Tuesday, May 31, 2005

On Iraq...

What issue better to first apply reason to than one that costs American lives everyday. When looking at an issue as momentous as this military engagement, it is important to keep in mind that what has been done is done. With that said, let’s draw a few lessons for conflicts in the future.
To begin with, it is the practical position that it was wise to have America install a democratic regime, if necessary by force, in one of the Middle Eastern oil states. This was necessary first as a show of force, a psychological assertion on the world stage of the United States standing as the world power and our intolerance of the regimes that gave birth to tragic events of 9/11. The more important reason is that there is a system that has taken root in the Middle East that fosters terrorism and it has to be disabled, for otherwise that instability would continue to spawn terrorism abroad and threaten the stability of the world’s largest oil producing region, thus making a potent security and economic threat to the United States security. The system is the potent combination of oil wealth, large youth populations, stagnate economies, repressive dictators, revolutionary rage, and extremist Islam. The oil wealth has created large youth populations, who can find no part in oil economies, whose education has been hampered by Islamic doctrines, whose desire to reform has been suppressed, and whose consequential rage has been directed, with the use of Islam, away from the regimes who have created this vicious cycle, and towards the United States. This process created both the terrorists who have attacked and continue to attack the United States, and the possibility for revolutions on such a scale that could create an oil crisis. Thus to achieve political and economic security, the United States was obliged to not only attack the terrorist structures, which has been achieved through attacks on Afghanistan and the continuing Al Qaeda hunt, but also the root of terrorism, this afore described system. This could be done only by creating a stable and successful democratic regime in one of the oil states. With the regime in place, Muslims would have a goal to aspire to, America would have a good friend and better reputation, and neighboring regimes would be cowed into reform, afraid of being overwhelmed by the crowds that would no longer be appeased with more anti-Americanism. Of the Arab oil states, Iraq was the natural choice, for not only was it already at political odds with America and the world, it also had limited oil exports and thus a limited effect on the world oil market lest it be swept into war. Needless to say, it also had an abusive dictator, but, sadly, that is by no means a unique virtue when it comes to the Middle East. For these reasons, it is the practical position that a regime change in Iraq was necessary.
This is not say that support of the concept and support of the execution equate. There were, unfortunately, numerous lapses in practicality during the execution of Iraq’s regime change. To begin with, the government did not go to war for the afore described reason, rather it insisted on making the embarrassing WMD case. If one is to go to war, it is the practical policy that one tells exactly why: public trust is a dangerous thing to risk, especially in wartime. Even if one still insists on believing the case, the value of stabilizing the Middle East greatly surpasses that of squashing a potential nuclear arms owner. Second, partially because of the first lapse, the government failed to achieve overwhelming diplomatic support for the regime change. Although the support was sufficient support for the regime change, much more could have been achieved if the government had dropped the WMD case and put forth a much stronger diplomatic effort. For example, France did not want to support a war in Iraq because they import near all their oil from Middle Eastern nations. There were ways we could have addressed this fear, yet as long as we stuck to the WMD case, France just said it disagreed with that and never had to state its true fear. The failure to accumulate the diplomatic support meant that the war consequently harmed our reputation and most of the burden was placed on the US. Third, the government left many of the lessons from the first Gulf War behind, making the second unnecessarily difficult. We failed to use the overwhelming force necessary to pacify the country. We failed to plan beyond toppling the regime, creating a disastrous anarchic period nearly a year long in which the insurgency assembled. Finally, due to or perhaps the primary cause of all the others, we rushed into the war. Although it was important to take action in a timely matter, the rush meant fewer troops, less time to drum up support, and forsaking less costly alternatives, such as strategic support for an internal coup. These mistakes and more could have been prevented if we had merely followed the guidelines laid down by Colin Powell for the first Gulf War, when we knew exactly what we were doing, told everybody why we were doing it, and did it with sufficient force and planning for a spectacular success. After that war, there was good reason to believe that we would never forget those principles. Apparently, though, common sense is not so insurmountable. It will always be the practical policy in the future to remember these lessons and make sure that when the US next engages, we keep them in mind.
Yet what is done is done; fortunately the current administration did have the spirit to stick with it, despite the tragic resultants from these mistakes, and we have gotten back on the right path. At this point, the practical position on Iraq is that it is essential that the US military continue the occupation and its fight against the insurgency until it is destroyed, that we build up the Iraqi government to the point where it can maintain order and democracy in its own country, and that we build up their infrastructure and economy to the point where they might be a prosperous democracy.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Treatise

