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Roads, good intentions, etcetera

Over in the New York Review of Books, Mark Danner has a long review essay about the war in Iraq that anatomizes the forthcoming defeat of the United States in the Middle East. It's not a pretty story; a mixture of blinkered ideological optimism, bureaucratic status games, weak leadership, and utter ignorance of the facts on the ground combined to systematically destabilize and undermine any possibility of rebuilding the Iraqi state. It's a sobering and systematic summary of the series of events in the civil administration, post-invasion, that led to the current civil war:


Nearly four years into the Iraq war, as we enter the Time of Proposed Solutions, the consequences of those early decisions define the bloody landscape. By dismissing and humiliating the soldiers and officers of the Iraqi army our leaders, in effect, did much to recruit the insurgency. By bringing far too few troops to secure Saddam's enormous arms depots they armed it. By bringing too few to keep order they presided over the looting and overwhelming violence and social disintegration that provided the insurgency such fertile soil. By blithely purging tens of thousands of the country's Baathist elite, whatever their deeds, and by establishing a muscle-bound and inept American occupation without an "Iraqi face," they created an increasing resentment among Iraqis that fostered the insurgency and encouraged people to shelter it. And by providing too few troops to secure Iraq's borders they helped supply its forces with an unending number of Sunni Islamic extremists from neighboring states. It was the foreign Islamists' strategy above all to promote their jihadist cause by provoking a sectarian civil war in Iraq; by failing to prevent their attacks and to protect the Shia who became their targets, the US leaders have allowed them to succeed.

So. What happens now?

I'm not at all convinced that a US withdrawl from Iraq right now would be a good thing. The time to campaign against US troops in Iraq was back in 2002 and 2003, before and during the invasion. Today, Iraq — as a nation state of the kind with which we, as westerners, are familiar — scarcely exists any more. The Bush administration defends its decision not to withdraw immediately by framing it in terms of preventing a "failed state" from emerging as a harbour for Islamicist terrorist groups, but the term "failed state" is itself predicated on an concept of state-hood which is a feeble transplant to this region.

Iraq was carved out of the rump of the defeated Ottoman empire in the wake of the first world war, part of a settlement by the victorious allies that was intended to neuter what was left of the "sick man of Europe" and provide oil for the British fleet in perpetuity. It didn't work well then — we might well revisit Winston Churchill's experience of dealing with an insurgency in Iraq, at that point a crown colony, as a harbinger of things to come — and it doesn't work well now: it has generally taken a strong dictatorial centre to hold Iraq together as an entity, because it was deliberately carved out of several previous provinces of the Ottoman empire, with very different populations and economies. (Iran, which is not an Arab state, is another matter entirely: let's bear in mind that while they're both primarily muslim areas, they're very different societies with different languages and cultures, m'kay?)

To the south, we have the other detritus of Empire: the small oil-rich emirates held together by small feudal monarchies and boundless patronage, the large Arabian peninsula dominated by a fabulously rich and legendarily corrupt royal family. To the west we have Syria — the last hold-out of ba'athist Arab nationalism, ruled by a king-in-all-but-name, a surgeon who inherited his throne Presidency after his elder brother, the designated heir, died accidentally and his father succumbed to cancer — and Jordan (likewise, another kingdom), and to the south-west we have Egypt, populous, bustling, a one-party state propped up by American guns, the spiritual home of the Muslim Brotherhood and the society that spawned Sayyid Qutb, the failed Lenin of revolutionary Islamism.

(At risk of avoiding a key factor in the current mess, I intend to say nothing now of Israel and Palestine, the ulcerated, bleeding wound in the Arab world's sense of identity — perceived by them as both the reincarnation of the western Crusader Kingdoms of the 11th and 12th centuries, and as a modern imposition, the continuing pursuit of the western colonial imperialist agenda by proxy. One does not have to say anything about the rights or wrongs of the State of Israel to recognize that its existence is not perceived by the Arab world in the same way that it is perceived in the West. The existence of Israel as a factor in the rise of Islamicism cannot be under-stated, but I'm going to ignore it for now because it's not part of the Arab national system I'm examining.)

With the exception of Egypt and Iran, these are all artificially constructed states that have been imposed on a map that, before 1918, looked very different indeed. And the very artificiality of their borders renders them fragile, porous. Civil war in Iraq cannot avoid causing concern in Iran and Syria and Saudi Arabia because insurgencies overflow — ask the Irish government about their experience of the troubles in Northern Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s.

The biggest risk we now face is that, if the United States withdraws from Iraq, the withdrawal will trigger a regional collapse. Iran will be sucked in from the east, as Iraq succumbs to a Sunni on Shi'ite civil war that threatens Iran's own western population. Sunni insurgents trained in Iraq will flood the region as a whole, threatening to destabilize the weaker Arab regimes (Syria and Jordan) and to undermine the stronger ones (Egypt and Saudi Arabia). The Iraqi Kurds have both oil and an ethnic identity that is deeply threatening to the Turkish state, not least due to their implicit claim on a large swathe of Turkish territory, and it is likely that the existence of an independent Kurdistan will provoke civil repression, ethnic cleansing, or even outright war on the Turkish border.

The continuing US military presence in Iraq is, I would contend, a bad thing — occupation is brutalizing, both to the occupying garrison troops and to the nation under occupation. That Iraq has been badly damaged is beyond question; what may be less obvious is that, politics aside, the criminological blow-back when the troops come home will harm American society for a generation. (Consider: a whole generation of deliberately violence-desensitized soldiers are being given free rein to experiment with their sickest pet obsessions, and some of them are going to bring their taste for killing and torture home with them. And replacing troops with "private security contractors" is even worse — these are civilians who are happy to go places and earn money in return for shooting people. When they're not working for the government we have a technical term for these people: "serial killers".)

Despite all that, despite the Abu Ghraib photographs and the evidence of mass murder of civilians by soldiers, and a thousand daily petty atrocities, it's not immediately obvious that bringing the troops home won't make everything a whole lot worse in the long run, up to a worst-case scenario in which the "failed state" of Iraq turns out to be not so much a "failed state" as a voracious cancer of social breakdown that spreads inexorably to its neighbours, until the entire region is effectively government-free. "Government-free" does not mean some libertarian pipe-dream of a night watchman state and respect for individual liberty: it means that eventually the whole region will come to resemble Afghanistan under the Taliban, with authority — any authority — welcomed as an antidote to blood feud and starvation.

