Thursday, December 31, 2009

My answer to Politico's "Arena"--a prediction for 2010:

My not-so-bold prediction for 2010 is that we will recognize the obvious: the late Samuel Huntington was right. This is a clash of civilizations, between the West and Islam.   This realization will flummox the politically correct piety of both the right and the left--just in time.  

On the right, by the end of 2010, there won't be many who still agree with George  W. Bush's 2001 assessment that "Islam is peace.” And so, by the Bushian logic--that the hostility that many Muslims feel toward the US and the West is because their governments aren’t democratic, not because of any innate differences of culture and religion--America’s security policy has been twisted around a p.c. pretzel. For the last eight years, while we’ve been trying to liberate Muslims from their bad governments, we have been misgoverning our own people: screening American-born grandmothers and babies at airports. Because, after all, there's no automatic reason, in this right-wing p.c. worldview--to think of Muslims as more risky.

And on the left, there won't be many remaining who still agree with Barack Obama's assessment that a renewed commitment to diplomacy, speechmaking, bowing, and carbon-reducing--plus, of course, 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan, and continuing drone attacks in Pakistan and who knows where else--will warm Muslim hearts.    Obama can't be blamed for what's going on in Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia, and Turkey (on top of Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan), but that's Huntington's point: the clash is bigger than any one individual, or any one country.    

But in the meantime, the Obamans have inherited, and not thought to change, a homeland security system in which it is forbidden to think that granny and junior, not to mention their lotions and gels, are any more potentially dangerous than a 23-year-old-Nigerian, fresh from "language" school in Yemen, complete with scary stuff in his file--if anyone had bothered to look at his file.   As an aside, it is not at all a bold prediction to prophesy that some Beltway heads will soon be rolling in the wake of NWA 253.

So what happens when you see things in Huntingtonian terms?   You conclude that this is going to be a long twilight struggle--if we're lucky.  Rollback and regime-change are fun for some to think about, but mostly counter-productive, as well as destructive, in practice.   Let’s face it: radical Muslims just aren’t that into us.

But for now, in 2010, the place to start is defense. We should begin, obviously, with much beefed-up homeland security, including El Al-style “terrorist profiling” at airports, but also including whatever high-tech devices we can invent--and we could invent them if we invested 1/100th as much in homeland-security tech as we invest in home-entertainment tech. We also need stronger military defense overall, including missile defense for us and our allies.

In addition, we need a defensive alliance, as we join with countries in Africa and Asia that live on what Huntington called "the bloody borders" of Islam and share our legitimate geopolitical concerns.   And finally, we need energy independence; we should be working toward that as part of a long-term plan for defunding jihad. If we are in a clash, we don’t give the people we are clashing with a trillion dollars a year.  

Admittedly, that’s a lot to ask for in 2010, but we’ve got some tough decades--or maybe centuries--ahead of us, and so we’d better get to work.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My answer to Politico Arena's question, "Is the 'Obama way' on terrorism working?"

If the "Obama way" were the "Chicago way"--as defined by Sean Connery in "The Untouchables"--then terrorists, as well as incompetent homeland security officials, would be sleeping with the fishes by now.   

Instead, the Obamans want to close Gitmo (send 'em back to Yemen, brilliant!).  And of course,  the O-people want to try Khaled Sheik Mohammed in New York City (Al Qaeda will be deeply moved by hearing their Miranda rights read to them).   So the "Obama way" is really the politically correct way, the ACLU way.   

Or maybe, as well, it's the Michael Brown way.   We all remember Brownie: the former FEMA chief who oversaw (not) the Katrina relief efforts four years ago.  As wits have been saying, Homeland Security secretary Janet  Napolitano's comment that "the system worked" will be ranked right up there with "Heckuva job, Brownie."  

A year into his presidency, Obama confronts a stark choice, even if his legal advisers, and the Justice Department, are trying to hide it from him.   PC never defeated terrorism.   Instead, terrorism always defeats PC.  And if you lose to the terrorists, you aren't going to win re-election.  

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Healthcare regulation vs. going with the flow.

