public and the U.N. Honestly, although my personal motive had to do with human rights (and notice that Weeks did print my caveat that anticipated the possibility of something like Abu Ghraib), I think just the assassination attempt on Bush 41 is plenty all by itself--what kind of country are we if we let another country's leader pull something like that with impunity?
Thomas works the night shift in a group home for mainstreamed developmentally disabled adults in Kirksville, Mo. He's the son of college professors. He and his wife, Kate, 27, live in an apartment and drive a 1989 Chevrolet van. They have two mutts rescued from the humane society. They also run a small shop that sells things they think are cool, such as bumper stickers that read "Bush/Cheney: America's Second Choice."
"I'm sympathetic with the plight of the Kurds and the Iraqi people," Thomas says. "And I'm disappointed in, and embarrassed by, the left."
Asked if he voted for Bush, he laughs. "No, no way. Never."
Though Thomas enthusiastically supports the war, he says he'll reevaluate his position after the regime change. "If Bush tries to install a puppet dictator or if there are human rights violations, I'll be decrying it as loudly as anyone else on the left," he says...
The United States, Thomas says, "should clean up the world. We have the power. I'm kind of a weirdo. It's wrong for us to sit on our hands and not do anything."
I have trouble understanding why you think it's so obvious now that the liberal hawks were wrong. Maybe circa 2006 it looked that way, but aren't Iraqis better off today than they would be if Saddam (or his sons) still had a grip on power?
As a government employee who will almost certainly be furloughed in the coming months, I have followed the sequester with a sort of horrid fascination. Not that it is any more or less horridly fascinating than any of our other "crises" in recent times, but the sequester hammers a few points home very well.I don't agree that a different media tone would "instantly bring about bipartisanship," and probably the writer doesn't even think that himself. But it's certainly true that the current media approach effectively rewards stone-walling, filibustering, brinkmanship, and so on, by not calling them out as pernicious and destructive techniques.
First, our public policy discussion has become too wonkish, by being entirely focused on measurable outcomes at the expense of all others. (Another example: the health care debate, the vast majority of which was about costs instead of the moral imperative of universal health care). Yes, the sequester will have an economic cost and is a dumb way to reduce the deficit, but the government is not just a contributor to our GDP or a balance sheet. On the contrary, many of the government's functions -- like keeping us safe, providing justice (hopefully), and researching disease -- cannot be encapsulated by economic impact. I'm sure the Democrats are emphasizing the economic impact of the sequester in order to make all Americans feel like they have a stake in its outcome. But that is not what the government, perhaps the sole major institution in this country whose only mission is to serve the public, is about.
Second, the media could cure us of political polarization and instantly bring about bipartisanship if they stopped playing the false equivalence game. If the GOP's refusal to compromise was labeled as it actually is, they might pay a political price and be willing to cut a deal. But by blaming both sides equally even though President Obama is offering a balanced solution, the media have severely curtailed whatever political incentive there is for cutting a deal. After all, if the Democrats are blamed for not compromising even when they have made all the concessions, why on earth should the Republicans ever concede anything?
Blaming both sides for lack of compromise when one side has refused to make any concessions is like punishing all athletes when only some take steroids. If everyone is getting punished no matter what, why not break the rules and hit some home runs?
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The end of that was ... sort of disappointing. It's not that I disagree with anything Mr. Polk wrote, it's just that it's not clear to me he's very far from consensus opinion and, damn, this stuff is harder to do than I think his essay implies. I mean, I guess I'd like to hear Mr. Polk flesh out how to do Taliban inclusion if he'd care to.I sent this note to Polk, at his home in France. It is not every day that you hear views on current policy from people who can say, "as I suggested to Walt Rostow about Vietnam..." But for the record here is his response:
My major objections to what he's saying is that as far as I can tell, the administration has been trying through all kinds of back channels to quietly negotiate with the Taliban. They're coy about it, but that's to be expected, no? That's so they can always tell the Taliban, hey man, we could walk away (even if we couldn't). But it seems like negotiation with the Taliban has been going on on a back burner at varying levels of intensity back even into the end of the Bush administration.
