Tag: charles krauthammer

Smelling Your E-mail

In response to this week’s news that the beleaguered U.S. Postal Service is facing $238 billion in losses over the coming decade, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer lamented the inevitable demise of the government mail monopoly:

As a conservative who believes in the market, it ought to die, but as a conservative that believes in tradition and stuff that really holds us together, I would subsidize until it dies a natural death in the next generation. But for old guys like me, keep it going for a while.

[As for] the hard-hearted younger generation — well, if you ever got a sweet-smelling love letter at 17, you’d feel otherwise. Of course, I never did, but somebody did.

You can’t smell your e-mail.

I did receive sweet-smelling love letters from a girl back home during my first year in college. Fifteen years later, my old college roommate is still making fun of me for it. But I don’t “feel otherwise” about the government mail monopoly. The sooner it disappears and is replaced by private operators unshackled from the unions and government mandates that are speeding the USPS’s demise, the better.

Krauthammer’s comment that “you can’t smell your e-mail” isn’t even true. The technology exists for scents to emit from your computer when you open an e-mail, click on a web advertisement, or play video games.

Krauthammer believes that the government monopoly has helped maintain national cohesiveness:

But, look, anything that is in Article 1 Section 8 of our constitution, anything that Madison had waxed enthusiastic about it in Federalist 42 — the postal roads that have kept us together — as an old-school guy, I don’t want to see it die.

If by “kept together” he means that mail enabled people all over the country to communicate with each other, the telecommunications revolution that is undermining the postal service has dramatically enhanced long-distance correspondence. Facebook is a perfect example. Most of my Facebook “friends” are people I would have otherwise lost touch with or rarely communicated with.

Finally, Krauthammer is only somewhat correct when it comes to the issue of privatizing the USPS:

Look, it’s very obvious that you can’t privatize this. Three studies have looked at the postal service. Because of the new technology there is no entrepreneur in his right mind who would purchase it. So it’s going to be on the government dole forever.

The question is, is it completely obsolete? Look, it has one mandate which other private services don’t have. It has to reach every tiny hamlet everywhere in the country no matter what. It’s got to be universal. So that’s a slight handicap that the private companies don’t have.

Its main handicap, of course, is the crushing labor union contracts and the new technology, especially e-mail, which makes most of what it does obsolete. So that’s why it runs a huge deficit.

It’s true that with the combination of unionism and government mandates the USPS in its current form is nothing private investors would want to touch. But that’s the whole point of postal liberalization and privatization. It’s pretty clear that the USPS is going to be directly supported by taxpayers in the future or it’s going to succumb to market realities. Instead of waxing nostalgic about a socialist enterprise, let’s focus on how the wonderful technologies brought to us by the private sector can better get the job done.

As Fred Smith, founder of FedEx and a Cato supporter, noted in a Cato book on the postal service:

[T]here are many things in American life that have had a great history, for example the cavalry. Yet, we do not do cavalry charges anymore. We must recognize that there are many institutions that long ago passed into history.

Charles Krauthammer, Rocket Scientist

Last evening on FoxNews, host Bret Baier reported that the Iranians had launched a rocket carrying ”a mouse, two turtles, and a can of worms” into space. He asked the panelists to speculate on the implications.

Charles Krauthammer inveighed “if you can put a mouse into space, you can put a nuke in New York, in principle.” Given that they are clearly developing the technological capabilities that would allow them to nuke New York, Krauthammer concluded, “our only hope on the nuclear issue or any other is a revolution and to help that revolution ought to be our task.”

Well.

To her credit, Jennifer Loven of the AP wasn’t having any of it. “It’s an incredibly large leap,” she pointed out, ”between a mouse in space and a nuke in New York….[I]t’s a…ginormous gap.”

How “ginormous”? The analogies are imperfect, but I can throw a football a fair distance. In principle, I could start in the Super Bowl.

More seriously, there are modest parallels to the subject of my first book – the mythical missile gap of the late 1950s. The missile gap was precipitated by the launch of the Sputnik satellite in October 1957. Millions of Americans became convinced that the beeping silver sphere orbiting the earth signified that the Soviets could, in principle, drop a nuclear weapon on any city in the United States. This misconception was helped along by some opportunistic fearmongering by, chiefly, Democrats who delighted in embarassing President Dwight Eisenhower. And the ploy worked. The Dems rolled up huge victories in the mid-term election of 1958, and John F. Kennedy capitalized on the missile gap to help get elected president in 1960.

The actual missile gap – in the U.S. favor – was irrelevant. It would have been equally irrelevant if the roles were reversed, with the Soviets in possession of hundreds of ICBMs, and the U.S. with only a handful of shorter range weapons. Even if the Soviets had perfected the ability to throw a nuclear warhead onto U.S. territory, what ultimately prevented them from doing so was not technological but psychological – they were deterred by our vast arsenal. And they continued to be so deterred for decades until the entire edifice of Soviet power came crashing down, from within, without any significant assistance from the United States.

Would Krauthammer contend that Eisenhower’s refusal to overthrow the Soviet regime in 1958 was “an embarassing failure?” The Soviets did, after all, actually have nuclear weapons, many of them. The Iranians have none, and have not even mastered the enrichment cycle, let alone the long process toward weaponization.  By implying that the only thing that stops the Iranians from immediately nuking New York is their technical capabilities, Krauthammer demonstrates a shocking ignorance of some of the most basic principles of international relations, beginning with deterrence. This makes him a horrible political scientist.

But as a rocket scientist, he’s even worse.

