Tag: iraq war

What War Does to Our Society

The Department of State recently released newly declassified documents covering U.S. policy toward Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from January 1973-July 1975. At a State Department conference commemorating the release of these documents, diplomat, strategist, and Nobel laureate Henry Kissinger bemoaned the torment that consumed a generation of Americans as the conflict wore on. The insight Kissinger provides–possibly unintentional–underscores why assessments of war should go beyond critiques of its political and geostrategic ramifications; they should also extend to the various ways that war affects our society and public more generally.

In Kissinger’s somber assessment of America’s involvement in Southeast Asia, he said he regrets that what should have been straightforward disagreements over the U.S. approach to Vietnam became “transmuted into a moral issue – first about the moral adequacy of American foreign policy altogether and then into the moral adequacy of America.”

He goes on to say, “To me, the tragedy of the Vietnam war was not that there were disagreements—that was inevitable, given the complexity of the (conflict)—but that the faith of Americans in each other became destroyed in the process.”

Kissinger called himself “absolutely unreconstructed” on that point.

“I believe that most of what went wrong in Vietnam we did to ourselves,” he said, adding, “I would have preferred another outcome—at least another outcome that was not so intimately related to the way that we tore ourselves apart.”

Disappointingly, much of what Mr. Kissinger said is true.

Certainly, much of the burdens associated with our foreign policies do not affect the average person; they are absorbed by America’s all-volunteer military. Still, wars and debates over wars have the power not only to tear our society apart, but also to destroy our faith in each other in the process. These factors are latent, ignored, and often misunderstood, but are detrimental to our country nonetheless.

In this respect, criticism of war should not end at an aversion to deficit spending. Certainly, increased public debt and diminished civil liberties are enduring, adverse effects of war. As writer Randolph Bourne famously declared during World War I, “War is the health of the state.”

But in addition to expanded government power, wars also become a template for regimentation in other areas of life. As we witnessed in the lead up to the war in Iraq, war can erode what should be the public’s normal propensity to question authority and lead to a herd mentality that demands blind obedience to state authority.

Over time, and through decades of continual foreign intervention, wars can radically alter our national character and transmogrify the spirit and moral temperament of our society. Sadly, such a perilous path could doom our nation to a fate that befell history’s other predominant great powers.

Check out the most recent volume of State Department reports on Vietnam. You won’t be disappointed.

Obama’s ‘Perfectly Clear’ Iraq Policy

As someone who has his own snarky tendencies, I am really starting to have a hard time discerning when Matt Yglesias is being serious and when he is being sarcastic these days.  For example, he writes of President Obama’s Iraq speech last night that

I think Barack Obama’s Iraq policy was perfectly clear as of last week—war kinda sorta ending on August 31, 2010 and more honest-to-god ending in December 2011—so I wasn’t exactly glued to the set to watch his speech last night.

So Obama’s “perfectly clear” Iraq policy is that “the war” “kinda sorta ended” yesterday, and will have a “more honest-to-god [than kinda sorta?]” end on New Year’s Eve next year?  But when does it just plain end?

Or maybe the best way to clear this up would be if I could put Tom Ricks’ question to Matt: “How many U.S. military personnel will be in Iraq four years from today – that is, Feb. 25, 2014?” Or if we’re assuming one term, by January 2013?

Are the Anti-War Left and the Tea Party Just Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Responding to my POLITICO Arena post this morning about the Tea Party’s potency as a notional political force, David Biespiel, poet, editor, writer, and founding executive director of the Attic Writers’ Workshop in Portland, Oregon, points to opposition to the Iraq War as he argues that “the anti-war left were tea partiers before being tea partiers was cool!” Look here and scroll down a bit for Biespiel’s argument and my response.

They Should Earn Our Trust

Ronald Brownstein points to the many measures showing Americans have lost confidence in their government and in some private institutions.  He concludes that these signs of distrust “point toward a widely shared conviction that the country’s public and private leadership is protecting its own interest at the expense of average (and even comfortable) Americans.”

Maybe. But there is another interpretation. Consider the recent performance of the government and of more than a few businesses. Most Americans do not pay attention to the details of governing. They have other things to occupy their time. They do, however, notice important matters like war and the economy. Since about 2004, Americans have steadily soured on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The economy remains weak despite promises to the contrary from the current administration. Banks and auto companies flouted the presumed rules of the capitalist game by seeking and taking bailouts when bankruptcy loomed.