It also seems like there's a hell of a problem coming from the fact that we just don't know a lot about internal command-and-control of the Taliban (understandably or else we might do better at whuppin' em). That's why, as I recall, we got strung along by a Taliban "negotiator" who wasn't empowered to negotiate. I don't think the Taliban care to give us a lot of insight into their organization, either. Maybe Karzai or someone can get that, if we're not at the table? I'd like to hear how Mr. Polk wants to identify a partner who's empowered to do anything and how to ensure that there's "Taliban" consensus for whatever we negotiate.
Lastly I think there's a damn hard regional problem, of course, that really ought to be in those last two sections of Mr. Polk's, but it isn't there. Look, the Taliban in Pakistan have happily launched two really nasty attacks on Pakistani Army installations, and so the Pakistani Army isn't really happy with those guys at all, except for those parts of that Army which think there's somehow a discrete Afghan Taliban which functions as a cat's paw. One way or another there's another powerful force at the table trying to position the Talibs and they haven't settled on their objectives yet (weirdly, "Pakistan" shows up nowhere in that whole second installment.) That matters!
When we negotiate with the Taliban and Pakistan isn't at the table, Pakistan makes trouble. When Pakistan is at the table, Karzai makes trouble. Omitted from Mr. Polk's list of objectives is that we need to quiet cross-border mischief (in both directions), no? So I think this problem becomes a lot more, "look here, let me explain it all clearly to you" when you neglect the regional issues, and it gets pretty much intractable when you remember them. But I'd like to hear his try at it.
I am grateful to [this reader] for his thoughtful remarks on my draft policy paper and will here reply to a few of the points he makes.
The first and perhaps most significant issue is how to get the Taliban "to the table," that is to negotiate.
In my experience in negotiating ceasefires, I have found several common characteristics of the process. The first is evaluation of what the other side offers.
I am not privy to what may have been communicated to the Taliban privately, but what appears to have reached them surely falls far short of what they would virtually have to demand. At the low end, it is to surrender and accept what they would regard as a humiliating outcome of their insurgency; at the upper end, it would be to accept a fragile and largely ceremonial position in a government dominated by the current regime. If I were a Talib, I would certainly not regard either the low end or the high end as acceptable. To accept would almost certainly fracture their already-diffuse movement and probably lead to the assassination of the current leaders.
The second characteristic is that each side is constantly evaluating the other. So the "window of opportunity" is shifting. What was possible a few years ago is likely to be much more difficult today.
Again, if I were a Talib, I would doubt that the Karzai regime would or even could deliver on a deal to end the war. Put simply, too much money is being made for anyone from Karzai on down to stop.
A previous reader said:"I often feel that the true expression is:"Democrats: 1+1 = 4"Republicans: 1+1 = 12"Press: 1+1= 10, probably, though some experts disagree."In this case, the press is correct. They are just using "sophisticated' language to prove their superiority."There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don't."
"In June of 2011, the President and the Speaker began working toward a Grand Bargain of major tax increases and spending cuts to address the government's long-term budget deficits. Until late June, Boehner had managed to keep these talks secret from Cantor. On July 21st, Boehner paused in his discussions with Obama to talk to Cantor and outline the proposed deal. As Obama waited by the phone for a response from the Speaker, Cantor struck. Cantor told me that it was a "fair assessment" that he talked Boehner out of accepting Obama's deal. He said he told Boehner that it would be better, instead, to take the issues of taxes and spending to the voters and "have it out" with the Democrats in the election. Why give Obama an enormous political victory, and potentially help him win reëlection, when they might be able to negotiate a more favorable deal with a new Republican President? Boehner told Obama there was no deal. Instead of a Grand Bargain, Cantor and the House Republicans made a grand bet."
Sequester offers President Obama a time to lead
... In the petty arguments over this self-inflicted wound, there are merits, or demerits, on both sides. The Republicans are right when they say that the sequester was Mr. Obama's idea, in the summer of 2011, and that he agreed to a deal that was all spending cuts, no tax hikes. He is correct that he hoped the sequester would never go into effect but would be replaced by a 10-year bargain that would raise revenue and slow the growth of entitlement costs. He is correct, too, on the larger point: Such a deal is what's needed, and the Republicans are wrong to resist further revenue hikes.
