Friday, October 14, 2005

Dadmanly offline for a bit, thus a break from debate

I'm sure most of you read Dadmanly's blog, but if anyone doesn't I'll mention here he's not expecting internet access of any quality for the last few weeks of his deployment. He's taking a break from blogging for that time out of necessity. I'm sure you all join with me in wishing or praying for his safe return and of his troops as their tour ends, and look forward to hearing from him when he's back.

For now I'll keep arguing as needed with folks who wish in the comments section here, and perhaps if enough people want to continue to debate by comment we could try another topic, but mostly I'll be looking forward to his return to the US and him coming back to try to kick my butt some more (I had to put in the "try", I'm sorry, I'm terrible :P).


Dadmanly Responds:

I want to thank BW for his patience with me during this time. That must seem like a dirty trick, get him all worked up with some animated discussion, then I fall off the face of the earth!

(Not exactly my best timing, starting in with a new debate partner when I have to take a sabbatical.)

My time is crunched pretty good, I am still blogging but restricted to wrtie ahead and upload, not ideally suited to a back and forth format. Also, I have some "want to get done" stuff before I am out of the sandbox.

If there are any of our regular readers interested in a debate with BW, please let one of us know. I can invite you in if you send along your email. (If BW is interested.)

Again, thanks BW for tipping off the readers, and for the lively exchanges. I've enjoyed them (when I wasn't expressing extreme dissatisfaction with your views in somewhat off color ways, God forgive me ;) I look forward to having more time for more rhetorical scrimmages.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

If you're not with us, you're agin us!

Right, this is a reference to DM's main blog which references Blackfive's blog. I didn't get a chance to read the comment that annoyed DM as it seems deleted from blackfives blog, so I'll just quote DM:
What did Blackfive say again?
At some point, you have to pick sides. Not choosing a side is choosing not to be on our side.
In other other words (ones that are connected to reality), maintaining some bizarre sense of impartiality or neutrality (or objectivity, which would probably be okay if any of the Old New Journalists knew what that word meant), in the face of brutal inhumanity is to be on the side of evil. When a terrorist intentionally targets innocents, women and children, families, any form of non-combatant, they are not deserving of any sympathy or respect. And to remain non-judgmental about them is to condone and tolerate evil. And that, my morally tone-deaf friends, puts you on the other side.
Okay, so very quickly, I'm going to duck the media part of it per se, I've beaten that one to death right here and overall from out comments its beaten to death everywhere.

Here are my objections to the argument:

1. There is nothing so simple as two sides. Even the AIF are not all on the same side. There are (as I've noted in the past) clear examples of terrorists in the AIF, but also groups that do not intentionally target civilians. If the Iraq war in particular had been (or even was currently) as simple as Al Qaeda (still can't spell it right) vs. the people of the United States, and it was an Al Q government, it could be argued perhaps more successfully that there are only 2 clear-cut sides to the war. But then as many have pointed out, Iraq was very low down the list of state sponsors of terrorism, low on the list of know WMD producers/researchers and is only recently becoming the themepark for every sadist wacko and devout/homicidal Islamist in the east...

2. Bush killed this expression for the foreseeable future. He said you're with him or with the terrorists. At the time he said it the debate was not at all about supporting the terrorists, it was about HOW to beat the terrorists and his plans were not the ONLY plans that were conceivably workable to prevent future 9/11s and punish the people responsible. He also used this line on Canada (we do not miss our last US Ambassador BTW, seemed to think we were some kind of vassal) and it did not go over well. We chose "not with you" but never for a second accepted that this made us bad people or terrorist supporters. In fact we continued our part on the war on terror in Afganistan (we're in a hot spot there right now BTW), we continue to work co-operatively with the US government on domestic antiterrorism, signals intelligence and the million other issues we need to co-operate on as neighbours, allies and key trading partners. But we weren't about to join the Iraq war, and still aren't.

3. The administration has a very selective view of which evil murderers of innocents should be taken to task, and for that matter the US government over time can be similarly criticized. Some evil dictators have been quietly ignored by the US government. Some have been supported, even lionized. Similarly some very nasty "insurgents" or "freedom fighters" have been supported by the US government. If what people do to pursue their goals should *consistently* be the compass of the sides the US picks, then you're looking at a HUGE realignment in US foreign policy.

4. In the case of DM or B5, which side is YOUR side? I'm not going to be on your side politically. You're soldiers but also far on the right in general. Although we acknowledged in a previous discussion the US military is probably majority right wing at this point, that shouldn't mean 'support our troops' means 'vote Republican'. So if your government is giving you a mission that some folks believe is wrong, CAN they oppose the mission without opposing the troops? CAN they support the mission yet oppose the methodology laid out to achieve it?

5. There's nothing morally tone deaf about refusing to paint just some people as evil. Speaking for myself as a person on the left, what I find annoying is the selectivity of the current administration's use of the word evil. I find a LOT more evil in the world than Mr. Bush talks about, and I hate it when bad people or governments are tolerated and NOT named as evil because they are key allies in another area. A LOT of key allies in the war on terror are dictatorships or monarchies. Many of them have TERRIBLE human rights records. Some, like for example Pakistan, support terrorism in Kashmir and India. Some, like some of the warlords serving as regional administrators in Afghanistan, are the worst sort of murderous, drug-dealing thugs. Plus as a fellow Christian like Mr. Bush, it strikes me odd he doesn't take a stronger tone on the persecution of Christians in allied Muslim countries. I can't think of anything more evil to me than suppressing God-fearing brothers and sisters or encouraging that hate with simplistic fundamentalist muslim schools of indoctrination in those nations, the very schools I might add that were a key part of the Taliban's Afghanistan, and many of whose graduates joined Al Q and the Taliban.


Dadmanly Responds:

Man, I picked a bad time to pick a fight ;) I'm exhausted from the increased Operations Tempo (OPTEMPO), to which any who have deployed or redeployed in a command position will relate.

I really can't give this the justice it deserves, but I'll poke at it a bit until I need to lie down.

