Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Third time's the charm

John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN for George W. Bush's administration has written a column for NRO where he argues that the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) must be destroyed and that the US must do it.

In his three page article Bolton articulates a vision of a redrawn map of the middle east.  It's a fascinating window into the mindset and worldview of  an influential neo-consevative (he does not describe himself as a neocon, but as one of the signatories of the PNAC it's hard to classify him as anything but a neocon). The article really sets itself up for an extensive fisking, but I like to think I am a busy man with important things to do, so I am going to skip almost to the end where he makes his point:

Obviously, the central problem is not Iran’s surrogates, but Iran itself, America’s main regional adversary. And until the United States confronts the ever more pressing need for regime change in Tehran, we can hardly expect others in the region to have the strength or the will to arrange things to suit our interests. Obama’s obsession with securing a nuclear-weapons deal means the odds that he would support overthrowing the ayatollahs approach zero. The regime is determined to possess nuclear weapons, so appeasing it in Syria, as Obama has done, was never going to cause Tehran to modify its positions in the nuclear talks. Far better to concentrate on regime change in Iran by overtly and covertly supporting the widespread opposition and watch Assad fall as collateral damage thereafter.
These possible outcomes constitute working hypotheses for U.S. objectives flowing from the destruction of the Islamic State. They are not philosophical abstractions, but practical suggestions that could well change as regional circumstances change. What we must not do is take our eye off the critical first step of destroying the Islamic State. Nor can we let theories about the kinds of regimes we would like to see emerge in the region blind us to what may actually be achievable.

What the hell?  John Bolton at this point has spent two and a half pages arguing for regime change in Iran, regime change in Syria, the dismantling of Iraq into two or three pieces one of which would be an independent Kurdistan made from bits of Iraq, Turkey and Syria. He does not ever explicitly state what the point of this exercise would be. What precisely would be the objective for which he advocates?

He advocates playing RISK with the entire middle east and completely forgets it isn't a single player game.  In his analysis he fails to mention little things like Saudi Arabia, Israel, and China.  He spares half a sentence to mention 'facing off with Russia' but not why one might want to do that.  He himself admits that he cannot predict what kinds of governments would arise in the wake of this project, and yet he seems to think the current status quo is so unbearable that we must undertake a third great middle eastern war (or series of wars) in order to stop IS and redraw the map for unspecified strategic objectives? 

I don't think it's out of order to ask why IS is a problem the US must solve and just what America is supposed to get out of his proposed course of action. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Once again, Roy at alicublog has identified the stupid.  Today, David French of the National Review says:"Why can’t so many liberals understand the pure evil of Islamic jihad?"

Why am I not worried about Islamic Jihad?  Because I'm not surprised by it.  Because it didn't come fully formed out of nowhere.  Because western foreign policy has been all about imperialism and oil in the middle east and fuck everything else, especially the welfare of the people that live there for nearly a century now.  Because what the fuck did they think would happen when they redrew the map time and time again for imperial dick waving, and propped up the leaders in the middle east that that gave the west the best access to oil and overthrew anyone who even thought about taking a bigger share of the oil money for themselves or the people whose ground it was being pumped out of? Because the only thing the west has been happier to do than buy oil from religious fundamentalists in the middle east is to sell them advanced weapons. Because the west seems have been using "Heart of Darkness" as a how-to manual for foreign policy since the days of Columbus.

So pardon us for not being surprised when butchery is met with butchery.  Pardon us for being right the whole fucking time when we said not to invade Iraq, or get involved in Syria or mindlessly support Israel every time they bomb the shit out of their neighbors.  Pardon us for not being surprised that desperate people do desperate things and lash out with horrifying violence.  So I dare you.  Corner a liberal.  Put him on the spot and ask him or her why they aren't outraged.  Just don't be surprised when you get an earful.  Because we are outraged.  We are outraged that Bush junior and senior and Cheney and all the neocons that excused torture and the goons that kidnapped and tortured and executed people aren't all roommates at the Hague.  We are outraged that the same people who advised us to kick over the hornet's nest sit on their fat asses while people get stung to death, and tell us to kick it again. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

