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Not All War, This War


Editor’s Note:This letter is from David T. Harris, a Democratic candidate for Congress in Texas’ 6th District. It’s written in reponse to Josh Trevino’s “Fighing Dems” post of March 17.
I applaud your coverage of the “Fighting Dem” phenomenon but I think I need to set the record straight in regard to your commentary. My campaign was not part of an organized effort by the Democratic Party to recruit veterans to run in 2006. I have always been a Democrat, even while serving on Active Duty in the military. I am not a Republican that just decided to jump ship because I saw the iceberg coming. My candidacy is not a “poor substitute” for supporting soldiers – because I am one, still to this day. On my web site I highlight a veterans organization or charity every month as part of a community service effort – something that you will not see on my opponent’s web site. That’s what I find “weak” about my opponent.
As a military officer I have always been taught that for every operation, there must be a clearly defined Task, Purpose, and Endstate. The Endstate for this War on Terror has not, and cannot, be articulated because we are fighting an ideology. What is the criteria for success? How many lives must be lost? How many enemy must be killed in order for us to declare “victory” – it is total lunacy. I am for fighting terrorism, but you cannot convince me that invading Iraq has made us safer at home or has done anything to fight terrorism.
The insurgency is there because we are there – bottom line. The insurgents and every sympathetic wanna-be terrorist that wants to take a shot at an American can go to Iraq now to do it. It is a training ground for future terrorists. These insurgents do not want to rule Iraq – what they want is the “infidels” out of their homeland and away from their religious holy lands. And I am not “boasting” when I stand behind calling for a timetable for withdraw of our forces. Like I said above, there must be an Endstate associated with the operation. Whether it is 6 months, a year, or 2 years – we have to tell the Iraqi populace that at some point what is theirs and for them to start preparing for the day when we will no longer be occupiers, but will be liberators.
That is the real irony of what you write – 12 years of sanctions, 12 years of planning, and 12 years to equip our armed forces, yet soldiers still lacked for basic necessities when they went to war. A war that we started at the time and place of our choosing by this Republican Congress and this Republican President!
One final thought on your President and Iraq. President Bush’s 18 page plan for victory in Iraq has as the underlying assumption that Iraqis and Iraqi security forces will be robust enough to secure their country and defeat the insurgency in order for our troops to exit the country. Our Army has been around since 1775 and we have the most powerful military on the planet, with all of our smart weapons and technology, and yet we cannot defeat this insurgency. So what makes you think that a newly formed and poorly trained Iraqi Army can do what we have not been able to do in 2 (plus) years? I think not.
Again, I respect you for your opinion and, as always, I will continue to defend your right to your opinion and your freedom of speech.

Posted by Chris Nolan at 6:28 AM | Permalink

The Midgets’ Fury, Part 2: Homeschooling


Editor’s Note: Spot-on contributor Josh Trevino was a co-founder of with former RedAmerica blogger Ben Domenech.

The leftist frenzy over WaPo’s Red America continues unabated into its second day. And it is, paradoxically, turning out to be a good thing. Not only are they acting the fools, paranoid and aggrieved at a blog, they are also putting their own ugly proclivities on full display. Their penchant for dumb incivility in discourse is already well-noted — there’s even a book on it — but less appreciated, from the side that claims to care most about the touchy-feely things in life, is their bottomless opposition to parents. It seems a tremendous claim to make, especially as you’ll rarely get a leftist to say it outright. “Parenting” is among the indistinct absolutes that draw universal approval. Who is against mothers? Who is against freedom? Who is against peace? But conclusions can be drawn from the concrete actions rather than the gauzy platitudes of rhetoric. We already knew that the left expends massive energies on behalf of the negation of parenthood. And now, in the spluttering chorus attacking Ben Domenech, we are reminded that they also hate parents acting as such in the fullness of their roles. They hate homeschooling.

The idea that parents might be qualified — and indeed, have a duty — to educate their children was once a commonplace, and indeed the norm. The advent of public schooling and especially its extension to rural areas sent home education into steep decline. In an era of high expectations and rigorous discipline, this was often for the best, and the results were either improvements upon or equivalent to the products of home-based education. For all this, the reemergence of homeschooling in the modern era was not at first a right-wing phenomenon spurred by parents yearning for an age of standards and classical education. It was a leftist movement born of a Rousseauiste concept of the child, and a desire to free that child from the strictures of bureaucracy and norms. The 1970s pioneer of this resurgence, John Holt, cannot be described as anything but a left-wing believer. Only later did American traditionalists — Christians, conservatives, and cultural contrarians alike — realize that this leftist educational fad could serve their own ends. Homeschoolers both left and right collaborated — and still do — on methods and defenses of homeschooling. They believed in their ideologies, true, but they also held in common a belief in parenthood. And they were determined to exercise that parenthood to its maximum extent.

Fast-forward a generation. Homeschooled individuals from the first cohort are adults and in the workforce. An accredited undergraduate college exists and caters to homeschoolers. And a homeschool alumnus writes a blog for the Washington Post. How does the ideological opposite of that blogger react?

With hate. For the very creation of their fellow-travelers: homeschooling.

