It's funny about blogging. I struggle to fit myself into a "clique" of political thought, religious thought or philosophy. I know I'm not writing about fishing, but what if I want to discuss Donovan McNabb's horrible Superbowl performance? Does that disqualify me from having an opinion on the Maitreya as UN guru? My cousin Rob and I recently took some "political compass" tests: I landed dead-center on the first and hard Libertarian with the second.
I'm registered as a Libertarian. But I am totally committed to the idea of public schools. Let's face it, there is just no use fitting Americans into broad groups. We are really, really free people (praise God) and that means we are very, very distinct and unique from one another.
That reminds me to make my next essay about the virtues of the bi-cameral, US system of representative democracy and the parliamentary system used by the rest of the world. I have a lot to say about that. But...
..I want to talk about a rock in Scotland.
Yes, a rock in Scotland.
The stone in question is called "Jacob's Pillar", the "Liafail" and probably other things as well. For the last seven centuries or so, it has lived under the coronation chair of the English monarchs. Where did they get it? They took it from the Scottish monarchs when they conquered them. Okay, where did they get it? They got it from the Irish monarchs when they conquered them. Yes, I realize this is confusing. Why would you steal a rock from a country you conquered? Wouldn't you take the sheep and women and gold (maybe not in that order)? You would. And they did. But they also took the rock.
The movement for Scottish independence has really gained strength in the last decade, so much that the Scots demanded their rock be returned (I am not making this up). And England obliged, but with a proviso: When Prince Charles becomes King Charles (the Fourth? Tenth? No idea), England will get the rock back long enough to put it under the chair for the coronation. When that's over, they will give it back to Scotland.
Why all this fuss over a rock? The story goes like this:
Joseph, made famous by Andrew Lloyd Webber and also mentioned in the bible, is known for his "coat of many colors". If you follow his story, he ended up being the de facto ruler of Egypt, and he even imported his eleven brothers as his cabinet, despite their earlier decision to sell him as a slave. Well, Joseph was a big shot at this point, and he needed a big shot wife, so he married one of the Pharaoh's daughters, and she had twins. Now Pharoah's grandchildren were also Abraham's great-great-grandchildren. And they inherited "Jacob's Pillar", which they kept in Egypt.
A many centuries passed before Egypt enslaved the Hebrews. While the Hebrews were waiting for Moses to be born and give Cecil B. DeMille his moment of fame, some of the more adventurous sailed off and ended up settling in Greece, where their Egyptian educations apparently bought them a lot of respect.
A later Hebrew king from Greece returned to Egypt for a visit, just in time to befriend Moses, who had copied Joseph's earlier trick and become really important in Egyptian government. It was during this time that the Greek-Hebrew king was entrusted with protecting "Jacob's Pillar", the stone that Jacob slept on when he had a vision of angels on Heaven's escalator (also known as "Jacob's Ladder", but not to be confused with those two sparking, high-voltage wires you built in high school science class). He took "Jacob's Pillar" and sailed for Spain when Moses and Aaron turned God's plagues loose on Pharaoh.
Much later in Hebrew history, God promised their second king, David, that there would always be a throne for his kingdom. His kingdom was pretty big at that time, it basically included all the Middle East.
The bad news is that the kingdom was divided by his grandsons, and was eventually completely conquered and enslaved. The good news is that, at exactly the same time as the last Jewish king was wiped out, "Jacob's Pillar" was taken to Ireland from Spain (!). It was placed under the throne of the Irish kings who were descended from the Spanish Hebrews.
Kings and Queens have really gone out of style these days. There just aren't that many left. They're mostly ceremonial positions in any case. But in an odd twist, the monarchs of England have the title "Defenders of the Faith". Not the Jewish faith, of course, but they do have the religious authority in the UK (created when King Henry VIII ditched the Pope). And that authority has lasted for a very, very long time.
Look at modern politics. Despite being a democracy, modern Israel has only two real allies: the USA and the UK. Certainly the USA would be far better off, in terms of oil, to just jettison Israel. But we don't. And Blair is always in trouble for his support of the USA and Israel. Yet he keeps right on with it. It makes no Machiavellian sense, yet it continues.
