Commenter Archive

Comments by J.E. Dyer

On “Paul Ryan on Real Progressivism

Gee, CKM, do you really believe this?

"...Goldberg ha[s] gone far, far beyond political combat with today’s progressives and ha[s] instead propagated a dishonest, self-destructive, dead-end, incipiently extremist view of the national political discussion. The radical, fantasy constitutionalism, the namecalling, the proud declarations of hatred for Ameircan political leaders, the willful and defamatory distortions of history..."

I know you believe this about Beck, but what do you find "dishonest" or a "defamatory distortion" in Goldberg's Liberal Fascism? In what way does he advocate "radical, fantasy constitutionalism"?

On “A journey to delicious and beyond…

I thought it was hilarious when I saw it a day or so ago. It's a cat. It doesn't even see the Roy G. Biv spectrum as we do.

But I agree with CKM -- the Russians would never have come up with this one. The thing to be proudest of? Someone got paid for coming up with the idea for this commercial. Now, that's civilization.

On “I'm a cancer, he's a cancer, she's a cancer, we're a cancer…

@ CK MacLeod:

Actually, CKM, if you think my last reply was beside the point, I may not have expressed myself clearly enough. Progressives, the political movement, have nothing to their credit. Period.

Their purpose, their raison d'etre, has been to expand government's charter, and in particular the charter of the federal government. Period.

Progressives did not think up child labor laws. They didn't think up charity or public relief. The history of all of those impulses and lines of effort runs through private religious activists in England and the northern United States between the late 1700s and the 1830s and '40s.

What Progressives thought up was central government direction of human life as a prophylactic venture. This is an idea of government that inevitably eats away at our liberties. This is the point.

The Progressive movement is responsible for the mushrooming of government executive agencies at the federal and state levels (and by extension, in many areas, at the county level). It has also had the biggest hand in breaking down federalism, and constitutional restraints on government activism. That is its great legacy.

Procedural refinements like popular election of senators (I'm not sure where your attribution of the ballot initiative to the Progressives comes from, but that's procedural too) can be argued all day -- but they are procedural. They haven't had any noticeably positive effect on the overall trend of government. I wouldn't want to see Prop 13 undone today, but it certainly hasn't reined in the drunken sailors' brigade in Sacramento. It has, however, been part of the conditions that have distorted the housing market in California. Don't overreact -- I didn't say I want to get rid of it. I'm a po' Golden State homeowner too. But as to whether it's better to have Prop 13 in place, or better for California government to have never gotten as surreally big, interventionist, and out of control as it is today, I certainly pick the latter. The point is and remains that the enduring ideas of the Progressives are the political force behind the unsustainable growth of government, in California and everywhere else in the US.

I think you and I have a different idea of what liberty is -- and it's good, in my view, to have the discussion about it. More later! As always, I enjoy the discussion. It's so gratifying to have discussions in a forum where most of the correspondents stick to issues and refrain from snark.


Being offended by Beck's style is something I think we'll have to agree to disagree on. It isn't my style and I wouldn't try to adopt it for myself. I can see how it could offend others. But none of that makes me feel like I need to repudiate Beck. I think we've encountered a difference in personality here.

Regarding the Progressive movement and its leading lights, we have to distinguish between some of the things the individuals are famous for and the aspirations of the movement itself.

One does this all the time, or at least I do. I disagree emphatically with the left-wing priests and nuns who have gotten behind Marxist insurgencies in Latin America, but that doesn't mean I think any work they do that actually relieves the suffering of the poor is bad. However, the presence of many other missionary and relief workers who materially help the poor but do not engage in left-wing political activism is enduring proof that the left-wing political activism isn't necessary or integral to the helping of the poor.

LaFollette didn't do a whole lot to directly address problems among the people. He did institute career civil service in Wisconsin. It was left to others to suppose that he did that for the purpose of removing civil service from the sphere of political patronage; he didn't make that argument himself, and in fact was a frequent user of patronage when he held office. His legacy was a civil service intended to be managerial and activist, and one that quickly became impossible to get rid of.

The growth of civil service is a key Progressive legacy in general.