In the spleen against Domenech, homeschooling is invoked as a perjorative again and again and again. Steve Gilliard describes him as a “home schooled wingnut.” Jane Hamsher declares him a “mouth breathing home schooled freak.” “Patriotboy” (who is neither) invokes homeschooling in a detestable manner. “Truth”(!) denounces Domenech as a “24-year-old, home-schooled, white male Republican blogger.” Commenters at DailyKos impute poor math skills, ignorance of history, and social ineptitude to homeschooling — none of which, mind you, are in evidence in public school graduates! Dr P.Z. Myers of the University of Minnesota at Morris, who disagrees with Domenech on unrelated issues, sniffs that he’s “not surprised to learn that he is the product of home schooling, which in its worst instances can foster an unfortunately narrow point of view, and” — the worst from a professional academic’s point of view — “usually means the kid is instructed by someone with absolutely no training in education.” Duncan Black posts an old CNN transcript on homeschooling (in which Domenech features) for general mockery, and his commenters oblige: homeschooling mothers don’t have or want “lives”; homeschooling is “insidious once you understand its effects“; homeschooling is “just plain WRONG” (this from a public school teacher); “Homeschooling is evil“; homeschooling is “an effective way for abusive parents to avoid detection“; homeschooling is the provenance of “religious nutcases“; homeschooling is meant to “keep the kids from being exposed to actual thought“; and homeschooling is a way “in Amerikkka to brainwash your helpless kids into believing all kinds of sick false bullcrap.” Max Sawicky breaks ranks and at least notes that homeschooling can be a good thing, only to be rebuffed by one of his commenters. Finally, the aptly-named “Rude Pundit” asserts that Domenech will, upon becoming a parent, “isolat[e] his children in a homeschooled hell that’ll make sure they never can communicate with the rest of humanity on a rational basis.”

Note the common thread here? It’s not Domenech — he’s pretext. It’s homeschooling. And how they hate it. If you’re a parent wedded to the antique idea that you might control your child’s upbringing, look and know who will fight you on that.

As I wrote, the left’s frenzy over WaPo’s Red America is turning out to be a good thing. But it’s a good thing only in part. It’s good that we know who they are and what they think, and it’s good to see them expose those things fully in their infantile rage. But it’s a bad thing for our country. And as they ever more effectively use the multipliers of technology and frustration, they will, ineluctably, bring on the boiling point.

Posted by Josh Trevino at 1:10 PM | Permalink

The Midgets’ Fury


Editor’s Note: Spot-on contributor Josh Trevino was a co-founder of with former RedAmerica blogger Ben Domenech.

What does it say about the “reality-based community” that a fundamental tenet of its world-view is profoundly unreal? The belief that the mainstream media is set against the American left has emerged since roughly 1998 as a cornerstone of the embattled paranoia that animates the masses from Beacon Hill to Berkeley who cannot grasp why they are out of power. This much ought to be obvious: in a democratic system, one is out of power because one is unpopular — and one is out of power for a long time because one is profoundly unpopular. But like the preening egomaniac for whom admission of a fundamental flaw will collapse the entire psyche, the American left clutches at any proffered external cause for its misfortune: The war is manipulated for electoral purposes. The Supreme Court is nakedly partisan. The voting machines are rigged. The American media is against us.

It’s a stupefying conceit for media professionals, who know their milieu — and for conservatives, who spent the prior generation asserting that the media was against them. That conceit was certainly fueled by conservatives’ own share of paranoia and persecution complexes, but it was still eminently more defensible than the left’s descent into the same fear now. Conservatives then pointed to avowed leftists anchoring network newscasts, Communist-friendly reporting verging on genocide apologetics, and a journalism profession shot through, post-Watergate, with a generation of eager anti-establishmentarians. Leftists now point to….Ben Domenech.

Oh, how they have shrieked since Domenech took the helm at the Washington Post’s newest blog. Back in the day, conservatives wanted a fair shake from the media: today, leftists reveal that they want their media back — and back under their full control. The resultant outrage at the mere existence of a right-wing blog at the website of Dan Froomkin and Dana Milbank has made them, well, stupid. It’s impossible to catalogue all the dumb things written in the past 24 hours as a result of the left’s frenzy, but a representative sample is worthwhile:

First up is David Brock, who rather amazingly believes that the characterization of Froomkin as a “liberal” is “debatable.” Then there’s John Aravosis, who, after declaring Domenech’s hire an “atrocity” and managing to forget Froomkin’s existence, is reduced to utter wordlessness. (NB on the death of language: I’ve been to Rwanda, Yad Vashem, and Auschwitz; and those had something to do with atrocity.) Next up is the staff at Editor & Publisher, who nicely buttress the thesis of general media leftism by revealing an ignorance of any distinction between conservatives, Republicans, and supporters of the President. Garance Franke-Ruta of The American Prospect takes her own swing, denouncing Domenech’s first post as “vitriolic, almost hysterically nasty,” and then, immune to irony, goes on to opine about “responsible journalist[s].” Chris Bowers of MyDD, apparently unaware that his thesis is more or less one of crushing defeat for his side, announces the right-wing blogosphere’s Gotterdammerung and claims real authenticity (whatever that means) for the left. Brad DeLong sneers at the pretense of young whippersnappers without credentials trying to play his game. On a Washington Post online chat, Tom Edsall is straightaway ambushed by irate lefties, the first of whom doesn’t know what “defame” or “slur” mean. And “Skippy” seethes that the netroots are only mostly losers, not total losers. Take that, DomeNazi.

This list could easily be a lot longer.

So what, again, does this say about the “reality-based community”? What does their anger tell us? What does their enraged realization of not owning wholesale the Washington Post tell us? What does their sense of persecution tell us? What does the profound threat they feel from a mere blog by Ben Domenech tell us? It is, certainly, an anger at not having a thing they never had a right to expect. So are they really ethically opposed to a swift crossover from political operative status to journalism? Or are they, despite their self-appointment, despite their pretense, and despite their arrogation, fundamentally unreal?