Which countries put Israel back on the map after 1900 years? The USA and the UK. If you look over the documents of this more-recent process, you won't find any references to prophecies or promises or magic stones under thrones. Yet it all "worked out that way" just the same.
Now that's a keeping a promise. I'm not a British Israelite or a member of the Worldwide Church of God. Their "history" is fundamentally flawed. But I do know that God keeps His promises, and He uses some pretty unconventional techniques when it suits Him. You can decide for yourself, but it's the kind of incredible story that points to something bigger. A hidden director of history. I'll keep trusting the Director to look out for me the way He's preserved the throne of David's kingdom for all these centuries.May God bless the United States of America,
Now that the first round of Iraqi elections are over, the time has come for a review of our military strategy for the last two years. Were we clever and strategic? Were we inept and bumbling? Something in-between? My position is simple: A combination of intelligence failure, military mismanagement, and a lack of perspective all contributed to delaying these first elections by at least one year.
Am I going to rant about the "missing" Weapons of Mass Destruction? No. We have ample testimony that Saddam had a working centrifuge plant in 2002, which is used to refine fissionable material for atomic weapons. We found whole platoons of dead Iraqi soldiers wearing full chemical gear as we trampled the ring of defenses surrounding Baghdad. We have testimony from Baath party officials that Saddam moved out truckloads of chemical weapons in the days before the invasion.
Simply put, there can be no reasonable doubt that Iraq did possess WMDs. This was not an intelligence failure. Rather, our failure was twofold. We did not find the WMDs, and we did not remotely predict the behavior of the Iraqis after their army was defeated in Baghdad.
Mousaad agents were and are quite clear about the the current location of the WMDs: Syria. This is the only reasonable destination that would have made sense in the days leading up to Saddam's fall. It's a fellow Baath party regime, a ruthless and oppressive dictatorship, and one that supports Islamic terrorism on an unparalleled scale. Since its occupation, the western part of Iraq has been consistently attacked by Jihadists who cross over the border from Syria.
So assuming that the WMD are in Syria, where is the intelligence failure? The failure was in allowing them to make it across the border, into another sovereign (albeit brutal) country. It is a well-known fact that Special Forces teams were operating in Iraq long before the regular troops arrived on the ground. They clearly should have been charged with finding and stopping those trucks at all costs. That would have justified the entire Iraqi venture in the eyes of the entire world, not to mention the practical benefits of keeping those weapons out of Syrian hands.
But the horse has left the barn, and with our troops stretched razor-thin, the chances of a Coalition attack on Syria to secure the WMDs is zero. The damage is done, damage created by an intelligence failure on the singularly important issue of the war.
Nonetheless, the war was quickly and super-efficiently prosecuted, with overwhelming air power and the awesome professionalism of our all-volunteer army. With some notable exceptions (including Feydaheen fanatics and the Jihadists), the basic, conscripted Iraqi army, along with the Republican Guard, simply failed to show up. When they did, they were crushed.
This is where our "intelligence" defeated us. We operated under four very, very wrong assumptions:
Every one of these "intelligence" assumptions turned out to be fundamentally flawed.
When suddenly and forcefully released from thirty-five years of oppression, the Iraqi people did something that was extremely predictable, if not extremely admirable. They murdered their long-standing enemies and stole anything that could be stolen. This is a natural reaction (though again, not a moral one) to having been deprived of justice against those same enemies, and of being deprived of an opportunity to amass wealth.
It also reflects the Arab culture to a great degree. This might be branded as "racist" by modern, progressive Arabs who have experience in the Western world, but it is realistic nonetheless. The religion and culture of these Arabs has a millenia-long tradition of looting and revenge. It is part of their heritage. A Western observer might view these basic values as a fundamental reason for the stagnation of Arab civilization, but that's the subject of another essay.
Instead of planning for this disaster, the entire intelligence community either ignored it, or was itself ignored by military planners. There was no provision made to avert the revenge killings or the looting.
