Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Stephen Flynn Article

Stephen Flynn has an article in March/April issue of Foreign Affairs. The heart of his argument as I see it:

There is in our culture a tendency to view citizens as nothing more then consumers. Viewing ourselves that way infantilizes us, it renders us helpless when the lights go out. We need to get away from that. After 9/11, the government essentially codified the consumerist view of citizens, promising to take care of everything and keep our lives running as smoothly as a ride at Disney Land. A corollary to that is that we should cede total control to the government and just sit comfortably in our seats.

However, If you look at the actual events of 9/11, you see something striking. To quote Flynn:
it is the story of United Airlines flight 93, the thwarted fourth plane, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field, that ought to be the dominant 9/11 narrative. That plane's passengers foiled al Qaeda without any help from -- and in spite of the inaction of -- the U.S. government. There were no federal air marshals aboard the aircraft. The North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, could not intercept it; it did not even know that the plane had been hijacked. Yet United 93 was stopped 140 miles from its likely destination -- the U.S. Capitol or the White House -- because of the actions of the passengers who stormed the cockpit...

Americans should celebrate -- and ponder -- the reality that the legislative and executive centers of the U.S. federal government, whose constitutional duty is to "provide for the common defense," were themselves defended that day by one thing alone: an alert and heroic citizenry.
This is the antithesis of the consumerist view: an active and informed citizenry, taking matters into their own hands to shape the outcome. It's often been remarked on that 9/11 was perpetrated by a small number of people with little more then box cutters, it's almost never remarked that their plans were partially foiled by a small number of people with cell phones.

BTW, if you're interested in Flynn's work I recommend this discussion and Q&A podcast at CFR.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

WaPo Op-Ed

Here is an Op-Ed by Bruce Ackerman and Oona Hathaway from the Washington Post. It discusses current negotiations between the Bush Administration and Iraq over establishing a new status of force agreement. Democrats claim (quite plausibly) that Bush is pushing language that amounts to a security guaranty for the government of Iraq. Democrats claim such an agreement would bind future presidents to continue the current policy of large force occupation. I think the Op-Ed and most debate on this issue is missing something.

Forget about the validity of the claims, and consider how easily a presidential candidate could kneecap such a contract on their own by simply announcing their intentions with respect to Iraq. Put out a statement saying that any promise of a long term security guaranty by Bush isn't worth the paper it's printed on, and that if elected you would on the first day order a bottom up policy review of everything in force. I understand that Iraq policy is toxic waste so long as Bush is in office, but that ends when the new person comes in. Whoever it is, they should not be allowed to blame bad policy on ghosts.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

POW: Dana Milbank on C-Span

Dana Milbank was on C-Span's Afterwords program pushing his new book, Homo Politicus. A cute discussion.

Milbank struggled when asked what was Taboo in Washington. He responded that you didn't really know until you broke one, and cited McCain in 2000 insulting fundamentalists and McKinney hitting a police officer. I don't think that's Milbank being naive, I think it's a genuinely hard question for someone in Washington to answer. Taboos aren't just rules, they're untouchable, unthinkable. Asking someone what is taboo is like asking a blind person to describe what they can't see. On the other hand politicians and media personalities do a pretty good job avoiding taboos (Milbank, who writes 4 columns a week can only cite two transgressions from the last 7 years!) so they must be at least subconsciously aware of them.

My picks for current taboos (broken by party)

- Racism among whites
- Homosexuality (except in the context of bashing it)
- The self-contradiction in being an "anti-government" politician

- The reality that what makes a government unique is it's ability to use legal coercion: That any time the government tries to solve a problem, to the extent that it is doing more then what an individual or non-profit could do, it is using coercion. In that sense the heart of classical liberalism is not in government at all.

For both parties:
- Criticizing the place of Israel in American foreign policy
- Saying that "sunken costs are sunken costs" with respect to Iraq

Thursday, February 7, 2008

POW: Anthony Lewis

The National Constitution Center hosted a discussion with Anthony Lewis on the first amendment and it's modern interpretations. Nothing earth shattering, but a nice listen none the less. Lewis is (among other things) the author of Gideon's Trumpet.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Book Note

A note from my reading of Ghost Wars.

People talk a lot now about how nihilistic terrorists are, that they have no strategic purpose beyond killing. Killing without purpose is dishonorable and disgusting. That pretty well describes the Afghan mission in it's first phase- shedding blood because they could.

Coll describes a cultural shift in the CIA, wherein old school Yale types retire and the new school comes in. The new school were people who spent the 60's in service, rather then in college. It was a markedly more conservative, Republican, and presumably anti-communist mindset.

I imagine these were people who kept wondering why America held back during Vietnam. You have the even darker years of the 70's, and then Reagan rides in with the sun at his back and everyone says "now we can do what should be done", and miraculously the Soviets walk into a dark alley blindfolded and are just sitting there waiting to get popped. They were meat on a plate.

Is that how they see our troops in Iraq?