Monday, September 15, 2008

An open letter to Andrew Bacevich

I found your interview with Terry Gross:

to be truly extraordinarily interesting. It has inspired me to reactivate my blog, which has lain long rusting. Here is my posting:

  • You said that the Bush administration is attempting to change the whole Islamic world. Bush bet his presidency on success on Iraq, but he didn't take out any insurance on his policy. His best expert on such things, General Shinseki, told the Congress that it would take about 400,000 troops to occupy Iraq successfully; they weren't provided. It was obvious to anyone following the situation that the looting which began immediately after the fall of Baghdad showed that more troops and a new policy were required; nothing was done for more than three years – too late and too little.

    It doesn't look like the administration is serious about the war. The administration may not be serious about anything except cutting taxes and winning elections.

  • You said that Americans overestimate what can be done with military force. I think Americans overestimate what can be done by government in general. Social conservatives think that government can prevent abortion; it never could and it never will. Almost everyone thinks that government can prevent the use of mind affecting chemicals; it never could and it never will. Government can do many things: it can provide pretty decent health care; it can reduce crime (though it can't eliminate it); and so on. But putting too great a load on government will break it down and make it incapable of doing the things that it could do otherwise.

  • You said that the U.S. is facing bankruptcy. This is true in a most literal sense. There are proposals to “fix” Social Security by reducing benefits. The Social Security Trust Fund is in good enough shape to pay benefits without change till about 2040 – which is about as far into the future as it makes sense to make such predictions. People with incomes up to $97,500 (in 2007, proportionately less in earlier years) have been paying about 3% of their income into the Trust Fund with the idea that they would recover the money in their old age. To cut them short is in fact nothing other than national bankruptcy.

  • You said that we should remove our forces from the Greater Middle East, where they are a constant irritant to the people who live there. You are surely familiar with David Hackett Fisher's two books Paul Revere's Ride and Washington's Crossing. Paul Revere's Ride makes the point that the Revolution began in Boston very largely because this was the site of the British garrison in North America. Similarly in Washington's Crossing he writes that New Jersey was fairly friendly to the British forces immediately after their invasion in 1776, but that there was constant friction between the British troops and the local population, which led to guerrilla war by the Americans against the British, and that this made the success of Washington's raid at Trenton possible.

    Something we should remember is that people would usually rather be ruled by their own thugs and monsters than by foreigners, however competent and well meaning.

You said that you think of yourself as a conservative. I think that many people who believe they are “on the left” now find themselves to be conservatives. I have been struck by the similarity of the electoral maps of the last two elections and the maps of the elections of 1856 and 1860 with the colors reversed. What can this mean?

Very Sincerely - Jonathan Ryshpan