Here's a thesis for you: most dictatorships tend to decay, over time, towards democratic norms. In the broad sweep of history, dictatorships (even the hereditary ones known in the west as "monarchies") have been the incubators of strong national systems and, ultimately, democracy. Only the most violently expansionist dictatorships demand an armed response — Italy in 1936, Germany in 1938, Iraq in 1980 and again in 1990 — otherwise, containment and realpolitik gets results over time, and with a lower death toll than outright war. But by violently overthrowing the dictatorship that held Iraq together, we have exposed a black hole of anarchy that threatens to tear apart and swallow the thin fabric of the Arab states. We've proven that even what appeared outwardly to be the strongest of Arab dictatorships was, in fact, a thin glaze spread across the face of a society riven with a myriad of cracks. And that makes all of Iraq's Arab neighbours vulnerable to the same centrifugal disintegration of society.

The question the politicians should be asking is not, "how should the US disengage from Iraq", but "how can we prevent the inevitable coming collapse of Iraq from spreading to its neighbours"?

I don't see any signs of that question being asked, and I very much fear that we may already be too late.

(Have a happy Thanksgiving!)

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145 Comments

1:

OK, I've got the screen cleaner, and the frothing on this one shouldn't affect my keyboard. Any other precautions?


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2:

If I had a solution, do you really think I'd still be doing the Cassandra thing on my blog?

3:

Do keep up, folks.

But anyway - one of my policy recommendations is to announce that the main roads out of Baghdad are a safe zone, and bomb anyone who does anything military nearby. The Sunni appear to be trying to ethnic-cleanse their way into positions controlling access to Baghdad around Baqubah and Mahmoudiyah/Iskandariyah, and the SCIRI Badr Corps is responding. The successful encirclement of Baghdad would mean a) a New-Old Iraqi Army siege and b) a SCIRI breakout attempt, and probably a Baghdad-wide pogrom.

As well as that, staff talks with Iran about the main supply route, and then GO.

4:

Charlie,

You seem to be arguing that the Iraqi quagmire and the danger of that quagmire spreading is a reason to keep U.S. troops in Iraq. I'm not sure of your logic there, if so. U.S. troops might delay the spreading swamp - I say might advisedbly - but what exactly can they do to prevent it now? The window has closed. To argue for staying the course in any manner now is to argue for more U.S. deaths and billions in treasure spent trying to do a King Canute. The neocons wanted to shake up the M.E. - they should have been careful what they wished for.

On the bright side, I think, in about 50 years or so a new and more moderate version of Islam will likely emerge from the incestuous bloodshed - spearheaded by Islamic women sick of the bloodshed at long last. There are signs already from Afghanistan and Pakistan of a growing wave of women with a radical willingness to adopt their own version of martyrdom (self-immolation and other showy methods of suicide) as a mark of their determination to create a radical seachange in their religion. Coupled with changing demographics in Iran and some other Islamic nations - where young women are now far more likely to go on to higher education than their radically extermist young male counterparts who have eschewed learning as somehow unmanly compared with fighting - the scene is set for a perfect storm of enlightenment.

Environmental pressures drive evolution in proportion to their strength, and the new Islam could emerge and spread far more rapidly than enlightenment Christianity managed.

Regards, Cernig

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5:

Cernig: it was the slaughter of WW1, and the sequel in WW2, that laid the bedrock for turning Europe into a relatively tolerant, peaceful, secular society today.

Was it a price worth paying?

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6:

Charlie,

I'm not sure it was a price worth paying, but I sometimes think it was the lowest price that would have purchased the result. And it won't, in my view, last forever. In time, even the gut-level memories of the Great Wars will fade.

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7:

Steven,

My thought, and not an original one, is that it's the fading of the memory of WWII that's led us to where we are in Iraq. The domination of American and Russian politics for two generations by people who remember(ed) WWII ended, not entirely coincidentally, with the Cold War. If we're smart, this may teach us a lesson for another few years.

8:

Charlie,

"Was it a price worth paying?"

That, as they say, is a decision way above my pay grade.

If I asked some of my friends who lost their whole families in the Holocaust, then they would probably say yes. My Grandad, who fought at Walcheren among other places and had a strong contempt for war as an extension of politics, might agree. He was always a fighting pacifist - which isn't a contradiction in terms.

Were there other alternatives that didn't mean the Nazi jackboot? Maybe - carefully targeted political assasination, preserving the moderates and killing only the extremists? The notion that such acts are somehow dirtier than widespread warfare which leaves political leaders untargetted has always seemed to me a convenient self-preserving excuse fabricated by those self-same leaders.

That may well be the best way forward in the M.E. to ameliorate what I see as an inevitable spreading quagmire and shorten the period of chaos - but would require Western and Islamic moderate leaders to have the courage to put themselves in the reciprocal firing line and say "bring it on". I don't think they have that much grit.

Still, Steven above may be right. Like you, I fear it is already too late to totally prevent a region-wide interegnum for some period of time.

Regards, Cernig

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Cernig, regarding WWII and its memories.

Last year marked a record -- for the first time since the days of the early Roman empire, sixty years have passed without an invading army crossing the Rhine in either direction. The EU grew out of the EEC mainly because of the remembrance of armies marching and countermarching across other people's fields and homes. Tying the nation-states together under an overarching quasi-Federal government has kept the tensions low. The knowledge that another European war might be truly genocidal has kept the demagogues and rabblerousers from plying their trade in a major way, in the same way memories of the US Civil War has kept the States Righters marginalised in the US (imagine Sherman or Grant with modern armour and artillery plus integrated aircav support, imagine B-52s filled with JDAMs flying cabrank ovals over Atlanta...)

10:

Sheesh, Robert...are you Harry Turtledove in disguise?

:-)

Regards, C

11:

Robert, did you mean something like this:

http://thepaincomics.com/weekly060315.htm

12:

"Here's a thesis for you: most dictatorships tend to decay, over time, towards democratic norms"

Riight. Given an external threat, which often generates the dictatorship in the first place, the dictator can keep the lid on for a long time... if his economy can support it.

See: Cuba.

13:

Thank you for the history lesson.Most of us here in the U.S.know absolutely nothing about the historical milieu of the middle east.

For most of my youth the Viet Nam debacle made it easy to ignore politics elsewhere on the planet.I was shocked when the Iranians overthrew the Shah. As a college student here I thought of Iranians in terms of spoiled party kids who always had money and chased American girls.

Since the takeover of our Embassy in Tehran in 1979 Iran and Shiite fundamentalism have been part of our consciousness. The American public was more than willing to look the other way when we used Saddam Hussein to fight Iran for us by proxy in the eighties.Most of us payed very little attention to this conflict.

The bizarre 1991 Gulf War with it's daily TV footage of smart bombs and the might of the U.S. Air Force probably had a lot to do with getting us into the mess we're in now.