Posted by Josh Trevino at 5:57 PM | Permalink

Fighting Dems


The concept of the Fighting Dem is pure gimmick: an attempt to neutralize the Democratic Party’s weakness on war-related issues by fielding veterans in the 2006 elections. Contrary to stereotype, there are Democratic veterans — I know a couple — and they are proving a useful tool for a party seeking to paper over its grievous generational weakness on security and defense. The Fighting Dems symbolize, among other things, the American left’s supposed identification with the American soldier. It’s a poor substitute for actual support of the American soldier in the only way that really matters — namely, by seeking victory for his cause — but it’s more than the Democrats have managed to do since 1972, and so in that sense, we may take heart. Chalk up one more sign of the rightward shift of the American center: gun rights are secure, the pro-life cause may shortly be ascendant, and the Democrats have to put up soldiers for election.

Most of the Fighting Dems are veterans from long ago, whose long stint since in civilian life does not give their military service especial resonance with the electorate. But there is a core group of seven who are veterans of the present war in Iraq — and they are the ones whose status gives them an advantage in 2006. They are also the ones who expose the fundamental problem with the Fighting Dem gimmick.

The Democratic Party is described by some of its most fanatical devotees as “stand[ing] for nothing.” But that’s not entirely true: the party, or at least its base, does stand for certain things, and chief among them in the present day is strident opposition to the war in Iraq. The Democratic base has therefore spent a great deal of time of late searching for formulae by which to bravely run away, and putting forth these Iraq war veterans is part of that. But in their grasping for fig leaves, they have missed an otherwise important point: the majority of those veterans don’t want to run. In fact, their positions on the way forward in Iraq are not meaningfully different from that of the Bush Administration. Sure, they bash the Administration thoroughly and often — but the devil is in the concrete details:

Andrew Duck, running in MD-6, definitively declares that “We cannot set a timetable for withdrawal” from Iraq. Tim Dunn, running in NC-8, states, “I do not support a time table for withdrawal” from the war. Tammy Duckworth, running in IL-6, writes, “The fact is we are in Iraq now and we can’t simply pull up stakes and create a security vacuum.” Joe Sestak, running in PA-7, does state that he “firmly believe[s] in a planned end to our military engagement in Iraq within the next year,” but then hedges his position by allowing for an extended presence if “military experts” deem it necessary. Patrick Murphy, running in PA-8, praises Jack Murtha repeatedly, but finally allows that he is “not advocating an immediate and unilateral pullout from Iraq.” Of the remaining two, Andrew Horne, running in KY-3, is apparently opaque in his prescription for Iraq; leaving only David Harris, running in TX-6, to boast of his unconditional support for “set[ting] a timetable for withdraw (sic) of our forces in Iraq,” and to stupidly assert that the insurgency does not “want to rule the country of Iraq.”

These veterans are almost assuredly good people, and doubtless good Democrats to boot. But are they the type of candidates to bring home a Democratic victory in November? Will the oft-frustrated leftist base get excited over a warmed-over Bush Administration prescription for Iraq — from a soldier? It does seem exceedingly unlikely. The relationship of the Democratic Party with the American military is rather akin to the Republican Party’s relationship with African-Americans: in each case there is a party seeking to woo a group that is rightly embittered at past wrongs — and doing a ham-handed job of it. A party wallowing in 35-year old paradigms of Vietnam that sees no problem nominating for President an infamous slanderer of American soldiers is fundamentally unready to appreciate the qualities that make a military-veteran candidate unique and useful to the public discourse — to say nothing of taking advantage of their qualities once in office. Rest assured that should they enter a Democratic-majority Congress, Duck, Dunn, Duckworth, Sestak, and Murphy will not be listened to as the plans are formulated for a cut-and-run.

In the past 48 hours, Operation Swarmer was launched against insurgent targets north of Baghdad. It was announced to the world’s press as an “air assault” mission. This leftist, this leftist, this leftist, this leftist, this leftist, this leftist, this leftist, and this leftist think an “air assault” is a form of cruel aerial terror-bombing. (Rest assured that the list is limited only by the swift onset of boredom as one compiles it.) Air assault is, in fact, an operational method of delivering light infantry to a combat zone via helicopter. The United States Army runs schools in the technique, and has an entire division devoted to the concept. This much is basic knowledge to anyone with a passing familiarity with the American military: and the American left, though its own choice, is chronically short of that type.

As much as the fundamental divergence in policy views, the fact that the self-proclaimed netroots for the most part leaps to conclusions of atrocity and horror inflicted by the very soldiers they seek to exploit in this election says everything about the sad reality of the Fighting Dems — and why they will fail.

Posted by Josh Trevino at 10:37 AM | Permalink

Curiouser and Curiouser


Michelle Malkin picked up on the strange case of Claude Allen and his twin brother Floyd, and asked my thoughts on it. For the record, my prior experience with Allen is recounted here. My thoughts, as e-mailed to Malkin, below:

My first reaction is that this can’t possibly get any more strange.

