Saturday, July 28, 2007

It's Gonna Be a Foreign Policy Presidency

Like it or not, the next administration will have no choice except focusing on foreign policy. It won't be a four years given over to such crushing issues as school uniforms or smoking bans; it won't be "the economy, stupid," save as foreign affairs is inevitably linked to economic matters. Not even the ever popular health care issue(s) will loom larger than the messy realities of our relations with the rest of the world.

Of course, most Americans neither like nor understand foreign affairs, foreign policy and the strange doings of diplomats. Most Americans are like digital circuits when it comes to war: full on or full off.

Politicians, particularly those with eyes glassily fixated on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, are aware of the American distaste for the intricacies and nuances of foreign affairs. As a consequence, the current packs of Republicans and Democrats avoid the quagmire except to cater to the current prevalent disenchantment with the war in Iraq.

Get a grip on this. No matter how much people (including candidates) want to ignore the world, it isn't going away. Neither are the problems.


Try the following partial list. The Islamist terrorists. They'll still be with us. Collapsing states. The number may well grow (try adding Pakistan to the roster and remember, the Pakistanis have the Bomb.) The Mideast. Do you really think that the Palestinian question is going to be finally resolved before January 2009?

Now consider these questions. The regrowth of Russia as an adversary? You bet, the Russians have never been satisfied with second class status. Then there is the Peoples' Republic of China. Trade deficit, anyone? How about the steroid injections Beijing has been giving its military?

By the way, don't forget about South America and the growth of neo-Castroism. Of course there is global warming. Consider the term "global," might not that imply a foreign dimension?

Ah, yes, that nifty term "global" as in "global economy," and "globalization." That brings the relation between economic and foreign policy into very sharp focus, doesn't it?

Yes. The next administration is going to have its plate plumb full of foreign dishes. Most of them won't be tasty.

If that view of the future doesn't upset you enough, stop and consider the foreign policy capacities so far demonstrated by various front running candidates.

First there is Senator Obama, who would meet with any hostile despot for face-to-face talks "without preconditions." Now the Geek is sure the Senator is a nice young man who means well but who is hopelessly out of touch with the realities of summit meetings--even with friendly foreign leaders of allied countries. He apparently thinks that face time with a foreign jefe is either an exercise in public relations or a mere shake and grin session.

Senator Clinton is a little sharper about the reality of summit meetings and acknowledges that they must be proceeded by serious and prolonged diplomatic interchanges if anything substantial is to emerge at the other end. Good for her.

Still, Senator Clinton has a major credibility problem: her vote on the Iraq invasion. The Geek admits he was bemused at the time. He considered the names that must have been on her Rolodex and the ease with which she (or some beaver on her staff) could have found out that the President's justifications for the invasion were not even up to the soup sandwich level.

(Heck. The Geek had no problem with concluding that the President and his henchpeople were lying using the intelligence analyst's favorite sources: the library and the newspapers both foreign and domestic as well as a modicum of brain power.)

But the Geek isn't in the Senate and Hillary Clinton was. With her finger stuck in the winds of public opinion she voted with the majority. This tells the objective observer that she lacks the intellectual and moral courage to deal with foreign affairs in any meaningful fashion.

The Republicans aren't any better. Mitt Romney thinks the American public is "sick" of the war in Iraq because of the "lack of progress." Duh? That's a no-brainer. So is the rest of his "thinking." He'll wait until after the mid-September report to say what he would do differently. Beyond that platitude, if he has any foreign policy notions, they aren't apparent to the Geek.

The former Mayor of New York City is so hazy on his view of the world beyond being opposed to terrorism that one wonders if he has ever stopped quacking about how "tough" he was as a prosecutor and mayor to think about the planet outside of the borough of Manhattan.

Senator McCain is right on Iraq. The US has to stay. His trouble is simply that he can't say why. He hasn't given a single reason to justify his conclusion good, bad, or indifferent. Other than that, his foreign policy seems to be a stale recycling of the usual Republican platitudes such as support for Israel and a love affair with free trade--whatever free trade might be these days.

Now, let's take a fast peek at Congress. The ham-handed, public opinion driven, brain dead efforts by that body--particularly the House--to meddle in foreign policy makes the Geek join spiritual hands with Colonel Pride (although without the presence of troops behind him) when dealing with the Parliament during the English Civil War.

If you think the Geek is being too hard on Congress, take a firm hold on the amendments to the new Anti-Terrorism bill designed to put pressure on countries such as Pakistan to take a more effective stance regarding al-Qaeda and their ilk. Mr Lantos, the Chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee and a man without any notable credentials in the field, sponsored these destructive amendments, which if passed into law will help further destabilize Pakistan and alienate other shaky "allies" such as Saudi Arabia. (The cliche "with friends like that who needs enemies?" comes to mind."

What choice have we got?

It's simple but oh, so hard. The politically articulate minority of this nation has to insist that foreign policy be given pride of place in the upcoming election. We have to ask the hardest of hard questions. We have to insist that individuals who aspire to leadership have the intellectual and moral courage to lead. We have to know, positively know, that they have a coherent vision of the United States' role in the world as well as a vision of how to get us there and the ability to sell their vision and road map.

In short, we have to demand that they be true leaders, willing to sail against the transient winds of opinion with a firm fix on the harbor ahead.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Gov. Bill Richardson is Out to Lunch

The Geek is a slow man to anger, but the governor of his home state has frankly rankled his butt. The Geek is particularly rankled because the Governor's latest off-the-tracks position on Iraq and the "war on terrorism" distracts the Geek from pursuing a subject of far greater personal interest, and, he opines, far greater importance to understanding what is happening in the Mideast.