I think our leadership,forgetting the important lessons of Viet Nam,began to think they could further our strategic interests through military expansionism in the region.

The worst tragedy of 9-11 is that it added so much fuel to the fire.I felt at the time that our response both in terms of domestic policy and foreign intervention would end up being a massive over-reaction.This is exactly what has transpired.

I agree with you that there is no clear exit strategy for us now in Iraq. Our best tack might be to acknowledge total failure of the new "democratic" government and force a partition.

Several truths seem evident to me:

The U.S. will back Israel until the world is in Apocalypse and beyond.

The Israelis are willing to use their nukes on a preemptive strike against Iran before the Iranians develop their own nuclear arsenal.

Pakistan is one assasination away from becoming a really major problem.

There is no shortage of angry young muslims willing to blow themselves up for their principles.

The recent elections in our country can be seen as a moratorum against the war in Iraq. However, the Democrats are unlikely to acheive any improvement due to the lack of reasonable alternatives that exist.

We need to use our military for what it does best.Waging war, not occupying foreign soil.We would be better off bombing our enemies into dust than to try to be the world's police force.Needless to say ,this is not a politically correct postion for me to take. We live in a time when "collateral damage" and civilian casualties have to be avoided.

Someday if the chips are really,really down our public will be happy for us to firebomb whole cities as we did in Europe a few years before I was born.Nobody thought anything about that because the public knew it was a matter of survival.It's just a matter of perspecive.

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14:

Hey, Charlie!

Anyhoo, I liked your analysis. Didn't agree with all of it --- the fact that Iraq was never a crown colony, but rather an LON mandate is, I believe, a significant indicator that the U.S. did indeed have an affect on the norms of international intervention --- but it seemed insightful to me.

If I may ask ...

What do you think of the NATO involvement in Afghanistan? More relevantly, if you could ask questions of the men on the ground there (especially Americans or Spaniards), enlisted and officers, what would you ask? And if you were there on the ground, what would you want to see?

15:

You should know by now that the US never looses a war. We'll simply declare the mission to be over, and that we met all of our objectives we set out in 2003. Declare victory, depart, and blame the Iraqis for anything bad that happens after that point.

We may also bomb some seemingly random buildings from time to time, as part of the War on Terror.

If Iraq is lucky, they'll get a couple billion a year in US military aid and ongoing air support to keep the country from falling apart. The north and south will basically be autonomous Kurdish and Shiite nations in all but name, with the central government focused on keeping the oil revenues flowing.

If Iraq is unlucky the US Congress will gut all military support like they did in Vietnam after we withdrew, and the country and region will fall apart like you said.

Then we'll just have to wait and see if some totalitarian West-hating regime takes over and we have to invade them again in 10 years or not. Maybe we'll get something like the Communist regime in Vietnam, which turned out to be not so bad after all.

16:

Insightful, as usual, Charlie. The problem you pointed out with soldiers and mercenaries that have become acquainted with martial law (anarchy + plenty of bullets) returning to society is an interesting one. Vietnam was largely a similar experience for American soldiers. Was there any increase in violence in the US as those Vietnam soldiers returned home? I know there was a lot of psychologically damaged citizenry wandering around. Might the effects be different between professional troops (Iraq) and draftees (Vietnam)?

As many people have pointed out, an army is not a police force. Occupying and holding an entire country is an unusual strategy - in fact, I don't think any Western country has done it since WWII - and although military doctrine on this process is fairly clear and effective, I suspect the lack of people with true experience in successfully holding territory contested from within might be the true proximate cause of failure.

The other difference between draftees and professional soldiers is that most draftees assume they're fighting a silly war. The professional soldier expects more from their country, and it is this betrayal (and the constant threat of random death) which has had such a devastating effect on troop morale. Morale directly governs the effectiveness, and therefore the success, of the troops.

As unfortunate as the whole situation is, it's going to be interesting to see how it all works out over the next few years.

17:

On the question of returning soldiers, there's the example of Rambo: the original book and the first movie, at least. I recall, a few months before the first showing of the movie on British TV, there had been a documentary about Vietnam veterans. The character may have been exaggerated, but seemed quite plausible.

And the private contractors, the non-uniformed mercenaries, are going to be a problem. When one of the companies was also supplying people to operate in post-Katrina New Orleans, it seems obvious there the line between war and peace is being blurred out of existence. And, with the paramilitary levels of armament that can be found within US police forces, losing that distinction is dangerous.

Maybe, if those mercenaries come back to a life in a nice, safe, WASP, suburb, they'll not do anything regrettable. But there's a report in a comment thread on Making Light of a soldier being violent to his own family. The genie is already out of the bottle.

My father, born 1920, can remember my grandfather still having nightmares about the trenches of WW1. (I've been trying to find a good figure for the percentage of the population—4 million in the Army, but not all from the UK, and then there's the Royal Navy, from a population of about 45 million—but it's clear that there were a lot of veterans out there.) Iraq is going to wreck a lot of American lives.

18:

Dave Bell, and terrorists striking at America would do..what precisely?

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19:

I'm amazed at your romantic idealism, Charlie. Dictatorships (Monarchies included) decay and eventually morph into democracies? Like they've done in Russia and China and that friend of freedom everywhere, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I really wish that part of your analysis was true, only history shows us that wherever democracy has appeared it has been as a result of immense effort and sacrifice, and been kept flowering by the same.

As for how the American military extricate themselves from Iraq, well now there is a question. I wish I knew the answer, but anyone who thinks they will get any answer from Tehran other than 'fuck off and die' really has no conception of what is going on. We have just seen the Israelis get their arses kicked, and we are seeing the same happen to the Americans. All over the Islamic world more flags are being put out (they're taking them from the coffins). Do the words 'as ye sow, so shall ye reap' ring any bells? I have a horrible feeling that getting the American military out of Iraq is going to cost a lot of blood, before the locals get back to their normal game of killing each other.

What lessons are to be learned? Well, Americans have to learn that they are just people like everyone else, and do as they would be done by (not much of which has been seen in American foreign policy since 1946) We all have to learn that we cannot defend our freedoms by demanding that others are unfree - and that freedom includes the right to disagree fairly fundamentally. We need to remember that when anyone who regards themselves as being 'born to rule' puts themselves forward we automatically vote against them. There is only one cure to the disease of aristocracy, and it is a lamp post and length of piano wire (and George Walker Bush is an aristocrat who obviously hasn't learned from the mess his British aristocratic counterparts got into at Suez).

As for what the 'other side' has to learn, Allah only knows.