But if that's what's needed, why is Mr. Obama not leading the way to a solution?
In the petty ["petty" is a dismissive signal that these are immature squabbles, petulance rather than anything really at stake] arguments over this self-inflicted wound, there are merits, or demerits, on both sides. [If you had a macro key for the last half of this sentence, you too could write false-equivalence editorials.] The Republicans are right when they say that the sequester was Mr. Obama's idea [a claim that (a) doesn't matter and (b) has been debunked in the Post], in the summer of 2011, and that he agreed to a deal that was all spending cuts, no tax hikes [not a "deal" but a poison-pill threat designed to force an agreement]. He is correct that he hoped the sequester would never go into effect but would be replaced by a 10-year bargain that would raise revenue and slow the growth of entitlement costs. He is correct, too, on the larger point: Such a deal is what's needed, and the Republicans are wrong to resist further revenue hikes. [He's right on the merits, they're right on a technicality -- but, hey, these things even out.]But if that's what's needed, why is Mr. Obama not leading the way to a solution? [What?? And how, exactly, is he supposed to change the dynamic and incentives on the other side?]
Most Republicans in Congress have been utterly irresponsible in this debate. They pretend that they could balance the budget without more revenue, an arithmetical impossibility, and they have failed to put forward realistic, near-term entitlement reforms. But we take little comfort in Mr. Obama's being less irresponsible. [!!!!] He is the president; his party colleagues are increasingly intransigent on entitlement reform; and it will be his -- and their -- progressive goals that suffer most if the nation continues on its current path.
I often feel that the true expression is:And from another reader:Democrats: 1+1 = 4
Republicans: 1+1 = 12
Press: 1+1= 10, probably, though some experts disagree.
Democrats: 1 + 1 = 3 (multiplier effect)__
Republicans: 1 - 1 = 3 (trickle down)
Media: 1 = 0
By William R. Polk
II. The Essential Objectives of the Afghan People and The World Community:
The fundamental objective shared by the Afghans and foreigners is a peaceful and secure country, able and willing to manage its own affairs and to act as an independent member of the world community;
This objective is brought into sharp focus by the insistence of the member nations of the NATO alliance that Afghanistan, under any government, prohibit the use of its territory or other facilities for acts of terrorism or subversion in member countries and their allies. This, after all, was the justification for the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2003. This is the second objective;
The third objective is particularly important for, but not necessarily understood by, Americans. It is not only to eliminate or cut down on the vast expenditures of money (much of it borrowed) and human resources (much of it wasted in battle or used in unproductive ways) but also to avoid a "blowback" by the warping or degradation of their institutions, comity and laws caused by fear, apparent necessity for drastic action and excessive concern with "security;"
The fourth objective of the member nations of the NATO alliance and particularly of the United States is to end or at least diminish the costs to them of the war. Member nations of the NATO alliance are already acting to accomplish for themselves this objective. Afghans generally do not share it: the Taliban movement, fractured though it may be, is determined regardless of cost to induce the foreigners to leave and to reestablish something like the regime that was destroyed by the American invasion. The Karzai government wavers between the NATO/ American and the Taliban objectives. In principle, it seeks total independence but its power brokers (aided and abetted by influential outside participants) are making vast amounts of money off the occupation and are in no hurry to end it. That is to say, there is a small but significant area of agreement on the objectives but not on timing, on the means to achieve them and on whom will control the action.
III. Objectives Desired By The Afghan People and The World Community:
Although, in current conditions they have not uniformly or vigorously articulated it, we may assume that a desired objective of all the Afghan people is a more adequate standard of living with both an improved diet and an enhanced level of health as well as a level of education that will enable to achieve and sustain a strong economy;
Both the majority of the Afghan people and concerned foreign powers desire a level of stability sufficient to prevent civil strife and invite further foreign intervention;
Member countries of the NATO alliance as well as China and Russia would like for Afghanistan to take a place suitable to its capacities in legal world trade. Specifically, they would like to profit from Afghanistan's mineral resources, to make use of its routes of trade and to get its help in interdicting the drug trade;
Since some aspects of Afghan society, notably the position and role of women, appear to outsiders as ugly and "medieval," they would like to foster the "evolution" of the society along contemporary Western lines. This objective is not widely shared in the country today although, briefly in the 1960s and 1970s, it was the policy of the then Afghan government and was approved by a wide swath of urban society. Under conditions of peace and independence, especially if these are brought about through negotiations, it is likely gradually to re-emerge.