In case you have missed it, Governor Bill wants the US to get out of Iraq ASAP and redeploy our troops to Afghanistan with the goal of squashing al Qaeda like a grape. He recommends replacing the increasingly effective US combat forces by an all Muslim force drawn from Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Tunisia among others.

Now I realize that peyote grows abundantly in the southern desert areas of our state and that pot grows aplenty wherever there is water enough, but, at least years ago when I first met the ambitious young politico, Richardson, he didn't strike me as the type to indulge. Now I've got to wonder.

The Gov is fond of bringing up his experience with negotiating with the North Koreans regarding their A-bomb research and development activities back during the Clinton years and using this as the spring board for favoring diplomacy in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the use of military force. He darn near breaks his arm patting himself on the back for the alleged success of his diplomatic efforts with the North Koreans.

Get a grip, Bill!

Your diplomacy took place in a context. Since you are either forgetful or don't wish to bother your auditors with the facts, here they are. North Korea was faced by three negotiating parties with a significant nuclear capacity: the Peoples' Republic of China, Russia, and the US. The other two involved states, South Korea and Japan, have a nearly off-the-shelf capacity to go nuclear within months. Then there was the simple fact that North Korea was both broke and filled with starving peasants. The North Koreans needed beaucoup assistance, beaucoup fast.

In short, Gov, your brilliant diplomacy was made possible by the rampart of overwhelming force backing you and the desperate straits of your North Korean interlocutor--not your smooth words and polished manner.

Now back to the main event.

The Geek agrees, as he has stated ad nauseum in this blog, that invading Iraq was a world class blunder. But, now that the vile deed has been done, to back out before there is a reasonable simulacrum of an effective government and security force in Iraq, before there is a better state of peace, we have to stay. We have to stay and have our people die in order that the blunder we committed might be made right.

To do otherwise, as the Geek has written, will assure that there is no way that the Islamist terrorists, be they affiliated with al Qaeda or not, can be defeated.

Right now, as Major General Mixon, commander of the Multi-National Division North, stated last month, we need "more boots on the ground."

The same is true in Afghanistan. More boots on the ground are necessary if Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are to be beaten into a reasonably submissive posture. The Brits have taken notice of this and are contemplating sending more troops to their area of operations in the south of that miserable geographic expression. (The Geek cannot in good conscience say either "nation" or "country." Afghanistan is too much of a shambles for either word to apply.)

Now with respect to your harebrained scheme of an all-Muslim peace imposition force. That notion (The Geek won't dignify it with the word, "idea.") boggles the mind.

Not only do Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan have sufficient problems with their own Islamists, Syria (along with Iran) is the equivalent of the cliched fox asked to guard the hen house. Beyond those minor considerations, none of the Islamic countries you have mentioned in any of your policy pronouncements possess the doctrine, force structures, command and control mechanisms or experience relevant to the demands of counterinsurgency.

While the results might not be quite as disastrous as those associated with all-African multi-national peace imposition and keeping efforts in collapsed states in Africa, the Geek would not be willing to bet the ranch on the proposition.

Governor Richardson, however, is willing to bet our nation's future as well as that of a goodly chunk of the world on the idea that multi-party war in a collapsed state will both bring about a better state of peace for Iraq and win the "war on terrorism."

With thinking like that, the Geek is surprised that New Mexico has survived the Governor's years in office. (OOPS! Come to think of it, those years ain't over yet. The clock ticks on.)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Is It World War IV? Or Just World War I?

Before launching into this several post assessment, there is one thing the Geek would like to make quite clear.

The Geek is not a lover of war.

I don't have any affection for war. Like the vast majority of those who belong to the great fraternity of those who have been shot at, I fear and loath war, the miserable snuffing out of human lives, the turning of human beings with hopes and fears, loves and hates, strengths and weaknesses into a massive sanitation problem. No. I don't love war.

I study it. I think about it. I write about it in both the virtual and real worlds. I teach about it in both the electronic and physical universes.

But, I sure as hell don't love it.

No one can love it. At least not if they are reasonably well oriented as to reality.

In reality a person can love another. A person can love life. A person can love beauty. Or art. Or the sight of a dawn, the smell of rain, the feel of a touch.

A person cannot love the boredom of war, or the fear of a firefight upcoming or just concluded, or the pulling of a trigger as the sights line with the body of another human. A person can live with fear, live with boredom, live with the knowledge that he has killed another. A person can even learn to live with seeing a buddy die, or be splattered with the horrid goo which a split second before was the buddy's brains.

But, a person can never learn to love war.

The Geek no more loves war than he hates Muslims--even those of the Islamist category. Hating the men who have so dehumanised themselves that they become mere machines of death as they trigger the explosive laden vest they wear or the bomb filled vehicle that they drive or the passenger laden aircraft that they pilot toward a target is a waste.

Get a grip on the Islamist suicide bombers. Take a grip on their fundamental nature. No. Not their psychology. Nor their beliefs. Nor their motivations. Get a grip on their basic existential nature.

They are not men.

They are not human.

They are machines.

That's right. Machines.

You can't hate a machine. All you can do is figure out why the machine runs the way it does--and, if necessary, determine the best way to break it.

Now there is something terribly ironic in this understanding. In a way it's a perfect fit, as the modern and, even more, the post-modern periods, have adopted irony as the central feature of life and art alike.

Consider for a moment the Great War. The Great War is the old name for World War I. Not until after Hitler started its successor, all Europeans and Americans called the bloody fifty one months between August 1914 and November 1918 The Great War. It was the greatest blood letting in the entire history of the human race up to that time.