My second reaction is that for all the derision it attracts, the “evil twin” thesis might have something to it. I’ve known Claude (purely in a professional capacity) since late 2001. Having now corresponded with people who have known him since the 1984 Helms campaign, I’m fairly sure that my impression of him — upright, forthright, intelligent, and moral — is the norm. It’s possible, of course, that he was nonetheless shoplifting — it wouldn’t be the first dramatic character break in history. On the other hand, let’s say it was [Claude's twin brother] Floyd stealing from Target. Let’s further recognize that Maryland [where the alleged crimes took place] has had a “three strikes” criminal sentencing law since 1994. Might Claude be taking the rap to save Floyd from his third strike? This, unlike the shoplifting, would be eminently in keeping with Claude’s public character.

The question is whether MD’s three strikes law applies to non-violent offenses. I’m having problems finding info on that one.

So that’s the question, readers: what are the details of Maryland’s “three strikes” law? Would they even apply in this sort of situation? Admittedly, a bit of a stretch. But there are two things one should never forget in these stories: Don’t underestimate the strength of family ties. And don’t discount the weird.

Posted by Josh Trevino at 11:28 AM | Permalink

Mourning Claude


Claude Allen is disgraced. The former White House domestic policy advisor and Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services was arrested today for alleged participation in a shoplifting scheme. Right now, the charges are merely, as the press must say, allegations. But the taint of scandal ends Allen’s Washington career as surely as a conviction.

I worked for Claude Allen — or more accurately, under him. I was a speechwriter at the Department of Health and Human Services during his time as Deputy Secretary there. He was a striking presence and an obvious up-and-comer: young, telegenic, and vastly more articulate than his boss, Claude was discussed with some seriousness as a successor to Secretary Thompson. His professional life was marked by a humble and gracious demeanor — and high intellectual wattage — that set him apart from other high-ranking officials. He was rock-solid on the issues, strongly pro-life, pro-marriage and pro-family. It was no surprise that he was nominated for a judgeship; and no surprise that he was called to serve in the White House itself. I joined those who knew Claude in outrage at his judicial nomination’s victimization by obstructionist Democrats. In retrospect, it seems a blessing in disguise.

Claude Allen’s fall from grace is, for the most part, a DC inside-baseball event affecting none of the great issues of the day, and certainly not life in Peoria. That’s why you’ll see a few people following John Podhoretz’s lead and claiming to have never heard of Allen. (Podhoretz is either lying, or not the political journalist he should be after a full quarter-century.) They can get away with it, because most Americans outside the Beltway have also never heard of Allen. And that’s why the left-wing attempts to exploit this incident will come to nothing — particularly as the White House quite obviously forced him to resign upon learning of his troubles.

But for those who knew him, this is a tragedy. The examination of what turns a man to crime is better done by a Dostoevsky. The examination of what turns a well-off man in high office to petty, small-time crime is better done by a student of madness. There is a perverse curiosity in wanting to know what turned Claude Allen bad. But more immediately, and more appropriately, there is bewilderment, astonishment — and mourning, as one would for the dead.

Exception is taken, and rightly so, to the suggestion above that Podhoretz might be lying. I continue to believe that knowledge of the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy ought to be a given for observers of the White House. But in the imputation of dishonesty, the error is mine.

Posted by Josh Trevino at 2:41 AM | Permalink

Syllabus of Errors, Part Three


Read parts one and two.

A profound strategic conundrum faces the United States. It does not and has never had the ability to impose its will upon the country at large. It therefore must choose its allies from within Iraqi society. Hitherto, the de facto allies of America were the Shi’a of SCIRI, which were happy to let Americans fight the Sunni insurgency by keeping the Shi’a majority broadly governable. This enabled the Shi’a majority to maintain a claim to pan-Iraqi leadership; and the Americans in turn were able to maintain a claim to supporting a pan-Iraqi political consensus in the form of the Iraqi government. The de facto break between SCIRI, in the form of the Badrist militias, and the Iraqi government ends this fiction.

Support for the Iraqi government now must mean suppression of the Shi’a militias — not merely the Sadrists, whom the Americans have faced down before, but the Badrists as well. The contention that the United States can quell the bulk of armed Iraqi Shi’ism is a tenuous one indeed. If the whole country devolves into al Anbar, the strain upon the American Army will become intolerable.

The saving grace — of sorts — of this situation is that the Badrists, at least, don’t particularly want to fight Americans. The confrontation between the Shi’a at large and the Americans thus becomes purely optional for the latter. Optional, that is, so long as the Americans acquiesce to the slaughter of the Sunnis and the inevitable delegitimization of the government of Iraq. The logical end of this is a slow-motion bloodbath, in which the Sunnis receive in full the treatment they have meted out to Shi’a, Kurd and Assyrian over most of the past century; in which Shi’a militia eventually force a contest with the Kurds for Kirkuk and the borderlands; and in which the controlling power of Iraq sits in Tehran.

This is, for now, the course of action that the Americans have been following. Even if there was political will to enforce the will of a government lacking the basic mechanisms of state power — most fundamentally, the monopoly on violence within its borders — the military capacity is simply not there. Furthermore, the Americans utterly lack the stomach for a true communal war. They will not be able to sustain any serious campaign against the Shi’a as such: face-saving evasions will be sought, and foolish allowances like those enjoyed by the Fallujah imams and Moqtada al Sadr will be made.

But if the Americans cannot stomach communal war against the Shi’a, neither can they fully acquiesce in the same against the Sunnis. This is assuredly happening, and that’s largely why you see the rhetoric that you do coming out of CENTCOM and the White House: outright denials that civil war is imminent, coupled with gauzy assurances that the Iraqi government is effective. Self-deception puts off the need for hard choices — most especially the need to figure out what needs to happen for saving the Sunnis of Iraq from the fate they have aggressively tempted for so very long.