Musing over the obvious similarities between Obamacare in 2009 and Clintoncare in 1993, I was musing further over the fact that Ira Magaziner, the principal architect of the sharing-of-scarcity 1993 plan, then moved over to the Internet, where he did a 180, creating a plan that I described, in a 1998 column, reproduced below, as "utterly libertarian... filled with phrases such as 'no new taxes' and 'industry self-regulation.'" Reflecting back on what I wrote 11 years ago, I might add that such pro-industry libertarianism was built on the foundation of pro-industry government activism. Where, after all, did the Internet come from? It was, of course, a government program. But Magaziner hit on exactly the right Hamiltonian formula: the government starts up something, then turns it over to the private sector.

The Los Angeles Times
July 22, 1998

The Chinese have a saying: If you wait by the bank of the river long enough, the bodies of all your enemies will go floating by. As Ira Magaziner, now in his fifth year in the Clinton White House, gazes out at the Potomac, he has yet to see the bodies of Speaker Newt Gingrich or any of the other House Republican leaders floating by–-but at the rate things are going, he soon will.

In the meantime, Magaziner has put forth an Internet policy paper, “A Framework for Global Electronic Commerce,” that is so utterly libertarian–-filled with phrases such as “no new taxes” and “industry self-regulation”--that this document could help the Democrats outbid the GOP for the support of high-tech entrepreneurs, as well as their cachet, and their cash.

Magaziner already holds a special place in the history of the Clinton Administration. He was principally responsible for the “Clintoncare” health plan that triggered the Democrats’ disastrous defeat in 1994, costing them their majorities in both houses of Congress. But President Clinton still kept his job. And with help from Dick Morris and John Huang, he made a roaring comeback two years later. Magaziner maintained a low profile during this period–-he wasn’t even mentioned in Morris’ memoir, Behind the Oval Office–-but beginning in 1996, he booted up his Internet project.

So now comes the Clinton high-tech offensive, seeking to love-bomb cyberpreneurs with laissez-faire. Of course, since Old Guard Democrats no longer have their committee chairmanships on Capitol Hill, Magaziner could write his “Framework” in a way that pleases New Agers, not New Dealers. In an interview, he was asked whether he saw any irony in his role as architect of health care socialization four years ago–-and yet as apostle of Internet liberation today. “I still believe that what we tried to do in health care was the right thing to do,” he said, explaining that “health care and the Internet are completely different.”

Well, maybe. But for generations, the Democrats have been the party pushing for more bureaucrats, not less. A Democratic presidency or two ago, the Johnson Administration filed suit to break up the two leading high-tech firms of that era, IBM and AT&T. Yet one doesn’t hear much talk nowadays about going after the “monopoly power” of Microsoft or Intel.

The Old Media underplayed the Magaziner plan when it was unveiled on July 1; The New York Times didn’t even cover the event. But the New Media was all over it, like a cursor on an icon. On CNET (, commentator Tim Clark referred to the plan as “a damn good start.” And one attendee at the White House ceremony, Sky Dayton, the 25-year old chairman of EarthLink, a Pasadena-based Internet service provider, trilled that the proposal was “a mandate for government to keep its hands off the Internet...It was pretty inspiring.”

What’s truly inspiring is the size of the industry that Magaziner & Co. want to seal off from government interference. International Data Corporation projects that “e-commerce” will rise from $2.6 billion last year to $220 billion in 2001. And even then, IDC estimates that fewer than 400 million people around the world will be wired–-just a few bytes out of the planetary apple, with its population of six billion.

Other Democrats, not typically thought of as pro-free enterprise, have jumped on the Magaziner bandwagon. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has proposed the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which would prohibit state and local taxes on the Net. This outrages the US Conference of Mayors, which argues that if e-commerce becomes a tax shelter, sales will be drained away from traditional retailing. Imagine: Democratic politicians favoring corporate moguls over big-city mayors.