Meanwhile, Jane Addams' Hull House housed a maximum of 25 women at a time, and more power to her. It was more about offering services and community facilities than it was about offering shelter, and more power to her. To the extent that her example inspired others to start settlement houses, everyone doing it with his (or more often her) own money, that's great.

The Salvation Army already existed at the time, was at work in the USA (from 1879 onward), and has always actually housed, encouraged, retrained, and gotten employment for far more people than Hull House or its copiers reached. The idea that Jane Addams got people thinking about something no one cared about before is simply wrong. Her ties with the Progressive movement, and its emphasis on government as the agent for social intervention, are what have assured her her place in the pantheon invoked in our public school textbooks.

You don't have to "hate" Jane Addams to recognize that she didn't start anything no one had thought of before. There were various movements in the 19th century with major efforts oriented on social betterment and helping the poor. The Alcotts and Orchard House, the founding of the Oneida community -- there's a pretty healthy list. De Tocqueville was much struck during his travels here with the incredible vigor of voluntary charity and community improvement groups in America, whether founded around religion, "new philosophies," or ethnic solidarity.

The Progressives are so popular with today's left because their collective project had two main aims: to get government in charge of these lines of social activism, and to "afflict the comfortable." The great majority of the emotional drive has always been spent on the latter, of course. We're talking about humans here, after all. But the transformation of government from an entity that intervenes occasionally into a comprehensive life-coach for the people is the trademark Progressive legacy.

Child labor laws are a good case in point. We can all agree that there should be laws against using children to work in industry, agriculture, etc. The widespread agreement on this matter -- which only became a real social issue with the onset of the Industrial Revolution -- is why US states had child labor laws as far back as the 1830s. States had over 1600 child labor laws on the books before the first Progressive lifted a finger.

What the Progressives can boast of is the shift away from federalism that eventually produced a national labor law proclaiming the 40-hour work week, and restricting labor for those under 18. (People think of it as 16 because that's when you can assume employment without parental permission, but age restrictions on occupations go up to 18.) That and the creation of the Department of Labor -- with its a priori charter to constrain the conditions for labor and commerce -- are the signature boasts the Progressives can make.

The Supreme Court had struck down federal laws restricting child labor in the late 1800s, deeming them unconstitutional because they exceeded the regulatory charter of the federal government. That looks pretty quaint to us today, and that -- that right there, that appearance of quaintness in one of our essential founding principles -- is the legacy of Progressivism.

Think about it. The Progressives looked for violations of the state child labor laws in the first years of the 1900s, and many people were naturally indignant about what they found. But the use of child labor was already illegal in the places the Muckrakers most famously found it (e.g., the cloth mills of Virginia and North Carolina). Enforcement of the state and local laws would have accomplished the goal of getting those children out of the factories.

But that wasn't the goal. The goal was to eliminate the inconvenience of federalism. With SCOTUS upholding federalism, social activists couldn't get federal laws passed or federal agencies created to take the prophylactic approach they were determined to have the government spearhead. With SCOTUS upholding federalism, they had the daunting prospect of trying to proselytize in 40-some separate states -- NOT to get child-labor laws passed; those laws already existed -- but to turn one state after another into Wisconsin, with a technocratic and undislodgeable civil service chartered to regulate more and more of life.

For a really good history of the Progressive movement's antipathy to limited government and federalism, I recommend Ronald Pestritto's Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism. (Yes, this is the book Glenn Beck recommended not long ago, but it's a careful, heavily documented and closely argued academic treatment. It's been reviewed positively by less theatrical, more sober legacy conservatives. Unfortunately, I see that it is now hideously expensive at Amazon -- probably due to the exposure Beck has given it.)

For a view from the 1940s of Progressivism's focus on central government intervention and activism, I can recommend a superb book I read in college, James Burnham's The Managerial Revolution. I see it appears to still be in print from a 1972 reissue. Reading it is similar, in many ways, to reading Hayek's Road to Serfdom for the first time.

A wonderful counterpoint to these logical and academic treatments is Charles McCarthy's "The Wisconsin Idea" from 1912. Just Chapter I ("The Reason For It") is enough to give a flavor of the invidious appeal to emotion inherent in virtually all of Progressivism's political exhortations.