Herein is an amoral and pragmatic rationale for standing aside: the Shi’a can almost certainly end the insurgency that the Americans have not. Of course, the Americans will not ultimately do this. They cannot. It is not in their character — for all the foul deeds committed by the United States in wartime, it remains one of the most moral nations of history — and it utterly negates, fully and finally, the public reasons offered for having gone to war.

We stand at the precipice. Civil war in Iraq is upon us, and there are no good options. Acquiescing to the probable victor brings us grave moral compromise. Protection of the probable loser brings us a conflict we cannot afford. Withdrawal from the scene brings us yet more terrible dangers further down the road. It is a sorry situation in which the American Army and Marines are reduced to yet another militia in the Mesopotamian cauldron. The pity is that this was all avoidable. Every misstep that brought us to it was foreseeable and preventable. General Shinseki warned us about the undermanning. The world cried out against the precedent-setting looting. Many informed observers denounced the disbanding of the old Iraqi Army. And I was appalled at the repeated escapes, which we allowed, of Moqtada al Sadr.

We went to Iraq for the best of reasons. I believe that. I believe the mission was moral and achievable one. But it is as I wrote: I was wrong to think that the Administration of George W. Bush was competent to act upon any of the given beliefs. As we look into the abyss, we are forced to remember that someone had to dig it.

Posted by Josh Trevino at 6:53 PM | Permalink

Syllabus of Errors, Part Two


Read part one.

Roughly speaking, there have been three wars in Iraq since March 2003:

The first war was the war against the Ba’athist regime. It lasted roughly from March through December 2003, finally coming to an end sometime between the killing of Saddam Hussein’s sons, the October 2003 rebellion of Moqtada al Sadr, and the capture of the former dictator himself.

The second war was the war against the Sunni insurgency. This war lasted roughly from late spring 2003 to the present. It saw the Ba’athist insurgency coalesce with a combination of foreign and homegrown Islamists; as it dragged on, this Islamist character grew and eventually eclipsed Ba’athist irredentism. The second war did have some Shi’a characteristics, notably in the April and August 2004 rebellions of Moqtada al Sadr, but by this point it was clear that he did not represent a pan-communal movement, and so the strategic enemy remained the Sunni community.

The third war is the Iraqi civil war. It is just beginning. After years of Shi’a forebearance — and make no mistake, the Shi’a at large have hitherto been admirably restrained against their former oppressors — the Rubicon of direct Shi’a versus Sunni action has been crossed. The end of this contest is profoundly uncertain.

The dynamics of this still-nascent civil war are only now emerging. In brief, judging from media, and more important, intelligence reports in-country, we can state that the following is broadly accurate:

In the wake of the December 2005 elections, two parties felt disempowered — the Sunnis of Iraq, and the Shi’a Sadrists. The former are doomed by demography to permanent minority status, which they fear perhaps the more by dint of their cruel reign of the past several decades. The latter are doomed by the clerical inferiority of their leader: the baby-faced fanatic Moqtada al Sadr is not, in Shi’a eyes, the respected leader that the Ayatollah Sistani or his deputies are. The Sunni insurgency’s perception of the principal oppressor accordingly shifted from the Americans to the Shi’a; and it reacted with the insane death-wish that typifies Islamist violence the world over. They destroyed the al Askari shrine in Samarra.

In this, Moqtada al Sadr saw his chance. Shi’a across Iraq took vengeance on the nearest Sunni targets of opportunity. This in itself was hardly unusual, and it probably would have spluttered out in a few bloody days had the Sadrists not seized upon the retribution, and carried it forward in a far more organized and horrific fashion. An angry mob is one thing: an organized militia is something else. Worse, the Sadrists were able to do what they had been unable to do in their previous battlefield efforts against the Americans. The Americans gingerly refrained from assaulting Shi’a sensibilities per se, and so the main Shi’a militia in Iraq, the Badr Brigades of SCIRI, saw no reason to intervene on the Sadrists’ behalf when the American Army and Marines were cutting them to ribbons in 2004. The Sunnis were not so intelligent, and so local Badrists were all too ready to join the Sadrists in a campaign of vengeful lynching. Whatever the Badr Brigade and SCIRI senior personnel thought was at this point irrelevant — they could not be seen by the rank and file as thwarting the rage of the Shi’a, and thereby cede the mantle of Shi’a populism and communal defense to Moqtada al Sadr. And so it came to pass that the entirety of the Shi’a militia movement and political apparatus set itself to killing Sunnis.

Let us here note that the failure of the Americans to press the campaigns of April and August 2004 to the hilt, and capture or kill Moqtada al Sadr, thus emerges as one of the cardinal strategic errors of our effort in Iraq.

The independent policy-setting of the Badrists and SCIRI knocked the props out from the rule of the Shi’a majority in the Iraqi government, and specifically Prime Minister Ibrahim al Jaafari. With the bulk of Shi’a political power either circumventing or ignoring the government, al Jaafari and the central institutions of Iraq itself look increasingly irrelevant. They could not protect the Shi’a holy places, and now they cannot protect the Sunni holy places. Forces nominally loyal to the government either participate in anti-Sunni pogroms, or stand aside and reveal the Shi’a militias as the true power in the land. The Iraqi government measure that is having some effect — the curfew — is having the effect of freezing the victimized populations in place, making flight difficult, and allowing the persecuting militias to pick them off at will.

