Towards A Good Samaritan World

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


Nato, a blogger with whom I've had fascinating debates on tradition and on philosophy of mind, is now serving in Iraq. I'm honored to have his comments on a previous post. (Nato blogs here.) His comment:

I think the goal, here, is to set up a country that won't descend into civil war once we're gone. The reason why lots of people weren't so excited by the idea of Saddam's fall was because they felt civil war, chaos, and insurgent spillover would ensue. If we can leave behind a state that's at least minimally cohesive on the way to becoming functional, then we've done what we came here for. The view from Tal Afar (where I am right now) is pretty decent.

On the other hand, I'm glad you touch on the matter of our wide-scale burnout. This war has badly hurt our Army and has chewed through a lot of good people. People with families and prospects on the outside have to set their pride in serving against the hardship for their families of seperation, uncertainty, and all the other chaos that a grining deployment schedule throws into everyone's lives.

This article is hopeful: despite many difficulties, Iraqis are as hopeful as ever and determined to proceed "step by step" to making their country democratic and safe.

We need to think about how to reconcile our ambitions for global freedom with the manpower constraint that we face. Michael Ledeen may be right that "it is shameful that we have yet to seriously challenge the legitimacy of the terror masters in Tehran and Damascus, who represent the keystone of the terrorist edifice," at least in the sense that Iranians and Syrians are just as deserving of freedom as Iraqis are, and the Iranians at least would probably give the Americans at least as warm a welcome as the Iraqis did. And Greg Djerejian may be right that "troop draw-downs [from Iraq] at this juncture would be all but inconceivable and grotesquely irresponsible." But neither of these critics is taking into account a constitutional constraint on US power, namely that we cannot (de facto) conscript soldiers, and therefore our military actions are limited by the number of brave young men who decide they are willing to give of their time and risk their lives for freedom. Pundits like Ledeen and Djerejian have not integrated this constraint into their analysis and prescriptions for US foreign policy.


  • I think the United States faces a fundamental problem. For an individual, the cost of joining the army in its current state far outweighs the benefits. The benefits on a moral level have remained the same as ever, but the opportunity cost of losing one's life and a poor quality of life while in the army has grown as living conditions in the civilian world have improved incredibly.

    It's one thing to join the army when you're not likely to reach 50 and your living conditions weren't much better (and often worse) than army barracks. It's another when for even the poorest Americans, civilian life is considerably better.

    That doesn't mean there's been an erosion in commitment to one's country, etc. It simply means that for more people, that commitment has been outweighed by the costs.

    The obvious solution: outsourcing :-).

    The promise of American citizenship for 7 years of service. Given the major payoff comes at the end, there's a lot of incentive to follow the army's guidelines and not get yourself kicked out before your time.

    Hmm, this last two paragraphs started as a joke, but now I'm not so certain...

    By Anonymous Tom West, at 6:34 AM  

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