There's considerably more to know about Progressivism than is taught in our schools today, but the most important thing to know about it is that while it had little to do with sensitizing Americans to social problems -- Americans were already sensitized to them -- it was the main force behind breaking almost entirely the constraints of constitutionalism and federalism on the size of government. That's why Beck hates it so much.

Certainly there's an element of purist fanaticism in his excoriation of John McCain as a "PROGRESSIVE"! There's an element of truth as well, in that McCain accepts a greater and more interventionist role for the federal government than more-Reaganite movement conservatives do. If you think the Progressive movement has settled the question, and there is now no utility, either political or even philosophical, in revisiting the constraints on government envisioned by the Founders -- well, you may not realize it, but you are, in fact, embracing a Progressivist perspective.

Progressivists don't own charity or the concept of child labor laws. But they do own the growth of the federal government, to a similar extent the growth of state government, and the undermining of federalism and constitutionalism as constraints on government's reach into our lives.

On “The Point of Being Annoyed with Glenn Beck

What's interesting to me is how Beck's critics have focused on some of the elements of his CPAC speech that I would have thought were the least objectionable. I watched the speech through again this evening to verify my original impression, and came away with it again. I would have thought some of the histrionics would have come in for more "repudiation of the ick factor," or perhaps the shorthand soundbite about Versailles (treaty thereof, that is) leading directly to Hitler. Or even the personalization of our political problems as being like an addict's need for self-awareness, reality check, recognition of having hit bottom. There are ways that that analogy doesn't work, and some of them matter.

This is a serious question: how is it dehumanizing invective to refer to progressivist political ideology as a cancer on the American polity? It would be one thing to say the metaphor is inapt. I don't think it is, but one could argue the case dispassionately. Another criticism that wouldn't necessarily be a reach would be that it's hyperbolic. Again, I don't think it is. I am convinced that progressivism is antithetical to limited, constitutional government. I think Beck is correct that progressivism and limited, constitutional government can't coexist. One of them has to recede, be defeated, dissolve over time. They can't occupy the same space. (I have a longer answer explicating the central thesis of progressivism at TOC.)

But dehumanizing? Demagogic? Just don't see it. Beck's proposition is that the American idea is limited, constitutional government, which is the essential condition for enduring political liberty. Progressivism won't accept being bounded by limitations on government's scope or charter. The more of it we admit in our midst, the more compromised is the constitutional bulwark guarding our liberties.

I really don't see what's out-of-bounds about putting this in metaphorical terms as the operation of a "cancer." Is it the metaphor, or the basic proposition, that you find so offensive, shipmate?


CKM -- a lot going on today and I will be back later. Had to turn in a piece for NZC first. Suffice it to say for now that I've seen your comments and haven't decided to do a global delete on all things CKM. More later.



Do you know, RCAR, I have a sense that poetry is less emblematic of national modes of thought than dramatic storytelling. There's an artifice to poetry -- and poetry is a good thing, and artifice too -- that almost demands contrapuntal thought and ironic patterns. You can, if you want to, write poetry with a heavy hand and infuse it with blank singlemindedness and turgidity, but the medium can't handle that and still be its best self in the way the novel can.

Of course, that's one woman's opinion. I'm not even sure I agree with you about modern American poetry; I think I might call overly intellectualized preciousness what you detect as irony. But there's a quality to poetry that transcends culture anyway, by introducing a conscious device between the author and his reader. Every literate culture has written poetry, but only some have felt the need to elevate narrative, self-expository fiction to an art form.

Try this. In my view, it would have been possible to write the story in Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner as a novella. It's a wonderful, haunting poem, but it could be equally powerful in a different way as narrative fiction. Moby Dick, on the other hand, could only have been written in the form of a novel, and in particular, a self-expository narrative. Trying to put it into poetry would turn what is complete and coherent in novel form into a cacophony of unresolved chords, and overly portentous notes held too long.

It's an American thing, as it's a Russian thing and, to a lesser extent, an English and French and Spanish thing, to favor modes of thinking and storytelling that produce what is too grimly realistic and morally inclusive to be put into verse (even blank verse). War and Peace and Long Day's Journey into Night are equally "unversifiable" -- and I've long thought of Whitman as a would-be poet who was trying, unsuccessfully, to cram a load of unironic American narrative into the wrong form.