The theory of elections in Iraq held that democratic legitimacy is a powerful and superseding legitimacy: but the true superseding legitimacy is that of power. No one will fight for Ibrahim al Jaafari or the Iraqi government unless they are first perceived as fighting for themselves. It’s a cycle of inefficacy feeding upon its own appearance that is difficult in the extreme to break. How difficult? Unconfirmed reports — not in major media — that al Jafaari is making overtures to Sunni leaders in Fallujah for support reveal the extent of his desperation. Elections notwithstanding, the government of Iraq is on the verge of losing its legitimacy altogether.

What would rescue that legitimacy? The exercise of power. And the only power left to the government of Iraq is American power.

Continued in part three.

Posted by Josh Trevino at 6:25 PM | Permalink

Syllabus of Errors, Part One


There is faith, and there is reason, and while each may inform the other, there comes a time when they must part ways. So it is in Iraq.

I supported the war in Iraq. I supported it for several reasons. I believed that cruel tyrants ipso facto have no legitimacy, and that any outside power was within its rights, and indeed its obligations, to destroy their regimes. I believed that the swelling tide of Muslim terror and jihad were the primary threat to the United States — and the West — in the modern era. I believed that that tide stemmed directly from the social and political sickness of the Muslim world itself. I believed that those illnesses were curable with a good dose of liberal democratic values. I believed that those values were exportable by force. I believed that the successful export of those values into a nation in the heart of the Muslim world would be an epochal blow against the forces of despotism and fanaticism that enslaved much of that world — and threatened ours.

I still believe all these things. But there were many things that I believed as corollaries with these postulates that I was wrong about. I was wrong to think that the social and political sickness of the Muslim world was a transient phenomenon, separable from the societies and faith in which it flourished. I was wrong to think that slavery and ignorance are conditions from which persons inherently wish liberation. I was wrong to think that one venue in the heart of the Muslim world was as good as another: that Iraq was as sufficient as Jordan, or Saudi Arabia, or Egypt.

Most grievous of all errors, I was wrong to think that the Administration of George W. Bush was competent to act upon any of the given beliefs.

From the beginning, it was easy to see how poor planning, lack of strategic competence, and even lack of operational competence inexorably crippled the war effort. It is a catalogue of complaints familiar enough to sober observers: The chronic undermanning of the occupation and counterinsurgency forces. The failure to stem disorder in the early days. The precipitate disbanding of the Iraqi army. The American military’s unpreparedness for a guerrilla campaign. The British military’s near-total failure to fight Islamists in its own AOR. The inability to secure borders. The reliance, forced by undermanning, on ethnic militias from peshmerga to Badrists for basic security duties. The April 2004 retreat from Fallujah. The failure in October 2003, April 2004, and August 2004 to capture or kill Moqtada al Sadr. The endemic shoddy accountability and execution of reconstruction projects.

Even these mistakes, unforgivable and obvious as they were, did not diminish my support for the war. I maintained a resolve, if not an enthusiasm, for the war in Iraq for two reasons:

First, the consequences of defeat or withdrawal — and was there a meaningful difference? — seemed obvious. For America to quit the field would give a psychological boost to the jihadists equivalent to or greater than that provided by the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan. For the United States to be perceived as defeated twice in living memory by local insurgencies would merely invite future such phenomena in future wars — and confirm the dangerous notion that Western polities are inherently unable to meet such efforts. For our country to abandon our local allies would be to cheapen the value of an American alliance, and expose to grave danger those who depend upon us: Taiwan, South Korea, and Israel, among others, would lay exposed to the predations of their neighbors. Like it or not, it was clear that in Iraq lay the future of American power — and the liberty of millions abroad.

Second, a military effort is still a military effort, and for all the ineptitude of our political and operational leadership, it nonetheless seemed unlikely that our enemies in the field would win. For all its flaws, the Bush Administration has one thing right: the key to victory is to stay. Insurgencies win when they outlast, and that too is the key to our victory — to stay in the field. It is common on the left and on the isolationist right to take the list of mistakes above, and from it conclude that defeat is foreordained. It is not so. History is replete with examples of blundering victors (the winners of the American Civil War and the Boer War each spent the first two-thirds of their respective wars doing their utmost to fail), and we should not simply assume that Iraq is a lost cause because it is a poorly-done cause.

Again, I still believe that both these rationales remain valid. But they no longer encompass the whole of the situation in Iraq in which we are enmeshed. And as such, they may be no longer relevant. The bombing of the Shi’a al Askari mosque in Samarra and its aftermath have altered the war there sufficiently so that we may now consider it a different war than that in which we were previously engaged.

Continued in part two.

Posted by Josh Trevino at 6:13 PM | Permalink

Crashing the Gate: A Review


Five years ago, the Republicans took over the government through nondemocratic means.

The first sentence of Crashing the Gate is a hard one to get past. It’s a whopper of a lie even if its intended reference — the 2000 election of George W. Bush — is accurate. (It’s not, of course: the judicial interventions at all levels in that year’s Florida recount were each meant to protect the integrity of the democratic procress rather than supplant it.) Republican majorities in the Congress are hardly “undemocratic,” and by all accounts, the conservative majority (which is, to the book’s authors, synonymous with “Republican majority”) on the Supreme Court was installed in the accepted manner. Hard to get past or not, it’s a sentence worth reading, and a telling opener for the book-length debut of Markos Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong. Barely four years ago, they were nonentities: today they stand athwart the American left, yelling, “Go!”

