December 26th, 2007

Who’s an armchair general?

On a recent thread here about General Petraeus there was a discussion in the comments section regarding General Shinseki’s original suggestion that higher troop levels would be needed in Iraq. As part of that back-and-forth, commenter Mitsu wrote:

…had we gone into Iraq with more troops in the first place, as Shinseki had recommended, the situation in Iraq wouldn’t have deteriorated nearly as much as it has.

And commenter Ymarsakar replied:

Is Shinseki and you therefore better (armchair) generals than Petraeus?

Mitsu responded:

So now even actual generals are armchair generals to you guys?

I’ve only excerpted a tiny portion of the lengthy comments section; I urge you to read the rest to get a better understanding of the issues involved in whether more troops would have been better, or would not have made a significant difference.

The truth is this: no one knows. More troops now is not the same as more troops then. All speculation on the subject is untestable. It’s tempting, however, because we try to learn from our mistakes. The trouble in war is that mistakes are inevitable, and the suggestions to remedy those mistakes may represent even greater mistakes. The only thing we know is what actually happened—not necessarily why it happened—and the fog of war makes it very difficult to know even that. Nevertheless, it’s human nature to try.

As Mitsu points out, about the war’s aftermath:

Of course, it would also have been a huge benefit to have had much smarter tactics on the ground.

And as commenter Gray says:

More conventional troops become a liability in fighting an insurgency. The reason the ’surge’ is working is not that it is ‘more troops’ it’s because it is more troops performing unconventional warfare tactics. This is not something an army just learns overnight.

So, was Shinseki in fact an “armchair general?” The term tends to be a phrase applied to someone who “is not a…general…but offers opinions and criticism on the performance or decisions of those who are.” By this definition, we are all armchair generals, whereas General Shinseki most decidely was not.

Nor was Shinseki that other related thing, a Monday morning quarterback, because the opinions he gave on the matter were offered before the war, not after, four months before his retirement as Chief of Staff of the army. Therefore Shineski was also not a member of that increasingly visible and vocal group: the retired general as talking head.

If Shinseki was none of these, who was he, and what did he really say? Shinseki had been in command previously in Bosnia, hardly a textbook case on how to run a war. He also had a history of personality conflicts with Rumsfeld. Even before Iraq, Shinseki was opposed to any overall reduction in the size of the army. Nor does Shinseki does not seem to have been any sort of expert in counter-insurgency.

What he actually said was this:

…something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required. We’re talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that’s fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground-force presence.

It’s been surprisingly difficult for me to find exact figures for how many military personnel were involved in the recent “surge” of additional troops; typical numbers are here: an increase of 20,000 from about 150,000 already there. Although some articles said the increase was closer to double that, there’s little question that the actual increase in numbers was relatively modest, and that the change in tactics was far more important.

That seems to have made Shineski both right and wrong: right that more troops would be needed. Right that the original planners were probably too sanguine about the task of Iraq’s postwar reconstruction. Wrong about the actual figures needed, wrong about the tactics necessary, and possibly wrong about the timing of the increase.

It’s too early for historians to write knowledgeably about this war, but my prediction is that for many decades they will fight epic verbal battles about how it was waged. We armchair generals of the blogosphere have been doing that for several years now, with no end in sight.

71 Responses to “Who’s an armchair general?”

  1. Truth Says:

    my prediction is that for many decades they will fight epic verbal battles about how it was waged.

    First of all people around the world includes those “Armchair” guys they will know for the rest of their lives and for generation about how it (Iraq invasion) was waged. history never been forgetting such wars in name of freedom and democracy .

    Secondly the matter of troop number, looks relevant when talking about war in Iraq to those who waged the war, why?

    To answer this, its very simple answer, are those who planed for this war really believing in free Iraq?

    Are they really went to Iraq with complete believe in their hearts and minds for helping Iraqis and freed Iraq from tyrant regime?

    These questions and others which seeing answers on the ground there in Iraq day after day and months after months and years after years telling differently, its more about securing and holding advance feet on the ground in the region for long years to come.

    May I pick your attention when Rumsfeld said “future generations of Americans will remember and thank” he knew that this war or the US presence in Iraq will be and should be for long term far from “Freedom and Democracy”, with his “Shock and Awe” war with it’s scale of power distracting a complete country and aftermath the distractions continue even the historical sites like Babylon during Bremer time when its reserves and US military camp.

    So the Axis of Evil it was a case to build on for a war after more than four years we seeing Bush sending written letter to N. Korea, seeing US ambassador meeting Iranian reps in Baghdad, there were no Axis of Evils in fact there were one a gaol how to bite and sallow Iraq and hold it.

  2. Vince P Says:

    Truth: You’re right… we should have let Saddam stay in power… continue to brutalize the majority of the population.. including throwing people into plastic shredders… having his sons go around town raping and pillaging as they want.

    We should have let him engage in a nuclear arms race with iran.

    We should have let the Iraqi people rot under crushing economic sanctions and cut off from the world by a travel embargo.

    It was so arrogant of the US to think removing Saddam would be a good idea. Clearly the people of Iraq would be better off living under Saddam.

  3. Trimegistus Says:

    And why the heck did we invade France in 1944? It was Japan that attacked Pearl Harbor! Roosevelt was in the pocket of the Jewish art collectors — IT’S ALL ABOUT THE OILS AND WATERCOLORS!

  4. Truth Says:

    and cut off from the world by a travel embargo.

    Vince P what “Rubbish” you put here, DONT PUT YOUR WORDS IN MY MOTH.

    For update info for those who living in their Bubble, Iraqi now are not free to travel!!

    Did you know this Vince P?

    Only a certified merchant holding membership card, or for government missions. Other than that Iraqis are not allowed to leave the country.

    Check your reference do your homework well before commenting here, these are newest orders.

  5. Synova Says:

    Generals, retired or active or *whatever*, are going to have a variety of strongly held diametrically opposed ideas of how to wage a war. Too much is made of one General or another who thought we should do the opposite of what we did. What would be shocking is if the divisions did not exist. However, this military reality is partner with a foundational aspect of military culture, and that is that, no matter how vigorous the discussion behind doors, that’s where it stays. No matter what you call it, if you’re the General who doesn’t have the responsibility of making the final decision, you back the guy who did (or argue with that guy’s boss… behind doors.) If you can’t carry out the final plan in good faith, you step aside for someone who can carry it out in good faith.

    There were several limiters of troop strength to deal with, some immutable, such as the isolation of Afghanistan, some unfortunate and political, such as not getting permission to send troops and convoys through Turkey. Combine that with a quite reasonable intent (despite Truth’s rambling) to make it absolutely clear that we were not and had no intention of being *occupiers* by going in light and it nearly seems a no-brainer, as they say.

    In the end, though different tactics may have brought sooner results, we can’t know that significantly more boots on the ground in Iraq wouldn’t have done exactly what we hoped to avoid, put a lie on our claims not to want Iraq for ourselves and mobilized far more of the population against us and against the process of establishing a representative, diverse, Iraqi government. As it was we got accused (by Democrats if no one else) of erecting a “puppet” government, *anyway*.

    What we’re going now we learned, mostly by trial and error, and there seems to be significant progress. Could we have done it without the trial and error? I don’t think we can answer confidently that we could have done.

  6. Vince P Says:

    Truth: You should name yourself Lie or Taqiyya

  7. Mitsu Says:

    Very cogent and well-written post, Neo. I would mention a couple of things which I think are pertinent to this particular debate.

    First of all, naturally, I completely agree that there’s obviously no way to know for sure what would have happened given any alternative strategy. What we do know for sure is that most of the main architects of the war predicted far more stability than we saw, and even suppressed some serious attempts to plan for much of what actually transpired, which was understandable politically, but hardly prudent by any means.

    However, I think your comments about Shinseki’s experience in Bosnia are not really accurate. First of all, Bosnia was in fact a successful operation — that is, once the international community got their asses in gear and deployed a stabilization force there. Also, to say that Shinseki didn’t have experience with counter-insurgency is also incorrect — the Bosnia operation was to a very large degree a counter-insurgency operation. As a number of analysts have pointed out, Shinseki’s troop estimates were a straightforward extrapolation from the experience of the international force in Bosnia. Contrary to your intimation that Shinseki may have simply been driven by a political desire to justify a large Army, in opposition to Rumsfeld, I think it’s he was just giving a relatively clinical, “by the book” estimate that wasn’t particularly politically motivated (had he been more political he probably would have toned down his estimate, I think.)

    I should also note that Petraeus’ own COIN manual recommends very similar troop densities, thus a straightforward extrapolation from his COIN manual would lead to an overall estimate very similar to Shinseki’s.

    I also don’t think the current downward trend in violence necessarily contradicts Shinseki’s estimate (or Petraeus’ own COIN manual recommendation). Instead, I think Petraeus simply did the most with what troops we had available — which, by the time of the “surge”, simply couldn’t have been much more than the 30,000 we managed to scrape up. So he intelligently allocated these troops, improved our tactics on the ground, and benefitted to some extent from a confluence of other factors, including the fact that Iraqis themselves turned against the Al Qaeda elements in their midst.

    But — there is still a high level of violence in Iraq; the “surge” has reduced violence but hardly eliminated it. Shinseki’s estimate may have been conservative but it may also have been enough to have stabilized Iraq before it turned into what it is today. Naturally, Iraq is not Bosnia — it may have been harder to control than Bosnia even with a huge deployment of troops — but, it’s not clear that the current modest success we are seeing actually invalidates either Shinseki’s estimate or Petraeus’ COIN manual recommendations.

  8. Truth Says:

    Vince P in all your comments you failed to presented and involving in real discussions with points raised with references linked to it, instead you took and taking personal attack on me.

    You need to read what neoneocon blog guidelines and way of commenting in this site.

    Do you know this is some sort of defeats to what you hold with yourself?

    Anyway there is no reason to speak to some like you who are “Deaf & Blind ” after four years of “Injustice” and “Manmade” war in Iraq.

    As a Human who looks for bright side from respecting and communicating, I respect any view and I don’t in any way in support or beside any criminals, corrupted and tyrant regimes in ME.

    World should defend human’s values by any human way but not wars.

    The war worst answer for any case and it’s a tool of bulling and stupidity.

  9. Truth Says:

    Michael Schwartz,

    Michael Schwartz, Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook

    7 Facts Making Sense of Our Iraqi Disaster

  10. Truth Says:

    (despite Truth’s rambling)

    Synova, Could we have done it without the trial and error? I don’t think we can answer confidently that we could have done.rambling more thatn other.

    You make your argument on ” the trial and error” you talking here about human lifes, not Bees or chemicals!!

    So who “rambling” here?

    Did you bother to read what Michael Schwartz,? Michael Schwartz, Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook

  11. Vince P Says:

    As if a Professor knows anything.. It’s easy to sit in the ivory tower, saftely abstracted away from the real-world consequences of utopian theorizing.

    Where was the Acedmy before 9/11 to tell us what was coming? Oh, too busy spreading Leftist disinformation just like their Saudi masters paid for.