By the way, you must know I'm being tagged teamed by an anti-war blogger and commenter from over at Blackfive. (It's my own fault, I went and put a stick in the hornet's nest.)

1. I would strenuously object to your characterization of Iraq or the enemy we fight here. I believe your facts and assumptions to be it to be in error, though widely reported in the press. Stephen Hayes ahs done an excellent job marshalling substantial evidence of the very real possibility that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11 specifically and worldwide terrorism more generally, more widely than has been acknowledged by mainstream media.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the "insurgent" who was at one time part of the Iraqi Army or Baathist government is almost non-existent. Foreign fighters predominate, with criminal elements a more distant second destabilizing force.

2. Bush killed this expression for the foreseeable future. He said you're with him or with the terrorists.

That's actually not what he said. The speeches you are referring to specifically were addressed to state sponsors of Terrorism (you know, Axis of Evil type countries with a long history of funding, sponsoring, directing, and protecting terrorists.

3. The administration has a very selective view of which evil murderers of innocents should be taken to task, and for that matter the US government over time can be similarly criticized. Some evil dictators have been quietly ignored by the US government. Some have been supported, even lionized. Similarly some very nasty "insurgents" or "freedom fighters" have been supported by the US government. If what people do to pursue their goals should *consistently* be the compass of the sides the US picks, then you're looking at a HUGE realignment in US foreign policy.

Ah, the old "You didn't do anything about Pinochet, so why go after Noriega?" argument. By that logic, we are forever constrained by mistakes in our past. Thank God we are beginning to truely align our foreign policy with our ideals and values, and not with the weepy impotence of a Jimmy Carter who left our reputation in tatters. Or a pecadillo-enmeshed Bill Clinton who could make deals with the Chinese in exchange for campaign contributions, watch Bin Laden gain power, and make empty deals with North Korea that let themn get nukes, while pretending to abide by meaningless agreements.

And wouldn't you say that the current foreign policy, so adroitly navigated by Secretary Condi Rice, was in fact just the sort of "huge realignment" you say would be necessary to navigate consistently by the compass of our ideals?

4. In the case of DM or B5, which side is YOUR side?

Far to the right? That's an gross exaggeration. Many of my fellow bloggers are not at all socially conservative (some, like me, are). As I said, many would consider the Democratic Party if Patriotism wasn't equated with Jingoism, and a victim and rights philosophy (couched in political correctness) didn't pervade every aspect of political discussion. We may be Republican, but only because no one else is meeting us even a quarter of the way towards a strong national defense, based on true security, and not hope.

Many soldiers were doubtful of the Cold War (I was, until I started seeing first hand evidence of how the USSR maintained control in Eastern Europe for 4 decades). Many have a "this ain't worth American lives" ethic, even those who are here and want us to kick butt. Once the men and women are deployed and at risk in the battle space, I think those who actively oppose the war are a day late and a dollar short. They tried to influence the decision, and lost. Their advocates lost, and keep losing.

5. There's nothing morally tone deaf about refusing to paint just some people as evil.

We start where we can. There is much evil out there. Our efforts in Iraq have already paid dividends in Lebanon, Egypt, the rest of the Middle East, and even Asia. Libya is arguably off the path of memberhsip in the Nuclear Club.

Would the left really tolerate us going after the rest? You can't be serious. If this administration has any skill at all, it is being able to make the most out of less than any in recent memory. They have anbout pushed a divided country and its opposition just abolut as far as they can probably go, and a draned sight farther than anyone would have wagered on back in 2000.

BW rebuttal:

1a) Fair enough, former Baathists as a group are mostly used up. There is still however nothing close to solidarity among non-government armed forces in Iraq. If you will grant no other distinction, at least grant the clear divide between Shia militias who are for the most part not attacking the government or US forces (but not ruling it out), and the more Sunni/Wahhabist individuals aligning with Al Q. Even that is however simplistic from my reading of actual milblogs from various parts of Iraq (I am in this case getting my info from you lads not the MSM).

1b) I'm well aware that a great deal of effort has gone into spinning yarns of how Iraq *might* *maybe* have been involved *in some way* in 9/11. But what we know for a fact is that Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia were much more obviously involved. Saudis got a free pass though...

1c) My point regarding two sides was perhaps not clear enough. Being opposed to how Bush has been conducting the war on terror does NOT mean that one supports terrorism or wants nothing done about it, but that is implied by presenting us-or-them choices. Arguments for massively increased human intelligence, targetted arrests and assassinations and increased attention to improving the US' image in Middle East are not crackpot theories to be dismissed out of hand.

2) I am afraid you stand corrected. Bush did in fact use that expression repeatedly in conjunction with threats both implicit and explicit. It was most decided targetted at his political adversaries and foreign nations of all stripes. He began to revise in May/June 2002 to the meaning you are using, but when he began to use it in the months after 9/11 he made it quite clear it was his way or risk being considered an enemy of the United States.

3) You concede my point that Republican presidencies from which Bush takes many of his staff, his vice president and many of his ideas were amoral at best in this regard. I will in turn concede yours that Democratic presidencies were probably no better in this regard. As for your assertion that the United States is operating with a clear moral compass now, I defy you to demonstrate that. States that are closely allied with the US still get a free pass regardless of their human rights records (Saudi Arabia, the new Afghan Government (also here), Turkey, Pakistan (and here for a pile of links re. the plight of our Christian brothers and sisters specifically) and in the case of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia their sponsorship of terrorism. Nothing has changed. Oh and don't get me started on China, which still gets the best trading status possible with the US while Cuba is under a punishing, and in my opinion immoral economic embargo. You tell me how China has the moral high ground over Cuba. Please.

4a) Okay, fair enough. You're somewhat to the right, but far to the right was unfair. Blackfive is however another story. As Dave has noted in the comments, Blackfive's choice of sponsors is extreme right wing, from the insult to pacifists everywhere (footprint of the American chicken t-shirts) to the whole "annoy a liberal" line of products designed basically to offend everyone on the left just on sight. Some are especially over the top (ACLU spelled with a Soviet sickle) while others are amusing to me but designed to offend others (Peace symbol turned into a B-52 labelled "PEACE: through superior firepower". I don't even read Blackfive regularly anymore as the right column is so nauseating it spoils the whole blog for me.