Toward a Feasible Afghan Policy
By William R. Polk
Too much of what we read in reports and analyses on Afghanistan is based on wishful thinking. It is late, but not too late, to move toward an affordable and sustainable policy. To arrive at such a policy, we must begin by considering historical, geographical, ethnic and economic realities on the ground rather than merely focusing on what the Afghans, the Americans and other nations desire.
I The Basic Facts
Afghanistan has a surface area of 6.5 thousand square kilometers (about the size of Texas or the combination of France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Denmark) of which 85% to 90% is mountainous and/or desert. The central massif, broken by deep valleys, rises to a maximum height of nearly 8 thousand meters and much of the south and west is sand, rock or salty marsh. Thus, the economically "usable" Afghanistan is comparable to just Florida or the combination of Belgium and The Netherlands. The country has few known natural resources. Energy has been particularly lacking. Water power is hampered by erosion, causing generators to disintegrate and storage lakes to fill with sediment. Both oil and coal have been found but have only begun to be developed. Timber is in very short supply, with forests covering less than 5% of the surface; much of the earlier forest areas have been denuded (destroyed by war or cut for fuel). Ground water almost everywhere, except in the far north, is unavailable while rain falls heavily and creates often devastating floods in March-April. Other floods come when snow melts in mid summer. These times are inappropriate for most agriculture; so Afghanistan cannot feed itself. The reality is that Afghanistan is and will remain a poor country.
The population has risen over the last half century, from perhaps 10 million in 1962, when I first went there, to 31-33 million in 2012. Today, over half of the Afghanis are below the age of 18, so a major upsurge of population can be anticipated in the years ahead. Before the Soviet invasion and occupation, the population was at least 80% rural: most Afghans were settled peasant farmers, living in some 22,000 villages, but perhaps 1 in each 8 or 9 was a nomad. Religiously, about 5-6 people in each 10 are Sunni Muslims and somewhat more than 3-4 in 10 are Shia Muslims. Ethnically, the population is divided into at least two dozen communities of which the Pushtuns (aka Pathans) (4 in each 10), the Tajiks (3 in each 10) and the Hazaras (1-2 in each 10) are the largest. These groups speak off-shoots of the Indo-European family of languages, mainly Dari, a dialect of Farsi (Persian). Smaller Turkish and Mongol groups speak languages in the Ural-Altaic (or East Asian) family while other, even smaller, communities speak languages in the Semitic family of languages. Thus, Afghanistan is culturally, socially and politically diverse.
While, the diversity of the country is evident, it is important not to exaggerate its effects. The inhabitants of the cities, towns and villages share shaping influences of means of earning their livings, religious belief and practice and historical experience. The best known traditional code of life is the Pushtunwali of the Pushtuns, but similar "social contracts" are echoed in the other communities; Islam in Afghanistan, like Christianity in Europe and America, is divided, but overall there is an intense loyalty to it; and the experience of nearly all Afghans, shaped by generations of warfare, set them apart, they fervently believe, from all foreigners. At minimum, the Afghans have a unity in their difference from others.
Throughout history, central governments have functioned only intermittently and in sharply limited spheres except in the few cities. Effective government is traditionally primarily a function of village communities: each village runs its own affairs under its own leaders; its inhabitants were economically virtually autarkic, making most of their clothing and tools and eating their own produce.
This lack of national cohesion thwarted the Russians during their occupation: they won almost every battle and occupied at one time or another virtually every inch of the country, and through their civic action programs they actually pacified many of the villages, but they could never ﬁnd or create an organization with which to make peace. Baldly put, no one could surrender the rest. Thus, over the decade of their involvement, the Russians lost about 15,000 soldiers - and the war. When they gave up and left, the Afghans resumed their traditional way of life, what might be called "the Afghan way."