  12. MartyH Says:

    Leadership always fights the last war. In the case of Iraq, the last war was Afghanistan, the graveyard of Empires. We toppled the Taliban with a light footprint campaign by allying with local forces, and it was a brilliant campaign. With that success flush in everybody’s mind, arguing that Iraq needed a heavy footprint would be difficult. I’m sure Rumsfelds response to requests for more troops ran along the lines of, “We didn’t need 1/10th of the troops your are requesting for Afghanistan.” So, to some extent, we learned the wrong lesson from Afghanistan.

    Regarding appropriate troops levels for counter-insurgency, don’t forget to count the Iraqi forces. Local concerned citizens groups, Iraqi police, and Iraqi Army all can be more effective than US forces in fighting terrorism within Iraq for obvious cultural reasons. The Long War Journal has been emphasizing this aspect for about a month, saying that the real surge in troops is Iraqi.

  13. Cappy Says:

    First of all, I support the President’s efforts against Muslim Terrorism, including the War in Iraq. Let’s get that out of the way to give no comfort to the likes of Mitsu and Truther.

    IMHO, it’s always easy to second guess strategy. At this point we don’t even have 20/20 hindsight.

    Overall, I hold with the great former CEO Jack Welch. He declined to run for office, citing the variance between the objectives of the public sector and a CEO. He’s right. Headcutcounting should not be the primary objective of the Defense function. That is what concerns me about Romney as compared to the other mainstream GOP candidates.

  14. Truth Says:

    i>As if a Professor knows anything..

    Could you honestly tell us what you knew about Iraq before e and now? how much? What your involvements in Iraq case?

    Oh, too busy spreading Leftist disinformation just like their Saudi masters paid for.

    If is he, so for those neocon who support the war, isn’t?

    Its easy to through words here and their, but for a moment just present you evidence about what your filamentary words about people like Professor Michael Schwartz, I think US universities be very concerned about her stuff and their acidic researches and level.

    Now Donald Rumsfeld coming to Stanford Former secretary of defence to join Hoover as visiting fellow, so do we need to discredit Hoover Institution?

  15. Truth Says:

    My kid is with me while her mom recovers from surgery. It’s great having here here

    First wish your wife fast recovery and good health.

    You don’t need “to give no comfort to the likes of Mitsu and Truther.” But Remember while your kids in your care far from their Mum, supporting war in Iraq for ever will cause those Dad, Mum most importantly the babies and kids a great and long lasting suffering because of this injustice war

  16. Truth Says:

    The surge is a sideshow. Only total US pullout can succeed

    Iraq insiderNovember 30, audio extra: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad disputes the current rosy American analysis of the situation in Baghdad
    (Download the file and hear what’s life inside Iraq now)

  17. Occam's Beard Says:

    Michael Schwartz, Professor of Sociology

    Professor of sociology. Can’t get much more knowledgeable than that, unless it’s a professor of astrology, of course.

  18. Sally Says:

    Neo: We armchair generals of the blogosphere have been doing that for several years now, with no end in sight.

    Actually, not all commenters on Iraq act or sound like “armchair generals” in the first place. Many people, for example, might be reluctant to get into debates about particular tactics or operations, on the understandable grounds that they lack the first-hand knowledge and expertise that gives any such criticism any credibility or worth — but are nonetheless quite prepared to argue the larger strategic, and often political, issues that underlie and motivate the tactics. Of those who do get involved in more detailed tactical issues, however, there’s a profound difference between those who at least recognize the limited and derivative nature of their position and those who — sometimes motivated by an opportunist or defeatist political position, but often enough driven by simple arrogance, vanity, or (putting it bluntly) stupidity — do not. There are a number of more specific signs of the latter (which, by the way, are also traits commonly associated with the more obnoxious of adolescent gamers):
    - a tendency to refer to all actual policy makers as across-the-board incompetent and thick to a literally unbelievable degree;
    - a tendency to indulge in speculation that’s always favorable to one’s own tactical advise, as though historical “what-ifs” were simple facts (at least until called on it);
    - an tendency to engage in unashamed 20-20 hindsight, as though that were the same as foresight;
    - and a tendency to brag that one has made correct predictions or prophecies in the past, typically in ignorance of the stopped-clock principle.

    In general, avoiding such tendencies will be of much greater help in being taken seriously in these debates, than merely posting voluminously or frequently.

  19. Right2thePoint Says:

    In this instance as in most it is not simplistic. But having said that it was a combination of things that contributed to where we are now.

    To have done a total control thing from the start would have required massive boots on the ground to make it work.

    What has happened here is the following combo in almost sync.

    Anbar Awakening ..locals said they had enough and wouldn’t take it any more and came over to our side

    Combined with our surge plus local army numbers plus local police numbers plus local volunteer numbers were finally up to a total manning that would allow clear and hold rather than playing wack a mole which didn’t do a whole lot for continued local stability.

    Local intel to target the bad guys as stability started to break out all over.

    Local troops and police to much easier than us to recognize who didn’t fit in an area that needed to be checked out.

    Now even with our numbers winding down, we are training locals faster and manning up forces faster than AQ has been taking them out and even retraining those who just got the basics before being thrown into the fight.

    Battle hardened local troops are much more effective down the line just from the experience.

    Casualty losses to locals falling off rapidly as AQ is off their game plus new additions of troops is raising the total number faster than we are withdrawing our own.

    By the time we get back to pre surge levels the combined forces may out number what they were when we peaked our surge.

    Holding an area takes a lot less effort than clearing it so some will be moved to clear and hold in areas they haven’t done before and others will be formed up into rapid reaction groups to put where needed on short notice.

    All in all the ratios are all going to working against the bad guys of all types.

  20. Synova Says:

    Did I read Schwartz? Well, no, actually. For two reasons… because I clicked the link and read the headline… He started with his conclusion instead of arriving at it. I would far rather read something objective. Secondly… a sociologist is not an authority on what is possible or realistic in war. Nor am I impressed by scholarship and degrees (to illuminate this, consider a new and serious study claiming that IDF forces are racist for not systematically raping and you’ve got a good window on just how much *seriousness* goes on in academia when it comes to military matters.)

    Possible and realistic is trial and error. Perfection exists for God alone, not humans. Demanding perfection because this is people and not bees or chemicals is ignorant.

  21. DaveinDeSwamp Says:

    I love it when Shinseki’s troop estimate gets bandied about. Pkay, if Shinseki of the Black Beanie program , was so damned concerned about troop levels , where was he when Clinton and his minions were happily gutting the Army ? Guess the “peace dividend” coupled with that famous loathing , not to mention Shinseki suddenly picking up 2 more stars he otherwise would not have seen took care of all his concerns, ah?

  22. chuck Says:

    …there’s little question that the actual increase in numbers was relatively modest

    However, the growth in the Iraqi security forces has been significant. I happen to think Shinseki was correct in his assessment, not just due to the current success of the surge, but to a story of special forces troops who reached a town in western Anbar, set up a local government, then had to withdraw, leaving the local government vulnerable to the influx of armed insurgents. So I think Rumsfeld was probably wrong in his dedication to a thin American presence. Live and learn, eh. Another topic for speculation is what would have happened if Garner had been left in charge. At the time, I had the impression that Garner was interested in the sort grass roots political developments that are taking place now.

  23. Truth Says:

    Demanding perfection because this is people and not bees or chemicals is ignorant.

    What can more “ignorant” than you and alike.

  24. Synova Says:

    *sigh*

    Do you suppose, just maybe, you could be misunderstanding the finer points of what people have said because your English isn’t perfect?

    I have great admiration for anyone who knows more than one language but it does make a difference if you’re not using your first one.

  25. Truth Says:

    Some who start discredits the academic and professionalism of Professor Michael Schwartz, remind us about Mearsheimer and Walt Working Paper, despite what their work about but there were a lot of blames and discredit of their work, as we see with Professor Michael Schwartz.

    But let’s bring another example of professional who promoted to Iraq his professionalism vastly reported as Ambassador Bremer is one of the world’s leading experts on crisis management, terrorism and homeland security. Ambassador Bremer is one of the world’s leading experts on crisis management, terrorism and homeland security. .

    This folk ended fleeing Iraq with chaos instead crisis management, he flee with $US9.5 Billions of Iraqi money vanished without trace he claims that the contractors put FAKE names and falsely reporting the number of employees they hired that why the many lost, there were no baking system in Iraq!! So he got delivered billions in cash, and finally his climes that he asked for more troops on the ground no one listen to him.

    Does this guy deserve all the above professions as stated in the bio above?

    Iraq approved he is not up to the job, who create chaos in Iraq he is the man responsible for all sec. divisions inside Iraq starting with his CPA appointees, his false crisis management, Wonder if in one year in Iraq $US9.5 Billions vanished if he stayed for 24 year like Saddam how much money will be vanished from Iraqi money?

  26. Maquis Says:

    Even if we had the manpower to put many hundreds of thousands of troops into the country, and thereby subdue it, where would the motivation then come for the various tribes to address their differences? Would Iraqi men step up to join the security forces if they didn’t see anything in it for themselves or their families, considering that the country would theoretically have been stable without sectarian or foreigner-driven conflict?

    In old days, one destroyed enemies, crushed them, until, thoroughly humiliated, they sincerely sued for peace, being utterly convinced that further opposition would result in their utter destruction. We are too enlightened for that these days. But a price comes with our humanity; they get off easy, and we look like paper tigers, so bring on the insurgencies!

    I believe that in time, historians and observers will conclude that the Iraqis and their foreign brothers in religion did the remarkable work of proving to all Iraqis that their very survival and any hope of a dignified existence depended on their stepping up to the plate and joining the Americans in stabilizing their country. Iraqis becoming competent in the profession of arms while fighting, side by side with the Americans against the jihadis and the dead-enders, could not have taken place if we had no need of Iraqi assistance in such an effort, and wouldn’t have taken place if the Iraqis hadn’t had it proven to them that the foreign fighters and their own sects and various hatreds were destroying them.

    No sane account of what Americans inflicted on Iraq can compare to the depraved atrocities visited upon the Iraqi people by their own selves and their fellow religionists.

    I certainly won’t give GWB credit for planning such a thing in advance, and I doubt we’ll ever have the foresight or competence to engineer such a cultural wake-up-call, but I believe we lucked out in this circumstance. We aren’t out of the woods yet, but the Iraqis now know it’s themselves that have to do it.

  27. Grimmy Says:

    A lot of good perspective in the primary post and the comments.

    I would suggest, as an add to other considerations, that logistics constraints were a rather huge limiter on realistic initial troop numbers.

    You can’t put any larger force into the field than what you can feed, water and supply. The primary (and nearly only possible available) supply rout was bumper to bumper from end to end as it was.

    I would also suggest that the timing of the surge was as much dictated by time required to preposition and build up the logistical depth required to put more warfighters into the field.

    The tooth to tail ratio used to be 10 to 1. For every combat soldier in the fight, 10 supply and logistics personnel needed to be on line behind him. I believe it is now down to 7 to 1 but not terribly sure.