4b) My question still stands. How can people oppose the current policies of the government and still support the troops? Or is the only way to accept every decision once the President makes it?

5a) If the goal of the United States following the Afghan campaign was removing the threat of rogue states with WMD, the first target should have been North Korea. Everyone who knows anything about the North Korean situation is scared shitless about that raving lunatic's nuclear program. Plus the plight of the average North Korean is undoubtedly worse than the plight of the average Iraqi pre-OIF. They're not only brutally oppressed by a mad, homicidal dictator, they are also starving by the truck load due in large part to their evil leader's policies.

5b) If the goal was suppressing state sponsors of terrorism, stomping Saudi Arabia flat and installing a democratic government would have been a good start. Or Pakistan (speaking of dictatorships with nukes), or Iran. Or Sudan? Or Yemen? I could go on here. The official list before Bush came to power lists 7 state sponsors of terror (although they leave a lot off), with IRAN named as the worse offender, and Iraq listed only because they supported the Palestinian intifada (like a lot of Arab countries did and still do) and because they supported a group of Iranians who used terror against the government of Iran (not much different than Iran's funding of armed Shia militants in Iraq I might add). The report even says "
The [Iraqi] regime has not attempted an anti-Western terrorist attack since its failed plot to assassinate former President Bush in 1993 in Kuwait." Incidently Libya is noted in the same report as being well on the way to international compliance LONG BEFORE 9/11, with a declaration of an anti-terrorism stance and no suspicion of involvement in new acts of terrorism.

5c) My main point here is that morally tone deaf when applied to the left and/or the media was a bit of a cheap shot, and or to mix metaphors a stone thrown from the balcony of a glass house. "And to remain non-judgmental about them is to condone and tolerate evil." is a lesson that should be applied much more broadly than it is now, or has been by all American governments in recent memory, both blue and red. The White House claming the moral high ground now is nothing more than disingenuous sophistry.

Does the left want the war in Iraq to be lost?

I was laughing to myself even just trying to phrase this topic question properly. war vs. occupation vs. nation building vs. iraqi freedom or whatever. Cut me some slack on my wording and we'll all get along fine.

So here we go. My opinions on my own question:

1. First, as a disclaimer about pacifists. They're not all leftists. I'm not one myself, although I like the concept in principle. I don't know many true pacifists. The ones I know are divided between conservative Christians from pacifist sects and leftists of the 60s-survivor variety (and nouveau hippy variety ofc). Pacifists I think want to see all wars fail, but preferably not be fought at all. I don't think they want the terrorists to win per se either though.

2. Some want the war to fail spectacularly. Extremists (not just islamic) want to see the United States fail and be humbled. Hell, some of the nastier and crazier people (the right doesn't have a lock on either vote :P) probably cheer when they hear of US casualties. That's a bit sick and inhumane, but I've met people like that in my travels so I'm sure they're out there. For people who don't care much about what happens to anyone doing something they deem as bad, the prospect of the US getting their ass handed to them in Iraq appeals as it might just roll back the tendancy towards foreign adventure for a decade or two. Not too much difference than crazy animal rights extremists killing researchers, or crazy pro-lifers bombing clinics and sniping doctors. You can get so INTO your own issue you forget or ignore the humanity of those on the other side.

2.5 Incidently, I do not include conservative islamic fundamentalists in "the left". Some of them are part of anti-war coalitions and organizations, sure, but on almost any other issue they are so far from left positions that they make uneasy allies for the thinking person on the left. On choice, civil rights, separation of church and state, foreign policy and gay rights you won't see islamic fundamentalists hanging out with all us lefties. So yeah, nobody is kicking them out of the peace marchs, but don't try to brand the left with their ideas or behaviour. They ain't us, and they don't claim to be.

3. Many are conflicted. I'd put myself in this category. On one hand, a forced US withdrawal at this point would throw the country into civil war at worst, and another strongman dictatorship at best. It's hard to see that as good for anyone. On the other hand, many on the left feel that a clear-cut victory for the administration in Iraq will be interpreted as proof of worth for the policies and people who ordered the invasion happen in the first place, and might lead to further foreign adventures based on criteria and goals many on the left don't agree with. I think this fear is reducing the less time there is in Bush's presidency and the more of a lame duck he becomes. Many on the left would feel more confident if a Democrat or even a trustworthy Republican like McCain inheirited the last bit of the Iraq issue. Of course the right might not, but there's that polarization of the States again rearing its head.

4. Many on the left want the *stated* goals of the administration to be met. That's not to say they necessary supported the initial invasion, but the *stated* goals of the administration at this time are (probably intentionally) such motherhood issues that one cannot help but hope for their success. Mind you, just because one supports the stated goals doesn't mean one can't be suspicious or apprehensive of the unstated goals....

Oh, and on the list of things the left is suspicious about or looking for?

1. Long term beneficial contracts for US defense contractors and US oil companies. Proof of the VERY common suspicion that the war was about oil, or that key players have been lining their own pockets and the pockets of their friends. Incidently, in Canada even among relatively conservative people the belief about it being a war for oil is very high. Just FYi.

2. Maintenance of restrictive anti-terror laws long after there have been attacks on US soil. Proof that some of the 9-11 response was to empower the federal government to oppress the people or to stifle dissent.

3. A draft, or policies on stop-lossing that force people to fight the war. Obviously I think the draft is a great idea regardless, but that is one of the few ways in which I am totally out of touch with most of "the left" :P

4. The war being used as an excuse to implement policies the right already wanted to do but couldn't sell to the general public. Drilling oil in wilderness for example, or moving even further away from engagement with the UN.


Dadmanly's Response

I can't really give you any kind of argument on your classifications of those on the left, and whether they wnat us to "lose." I will say that the anti-war movement takes it on faith that their efforts caused us to "lose" the war in Vietnam, and they widely count that a great victory for their cause.