Whatever happened to the GOP? Just two years ago, Gingrich gave a nationally televised speech in which he held up a computer chip and said that it represented the future, not only for the Republic, but for the Republicans. But today, with Gingrich watching his back more than the road ahead–-and with the Democratic party downsized to the point where its “paleo-liberal” wing can’t block presidential initiatives and with Vice President Gore, looking to 2000, now the toast of the techies–-Magaziner has a new perspective on the ebb and flow in Washington. “The last thing you want to do is have the government come in and regulate” he says happily, as the Democratic river rises.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

What Clausewitz would say about the Afghanistan war, from Fox Forum at

Reading through the depressing news coming out of Afghanistan, and wondering what to think about President Obama’s West Point speech on Tuesday night, I realized that I needed some expert help in making sense of it all. So I pulled out my ouija board and summoned up the ghost of the greatest military analyst and theoretician of all time, Carl Von Clausewitz. The famous Prussian died in 1831, but even today, his book, Vom Kriege (On War), is on the reading list of every military academy in the world. Why? Because the key concepts of strategy are timeless, and nobody put them down on paper better than Clausewitz.

Peering into the misty darkness, I heard a smart click of heels, and then… there he was. What do you say to a famous ghost? I started to tell him how much I enjoyed his book. He bowed politely, but, with typical Teutonic directness, said, “Mein Herr, please get right to the punkt. How may I help you?”

OK, I asked: What do you make of the war in Afghanistan? What do you make of the President?

“I have been following the news with interest,” he told me. “What a Zugwrack, oops, I mean, train wreck! Recent events illustrate some of my concepts, such as ‘friction’ and ‘the fog of war.’” He paused, then delivered his punchline: “And that’s just in your capital of Washington DC!” Who says Germans don’t have a sense of humor?

Continuing, he said, “As your Washington Post reported on Sunday, it has taken 94 days for your president to announce a decision on Afghan war policy; that is, more than three months, from the date of General McChrystal’s report, back on August 30, to the speech Tuesday night. By contrast, it took George W. Bush just 35 days to announce his new plan for a “surge” in Iraq; that is, from the Baker-Hamilton Report, issued on December 6, 2006, to Bush’s ‘New Way Forward’ speech, announcing the surge, which was delivered on January 10, 2007.”

So I guess that makes Bush look good, I ventured. 

“It makes Bush look decisive by comparison, that’s for sure. But what really matters,” Clausewitz continued, “is persistent and sustained clarity on the objective of the war. And that’s a matter of politics.”

Ja, Politik. Perhaps my most famous phrase is that ‘War is simply politics by other means.’ By that I meant, all war is a subset of politics. War can never be considered in isolation from its political purpose.”
It does seem strange, I ventured, that Obama is announcing the expansion of a war just days before he travels to Oslo to collect his Nobel Peace Prize.

A trace of a grim smile crossed Clausewitz’s face, “History is a feast of irony. In Valhalla, we have fun watching mortals criss-cross themselves in their own contradictions. In our time on earth, we did it, too, but now we have the perspective of eternity.”
And so I asked him: Back to politics: What do you think is the purpose of the Afghan war?

“The purpose of any war is to change the behavior of the enemy. War is, at bottom, a duel--a test of wills. That is, if you can’t destroy the enemy in toto, to the last man and boy, you have to convince the survivors to not only down their arms, but to think different thoughts about the future. They have to shift their thinking from war to peace. Otherwise, you haven’t achieved your purpose; you haven’t convinced the enemy to stop fighting. You haven’t won.

“In Afghanistan, you started out, eight years ago, to destroy Al Qaeda. You did that within a matter of weeks, back in 2001. But then you Americans developed a different concept, which was to establish a stable government in that country, even as Al Qaeda reconstituted itself in a different country, Pakistan. To use another one of my phrases, ‘the center of gravity’ of the conflict changed, from Afghanistan to Pakistan, even as you remained focused on Afghanistan. For political reasons, you couldn’t seek to eliminate Al Qaeda in Pakistan--a reminder, again, that war exists within the boundaries of politics.”

I could tell that he had thought about this; they must have good access to the news in Val “So you settled for aerial bombardment of Al Qaeda in Pakistan, which has been effective in killing a few leaders--but never the top leaders, such as Osama Bin Laden--and yet has riled up the population in ways that have destabilized both the Pakistan government and also the Afghan government.

“And then, of course, in 2003, you Americans changed the center of gravity of the conflict altogether, from ‘AfPak’ to Iraq. You can’t win anything if you don’t focus on it. So in the last eight years, while your enemy shifted from Afghanistan to Pakistan, your attention shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq. You had a bad case of ‘fog of war,‘ and consequently a loss of strategic momentum.”