Which brings us to the element of the equation you put to one side, but without which there is no solution. Israel has to learn to live with their neighbours - and by 'living with their neighbours' I don't mean occupying southern Lebanon for a quarter century and effectively looting it of its mineral and water resources and then affecting outrage when the locals get mad about it. Their choice is simple. Do it, or the next Nasser will sweep Israel into the sea - or rejoice in the nuclear firefight that may ensue. There will be another Nasser. Bank on it. Maybe the pretenders trying on the coat in Damascus and Tehran aren't exactly cast from the same mould but they're both a bloody sight cleverer than the morons in Langley think. We have to indulge in some Marxist thinking - treat the world as it really is rather than as we imagine it to be. If you want to know what happens when you don't, well read this thread.

We have to hope, because we're still breathing, but I am not at all optimistic. Oddly, words spoken to John Wayne spring to mind. To be sure, I wouldn't start from here.

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20:

Noel: socially, Afghanistan looks (from my remove) like the end-point of where Iraq is going. Totally atomized, tribal coalitions, 10-20% of the population in exile (i.e. the ones who were smart enough or educated enough or rich enough to get out) and infrastructure somewhere in the 18th century, outside of the big cities.

I've heard muttering that the problem behind the huge upsurge in Taliban support over the past two years is that NATO forces began burning/destroying the opium crop, and the Talib (who hitherto, when in power, had a big down on drugs) have switched policy platforms. If true, then exporting the War On Drugs to Afghanistan is part and parcel of the mess there ...

... And as for NATO, I have serious worries: remember what happened to the USSR there? Sure the Mujaheddin had guns and funds from their allies -- but so do the current Afghan resistance.

Martyn: yes, democracy also takes sacrifice. But for the past century, the tide has been running against the tyrants.

As for Israel, that's a whole 'nother posting. I sometimes think it'd be a whole lot simpler to just offer everyone in Israel a million dollars a head (and a passport) if they'd move to Utah or Iowa.

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21:

Charlie

About the ride, I suppose I wish for all our sakes that it would run a whole lot faster.

Given today's little shenanigans at Stormont, do you think they could be persuaded to take Ulster too. Now that would be fun if viewed from a distance.

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22:

Oh yes, let's export the whole of Ulster to Boston! Wouldn't that be fun? :-/

(Actually, no. I've got friends in Boston, and despite the occasional antics of their idiot neighbours, I wouldn't wish Norn Iron on them.)

23:

Ulster, or whatever else you want to call it, is possibly why we feel a bit differently about terrorism than they do in the USA.

It's been background noise for most of my life. Places I've been have been blown up by the IRA. The suicide bomber is new, but there's nothing special about terrorism.

And, frankly, playing the terrorism card is stupid in the context of Iraq. The terrorism connection, and the WMDs, were lies used to justify an incompetent war. Staying in Iraq isn't going to stop any terrorists; even today they don't come from there.

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24:

Not sure about the criminological nightmare - it's been a recurring trope for the last couple of centuries that returning brutalised veterans will kill us all and nick our stuff, but it doesn't ever seem to have happened as yet. We'll know for sure in a couple of years - one of my colleagues is working on it right now.

There's _lots_ of evidence for returning brutalised veterans going quietly mad and topping themselves, though - the UK's suicide count among Falklands veterans, forex, is now pretty much level with the fatalities from the war itself.

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25:

Martyn, Charlie -

... history shows us that wherever democracy has appeared it has been as a result of immense effort and sacrifice, and been kept flowering by the same.

Putting on my cynical hat once more, I'd disagree with you both. As far as I can see, the only democracies that lasted for any length of time much longer than one leader's term in office (Golden Age Athens, Republican Rome, the USA, Britain) did so because, at least during the formative couple of generations, the voting class' economic success was backed by either large-scale chattel slavery, large-scale economic servitude, or large-scale colonial exploitation. In some cases, more than one or even all three of these. It is my hope that this isn't necessary, that an industrial society can be sustained at a level sufficient to prevent any need for that sort of oppression. The determined attempt on the part of the most powerful and wealthy class in the US to dismantle the middle class and shut down the educational and technological engine that drove the economy for the better part of a century argues against my hope.

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26:

Charlie -

As for Israel, that's a whole 'nother posting. I sometimes think it'd be a whole lot simpler to just offer everyone in Israel a million dollars a head (and a passport) if they'd move to Utah or Iowa.

That's the only solution I see that doesn't involve tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths, and possibly the nuking of more than one city.

OK, we can leave Isreal for another thread, but before dropping it, I'd like to remind everyone that the situation isn't so different from the rest of the Middle East, at least in origin: the partitioning of Palestine was an act of incredibly cynical international realpolitik on the part of the British government after WW2. I've always wondered if one of the motivations wasn't simply to put all the Holocaust victims where gentile... er, I mean genteel people wouldn't have to be reminded of their existence.

The world might have been much better off if Argentina had ceded a few million acres of the pampas for a Jewish state.

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27:

Colin Powell, when asked why he did not want to assault and take Baghdad during Gulf War 1, said, "If we break it, we buy it." That's precisely what the Iraq invasion did; whatever the short and long-term political consequences may be, there is an issue of the moral debt that the US owes to the Iraqi people for destroying civil order and the basic infrastructure required for a modern nation, and then not replacing it in any kind of timely fashion.

That said, it's clear that there's not a hope in hell of achieving any kind of good result with the current political strategy (or military strategy, but we won't get one without the other). Is there a strategy that might work? I wish I knew. I do know that I'd feel a lot better if the US followed some course that had at least a hope of making the lives of ordinary Iraqis better off than the civil collapse that pulling the troops out immediately would probably cause. I'd feel worse if we just sit there and continue to do the same thing while more and more people die.

The history books will probably say something to the effect that the failure of the Iraq War was that the military invasion created a massive police problem, and that continuing to treat that as a military problem turned it into one. The only hope I can think of is that a combined military / civil police solution might still work, but it seems unlikely.

28:

The world might have been much better off if Argentina had ceded a few million acres of the pampas for a Jewish state.

As sensible as that might sound, I doubt it would work. Any successful Jewish state outside of Israel would likely be a source of Jewish terrorists trying to overthrow whatever regime controlled Palestine and create a Jewish homeland there. A minority of people, to be sure, but a determined one.

It's also worth pointing out that a Jewish homeland outside of Israel *was* tried -- by the Soviet Union. The Jewish Autonomous Oblast is just a name on a map today, however....