Think about that for a minute, and dwell on the aftermath that followed. The fall of South Vietnam and the consolidation of North and South under Communism. Political reeducation, and the spectre of millions of Vietnamese risking their lives to escape. Pol Pot and genocide in Cambodia. Emboldening of North Korea. A demoralized and diminished US military that retreated from its obligations and security protections for a generation until Reagan and a reenvigorated Cold War against communism. Arguably, Vietnam was our Afghanistan (right, flip that comparison around for a moment), and distracted us and enabled the USSR to dodder on for another decade and a half.

So forgive us if we are a little skeptical about acknowledging any on the left (you conflicted middle roaders notwithstanding) actually will be pleased with a positive outcome, that will diminish their ability to exploit events for political advantage.

And those things the left is suspicious about or looking for?

Gosh, if there wwas evidence of any of this, I'd be nervous too.

1. Long term contracts

This is an unfortunate by-product of modern war. Many tasks are outsourced, capability is held in reserve (unpaid for) until needed, then called into service. It's more expensive, but the rationale is that it saves money long term. I don't necessarily buy that, but as a Consultant in my civilian life, I make my living off of such arrangements! I am somewhat uncomfortable with the large role played by KBR, but I do know they are the biggest, best, and most capable firm wiht global and immediate reach necessary to be called in for these kinds of jobs. People who have been there and are willign to risk their lives for money. Once I'm retired, you wouldn't catch me taking that kind fo job, but I admore those who do, and don't begrudge them their just compensation.

2. Maintenance of restrictive anti-terror laws

This is the big hallucination. The Patriot Act enacted some minor enhancements and eased soem evidenciary rules, without eliminating the need for review by a judge, warrants, habeus corpus, etc. Library or information access provisions have never been utilized. Anti-corruption and RICO statutes are far more intrusive and exapnsive of police powers, and those go unremarked on.

Some muslim aid organizations funnel donations and money launder for active terrorist groups, far more blatantly than IRA supporters in the US. (Anyone who has spent any time in an American Irish Pub will know what I'm talking about.) These are the organizations who are crying violation of civil liberties, and they drip the blood of innocents up to their elbows.

3. A draft or stop-loss

Not yet necessary, may not be needed at all. Military leaders don't want to have to deal with the difficulties of coerced or unwilling recruits. Media balance would go a long way in this regard. The vast majorioty of soldiers will never be in harm's way (even in Iraq). There's still risk of course, and danger, but many who might serve have a distorted (media) perspective on the real situation.

4. The war used as an excuse

No less than the Left using the war as an excuse to attack the Republican Party or score short term gain. Both sides can do a better job of making common cause on issues of National Security, but there can be no serious argument that says the Democrats in our country have any serious policy (foreign or otherwise) alternatives to this administration. The administration is suffering its worst reaction yet from conservatives, many of whom are gravely concerned and disappointed over exapnsion of Big Government or straying from other conversative priorities.

Friday, October 07, 2005

An All-Volunteer Army?

This one I have got thinking about as I've noticed a decidedly conservative lean to the milblogs from Iraq compared to say history books and reprints of letters I've read from WWI and II.

Now I don't know, but I gather the US ended your draft what, 30 years ago? If so, you're approaching the second generation of an all-volunteer army. Nobody getting drafted then staying, any and all lifers chose the military and felt it was what they wanted to do from the start? From my own experience the left of my generation (early gen X) doesn't go in for the soldier's life often so I assume there are less of us serving...

So some questions for dadmanly and a place to start:

1. Without claiming a formal survey, of all the troops you've met in the last year, what percentage would you guess are conservative, what percentage moderate and what percentage left-leaning?

2. Do reservists/NG members seem any more or less skewed right than lifers?

3. Would mandatory service (while maintaining a cadre of lifers) threaten the quality of the modern army? Is it even practical in the modern, high specialized military?

4. Does it worry you that a significant portion of your nation may some day (if not now) live their whole lives not even sure how to fire a weapon, let alone maintain one?

5. Should the left be worried about attaining a state where most of the people in the military have a particular party affiliation?

6. At what point do totally uninformed and inexperienced people stop deserving any say in what is done by the people who are actually at the sharp end? How would civilian oversight really work if the people overseeing it were clueless?

7. Does a populace who for the most part have never served make it unlikely that politicians will be held to account for wasteful military spending, or make it unlikely that they will recognize GOOD military spending when they see it?

I don't really have a position to argue for myself yet (I'm sure you'll give me some), the only thing I think is that, as a lesson in citizenship and solidarity, I think all democracies should have a period of mandatory military service.


Dadmanly Responds:

I think BW is correct in his impression that a large majority of MILBLOGGERS are decidedly conservative, although I would guess they are far more conservative on military issues (and perhaps economics) than conservative, say, on social issues (although I think a majority still would be, but less so).

I think BW may have hinted at one of the primary reasons for that: we ended our draft 30 years ago, and have an all-volunteer army. As BW suggests, those who stay in for life have made an initial choice and then continue to choose to stay in. No one (except the few Vietnam era drafted Soldiers who may still be in, nobody got drafted and then decided to stay. This causes some interesting culture phenomenon, as I'll discuss along the way.

BW is also correct that military life is not a widely popular decision for generation X (or Y or Z), but it really doesn't need to be to maintain force numbers sufficient for manning. A minority of young people, self selected, is all that is necessarily required.

But on to BW's specific questions:

1. Without claiming a formal survey, of all the troops you've met in the last year, what percentage would you guess are conservative, what percentage moderate and what percentage left-leaning?

I think I read that 73% of Soldiers voted for President Bush in the last election. I think that's a helpful starting point. No doubt, something less than 27% voted for John Kerry, some of whom might have been conservative and thought of Kerry as a viable "military-minded" candidate.

They'd be wrong in my opinion, but I've spoken to Vietnam era vets who believed this to be so, there would be some who thought so. We can discuss Kerry another time perhaps, but suffice it to say most military thought him a phony and that he discredited and disgraced his military service after the war.