It was something more. It was the great red dividing line between the last days of the pre-modern world and the first moments of the true modern world. It was the fault line between all the old orders of life, of politics, of art and literature, of the very understanding people had of their own power, their own control of forces, of personal destiny.

The Great War not only wiped away four dynasties, not only started the US and Russia on the rise to global power status, it assured the Europeans would fight again and launched the new Japanese Empire on a collision course with the US.

The Great War did two other things as well. It started moving Islam, particularly the austere and expansionist oriented version located in Saudi Arabia, toward the center of the world's political and economic stage. And, the Great War redefined war as an impersonal contest between mass forces dominated by machines.

The Great War in a real sense made the suicide bomber, the man-as-machine not only possible, but inevitable.

So, we are not engaged as some allege in the opening battle of World War IV. We are fighting the last battle of World War I, the Great War.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Some Hard Ground Truths

A couple of recent emails to the Geek suggested he revisit some of the basic realities regarding insurgency generally--and the latest form that kind of war has taken in Afghanistan and Iraq. While the Geek wishes these individuals had posted comments instead of ferreting out his email address, he is willing to oblige the requests.

With a bow, "Your wish is my command, effendi."

Anyway, the Geek is righteously torqued off by the blathering of politicians, journalists and even the "Wise Men" of the Iraq Study Group.

After only forty plus years of either participating in or studying insurgent wars, the Geek, while modestly admitting he has developed two hypotheses regarding insurgency (the insurgent continuum and the insurgent dynamic) which have been shown to have both normative and predictive power of a high order, does not think he knows the book on insurgency. As a historian he is professionally obliged to point out that every situation has unique features which make it different from all similar precursors.

However, there are commonalities to all insurgencies including the two in which the US is currently involved which are universal and diagnostic. Some of these are positive. Some are negative.

The most important positive characteristic is simply this: Insurgencies are a test of political will, pure and simple.

Get a grip on this! The side with the greater political will prevails. Period.

Nothing else matters. Tactics, weapons, casualties, time, are all irrelevant except as they strengthen or weaken the political will of the insurgent or the counterinsurgent. In the end, the side which can accept casualties and spend time will defeat the side which cannot spend time and except casualties. Period. End of message.

A second positive characteristic is this: Both the insurgent and the counterinsurgent fight on the same terrain. It's not physical terrain. The terrain that matters is the human terrain.

What does this mean?

Each side, the insurgent and the counterinsurgent, can be seen as multi-layered. Each has a hard core of support. Each side has an active mass support base willing and able to provide direct assistance to the hard core. Each side has a passive mass support base willing and able to provide a measure of support and sympathy--provided doing so does not entail much risk.

The total support base and hard core of each side, even when added together, constitutes a minority of the population over which and on which the war is being fought.

The goal of each side is two fold. Mobilize support from the uncommitted majority and prevent the opponent from doing the same. Second, undercut the other side's active and passive mass support base while maintaining the coherence and confidence of one's own.

No matter how the war is fought in terms of tactics and weapons, the goal remains the same: Undermine the opponent's political will while maintaining and enhancing that of one's own side.

Some people (including military officers of high rank) make the mistake of insisting that insurgency is synonomous with guerrilla war or terrorism.

That assumption is as wrong as throwing a piece of watermelon on the grill.

Our own War of Independence and War Between the States (particularly the latter) involved conventionally armed, trained and led troops using conventional tactics. Still, both were insurgencies, specifically defensive insurgencies, or as they are so often called, "wars of national liberation."

The offensive insurgencies (or as commonly called, "revolutionary wars) of the French, the Russians, and the Chinese also involved conventional forces employing conventional tactics for their ultimate success. Nonetheless, they were all insurgencies where final victory went to the side with the greater political will--and, almost by definition, the greater capacity to exhaust the political will of the opponent as well as gather support from the uncommitted majority.

A recognition and acceptance of these features, these hard ground truths, shows the important limitations on how a counterinsurgent can fight and hope, at the least, not to lose.

The Geek has to set this up. Bear with him, please.

Over the vast revolting history of warfare, humans have invented only four basic avenues to victory.

The first is the wetdream of all generals since Alexander the Great was a E-2 private. Called anihilation, the goal is the destruction of the enemy's forces in the field in one great battle, or more realistically, a quick succession of battles. In recent conventional wars, the dream came true in the Six Day War--and in the Invasion of Iraq.

While grabbing the gonads and making manly noises about the quick, decisive victory through anhilation, remember what happened afterwards in both cases. And--it never, repeat, never works in an insurgency.

The second avenue to victory has been widely employed. Called attrition, the focus is the progressive reduction of the enemy's forces in the field through bloody and prolonged fighting. Attrition is a perfectly respectable strategy. It is not, as some have alleged, "a substitute for strategy."

Attrition is most successful when combined with the third avenue to victory.

The third avenue, erosion, has as its goal the progressive reduction of the enemy's material capacity to wage war: his factories, fields, transportation networks.

In World War II the Allies combined attrition and erosion to cause the collapse of Nazi Germany. In the counterinsurgent field, the British used the combination to defeat the "Communist Terrorists" during the Malayan Emergency while the US used the same approach not only to defeat the Confederacy but to end the Indian "threat" on the Western frontier.

The final avenue to victory can go by the name of enervation. Here the goal is the progressive reduction of the enemy's political will to continue. In conventional war, the US victory over Imperial Japan came when one man--the Emperor--and a small number of supporters lost thier will following the second atomic bombing.