    Another misconception is that this is “Gen Petraeus’ COIN”. General Petraeus is a proven intelligent soldier and well versed in counter insurgency, but, regardless what the heathen like to blather, the US has a good handle on such operations and has had for a century or so. The concepts go up for revision and adjustments to current technical capacity, but the foundations of this COIN aren’t all that much different from previous Operations Manuals on the subject.

    It is the US Military’s COIN. It doesn’t belong, nor was it written specifically by Gen. Petraeus. He was in on the process though.

    Col (Dr?) Kilcullen also had responsibility for what was produced.

    Counter Insurgency is always, without exception, messy, ugly and difficult. The rule of thumb is to not expect resolution for at least 10 years. We are way ahead of the curve in Iraq.

    Counter Insurgency campaigns are also the easiest for enemy propagandists to skew and misconstrue to turn a civilian pop against its own warfighters.

  28. Thomas Says:

    I think Rumsfeld deserves credit for his overall war fighting strategy (he was right and Shinseki wrong, due to our technological advantage, smaller specialized fighting units now work better for us than old school WWII large armies… doing human wave attacks to overrun the enemy)… but he didn’t have a working strategy for the occupation.

    Fighting ‘the war’ (re: against the Iraqi armed forces) Rumsfeld’s way worked. But, more troops to secure arms sites and the boarder… wouldn’t have hurt…
    .

  29. Truth Says:

    General Petraeus is a proven intelligent soldier and well versed in counter insurgency,

    for the first time, has instituted a competent, if ad hoc occupation, by doing pragmatic deals in local areas and regions, constructing massive walls in Baghdad to keep warring sects apart, effectively bribing other areas with new investments and providing sufficient troops in some places to maintain a lull in the massive bloodletting that the US invasion unleashed.

  30. Mitsu Says:

    Meanwhile, Bhutto is assassinated in Pakistan … very dark day indeed.

  31. nyomythus Says:

    Bhutto dead. This is a great victory for the Hugo Chavez’s, George Galloway’s and Michael Moore’s of the West as much as it is for their Extreme Far Right international allies. A courageous woman and individual who fought for democratic reform and against Sharia imperialism, misogyny and barbarism has fallen; a great light extinguished.

  32. Mitsu Says:

    >George Galloway’s and Michael Moore’s

    Bhutto was a great woman, and this is a tragedy for the world. However, I think your comments about George Galloway and Michael Moore are a bit bizarre. Whatever you make think of his politics, George Galloway was a longtime friend of Benazir Bhutto, and it’s a bit inappropriate, I think, at a time like this, to make comments such as the above.

  33. Vince P Says:

    Screw George Galloway… that vermin.

  34. Sally Says:

    It’s precisely at “a time like this” that it’s vital to be clear about the lines connecting the anti-West, anti-capitalist, anti-freedom, and fundamentally anti-human forces in the world that lie behind this latest atrocity and tragedy — and, regardless of personal relationships, Galloway stands squarely on the side of those ugly forces, as he demonstrated with his cozy relationships with Saddam Hussein, right along with the likes of Chavez and Moore. I appreciate nyomythos for making that point, which is not only “appropriate”, it’s essential.

  35. Ymarsakar Says:

    However, I think your comments about Shinseki’s experience in Bosnia are not really accurate.

    That’s because you think Shinseki is a better general than Petraeus. Yet all you are doing is making yourself and Shinseki, who you ideologically agree with, into nothing but armchair generals. Which isn’t nearly as good as the real deal going on right now in Iraq.

    The reason I put the armchair in ()s is to make two points. One, your claims of saying that Shinseki, and additionally you, Mitsu, could have done what Petraeus has done now, except better and without having to spend years working with a military family and team to produce a solid counter-insurgency strategy for Iraq, is a categorical acclamation that Shinseki, and hence indirectly you, are better generals than Petraeus. Yet your intent to forward Shinseki for a position that is your central idea here, is simply replacing a real general that leads from the front and in the conflict zone, with armchair generals.

    Regardless of what Shinseki himself thinks, said, or did, having one of his supporters, you, put him forward into a leadership position with the fallacious assertion and delusion that Shinseki could have gotten everything done better, faster, and neater than General Petraeus, is making Shinseki into a better armchair general than Petraeus. Which I admit is true.

    Your reasons for doing so are transparent. Your are invested in the idea that you know how to conduct counter-insurgency better than those who lived, fought, and died in Iraq to produce the newest COIN manual and implementation of it in Iraq for America. Aside from the amount of conceit such involves, it is not a good enough reason to monday quarterback, Mitsu, by putting generals that you like into combat roles.

    You may speak all you wish about how you recognize that people can’t be sure what will happen. What is important is that you are sure, sure enough to do what you said you would have done had you the power. Which was to put Shinseki in charge, if at all possible. This is the “situation” that you are willing to pre-empt, because you have the luxury of sitting in a timeline where it didn’t happen.

    None of your proposals has anything to do with improving the present or the future and everything to do with validating your own personal ideology and philosophy.

    As one short example, you seem to think that when you put Shinseki forward as a better armchair general then Petraeus, that it is now suddenly me that is calling Shinseki out for being an armchair general concerning second guessing the decisions of other combat leaders in Iraq. When it was you who did that.

    once the international community got their asses in gear

    I did mention your ideological investment, did I not?

    Just checking.

    Contrary to your intimation that Shinseki may have simply been driven by a political desire to justify a large Army, in opposition to Rumsfeld, I think it’s he was just-Mitsu

    Just trying to fight the Cold War over again, when Democrats and Republicans had already grabbed the Peace Dividend through slashing the US military. There is such a thing as logistics in military conflicts. Usually the larger the army you have to field, the greater your logistical need and the lower the amount of time you can field that army before things start breaking down.

    Which is the political reason why you wanted a larger army for Iraq, given the fact that the sheer logistical constraints would force US withdrawal after a few years regardless of what the strategy said was best in Iraq.

    What you prefer politically, Mitsu, is not the same as what Shinsek prefered. You act as if this is about Shinseki, when it is about what you want Shinseki to be.

    I should also note that Petraeus’ own COIN manual recommends very similar troop densities, thus a straightforward extrapolation from his COIN manual would lead to an overall estimate very similar to Shinseki’s.

    To sum it up, you’re using Petraeus’ work and the work of his leaders and soldiers, in order to draw glory to yourself and Shinseki for being the ones that would have prevented the insurgency from growing after the Iraq invasion, without the need for Petraeus or his work, had your policies been implemented in 2003. Is that about it?

    In the end, your purpose is closely related to getting the US out of Iraq because it was a mistake. Thus the best way to do that is to fix the problem of Iraq and the insurgency before it even starts, in order to pre-empt the problems that keep America in Iraq. This has nothing to do with solving problems as they exist, Mitsu, and everything to do with wishes and fantasy.

    You’re not focused on making things better, Mitsu. You’re focused on correcting what you see as ideological mistakes. Thus your foundation is weak and from that, all else follows.

    Leadership always fights the last war. In the case of Iraq, the last war was Afghanistan, the graveyard of Empires. We toppled the Taliban with a light footprint campaign by allying with local forces, and it was a brilliant campaign. With that success flush in everybody’s mind, arguing that Iraq needed a heavy footprint would be difficult.

    -MartyH

    OIF was fighting the last war, which was Gulf War 1. No indigenous forces or SF centered alliance with locals was part of OIF. I agree with the general principle, but not your application of it.

    America had no experience with invading a country, defeating the armed forces of that country, and still having to fight another unconventional war in the same country. In this aspect alone, America could gain no benefit from the experience of Japan and Germany. Even the Phillipines was conducted via guerrilla warfare in the days where a General, Pershing, could be made military governor. The change in communications technology has almost totally invalidated Pershing’s experience with the Moors, assuming people even picked up anything of it to use in Iraq.

    So it didn’t matter whether people wanted a heavy footprint or not. Nobody knew what problems would occur and how to solve them, because everybody involved was a human. Not even American historical experiences could give advice, and certainly not Vietnam which was the graveyard of defeats.

    [I obviously wrote this before reading Synova's comments. The similarity you see here is due to simple agreement on fundamental philosophical premises.]

    I’m sure Rumsfelds response to requests for more troops ran along the lines of, “We didn’t need 1/10th of the troops your are requesting for Afghanistan.” So, to some extent, we learned the wrong lesson from Afghanistan.

    Rumsfeld went with the strategies and recommendations of his commanders as far as I saw. Which in the case of Iraq, was Cold War era heavy armored column commanders, and in Afghanistan was CIA section chiefs and Special Forces operators. Entirely different focus and competence level between regular Army and SF in 2003. It would account for why Afghanistan had a leader, Karzai, ready to go while Iraq was… in trasition and had Bremer. It would also account for many other things, such as no attempt to use local forces in fighting Saddam in Kurdish/Shia areas. There might have been an argument for why it was too much trouble to get local support in Sunni Tikrit areas against Saddam, but the Army could not use that excuse for pro-American Kurds and the Shiites that have been fighting and dying against Saddam’s forces for decades.

    I would suggest, as an add to other considerations, that logistics constraints were a rather huge limiter on realistic initial troop numbers.-Grimmy

    Yeah, logistics. That thing that nobody talks about because tactics and strategy are easier, more immediate, or just more common. However, without good logistics, tactics and strategy are worthless. Which is sort of why there is a saying that goes around about amateurs studying tactics and professionals studying logistics. It can be used as a slight or insult, but to those in the know, it is simply the way it is. You start with the basics and then you work your way up to more advanced levels. You don’t do it the other way around, no matter how brilliant you are.

    There was only so many divisions you could place in Kuwaitt before the locals start thinking you aren’t ever going to leave.

    I believe it is now down to 7 to 1 but not terribly sure.

    I heard a figure quoted in 2005-6 that with KBR contractors, the ratio is 3 to 1 now. It’s hard to tell without an exact break down of unit designations and adjunct stuff. Also, Green Zone ratios are obviously going to be higher than Al Anbar or Mosul ratios. The three to 1 ratio may only apply to non HQ areas.

  36. Ymarsakar Says:

    In reply to Grimmy’s points about Petraeus and COIN, folks should watch this powerpoint presentation if they haven’t already.

    Link

  37. Mitsu Says:

    >Galloway stands squarely

    You are free to have your opinions of Galloway’s politics, but to suggest that he’s cheering when one of his personal friends gets gunned down is absurd. It’s a perfect example of the way political discourse gets dumbed down into near meaninglessness. Suppose a lifelong friend of yours was gunned down, and people started to talk about how you must be “cheering” it because they disagreed with you politically? That’s exactly what this sort of comment is. So no, I’m going to vehemently disagree that this sort of remark is at all appropriate at any time, least of all this.