Ah, but living irony isn't the same thing as having an ironic perspective. It's our lack of the latter that leads some among us to -- irony of ironies -- embrace absolutism in the pursuit of post-modern deconstructionist relativism.

The Euros have by and large lived comfortably enough with irony that they don't see any actionable disconnect in proclaiming all manner of utopian lunacies while actually behaving with all the self-interest, universalist piety, and state-of-nature demographic squabbling as any other set of humans that has ever inhabited the planet.

Americans don't tolerate irony that well. We don't shrug easily, or with dispassion, over the tragic nature of human life, nor can we square in our minds declaiming one thing and acting out another. A lot of Americans are suspicious of politicians, but we're amateurs at that compared to Europeans, who have in fact always accepted a more ironic, less accountable view of politics than Americans do. It's not that the Europeans have moved past us -- it's that they've never actually been where we started, and in some keys ways, haven't even been where we are today.

Anyway, it's certainly possible that Americans will develop a national sense of irony, as an intellectual way of being, in the coming years. But that would be a transformation, and not for the better.


I'm not sure American culture puts up the irony necessary to well-crafted tragedy. Americans are unironic as a people, and frankly, it's more fun all around to live among the unironic. They tend to stop at stoplights and pay their bills.

To me, Long Day's Journey lacks the implications of irony, fate, and choice that attend the tragic idea in the West. It's naturalistic, observational, blankly uncompromising. Honesty is an art form of its own, and I don't see it as a lesser one than any other. Long Day's Journey has the same beauty as the greatest of other drama and literature: you wouldn't have to be briefed beforehand on the political situation of its time, or on the customs and mores, to understand what's going on. The only prerequisite is humanity.

Cinema probably is our premier art form, although I think there's something to be said for the American novel too.

On “In a world of their own: Conservatives and Avatar

@ CK MacLeod:

Obviously we won't agree on this one. That's OK. I do begin to wonder if we saw the same Bourne Ultimatum. Each of the movies had political backstory that gave context to the plot: in Bourne I, Jason had been assigned to assassinate a troublesome African dictator. In II, he was being framed for another Agency character's collusion with the Russian mob. So OK, a bit of sort-of-believable plot business plucked, obliquely, from the headlines of the Real World.

In Bourne III, responsible people in the US government were hiding bad -- illegal, unconstitutional, homicidal -- things they were doing in a campaign against international terrorists. It has to seem deliberately obtuse to me, to not get that contextual backstory as an allusion to Bush and the GWOT, through a leftist lens. It's like reading John LeCarré and choosing not to assume his Cold War spy characters are set in the context of our Cold War, the real one we all lived through, the one with Truman and Stalin and the CIA and the KGB, Nixon and Khrushchev and Mao and East Germany and West Germany, North and South Korea, NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and all the encyclopedia of assumptions and understandings inherent in the recognizable meme "Cold War."

It continues to surprise me that you really didn't recognize a fictional indictment of the Bush administration in Bourne III. But again, guess we'll have to agree to disagree on this one.

I appreciate your attempt to answer the Russian/Chinese question. I don't think there's any way to answer it without appealing to a political worldview. That's my point, in the end. No one writes a movie script in which clashes of cultures and battle are depicted, without coming at it from a worldview informed by his own situation and political assumptions. Avatar couldn't have been written apolitically. It's about power and struggle, values and beliefs. Ain't nothing more political than that.


@ CK MacLeod:

CKM -- I hope you understand that I wasn't literally saying a politician named "George W. Bush," or any other real person, was depicted in Bourne Ultimatum. But however it is you manage to get past plot elements that, with neon-sign obviousness, allude to the leftist take on modern politics -- I don't have that facility. I don't see how anyone could have viewed Bourne Ultimatum at the time it came out and not have recognized the HuffPo editorial position on The Evil Bush Administration in the story line.

A good analogy, I think, is to imagine a football movie in which the most hated team wears silver helmets with blue stars on them, and alternates blue and white jerseys, and travels with cheerleaders in short shorts and fringed vests, and plays in a $1 billion stadium in a state where everyone speaks with a Hollywood version of a Texas accent. Not calling this team the "Dallas Cowboys" would not confuse anyone in the audience as to which real-world team is the model, and how he's supposed to feel about the fictional movie team. Whether you hate the Cowboys or love the Cowboys, you know there's a national industry in "hating the Cowboys," and you know the widely-understood emotional cues the movie wants to invoke.