In insurgency, success almost inverably comes down the avenue of enervation. The Dutch and American Wars of Independence all ended with the counterinsurgent losing political will. The US was defeated in Southeast Asia when Congress not only enforced a withdrawal, but refused to provide critically needed logistic and air support during the North Vietnamese final offensive. The Geek could go on to the point of nausea.

Right now, in Iraq, but not yet in Afghanistan, the US is losing. Specifically, the US is losing its politcal will with "date certain" resolutions of the Vietnam sort popping up on Capitol Hill. The American public has lost its appetite for the war as is indicated by poll after poll. The MSM has declared the war lost one way or another time after time.

Get a grip on this! The American public is the critical human terrain!

Us, We the People, the great unwashed 300 million of us, is the human terrain that matters most. We are the strategic high ground. Our political will matters more in the battle between the several insurgent groups and the Iraqi government forces than does the uncommitted segment of the Iraqi population.

Why is this?

Because without our presence on the ground as well as our longer term logistics, intelligence and other support, the Iraqi government and people have no chance of working through the extraordary problems of creating a viable nation on the fly and under extereme stress.

We are necessary if the Iraqis are to have any chance of a better state of peace. We are necessary not in a background role. Not huddled in the bunkers of the Green Zone. Not as trainers and supplers. We are needed as fighters.

Fighters take losses.

So far our losses are in the acceptable range. Remember, between 1965 and 1970, we had more than fifty thousand men killed in Vietnam. So far our butcher's bill has (thankfully) been just over five percent of that.

Iraq (and to an increasing extent Afghanistan) are dirtier wars than Vietnam or other earlier insurgencies. The reason for this is the deliberate tactical and political decisions made by the insurgents.

In Iraq (with the Taliban following suit) civilian deaths are used as the primary weapon of enervation. By killing enough civilians (and the occasional Iraqi or American armed forces member) in spectactular enough way, the insurgents hope to undercut the political will of the Iraqi hard core and the American public. The insurgents hope as well to demobilize support from the government and its foreign supporters and remobilize it in support of the insurgency.

In Iraq (again with the Taliban following in the same path) the insurgents use tactics calculated to assure maximum collateral civilian casualties from the operations of counterinsurgent forces. The hope is that both the American public and the uncommitted mass at home will see the civilian deaths and the destruction of civilian homes as brutal acts by a ruthless enemy indifferent to the consequences of his actions and weapons.

Americans, particularly American politicians, journalists and academics have to get a firm grip on those two tactical realities forced on the war by the choices of the insurgents. Similarly we have to get a firm grip on the other unpleasant (for us) tactical choices of the insurgents such as the use of the infamous roadside mines which usually go by innocuous sets of letters: IEDs with EFPs.

Most of all, we must take a firm hold of the hard ground truth of insurgency. It is a test of political will. If we Americans had not had political will coming out the ying-yang, we wouldn't be here--at least as citizens of a unified, independent and sprawling nation.

The protest folksinger of the 1960s, Phil Ochs, once wrote the line, "We were born in a revolution and died in a wasted war." He was singing about Vietnam which was a wasted war.

Some would apply the line to the Iraq war. That would be unfair to both history and reality. This war is not a wasted one, not now, not that we're deep in the kimchee of it.

It will be a waste and we as a nation will "die" or more accurately be deeply wounded if, and only if, we lose our political will and with it the war.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Sen Reid, Speaker Pelosi--Listen Up and Listen Tight!

The Iraq war is unpopular with most Americans. At least one of you thinks the war has already been lost.

The Geek has two comments: So what? and You're wrong.

Perhaps the two of you and many of your fellow members of the House and Senate should have paid some attention back when you took an American History course. (And, if you didn't, you are pathetically under qualified for your current job.)

The following wars were unpopular with many or most Americans for most of their duration.
The War For Independence
Mr Madison's War
Mr Polk's War
Mr Lincoln's War
The Splendid Little War
Truman's Police Action
The Vietnam War
The Iraq War.

The wars supported by the overwhelming majority of the country's population make a much shorter list.
World War I
World War II
Even though supported by the majority, World War II was not seen as a grand crusade, but rather as a tough, nasty job forced upon us to be ended as quickly as possible at the lowest cost in American lives.

If war fighting had been governed by public opinion polls, all of our wars with two exceptions would have been ended prematurely and at a definite loss to the United States.

Time to get a grip.

Mr Madison's War (The War of 1812) was so wildly unpopular in at least one area of the US, New England, that the region seethed with secessionist talk and schemes. The Federalist Party almost plotted at an American defeat. The outcome of the war was not an American victory, but we didn't lose and did obtain a better state of peace. To be blunt, if we hadn't "not lost," we would have been the low hanging apple plucked back into the imperial bag.

(It is always necessary to remember that there are three alternatives for ending a war: winning, losing and not losing. The third option is often the only realistic one.)

Mr Polk's War or for the historically challenged, The Mexican War, was also widely unpopular, particularly in the increasingly abolitionist oriented areas of New England and the upper Midwest. The war with Mexico was seen as an imperialistic venture by the Southern slavocracy, which it wasn't. The war was actually about who would control the Pacific coast south of the Oregon Territory including the enormous natural harbor at San Francisco--the US or Great Britain. Mexico was realistically seen as too weak to do the job. At the end of the short period of killing and dying, the US did achieve better state of peace for itself, and, arguably, the Mexicans.

In one of life's delightful ironies, a young Congressman from Illinois came to national prominence with his denunciation of Mr Polk's War. In barely more than a decade, Abraham Lincoln would have a war named after him by the many who thought it better to let the Confederacy go its own way, slaves and all.