"The Afghan way" is today manifested in three aspects of government:
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Date: Sun, Feb 24, 2013 at 10:38 AM
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President Obama intends to "wind down" the Afghan war over the next years and to leave only a training mission there. He inherited from President Bush and has continued, even enlarged, the American expenditures -- thousands of casualties, hundreds of thousands of wounded and a trillion dollars. The experience has been, or should have been, as Kipling wrote of another war, "no end of a lesson." Yet, I wonder, has it really been a lesson, and have we heeded it? Might we do the same things again?
As I have ruminated for years over these questions, which may be nearly vital for our country and our beliefs, I have reached the conclusion that we do not see or understand the similarities of events; rather we think of each venture as unique. What happened in Vietnam has no relevance to what happened in Iraq. After all, the two countries are far apart, speak different languages and...well you know the rest....
Fortunately, most of the current wars appear to be over even though they have left us with huge burdens. But, as we survey what may be the prospect of new burdens, do our leaders connect the past to the present and the future? I find little evidence to suggest that they do.
Perhaps, I have thought, this is partly because of our rotation of leadership. The new leaders are sure that they can do better what the former leaders did badly. It is also, I think, because our memories are weak and our attention spans are short. Perhaps we really don't care. Or all the above.
Here, I am trying to do two things, hence two papers I lay before you: the one is that by looking not only at our involvement in the current war, Afghanistan, but also looking at what the Soviet Union did and tried to do there, I can single out a few things that should command attention even of our leaders. The other, addressed in my second paper is, given what we know and what we have experienced, what now makes sense for us to do.
What the Russians did in Afghanistan And What We Can Learn From It.
By William R. Polk
I have long been a student of Afghan affairs. I first went there in 1962 when I was a Member of the Policy Planning Council. During that visit, I made a 2,000 mile trip around the country during which I managed to talk with dozens of village elders, government officials and the diplomats and advisers from all the main states. The result was a policy paper I presented to the Secretary of State's policy committee.
The main argument in my paper was that the wisest policy for America was a modest and discrete involvement designed to help the Afghans manage their own affairs. To accomplish this goal, I proposed various ventures in education, health and infrastructure.
Above all, I proposed, America should avoid actions that were likely to restart the "Great Game," the competition for control of Afghanistan between Imperial Russia and the then British-dominated South Asia. Neither we, nor the by-then Soviet Russians, nor the by-then independent South Asians - and certainly not the Afghans - would gain. What the British called a "Forward Policy" had long since proven wasteful, sterile and self-defeating. Its modern version, proclaimed by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, was likely to repeat in Afghanistan what he and his brother Allan were already doing in Iran: ultimately nullifying attempts, slow and weak as they were, toward increased national capacity and improvement of life.
I know, like, and respect both of the discussants, and I think each of them has done us a service with this exchange -- Klein in having the initiative to propose the discussion and Brooks in having the menschy-ness to agree. It is worth close examination. I look forward to further reflections by both writers in their columns and (seriously) thank them for this start.Brooks: In my ideal world, the Obama administration would do something Clintonesque: They'd govern from the center; they'd have a budget policy that looked a lot more like what Robert Rubin would describe, and if the Republicans rejected that, moderates like me would say that's awful, the White House really did come out with a centrist plan.Klein: But I've read Robert Rubin's tax plan. He wants $1.8 trillion in new revenues. The White House, these days, is down to $1.2 trillion. I'm with Rubin on this one, but given our two political parties, the White House's offer seems more centrist. And you see this a lot. People say the White House should do something centrist like Simpson-Bowles, even though their plan has less in tax hikes and less in defense cuts. So it often seems like a no-win for them.
Kaplan describes how the COIN [counter-insurgency] approach eventually "succeeded" in Iraq, by which he means that it bought enough stability to allow American forces to withdraw in something other than outright retreat. In Afghanistan it has failed even that modest test; indeed, Kaplan argues, the comparative successes in Iraq lured the U.S military, especially [Gen. Stanley] McChrystal, into attempting the impossible in Afghanistan. The government in Kabul was even more corrupt and less legitimate than the one in Baghdad; Afghanistan had a far weaker tradition of centralized control of any sort than what Saddam Hussein, for better and worse, had brought to Iraq. Kaplan summarizes Australian strategist David Kilcullen on the paradox that doomed U.S. efforts in Afghanistan:Also:Reduced to a syllogism, his argument went like this: we shouldn't engage in counterinsurgency unless the government we're helping is effective and legitimate; a government that needs foreign help to fight an insurgency generally isn't effective or legitimate; therefore, we generally shouldn't engage in counterinsurgency.It was a return, 40 years later, to one of the main lessons of Vietnam. By the end of America's war there, our military had gotten much better at a kind of war that it realized it was better off choosing not to fight.
