Saturday, September 25, 2010

Current State of the Afghanistan Conflict

I am about to pick up The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost at the Owego library. This book was written by the Soviet General Staff to analyze their performance during the conflict. Given the situation we find ourselves it, it seems like an appropriate book to read. Before I do, I want to jot down a few thoughts I have about the state of the conflict.

We find ourselves at war with a terrorist band rather than a nation state. It has similarities to what the Romans faced trying to purge the Illyrian pirates but with far greater international and internal pressure to reduce unnecessary violence, even against the terrorists themselves. This enemy has already proven themselves capable of striking at us and striking hard; there is no reason to believe that, left unmolested, they could not perform even worse feats against us.

This war also has parallels to the Punic Wars. There, tribes and cities would routinely switch sides to whichever power appeared to be the strongest at the present moment in time. Tribes and factions throughout the Muslim world, not to mention individuals, are far more likely to join Al Qaeda if Al Qaeda has the appearance of winning the conflict. It is imperative that we never allow such an impression to be made.

Afghanistan is one of the worst places we could be fighting such a conflict. Iraq was far better. Guerrilla insurrections survive by not fighting pitched battles but rather operating with hit and run tactics, always preserving their fighting force from the militarily stronger opposition. This means the guerrillas need a place to operate from that either cannot be located or operated in by their stronger enemy. There are generally two places to hide: the terrain and the population.

In Iraq, the terrain is not particularly well suited to hide guerrilla bands. Large areas are fairly open; forests are few and mountains are primarily located to the north in Kurdish territory. The population was initially not hostile towards Al Qaeda or other insurgent groups. Ironically, the setbacks we faced in 2006, when Al Qaeda was left in charge of large segments of the population, proved to be beneficial for the United States. Strict Islamic law was applied; Iraqis, who have a long history of living in a quasi-western civilization, were appalled. At the end of 2006, the United States declared their intention to see the conflict through to the end, launching "the surge" and increasing the number of troops on the ground by tens of thousands. Al Qaeda was never strong enough to take on the full power of the United States military and after alienating the local population found themselves having no place to hide. Since 2008, casualties in Iraq have plummeted despite America having less than one third of our troops remaining in country.

This was a great win for us. Al Qaeda had declared that Iraq would be their central front in their jihad against us, but in the end Al Qaeda was largely annihilated! We should be proclaiming those two facts throughout the Muslim world to show we are more than capable of beating this enemy. As I said, and as ancient and modern history show, the side that appears to be winning is the side that people join while the other suffers desertions.

Unfortunately, political considerations got in the way. Our current administration declared that the Iraq war was "stupid" and that the surge would increase rather than decrease violence there. Afghanistan was the good war, the area we needed to be fighting in. Perception is what determines whether a person or tribe will join Al Qaeda; our performance in Iraq would be a great piece of propaganda, especially concerning Al Qaeda's boast that they would win there, but this administration will not use it because it would undermine their earlier ardent opposition to the liberation of Iraq.

So instead we sent a surge of troops to Afghanistan, put General Petreaus in charge, and gave them a two year deadline to achieve the impossible. Afghanistan is mountainous and borders Pakistan, a country that isn't hostile to the Taliban/Al Qaeda message. The people of Afghanistan are different from the people of Iraq; they do not have a long history of living a semi-western lifestyle and sharia law is more acceptable there. Our enemies can hide in the terrain and the population with far greater ease than they could in Iraq.

Moreover, this administration is blatantly putting political goals ahead of the military situation. Our generals flat out told the President that a timetable for withdrawing from Afghanistan is merely giving the enemy a countdown to victory, creating the impression among the locals that they cannot trust our commitment and driving them towards the enemy who will be there long after July 2011. If the Taliban remain then (and they will), communities will not want to explain why they helped the Americans to those brutal warlords. Best way of not having to say sorry is to not piss off the warlords in the first place.

Mr. Woodward's recent book quotes the President as creating the July 2011 deadline because "I [Obama] can't lose the whole Democratic Party." This has absolutely nothing to do with the military situation. More of our troops have died this year in Afghanistan than in any previous year; Obama's reelection should not be a reason American soldiers die.

