Thursday, November 30, 2006

What’s In a Name?

Apparently the big news now is that we’re OK with calling the unpleasantness in Iraq a “civil war.” If that gets progress in resolving an increasingly untenable situation then I’m all for it. If it is simply a semantic convolution aimed at further vilifying the President, then we’ll be no further down the road than we are now.

A group of pointy-headed intellectuals from some university political science department have decided to create objective terms of definition for a civil war. Some obvious aspects and some bordering on the ridiculous. Clearly a civil war is an internal affair of a nation-state. It is competition between competing, armed political movements for control of the future of the territory. It is not an external invasion. It reflects a desire of the population for change from the status quo. And, according to the pointy-heads, qualifies for the terminology when more than 100 persons have been killed in the process.

What amazes this observer is what an over-simplification of a complex situation that is. The death of a hundred people in political strife is both a deplorable occurrence and a commonly encountered event in today’s world. It is simultaneously too terrible and too insignificant to render unrest elevated to the level of civil war. And, in the greater scheme of things, does it really matter what we call it?

Despite what we read in the punditry’s pronouncements, the conflict in Iraq these days isn’t about us or our invasion to oust Sadaam. They aren’t killing us so much as we are getting killed while trying to interpose ourselves between the murderous factions trying to kill each other. We’re simply collateral damage as the Sunni and Shia’ try to outdo each other in religious fervor and demand for the death of all who would imply that their version of Islam isn’t the most righteously peaceful.

Sure, a civil war is an internal struggle for power over a country. If Clausewitz was right about war being politics by other means, then civil war is surely democracy by other means. But, it isn’t clear yet whether Iraq is a two-party civil war. We can’t liken it to the American experience with civil war. It isn’t yet possible to see what the alternative positions are in this conflict. What is the political agenda of the contenders? Are there more candidates for controlling power than just generic Sunni and Shia’? I’d bet there are. A lot more.

Will this evolve from a fractured warlord situation and congeal into a more traditional bipolar conflict? What previous model can we apply to make sense of the situation? Is this Mao versus Chaing as in post-WW II China? Or more like Somalia where rather than emerging consolidation we got total disintegration of order? Might we see a nationalist leader like Tito arise to bring order out of the chaos? Can we distinguish between a benevolent Fascist like Franco and a more malevolent Communist? For certain we aren’t looking at any figures like our own Lincoln, Grant or Lee.

Until we can make some sense of the menu of players we, meaning the man on the street, will be scratching our heads and deferring judgment to those with more accurate intel. Unless we can ascertain what the competitors will do over the long term with regard to building a viable nation we really can’t commit to any faction. If the model is one of an emerging leader, then we can have a positive role to play in stabilizing the region. If we can determine a preferable outcome for the Iraqi people we have a goal to aim for. If we can contribute to security while these questions are answered it can be worth the cost of the candle. But if we can’t answer the questions then it becomes a situation in which we merely endanger ourselves while trying to stand between the warring parties.

If a determination isn’t made soon, the long term impact on the American polity is going to be unfortunately similar to that of the Vietnam War. I’ve long resisted the tendency to make comparisons because this situation is very different. But in one area it will be similar. If we can’t succeed in stabilizing the situation and withdraw from the area to allow it to descend into total anarchy the stench of our defeat and the conclusion that America cannot be a positive force in the world will dog us for another forty years.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Election Day was gloomy for a conservative. Clearly my prediction that things weren’t really as bad as the Left-Wing Media was shouting was wrong. Things were worse. Lots worse. It really isn’t easy to get a five or six seat Senate swing when only 33 seats are in contention. It isn’t easy to shift forty or more House seats. It flies in the face of election statistical history where 95% of incumbents get re-elected. You’ve really got to blow it to take this big a hit.

Why? What went wrong? There will be a lot of analysis from both sides of the aisle and throughout the blogosphere over the next few weeks. Was it the war? Couldn’t have been the economy. Was it illegal immigration? What about Social Security? Maybe corruption and scandal?

Here’s what the Wall Street Journal thinks: Referendum on Failure

Here’s what I think.

The maxim about power corrupting holds true. Conservatives said they were different than liberals. They espouse the idea of individual responsibility over governmental nannyism. We can be self-sufficient. We can raise our families, get our own education, work hard to succeed, save some money, plan for retirement and live by standards of morality and ethics. We don’t need a government hand-out and we abhor the idea of redistribution of wealth, especially if it is our wealth being redistributed and it is being handed out to those who apparently have done little more than breathe in order to qualify for it.