Explaining ideas through biography is so attractive an approach as often to seem this era's cliché in magazine and book writing. Of course, authors from the time of Herodotus onward have understood the explanatory power of biography, but I date its modern popularity and occasional overuse to the influence of David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest and Robert Caro's The Power Broker, both in the early 1970s, followed by Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie in the 1980s.
The Insurgents stands out as a particularly effective and legitimate use of this approach, and one whose clarity and drama should extend its audience far beyond the normal defense-policy crowd.
And from another reader:It's worth pointing out that the partisan positions on deficit reduction which the Washington Post refuses to acknowledge are even worse than the mere binary choice of some spending cuts and some increased revenue versus all spending cuts and no increased revenue. As more than one House-passed "sequester avoidance bill" in the previous Congress has made clear, it is not just that the GOP wants all deficit reduction to be accomplished by spending cuts alone. It is that the GOP would prefer all deficit reduction to be borne by domestic spending alone through exempting the Pentagon. That is even more stark, don't you think?An intriguing side note of this issue is Panetta's, the Joint Chiefs' and other Pentagon officials' wolf-crying to the effect that reducing the Pentagon budget from $600 billion to $550 billion "invites aggression" or leaves the US "vulnerable to coercion." Given the current partisan dynamic in Washington that I described in the previous paragraph, which party are Obama's own appointees objectively aiding?
Fair points. But Chait anticipated them in his original item. Of course you could argue for a range of responses to fiscal problems: spending cuts only, tax cuts only, a mixture of the two, even no response at all.I understand the core of your false equivalence jihad. But you are stretching it here. Your use of "DC centrist" position as a benchmark means you are anchoring "truth" to political insider argument. I happen to agree with that position on this issue, but a wide range of approaches are very reasonable in this discussion. There has been some tax increase, and some spending reductions since the base-line everyone quotes. It is completely fair to debate whether or not the "DC centrist" position is in fact correct, and it is wrong to assume that a group that is farther from that position is "wrong." There is a reason economics is called the dismal science; unfortunately it often describes the effectiveness of predictions by economists (yes, I know that is not really the genesis of the saying).We are in pretty unique economic times. Out of the crisis. In a recovery, which is very slow and uneven. Profits and the stock market are up, unemployment seems stuck at 8%. Small business are selling out in number you would not expect in a recovery. The federal government's share of the economy, and its debt level, are both at high points for most of the century. Debate ranging from "it should be all taxes" to "it should all be spending cuts" is, unfortunately, all worth exploring. Even if neither extreme answer could win politically, it does not preclude a reasoned discussion on both points. False equivalence exists, but let's not use it just because something is outside of opinion consensus. Let's use it when it is outside of facts. After all, there was a time that a strong consensus existed that the sun orbited the earth.
Bonus diplomatic-leverage point: Chinese officials have long used U.S. inaction on climate and carbon-tax issues as a rationalization for not taking steps of their own. On average, we're still quite a poor country, the spokesmen would say. If the rich U.S. can't "afford" to deal with emissions, how could we? Now the country is taking this carbon-tax step for reasons of its own reasons -- as a way to deal with pollution and as another step in un-distorting the economy. But as a bonus it gets talking points to prod the US to do its part.
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|Blind into Baghdad||Boiled-frog|
|Brave little USB||Budget|
|China Airborne||China Daily|
|China Menace||China Today|
|Copenhagen||Crisis of the press|
|Doing Business in China||Dreaming in Chinese|
|Going to hell|
|Ideas 2009||Ideas 2011|
|Obama||Obama in Asia|
|Occupy Wall Street||Olympics|
|Public health||Reader comment|
|Security Sanity||Security Theater|
|Self-pity and its discontents||Small Business|
|Volcano||Walk like an American|
|Wine||Year end pensee|
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