Supporters of the planning and intelligence after the victory are left with apologetics like "The looting wasn't that bad." That is small consolation for a lengthy period of anarchy and destruction.
The parades for our soldiers, the flowers cast upon them, never happened. They were viewed as an occupying army, the ground representatives of the same army that had been bombing their capital for weeks. No one in our "intelligence" community appeared to have any contingency plan for this reaction. Anyone who did was ignored by our military planners. So we were left with a population who knew they had been occupied, while we were simultaneously assuring them that we were not occupiers. Nothing good could have come from this denial of reality on our part. And it didn't.
The Iraqi people were under a tyrannic and authoritarian regime for more than three decades. The working-age population had no memory of any other life. Their dictator viewed Joseph Stalin as the pinnacle of leadership in practice. Under these conditions, the belief that Iraqis would raise one finger to start rebuilding their country or embracing their freedom was foolish. They had no experience in such efforts. They needed to be taught the most basic kinds of civic responsibility, the most basic efforts at self-organization. Soldiers on the ground complained daily about Iraqis who "Will not do one thing to help themselves."
This learned and enforced lethargy placed an incredible burden on the occupying forces. Already short of personnel on the ground, they were now being asked to provide every service that the former regime had supplied, far beyond even the normal service of a socialist democracy like Denmark or France. Who would tell the people what their next job would be? Who would provide them with food, clothing, and shelter? The idea of a "social safety net" does not begin to describe the situation. It was an "absolute societal authority" that was expected, just as if Stalin and the Politburo had been overthrown at the height of their power.
None of this was anticipated by our "intelligence". And if it was, it was ignored by military planners. We quickly dismissed our first civilian governor, who was followed by Mr. Bremer, who was flayed daily in the press for his failures. It was an impossible job, because no resources or planning had been allocated to the transition from a centralized tyranny to a nation of free people.
It's a well-known fact that, using cell phones and messengers, the Coalition made numerous attempts to negotiate with Iraqi generals in the days before the Baghdad assault. Despite this willingness to make deals, one of the first acts of the occupying forces was to officially disband the Iraqi army.
The impact, in terms of simple unemployment alone, was devastating. Literally millions of Iraqi family heads found themselves without a salary. A second impact was on internal security, where the army had served a fundamental role in preserving order. Yes, they were brutal and unacceptable. But rather than trying to cull the army while maintaining its structure and form; rather than trying to find the tribal units and individuals within the army that could support a liberal society based on law; we simply dismissed them all.
The looting, the revenge killings, the insurgency, the resentment of our occupation, all these things could have been eliminated or greatly ameliorated by simply maintaining at least a shell of the standing Iraqi army. Our failure to do so was an "intelligence" failure of an unprecedented scale in the history of the United States.
Without good intelligence information, and without a realistic perspective on the conduct of war by our Defense Department, military planning was impossible. How did we manage to score such an overwhelming and total victory in such a short time, while not making the native population even understand that they had been defeated? The most lop-sided victory in the history of war did nothing to change the hearts and minds of most Iraqis.
Our bombing campaign specifically targeted elements of infrastructure. Civilian casualties were scrupulously avoided. The end was result was leaving a nearly untouched population without heat, light, communications, transportation and food. Human beings will go to great lengths to acquire these things. Sabotage, war usury, and looting ensued immediately. Gas prices skyrocketed in one of the world's top oil-producing countries. Pipelines were repeatedly destroyed. Trucks full of relief food were mobbed.
This humanitarian unrest (while not precisely a "disaster" or "crisis") was completely avoidable. Military planners made no allowances and ignored any warnings. Public support for the "liberating army" was naturally and logically destroyed by the sudden loss of basic resources.
Technology is an amazing thing. It keeps people alive, year after year. It makes those lives so much more comfortable and pleasant. It even allows me to write this essay in a way that was unthinkable a century ago.
What technology cannot do is change the objective and execution of the fundamental goal of war. That goal, simply put, is to crush the resolve of the enemy to fight. This was a fundamental failing in the philosophy of our military planners. Buoyed by bad intelligence, they assumed that the Iraqi people would have no resolve to fight us from the moment we arrived, that even our mistakes would be embraced because we "liberated" them.