    Ymarsakar, you are saying I am saying tons of stuff I neither said nor believe, so all I have to say is: I neither said nor do I believe any of what you attribute to me. I stand by what I wrote, which is that Shinseki’s estimate of troop strength was a by the book, conventional assessment, which agrees with Petraeus’ own COIN manual. I have said nothing about Shinseki being a “better general than Petraeus”, nor about me being able to conduct counter-insurgency operations myself, which obviously I couldn’t. I’m discussing my opinion, based on my own reading and research. An example of others who give this view:

    http://www.iht.com/articles/2004/09/14/edmark_ed3_.php

    as Mark Brzezinski (former director with the National Security Council) and Eric Rosenbach (former military intelligence officer in the Balkans) put it:

    “Major General James Darden, the officer responsible for drawing down the U.S. mission in Bosnia, recently said, “If we could do it over again, I don’t know how we could do it better. It could be considered a model or a template for future international peacekeeping missions.” … When 60,000 troops initially crossed the Sava River, the security environment in Bosnia quickly and dramatically improved. In contrast to the anarchy experienced by Iraqis, Bosnians saw soldiers on nearly every corner. For the first time in more than five years, their neighborhoods were safe. Equally important, the size of the force protected American soldiers, too.”

  38. nyomythus Says:

    George Galloway was a longtime friend of Benazir Bhutto Galloway praises Syria’s President Assad for insurgent operations in Iraq, and you say, he was a friend to Bhutto? So, he supports the extremist alliances that murder his friends and democracy movements alike, sounds like Galloway to me, the same man who profited from the oil for food scandal and refused to testify by offering nothing but gutter snipe to congress, sounds like Galloway.

  39. nyomythus Says:

    He may indeed be sad, but it’s not dumb to observe that this is what he gets by what he does, or by what he supports.

  40. Ymarsakar Says:

    I stand by what I wrote, which is that Shinseki’s estimate of troop strength was a by the book, conventional assessment, which agrees with Petraeus’ own COIN manual.

    That evasion can’t even work given that I can just grab what you said from Neo’s post.

    …had we gone into Iraq with more troops in the first place, as Shinseki had recommended, the situation in Iraq wouldn’t have deteriorated nearly as much as it has.

    Why are you acting as if your memory is weak? It isn’t.

    You didn’t say probably. You didn’t say possibly. You didn’t say hopefully. You said would not have deteriorated. Now you act as if you weren’t playing the armchair general? And expect that to pass?

    I have said nothing about Shinseki being a “better general than Petraeus”

    Do you really think I care more about what you say in relation to what you believe, the logic you have used, and the logical inconsistencies of your arguments? Get some perspective here. What you “say” is only an indirect reference to what you believe, which is the real issue, as you well know.

    I do not think you expect me to believe that Shinseki could do all that you claim he could have done, had Shinseki not been a better general than Petraeus. Petraeus needed years of fighting, learning, and sacrifice by his men and women before he could change the tide. You say Shinseki could have grabbed Bosnian stuff and made it work in Iraq off the bat.

    Maybe you are just operating on cognitive dissonance here, Mitsu. If so, I make no claims that I can decipher your claims, counter-claims, and counter-counter-claims.

    You stand by your claims that Shinseki could have done a better job of generalship than Petraeus in Iraq, by using Petraeus’ own manuals as supporting material. So, go ahead if you think you have no need to defend such a… construct.

    nor about me being able to conduct counter-insurgency operations myself, which obviously I couldn’t.

    Sure you can, Mitsu. After all, you believe counter-insurgency was conducted in Bosnia and successfully so. How do you think you can believe that without knowing how to conduct counter-insurgency operations if you had to do it? Okay, assume you don’t know, which is where Shinseki comes in, correct. But Shinseki’s retired, so why are you using Petraeus, who is right now fighting for America in fight, as a way to bolster some kind of alternate history statement about Shinseki?

    This may all make sense to you, Mitsu, but that is because you think your beliefs are consistent with all your other beliefs. I think not therefore I raise up the challenge.

    I’m discussing my opinion, based on my own reading and research. An example of others who give this view:

    That’s sort of like saying “I’m discussing my opinion of my birth”. What do you think you are accomplishing, really? Except justifying your own existence and defending them against challenges? If you are trying to convince yourself that you are right and other folks, like Rumsfeld, are wrong, I don’t see the point to your ‘opinion’ about Shinseki and Bosnia. Unless I bring in what you already said about your beliefs concerning how Iraq is a mistake.

    But then, that just backs up my argument that you are talking about ideological problems you have, instead of problems with insurgents that Iraqis and Americans have.

    Armchair generals lead from the back, solving problems in their head that have little to nothing to do with the problems at the front. So I will ask the question again, and perhaps you will be able to understand it better now, why do you think you or shinseki would be better armchair generals than Petraeus?

    The answers might surprise you.

    Iraq, and you say, he was a friend to Bhutto?

    That simply brings into question whether Benazir Bhutto really was the hope for liberty that some people thought she was. If, given that she was long term friends with such folks as Galloway.

  41. Ymarsakar Says:

    As a way to get rid of the need for an additional reply-response loop, Mitsu, I will say this.

    You can get out of the logic trap of my question through saying what you obviously believe, which is that neither you, Shinseki, or Petraeus are or are trying to be armchair generals.

    While that is inconsistent with your attempts to armchair Shinseki, Bosnia, and various other things into Iraq 2003 according to your position from the arm of the chair, it is still probably the best method of dodging the logic trap. You are trapped by your own logic, Mitsu, even if mine does not work.

    …something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required. We’re talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that’s fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground-force presence.

    For a rather blunt appraisal of Shinseki, in opposition to your views, Mitsu, take a look here.

    Link

    The link provides any arguments you might wish about why your opinions are wrong, if you need something like that from me.

  42. Ymarsakar Says:

    You might also be interested in reading this link from the Guardian, Neo, if your focus is on Shinseki.

    Link

    That and the other link I provided paints a good picture of what both sides thought of each other. Meaning, without the ability to understand and predict human nature, without the ability to pierce the wall of illusion present in all propaganda and psychological warfare incidents, such articles are meaningless. But with such tools, you can get much from the Guardian and the nationalreview article.

  43. Sally Says:

    You are free to have your opinions of Galloway’s politics, but to suggest that he’s cheering when one of his personal friends gets gunned down is absurd.

    You’re free to have your opinions of Galloway’s politics as well (and it’s pretty clear now what they are), but to say I said anything about “cheering” is both false and beside the point. It doesn’t matter what Galloway is doing now (unless he’s suddenly stricken with a conscience and is in groveling apology for his many, many past misdeeds, which I doubt) — what matters is what he stands for and who he stands with. And, however ironic and ugly that may be, that’s with the kind of people who perpetrated this murder.

  44. Truth Says:

    It’s precisely at “a time like this” that it’s vital to be clear about the lines connecting the anti-West, anti-capitalist, anti-freedom, and fundamentally anti-human forces in the world

    May be nice to read more and be connected withhuman forces in the world

    In the case of Iraq, neoconservatives preferred war. Their search for a quick and painless democratic transformation, which they did not find, was a naive one. But their other belief was not so naive: this is the belief that over the long run, the realist strategy of accommodation and containment of execrable regimes – the pursuit of stability at all moral costs practised by the West for thirty It’s precisely at “a time like this” that it’s vital to be clear about the lines connecting the anti-West, anti-capitalist, anti-freedom, and fundamentally anti-human forces in the world

    May be nice to read more and be connected to human forces in the world

    In the case of Iraq, neoconservatives preferred war. Their search for a quick and painless democratic transformation, which they did not find, was a naive one. But their other belief was not so naive: this is the belief that over the long run, the realist strategy of accommodation and containment of execrable regimes – the pursuit of stability at all moral costs practised by the West for thirty years – would only serve to feed the beast.

    Doomed international
    Kenneth Anderson
    years – would only serve to feed the beast.

    Doomed international
    Kenneth Anderson

  45. Truth Says:

    Oops, apology for the mess I did

  46. nyomythus Says:

    You’re forgiven.

  47. Mitsu Says:

    Ymarsakar,

    Like I said, what you’re attributing to me isn’t what I believe. I certainly don’t have enough evidence to know whether Shinseki or Petraeus are better or worse than each other — my *opinion* is that Petraeus is in fact the more astute general, perhaps one of the best we’ve ever seen. In fact, I alluded to this, earlier, with my speculation that more troops may have been needed because at the time we didn’t have someone as good as Petraeus in command.

    As for whether or not *I* am a general — I’m not a general. However, I have opinions about the overall strategy and tactics of the war, yes, and my opinion is that it’s been handled very badly, until Petraeus and Gates came on the scene. I’ve given my reasons why.

    >and it’s pretty clear now what they are

    Sally, I’ve been trying to argue for quite a while now here on this board one simple point, which I know you and many others here disagree with: which is that all of us, from nearly every point on the political spectrum, are closer to each other than we are to our enemies. We’re on the same side. None of us want the downfall of Western civilization, much as we may secretly suspect the others are working towards it.

    I’ve stated time and again that I disagree with leftists on many points, and I’ll say it again: I disagree with them. But: I know they are idealistic people who want the world to be a better place, just as all of you right-wingers do. You disagree on HOW to get there, but none of you want the collapse of Western civilization.

    I think it makes us weaker when we lump together political opponents with people who are determined to destroy us, as though our opponents would actually be happy if our enemies defeated us. You may think their actions are helping our enemies — but to think they actually want our enemies to prevail I believe is completely false.

    Since you said you were a leftist once, I would at least hope you’d understand that.

    I am not a leftist, but I think leftists have good intentions: I am not a rightist, but I am sure you have good intentions as well. I think both you and the leftists are wrong much of the time. (I do think it’s interesting that many rightists were former leftists — I think there’s a strange similarity between the two types of thinking.)

  48. Sally Says:

    Mitsu: I am not a leftist, but I think leftists have good intentions

    I was once a leftist, Mitsu, but that was when the left was a different place. (Then, I think you’re right that there was at least a “similarity between the two types of thinking”, but that’s a topic for another time.) Since then, that left has gone through a number of traumatic cultural and historical upheavals that, for some time, left it essentially unmoored and drifting. And many people, myself included, found themselves drifting away from it. Some people continued to try to uphold its outmoded banner, but in a principled manner which I do respect; some young people continue to be seduced by its now faded claims to their idealism, and I do understand that. But a significant number lost themselves in the process, and became mired in a welter of confusion, bitter and frustrated, antagonistic to anything positive, hostile to anything Western (America being but the symbol of all they hated), filled with shame and guilt over anything they were or had inherited. And that, sadly, constitutes a very significant portion of what’s left of the left, in its contemporary, “activist” sects at least. It’s not a pretty picture, but you can’t just paper it over with a claim of “good intentions” — the unpleasant reality is that, whether explicitly or not, such leftists share too much of the virulent anti-Western hatred that fuels the islamist fascists, and only lack the religious fanaticism. I take your point about the error of lumping simple political opponents in with those who seek our demise as a culture and civilization. But that error cuts both ways — it’s also a serious and potentially fatal mistake to fail to recognize when those who seek our demise try to disguise themselves as merely political opponents.

  49. Mitsu Says:

    Fair enough, Sally. You may well know leftists of the darker stripe — I can only speak from my own experience. In college of course I knew quite a few people who characterized themselves as leftists — over 20 years ago. I still have a few friends I keep in touch with who call themselves leftists, and they are definitely democracy-loving, Western-civilization-loving, Constitution-loving Americans who by no means want the general defeat of the United States (in the sense of the collapse of our nation) or of the West as a whole. They think of their political activism as a way of improving and strengthening our country, not destroying or defeating it.