The Democratic Party gnashed its collective teeth, wailed and moaned about the unnecessary loss of life, the incompetence of Lincoln as a war leader, his wholesale violation of American civil rights and Constitutional liberties, his constant lying to Congress and public and finally nominated a spectacularly unsuccessful general as its 1864 presidential candidate, who ran on a "peace now," platform.

Does anybody seriously want to argue that the North should have walked away from the war, told the Confederacy, "We goofed. You guys are right. Go in peace, brother?" True enough, the country and the new freedmen had miles of bad road yet to travel in the years ahead, but keeping on keeping on brought a better state of peace.

We Americans are not comfortable with the idea of being an imperial power. That's too much like those icky-poo empires run by the Russians, the French, and the British. It's no wonder that many, even most, Americans didn't support the Spanish-American War (aka The Splendid Little War or the War that Made Teddy Roosevelt President.) The Geek can't say he thinks it was a good idea, but the realpolitiker in him says that over the long haul it made for a better state of peace in the Philippines (maybe) and a worse state of peace in Cuba.

The Korean War was supported by fewer Americans according to public opinion polls than the Vietnam War. Many, particularly Republicans, hyperventilated about Truman's "no-win" strategy. They overlooked the reality that the war was intentionally fought without enlisting the American public's crusading zeal because it was our first limited war in support of policy. It was a war we didn't lose and it did bring about a better state of peace in that Containment Policy was given a greater credibility as was the United Nations. It also set a critical precedent regarding collective action under the UN against unprovoked aggression.

Vietnam was an unnecessary war, an unjustifiable war, a war we didn't need to fight. Fortunately it was a war which we could afford to lose since that is exactly what we did. It is important to keep in mind that the North Vietnamese didn't defeat us. We did that job ourselves. The military used a soup sandwich wrong theory of victory. Politically, in the streets seemingly, on Capitol Hill certainly, we lost our will to continue. Congress wrote off sixty thousand American lives and voted for a worse state of peace.

Good precedent?

Now there is Iraq. The Geek is of the opinion that the invasion of Iraq was unnecessary, unjustified, and unsupportable. He is of the view that the civilian leadership--Cheney, Rumsfield, Wolfewitz, Feith, et al were, if not criminals, at least world class blunderers in their planning and direction of this act of unprovoked aggression.

The Geek also believes that the senior military commanders should have had the intellectual and moral courage to resign their commissions rather than execute an operation which all credible intelligence showed would of necessity lead to the current armed political turmoil and massive Iraqi butcher's bill.

Now that we are there, we have to stay the course. We have to lose more American lives so that those already lost will not be casually and callously written off. We must stay on the ground until the Iraqis can finish the job of developing a legitimate government and a capable military force. But, what the hey, I've written all that before.

Believe me, the Geek is pained to be in agreement with George W. Bush, a man for whom he has nothing so gentle as contempt. Still, realpolitik and a decent regard for the future of this nation compels agreement--at least in principle.

The alternatives, the consequences of some sort of cut and run approach even one with a Vietnam style "decent interval," is simply a terrible state of peace from our perspective as well as that of the Iraqis and much of the world.

Get a grip on this.

If we leave before the Iraqi government and military are up to the task, Iraq will join the ranks of failed states. The multi-party war will invite regional intervention. Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and perhaps Syria will move in directly or through proxies.

The Islamists will be pumped up by orders of magnitude. Remember, Osama bin Ladin and many others think it was the Arab jihadists who not only expelled the Soviets from Afghanistan but caused the collapse of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact as well.

They are as wrong as grilled watermelon in that belief, but that doesn't erase its subjective power. Previous weak US responses as in the case of the embassy bombings and the attack on the USS Cole gave rise to the events of 9/11.

If you liked 9/11, you will love the violence which will lap across Europe and the US in the wake of a premature American withdrawal. If you are comfortable with living under more threat and in more of a security oriented garrison state, if you are pleased with a diminished stature and role for the US in the world, then you should join with Senator Reid, Speaker Pelosi and their public opinion driven view of responsible statesmanship.

The United States may not be the last, best hope of mankind, it may not be the shining city on the hill, but the Geek believes that it is, at the least, a flickering candle against the wind and the dark.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Just How Free Are We?

A nation's power is usually divided into two categories: hard and soft. Hard power covers the military and economic capacities while soft power refers to the cultural, social and political appeals of a country.

For the US a substantial portion of our "soft" power is held in the First Amendment to the Federal Constitution. The freedoms seemingly guaranteed by it--those of religion, speech, the press, and peaceful assembly--have a high, universal appeal.

In one tension filled area covered by the Glorious First, we may be a lot less free than ought to be the case.

The area?

The open presence of faith based speech in the public square--all the public square, not just some segregated sections,

The reason?

If you're expecting the Geek to say something warm and fuzzy such as, "It's the right thing to do," you're both correct and wrong. It may be the right thing to do, but, far more importantly, it's the proper thing to do if the soft power of the First Amendment is going to have real utility in defeating the Islamists.

Defeating Islamists, you mean, like Osama bin Ladin? Geek, you've lost it for sure!

No. At least I don't think so. In fighting any form of irregular war whether a nice straight ahead guerrilla war or a mixed state insurgency with truck bombs, IEDs and the other aircraft used as cruise missiles, the most critical aspect of successful war fighting is to turn the uncommitted majority against the hard core militants.

Right now, despite all the "hard" and "soft" power at our disposal, the US is not succeeding fast enough nor completely enough to marginalize the Islamists, to make them isolated pariahs in traditional Muslim society, in short to deprive them of recruits, support, intelligence, assistance, and sanctuary.