To their credit, beginning with a sloppy assertion that despite this — or perhaps because of it — plays directly into the self-pity and paranoia of that movement, they try to lead the way. Crashing the Gate is their thesis of what is wrong with the American left and its principal vehicle, the Democratic Party — and how to fix those wrongs. It is a work informed by their peculiar status as pioneers and even visionaries in the field of online political activism: and it is a work ultimately brought down by that same status. Surveys are difficult, and few are so ill-equipped to write them as direct and narrow participants in the subject at hand.

Full disclosure is in order: I was an early participant in the initial flowering of the political blogosphere with, and back in the day, my site and the then-nascent DailyKos, Moulitsas’ vehicle, were peers of sorts. Since then, the latter has taken off to become the single most popular website extant (a testament to the singular hard work of its founder and a singularly fortuitous historical moment on the left), while my own peripatetic career has taken me ever further from blogging. I therefore have some observations on the character of the book’s principle author — and rest assured, this book would not sell as it does were it solely a Jerome Armstrong production. (Armstrong is not, in my limited experience, the brightest bulb in the box.)

Moulitsas is a genius, and probably the genius, of his field. That field is, strictly, the construction and maintenance of influential left-wing online communities. It is no small thing. Does it confer expertise and authority beyond itself? Moulitsas believes so. Hence Crashing the Gate. But the evidence outside the book is thin: beyond his principle arena, he has been consistently thwarted — by himself. The public record is one of chronic foot-in-mouth disease, apparently spurred by hubris and a nasty vindictive streak. Most famously, his denigration of dead Americans in Fallujah in April 2004 almost destroyed his site. (That it survived and flourished thereafter speaks to the patriotic character of the American left — a subject for a different essay.) Most infamously, he mocked the Santorum family’s method of grieving over a tragic miscarriage. Then there was his foray into electoral endorsements in 2004 which ended in a 100% failure rate for his candidates.

And then there was the radio show he and I were on (warning: large MP3 file) with Ana Marie Cox and Glenn Reynolds several weeks back, in which he gave his version of his site’s genesis. It’s worth quoting at length for an insight into the man’s mind:

When I started blogging back in 2002, it was a very difficult time for people who were liberal. This was right after the Afghanistan war, kind of the lead-up to the Iraq war. And it was a very politically confining time for liberals. Any kind of criticism of the Administration was considered to be treason or un-American. So it was in that environment that a lot of liberal bloggers came out. It’s one of the few places you could get liberal voices.

….I came from this environment in which I didn’t hear my voices (sic) being spoken about in the run-up to the Iraq War. I wasn’t allowed to criticize the President — not even on domestic issues, because that was giving aid and comfort to the enemy. And I served. I wore combat boots. Nobody was going to tell me what I could and couldn’t criticize, because I knew what the Constitution said. And therefore I started my little blog, at a time when very few people were blogging, and not a lot of people were reading them, just as an outlet for those frustrations.

It’s a deeply silly exegesis of the events in question — any bets on how often Moulitsas found himself “silenced,” pre-blog, in Berkeley? But it is revelatory for this: it reveals him as an archetype — an American leftist who cannot understand why his party is in the minority, who grasps at resentful myths like the martyrdom of Max Cleland and the theft of Florida 2000, and who conjures up an imaginary quasi-fascist society in place of the actual America in which to set anecdotes of persecution. This man, and his friend, want to fix the Democratic Party. As a Republican, I can only urge that party to take them up on the offer.

Good prescriptions spring from good analyses. The analyses in Crashing the Gates veer wildly from insightful to awful.

The chapter on political consultants, “The Gravy Train,” is flat-out the best in the book, and the only one deserving serious consideration from both sides of the aisle. The authors give a good overview of the inside-baseball nature of the campaign-consultant milieu, and drive home their argument that inept consultancies and back-scratching financial dealmaking (and especially their attendant effects on media strategy) are a major drag on Democratic efforts. I learned a great deal from it: as a single long-form essay, it would have made an excellent study on a subject that deserves far more exposition than it gets. It’s a true pity that the rest of the book does not display the same level of dispassionate rigor.

Moulitsas and Armstrong are frank proponents of outright mimicry of the mechanisms of GOP ascendacy. Alas that the book’s assessment of Republican successes and governance is risibly simplistic: a catalogue of cartoonish betes noirs and unexamined myths ranging from villainous “theocons” to assigning the blame for the flaws of the Katrina response on the wars in Iraq — and Afghanistan. Mistakes are made that belie even a passing familiarity with American political history: the era of LBJ is lauded as a golden age; and Richard Nixon is described as having “legitimate conservative credentials.” Especially stupefying is the mystified response to America’s historical turning-away from leftism after c.1970:

Historians can argue over how the backlash began: whether it was a bad economy or corporate hostility toward expanded government services, or the northeastern/southern divide over race and civil rights, or the emergence of the religious right and its cultural war against social progressives.

It’s touching, in its way. An activist should be true and pure of heart. If ignorance is the price to be paid for this, so be it. I am thankful to be of a generation that only dimly recalls the nadir of the 1970s: but I regret that many of my generational peers do not.

In fairness, four-fifths of the book focuses not so much on what Republicans have done as what Democrats should do. And here, Moulitsas and Armstrong are on more substantive ground. They know this milieu, having been part of it, having shaped it, and having tried to work with it for the past four years. Among their targets are the “single-issue groups,” as they term them: the activist organizations that push one cause above all else, and hence lose sight of the larger goal of Democratic victory. It’s an interesting argument, and it has some merit inasmuch as it doesn’t make sense — to appropriate one of their examples — for NARAL to endorse a pro-abortion Republican when the totality of Republican control will act against their cause.