I think those who view military service as a civic responsibility, an honor and a virtue, and follow through on that belief by putting their life on the line will by definition tend to also share other conservative beliefs. Not that Patriotism is necessarily conservative, but conservative tend to be overwhelmingly patriotic, and therefore will far more often self-select military service. Likewise, those who are more progressive, socialist, will tend to view (national) patriotism at least ambivalently, if not with distrust or even scorn. It seems to me there is a lot of self- and nation-loathing (and cynicism) that lies at the heart of many a progressive agenda.

2. Do reservists/NG members seem any more or less skewed right than lifers?

That's an interesting question. I could see in some ways skewed less right; we have civilian jobs, we did not pick the military as a full time profession. Some did not expect to ever go to war, many were in for college benefits.

Then again, many joined the Guard and Reserve after 9/11, precisely to join the effort to fight terrorism and protect our way of life. The sense of civic obligation rose dramatically -- in casual discussions as well as official communications -- in the wake of 9/11, and the tremendous courage exhibited by uniformed services in NYC.

The one canard I thing we can safely put to rest is that people join the military out financial desperation. As any one can tell you who does NOT want to stay in (pulled in from the IRR or on stop loss for example), if you want out you don't care if you have to go on welfare. If you look at demographic trends, the highest rates of enlistment or re-enlistment far more match the red blue map than the economic one. In other words, joining up is far less common in Blue state or blue city regions, far higher in red state areas. Poor people or unemployed sometimes join the military, but there are easier ways to survive. South, Midwest, West, Rural areas. The Army is pretty much red state fed.

3. Would mandatory service (while maintaining a cadre of lifers) threaten the quality of the modern army? Is it even practical in the modern, high specialized military?

Yes. No. (I hadn't thought of that, that's another reason why not.)

No career military person wants to deal with unwilling draftees. It's bad enough today dealing with the few involuntarily extended or those called back to service.

4. Does it worry you that a significant portion of your nation may some day (if not now) live their whole lives not even sure how to fire a weapon, let alone maintain one?

Not particularly, but then I think survivalists are a bit wacko.

I believe deeply that we will sustain a nuclear terrorist attack (or two or three) somewhere in the US. I think that will change everything, and not for the better, because those of us who warned of such things, and those who think there is evil that must be confronted, will have NO patience for the foolish ostriches who have stubbornly kept their heads in the diplomatic, appeasement, or pacifist sand. Habeas corpus will go, as will many of the other safeguards, and that will be the true test of whether we survive as a people.

And oddly enough, I think that event, and the drastic upheaval it will cause, will make everybody a believer, and we'll unify in purpose like something out of Independence Day (the movie). Naive, perhaps, but then I know we are the Nation of Lincoln, and capable of the most amazing feats of courage and resilience in given the chance.

What I am concerned about is that so many of my fellow citizens think they are entitled to the amazing blessings we have, and have no clue of the generational sacrifices that have been made to make it all possible. "Freedom isn't free," as the bumper sticker says. Or as Greyhawk says, "Good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

5. Should the left be worried about attaining a state where most of the people in the military have a particular party affiliation?

Not worried, but it should cause them to rethink who is making the sacrifices necessary to defend the liberties they take for granted. (Or worry, if they are obsessed with politics.)

6. At what point do totally uninformed and inexperienced people stop deserving any say in what is done by the people who are actually at the sharp end? How would civilian oversight really work if the people overseeing it were clueless?

Never. As the NCOs used to like to say, "I gets my power from Congress." And Congress gets it's power from the people who elect them. Same with the Commander in Chief, elected by the people. And to your last, you will cause quite a few chuckles from military veterans, who would most likely respond, "And how is that different from what we have now (or ever)?"

7. Does a populace who for the most part have never served make it unlikely that politicians will be held to account for wasteful military spending, or make it unlikely that they will recognize GOOD military spending when they see it?

Waste is waste, and you don't need to be a subject matter expert to see the worst excesses. In the US, military leaders say, we don't need Base A or Weapon X, and Congress goes and gives them Bases A, B, and C for good measure, and Weapons X, Y, and Z as a bone to defense contractors in their districts. Famously, reports of $400 hammers and $600 toilet seats got huge play here, and I believe helped lead to some dramatic changes in the political landscape throughout the '80s. Arguably, these were in the mix leading up to Clinton's win in '92 and the Contract with America in '94.

That's why I am very excited about our Porkbusters effort here. I think it can be as effective with wasteful military spending.

Links: Basil's Blog, Dadmanly, Outside the Beltway, Wizbang, California Conservative, Jo's Cafe, bRight & Early

BW Responds:

"I think I read that 73% of Soldiers voted for President Bush in the last election. I think that's a helpful starting point. No doubt, something less than 27% voted for John Kerry, some of whom might have been conservative and thought of Kerry as a viable "military-minded" candidate."

Now for me this seems spooky. The potential problems of a significantly politically aligned military are not to be sneezed at long term, based on the history books at least.

"Likewise, those who are more progressive, socialist, will tend to view (national) patriotism at least ambivalently, if not with distrust or even scorn.

Yay! Something to argue about! I knew we'd find something (or did you just throw me a bone?).

Anyway, first off, are folks on the left ambivalent about national patriotism. I would have to say most often, to some degree yes. I would say however that this is as much a reaction to unthinking "cover yourself with the flag" button-pushing on the part of the activist right as it is anything rooted in the left. One of the oldest tactics in the book is accusing people of being "unAmerican" (or whatever country), and that tends to get thrown out there most often by a right pushing their own views. In its natural form patriotism is a grand thing. Abused, it is a button that can be used to push folks into all kinds of pretty terrible behaviour, and is the keystone of many an autocratic regime, regardless of their overall left/right tendences.

It seems to me there is a lot of self- and nation-loathing (and cynicism) that lies at the heart of many a progressive agenda."

Cynicism is not something that the left can claim a patent on. I get enough US talk radio and TV to hear a lot of frank, nasty cynicism coming from right-wing pundits and hosts, so I'm going to suggest it is much more the fashion of the day (masquerading as intelligence or wisedom) and thus nothing that can be claimed or laid at the door solely of the left.