And again, I didn't detect the political allusions infesting Bourne III in the first two movies, which I thought were very well done.

Sully has expressed one key element of my meaning when I spoke of not buying into the interpretations of the left. The left will often interpret indigenous, pre-industrial life as wonderfully peaceful and harmonious, in all the ways Sully speaks of, and the unspoken implication is always, always that this beatific state contrasts tellingly with the vice, organization, technology, power politics, waste, refuse, etc of Us, the Mean-Bad Exploiters-Conquerors.

But the left never acknowledges that life is in many ways more brutal, less merciful, and just as beset by power politics and wasteful habits, among pre-industrial or pre-agricultural peoples. If Pandora is presented as reviewers (including you) indicate, then it is an unrealistic fantasy in which the constraints of humanity itself are transcended.

That's fine; no big deal; go for it! Make all the movies you want about that stuff. Write all the fantasy stuff you want.

I lose interest rapidly, however, because it just seems like a waste of time to me, to imagine a perfect situation and then manufacture an interlocking situation to be indignant about involving mankind proposing to destroy it out of mindless greed.

No one writes such a scenario solely to present paradise to us. Or even mainly to present paradise. Scenarios like this are written for the manufactured indignation against the predator. (Or, I suppose, in the case of Avatar, largely to put a story line to all the special effects that went into creating the paradise world.)

I'm not "worried" about any of this, don't feel like the world is coming apart at the seams because of the movie Avatar, or anything like that. From what I can see, it looks like a fairly predictable development.

I think, in general, that conservatives are less suited to creative projects like this than leftists, partly because those on the right aren't predisposed to want to substitute fantasy worlds for the real one, and partly because when conservatives seek change, they view it as not worthwhile to act out and fantasize, but instead focus with a great literalism on concrete measures.

Well, can't spend all day on this. There is an alternative posture here, other than requiring jingoistic approbation of the Ten Commandments of Conservatism in every movie. That is also laughable and silly to me. Hollywood used to make movies that hewed to a conservative line in the same cartoonish manner as its left-slanted movies of today, and I recoil from many of those old ones too. It's possible to not be pigeonhole-able in this regard.

And incidentally, maybe someone can tell me why Avatar should not depict Earth's marauding military force as Russian or Chinese. Of all the nations of the earth in 2010, Russia and China are the most aggressive and intimidating about stomping over everyone else for natural resources, and are also the least interested in preserving the environment when they drill, mine, and refine. If the answer to my question has anything to do with current politics, or political correctness -- that might be food for thought.


A heartfelt and thorough treatment, CKM. I have no opinion of the movie to advance, having not seen it. It's a personal quirk that I just have an inner resistance to marveling over special effects. I would never have seen the Peter Jackson LOTR trilogy if I hadn't already been a fan of the Tolkien books, and frankly I thought the special effects side of the whole effort was, as my young nephew likes to say, BO-ring. (The battle staging was of immense interest, but that's a different matter.)

But that's just me. It may also be JPod, among others; I don't know. I don't think, though, that there's a characteristic resistance among political conservatives to being entertained -- even transported -- by the craft of moviemaking and the effects visionary technologists can bring off. I know plenty of conservatives who love that stuff. Just about 100% guys, I might add.

What I would say, in response to the main thrust of your argument, is that although there may be something to it, I think you cede too much to the left when you imply that conservatives abandon whole segments of life to them by not buying into the left's interpretation of those segments.

Again, since I haven't seen Avatar, I won't argue that it does or doesn't present interpretation X, Y, or Z. (I do start with an opinion of James Cameron, influenced strongly by Titanic, which I note you didn't list with the Terminator movies. If you saw it, you must have understood that the "elite" Cameron depicted with savage disdain was not a leftist-liberal one. That and other things made the story a deeply silly one, even though the movie managed to sustain interest and suspense through a resolution everyone knows in advance. Its technical aspects were superb too.)