    I certainly have noticed their tendency to be critical of nearly everything we do, almost as a reflex — as I said, I had long debates with some of them about the first Gulf War, about the Kosovo operation, etc. Since we respect each other we had frank exchanges of views, but we stayed friends. I did of course feel that a lot of their anti-war sentiment sprung from a sort of reflexive habit of always thinking that whatever we were up to abroad must have nefarious intentions which overwhelmed whatever good we might achieve. I argued that in some cases our actions abroad are in fact well-advised and, even if they may have some negative effects (as wars always do), the long-term effects would be positive.

    But their habitual skepticism of our motives abroad didn’t spring from a desire for America to be destroyed, or “hatred” of America, at all. Rather, at least with my friends, it came and comes from a love of what America stands for, a love of democracy, justice, and the notion that our government was being run by people who didn’t live up to its ideals, who weren’t as honorable as the Founding Fathers, who were subverting what they felt was great about our nation. In other words — what they feel is great about America is very close to what right-wingers feel is great — freedom, democracy, etc. Everyone I know, left, liberal, conservative, far right — agrees on those points. Where the left disagrees with the right is not whether freedom and democracy are a good thing but whether a specific policy or action is actually furthering this goal or not. Leftists tend to think our foreign policy usually acts against this goal, whereas right-wingers tend to be more habitually supportive of what we do.

    Are there activist leftists who really “seek our demise”? Maybe there are but that really isn’t the sense I get from them, at all. They may be reflexively skeptical of American actions abroad, but I haven’t come across some sort of secret desire to destroy America — rather, they want to save it, even if they are resisting some of the things we do. Since you were once a leftist I presume you have greater experience with leftists and activists in general — I’m speaking only of my limited experience and knowledge of them.

    The reason I think it’s interesting that many rightists were former leftists is that in both ways of thinking I notice a tendency towards blanket assessments — leftists nearly always skeptical of our motives, rightists tending to be nearly always pro-American, whatever we’re doing. As I’ve said before I take a different stand. I don’t think American policy is uniformly evil, and I don’t think it’s always right. It varies, greatly, I think there have been times when we’ve done horrible things abroad, but I also tend to think a lot of the mistakes we made were due to our own paranoia and incompetence more than they were due to the plans of evil geniuses. And, furthermore, I believe that we have also done a lot of good abroad. It’s been a mixed bag in my view and it will continue to be a mixed bag I imagine, indefinitely.

  50. SteveR Says:

    Frankly, the Shinseki quote that Neo included has been given far more weight that what would be appropriate. Shinseki at the time was the outgoing Army Chief of Staff. As a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he was not in the chain of command, and he had only a peripheral role, if any, in the planning of the Iraq war.

    Wikipedia correctly states that since 1986, the “primary responsibility is to ensure the personnel readiness, policy, planning and training of their respective military services for the combatant commanders to utilize.”

    It is the combatant commander and his staff, in this case, General Franks, who were involved with preparations and execution of the war.

    The oft-quoted statement by Gen. Shinseki was made before a congressional committee in response to a direct question about troop numbers. It’s generally offererd as “proof” that Bush “ignored the Generals” in planning the war.

    In fact, because of his position, it would have been appropriate for Shinseki to defer answering that question “to those who are directly involved with the planning and who are familiar with all the specific details and complexities”… something like that. That is why he caught flak from his boss, Sec. Rumsfeld, for making answering the way he did – he was talking off the top of his head without any deep knowlege of what CENTCOM had been struggling with for months.

    Gen. Shinseki’s statement was inappropriate, because that just wasn’t his area of expertise. I don’t for a minute think that he did this on purpose; rather, he just let his guard lapse for a moment in front of a congressional hearing.

    Nevetheless, his opinion on this issue should not have been given any serious weight, neither then nor now. It’s just one of those many cherry-picked truth-stretches and falsities perpetuated by the Democratic leadership’s noise machine.

  51. Grimmy Says:

    Mitsu:

    Nothing I’m saying here is meant as an insult or slam against you. If it comes across as such, I do apologize in advance.

    There are many who say the Iraq theater was poorly managed and fubard by the previous command(s).

    I believe that is not accurate nor an honest assessment.

    All such engagements are very chaotic and messy until all the moving parts can be sorted out. Moving parts as in who’s allied to who, where’s the support and supply for the enemy coming from and going to, etc etc etc.

    That phase of every Counter Insurgency operation ever conducted plays out very similar to what we saw in Iraq. War is an ugly, messy violent contest of force and will. It is even more messy and ugly when filtered through the perspective of either totally ignorant or agenda driven journalists and talking heads.

    It is an honest reality that there are no clean, clear or straight forward options in such contests.

    Every single point that the blame gamers regurgitate has a reason to have been put into play.

    The first was that the soldiers should have been dispatched around the Baghdad area to keep the peace and stop the looting.

    Not possible. Not feasible. Not do-able.
    Not possible due to the difficulty of distributing forces in small detachments and being able to keep track of them, keep them supplied and managed, even in a well known friendly city. To try to do so in a foreign and possibly hostile city would have been a disastrous folly.
    Not feasible due to the inability to properly support each small detachment as it was attacked. This would have invited slaughter of our forces in a process often referred to as a “defeat in detail”.
    Not do-able. What would the soldiers have done to stop the looting? Mass arrests? Shoot the looters? There’s no workable option in that situation other than to just let it play itself out.

    The next was that the US and Coalition forces should have immediately started reconstruction.

    They did. The enemy also responded by attacking the reconstruction teams and also by going along behind them and rebreaking what had just been fixed. Some gains in infrastructure repair were made, then lost, then remade. That’s how it works, unfortunately. The enemy gets a say in this process and it’s not all, ever, just a matter of willing it to be so, or not so.

    Then there’s those that say there was no plan. Bullshit. You’ve got to believe a whole lot of bullshit to swallow that particular turd nugget. Even the numbest of numbnuts should be able to remember the rather endless yammerings of the talking heads in the media about the Fayadeen Saddam and other such things even before the invasion started. That there was going to be problems in Iraq at the cease of formal warfare, was a given. You’d have to believe our military is filled with nothing but drooling waterheaded webfooted inbreds to fall for that particularly spectacular bit of dishonest agitprop.

    Then there’s the idiots that sqwall and holler about breaking up the former Iraqi Army and Police. Yeah, it would have made so much sense to keep the few remaining elements of the IA in tact. Those elements being the Republican Guards, the only thing even closely resembling an actual army in Iraq prior to the invasion. Also the element responsible for keeping Saddam in power. And used as a tool to punish the citizenry of Iraq. And lead nearly exclusively by Takriti loyal to Saddam. Why, that would have made exactly as much sense as it would have to keep the Waffen SS intact after defeating Germany. The Iraq Police was no better and served much the same purpose. There was nothing there of value to salvage.

    Then there’s the the one about how our soldiers should have been doing care bear outreach from the beginning. They did. That continued to be a substantial part of the program where ever and when ever it was possible to do so.

    There really were no honestly viable options than to do what, generally, was done. Out reach as much as possible where possible. Hunker down and let the enemy beat himself to pieces against your defenses where it was not possible to do the out reach programs to any real effectiveness.

    It’s called the “three block war”. It’s been part of the training of our military for a decade or so prior to going into Iraq.

    USMC Gen. Krulak published a piece on this in the late ’90s. But the concept was being used in our training in the early ’80s. As a USMC infantryman, and later as an intel specialist, we never trained in just one aspect of a fight. It was always all three to varying degrees.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Block_War

    Much of what has been available to use for forming opinion regarding this war has been overt disinfo, accidental misinfo, and frustrated blathering. War is never clean, never easy and never as clearly conducted as observers would rather, wish or desire.

    Finally, comparing Iraq to Bosnia is a non starter. The differences are so vast as to be unaddressable in such a setting.

  52. Sally Says:

    Yes, American policy — both internally and externally — has been, is now, and (I can confidently predict) always will be, a “mixed bag” as long as the country exists. In fact, to be a bit less America-centric, that can safely be said of any country on the face of the earth. But you really have to try to think at a deeper level, Mitsu — which, by the way, is the characteristic that, in contrast to the liberal middle, both left (of the older, more principled variety) and right shared, even though they came to very different conclusions. On that level, what appears to you and other liberals (small l) as mere reflex behavior — reflex condemnation by the left, reflex support by the right — actually is a product of very real and historic differences over ends or ideals, not just means. The modern right’s long-standing focus on the individual, for example, leads it to identify strongly with America as the pre-eminent modern state whose origins and foundations are so deeply associated with that concept. The left’s long-standing focus on the collectivity, on the other hand, usually underlies its habitual hostility to America for the very same reasons. Once, when the left was in a healthier state, it had at least an alternative positive ideal to put in place of that idealized America, and that was socialism. Since the end of the 80′s, however, socialism as an ideal has withered and fossilized, leading to the hollowed out leftism of pure opposition that we see today — a rigid, pointless, and sad anti-everything. So, in light of your tendency to want to cover over such significant differences with bland assertions about how everybody wants the same thing, it’s particularly ironic to hear you inveigh against “blanket assessments”.

  53. Vince P Says:

    To add a few things to what Grimmy said..

    The occupation was supposed to be administered by the non-Defense Foreign-facing US agencies.

    They were found to be utterly incompetent thus the group of last resort had to used.. the military.

  54. Ymarsakar Says:

    Like I said, what you’re attributing to me isn’t what I believe.

    That still doesn’t get you out of the situation you put yourself in.

    In fact, it simply worsens your situation and your arguments. If you don’t believe that you are fronting armchair general policies or strategies through what you stated about Shinseki and Bosnia and about your own opinions even, then there is nothing more I can do to expose the contradiction for what it is.

    You obviously think speculation and the acclamations of certitude that you periodically do about Iraq and some other things means that you are not trying to be an armchair general, that you are actually producing something of concrete worth or potential worth, but that only brings up the question of what you actually think you are accomplishing. Which I already asked and you did not answer.

    You may in fact believe Shinseki could or should be recalled out of retirement and be able to implement his Bosnian counter-insurgency doctrine that we would have implemented in 2003 had he been in power, but such comments as yours can only lead to making Shinseki into an armchair general, given that he neither wanted nor had the opportunity to do what you wished, or making Shinseki into a better general than Petraeus by already having the “solution” to Iraq boxed and packaged, as you claim, long before Petraeus got promoted or got into the COIN game.

    If you recognize that Shinseki is totally irrelevant to the situation we have now and will have in the future… then this just makes you even more of an armchair general when you talk about Shinseki, Bosnia, and 2003 Iraq.

    You talk much about your beliefs, in some fields, but none about the consequences of your beliefs.

    I am primarily describing the consequences of your beliefs, not attributing beliefs to you that you don’t have. If you do have such beliefs, then these are the consequences. If you have other beliefs, then there are other consequences.

    However, what you believe has been severely restricted by what you have claimed or tried to claim. So there is only so much you can claim about your beliefs before you run into cognitive dissonance problems.

    my *opinion* is that Petraeus is in fact the more astute general, perhaps one of the best we’ve ever seen.