    The tiny house movement has been described as "white people discover trailer parks".  I forget who described it that way because I'd love to quote them, but my Google fu is not up to the task of tracking it down.  I like the idea of the tiny house movement though, the rejection of ever larger dwellings to house ever larger collections of stuff required to maintain giant houses and lawns and accessorize a properly materialistic lifestyle.  That said, I have 3.5 bicycles, 2 motorcycles, 2 snowboards, a half a dozen pairs of skis, SCUBA gear, several desktop and laptop computers and a hang glider that I acquired in a moment of irrational financial optimism, and that's only my half of the household goods.  I want to fit my life into a pocket sized dwelling, where my housing costs aren't the biggest single item in my budget, and I can focus on my true goal of... pursuing excellence in dilettantism? or whatever my goals actually turn out to be.  I don't want to share walls with my neighbors, I want to be able to store my stuff and I don't want to spend every non-career moment as a groundskeeper for Chateau Monotreme. 

    And yet, the popularity of the movement is partially attributable to the increasing inaccessibility of that house in the suburbs with a white picket fence.  With real wages stagnant since the late 1970s and a succession of bubbles and recessions where none of the recovery seems to make it to the lower and middle classes, this movement, to me, is a revolution of lowered expectations.  It is a fraction of American consumers surrendering to an economy that no longer supports a large prosperous middle class.  And maybe it never could.  Maybe the post WWII boom in prosperity was a fluke. Perhaps now that the industrial and digital revolution has reached every corner of the globe, and organized labor is a shadow of it's former size and power, and cheap energy is a thing of the past, the historic advantages of the USA no longer apply.

     Tiny houses seem like a way to make lemons out of the lemonade life has to offer.  They are a way to tailor the size of one's dwelling to the size of one's needs.  But they are- to a greater extent than a larger house, dependent on location.  A tiny house offers no place to hide from a tornado, would be completely submerged by a flood, and given that many of them are actually on wheels, are possibly subject to the mercies of aggressive parking enforcement.  A tiny house in a bad neighborhood is still in a bad neighborhood, and a tiny house in a good location, may not save much money over a full sized house depending on the cost of the lot.

If there is home ownership in my future, I am betting it involves a tiny house.

Bad analogies with Victor Davis Hanson

Roy Edroso of alicublog has mentioned  in a tweet that Victor Davis Hanson has written a blog entry at and it is very special.  In it he tells of the Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman and his march to the sea.  As a recap, during the civil war, General Sherman destroyed a whole bunch of southern plantations, freed a whole bunch of slaves, wrecked every railroad track and telegraph line he could find and not least, burned Atlanta to the ground.  By doing this, General Sherman crippled the financial ability of the Confederacy to make war, and demonstrated that the majority of the Confederacy had been stripped of defenses in order to equip their troops in the field.

Dr Hanson then claims that this very same tactic is being employed by the IDF in their current military operations in Gaza.  This is what many armchair military historians like myself would refer to charitably as a bad analogy and more pithily as utter horseshit.  If we summarize General Sherman's march to the sea into it's defining elements, we have a large conventional army conducting anti infrastructure campaign deep behind enemy lines with the intent of causing financial hardship to the enemy thereby reducing it's capacity to wage a conventional war.

Setting aside value judgments regarding the ongoing violence in Gaza, it is clear that none of those elements apply.  If the IDF wanted to recreate Sherman's march to the sea, it would require the IDF to be conducting its operations completely on enemy soil, primarily in an anti infrastructure role, taking pains to minimize civilian casualties far away from the nonexistent conventional army of Gaza which if analogy were to work, must be marching in strength towards Tel Aviv.  Given that 50% of Hamas's funding comes from Saudi Arabia, and much of the rest comes from Iran and Egypt, there are a wealth of enemy lines to march behind.  (my source is As I mentioned, I am an amateur historian)

Which is not to say that a case can't be made for the IDF to try and stop rocket attacks. Convincing arguments in favor of military force can and has been made with varying degrees of success by allies of Israel around the world. However, when trying to make an argument by analogy, pick one that works.  Unfortunately all of the close analogies for what the IDF is doing in Gaza tend to show the IDF in an unflattering light. Sieges are not pretty.  And when a population is surrounded, cut off from food, water and power and continually bombarded, siege is the word that applies.