The actual effect of our military strategy was to remove almost all negative effects of traditional war and simply subject the Iraqi people to intense peacetime deprivation. Rather than fear us, they (naturally and logically) simply saw us as people who had made their lives very, very unpleasant. That fear was abandoned as the ultimate weapon of war, was a fundamental philosophical mistake.
Yes, I know about "Shock and Awe". The Iraqis in Baghdad were certainly aware that we could drop a lot of bombs on telephone towers and TV stations. With incredible and admirable precision, in fact. What was made far too obvious, though, is that we did not have the will to use that same precision bombing to hurt any Iraqis. This did not inspire thanks and gratitude, it inspired laughing and mockery, as if we missed the whole method of winning a war, which we did.
The whole method of winning a war, American-style, is this: Apply a totally ridiculous amount of force, in a way calculated to do nothing more or less than crush the resolve of your enemies. There are certain limits which are proscribed in the Geneva conventions, perhaps also internal limits agreed on by the Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs. Anything else goes. Anything that crushes the determination of your enemy country to resist you is to be done without hesitation.
Then, the moment your enemy surrenders, the moment they lose their last bit of resolve to resist you, then, and only then, is the unmatched American mercy released. It pours out with all the force and power that the previous assault did. Unparalleled destruction is followed by unparalleled compassion and unparalleled giving.
It's simply an unbeatable formula. Unbeatable ethically and unbeatable in practice. Simple logic indicates that no agent can dispense mercy and charity until the target recognizes its need. The Iraqis were never made to recognize that need. They never felt conquered, they never lost their resolve to fight. We skipped directly to the "mercy" phase while skipping the unpleasant and unsightly "destruction" phase.
And that is why it took so many additional American deaths, so many months of bumbling and chaos, to finally get to this first round of elections. Make no mistake, these elections are a blessed thing, a holy thing. But they happened in spite of all our bumbling and ineptitude and short-sightedness and weakness. That, in itself, is a tribute to how powerful we are today. But we could do so much more, so much faster, and so much more cheaply.
Let us not forget Dresden and the Marshall Plan. Let us not forget the Enola Gay and the Japanese constitution. Let us not forget Sherman's March and Jefferson Davis retiring to his estate (uncharged by any UN Tribunal).
Let us remember that war is a life-or-death struggle, and we must do all we can to end it as quickly as possible. Mercy is a holy struggle, a life-and-life struggle, and we must let it flow as quickly as possible after securing the victory.May God bless the United States of America,
La Shawn Barber banned me from posting privileges on her blog. Oops. She was strongly supporting white Nebraskan parents who move their kids out of schools with Hispanic students. I won't rehash the argument but I trust I am not alone in seeing that as a horrible idea. Telling La Shawn was the mistake...
The bigger lesson was that ideology is essential, but applying it to real-life problems is something to be done with a lot of thought. Life is too complicated to just "read and react" in five minutes on matters that will affect you and your children for the rest of your lives. That's the trap which snares so many liberals, and no small number of conservatives.
La Shawn fell into the trap with her support of pedoxenophobia. I fell into it by objecting too strongly, on her turf.
Typically, systems of government are designed to mitigate those kinds of problems on a national scale. That's the best transition I can come up with for this week's topic:
It's 1945. "Divine" Emperor Hirohito has just surrendered the nation of Japan to the United States. Our occupation would continue for seven more years. It would be a mostly-peaceful one, reflecting the Japanese cultural tendency toward respect and civil order. The new constitution would be written by the occupiers. Along with a host of civil freedoms and a ban on any meaningful military force, that constitution specified the system of the new national government: parliamentary democracy.
It probably came as no surprise to the pundits of the day. Defeated West Germany also had a parliamentary democracy. As did the newly-liberated Philippines. Later, the same system would be installed in South Korea, then Panama, then all the Eastern European countries who escaped the Iron Curtain, along with Russia. Then Afghanistan, and most recently, Iraq. A half-century of parliaments, either effectively installed by U.S. pressure in the Cold War, or direct U.S. military action.