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29:
It's also worth pointing out that a Jewish homeland outside of Israel *was* tried -- by the Soviet Union. The Jewish Autonomous Oblast is just a name on a map today, however....
There's a difference between giving people a homeland and pushing them into a ghetto. Ask the people of the Bantustans, or the Cherokee Nation.

My grandparents and those of their families that made it out of Ukraine were quite clear in their willingness, or lack thereof, to trust Cossacks of any idealogy to give them a "homeland". And I think a lot of people would agree that the Soviets under Stalin spelled "Jew" Kulak, at least on the indictments.

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30:
(Iran, which is not an Arab state, is another matter entirely: let's bear in mind that while they're both primarily muslim areas, they're very different societies with different languages and cultures, m'kay?)
Very true, but this needs to be repeated and expanded upon for the large majority of Americans (and, I suspect, Europeans) whose knowledge of the area comes from newspaper reports since the first Gulf War turned our eyes back to the Middle East for the first time in a generation.

To be honest, I wouldn't know very much about it myself but for the Persians I've known and worked with here in the States, and that in 1977 I was scheduled to fly to Tehran with the CEO of the company I worked for then, to set up the hardware for the demo he wanted to do for the Iranian airforce. Before the trip was cancelled, I did some reading about Iran and its history, and have been fascinated by it ever since.

Iran, which its people still call Persia when talking to foreigners, has a relatively unbroken tradition and history going back more than 2500 years. In that time, they have been the center of a large empire several times, and have managed to keep an independent language and culture more successfully than any other Muslim country in the region, not least because of their pride in their heritage (this I have been told by every Persian I"ve ever met).

On the other hand, Iraq, as you point out, is a modern invention of European politics, which looks more like the patchwork that colonialism left in central Africa or the backwash of the Soviet collapse left in Jugoslavia than a modern state. In fact, politically, it bears some resemblance to Rwanda, a most unsettling thought for anyone who is concerned about its future.

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31:

Charlie, please check your email. Thanks.

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32:
(Consider: a whole generation of deliberately violence-desensitized soldiers are being given free rein to experiment with their sickest pet obsessions, and some of them are going to bring their taste for killing and torture home with them.
As a member of the previous generation of violence-desensitized soldiers, let me point out that these same alarming predictions were laid on us (there was a time when the freaked-out Vietnam vet was a staple of American television). There were a some crazies who laid waste to anyone happening to be a nearby, and a lot of sufferers of severe PTSD who ended up on the streets or in the woods, and far more likely to be victims than perpetrators. I'm more concerned about the number of seriously wounded soldiers who are coming back to find that the promises of help and support were largely mythical. This is a worse problem in this war than in any past war, even Vietnam, since so many more casualties can be kept alive, even with multiple amputations or serious internal injuries. The indifference that the US government, and particularly the Veterans' Administration has shown is not the least of the administration's moral lapses. Not that our treatment of veterans has ever been a shining example of anything but bureaucratic denial.

There's another consequence of the war to the safety and stability of the US that is, in my opinion, much more dangerous. There's a lot of talk about the availability of firearms being a major cause of death in the US; the Centers for Disease Control has called it a large-scale public health problem. The most deadly of those weapons are military automatic rifles and pistols. While most of the guns on the street today are not from the US military forces, the first wave of such weapons to hit the streets at the end of the Vietnam War were carried home by American soldiers, or bought or stolen from American soldiers. That first wave proved the market that was later served with the more sophisticated Uzi's and MAC-10, which were smaller and had higher cyclic fire rates than the M-16s, and were therefore superior in urban situations.

I'm expecting to see a lot of new ordnance from Iraq on the streets in the US, and possibly in Britain as well. We should be as concerned about destabilization in our own country as in the Middle East.

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33:

Mr. Stross,

At last, an article of yours I am mostly in agreement with! But I would raise two points:

First Iran is nearly as unstable ethnically as Iraq with fully 45% of the Iranian population consisting of non-Persian ethnic and religious minorities (Azeris, Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis, Turks, Bahaists, etc.). A dissolution of Iraq sets a dangerous precedent for Teheran, especially if an Independent Kurdistan exists. Also the Iraqi Shiites are Arabs. We worry about Iran influencing their co-religionists in Iraq. Teheran worries about Arab Shiites pulling away their Arab minority.

Second, as for US foreigh policy, it has always swung wildly between cynical realism (Nixon going to China, Rumsfeld having a toast with Saddam during the Iraq-Iran war, etc.) and idealisitc crusades (Wilson making the world safe for democracy, Kennedy pledging to pay any price and bearing any burden - and getting us into Viet Nam).

So what should American foreign policy be? Nixonian cynicism/realism or Wilsonian idealism/crusading? Remember during the Cold War, America propted up tin horn dictators all over the globe on the realistic assumpition that the were "our bastards" and bulwarks against Communism. And we were crucified for it by the idealists of the Left who said we should be toppling dictators not propping them up. Realism gave us Pinochet and Diem.

But after Iraq how do we maintain an idealistic foreign policy? Idealism tends to get us into quagmires like Viet Nam and Iraq. But what about Darfur and a dozen places nearly as bad? How doe stop the slaughter without intervening and putting ourselves into yet another hornets nest? How do we stop genocide, UN resolutions? That will help about as much as League of Nations sanctions did to stop the Axis.

And is it just me, or has there been a giant flip flop in foreign policy stances? I can remember when it was the conservatives that were non-interventionists or even isolationist and the liberals that were idealistic globalists. They seem to have switched places.

Anyway, what should American foreign policy be - idealistic or realistic?


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34:

Daniel Duffy: Anyway, what should American foreign policy be - idealistic or realistic?

Would you throw rocks at me if I said my answer was "neither"?

The huge problem with US foreign policy is that it exists in an ideologically-charged vacuum. All factions seem to buy into the key assumptions that (a) the US, on its own or followed by dwarfish allies, can set a planetary agenda to suit itself; and that (b) just because the US held an election and a new bunch of politicians got their hands on the levers of power, everyone else on the planet will accept that some kind of global foreign policy "reset" switch has been thrown and play along. Both of these assumptions are false. As we've seen over the past few years, acting without clear international support the USA can't even occupy and pacify a developing country with half the population of California; and parachuting a new bunch of foreign policy wonks in at the helm doesn't necessarily result in magic wands being waved and foreign policy obstacles removed.

The US has, oh, about 5% of the planetary population. Leaving aside the 50% of the planetary arms budget -- guns and bombs will only get you so far, as Iraq proves -- it looks to me as if the US government is at its most effective in foreign policy when it pursues a path that builds on its allies' goodwill.