    If Petraeus is so astute, why do you think it took him so long to revise COIN doctrine for the Army when you claim that Shinseki in Bosnia had everything we needed for Iraq?

    And another serious question is, what do you think you are accomplishing with your speculations about Shinseki and Bosnia helping us in 2003, given the situation we have now or the situation we will have in Iraq 2007-8?

    Will Petraeus have to delve into the Bosnian peacekeeping, international ally, and UN protectorate/looting franchise to see further progress in Iraq and correct the mistake that you see as the invasion of Iraq, Mitsu? Or if not that, then what do you hope to accomplish with speculations that you admit have no way to be tested in reality, given that 2003 already occured?

    which is that all of us, from nearly every point on the political spectrum, are closer to each other than we are to our enemies

    I am not closer to the Left than I am to the Islamic Jihad. The Left seeks to portray their revolutionary need for power as democracy and non-violent activism. At least the Islamic Jihad tells the truth, most of the time, about their aims and goals and what they are willing to do to achieve those goals. At least the Islamic Jihad will fight, kill, and die for what they believe in. I cannot say the same for the Left, except that they will fight, use emotional intimidation, and propaganda. But they will neither kill nor die for their beliefs, given the nature of nihilism in modern Western civ. Some will, yes, but most won’t. Whereas in Islam’s Jihad or unholy war, most will, but some won’t.

    Americans now have more in common with Iraqi Sunnis than we have with the British. Our cultures are dissimilar, our ways of looking at God and life are dissimilar as well, but in the fundamentals that bind humanity together, not cultural artifacts, Americans can relate more to Iraqis than they can to a Britain going under the multicultural swarm of Islam’s war against holiness.

    We’re on the same side.

    By including the Left with that proposal, you get a breakdown.

    And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
    From this day to the ending of the world,
    But we in it shall be remember’d;
    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
    For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
    Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
    This day shall gentle his condition:

    This is a nice reference to what I was refering to. Do I believe that because Iraqi Sunnis are fighting with Americans instead of against them, that this has gentled their condition? Not particularly, but it does mean we have more in common with them, than we do with the Left, who has always fought against us.

    But: I know they are idealistic people who want the world to be a better place,

    Those would be the classical liberals that bailed out of the Left after 9/11 and after Reagan’s revolution. The ones that stayed behind were the intellectually dishonest folks that purported to want a better world, but really just wanted a better (ideological) bank balance like Gore.

    just as all of you right-wingers do.

    Most isolationists on the right wing don’t want a better world. They want a better America. Why do you always overlook these distinctions, Mitsu, in favor of inaccurate generalities like “right-winger” or “Leftist”?

    and they are definitely democracy-loving, Western-civilization-loving, Constitution-loving Americans who by no means want the general defeat of the United States

    Such people are in the same situation as moderate Muslims. They may exist and in great numbers, but their numbers are meaningless for they do not act against their own to correct the mistakes made by their own. They are more interested in working together with other Leftists to correct the problems of what they see as being a greater threat to human civilization. Global Warming, Bush, Haliburton, American warmongering, you know things like that.

    want the general defeat of the United States (in the sense of the collapse of our nation)

    Not even the useful idiots used by the Soviets wanted a general collapse of the US. They thought they were going to be put in positions of power and influence after the US is defeated. What they think and what will happen, are of course two different things.

    They think of their political activism as a way of improving and strengthening our country, not destroying or defeating it.

    When you have a zero sum game, which is what the Left plays with race wars, class wars, and collective police state policies, how do you think they will “win” without destroying and defeating somebody else?

    Improving and strenghtening their country, in the zero sum world of the Left, means that those who disagree must be decimated and removed from opposition. Such are the consequences to beliefs that you pay little attention to, Mitsu, when you should pay a lot of attention to such.

    it came and comes from a love of what America stands for

    Which in reality is narcissism, the love of one’s self and how one’s self is elevated by loving a… country?

    Everyone I know, left, liberal, conservative, far right — agrees on those points.

    In case you hadn’t noticed, the Islamic Jihad also believes their way will produce justice, harmony, and peace on Earth. You do understand the implications, correct?

    Unless you wish to add something else, Mitsu, I will simply have to accept that you are withdrawing your comments about Bosnian COIN doctrine, Shinseki, and what would have happened in 2003 Iraq had you been in charge of who would have been in charge.

    You don’t seem too much interested in talking about what you said anymore.

  55. Ymarsakar Says:

    In the same theme about the Left, here is a look back at Vietnam, which is a subject Neo also is interested in, by one of those American loving folks, Mitsu.

    South Vietnamese tanks soon ran out of fuel and stopped. Soldiers dug in and fought where they stood. Then ammunition ran short. They retreated. Then, without hope, broke and ran. It became a rout as desperate soldiers, no longer able to fight, ran home to save their families.

    And in America, land of the free and home of the brave, the journalists and politicians who had done this to our former comrades-in-arms — who had first abandoned them and then effectively disarmed them — scoffed. Pointed at the horrible spectacle and chortled. “Look at those worthless people run away! They can’t even defend themselves! They deserve to lose! They were never worthy of our help!”

    I was ashamed.

    I recalled something I had seen six years earlier while fighting in that war. My ship was stationed off North Vietnam. We did shore bombardment and dueled with enemy shore batteries. One night we saw tracers quite close to the coastline — evidence of a pitched battle there. We went in to suppress the enemy fire. In the morning a boat approached us. Our Captain ordered all hands below decks and all portholes closed. This was top secret.

    I peeked. The occupants of the boat were South Vietnamese commandos. They had tried to land up North, but were spotted and taken under fire by the shore batteries. The boat was now sinking. The rising water was pink with the blood of the dead and wounded. We offered to take them all aboard. No, they answered. Could we just lend them a pump and some medical supplies? The last I saw them they were heading back in. I never learned what happened to them.

    Now, as I watched all unravel, it no longer mattered. I hated with a savage, abiding fury the cackling fools and Leftist quislings who had deprived me of the America I loved. The love was tarnished now; she had been unfaithful. And they had made her so.

    I spent over a year after the fall of Saigon resettling Vietnamese refugees. I resettled soldiers who fled to save their families, having no bullets left to shoot. Some had found their families. Some came out alone. We spent hours, days calling refugee camps and other resettlement agencies trying to locate the missing. The bad news trickled in over the grapevine. A daughter left behind, here. A wife and children, there. A State Department bus had never arrived to collect somebody’s brother.

    I met huge, extended families of fishermen and farmers at the bus station in Jersey City, New Jersey. They came directly from the nearest refugee camp, still dressed as when they fled their villages in South Vietnam. These were the men, women and children who abandoned their livelihoods and risked their lives in small boats to escape the Communists — only to be labeled “the wrong Vietnamese” by that great American patriot, Senator Edward Kennedy.

    I met a Vietnamese merchant sea captain who — trapped by the advancing NVA in Danang with his family (except for a daughter accidentally left behind) — boarded another captain’s old freighter with hundreds of other sudden refugees and made a break for the sea. NVA artillery fired on them from both sides of the river. Many were killed; blood flowed in the gunwales. The ship — riddled below the water line — began to sink. The freighter captain wanted to abandon ship, but the passengers insisted they proceed. My new friend took command and after three precarious weeks — the ship’s deck flush with the South China Sea, survivors bailing desperately night and day — they made the Philippines.

    They eventually came to America, these “wrong Vietnamese.” Senator Kennedy told us that they had just panicked. They would all, he assured us, soon go home. Few did, even after that cold welcome. Instead, hundreds of thousands more joined them in risking thirst, hunger, pirates and drowning on the South China Sea.

    The South Vietnamese Embassy in Washington closed forever shortly after the fall of Saigon. I was the only American there that final night. The staff (including General Thieu’s influential nephew) sat around the conference room talking quietly and, occasionally, crying. In deference to me they spoke English. But, overcome by emotion, they occasionally slipped into Vietnamese; my Vietnamese colleague in the resettlement effort translated for me.

    Sometimes these stranded diplomats managed a laugh. “Use our phone,” they said. “Call anywhere in the world. After tomorrow our enemy will be paying the bill.”

    Whenever the conversation veered towards their betrayal by America, they would stop guiltily and apologize to me. America, they acknowledged, had suffered greatly in their defense. More than they had any right to expect. It was just too bad…. More tears.

    Seventeen years later, when American troops liberated Kuwait City, I wept at the waving flags and cheering crowds. This was the victory my generation and I had been deprived of. But the depression, the anger, the hatred had not been about my deprivation. The betrayal of my country’s honor by the Left — that was the unhealing wound.

    Link

  56. Mitsu Says:

    Ymarsakar,

    You seem to be saying that unless someone was directly involved in making a decision, they have no right to have an opinion about it or express that opinion. Well, I disagree with that. I am of course not withdrawing my remarks. You’re free to think what you think, but I certainly don’t agree. I think my opinion is reasonably well-founded, and furthermore there are plenty of analysts and generals and other officers who share my view.

    Sally,

    What you’re describing is precisely what I think is problematic about both the left and the right. You may call it “principled” but I think it is essentially one-sided. I don’t happen to agree that the best policy is based on latching onto a single idea and just running with it forever, as though that were the only consideration and all other principles ought to be thrown by the wayside.

    To the contrary, I think that in almost every important case, there are multiple contradictory forces or principles one ought to consider. For example, thinking of the group or thinking of the individual — I think you have to consider both. I don’t believe it makes much sense to fashion policy based on looking at only one of those two principles. To look at only one of those two is for me akin to only having a map at a specific scale — either zoomed way in so you can only see a tiny piece of the picture, or zoomed way out so you only see the large scale.

    Before you say, that’s just middle of the road, etc., I will say this — I think typically the best policy is often not just to choose something “in the middle”. Frequently it does involve relying heavily on one or the other “side”, and one has to take a strong stand. Better still, in my view, are solutions which simultaneously utilize principles from both “sides” and get the best of both worlds.

    A good example of this would be pollution trading markets. Prior to these, government attempted to clean the air by simply issuing very complex, rigid regulations that applied to everyone. But this was inefficient and required a lot of overhead. Free-marketers might say we should simply remove regulation, but I would argue that environmental concerns suffer from a “tragedy of the commons” problem that can’t be left to an unregulated market alone, because markets only respond to local feedback loops and environmental concerns typically operate at larger and longer scales. Pollution credits, however, enabled an innovative mix of market forces and environmental health which succeeded in reducing regulatory complexity dramatically while improving air quality probably better than any simpleminded regulatory approach would have.

    To me, that sort of policy makes far more sense than a straight “right-wing” or “left-wing” solution would have.

  57. Ymarsakar Says:

    Mitsu,

    I think my opinion is reasonably well-founded, and furthermore there are plenty of analysts and generals and other officers who share my view.

    Your opinion that you are doing something to help fix a problem by creating irrelevant and meaningless scenarios about Shinseki’s non-existent Bosnian COIN doctrine is something you will not defend because you cannot defend it.

  58. Sally Says:

    Mitsu: For example, thinking of the group or thinking of the individual — I think you have to consider both.