OK, I said, but what do you think is happening now?

“Obama seems to be even more confused than Bush. Obama does not have a political outcome in mind for Afghanistan. The politics he seems to see are back in America--keeping his own left wing happy, while satisfying enough of the middle to win re-election. And that domestic focus jas caused blindness on the battlefront. He fired his first general, David McKiernan, and then he seemed surprised by the advice he got from the new general he himself picked, Stanley McChrystal--that is, to send more troops to Afghanistan. So he spent three months dithering, trying to figure out how to do ‘counter-terrorism,’ but not ‘counter-insurgency.’ Such attempted hairsplitting plays poorly in the international arena.

“Meanwhile, all the signals coming out of the administration seem to be that this surge will precede an eventual withdrawal. For months I’ve been seeing background discussion about “exit strategies” of various kinds. And more recently, such talk has come out into the open. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said on November 12, “We have been there for eight years, and we're not going to be there forever.” And then he added, speaking of new American forces, “It’s important to fully examine not just how we're going to get folks in but how we're going to get folks out.”

“And on ‘Meet the Press’ on November 15, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, ‘We’re not interested in staying in Afghanistan. We’re not interested in any long-term presence there.’”

Clausewitz paused for effect, before he started up again. “But the enemy is interested in staying there, there in Afghanistan--that’s where they live! That’s the territory they wish to hold! And so if they stay, still full of fight, and go, they win. Your Senator John McCain ‘nailed it,’ as you say, just a few days later: ‘History shows us that if you set dates for when you're going to leave, the enemy waits until you leave.’”

But, I noted, McCain got clobbered during the 2008 presidential when he said that the U.S. should stay in Iraq for 100 years.

“Ah, yes,” Clausewitz answered, “perhaps the domestic politics of such a statement were negative--there’s much to be said for, uh, circumspection--but McCain got the strategic politics exactly right. You communicate to the enemy that you will stay and fight as long as he will, so that the enemy sees no advantage in waiting you out.

“Instead, what message do you think Obama has sent to the Afghans and Pakistanis? They can see that the President is irresolute. They can see that the United States is not in this war for the long term. Will Americans be fighting in Afghanistan in ten years? Of course not.”

And so that tells the Afghans… what? I was afraid I already knew the answer.

“It tells the Afghans,” Clausewitz answered, “friend and foe, that America has more reach than grasp. It tells them that you are not the ‘strong horse’ in the region, as Bin Laden declared years ago. So the power arrangements that endure in Afghanistan will not be the ones brokered by the Americans, they will be brokered by the Afghans.”

But what if we win the battles over the next year or so, I asked weakly. Won’t that make a difference?

Clausewitz just smiled at me. “Who are you fighting in Afghanistan? Who you are fighting for? You don’t even know any more.”
Clausewitz could see my face fall.

“Look,” he continued, “an American officer, Col. Harry Summers, who had fought in your Vietnam war, had a meeting with a Vietnamese general after the fighting ended, and the North Vietnamese had swallowed up South Vietnam. The American said, ‘You never defeated us on the battlefield.’ To which the Vietnamese general answered, ‘That’s true, but irrelevant. You Americans won your battles and then left the country. We Vietnamese lost our battles, but we stayed in our country.’ The moral of that story is that he who survives and stands his ground--no matter how great the casualties-- is the one who wins in the end.”

So what should we Americans do?

“Well, for one thing, if you’re going to fight these wars, you should fight them to win--not just militarily, but also politically. Indeed, you must realize that the political framework, including international public opinion, is more important than anything else. Otherwise, perhaps you shouldn’t be fighting.”

That seemed like good advice. Anything else?

“My time is running short,” he said. “I have an appointment soon in Tehran, and then an appointment in Moscow, and then one in Beijing. One nice thing about being a ghost, I can go anywhere, and visit anyone. So my last words of advice to you are, ‘Read the book!’ After all, I dealt with these issues almost two centuries ago. And as someone else said, if you don’t learn from mistakes made by others, you will inevitably make them yourself. Now I really must go--Auf Wiedersehen.”

And with that Clausewitz was gone, leaving me alone in the gloom.