So I'd say a good start at a sane foreign policy would be this:

Figure out what your core values are. Look for allies who share them. Negotiate a common foreign policy approach to shared problems. (This next is the hard bit ...) Figure out a mechanism for maintaining policy coherence across changes of administration, so that a new bunch of functionaries don't destabilize things. It'd be a good start to stop handing out ambassadorships as political cookies and to begin taking them seriously as non-partisan civil service posts. Honour previous administrations' commitments so that other governments know where they stand. Build new policy initiatives with one eye on the long term shared-values platform so that successor administrations will be able to continue them.

I'd say the key values to build all this on should be: human rights, conflict resolution, democracy, and freedom of trade and movement -- probably in that order of priority. (For example: dead people don't give a shit about who they can vote for; voting helps living people who aren't afraid of civil wars or secret police. And free trade can be an excuse for asset-stripping if the people don't have a chance to vote out kleptocrats. And so on.)

Chances of us seeing this? Zero, as long as the political class in the USA see themselves as occupying another planet from everyone outside their border. Unfortunately as long as the rest of the world doesn't get to vote in US elections, this will remain the case: and the wages of this particular sin will only come home to roost after the United States has stopped being Superpower #1.

(In other words, "if you want to be the world government, everybody should get a vote -- otherwise you are an empire." And if you don't want to be treated as an empire, don't act like one.)

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35:

The trouble with a common foreign policy is that it requires our allies who supposedly share the values and goals of such a common foreign policy to also forego their selfish national interests and work together as a team for the common good.

Ain't gonna happen.

In the political maneuvering leading up to the invasion of Iraq, our old allies the French and the Germans along with our new best friend Putin's Russia united to stop us. Did they do so out of concern for upholding the noble standards of international law? No, they were being bribed under the table by Saddam as part of the oil-for-food corruption sandal.

It's a little hard to trust your partners when they are on the take.

Now your emphasis on core values indicates that you believe that the foundation of American foreign policy should be idealistic. A realstic foreign policy OTOH would be based on our core interests. Well and good, but how does America promote these core values in a world tyhat doesn't always share them or want them? Impotently mouth platitudes? Strong arm other nations economically? Destabilize them like the CIA used to do? Invade them and force regime change?

What good are these core values if we can't act on them? Conversely, what good are they if we act on them and they lead us into a quagmire like Viet Nam, Iraq or possibly Darfur?

Come to think of it, has any other nation in history before America that ever tried to conduct a foreign policy based on ideals instead of naked self interest? None that I can think of. In the final analysis, a diplomat can only speak as loud as his guns. The ancient Athenians were right, in the real world strong nations do what they want and weak nations suffer what they must.

So the world should be grateful that America is stupidly idealistic. Can you imagine any other potential superpower like China or Russia acting with such restraint? We could be alot more oppressive and then you'd know what it was like to live under a real empire, instead of a light hegemony. Or we could just take our ball and go home, reverting to our tradional isolationism and letting the rest of the world rot.

To paraphrase Churchill, current Amreican foreign policy is the worst one possible, except for all the others.

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36:

How do your core values differ from your core interests? Or rather, why do you assume that pursuing moral values undermine your practical interests?

And why do you think the only options are destabilization, invasion, or forcing change on other people who don't share your values?

...

Come to think of it, has any other nation in history before America that ever tried to conduct a foreign policy based on ideals instead of naked self interest? None that I can think of.

None that I can think of either -- including the USA. Because the praxis of US foreign policy -- as perceived from outside your borders -- is unashamedly Hobbesian and quite brutal. "Freedom" is a debased slogan, and has been so ever since the anti-Communist witch hunts of 1917-19.

The distinguishing characteristic of US foreign policy, as opposed to any other imperial hegemon, is that it doesn't admit that it is a hegemonic power. Because there are certain contradictions between such status and the founding legend of the motives behind the US War of Independence.

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37:

You know whats interesting here is that everyone talks about the effect of an American withdrawal from Iraq in terms of its effect on Iraq and the middle east- and of course the effect would be tremendous and pretty lethal, particularly for those poor bastards like the Iraqi Trade Union movement and the Iraqi Left whose future would certainly be nasty, brutish and, if they were very lucky. short.
But what every body seems to be ignoring is the effect on the US and on American politics.

What if the Democrats use their control of Congress to turn of the funding for the war. Bush makes a State of the Union address and announces the immediate withdrawal of US forces form Iraq. He praises the soldiers and marines for their efforts and sacrifices but says he can no longer ask them to continue in those efforts and sacrifices without the support of Congress. He apologises to the Iraqi people for letting them down but he has no choice- without the support of Congress his hands are tied.
Now lets leave the effects of the withdrawal on the Middle East aside for a moment.
OK lets not.
Iran will grab southern Iraq. The centre will descend into a charnel house of sectarian butchery all broadcast in high definition colour to the watching world.
Kurdistan may with a bit of luck survive. God knows the Kurds are due a bit of good fortune.
Osama Bin Laden will issue a whole new library of tapes gloating that he was right- the west lacks the stomach for a real war.
Meanwhile tens of thousands of soldiers, marines and National Guardsmen return to the US.
Keep an eye on the last of those. One of the big differences between Iran and Vietnam is the fact that the NG was never deployed in Vietnam.
The soldiers and marines will return to their bases and barracks, the National Guards men to the communities they came from.
And what do you think is the message they will bring home?
Thank God you pulled us out from that horrible illegal war, we were getting our asses whipped?
If you believe that I have a bridge in Brooklyn I think you might be interested in.
No, the message will be that they were winning , that they were stabbed in the back by Congress, to be specific by a Democratic Congress.
If they had had the support, it the media had not lied and distorted what was going on, if. Well you can fill in the blanks.
And as Iraq falls, as the pull out from Iraq is followed by a withdrawal from Afghanistan ( and after Iraq they will have no choice. No Afghan will trust them to stand by them. Any Afghan with 2 brain cells will suddenly discover he was a lifelong supporter of the Taliban), as Iran tests its first nuclear weapon- hopefully not on Tel Aviv*- and Islamist attacks intensify, who do you think the finger of blame will point toward?
And if, following the withdrawal, there is a large scale terrorist attack on American soil who will the American people hold responsible? Bush and the Republicans or the Pelosi and the Democrats?
And when the next presidential and congressional elections come round who do you think will take the Whitehouse and Congress- the latter in all probability by the larges landslide in US history
If Karl Rove is half as devious as his opponents paint him he could be looking at the ultimate win win situation: get out of Iraq and destroy the Democrats as an effective political force

In the event of a nuclear attack on Israel the standard response will be:
Of course this is a dreadful atrocity but you must understand that Israels actions/ lack of actions/ existence were a direct cause of this dreadful incident and while we in no way support the actions of Iran we must remember that much of the blame for this incident lies with the Israelis whom even ex President Jimmy Carter has described as an apartheid state. Pass the muffins Amelia.