A major reason for our relative failure to convince traditional Muslims to shun the Islamist demands for support, concealment, and recruits is the widespread belief in the Islamic world that the US is an atheistic nation.

Get a grip on that: The US is widely perceived by traditional, non-violent Muslims as an atheistic nation.

With that perception governing many, many minds in the vast crescent from Morocco to Indonesia, it is easy to understand why with every passing month the legend of bin Ladin grows and the appeal of the US shrinks.

If you want to view the question of atheism versus religion through the flinty eyes of a realpolitiker, what matters is not self-perception, but how others perceive us. The objective truth is not important. All that matters is the subjective truth in the minds of others--in this case the minds of traditional Muslims.

The Geek wants to be clear on a couple of dangerously misleading but commonly held beliefs in the US (and the EU for that matter) concerning why bin Ladin and his ilk not only want above all else to force the US to withdraw from the world (or at least a good sized chunk of it) and why bin Ladin and his fellow Islamists have such appeal for Muslims generally.

The first wrong belief is that Islamists are motivated in whole or major part by US support for Israel as well as the fate of the Palestinians. Reinforcing that motivator is the continued presence of US forces in the Persian Gulf where they "prop up" dictatorships such as those in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Get a grip!

While US foreign policy and its presence in the region (to say nothing of the invasion of Iraq) might have made it easier for the Islamists to sell their message of jihad, it is not the motivator nor is it the primary attractor of new recruits.

(If Palestine mattered a bit, then why is it that most of the jihadists are non-Palestinians and not from the packed refugee camps of the Mideast? Why are the majority younger members of the privileged class, such as bin Ladin himself or Mohamed Atta of 9/11 infamy or the physicians of the failed bombings in London and Glasgow?)

The other wrong belief is the "clash of cultures" hypothesis, particularly the form which argues that Islam is a lethal belief system combining the "will of God" with all features of political, social, and economic life, and the end goal of Islam is subjugation of the world.

While the Geek has no problem seeing Islam as a warriors' religion, he maintains that the typical Muslim is no more interested in world domination than is the person on the street in any other religo-cultural environment. Even the most submissively inclined authoritarian personality needs more than sermons, more than fatwas, more than examples to risk life in a quest for something so remote, so abstract as forcing the world to submit to Islam.

However, the subjective and pervasive image of the US as an atheistic nation gives Muslims a target that is not so abstract as well as a more powerful motivation than mere global conquest--it gives him a duty.

The duty to confront and destroy atheists and those apostates who dance to the atheistic Uncle Sam's band.

This brings us back to the United States and the First Amendment. It brings us back to the question of just how free are we?

The First Amendment states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of grievances."

Seems simple, doesn't it? Congress shall make no law. Extended by the Fourteenth Amendment, the seemingly simple and straightforward wording of the First applies to the states and lesser governments as well.

Hooray! Freedom for everyone. Let the speech--faith derived and secular alike--flow! The pubic square should be a ringing cacophony of voices as God Squader takes on Secular Humanist.

It isn't. The public square is quiet. The God Squaders stand over in their carefully circumscribed areas preaching to the choir as the Secular Warriors turn their backs and get on with the real work of policy and politics.

What went wrong?

The First Amendment states that Congress shall make no law. It doesn't mention the Federal Courts.

And, get a grip on this, it was the Supreme Court that screwed the pooch. It was the Supreme Court which invoked the Law of Unintended Consequences. It was the Supreme Court which kicked the snowball down the slippery slope with the result that we are seen as an atheistic nation.

As a Turkish Army officer once asked me, "How could your court have banned God from your public life?'

The man had it part right. The Court has made religiously based speech illegitimate in most of the public square.

That implies only the Supreme Court can bring back legitimacy to religiously predicated speech. Only the Court can repeal this particular application of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Get a grip on this. The Supreme Court is now a vital part of America's soft power.

Scary thought, isn't it?

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Time to Give Speech to Our Liberty of Conscience

Between them the "no establishment" and "free exercise" clauses constitute what the majority of Americans two hundred and more years ago called "the liberty of conscience. It was strongly and universally believed that the State had no right to interfere with the individual's personal beliefs either by compelling support of an official religion or by preventing religious practice.

At the same time Americans strongly and universally supported the contention that the State had no right to limit the right of the individual to speak and write freely. At least by implication the same right applied to people speaking and writing collectively. After all, collective entities are groups of individuals who operate in concert.

As a result of the second belief, that in free speech, Americans today have the most open public square in the history of the world. Our speech whether verbal or written is free, boisterous, rowdy, even over-the-top. That's just the way it should be. Here. And everywhere.

There is one glaring black spot in this glittering picture of a raucously, joyously open public square. Religiously based speech is absent to an alarming and totally unjustifiable degree.

Sure, religiously based speech occurs regularly and in uncensored form in print, on the airwaves and over the Internet. That's the way it should be.

However, that reality does not eliminate another. The other reality, the dark hole in the public square, is that religiously based speech (and ideas) are rigidly barred from those portions of the public square marked by the signs "education" and "public buildings."

It is ironic and hypocritical that American coins bear the legend, "In God We Trust," while symbols of a particular religion such as Christmas creches are barred from courthouse or city hall lawns. It is ironic and hypocritical that presidential candidates exchange "God talk" in debates while a survey of American history textbooks currently used in high schools and colleges gloss over an apparently unmentionable fact about the history of the United States.

The unmentionable?

From its colonial foundation up through the 1950s Protestant Christianity had a profound effect upon the development of American institutions, values and world view.

Don't like that?

Tough. Get a grip. It's true. True beyond the shadow of even the most unreasonable doubt. For over three hundred years the United States and its colonial precursors can be best described by a term that many people resent today: A Protestant Christian nation.

