Just A Guy

Just A Guy

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Warning in Advance

Okay, so everybody's all excited and ready to "Celebrate Good Times" when conservatives take over a bunch of seats in House, Senate and Governor's Mansions tomorrow.  Before you get too euphoric, let's make sure we plan ahead for accountability.  My suggestion: the day after each winner takes office, his or her inbox and voicemail are flooded with messages of 1) congratulations, followed immediately by 2) a promise that if they don't honor what they ran on, they will be run out of town at the first opportunity.  No more repeats of the class of '94, no more "gee, I kinda like it here - how can I stay?"  No more "gee, these media guys really like me!"  No more "I know I was a firebrand while on the campaign trail, but let's not get hasty - you just don't understand how complicated Washington can be".

I am sick to death of the evil that the DC establishment and feather merchant class can visit on otherwise honorable people.  I am fed up with the notion that ground truth can be shaded and flexible, that principles can be situational and not foundational, that positions that call for a clear wrong and right can be "nuanced".  It is time to make sure that those we send as our representatives to the national debate are fully accountable.  Not later.  Now. From the start.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What's the Definition of "Vital National Interest"?

I write this with some trepidation, as I'm an Air Force reservist and don't want to be seen as being in opposition to our current National Security Strategy.  However, some legitimate questions follow:

What is really behind America's repeated intervention in other countries' arguments with each other or among themselves?  Is there truly a vital national interest in sticking our nose in Iraq's intramural affairs?  Should we be trying to establish democracy in Afghanistan, a "nation" which has never had it, doesn't appear to want it, and wouldn't know what it looked like if it got it?  I understand and agree with "taking out the Taliban", because they were actively supporting and protecting Al Quaeda, which openly seeks to destroy us.  Wasn't that enough?  Has "nation-building" in such circumstances ever been permanently effective? 
What were the reasons that supported our intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo?  The genocide was horrendous, but was it our responsibility to quell it?  If their neighbors didn't do anything about it, why did we?  And if we intervened there, why didn't we do anything when hundreds of thousands were (and are) being killed in Africa by Africans?  Rwanda?  Darfur?  I'm not saying we should go into these areas either, I just don't understand why Bosnia is a vital national interest and Darfur isn't.  If economic considerations are so important, Darfur's where the Chinese are cornering the oil and gas market, Bosnia's got nothing really to offer us.

There's a distinct and profound difference between isolationism and keeping our own garden.  Where our allies or our citizens are threatened at an existential level, we should not hesitate to use our vast military might to extinguish the threat.  However, that other countries don't have the same regard for freedom, liberty, individual rights and protections that America does isn't sufficient reason to commit "our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor" to influence the outcome of their internal, parochial or regional struggles.  Being policeman and big brother (not in the Orwellian sense, but in the "quit picking on my little brother or I'll knock you silly" sense) is expensive, complicated and unappreciated by many of the beneficiaries of our protective efforts. 
"Vital national interest" (VNI) is the touchstone whereby the United States decides whether to use military force against an enemy.  Unfortunately, there's no standardized definition of VNI.  The White House in a December 1999 press release entitled, "A National Security Strategy for a New Century", defined "vital interests" as "those of broad, overriding importance to the survival, safety and vitality of our nation.  Among these are the physical security of our territory and that of our allies, the safety of our citizens, the economic well-being of our society, and the protection of our critical infrastructures - including energy, banking and finance, telecommunications, transportation, water systems and emergency services - from paralyzing attack.  We will do what we must to defend these interests, including, when necessary and appropriate, using our military might unilaterally and decisively."

So far, so good.  Here's the problem: the document goes on to say our strategy is one of engagement - "Our strategy is founded on continued U.S. engagement and leadership abroad.  The United States must lead abroad if we are to be secure at home.  We cannot lead abroad unless we devote the necessary resources to military, diplomatic, intelligence and other efforts.  We must be prepared and willing to use all appropriate instruments of national power to influence the actions of other states and non-state actors[emphasis mine], to provide global leadership, and to remain a reliable security partner for the community of nations that share our interests."  In laying out this strategy, there is no distinction made among "vital", "important" and "humanitarian and other" interests, as it relates to the use of US military power.  It seems to me that our civilian leadership gets out the big stick too soon, too often and too indiscriminately, and we foot the bill. 

I tend to adopt the view of Michael Roskin in his 1994 Strategic Studies Institute monograph, "National Interest: From Abstraction to Strategy" that "the concept of national interest still has utility, not as an objective fact but as a philosophical argument in favor of limiting the number of crusades a country may be inclined to undertake."  Roskin hits the nail on the head when he quotes Morganthau's observation that "secondary interests" have the power to "grow in the minds of statesmen until they seem to be vital".   Yes, the same striped-pants Foggy Bottom crowd that hates and looks down its nose at the military is quite happy to say, "send in the Marines!" when one of their precious initiatives is threatened.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What's the prognosis for respectful discourse?

Okay, I'm probably late to the party, but have you noticed that it doesn't seem possible anymore for opposing sides of a political issue to just - well, discuss?  In the middle of this Holy Week, it's a little cheesy to use the rebirth analogy, but I have to wonder: will there ever again be public discourse that doesn't consist of opposing sides simply talking over each other, vomiting hackneyed political points or vitriolic, screaming attacks that don't even pretend to be rational communication?

The Code Pink attack on Karl Rove yesterday was frankly embarrassing, with the would-be performer of a "citizen's arrest" being outclassed by Rove's response.  Even so, he had to cut his book-signing appearance short because of the disruption.  Similarly, Ann Coulter aborted her Canada speaking tour after being verbally attacked so venomously and loudly that she couldn't continue.  Oh, and "students" at a minor University of California campus are shrilly denouncing the upcoming appearance of Sarah Palin at, of all things, a fundraiser for professors' salaries and student scholarships.  The examples go on and on, these are just in the last four days!

What are people so scared about?  Why do mere words create such unreasoning hatred and fear?  Whatever happened to "sticks and stones"?

I don't have any real answers, I just have the feeling that we've lost the blessing of discourse.  If we can't even talk about the reasons we disagree, how will we ever come to understand the points of view of those with whom we disagree?  And at the risk of sounding like Rodney King, I can vehemently disagree with someone else's opinion and still respect that person.  I just want the opportunity to process the disagreement without being screamed at.  Is that too much to ask?  For some people, apparently it is.  And our national discourse is suffering deeply because of it.

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