38:

If the US was purely pragmantic, it would be in our best interest to promote regional trading blocs like the EU, with a common market and freedom of movement. Ideally the member states would not be integrated militarily, though they'd have enough cooperation to see to mutual defense and to help the US if needed. Basically, our policy in Europe for the past 50 years.

Becuase while the EU is our equal economically, there isn't much threat of them becoming a militaristic superpower bent on world domination any time soon. There are just too many competing national interests within the EU.

We should be actively supporting the AU and the CSN, and working to build similar alliances in the rest of the world.

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39:

How do your core values differ from your core interests? Or rather, why do you assume that pursuing moral values undermine your practical interests?

As a British diplomat once said, nations don't have permanet friends only permanent interests. It was not in American interests to stop the slaughter of Bosnians and Kosovoans by the Serbs (that was Europe's job and you failed miserably at it). Why shold we have tried to rebuild Somalia, what tribute did America hope to gain by sending troops to Mogadishu? Why even bother being a member of the UN, an organization with a long history of anti-Americanism? It would have been in our interest to do to Japan and Germany what Rome did to Carthage, but we chose the Marshall plan instead. In the late 1940s we had an overwhelming superiority in nuclear weapons and delivery systems compared to the Soviets, we could have destroyed them as a society with relative impunity (Russian bombers and missile of the day could only reach Europe and Japan). So had we been completely devoid of any moral values we could have eliminated the Soviet threat then and there with a nuclear first strike sneak attack.

As Gullivers go, we are very tolerant of Lilleputians. No other potential superpower given our military power and economic assetrs would have acted with such benign restraint. The world would be a far different place if we chose to really flex our muscles and impose our will on others. It would be a far worse place if someone else was the hegemon.

And why do you think the only options are destabilization, invasion, or forcing change on other people who don't share your values?

Aside from the impotent mouthing of platitudes, they are the only options available to us or any other great power when dealing with nations that oppose us. That is of course if we want an idealistic foreign policy. A realistic foreign policy would reach an accomodation with our opponents even if they were oppressive, genocidal dictators.

The distinguishing characteristic of US foreign policy, as opposed to any other imperial hegemon, is that it doesn't admit that it is a hegemonic power.

The distingusishing characteristic of American hegemony is that we really don't want the job. No denying it, we are an empire, the kind of cultural, political, military and economic juggernaut the world has never seen before - and without a single potential rival anywhere on our radar screens. In the world's geopolitical casino nobody has more chips to play on all the tables - and we're the biggest tippers. But none of this was planned, it just happened. We wanted nothing to do with the war that made us global hegemon, an attack on Pearl Harbor was required.

Its not oppressive to give people want they want and to let them live their lives as they please. Nobody is making the world adopt American culture. We don't force people to eat Whoppers or wear Chicago Bulls t-shirts. We don't want tribute, we want market share. We don't want subjects, we want customers. Everyone from Tierra del Fuego to Kamchatka watches Hollywood movies, listens to rap and country, reads Steven King novels, and scarfs down American fast food cooked in deep fat friers.

Don't like American economic and cultural dominance, then don't buy it. Nobody is making you. Don't like American military predominance, then I suggest the Europeans actually build a military that isn't a pathetic joke. And would you please stop running to us next time there is a slaughter in your own back yard? The Balkans are your problem, not ours.

In other words, if you don't like how we are running things then get off your collective dead asses, stop your complaining, put your own shoulder to the wheel and bear some of the burden. Its lonely at the top and we'd really like a partner we can really on (assuming you won't continue to be bribed by oil money), so you're welcome to join us. In the meantime, all you protests and 50 cents will get you a cup of coffee.

Unless its at an American Starbucks, where it will cost you $6.75.


40:

Its nice to see someone unapologetic about an american empire, for once, it makes things so much easier. But I would have thought that both China and India are coming up fast on the radar screens. Sure, they both have a few more decades of development to go, and raw resources may well start running out at an innoportune moment, but to say there is no one on the horizon is pure hogwash.

41:

Cernig made an interesting comment about assasination. I think this is something we are going to see more and more of as guided weapons get smaller and smarter. Once we get down to the level of robot wasps (I read something about the Israelis researching this the other day), we start talking about truly targetted assasinations on a very broad scale, i.e. the ability to take out a single person in a crowded room, with no others being hurt (and in some cases, not even being aware until the next morning).

Once you have such a capability, some interesting questions arise - if you can kill anyone you like, who do you kill? What limits do you place on yourself?

In WWII the massed bomber raids were targeted to cause maximal disruption to production chains. Ball bearings were identified as a vulnerable link in the chain of the warfighting machine, and thus became targetted.

What happens when individual people in the warfighting machine can be targetted. What will an analysis of the social network, of causality and agency, lead to in terms of targetting. What would happen if such an analysys lead to a decision that targetting some unlikely group, not directly connected to warfighting (like truck drivers, or financiers, or telephone sanitisers, for example), was the best way to disrupt the enemies warfighting machine. Would the deaths of millions of telephone sanitisers be a price worth paying to defeat the enemy?

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42:

Daniel: there's an awful lot of self-serving propaganda in what you're posting lately.

Why you should pay attention to the UN? You founded it. (You might want to look up the organization that the Axis powers surrendered to in 1945.)

Think American cultural and economic dominance is mostly bloodless? Go ask the two million dead Vietnamese, the half-million-plus dead Iraqis ... and those are just the ones killed directly by your military in the post-1945 era, not the ones slain by proxy such as the victims of 9/11 (that's 9/11 of 1973), or the Greek colonels, or Saddam's Iranian victims in 1980-88 during the proxy war against Iran, or ... hell, why do I bother?

The British empire was pretty ruthless, and pioneered the technique of claiming benevolence for itself, but the US empire has taken it to an entirely different level -- and when the dust settles and the history books are written, I figure it'll have killed a whole lot more people, too.

43:

daniel duffy: "In the political maneuvering leading up to the invasion of Iraq, our old allies the French and the Germans along with our new best friend Putin's Russia united to stop us. Did they do so out of concern for upholding the noble standards of international law? No, they were being bribed under the table by Saddam as part of the oil-for-food corruption sandal.

It's a little hard to trust your partners when they are on the take."