But the authors give short shrift to the causes as such: they have no time for the principled in a party they describe as “stand[ing] for nothing.” American leftists may surely need to learn to work together — but surely the prerequisite for constructive cooperation is not the abandonment of belief? Were they the students of GOP success they attempt to be, they’d know it’s a thesis that has found sad currency in modern Republicanism. Thus erstwhile conservatives find themselves defending Medicare Part D, political speech restrictions, Nixonian secrecy paranoia, and Wilsonian foreign policy as the price of governance. Moulitsas and Armstrong think this is the price of victory: but when Republicans finally suffer a serious electoral reverse, it will be the cause of their defeat.

It is these single-issue groups, then, that bear much of the authors’ blame for Democratic electoral fortunes. “[E]ven in the minority, even as their world crumbles around them, even as they keep losing ground, they retain a certain amount of power — or at least a facade of it.” These groups force Democratic candidates to demonstrate fealty to their causes, thereby weakening the Democratic cause by — well, apparently by existing. The authors’ logic here doesn’t withstand scrutiny. If a candidate is weakened by being beholden to a group espousing X, that weakening does not occur by virtue of being beholden, but because X is unpopular. Moulitsas and Armstrong list single-issue groups on abortion, guns, the environment, and labor as being problematic in this manner: but they cannot and do not acknowledge — because it not not occur to them? — that the harmful effects of these groups on electoral prospects may stem directly from their fundamental unpopularity with the American people.

We then go into an exposition on the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. And here, again, we delve into the realm of the absurd. Let’s accept that there is a network of right-wing and libertarian think tanks in America. I know, because I work for one. Let’s further accept that they do possess a certain efficacy that has, at points, served the conservative cause well. But that’s not the whole story: these institutions, ranging from the Heritage Foundation to Cato and beyond, were founded to level the playing field rather than solidify a preexisting dominance. Academia, the media, and the political elite were perceived — rightly enough in most cases — as being bastions of leftist thought. In the first two of those three, that’s still true.

This situation bears no resemblance to the world-view of Moulitsas and Armstrong. We know that they view the media as hostile, for reasons having more to do with the psychology of frustration than an objective reality. Academia, presumably, is a “single-issue group.” And so they buy into the mythos of the VRWC with tendrils extending into every corner of public life, because a malevolent monolith is a powerful motivator — not least to oneself. Paradoxically, a primary source of their information is the organs of the VRWC itself, which of course are going to tout themselves handsomely. The authors aren’t being uniquely naive: we got a left-wing hit piece done on my own organization a few weeks back. It was some of the best PR copy for us I’ve ever read.

The bottom line is that the authors don’t really understand think tanks or their role in the political process. Think tanks are de facto single-issue groups, not meaningfully different from the advocacy organizations they denounce, devoted to the promulgation of ideological fidelity on their chosen issues. Moulitsas and Armstrong seem to think of them as factories, in the dark bowels of which victory is made. “[T]his new movement is not ideological,” they write. But if they wish to emulate the institutions of the VRWC — and they do — then ideology is at the core of the work of those institutions.

So what’s the solution for the Democratic Party according to Crashing the Gate? What would two professional web consultants and bloggers recommend for the renewal of the vehicle of the American left? Unsurprisingly, they recommend following the lead of web consultants and bloggers. The rise, flameout, and second rise of web-consultant-and-blogger favorite Howard Dean is lovingly recounted. The power of the “netroots” is extolled. And doubters are excoriated with all the fury of those who have seen the future — and in it, seen themselves.

Our message is simple: You can get out of the way or work with us. Trying to stop us is a losing proposition.

No doubt. If you’re a Democrat, facing off against the irate masses of the online left is a losing proposition. They may lack perspicacity, and they may lack equanimity: but they do not lack noise. For all the rhetoric about the power of the netroots, new paradigms, and empowerment, Moulitsas and Armstrong do not — or cannot — acknowledge that this is the fundamental source of their power, and the power of the dispersed tribe they have gathered to seize the Democratic Party, and eventually America itself. Irony of ironies: they have a Noise Machine. If Crashing the Gate is any indication, that’s all they have — and they don’t fully understand it.

That’s why there is one group for whom trying to stop them is not a losing proposition. That group is the Republican Party. That party — my party — has veered dangerously from its core principles. It bears responsibility for a poorly-executed war. It has overseen a tepid economy. It has plunged the finances of the United States into deficit spending that will eventually prove ruinous. It has moved a long, sad way from the ideals of 1994.

And it has crushed the Democratic Party for three election cycles running. Even now, it looks to retain power in the dismal circumstances of George W. Bush’s final midterm.

Markos Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong look to the lovely thing they have built — their movement, as much as they disclaim leadership — and they are justly proud. But there’s one thing they cannot take pride in: a single electoral victory. Crashing the Gate is exculpatory as much as prescriptive. It makes the case that this is not their fault. But the truth, now, in 2006, is that it’s as much theirs as anyone’s on the American left. They are kingmakers now, because, within their movement, trying to stop them is a losing proposition. The only questions are: At what point will they accept responsibility for the state of affairs? And at what point will someone bring some sense to the noise?

Posted by Josh Trevino at 1:15 AM | Permalink

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