For most of our history the 'liberty of conscience" clauses lay dormant, alive but not controversial. On a few occasions, most notably during the First and Second World Wars, liberty of conscience leaped to public awareness under the force of hyper-patriotism, and the Supreme Court was forced to make decisions regarding the limits--if any--upon its exercise.

When the winds of exaggerated patriotism diminished, the liberty of conscience clauses returned to their usual place in the background of public consciousness. Prayers were said in public schools, the words "under God" were added to the Pledge of Allegiance, President Eisenhower famously said, "All Americans worship God--whatever God that might be," and every Christmas season traditional carols were heard even on rock and roll stations, and creches dotted the public landscape.

No one seemed upset.

The Geek knows he wasn't. He was willing to stand silently with a slightly bowed head when the school day started with a prayer. It wasn't a threatening, traumatic experience. Neither was he offended when Chuck Berry was bypassed for Bing Crosby or some equally boring guy singing Silent Night. And, his aesthetic sense was no more offended by Christmas creches than it was by plastic Santas or red nosed reindeer.

But that was all before the Age of Sensitivity.

The early 1960s was not simply the era of JFK and Camelot, the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement, it was also the dawn of the Age of Sensitivity. JFK and Camelot might have been a public relations triumph. The Civil Rights movement was both overdue and and a victory for what the Pledge of Allegiance termed,"Liberty and Justice for all." The Age of Sensitivity has been and continues to be a disaster area greater than a million Katrinas.

A tragic reality of the American justice system is that a plaintiff can always be found (or fabricated) for any class action or Constitutional litigation. Once the case is filed and not dismissed by a judge with a modicum of get-a-gripness, it takes on a life of its own. If the lawyers are sharp enough and the money plentiful enough, the case will land on the doorstep of the Supreme Court.

If the Honorable Court (or at least four members of it) are out to lunch that day, the case will be accepted. If the national interest is unlucky enough, the Court (or at least five members) will be afflicted with cerebral flatulence and a pathetic decision will be rendered.

Should that happen, the horrid inertia of "let that decision stand" will take over and the Court will be forced not only to keep on a bad path, but perhaps expand it.

So it was with religiously derived speech in the schools and other critical areas of the public square. In the interest of protecting sensitivities, particularly of children, (an unusually elastic term extending apparently from little people in diapers to twenty somethings in jeans) the Court has held in essence that liberty of conscience is a private affair, not to be displayed, talked about or even implied in various portions of the public square lest someone, somewhere, somehow be offended, slighted, diminished, or otherwise impaired by being made to feel excluded from the mainstream of American life.

Parenthetical note: Having recently reread a number of the cases and opinions, the Geek has come to the firm conclusion that judges and justices should stick to the law and not wander off into the linguistic swamps of psychobabble and thera-speak. Likewise, they should stay out of the green pastures of history without employing a competent guide.

Suffice it to say that the liberty of conscience still exists. But, to a significant degree its mouth is gagged.

Why should this matter? So what if religion is not mentioned in schools from Head Start to the University? Who cares if religion as a force is deleted from US history?

The Geek is convinced there are two very good reasons why it matters, why we should care, and why it is important if our history is stripped of the truth.

The first reason is simple. Without full freedom of speech, the liberty of conscience doesn't really matter. Think about it. Even in the most repressive dictatorship, the most totally authoritarian regime one can imagine, an individual can believe whatever he or she wants without fear--as long as the mouth is kept shut, the fingers off the keyboard and away from a pen.

Silent liberty is no liberty at all. Liberty of conscience without a mouth to shout it is no liberty whatsoever.

That's the first reason. It is equal parts ideal and pragmatic.

The second reason is pure pragmatism. Open voiced religiously derived ideas as a full partner in all aspects of the public square is necessary over the long haul--if we are not to lose in the conflict with Islamists.

Kind of boggles the mind, doesn't it? Not when you get a grip.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Religion (and Politics) Frustrates the Geek

To be honest, the Geek would much rather do a post on the current stupidity and pandering of American politicians. It's all too obvious that the dismal field of front runners for the Democratic Party presidential nomination as well as leaders in the Republican Party have not learned that Clemenceau, the World War I French Prime Minister, was wrong when he said, "War is too important to be left to the generals."

The truth is that war, particularly the nasty, brutal, hard-to-see-an-end-to kind we are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq are too important to be left to the politicians. Not losing in Iraq, not losing in Afghanistan, achieving a better state of peace not only for these two unfortunate countries but for the region, the US, and ultimately the world in general, is far, far too critical to be left to politicians who are obviously all too willing to follow the shifting gusts of public opinion than do what is best for this country and others--lead. Lead and educate. Lead, educate and press on.

There is a difference between merely getting elected, governing and leading. Any bozo with enough money, the discipline to stay on message, the underhandedness necessary to exploit the freak show of the alternative media, and the iron stomach to swallow his or her own hypocrisy can get elected. Governing simply requires the capacity for compromise, the ability to make deals, and the willingness not to stray from the message of the day.

Leadership requires more. Like the wars in which we are currently involved, it requires persistence and patience. More, it demands the ability to be an educator, an inspiring educator who can make clear unpleasant truths and gain at least tacit support from the politically articulate portion of our population. Beyond these, leadership requires both intellectual and moral courage--the ability to see things the way they really are and the will to act upon that knowledge regardless of personal consequences.

Finally, leadership requires a toughness of will. Leadership requires the willingness to be unpopular, to be unliked, unloved, rejected, even abandoned by former "friends" and allies. Leadership demands so much and that is why it has been in such short supply through so much of this nation's history.