But. There is a conservative tendency to require intellectual integration and consistency that are -- what? offended? I'll go with that for now -- by fiction that invites us to believe things we don't think are so. In the third Bourne movie (I didn't find the first two to be afflicted in this way), we are asked, hilariously, to buy into dark political fantasies straight out of the comments section at Daily Kos, about the EEEE-eeeeee-vil George Dubba-ya Bush and his lyin', cheatin' storm troopers who are chasing after the valorously struggling Bourne because, well, basically because they haven't killed enough people yet and they want to bag them some good guys before dinner.

Now, I thought the Bourne Ultimatum movie was also the weakest of the three just because its thin plot was primarily a device to link sequential chase sequences to each other. I have to admit, I laughed out loud at the dénouement, when we see what Bourne's terrible buried memory is, because on the political timeline implied by the ridiculous script, Bourne would have had to pass his "graduation exercise" during the Clinton administration. (In Ludlum's original novels, of course, it was decades earlier.) This was irresistibly funny, and transcended for me all the drama of the story line itself.

I think that's a big part of the problem for many conservatives viewing Hollywood fare today: it's impossible to forget that the worldview from which most of them are written is an artificial construct cobbled together by people of a leftist political bent. It doesn't resonate because it is so artificial.

I can enjoy a good story, but if you're going to ask me to accept that the US government is killing its own brainwashed assassins, don't ask me to buy that the George W. Bush Thank You VERY Much Administration is the one doing it. If you're going to put earthlings in the future mining minerals in a vicious and exploitative manner from the planets of pastoral noble savages, don't send tough-sounding soldiers with South Carolina accents to do all the mean, horrible stuff. Why not send some Russians to be the bad guys? Some Spanish-speaking cartel bosses?

And if the latter questions horrifies people here, think about why -- and why it's a pointless fantasy to put anyone else in the bad guy role either; indeed, to put "types" in it who probably deserve being tarred in that manner even less.

I'm sure Colonel What's-His-Name is written to be so over the top that he "of course" isn't supposed to represent what US Army officers are really like. But come on. Load up a character with every single cliché from a dozen Vietnam war movies (that's what it looks like in the trailers anyway), and then say you weren't really trying to imply anything about, you know, the nature of officers in the US Army? (Or the nature of the assignments they are given by their government?)

I don't see the Daniel Day-Lewis Last of the Mohicans as being in the same mode either. For one thing, it's based on the Cooper novel, which was in turn based on a pastiche of actual events and historically valid types. The reason the novel has enduring power is that although it asks us to sympathize with a main character from one walk of life, it shows moral mercy to the tragic realities of all. No one is depicted as one-dimensionally evil, in the manner of a morality play. The humans are, rather, recognizable, and their motives full of the constraints and ambiguities common to real life.

Bourne Ultimatum went too much in the one-dimensional-evil direction, in my view, to accommodate its allusions to modern politics. You also mentioned Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which avoided partisan stupidity by not using plot allusions to the FDR administration that reigned throughout its making and release. If it had, it would be as little known today as the many one-dimensional anti-Nazi films made during WWII.

I'm sorry, but how stupid is it to have lack of health insurance as a plot device in a movie about exploitative extraterrestrial mining that relies on southern-accented American military killers to remain viable? Can we possibly squeeze in another artificial, non-resonant, mindlessly-repetitive moral construct of the left?

The fact is, I DON'T buy the left's interpretation of individualism or pastoralism. I dont think white male Republican businessmen and their military henchmen are the principal menace to these quantities, for one thing. For another, pastoral peoples are not uniformly victims, mowed down or swept aside by marauding urbanites. Sometimes they are strong and stalwart against the forces of change, but this is usually the case when they have a sense of ownership and responsibility.

I'm sure Avatar is very enjoyable, and the reason I haven't seen it yet, and probably won't, isn't based on political objections. But one of the reasons there's nothing compelling to me about it is that it wants to have things both ways: to shoehorn in all the political memes of the left, while demanding, as a fantasy story, that I park any intellectual objections to its implied morality at the door.

That latter demand is just hard for conservatives, who tend to regard moral propositions as significant: as things that should be actionable, coherent, specific. (At least, in the interest of telling a good story, present the hero with a true moral dilemma, instead of just besetting him with caricatures of politically-conceived menace.)