The last nine years have given the public little reason to have confidence in the performance of the federal government and of some business leaders. The lack of public confidence Brownstein notes might better be seen as a rational response to what is becoming a decade of incompetence in DC combined with bad faith elsewhere.

RIP Robert C. Byrd, the Last Defender of Congress

On the occasion of the death of Sen. Robert C. Byrd, libertarians will rightly think about the senator’s flamboyant defense of federal largesse rained down on West Virginia and the garish and unseemly tendency to name things purchased with this largesse after the senator.  No doubt his membership in the Ku Klux Klan will be a centerpiece of the remembrance as well.

What hopefully will not go unremembered are a few additional facts.  As Adam Clymer’s obituary observes, Byrd was a jealous defender of the rights of Congress against imperial presidentialism, likely the last of a breed.  You probably could count on one hand the younger senators or congressmen who take as seriously as did Byrd their duty as members of the American legislature.  Byrd frequently was seen wagging his copy of the Cato Institute reprint of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution in the face of his fellow legislators.  (If I recall correctly, my colleague Roger Pilon, who wrote the introduction to the reprint, wondered aloud whether Byrd had read it, given his view that the Treasury could rightly be used as West Virginia’s piggybank.)

Byrd was also a man who turned dripping contempt into a high art form.  You could see this in any number of his speeches, but in particular this attribute was on display during the Iraq War debate.  Byrd, to his great credit, seemed to smell a rat from the outset, and he repeatedly and unsuccessfully spoke out against both the war and the executive deference that surrounded the debate.  (Those supporters of the Iraq War who condemn Byrd’s porcine tendencies should ask themselves how many West Virginia bridges could have been purchased with the hundreds of billions and thousands of American lives we have poured into that disgraceful enterprise.  And at least we could drive across them.)

The man had a sense of history, as well.  Byrd’s anti-presidentialism, opposition to Iraq, and historical grounding were all on display in this characteristic clip from the Iraq War debate in 2002, in which Byrd had some thoughts on appeals to legislators’ duty to the “Commander in Chief.”

I will not miss the Senator’s penchant for pork, but I will certainly miss his lifelong defense of the prerogatives of the legislature.  Rest in peace.

George Will on Rand Paul

George Will, whose speech at the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty Dinner can be heard here, writes today about Rand Paul’s victory in Kentucky:

Democrats and, not amazingly, many commentators say Republicans are the ones with the worries because they are nominating strange and extreme candidates. Their Exhibit A is Rand Paul, winner of Kentucky’s Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.

Well. It may seem strange for a Republican to have opposed, as Paul did, the invasion of Iraq. But in the eighth year of that war, many Kentuckians may think he was strangely prescient. To some it may seem extreme to say, as Paul does, that although the invasion of Afghanistan was proper, our current mission there is “murky.” But many Kentuckians may think this is an extreme understatement.

These critical commentators range from David Frum and Commentary to the Huffington Post – the entire spectrum of the welfare-warfare state. But as Will says, Paul’s opposition to the Iraq war is shared by 60 percent of Americans. And plenty of mud was thrown at Paul by his Republican opponents, and Republican voters had this reply:

(H/T: DailyPaul.com)

Will also notes the surprising support for Rep. Ron Paul’s book End the Fed from Arlo Guthrie, whose anti-bailout song “I’m Changing My Name to Fannie Mae, was celebrated here.

GOP Congressmen: Most Republicans Now Think Iraq War Was a Mistake

In a Thursday panel at Cato on conservatism and war, U.S. Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) and John Duncan (R-Tenn.) revealed that the vast majority of GOP members of Congress now think it was wrong for the U.S. to invade Iraq in 2003.

The discussion was moderated by Grover Norquist, who asked the congressmen how many of their colleagues now think the war was a mistake.

Rohrabacher:

“I will say that the decision to go in, in retrospect, almost all of us think that was a horrible mistake. …Now that we know that it cost a trillion dollars, and all of these years, and all of these lives, and all of this blood… all I can say is everyone I know thinks it was a mistake to go in now.”

McClintock:

“I think everyone [in Congress] would agree that Iraq was a mistake.”

Watch the clip: