Sam Rosenfeld and Matt Yglesias, two professional wonks at the American Prospect, have written something good.
The Incompetence Dodge got some play in the tit-for-tat world of the blogosphere for the way it drops rhetorical bombs on the position du-jour of the so-called Liberal Hawks -- aka those Democrats who supported the war and their backers in the punditry. It's high quality flaming, and the LibHawk position (essentially that invading and occupying Iraq would have worked given better management) needs discrediting, but the thing that makes me want to write about what they wrote is that they go on to offer some substantive thinking about the nature of US military power and its appropriate uses.
This is much needed. The Left often shies away from really grappling with issues of power, and military power especially. Efforts to the contrary are productive.
The U.S. military is good at exactly what one would expect an exemplary military to be good at: destroying enemy forces while keeping collateral damage to historic lows. Consequently, we have the ability to eject hostile forces from areas where they lack a strong base of popular support. This power allowed us to create the conditions for negotiation between the parties to the Bosnian war, and to keep the local Serb, Croat, and Muslim communities from killing one another in large numbers once the peace was signed. They also allowed us to eject Serbian forces from Kosovo and bring autonomy to that province, plus provided a large measure of security and autonomy for Kurdistan for more than a decade. These are no mean achievements, and they were accomplished largely from the air, at little risk to American soldiers. But in none of those places have we yet been able to achieve what we are likewise failing to accomplish in Iraq: the sudden transformation of a society.
That's tight. I can unpack that seven different ways depending on who I'm talking to and make it all sound interesting. Well done there, boys. Keep it up.
On the opposite end of the salary spectrum, we have pro-am and still pseudonymous Billmon with his Imperial Candor:
Like Richard Clarke, [Colin Powell Right-Hand Man] Wilkerson strikes me as reasonably representative of the technicians who actually run the empire -- and his assumptions largely appear to reflect those of his class. American supremacy is a taken as a given, requiring no legal or moral justification. Not because America has any grand historical mission to spread the blessings of democracy to the heathen, but because American power maintains the world order and keeps the peace, or at least something approximating it. It also keeps the sea lanes open and the oil flowing and the wheels of industry turning, not just here but around the world.
It does appear to have dawned on Wilkerson that the U.S. hegemony isn't viewed as quite such an exercise in utilitarian benevolence by the rest of the world, but I'm not sure he understands exactly why this is. I think he puts far too much blame on the cabal's shenanigans -- although these admittedly have made things worse -- and not enough on the fact that empires, even the practical, no nonsense type favored by the realists, are anachronisms in the modern world.
We've got a couple of the pieces of the puzzle here. A national security policy based on returning the US to its republic-an (not Republican) roots would have wide popular appeal. At the same time, there's a recognition that force is real, and that it can do good if we're willing to attempt to shoulder the responsibility. This is essentially the ethos of Spiderman, and it's the only moral way for people in positions of power to behave.
Power of one over another tends (tends) to corrupt, and an institutionalized or persistent differential in power (Absolute Power) corrupts without fail, creating Oppression, which is Evil, and something to be actively confronted. Activists like to fight Oppression, and in doing so we often end up with a negative, rather than healthily skeptical, view of power. This leads to an almost instinctual, perhaps even irrational, fear of wielding it ourselves, which as we can see has led to a great and tragic backsliding.
We must realize that power is not going away, and like all things it will remain unequally distributed at any point in time. Total Equality is not something that can be attained. This is why pure pacifism just doesn't work out. It is also the fundamental failing of Anarchism as a political philosophy, and interestingly enough its source of triumph as a personal philosophy.
Personally the credo No Gods, No Masters is quite compelling, though my heart is really in the logical inverse: All Gods, All Masters. When you get down to brass tacks this leads to different techniques for implementation -- raising up rather than tearing down -- but philosophically they're kindred notions. Anyway, it's a very empowering way to look at the universe. That's good.
However, any analysis of the human condition on the global or historical scale reveals that many people strongly desire Gods and/or Masters. That's a choice people are allowed to make in my book. Heck, who doesn't get a craving for credible leadership from time to time? I mean, mouldn't that be nice?
It would, but we're not going to get it until we contemplate and concieve our own notions of power, and then implement them in a way that displaces the establishment. That's what I mean by "the revolution."
And it might just happen. I'm seeing a lot of really good heavy lifting starting to happen all over the place. It's become clear that the conservative movement has reached a high water mark. Having achieved Total Power, their coalition is breaking as its internal inconsistancies come to the fore. Yes, the wheel is in spin, another cycle starting. There's a lot of organizing that's ramping up now that needs help. There's also a lot of intellectual work to be done so that this shift -- which in many ways is inevitable -- can be translated into meaninful gains for the Public.
I know where my official place in the 2006 campaign is: providing tools. I build and maintain instruments for information warfare. But in the meantime I'm also working on the revolution, which is the Long Game. But it starts now. It always starts now.