Unlike your other interlocutors, I saved SP for last. What I find interesting about your invocation of her is that the writers of Avatar would most definitely not associate her, or her "type," with the Na'avi. They don't, and the left doesn't, view Palin as a peaceful indigenous person, in touch with the nature around her and living in harmony with it, who is endangered by an overweening elite. They see her as a fool being used as an icon by an army of protofascists, about whom the left is in a permanently indignant, foaming-at-the-mouth snit.

I expect, in fact, that if you tried to associate SP with the Na'avi in the company of dyed-in-the-wool leftists, they'd howl at you like a pack of wild dogs. They might even go back to the drawing board, because how horrible is it if you tell a good story, and someone sees Sarah Palin, of all people, in the story's good guys?


Very cool, CKM. Myself, I am waiting for VDH's novel about Epaminondas to come out. In the meantime, you're more likely to find me humming the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," keeping the sights trained on all the aspiring nuclear missileers out there, and polishing the brass.

Just have a low tolerance for reading about the experience of national decline. Melancholy is a good thing to spend no more than 10 min a day on.

I'll keep your affiliate account offer in mind. Grazie tante, bello.

On “"Wiegala," by Ilse Weber

Ah, but the lullaby lived. Rachel singing for her children.

On “A Unique Take on Obama's Dual Crisis

That's the thing, Sully: the US just has to be prepared to destroy other things the Iranians can't tolerate losing. We don't have to look for every little boat straying into the SOH. You never fight symmetrically if you can help it.

This is a case where if they send one of ours to the hospital, we send ten of theirs to the morgue. One mine strike should prompt a major strike on Iran's navy, air force, and military infrastructure in the south. Blind 'em and knock all their teeth out, so to speak. They'll stop laying mines.

What you're envisioning is an environment in which we don't ratchet up the pain on Iran, but just go into a defensive crouch. If that does happen, shipping will be stymied in the SOH. But that's a political decision, not anything dictated by our military capabilities. One carrier airwing and two Tomahawk-equipped destroyers could sink 90% of Iran's navy at the pier, kill most of their southern-deployed tactical aircraft and disable their airbases, blow up most of their ammo and take out their early warning radars and their anti-air missile sites -- in 24 to 36 hours.

Never, ever, ever fight a mine war symmetrically. Words to live by.


Sully -- the SOH waters are international, as opposed to being a harbor or territorial waters. If you've ever transited the SOH you'll understand the extreme difficulty any mining force would encounter, of laying a comprehensive minefield undetected. Actually, let me rephrase that. The impossibility of laying a comprehensive minefield undetected.

What Iran can do undetected is put out floating mines with dhows and small boats, and perhaps get a tethered influence mine or two into a traffic channel. To think Iran can do more than that, we must assume absolute quiescence on the part of everyone else. The US Navy would have to know it was happening (and we would) and not do anything about it.

You won't be surprised, I imagine, to learn that there are plans ready to implement for dealing with the mining of the SOH. The US doesn't keep our premier mine-countermeasure forces in the Gulf, but the Gulf Cooperation Council navies have all improved their anti-mine forces significantly in the last 15 years, and between them, our own deployed forces' capabilities, and the rotating mine warfare forces of our European allies (primarily the Brits and Dutch), there is a good coalition capability in-theater.

Escorting merchants through cleared channels is the immediate measure to keep traffic going, and that, again, is an effort for which there is a coalition plan. The Saudis, Emiratis, Omanis, etc would provide escorts along with the Western navies.

The real issue -- the potential hard spot -- would be taking action against Iran to prevent further mining. Operation Praying Mantis filled that role in 1988, but the question would be what OSlash was willing to authorize, and whether his idea of counterattack would make Iran sit down and shut up.

But if he were willing to take effective action, the forces are on-station, and the plans in place, to do that. Iran could achieve only a brief interruption of commercial traffic through the SOH, if we took prompt and decisive action. It's only if we turned a blind eye to obvious preparatory activity, or let a vulnerable situation for commercial traffic drag on and on, that Iran could do more. It all depends on us.


CKM -- What I'd say is we have to evaluate the options, including Friedman's, in light of reality. Which is that we don't have a free hand in Asia, nor do we have automatic fealty to our strategic lead from even Japan, much less India, Pakistan, China, or Russia.