I need to remind the readers that Obama had absolutely no military experience prior to coming into office; there is little evidence he has studied warfare, either. It almost appears that his decision to send a "surge" of troops and put Petreaus in charge comes from the fact that those combination of things worked in Iraq (despite Obama's vocal opposition at the time). As I've pointed out, the terrain and people are very different in Afghanistan than they are in Iraq. From what I have read, it seems our President was shocked he could not get an exit strategy out of his generals. This was a common complaint against Bush by the Left. Wars are not fought with exit strategies; you pick your goal and then you beat and kill your opponent until they accept those terms or are no longer physically able to resist them.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Democracy in America?

I touched on this subject last year in a Facebook post, but it is a question that deserves serious consideration in a place where more in depth discussion can take place: should we allow everyone to vote? It is an inflammatory question, given the deep reverence Americans place on the right to vote, but I'm not asking this just to poke people in the eye. Democracy is the rule of government by the people; government itself involves the monopoly of the use of force. Government is extremely complex in operation and theory, but the electorate of this nation barely knows the basic facts, much less the theory behind what constitutes good governance or the empirical record of the history of governments.

Let me put it to you this way: would you let a group of 18 year old kids who have never worked on or even examined how vehicles work repair your car? Would you drive that car afterwords?

If you are like me, you are thinking of course not! That's a sure way of getting killed, along with whoever is in your car and whoever you happen to hit. Government is far more complicated than cars and the stakes are much higher: over a hundred million people died due to tyrannical governments in the last century. That doesn't include war. That is just governments butchering their own people.

My recent experiences in a history classroom have revealed just how little many students know about history or government. And they are two years away from voting. Many of the advanced political science students cannot tell how many female justices are on the Supreme Court (hint: if you can't, I'm heavily implying you are not qualified to take part in government). Doubts I once had about this study disappeared quickly. If anything, I think those numbers are skewed towards the brighter Americans, as those more likely to do poorly would refuse to take that test in the first place.

I'll grant that implementing restrictions on voting would be difficult. Politically, in fact, it would be impossible, as those who would lose that right would certainly use any chance to vote before implementation to protect that right.

But as a matter of principle, shouldn't we only encourage people to vote if they have made a concerted effort to understand good governance and current events? Rather than telling everyone to go vote, shouldn't we set a societal norm that those who do not put any effort into knowing shouldn't be deciding with matters of natural rights for other people?

I'm of the opinion that if you haven't read at least one of these books, you shouldn't head to the polls: John Locke's Second Treatise of Government, Publius' Federalist, or de Tocqueville's Democracy in America.

Again, I understand that the universal right to vote is a basic principle of American democracy now. But if the basic principles are wrong, everything built upon them is likely to be wrong as well. Just because a principle is basic to the populace does not mean it should go unquestioned.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

52 to 48

I remember this collection of photos, 52 to 48, came out right after the 2008 election. I recall not reacting well to it. Somehow or another, it came to my mind again today, so I took a peek around, wondering if I would react better towards it.

I didn't. If anything, it may irritate me even more today than it did then. Mostly it is a bunch of young Obama voting hipsters putting up messages of how we all need to come together. You know, days after declaring Republicans warmongers, liars, corporate whores, bigots, and fools.

Sure, just like you did under Bush. And implying we were not putting the country first prior to the election just kind of irks me.

This guy votes. Proof positive democracy can be a bad thing.

You had my back when Republicans were the second coming of the Nazis? Sure, I have your back, just like you had mine. And it is spelled fifty two.

We were prior to that election, too. Just a thought.

ObamaCare is all that comes to mind. That, and Obama declaring "I won" when Republicans offered ideas.

What gets me is so many young people actually bought into Obama's promises to move the nation into a post-partisan era. Have none of them read Federalist 10? There will never be a post-partisan age; we are never going to be permanently united, a "purple" country if you will. Considering how "48" was treated, 52 should not have been surprised that the opposition would be dogged in their fight to oppose the new leadership. It frightens me that so many could honestly believe that they could be so downright partisan and nasty for years prior to an election, win absolute power, and think posting a few cutesy pictures about reconciliation would somehow defuse future partisanship. And they overwhelmingly tend to be young people. I do not think so many blatantly uninformed citizens have ever come out to vote prior to that election and it downright scared me. Having seen the results, I should have been more scared than I was.