What makes this noteworthy is that the U.S. doesn't have a parliamentary system. We have a bicameral (two-party) system. It's not specifically mandated by our constitution, but our history has been so consistent that it's now effectively embedded in our government. Third parties exist, but they never gain enough support to participate in legislative power-sharing.
What makes us so different from the other democratic republics? Why don't we export our own system of government?
The overriding reason is that we don't believe our bicameral system would work for anyone else. We are a young country. There was no weight of national history to push us when our constitution was written. The vast majority of our founding citizens shared a common language, culture, religion, race and tradition. We were uniquely suited to succeed with a system where implementation and procedures were the biggest issues of disagreement.
Contrast our situation with Iraq today. The country has three large and distinct racial groups; the Arabs, the Kurds, and the Persians. It has several lesser minorities like Egyptians, Assyrians and Turkomen. Each of those groups brings a separate culture, with all the conflicting trappings. The differences are more fundamental and seem to require a system with more latitude.
The second reason is more practical. Multi-party systems are easier to impose. Rather than dictating that each citizen must be either a Republican or Democrat, we simply encourage those citizens to form political parties, as many as they like. It's a hands-off, lower-maintenance approach that is perfect for the end of a conflict.
The third reason is a more Machiavellian one. Our bicameral system creates at least the appearance of national unity. By herding us all into one of the two parties, we gain a sense of common purpose that is sometimes illusion, sometimes truth. But that unity allows our nation to accomplish fantastic things.
By contrast, the parliamentary governments of the world spend a lot of political time accommodating very basic disagreements amongst the parties. New elections are possible whenever a coalition of parties fractures into an overall minority. The multi-party system makes those differences more visible, and thus more divisive. Gridlock for the world is good for America, we don't have to confront any other nations who are as fundamentally united as we are.
The fourth reason is technological. The world has cell phones. They have television, they have radio and literacy and the Internet. More people have a "voice" than ever before. The instant communication makes us more aware of our differences than any time in history. And that makes it basically impossible to channel everyone into a bicameral political system.
There are some real strengths of our system, beyond the unity of purpose mentioned above. One is stability. Elections happen on a monolithically reliable schedule. Parties aren't forced into unpleasant alliances to remain relevant, with all the discord that creates. Likewise, our two parties don't fall apart over crucial national issues. The machine is stable, if not flashy.
Another strength of our system is direct representation (stop laughing). Imagine being forced into a Republican-Democrat alliance in order to keep the President in office. Imagine realizing that your party is slightly smaller, so you're counting on someone from your hated rival party to represent your beliefs as a senator or representative. Hardly reassuring.
There are disadvantages, too. In our two-party system, important issues are hidden for the sake of unity. Democrats are currently struggling with gay marriage (as I type that, I dream the next generation will laugh uproariously at the phrase). Republicans are strongly divided on immigration policy. People with strong opinions may feel that there is no public voice for their position.
Another weakness is accountability. We know the President will be in office for four years. Not more, not less. If he does something incredible (like say, Iran-Contra, perjury, etc.), there is no coalition of parties that can break up to force an election. Our stability can become our prison.
I have little doubt that America would be a parliament if it was founded today. The combination of our rugged independence and our modern technology would make it unavoidable. But would we be better off?
I believe we would. I often chuckle at the overused "Republicrat" and "Demican" terms. Cliches or not, they ring true. Instead of watching many parties make compromises in public, our individual representatives make compromises in secret.
The good news is that our constitution is silent on the possibility of many parties. It could happen spontaneously at any time a critical mass of dissatisfied voters band together. The bad news is that our constitution doesn't provide for elections by parliamentary decree. We're stuck with our elected officials (barring impeachment or voter recall) for their full terms.
Short of Douglas MacArthur, it looks like we're going to remain bi. Cameral. It's worked for 229 years, and we're the greatest nation on Earth. Good enough. Here's to the next hundred.May God bless the United States of America,