I'm not suggesting you (or Friedman) thought we did. He's generally looking at things pretty comprehensively. But I think even Friedman has not taken into account the latitude Russia and China both derive from a Japan looking to consolidate Asian ties, and increasingly wary of going out on a limb with the US.

Friedman's is a strategic proposal that stands or falls on its execution, and the reality of our situation in Asia complicates that as well as making it more critical. What he proposes is feasible, in the abstract -- but not with OSlash in charge. It's something another president might pull off. But we haven't got the one who could in office.

That said, do I think we should cut and run from Afghanistan and strike Iran? Certainly I've thought of it. The situation in Afghanistan, in my estimation, requires more resources than Americans are willing to put into it. This is NOT because our troops can't defeat the Taliban, it's because the whole effort is so vulnerable to interdiction.

Russia does not want us to consolidate an integral, independent, Western-oriented Afghanistan that is not beholden to Russia. Russia will let us fight the Taliban for her, but Russia won't let us achieve a truly liberal-democratic Afghanistan with genuine independence of Central Asian oligarchic patterns. That is a fact that we cannot change, period.

So Russia will sabotage the effort to do that through being Karzai's best buddy, through continuously advancing the "alternative" of a Russian-brokered, SCO/Asian power-approved solution for Afghanistan, and through getting herself in the middle of our alliance, and convincing the allies (who function as the boundaries of what we can do) that Russia is the the "key" to the whole thing.

Honestly, I think some of the advice OSlash is probably getting right now runs along exactly these lines. There are plenty of people who can see this. The new slogan about Karzai's corruption, and how that's making us rethink our priorities, is way too simplistic for, at the very least, Richard Holbrooke. There are other factors at work, and people who recognize them.

My guess is that OSlash is looking for the way to disengage from Afghanistan, and promise her by implication to Russia, or at least hold that as a bargaining chip. There are different ways to approach this same thought without the "realism" emerging as quite so simplistic and cynical -- and the idea is not wholly without merit. I would expect OSlash to botch the execution completely, however.

Afghanistan was never "the" war we needed to fight. That's the basic truth. After years of insisting that it was, however, OSlash is owed no apologies by anyone else for being left to figure out how to exit gracefully.


CKM -- may I recommend reading the latest TOC post as an opening bid on answering that?


Sully -- your point is well taken, but as the discussion has already outlined, more of the world would be galvanized by an Iranian act of war in the SOH, than gives a flying you-know-what about Iranian proxy armament in Iraq or Afghanistan (or Lebanon or Israel, for that matter).

Mining the SOH is still a scenario in which unassailable pretext and unified will are likely to come together and produce useful action by the international community.

As much as it entails, moreover, it's still too small and simple a task for the US Navy (not any other) to force open the SOH and keep it that way, for the prospect to scare off OSlash. It can be done without him having to display a lot of "will." Couple that with the fact that doing it would keep our pesky allies off his back, and that NOT doing it would really frost the American people -- even Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd -- and you have the perfect Heroic Scenario for The One.


I also think that if Iran does obtain a real nuclear arsenal, there is a good chance that it will find itself constrained – and changed – in ways that the radicals will not enjoy.

Can you expand on that, CKM? The thing is, I don't see a nuclear-armed Iran as being any more constrained by the deterrent power of others than the current, non-nuclear-armed Iran.

Certainly the USSR never was. Becoming a nuclear power did not make the Soviet Union stop fomenting Marxist insurrection elsewhere, or make it stop seeking to subjugate the Third World periphery in avowed geopolitical opposition to the West. I don't see any area of Iran's actual aspirations in which she would be constrained by having nuclear weapons, as opposed to emboldened.


Mining the SOH is an act of war by international convention. Doing it is a decision to declare war and invite retaliation. Until the US Navy and Air Force pack up and leave the Gulf, Iran will think more than twice about such a decision.


Watch for it. It will be the North Korean tunnels all over again. Iran will kick and scratch and then let UN inspectors in to eyeball the undergound chamber(s) at Qom, and they will be found to be...empty.

There are no WMD in Iran.


There are no WMD in Iran.

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