Right now, facing a war that this nation cannot afford to lose, the US needs a leader as much as it did at such well known critical times as the burning of Washington, D.C., the cannonade in the Charleston harbor that started the Civil War, or the air raids on Pearl Harbor. But, it doesn't seem as if we will get what we need so much as we will get what we think we want.

Enough of that rant. The Geek really intends to do a post on religion, Well, to err on the side of accuracy, religion, American history and the Supreme Court.

No. That wasn't quite right either.

What the Geek would like to consider is the tough job of deciding the correct relationship between two pairs. Free speech and freedom of religion is one. The other is the "Establishment" clause and the "Free exercise" clause of that tricky amendment to the US Constitution dealing with religion, or, more properly, "liberty of conscious."

"Wait one, Geek!" You challenge. "What the diddly does this have to do with foreign policy? With war, like the ones you're always blathering about?"

"Well, bucko," I reply, "absolutely everything. Religion and how it works in the US as well as how our view of religion is seen from outside is one of the under appreciated keys to not losing. Not losing in our current wars and--get a grip on this--not losing the chance to prevent future terror wars."

"Come on, Geeko, you're not going to hand out some of that multicultural foo-foo, are you?"

You ought to know me better than that by now. It's time to get a grip. Get a grip on some very unpleasant realities down home here in the old USA.

Unpleasant reality number one: The Supreme Court has screwed the pooch on the tensions between the"no establishment" and the "free exercise" clauses for forty-five years now. That has to stop. Stop and be reversed.

Unpleasant reality number two: The secular warriors who have sought (successfully) to push religiously derived ideas out of the public square have not only undervalued the liberty of conscious clauses but have gutted one of their favorite Constitutional landmarks--free speech.

Unpleasant reality number three: You can find (or manufacture)a plaintiff for any anti-religion in the public square cause, no matter how ridiculous.

Unpleasant reality number four: Americans in their love affair with "sensitivity" have become the bipedal equivalents of those WW I ocean mines--big round balls of explosives with little glass spikes sticking out just waiting for something or someone to touch them and make the big bang.

A lot to get a grip on, but the Geek is going to go for it starting with the next post. That's assuming something else doesn't hack him off first.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Who (Or Where) Is the Enemy?

Sometimes it seems that Islamists are Islam's worse enemies. This is particularly true at times like right now when a crew of unoppressed, non-poor, apparently unalientated young men, including three physicians, is implicated in three failed attempts to use fuel-air explosives on civilian targets in the United Kingdom.

The Geek could enjoy getting his emotional gonads up and running over these escapades in London and Glasgow. Dang! It would be just so much pure fun to go on a rant that would hope to match those on Gathering Storm or Jihad Watch. It would feel mighty fine to let go with some good, down home, insult spouting.

But, it wouldn't be honest. Worse. It wouldn't be right. Even worse, it wouldn't be productive. It wouldn't lead to the twin goals of defeating Islamist terrorism and not losing in Iraq.

With a tinge of regret, the Geek proposes to put aside the joys of virtual character assassination in order to look beyond the near horizon of another terror attempt fortuitously averted in order to seek the farther horizon of what must be done if we, the Americans, are going to ever have a hope of living without security alerts, photographs of New York cops carrying CAR 16's, journalists and other talking heads fretting about dirty bombs or bioweapons, and the other paraphernalia of recent times. Even to avoid losing in Iraq, it is necessary to consider topics far beyond the usual, beyond improvised explosive devices, mine resistant vehicles, Baghdad body counts, "surges," "milestones," and the other favorites of the chattering classes.

The farther horizon, the necessary horizon for navigating the coast of our collective future contains some definite but quite unexpected landmarks. Among them are such features as religion in the American public square, the content of American made films and television shows, the nature of American society and--most importantly--how these are perceived by members of traditional societies with an emphasis on the 1.5 giga-Muslims.

It is hard to look at ourselves as an outsider would. Worse. Doing so can be downright unpleasant. The view from the outside is never quite as flattering as that from within. (The Geek is reminded of this whenever he sees a photo of himself. Where's the studly hunkboy with the suave presentation? Just who is that skinny nerd?)

Now, before he starts, the Geek feels an obligation to say a bit about his own political and social views. It's a necessary part of the context.

First: The Geek is not a part of the "blame America first" crowd that is so prevalent on American university campuses. While he is unwilling to take second place to anyone in his capacity to identify undesirable aspects of the American social, cultural, economic or political landscapes, he is unwilling to compromise truth by laying blame for everything that has gone wrong in the past two hundred years on the back of Uncle Sam.

Next: The Geek is pleased to associate himself with the comment made by the great French mathematician and theoretical physicist, Laplace, who answered Napoleon's question regarding the role of the deity in the origin of the solar system, "I had no need of that hypothesis, your Majesty." This association does not mean that the Geek in anyway disparages the importance of faith in the lives and activities of others. As a historian he took great pride in doing something which made him highly politically suspect in the eyes of fellow professors. The Geek continuously pointed out that Protestant Christianity in particular was an ideological driving force throughout the majority of American history. In short, he demonstrated from the historical record that the characterization of the US as a "Christian nation," was accurate.

Finally: The Geek is an anti-authoritarian personality by nature. Politically, he is a Nineteenth Century Liberal, a follower of J.S. Mills' view of limited government and maximum individual liberty without regard to race, sex, creed or anything else. His political mantra is, "Act as if you deserve anarchy."

Now the decks are cleared. It's time to run out the guns. Search the sea for targets of opportunity. Shading his eyes against the glare of historical ignorance, the Geek spots---