As for self and nation-loathing, the one thing I quite like about many on the left is being able to criticize oneself and one's country without felling like either a jerk or a traitor. You don't have to hate your country to be opposed to its current policies. Many on the left would argue that you do not love your country (or your neighbour, or yourself) if you allow stupid or evil things to continue to be done in our/its name without speaking up.

I love Canada enough to have a problem without our underfunding of our military. I love Canada enough to hate the policies that are slowly destroying our national health care system. I love Canada enough to oppose tax cuts while we still have a large national debt. I love Canada's freedoms enough to want the RCMP and CSIS investigated and held to account for the Arar incident, even if it does end up embarassing us. I loved Canada enough to support Jean Chretien when he refused to commit troops to "the coalition of the willing".

I suspect most on your US left love your country and feel that some of the choices made by your current administration threaten its welfare, international reputation and perhaps long term survival.


Comments Now Open

Somewhere along the way Debate Space had comments for Registered Users only. Don;t know when that came about, but it's since been corrected. Comments are now open to anyone, with a word verification to help cut down on comment spam.

Sorry for any inconvenience; we welcome your participation.

(H/T C. Bond of RightWingNation for pointing that out)

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

This is no liberal media bias

Posted by BW

Two quick disclaimers. First, I am not a liberal. The word means something a bit different here in Canada anyways. I'm sure I would be labelled a liberal if I lived in the States, assuming I wasn't labelled an out-and-out Commie. A liberal in the classical sense is more of what today is called a libertarian. Small "l" liberals at their core believe in less government, less taxes, and more individual freedoms, which only by coincidence includes vigorous protection of *individual* human rights, and reject morality laws *only* because it is unnecessary state interference in the lives of citizens. A true liberal believes the only jobs of the government are law-and-order, and defense.

The "liberal" used by pundits in the US has come to mean "weak-chinned, public-funds-wasting, softie pinko commie". It's a disrespectful label that I do not apply it to myself, nor is it an issue in my country, where "The Liberal Party" is the government, and is committed to most of those individual ideals, as well as cutting budgets, cutting taxes and reducing wasteful (and useful) public spending (except pork,graft and patronage which all governments seems to love). Most on the left prefer to call themselves progressives, but many choose other names/labels as "the left" is not one big group but a bunch of groups with often competing issues and interests. In North America few are even prepared to call themselves "social democrats" as Europeans do, because years of anti-communism and witch hunts in the 50s and early 60s have confused socialism with communism, and communism with Stalinism and Maoism.

Second disclaimer is, I'm not an American. I do not believe Canadians should refer to Mr. Bush as "The President". We are our own country. Besides, most Americans who even know who or what our head of state is (and sadly huge number of Americans don't know) do not refer to Mr. Martin as "The Prime Minister". So for the most part when I post, I put "George Bush" or "Mr. Bush" or even "Bush". I do not mean any disrespect, if I were an American I would give him his due as "The President" even though I don't have much use for the man or his administration, but as a Canadian I don't use that. I hope that doesn't offend anyone, but if it does suck it up.

Putting aside the label, I want to address the issue, often bandied about in the conservative media, of left wing or "liberal" media bias.

You see, the thing is, the MSM doesn't have a liberal media bias. It really doesn't. It has a sensational bias. Sure, some stations may be more left or right than others, but TBH Clear Channel and Fox News more than make up for whatever former hippies might live at CBS and NBC in my opinion. Regardless, the "sensational bias" (sometimes called "if it bleeds it leads" means that frigging anything to do with Iraq will be BIG news so long as it's the major centre of deployment for the US, and as long as its still pretty hot. Heck, even in Canada we get more reports about Iraq than Afghanistan, which is nuts since we have lots of Canuck boots on the ground in Afghanistan and none in Iraq (officially at least, who knows where JTF2, our own small 'Delta Force,' is right now, no one is allowed to say). It's also why a big VBIED with civilian fatalities makes more news than the Iraqi constitutional process, despite the constitution obviously of more long term importance (and admittedly being a "good news for the right" story so long as it continues to progress without stalling).

I've been reading a lot of milblogs (being from a family with proud military traditions, although all civilians now since VJ day) and I've found that the myth of the "liberal bias" in the media is strong among the service members (at least the ones who blog). But again, those media ppl aren't doing "the left" any favours either, and never have. The MSM covered Abu Graib because it was sensational, had some sexual undertones, and had disturbing pictures. They do the same in Guantanamo in part for the same reasons but more importantly because even they have to admit that the rules of war are being pretty blatantly (and perhaps ineffectually) flaunted in that place. And of course because its very controversial and thus sensational and thus "leads". They don't always cover it though. In one of the websites I link to below, they note there is a long term hunger strike on at Gitmo (sp?) that nobody in the MSM is talking about right now. It claims the prisoners are being force fed to avoid the first starvation fatality, which would of course qualify for "it bleeds it leads" and put whatever innocent victim/hardened terrorist as front page sympathetic news. If true, it would be the smartest thing the commander there can do. If none of them die, nobody will care and the MSM will spend no time on it. Look at how Bobby Sands got turned from an internationally ignored IRA terrorist into an adored martyr just by starving himself to death.

The MSM don't cover the things people on the left are concerned about. They don't report on a regular basis about honour killings in Saudi Arabia or Jordan. They don't report about the persecution of Christians in Pakistan and parts of southeast Asia. They don't report on the human rights abuses of many central or right of centre governments in South and Central America. The don't report (usually) on the biggest humanitarian crises going on around the world, unless Bono holds a concert or an remarkable number of people die in one day. They don't report the negative impacts of tax cuts in a nation with both a big deficit and a big debt.