There is a lack of common sense amongst the people running this nation. Under the double yoke of conservatism and liberalism, the United States has risen to the top, conquering such scourges as Nazism and communism, and emerged as the sole superpower. Few threats can overcome this bastion of prosperity, this fortress of liberty, and yet, unfortunately, they still exist. Already a whole slew of scourges with the potential impact of a world war confront the United States’ position at the helm of the world, ranging from terrorism to China and deficits to a fast approaching energy crisis. Thus, at this pivotal point, what captures the attention of our congress? Terri Schiavo, judge appointees, and, take note, major-league steroid use. Indeed, the double yoke that kept this proud nation always treading upwards is now dragging us down, as politicians pick fights over war and refuse to offer solutions to the real issues facing this country, shielding their utter incompetence with their shared stupidity and established power-base. Do I condemn the followers of these juggernauts, these wheezing weights on the neck of lady liberty? By all means no, to the contrary, the majority of Americans want what is best for the country, but have grown accustomed to politicians who have set incompetence as the standard, and thus repeatedly settle for halfway solutions. Americans deserve better. It is time that the voice of reason, the voice of practicality reenter the arena, but not under the scorched and scorned banners of the preeminent parties. It is important that a new party, one whose candidates and endorsements the public might support and trust, come into the political fray, providing once again the choice of good policy to the citizens of America. Here will be wrought a new line of thought, a new, practical, way of going about politics, for the future does not look bright if our nation continues to be trapped between the two current ones.
First and foremost of the differences between practical politics and mainstream politics is the fundamental reasoning. In mainstream politics, the question is, “what is best for the party?” in practical politics, the question will always be, “what is best for the country?” Whereas contemporary politicians aspire to reelection, practical politicians will make policies that bring about a government which provides its citizens liberties, economic and political security, and an environment in which they might pursue prosperity and happiness. This entails minimal compromise, no catering to special interests, and absolutely no pork-barreling, the practice handing out bribes to constituents in exchange for votes, like unnecessary tax cuts and bridges to nowhere. This also means that the practical party will be very flexible. Whereas in mainstream politics there is a popular belief that if one change’s his position he is indecisive and weak, we shall make policies that fit the facts, not facts to fit the policies. When we are wrong, we will admit to it and move on. Character assassinations, religious intonations, value attacks, lies in general, attempts to win elections on non-policy issues, practical politics will do without all this mainstream tripe.
How does one go about enacting policies that are best for the country? Here is a set of priorities to act as a core to an ideology whose aim is to guide politicians in making practical policies. Obvious as it may seem, the first priority is preservation of the nation. The second is the preservation of and adherence to the constitution; the document which has facilitated our rise to power cannot be abused. Third, we must maintain the world’s best military, for what is the purpose of our government if it cannot defend us? Fourth, a good government must foresee and solve large scale problems or threats to our society. A prime example of this would be the impending energy and deficit crises. It is also necessary that the government provides an economic security net to its citizens, providing them with a baseline of survival and putting them on the path to prosperity. Next, it is important that the government maximize efficiency, another obvious sounding priority until one realizes that the very word bureaucracy has become homogenous with inefficiency. Just one example of the costly efficiency lapses that hamper or government is the billions of tax dollars that go uncollected, or are even lost, due to bureaucratic problems within the IRS. After this comes maintaining a competitive and fair economic environment in which American companies thrive and the trade imbalance remains in our favor. This is a broad priority which includes such essentials as a superior infrastructure and education system. Finally, it is important that the government itself is solvent, maintaining a balanced budget and avoiding debt. Although they may sound obvious, and, well, practical, almost none of these goals are being accomplished under our current political parties.
With these established as the broad parameters of practical policy, let me apply them to a few more specific fields. First, there is foreign policy. Preservation of the nation means a foreign policy which emphasizes the United States’ military and economic security. Humanitarian policies need to be encouraged, but only if they do not compromise either of the afore mentioned securities. The war in Iraq is an excellent case in point, for not only is it humanitarian, but it also enhances the United States economic security situation by stabilizing the Middle East, the source for a sizable amount of the worlds oil. This is not to say this war has lived up to other practical standards, failing most notably in regard to the tragic lack of efficiency and planning. On domestic issues, an application of adherence to the constitution, maximizing efficiency, and foreseeing and solving problems is keeping the federal government on federal issues. This allows the state system to be used to its full potential, with local governments experimenting with new policies without endangering the nation on the whole if the policy is unsuccessful, for instance high gas taxes and stem cell research in California, or the various gay marriage bans. This also fits into the increasing efficiency issue, as the practical federal government on federal issues policy would entail no more wasteful pet projects, like the billion dollar bridge in Alaska and the purposeless, yet federally funded, subsidies on items ranging from sugar to traffic signals. An issue which is both domestic and foreign, falling primarily under foreseeing and solving problems, is energy independence. Our near total dependence on foreign energy poses both environmental and economic threats, and a potent security threat in event of a crisis. The practical thing to do is obvious: put major money into developing alternatives and tax the fossil fuels. Unfortunately mainstream politicians do not see that, exemplified by congress’s current energy bill which is laden with pork and subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. Even the opposition party cannot get their mouths around the words “gas taxes” and “nuclear”. Their failure to present a feasible solution to a problem this large is exemplary of their incompetence in running our government. A more minor problem, emblematic of the hundreds which regularly overwhelm our politicians, is our fleet. As it stands, the only large ships built in the United States are navy ships. Thus, when it comes to building a new class of destroyers, congress will not approve it unless every remaining shipyard in the United States gets to build a destroyer, inflating the costs to the point where they cannot build the destroyer anymore. A practical solution is to build up the domestic ship building industry and have competitive contracts for the destroyers. Representatives are in congress to run the nation, not get jobs for their local constituents. These are but a few of the many policy areas in which practical politics could make a major difference, if applied.
As exemplified by the remarkably low turnover rate in congress, the majority of politicians no longer view politics not as a public service, but as a game, a career, with bills and policies as mere tools for advancement. A French thinker once said that American democracy will only succeed until congress realizes that it can bribe the citizens with their own money. Viewing recent developments, representatives have made that realization, forsaking practical policies in favor of those that will perpetuate their tenures. This country is not in decline, citizens are in fact stronger and more politically involved then ever, unfortunately they are being increasingly abused and disenfranchised by a greedy few. It is time that we renounce these institutions, free our nation from these parties of bondage, and bring back politicians who make policies for the good of the nation, not the good of the party.