Towards A Good Samaritan World

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Paul Campos, who I'm ashamed to say is an old friend of my dad's, writes:

Voltaire's epigram crossed my mind when I heard neo-conservative military strategist Frederick Kagan holding forth on National Public Radio, regarding his plan to send a "surge" of new combat troops to Iraq. The word in Washington is that Kagan's plan is much to President Bush's liking, and that the president is inclined to put it into action next month.

Voltaire noted that in 18th century England mistakes made in the heat of battle could result in the most savage punishment. In America today, we are beset by the opposite problem: an incompetence so grotesque that it is as a practical matter difficult to distinguish from treason and in fact only increases the power and prestige of those who are guilty of it. (my emphasis)

Got that? To disagree with the left is "difficult to distinguish from treason." Lenin also found the distinction a difficult one to draw. What makes this so scary is that for every Paul Campos who brings his McCarthyism out into the open, there are probably ten pundits and/or professors who are just as deranged, but are shrewd enough to keep under a mask their urge to jail those who disagree with him. Of course, there's a certain consistency here: those who wanted to keep the Stalinist Saddam in power in Iraq have a Stalinist attitude to speech here at home.

Campos goes on to repeat a wild meme with, as always, not the slightest semblance of argument in its defence:

it's worth noting that the chief architects of the Iraq war have suffered no punishment whatsoever for plunging the nation into the biggest foreign policy disaster in our history. (my emphasis)

Campos teaches at the University of Colorado, a very liberal campus. We all know about "bubbles" and "liberal professors," but the way Campos writes makes me think we've underestimated how dangerous to liberty is the dementia that they foster.


  • I don't know about the rest of it but the Kagan "plan" makes me sick to my stomach. It is a powerpoint slide fantasy in which repetition and asseveration displace discussion. I cannot say how horrified I am to see this tissue of rhetoric and hopeful handwaving referred to as a plan.

    Maybe I draw too many conclusions from this "interim report". Maybe there's some coherent reasoning and real engagement not visible as yet. What exists, however, is ominous to me.

    By Blogger Nato, at 9:23 AM  

  • Being neither a military expert nor an expert on Iraq, I can't make a very informed comment on whether Kagan's approach will work. I'm a bit confused though. We're told that General Shinseki was right, that Rumsfeld arrogantly dismissed his sage advice to send more troops, and that the Bush administration's spectacular incompetence consists in ignoring the military's advice and trying to do liberation on the cheap. We're told that an occupation needs to be large enough to provide security in the aftermath. Now Kagan is proposing to send more troops in order to secure the population. Why is it suddenly a bad idea when a Bush supporter proposes it?

    Anyway, the point here is not the merits of Kagan's plan. The point is about the nature of democratic deliberation. It is one of the necessary paradoxes of democracy that anti-democrats like Campos are allowed to speak their minds. But it is essential that people of good will anathematize the suggestion that pundits or policymakers should be subject to legal sanctions for voicng opinions that people like Campos want to suppress. Liberty requires vigilance.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 9:45 AM  

  • I can only presume that Campos was waxing rhetorical, though one thing I really hate about the postmodern left is its tendancy to use language that can be taken several ways allowing it to be employed from many angles while retaining deniability. "Oh, we didn't mean it like that - can't you grasp irony?" So I generally choose not to engage any such. Is Campos one? I don't know.

    As for the Kagan "more troops" idea, I should perhaps clarify my thoughts. The type and scale of his discussion would have been useful in 2003, right up until about Fallujah. Since then, the requirements necessary to recover while using the same tactics - and most of Kagan's tactical suggestions are nothing new to those out on the ground who have been trying to execute most of them for at least two years - have escalated. For anything like certainty of success, we honestly would need something like 250-300k troops to get the job done. Kagan's idea is too little, too late. As part of some broad, radical plan, the "surge" might make sense, but as it is it just inflates the scale of failure.

    I'm not saying it's impossible to win now. It's just that the scale of what we'd need to invest is far, far larger than when Kagan et al pretend. If the cost was fairly presented to the US public, I doubt most would agree it was worth it (though I would be proud of my country if it proved me wrong). Urging an Iraqi vote on our leaving makes more sense, now.

    By Blogger Nato, at 2:06 PM  

  • I should also point out that Kagan's force increase plan is, while not very large from an mission-impact perspective, huge from the point of view of marginal readiness. We're pretty much sitting on a kink in the supply curve.

    By Blogger Nato, at 2:16 PM  

  • Of course, there's not necessarily any contradiction between a temporary troop "surge" and urging an Iraqi vote on our leaving are not mutually exclusive. A "surge" of troops to secure the country ahead of a vote might make sense.

    By Blogger Nathanael, at 2:44 PM  

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