Obama, American Nationalism, and the Weird Anti-Materialism of the Foreign Policy Elite

Matt Yglesias puts down the bloody shirt long enough to make the modest-on-its-face claim that “actions, not words, will clarify Obama’s foreign policy.”  I don’t think that’s quite right.

obamaIn one sense, of course, it is.  For the bean counters among us, the outcomes are the real metric: whether the United States remains the sole superpower on the planet; whether a diplomatic resolution can be reached with Iran; whether Obama can (assuming he has has any intention to) get our military out of Iraq; whether his spun-like-cotton-candy Afghanistan policy can stabilize that sorry land – these are the things we’ll be looking at.

But the more important thing in the short term for Obama is probably to slake the nearly-unquenchable thirst of the David Brookses of the world – and probably the American people – to have their identities stroked.  To take the most recent example, Brooks, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, and the Foreign Policy Elite of whom they are avatars were in desperate need of a cold shower and a trip to the nearest confessional after Obama indulged them by unsheathing the Mighty and Awesome Totem of American nationalism – before a crowd of peacey Norwegians no less.   To take another example, witness the veritable panic, the hysterical and fluttering response to the imaginary Obama “apology tour” that didn’t exist and had no affect on anything in any event.

Indeed the Foreign Policy Elite is so captivated by the rhetoric, imagery, and perhaps most importantly the identity surrounding U.S. foreign policy it hardly has time to think seriously about the material realities.  There are of course examples where analysts simply misrepresent material reality – witness this ridiculous characterization of Obama’s boost in defense spending as an “assault” on the defense budget – but in general the foreign policy commentariat seems more interested in how American power makes them feel than it is on the outcomes it produces.  And witness the frenzy over the Oslo speech, the “apology tour” claptrap, or the whining about Obama’s restraint from calling on the Iranian people to start a revolution.

Charles Krauthammer, in a recent essay, went so far in the anti-materialist direction to claim that “decline is a choice.”  “Decline – or continued ascendancy – is in our hands.”   Of course, it isn’t always a choice, says Krauthammer.  The British had it coming, for example, but the crucial factors in Krauthammer’s telling weren’t imperial overextension and the relative waning of its latent power but rather “the civilizational suicide that was the two world wars, and the consequent physical and psychological exhaustion.”  Thus, nations decline in large part because of sapped will – perhaps this would be the foreign policy equivalent of the “mental recession” we heard about a year ago.  If this is right, keeping a careful eye on will-sapping things is more than a parlor game.

But of course Krauthammer’s charge that Obama is willfully precipitating American decline cannot be substantiated by reference to material factors, so it’s perhaps no coincidence that he takes aim primarily at Obama’s “demolition of the moral foundations of American dominance.”  Krauthammer’s central piece of evidence is telling:

In Strasbourg, President Obama was asked about American exceptionalism. His answer? “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Interesting response. Because if everyone is exceptional, no one is.

Reading this, I was reminded of Conor Cruise O’Brien’s observation that

Ideally those responsible for international affairs ought to be able to understand and moderate the holy nationalism of their own country and to discern, even when disguised, the operations and limits of holy nationalism in rival countries as well as in third-party countries.

Unfortunately this may be too much to hope for.  There are serious cognitive difficulties involved.  Any nationalism inherently finds it hard to understand any other nationalism or even to want to understand it.  This is particularly true of holy nationalism.  Rejection of the other is part of the holiness.

All of this is enough to make you wonder then – if Obama wanted to, could he just keep the opinion columnists – and the American people – happy with a regular genuflection at the altar of American nationalism rather than by providing them with actual wars and actual crusading?  Would he if he could?

Torture? No.

Charles Krauthammer’s recent column tells us that the wisdom of torture is undeniable. According to Krauthammer, there are two situations where torture is justified: the ticking time bomb scenario and when we capture high-ranking terrorists and conclude that giving them the third degree may save lives. Furthermore, it would be “imprudent” for anyone who would not use torture to be named the commander of Central Command (CENTCOM), the military organization in charge of American forces in the Middle East.

The generals who have been in charge of CENTCOM and other national security officials disagree.

Here is a video of General Petraeus, current commander of Central Command, saying that American forces cannot resort to torturing prisoners:

The open letter Petraeus mentions in the video is available here. He admonishes our troops to treat prisoners humanely. “Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemies.”

Former CENTCOM commanders Anthony Zinni and Joseph Hoar don’t endorse torture either, evidenced by their open letter (along with dozens of other former general officers) to Congress asking that the CIA abide by the Army interrogation manual.

Hoar and former Commandant of the Marine Corps Charles Krulak wrote separately to denounce torture:

As has happened with every other nation that has tried to engage in a little bit of torture – only for the toughest cases, only when nothing else works – the abuse spread like wildfire, and every captured prisoner became the key to defusing a potential ticking time bomb.

So, once we sign off on the ticking time bomb scenario, the rationalization spreads to whenever we think it may save lives.  Sound familiar?

These former commanders are not alone.  Colonel Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, also had some words on the subject. “We can never retake the moral high ground when we claim the right to do unto others that which we would vehemently condemn if done to us.”

Malcolm Nance, former head of the Navy’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape course (where sailors are trained in resisting interrogation techniques, including waterboarding), seems to know a thing or two about the topic. “I have personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people.” He roundly denounces the use of waterboarding as wrong, ineffective, and counterproductive.  Just for the record, water actually enters the lungs of a waterboarding victim.  This is not simulated drowning, but controlled drowning. Read the whole thing.

Krauthammer’s column gives the impression that all national security experts support making torture our national policy. Wrong.