    Well, at least you’re no longer thinking that supporting or criticizing America is a product of simple reflex, Mitsu, so I suppose that’s progress. Not much progress, however, since you’re still thinking in categories of cartoonish simplicity — it would apparently surprise you to learn that both individualism and collectivism, even as pure ideologies, not to mention the more complex political tendencies of the actual left or right, actually do “consider both” the group and the individual. What distinguishes either of them from what you apparently are espousing is simply that they consider them in the light of a set of principles, without which you’re simply at the mercy of either your acquired biases and prejudices, or whatever political breeze happens to be blowing at the moment.

    I know you think you’re being “pragmatic” rather than merely a political weather vane, but, except in the sense of the crassest, most short-term sort of opportunism, you’re not, because pragmatism itself needs a set of principles in order to be able to evaluate the options. To take your own example: should any environmental effect be subject to state-created and regulated markets? Would efficiency be the sole consideration in deciding that? Is efficiency the sole consideration in deciding any policy? If it is, then aren’t you “latching onto a single idea and just running with it forever”? If it isn’t, then what do you use to determine what other considerations to bring to bear? And how do you weight one against another when they point in different directions? And so on.

    The point, you see, is that an honest attempt at trying to think through these sorts fo questions, no matter what issue you start from, will lead you eventually toward a more or less coherent set of principles that can be distinguished from other more or less coherent sets of principles — and you’ll find that “pragmatism”, of your sort at least, will not be able to guide you in choosing between them, because the immediate, practical outcome of those divergent sets will not be foreseeable. Hence, you’re forced instead to short-circuit your thought processes, and fall back on bland, innocuous generalities; or on a focus on detail at the expense of overview (trees at the expense of forest); or on the set of received biases and prejudices commonly known as “conventional wisdom”; or some combination of all three. And I would offer as evidence the content of your own comments.

  59. Mitsu Says:

    Sally,

    You’re making a very clever argument! I have thought of this argument, of course, however.

    You’re right: I in fact do draw upon principles, just as you do — you might say that my pragmatism is based, roughly, on the idea of survival — that is, what patterns are most likely to survive over time. You could say that a lot of my political as well as strategic and tactical musings are based on this criterion. But for me the survival criterion is in practice a way of testing other political viewpoints, in a scientific manner, so to speak.

    I would of course not disagree that I apply principles — nor am I against the application of principles per se — I am however in favor of challenging and testing most principles against a survival criterion (which one might call a “success” criterion), rather than taking a set of principles as postulates. Most sets of principles are, for me, rather like a provisional scientific theory, which ought to be tested empirically and compared against other systems of principles both theoretically and experimentally. Naturally, I freely admit I am taking “survival” or “success” as a sort of postulate, but in practice what this means is most ordinary political principles become merely provisional hypotheses.

    Rather than using the shorthand of “individual” vs “the collective” (a shorthand you mentioned first, not me) it’s probably more precise to say the right tends to focus on optimization strategies based on local strategies (i.e., individual strategies), which they argue, on the whole, lead to global optimization as well (the invisible hand of the market, for instance). The left often tends to think more in terms of global optimization, using rather heavy-handed techniques coming from centralized control (an idea which is doomed to failure in my view), but while their methods (at least in old-fashioned leftist circles) are suspect, the idea that local optimization alone can lead to system suboptimization and instability is not incorrect in every case.

    What I am advocating, in other words, is a skeptical attitude towards any system of principles, treating them in a scientific manner, much like a scientific theory or an economic model, and measured against “success” or “survival” (which again I admit to being something of a postulate for me, which I think is what really identifies me as a pragmatist). Just as economic models leave out important details, so do most political viewpoints, particularly right-wing and left-wing ideologies — which does make them more clear-cut and understandable than pragmatism — but for that same reason, for me, less realistic and successful.

  60. Mitsu Says:

    Oh one more point, however. Though I certainly agree that the left and the right have their own principles, and this guides their thinking to a large extent, I still believe there is an element of reflexive anti- or pro- reaction in terms of the right’s and left’s reaction to foreign policy moves by the United States (for example). Does the leftist theoretical tendency to think in terms of the collective actually logically entail that, say, the Kosovo war was a mistake or was somehow a cynical ploy to benefit big corporations? Yes, their explanations for why the Kosovo war was a mistake were often phrased in typically leftist terms (my leftist friends would speak of this or that corporate interest that was being served by the war), but their evidence for this was often quite thin and based primarily on their own paranoia that EVERY war we engaged in MUST, somehow, always be driven by some corporate interests of some kind. Thus, I see a combination of rational application of principles, on the left, and a bit of reflexive paranoia, as well. Suffice it to say I think the same pattern exists on the right, in mirror image, to a large degree.

  61. Ymarsakar Says:

    I would of course not disagree that I apply principles — nor am I against the application of principles per se — I am however in favor of challenging and testing most principles against a survival criterion (which one might call a “success” criterion), rather than taking a set of principles as postulates

    You already took a set of principles as postulates. How exactly do you think you can get anything useful when your assumptions taint and prejudice the test results? All it requires is that your “survival criterion’ be flawed and everything else goes out the window. Don’t need all the trouble of testing and challenging.

    It’s kind of late to use the scientific method when you are already deep in the deductive method.

    Most sets of principles are, for me, rather like a provisional scientific theory

    That was kind of predictable. As well as inconsistent with the fact that you have already postulated a set of principles and assumed them to be true. Thus scientific method, kind of goes out the window.

    It is not really science where you assume a theory to be true and just happen to test them against other theories and data.

    I’m sure most sets of principles are provisional scientific theory to you. It just so happens that most of such principles are likely to conflict with the criteria that you know to be true, meaning survival orientated. Thus those things that are consistent with your philosophy, gets integrated, while those that aren’t consistent, get prejudged and eliminated pre-emptively.

    This is not good science and it produces no useful scientific results.

    which ought to be tested empirically and compared against other systems of principles both theoretically and experimentally.

    I don’t think you really expect people to believe that even if you do this, that you would accept an invalidation of your survival idea if the theory empirically tests out in such a way.

    Naturally, I freely admit I am taking “survival” or “success” as a sort of postulate, but in practice what this means is most ordinary political principles become merely provisional hypotheses.

    Sort of a postulate? Such is the basic premise and philosophical axiom from which all things else flow, Mitsu.

    I really don’t think you should be freely admitting that your line of reasoning is totally incorrect, Mitsu.

    There is nothing in practice that will validate what you just invalidated concerning your thinking.

    For example, here you say you have this scientific method

    What I am advocating, in other words, is a skeptical attitude towards any system of principles, treating them in a scientific manner, much like a scientific theory or an economic model, and measured against “success” or “survival” (which again I admit to being something of a postulate for me, which I think is what really identifies me as a pragmatist).

    And then go on to freely invalidate that “scientific method” by admitting that you already have a prejudice towards what the results should be before you saw anything of the test results.

    Taking your independent statements and arguments alone, Mitsu, they make perfect sense and are internally consistent. Put them together, and the same doesn’t apply.

    Suffice it to say I think the same pattern exists on the right, in mirror image, to a large degree.

    That just means you can’t pierce the veil of illusion for either side in order to tell the differences apart.

    Everything becomes a mirror image when you have the same mirror and stand in the same spot. I am simply refering to how you only assume one set of philosophical premises to be true, ever. All else are falsifiable, except yours. While the method I ascribe to is that all axioms are falsiable. Otherwise, your reasoning and logic would always fail on the point of the fulcrum.

    You might as well just say that both the Left and their opponents are humans. It may be true, technically, but that it doesn’t describe anything in accurate detail.

  62. Sally Says:

    Mitsu: I would of course not disagree that I apply principles — nor am I against the application of principles per se — I am however in favor of challenging and testing most principles against a survival criterion (which one might call a “success” criterion), rather than taking a set of principles as postulates.

    Sorry, Mitsu, but this is really just a form of “begging the question” (i.e., the logical fallacy in which you assume that which you need to prove, not the popular misuse of “begging for the question”). Saying that you pick, or pick from, the principle set most likely to “succeed” isn’t much different from, or better than, simply saying that you pick the “best” one or ones. The whole problem lies in knowing how to do that — that is, in knowing what criteria or set of principles you use to decide what’s most likely to succeed. There are a host of subsidiary problems as well, such as knowing what “success” or even “survival” is supposed to mean, but the fundamental point is that you have no privileged vantage point that will let you foresee history or outguess nature, and this is precisely why people have developed the sets of principles they have — each of which its adherents consider the best, or the most likely to succeed. More or less coherent sets of principles, in other words, operate as guideposts or guiding abstractions in a contingent world where we have no way of leaping immediately from our actions or policies now to their ultimate outcome. In such a situation, opting to pick one time from this set of principles and another time from that one isn’t pragmatic at all (except, as I’ve said, in the worst, most opportunistic sense of the word) — it’s simply incoherent, and is more likely to lead to an inconsistent, self-undermining mess.

    And your example of redefining left and right in terms of “global” vs. “local” “optimization strategies” illustrates my point. The “global optimization strategy” might have been an apt characterization of at least a facet of the old, more overtly socialist left, though even there, the notion of the group or collective had an independent worth in terms of the explicit notion of “solidarity”, or (in my present view) in terms of an underlying nostalgia for the lost communal warmth of traditional societies. But “optimization strategy” as a whole just seems amusingly presumptuous at best — a kind of left-over from sinister dreams of engineering entire “social formations” — to the classical liberal/modern day rightist. There, while it’s certainly argued that the emergence and development of the concept of the modern individual over the last five centuries, at the expense of traditional societies, is what underlies the astonishing success of the modern world, that’s still an incomparably richer and denser set of themes and principles than can be captured in the notion of “optimization strategy” — and it’s also humbler, in that it can suggests policy directions but not a blueprint for a socially engineered outcome. Such a set of principles, I’d argue, not only constitute a more human and benign approach to our contingent situation, they’re also, ironically, inherently more flexible than the illusory assurance a phrase like “optimization strategy” seems to offer.

  63. Ymarsakar Says:

    Cooperative hunting is engaged more by those opposed to the Left than the Left themselves. Given the zero sum metaphysics that the Left ascribes to, there is no such thing as cooperative hunting for them.

    There is only those that win and those that lose. Therefore they no longer see competition as the prime mover of human events. They are steered down the road that humanity, if they are not made to cooperate, will forever be locked in a cycle of winning at the cost of making others lose. Whereas conservatives and Jacksonians prefer cooperative hunting of the prey. The Left prefers to get food without any work, risk, or investment.

    Or to illustrate the parasitic nature of Leftist ideology, they seek to enter into a partnership like with South Vietnam and Iran, and then they will betray their partner due to their philosophy that there can only be one winner.

    The article and other links that explain this in more detail can be found here. Link

  64. Mitsu Says:

    Sally,

    My view is that the world is far richer and more complex than.any single theory can capture. So the question then becomes, how to best approximate it? I believe the “coherent” theories on the left and the right are overly simple. You object that I pick and choose principles to apply, which to you seems error prone because it is arbitrary… I would argue that relying on simple and coherent postulates results in greater errors because the models are too limited.