Honestly, if you talk to any person left-of-centre and they level with you, they ALSO feel the media is biased, and usually think it is a "right wing bias". Conservatives/Republicans ask "where is all the good news in Iraq on the news" or "why did the pro-war/pro-bush counterdemonstration only get 1/10 of the media coverage". Progressives/leftists/commies (call us what you will) say "why do they only cover the rowdiest or stupidest asshats at any demonstration, and leave out the majority of us that marched peacefully, sang songs and yelled a bit" or "how come when we had 20,000 people in our demonstration and there were 60 people at the counter-demonstration, they still got 10% of the coverage with only 0.15% of the people?".

We could probably debate the "liberal media bias" issue for awhile, because I'm definitely not done. Suffice it to say that while conservative commentators call MSM "the liberal media", progressive commentators call it "the corporate media". It's something we all agree on, for different reasons. Those significantly far from the imaginary "center" totally distrust the MSM. For an example of how little one NGO thinks of the MSM, see here.

So, to date my points are that the MSM haven't covered progressive activist groups concerns about Iraq adequately, any more than they've covered their concerns about other places adequately. And that the MSM, and especially the conservative MSM owned by Rupert Murdoch, do not do "the left" any more favours than they do the right, and sometimes less.

For those of you who are more on the right and simply trust the evidence of your eyes, you probably need to read some *real* left stuff to get a better idea.

So go to Mother Jones and The Nation, just looking on their front pages, stuff you never hear about on the network news. There is even an article lambasting the NYT (darling of those who want to point out liberal media bias) for a story that appears to have been twisted and bent to suggest highly educated women really do want nothing more than to do stay-at-home mothers and dream of the day they can be, an issue near-and-dear to the hearts of conservatives and a big "we don't wanna talk about it" issue for most of the left.

Even Move On, although a huge machine to try to influence the media, still has 1/2 their campaigns totally obscure if you count off the list. Maybe they get even 1/2 because they've got a lot of pull with the media, or perhaps they just strategically (and perhaps cynically) focus their campaigns on stuff that is already being covered by the MSM so they can try to get their message across on an issue they don't have to force onto the table.

For NGOs that feel ignored 99% of the time by the MSM, go to AI, Human Rights Watch, Greenpeace, NOW, you name it.

I won't even get into the race issue in any depth but I'll tell you that I've never heard a discussion of media and race that didn't observe (often with lovely examples and references) that for every time the MSM covers racism as a problem, there are many more stories that focus on racial minorities in the context of crime, and linking them to crime.

So I will say this. Most of the MSM press does NOT lead, or often report at all, stories near to the heart of leftist and progressive NGOs. Some on the left in fact feel there is a bias towards the right, based on corporate ownership of the major media by the rich, and in some cases the very conservative (this is Murdoch again).

I'm not going to make that argument. I am however making the argument that while some *stories* in the MSM favour a position also favoured by the left, overall the majority of the MSM seems to represent the views of neither the right nor the left.

Personally, I think they represent the views of nobody most of the time. They are in the business of selling commercials and product placements. They will cover a story that will bring in the most viewers. If they can get live tape of a fatal train wreck, that's the story. If they can get scandalous photos of naked prisoners with a female soldier present, they'll publish that and then go on about it for weeks so long as they have an excuse to keep showing those photos. If they can get a story on a US President with *some* (and only some) left tendencies and a tendency to adultery, they'll go with that and not care if it kills his ability to govern so long as they can show a semen-stained dress and show the mildly attractive, but chubby young lady over and over again while using various euphemisms to discuss quickie fellatio.

But nobody gets their good news published, and nobody (much) gets their issues addressed by the mainstream media unless it is somehow sensational or likely to provoke controversy.

For me the saddest part of the growing polarization of right and left is exactly the kind of thing the MSM likes (and my paranoid conspiracy-theorist brain suspects they feed). They don't want to cover a constructive discussion. Hell, they don't even want to cover a respectful debate. They want insults, cutting remarks, yelling if possible and blood if its at all available. If it bleeds, it leads.


Dadmanly's Response:

I think there is liberal bias in many publications, on many editorial and news staffs, but I nevertheless do think that much that is derided as biased towards liberal points of view is, as BW suggests, biased towards the sensational.

"If it bleeds, it ledes." (For all those not versed in Journalist jargon, the opening paragraph of a story is its lede.)

I have seen similar tendencies among my Intelligence Analysts, which I commented on elsewhere in Patterns of Analysis. So I am prepared to acknowledge that much of the impetus for stories and editorial selection is certainly often based on considerations financial rather than ideological. But that only carries us back to the point just so far.

Last objections first, let me somewhat discount the disgruntlement of the higher echelons of non-governmental organizations (NGO). Many of the more prominent NGOs are dissatisfied with "corporate media" (and corporate it most certainly is), all well and good. Major media outlets do not cover all the topics of interest to them, nor do they cater particularly to their priorities. If I have multiple NGOs, and they each chase after different (socialist or progressive agenda) rabbits, does that mean they are in opposition to each other? Of course not, they seek different rabbits, but they share the same philosophy.

In and of itself, that NGOs are not wholely (or even somewhat) satisfied with corporate media does not negate the possible liberal bias of these organizations. They may still be fellow travelers, just lazy or poorly informed or lousy researchers. And of course, as relatively well-compensated members of society in inverse proportion to effort or exertion, they are going to have middle, upper middle, and upper class biases as well, and these may blind them to certain issues more important to the lumpen proleteriat. They still might be biased towards liberal positions and against conservative ones.

For MILBLOGGERS, liberal bias is no myth, they experience it firsthand. And it goes way beyond the "if it bleeds" formulation. They read press accounts that use subjective terms that color the way subjects are reported. Scare quotes, terms heavily laden with history or meaning, and outright distortion of facts on the ground by how a story is reported. This is widespread, evidenced most notoriously by Reuters, but almost as often by the Associated Press. The NY Times does a fair bit of it, as does the LA Times, I'm not sure the history of the Canadian press.