We’re the side of low taxes. We’re the side of moral behavior. We’re the side that supports democracy and freedom over cronyism and despotism. We’re the side of bravery and patriotism, of pride and honor, of trust and truth. We’re the side that stands up for what is right, even if it isn’t popular. We’re the side who will do the right thing and take the consequences, firm in the faith that doing right is its own reward.

But, we became the side that said one thing and did another. The opposition incessantly pointed out that the Republicans in power were corrupt. Their strategy was not to provide alternatives of public policy, but simply to highlight failures of the incumbents. They couldn’t really propose a palatable solution to Iraq that would leave the region stabilized and Americans less threatened by terrorism, so they didn’t try. They couldn’t really argue that the President had failed in managing an incredible recovery for the economy after the tragedy of 9/11. The stock markets, interest rates, unemployment numbers, inflation levels and productivity figures were pretty conclusive, so they were simply ignored. They didn’t want action on illegal immigration, so they obfuscated knowing that the Republican majority could be depended upon to pander.

What they could do was consistently, continuously, conclusively point out that the Emperor was naked. They had dealt with corruption and venality in their own party during the Clinton years and long before. They simply had to point out that the folks who said they were better weren’t really that good. They highlighted hypocrisy. And it was there!

When President Bush took office, he made a clear effort to demonstrate that he was going to mark a change in terms of ethics. He wanted to restore the faith of the American people in their president. He would be honest and forthright. He would tell the truth, even when it was tough. No more finger-wagging and denials of the obvious. No more convoluted definitions of what the “meaning of ‘is’ is.” We expected better and we would get it.

I don’t think he let me down. I think he was let down by his party. He expected more from them than they were going to deliver. With a majority in both houses of the Congress, he should have gotten support for his initiatives. He should have had cooperation in getting an agenda moving. He did his part in biting his tongue and signing bills that he could easily have justified vetoing. He certainly wasn’t the obstruction to progress in the past six years. It was his own party in the legislature.

But, it wasn’t the legislative gridlock that torpedoed the party for this election. It was the moral collapse.

It was Abramhoff. When a lobbyist looks corrupt, he probably is. When he is blatant about payoffs and kickbacks, he isn’t working for that “shining city on the hill” but rather for that glaring casino on the reservation. When it slithers like a snake, don’t be surprised when it bites you in the breast. As the parable goes, “you knew I was a snake when you picked me up.”

It was Cunningham. Damn it, Duke, you were better than that. You knew what was right and what was wrong. You disgraced your legacy and your profession and all those who trusted you and expected honesty in return.

It was DeLay. Politics ain’t tiddlywinks. But it also shouldn’t be dirty and shouldn’t be confused with personal self-interest. It shouldn’t be a game of “gotcha” and despite the temptations to exercise your power to perpetuate your incumbency, you needed to respect democracy. You played at the edge of the rules and got wrapped up in accusations and innuendo that even if you weren’t guilty resulted in your downfall and contributed to the loss of your party.

It was Ney and Burns who got caught up in the Abramhoff debacle. Congress isn’t about getting rich or even about good seats at the football game. It’s about service to your country.

It was George Allen who clearly proved himself much less than Presidential material when he stooped to arguably racial epithets in a vain attempt to be cute and funny. Leave that stuff to the Kerrys and we’d all be better served. Finishing your campaign with a litany of selected steamy quotes from novels written by your opponent was beneath you. Couldn’t you have made the case for your re-election with competence and qualifications and an agenda of what you wanted to get done?

It was Foley, but more than that it was all of the members of the House who knew about Foley and looked the other way. The hard part of the honor code of the military academies isn’t the front end about “lying, cheating and stealing” but the back end about “tolerating among us, those who do.” Had the House leadership had the moral backbone to deal with the problem we would have had a lot fewer Republicans holding their nose in disgust rather than voting.

It was Ted Haggard, who wasn’t even in politics. Reverend Ted standing up on Sunday to oppose gay marriage then snorting some meth and calling his gay boyfriend during the week for a tryst was symbolic of a failure of conservatism. It matters not that he wasn’t relevant to the party or national politics. The stench wafted over the conservative movement. Mix one part Haggard, one part Foley and three parts corrupt congress-critters and you get a recipe for an electoral debacle.

What will it take to recover? It’s clear to me. Walking the walk after talking the talk. Values and ethics and morality require action beyond simple lip service. Behaving like the people we profess to be is what it will take to regain the confidence of the voters. Bringing home the bacon when we know it took a lot of wallowing in the sty doesn’t make a very good meal in my house.