    In other words, you want to choose a set of postulates (first leftist, now rightist) and use that to guide your political thought… I am searching to test postulates against reality by looking at how they perform in practice, and see if new syntheses are possible to point towards new insghts. So no I don’t believe I have a privileged view… I am not afraid to speculate about new tentative syntheses.

    Politics is to me akin to architecture. You can write down principles but there is no fixed rulebook that dictates good design. There is always the possibility of innovation and old principles being combined into something new. I think human beings are capable of such thinking and we can do better than just choosing a system and sticking with it. I don’t fear the chaos you think can happen if you allow yourself to transgress the boundaries of a single model.

    There is after all still experiment: the evidence of what works and what doesn’t.

  65. Sally Says:

    Mitsu: My view is that the world is far richer and more complex than.any single theory can capture. So the question then becomes, how to best approximate it? I believe the “coherent” theories on the left and the right are overly simple.

    Which would be fine if you had an alternative approximation — but you don’t seem to have that, do you?

    In other words, you want to choose a set of postulates (first leftist, now rightist) and use that to guide your political thought

    No, I don’t. And the very fact of my move from left to right would indicate that to anyone not fixated on a particular way of “framing” a debate. In the first place, the word “postulate” (your word) is wrong, and is no synonym for “principle” (my word). Instead, I’m arguing that one’s experience, thought, and analysis give rise to a more or less coherent set of principles which guides one’s political behavior or policy recommendations — and those principles can and do change under the impact of ongoing experience and analysis. But those principles only make sense, or “cohere”, as components of a model or structure, and can be changed only in a coherent manner, taking into account the effect of said change on the other components of the model. You may claim you “don’t fear the chaos” that results from an indiscriminate appropriation of components from radically different models, but that doesn’t make you look bold — only careless.

    I am searching to test postulates against reality by looking at how they perform in practice, and see if new syntheses are possible to point towards new insghts.

    Good for you. You’re still talking about postulates as opposed to principles, and you don’t say how exactly you go about this “testing”, but in general outline what you’ve stumbled upon corresponds to a very common and in fact universal practice apart form the most fanatic of ideologues. That last exception unfortunately involves a good deal of the contemporary left, for reasons I’ve already been over, but allowing for that I’d say that most people of a distinct political persuasion, whether left or right, are continually involved in checking their sets of principles and models against their experience of the world, and refining such sets in light of that. The difference, as I’ve already intimated, is simply that most people understand there are logical or structural constraints in making such modifications — they’re unwilling, in other words, to embrace conflicting or contradictory principles from one moment to another, just as whim or the political breezes take them.

  66. Mitsu Says:

    Sally,

    Okay, so your model is that one should choose a set of coherent principles, and modify them only incrementally, in a controlled fashion. That is, unless you throw them off entirely in favor of a radically different system, such as what you did when you went from left to right?

    This is where we disagree. I believe in the early stages of developing a new set of principles, to use your terminology, it is both natural and unavoidable to go through a period in which one is trying out partial theories, hypotheses, and hybrid models, which have yet to cohere into a complete paradigm. If you look at the history of science and mathematics this is very much the norm. Once a new area of mathematics or science has settled down, it forms itself into a coherent whole in the sense you mean… but it never begins this way.

    I certainly can elucidate many of my political ideas in terms of a coherent set of ideas, but they are not as clearly defined as the right or the left. But to me, examples of good policy such as pollution credit markets are strong evidence that the classic left and the right are both old, incomplete systems, and it strongly suggests a new synthesis is in order. The fact that this synthesis may be in its infancy and may as yet still seem somewhat ad hoc is not a reason, in my view, to retreat to the old standbys, or the abandon these new approaches because they don’t fit the mold of the right or the left.

    I do think certain people are more drawn to well-worked-out mature systems, and that is why rightists are sometimes lapsed leftists. I believe, on the other hand, in precisely the idea you disdain: that seemingly contradictory principles can both be valid in different contexts. It is something akin to the tension between relativity and QM, which are in fact logically inconsistent, yet physicists rely on both and believe they both must fall out of an as yet unknown unified theory. The fact that this theory is not yet known doesn’t stop us from using the theories we do have, even though they are known to be inconsistent. We use them because they are both approximations to a truth we cannot yet describe.

  67. Sally Says:

    Sometimes, Mitsu, it doesn’t look as though you’ve ever really assimilated Kuhn. Coherent sets of principles, models, or, to use that terminology, paradigms, are indeed adjusted in an incremental fashion under so-called normal conditions, or as a rule. But occasionally reality puts the old model under such a strain that it’s no longer adjustable — for many people involved with it, it simply breaks. Which leads them to move to another more or less coherent model or set of principles. But since, at this level, there really aren’t a lot of those around, that can often find them moving a considerable distance, in a relatively short time. Now if, for example, you’ve come up with a wholly new political synthesis, then by all means congratulations, and I hope you’ll share it with us soon so others can evaluate its comparative worth, relative to our existing syntheses. But merely trying to cobble together pieces from both models, perhaps out of a misguided desire to appear “open-minded”, is only going to leave you, as I’ve said, with a few high-level banalities, or with an incoherent and self-contradictory confusion.

    Again, though, we’re at the point of mere repetition, so I’ll let this go, but with just a few addenda:

    - Relativity and quantum mechanics are not contradictory, they’re simply incomplete, and pertain to different levels of phenomena; much the same could be said of kinds or levels of political, economic, and environmental issues as well.

    - The analogy of scientific to political models of change should only be taken to a point and not further — politics is clearly not as amenable to hard resolutions as is true science, even given the Kuhnian revisions to the standard “model” of scientific change.

    - Finally, I’ll say that “left” and “right” are inadequate labels for the actual variety of alternative political models available; for example, I’m content, under the present circumstances, to be labelled a rightist, but I don’t consider myself a conservative — because I actually believe in progress, I’m in favor of change and development, I’m a friend, not an enemy, of the future (in contrast, ironically, to much of the present day left, which in many ways has become more conservative than conservatives). So there have been numerous attempts to suggest ways of opening up the unidimensional political spectrum, but they’ve met with varying success. In the end, I think the contrasting themes of the individual and the collective (each of which contains the other, but in structurally distinct ways) represent deep underlying commonalities that continue to exert an attraction on the various particular models that emerge, with no stable middle ground seemingly able to stand on its own.

  68. Mitsu Says:

    >Relativity and quantum mechanics are not contradictory,
    >they’re simply incomplete, and pertain to different levels of
    >phenomena; much the same could be said of kinds or levels
    >of political, economic, and environmental issues as well.

    Sally, you make good points as usual, but on this particular point you’re simply incorrect. Relativity and quantum mechanics are (yes, they really are) logically inconsistent theories. The fact that they’re logically inconsistent doesn’t usually matter in practice, because they are applied, as you suggest, in different contexts — usually, for example, we apply relativity to larger cosmological problems, and quantum mechanics to smaller problems — but this doesn’t make the theories consistent. The most glaring example of the inconsistency is relativity is a strictly deterministic theory, and quantum mechanics is famously nondeterministic. There are also major, completely incompatible notions of space and time in the two theories, and so forth. These two models of reality cannot both be correct at once, in the sense that they both can’t be completely correct. Naturally, there have been many attempts to unify these two theories — but to this point there is no attempt which is known to be correct — and further, not even any attempt which has been completely worked out yet.

    Physicists typically ignore the inconsistencies between the two theories by applying them in different contexts, as noted above. This doesn’t bother physicists because what they almost all believe is that the two theories are approximations to a greater, unified theory. The unified theory of course would not be inconsistent, even though standard QM and Einstein’s relativity are.

    >In the end, I think the contrasting themes of the individual
    >and the collective (each of which contains the other, but in
    >structurally distinct ways) represent deep underlying
    >commonalities that continue to exert an attraction on the
    >various particular models that emerge, with no stable
    >middle ground seemingly able to stand on its own.

    I like the picture you are drawing of the two themes (individual and collective) acting as kind of attractors for stable models. And I agree — the “middle ground” synthesis which I favor has not yet produced a model which is at least widely promulgated. I do find myself, in other words, a bit lonely in my political proclivities. But I do not agree that my approach is therefore somehow chaotic or arbitrary, or incoherent, at all. In fact, I certainly think the approach I advocate does a better job than models which coalesce around the two themes, as you put it.

    Yes, I know Kuhn speaks of paradigm shifts as only occuring once a mature alternative model has come forth. I would say, however, two things about this. There is always a period prior to a major paradigm shift in which the new paradigm is in some sense “in development” — it often starts by observing certain anomalies that are unexplained in the old model, and progresses through a typically quite chaotic process of trial and error, etc., building provisional hypotheses, partial models, and so forth, until a larger picture emerges. New paradigms do not spring forth fully formed like Athena from Zeus’ brow.

    However, I do agree that one should attempt to clarify one’s thinking in terms of a new synthesis, if at all possible. An example of a set of arguments which I think move in this direction would be those from more recent game theory. As you may know, the classical version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma seems to indicate that the rational choice is to defect (i.e., when thinking in terms of self-interest alone). But — more recent work shows that when playing a game of serial Prisoner’s Dilemma, it is in fact rational to trust, until your partner defects, THEN to defect. This is because reputation gets factored into your opponent’s strategy, and if you have a reputation as a defector, you will lose in future games.

    A similar example comes from hawk/dove game theoretic simulations. In one mathematical experiment I read, a population of all doves (always retreating in the face of an attack) is unstable to the introduction of hawks, because hawks will attack and take over territory. However, there is typically an equilibrium of hawks and doves which is optimal — eventually if there are a lot of hawks, they attack and kill each other off, so a certain population of doves can maintain themselves by retreating to fight another day. Interestingly, however, an even better strategy was to be a dove, unless attacked first, then to attack in retaliation. Birds in this experiment with this mathematical strategy outcompeted both pure hawks and pure doves.

    Naturally these are all just abstract simulations with somewhat arbitrary rules — but they are suggestive of what I am trying to argue. That is to say, in many cases there is a hybrid strategy which outcompetes the “pure” strategies in game theoretic terms. The hybrid strategies are more subtle, and less simple to understand — but I believe often more successful in the real world. Naturally, this is not yet a completely new synthesis — but this is the direction that interests me, and it is one which I argue in favor of politically when I can.

  69. q2600 Says:

    I’m not a real general, but I’m going to play one on Neoneocon’s blog. :)

    1. The power of government is derived from the will of the governed.
    2. Therefore, the regimes like those of Hussein are not legitimate governments, and we should feel no compunction against removing them.
    3. The politically correct agenda costs lives in battle. If you commit to a war, COMMIT to the war. Just as we did in Japan and Germany–destroy the enemy, take hold of the land and lives he has proven unfit to govern, and hold them in escrow until the people demonstrate that they are prepared to govern themselves.

  70. q2600 Says:

    Modify the above post to read, “No *moral* compunction.” Obviously, there must cost/benefit analysis.

  71. Sylvester Lawhorne Says:

    Great information, even better to see a blog that has a great layout. Nicely done. Backlinks

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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