Here's how it works. Mnay news organizations won't use the word "terrorist" to describe someone who intentionally targets civilians, children, women, etc. They will use "rebels" or the preferred "insurgent." What if 90% of these fighters are foreign interlopers? Doesn't that make the term insurgent somewhat (or very) inaccurate? Subjective phrases or non-facts (even impossible to verify "environmentals"), get inserted in the story. This is where the reporter (in a straight news story for God's sake) says something like, "Growing more and more desperate to reverse public opinion, Leader X announced today..." If you can't prove an assertion objectively, you can't disprove it either, an that makes such fuzzy descroiptions of mood, or alluding to mental or emotional states, completely inappropriate.

While 30 years ago, this kind of subjective fluff got edited out of stories -- I know this from first hand experience -- it is pervasive today. This technique is over used particularly by AP reporters, those anonymous hacks who toil away at reporting for a very wide audience but with little visiblity. (Is that why?). Many smaller papers can't really afraid reporting staffs, and print that crap verbatim from the AP news feed.

You could catalog this stuff all day long. Subjective and editorial comments inserted in news reports. Selective presentation of facts. Omission of known information that would create a more balanced impression. It goes way beyond just going for the sensational, and those of us hungry for news from Iraq see it all the time. I tell you what. I will keep in a sidebar a list of examples. I will be willing to wager that in one month's time I come up with over a dozen examples of major news stories, AP, NY Times, etc., where such comments have been inserted.

Next technique is to willfully hire "stringers" who actually work in concert with foreign jihadists. This used to be true only of Al Jazeera types, but now major news networks like CBS have been caught cozying up to our enemies, and allowing them to "stage" photographs, lie in wait for ambushes, and essentially function as before- and after-the-fact accomplices to attacks against Coalition forces. This is bias, as well as completely unethical.

And I don't completely buy the "if it bleeds" schtick either. I have a feeling our new book will be a runaway bestseller, precisely because big "corporate media" doesn't realize how hungry the American public is for positive, uplifting, patriotic, and energetically pro-American stories and reporting.

What's it like in Canada? Is it possible that Canadians would like to hear mnore positive stories about Canada, and the fine work the Canadian military is doing?

Links: Basil's Blog, RightWingNation, Mudville Gazette, bRight & Early

BW rebuttal

Okay, first off, the full response by me was huge, so I posted it on a new Blog for those who care or are bored enough to read it all.

Right, so I’m going to keep to numbered points in an effort to be brief.

1. Thanks for the correction on “lede” .
2. I think you made too quick work of the NGO section. I definitely disagree that all NGOs share the same philosophy. Development-oriented NGOs routinely piss off Greenpeace and vice versa. As for the suggestion that “the liberal media” might cover NGOs poorly only by accident and only out of being incompetent, that’s really a stretch. The MSM is very good at what they do, which is keeping our attention, selling commerical time and making money. They cherry pick stories from NGOs too consistently based on topicality and controversy for me to accept that is all a co-incidence. Especially the bad researcher idea. The MSM dig up a two year old report on the AI website on human rights abuses by US troops IF it fits their story, but then ignore the front-page stories about Africa, etc on that web site? Lazy MSMers would be publishing the front page stuff AI or HRW is really focussed on…
3. What is the MSM? I find myself being brought to task on this topic for a couple of newspapers everyone knows are more left-learning by US standards. I have a long discussion on newspapers on my new main blog, but suffice it to say, in most markets people have a conservative and a less-conservative option at the very least, and either they are both mainstream and should be equally judged or are both biased and should be left from the discussion.
4. What is liberalism? Again, I’m stuck on the word. What Americans seem to think of as left-wing is often centrist or centre left opinion in much of the rest of the Western world. The very idea that socialized medicine (just as an example) is a leftist position would get people all over the world collapsing in laughter.
5. As for selective wordings, ect by the media in general (I leave print media to a looong discussion at BWviews , I have to say that your points are based largely on print media and based on your own perceptions. Which is fine, but bare in mind that others looking at other articles see the lack of fairness to left views. Discussing domestic political discussions especially this is striking, tax cuts and supply side economics as a key example. Overall I stand by my point that most biased journalism including clearly biased newspapers on both sides, go for drama, controversy and conflict at the expense of facts.
6. If you’re going to keep me a sidebar of examples, give me more than just a few known leftish papers. AP would be excellent. It might also be nice if while you’re scanning for bad ones, take note of how many relating to the war don’t seem especially biased, or even those you like.
7. On the topic of “terrorist” vs. “insurgent” I beat this to death on my longer post in the new blog. Basically though, I feel “rebel” and “insurgent” are fair to use, “freedom fighter” isn’t ever, “terrorist” is only if the person or group has a history or stated goal or TARGETTING civilians or makes an attack that can’t reasonably be considered to have military value. You cannot call people terrorists if their actions are targeted at military or government targets and cause “collateral damage” equivalent to the damage that would be done by using a tank main gun on an apartment unit, directly a Spectre gunship onto a legit target in an otherwise somewhat populated area or firing a 50 cal into a speeding car.
8. Perhaps it might be fun to pick a news article each from MSM sources of our choice, and each of us look for right and left wing bias. I could pick the right wing, you could pick the left? I bet we find supports for our own arguments in both :P

A New Debate

A Canadian gentleman by the moniker BW has graciously volunteered as a "left voice" for Debate Space. Until such time as BW can properly introduce himself, let me pass along some of his Blogger Profile, the entirety of which you can access by following the lnk:
I'm somewhat left of centre, more so on some matters than others...I vote for the NDP, our quasi-socialist (not communist folks, socialist) party most of the time. I'm a believing Christian of the Protestant variety. I'm annoyed both by Christians on the right who feel I can't be both Christian and 'progressive', and by atheists/agnostics on the left who don't like to accept me as "one of their own" because I go to church, believe in Jesus and treat the bible as scripture rather than myth or dubious history.
Based on his initial (unofficial) response to my post here on a recent Christopher Hitchens' column, I think we'll enjoy ourselves immensely discussing a wide variety of topics, military, political and religious.

(Hopefully some of you will be mildly entertained as well.)

My previous partner and co-founder, The Liberal Avenger, is in hiatus and is certainly welcome back as well if he gets an opportunity and the inclination.

We hope to be up and running in a few days. Pardon the noise of construction...