I try not to use this blog to blow off steam, though it has happened a few times. The actual lesson here is that my generation and younger seem to have had a piss poor education and that so long as people exist, they will disagree passionately on policy. All the pictures of happy hipsters in the world will never change that.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Religious Insanity

Oh my God. What an unimaginable mess this Ground Zero Mosque has become. Let us just get a few things straight:

1) Thousands of Americans were butchered at the Twin Towers by Muslim terrorists. Any opinion not recognizing this fact as being very salient today should be rejected out of hand. The vast majority of Americans remember that day vividly; anything resembling a victory monument is going to go over badly.

2) This mosque looks like a victory monument. The history of Islamic conquests show prominent places in the Western World being converted into mosques (Hagia Sophia was a former church; the Al Aqsa Mosque is built on the ruins of the Jewish Second Temple). The Twin Towers were prominent symbols of America's wealth and prosperity; they most certainly were not attacked at random. No, this mosque is not literally at the site of the Towers, but it is as close to it as possible and at a site destroyed by that terrorist attack. The complete lack of willingness to negotiate on this point by the mosque builders lead me to believe that it is intentionally built close to the terrorist site. It does not matter what the actual intent is, mostly because it is not possible to know; the point is, the optics are horrible.

3) Americans do not hate Muslims. Given everything, the remarkably low rate of violence against Muslims shows we do not blame all Muslims for 9/11 or our current War on Terror. President Bush made great efforts to separate terrorists from peaceful Muslims, both on the battlefield and in our minds. Yes, isolated incidents of hatred can be found, but just as many against whites, protestants, males, the wealthy, Latinos, or any other grouping can be found, and such anecdotes are not proof of widespread hatred among the populace.

4) Opposing this mosque is neither a violation of 1st Amendment rights or proof of hatred. The vast majority of those who oppose a mosque being built at that site have made the caveat that Muslims have the right to do so. The principle is that Americans must allow such things legally; it has never meant that Americans must like what other people do or that they should not apply social pressure to change that offending behavior.

5) This mosque is not about bridging divides and establishing community healing. The community has made it clear that building a mosque at this spot sticks in their craw; a religious leader truly dedicated towards peace and community would not become adamant that the community just deal with it, sticking it to that community again.

6) Americans are tired of being accused of hatred. Christmas cards given out by teachers can land a person in trouble for not being sensitive to other cultures, but asking (asking! not attacking, asking!) another religion not to build on what is basically a graveyard of Americans killed in the name of that very religion is proof of hatred? Regardless of where you stand in this cultural battle, the optics are pretty clear that Christians must be sensitive to any potential sore point (real or imagined) of other cultures but at no point are other religions required to return the favor. People are sick of that arrangement and this mosque is where a line has been drawn.

7) Despite that, Americans will not support blatant acts of hatred. This Qu'ran burning fool in Florida garnished roughly 0% of Americans to his side. People on all sides of the political spectrum and vast majorities of Churches, Mosques, Temples, and other religious institutions have condemned this act.

This situation is getting out of control quickly. The perception alone that Muslims do not care about a very sensitive issue to most Americans, or perhaps worse that they are intentionally jabbing at it, is going to breed more prejudice against American Muslims than 9/11 itself did. The terrorist attack was a clear example of lunatics; this mosque is supposedly being built by "moderates." After decades of being prodded to be more sensitive towards others, Americans expect the favor to be returned.

As for the Qu'ran burning: stupid, but it proves my point. The American government burns a bunch of Bibles last year; George Bush is shown defecating on Jesus in South Park (an episode that drives the censorship point home); Dogma. Do Christians respond with violence? No! But draw a picture of Muhammad and people end up dead. A group burning Bibles wouldn't even get notice in the news, but a very few lunatics in Gainesville decide to burn a few Qu'rans and the entire world goes into a hissy fit.

In short, the Ground Zero Mosque is doing irreparable damage to our society. Opposition is based on very raw feelings concerning this area and Islam, not on an outright hatred of the religion. In the name of peace, sensitivity, and community, the leaders of this mosque project should accept one of the multiple offers to build the mosque elsewhere in an effort to show they do indeed respect the opinions and mores of the American nation.