Yes. And in three years, just from impounded Iraqi oil money, the Bush administration 'lost' (i.e., stole) 9$ billion US. That's $3 billion/year; IIRC, the oil for food program had $2 billion/year stolen. And that's not counting the no-bid contracts awarded to GOP cronies, the CPA staffing based on a Heritage Foundation resume bank, the barring of non-US corps from any part in the rebuilding (even though their resources would have been better for the Poor Iraqi People)....

I would ask if you ever stopped to consider that the French were acting as our friend (of the American people, not the Bush administration) when they urged us not to stick our fingers into the garbage disposal. However, it's pretty clear that you haven't.

BTW, blaming the French is now passe, so to speak. It's all the fault of the Evul 'Raki Pepul now. The warmongers are shifting hard into 'exterminate the brutes!' mode.

44:

Damien- I think SF has been there already...
There was a short story (I am sure it was in the anthology "Study war no more") in which the main character finds out that the USSR in the cold war has started a new long term tactic of assasinating potential future leaders and bright people, thus hoping to mould the future of the USA and generally retard it in various ways.
A different version is popular practise these days, involving grooming people from the country you wish to affect.

45:

Maybe the war in Iraq is just a pretext.
I doubt it, but it somehow makes me feel better to think that the whole thing is to keep a large American military presence in the Middle East.
I would rather think that than think it is just a huge mistake by a not very bright politician and his cronies.

The thing that bothers me?

Which is the more cynical theory? :)

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46:
as for US foreigh policy, it has always swung wildly between cynical realism (Nixon going to China, Rumsfeld having a toast with Saddam during the Iraq-Iran war, etc.) and idealisitc crusades (Wilson making the world safe for democracy, Kennedy pledging to pay any price and bearing any burden - and getting us into Viet Nam).
Excuse me, are you really saying that we got into Vietnam for idealogical reasons? Maybe Kennedy's rhetoric included some statements about idealism, but it seems highly unlikely to me that the real purpose was anything other than an extension of empire. Well, perhaps there was some feeling that we could do the French one in the eye by being able to handle the native uprising that they'd allowed to beat them at Dien Bien Phu. Hardly an idealistic motive, that. And please don't try to tell me that Johnson had any sort of idealism in mind.

As for going into Iraq, there's no evidence whatsoever for idealism there, unless you're willing to take the word of people who we know already lied about their motivations and their plans all along.

Yes, the American people in general are not all interested in empire, and I'm certain the military is quite aware of the impossibility of maintaining an empire by force with the resources we have; that says nothing about the plans or motives of any given part of our civil government. I offhand can't think of any "idealistic" action taken outside of American soil in my lifetime. Kosovo and Bosnia? We were concerned about destabilization of Europe, one of our largest trading partners. If we were so concerned about genocide and ethnic cleansing, why did we do nothing about Rwanda? Or about any of the civil wars in central Africa that have killed millions over the last 30 years? Simply because we do not, and never have had, an idealistic foreign policy, or acted in any that was considered counter to our immediate interests.

My concern is not that we should be concerned only with morality and not with practical considerations, but that we should be concerned with our own interests in the long and the short run, that we shouldn't be concerned with propping up tinpot dictators because we know what to expect from the them, and that we shouldn't keep getting ourselves into long-term morasses in the expectation of short-term gains.

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47:
I would rather think that than think it is just a huge mistake by a not very bright politician and his cronies.
Would you feel better with the view that it is not stupidity but arrogance? That way we can call it hubris, and turn the whole mess into a classic tragedy. That makes George Bush a tragic hero, and we can watch with awe as the bodies pile up in the last act, and claim the healing of catharsis when it's over.
... On second thought, forget I mentioned it.
48:

In the political maneuvering leading up to the invasion of Iraq, our old allies the French and the Germans along with our new best friend Putin's Russia united to stop us. Did they do so out of concern for upholding the noble standards of international law? No, they were being bribed under the table by Saddam as part of the oil-for-food corruption sandal.

What about your old ally Canada?

You know, the country that accepted all those "possibly hijacked by terrorist" airplanes after 9/11, rather than letting them crash after the US promised to shoot them down at the border, accepting the risk of our cities being targets-of-opportunity -- and saving the US from killing innocent people in a amnner that would have had all sorts of international consequences.

The country that went into Afghanistan with you -- and stayed there, even when your flyboys were shooting up our soldiers and being shielded by your military.

That country that increased its forces in Afghanistan to free up US troops for Iraq, even while we were trying to persuade your leaders to wait for the UN report your leaders had insisted on getting...

...and the country that was branded a "traitor" as soon as it refused to send troops into Iraq alongside the Americans.

We've learned by bitter experience that in American English the word "ally" means "someone who does what we say, without arguing".

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49:

One of my great regrets about the hegemonic strategy of the US in the last 50 years is that the people running the country don't seem to understand where the economic ability to dominate the world stage came from, and their current policies seem hell-bent on destroying that ability. That's going to leave us with our necks stretched out for China or whoever else comes along to swing a hatchet at.

After WW2, the US economy was driven by three forces:
1. The Cold War imperative to outspend the USSR on all fronts, civil and military.
2. An emphasis on development of science and technology that was intended originally to serve foreign and military policy, but that resulted in large-scale improvements in industrial and commercial productivity that made 1. easier to achieve while driving a foreign trade that entrained large parts of the developed and developing worlds.
3. An open higher educational system that was kick-started by the GI Bill, that resulted, at least for a couple of generations, in vastly increasing the pool of educated and skilled workers to further drive 1. and 2.

The collapse of the Soviet Union removed 1. The economic policies of the last 10 or 15 years have killed off 2., leaving us with a net negative trade imbalance, and very little effective R&D, either in the private, the academic, or the public sectors, except for what researchers can convince the military to support (which detracts from resources needed to maintain current military operations, see below). And massive cost increases, academic feather-bedding, and general indifference to the quality of education among policy-makers are seriously endangering 3.

Where does that leave us? Well, whatever happens to Iraq is not going to remove the US from its position as the Lone Superpower. But we've weakened our military forces considerably with Iraq, and will probably weaken them further if we choose to continue to keep Afghanistan from the same fate. And we have little left in terms of economic strength with which to influence other nations except our debt, which China seems pleased to accept. When our interests are really threatened, perhaps when our allies really are as concerned as we are, what will we be able to do?

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50:
We've learned by bitter experience that in American English the word "ally" means "someone who does what we say, without arguing
And whose raw materials, factory output, farm products, or women we don't covet this week.

So? When has "ally" meant anything else to countries busy playing the Great Game? The US is neither the first nor the most cynical of the players. But that's what happens when you give the average politician power at the international level. They translate the kind of machinations they're used to using at the local level among factions like unions and corporations and political parties into dealing in the big time among nations. The tragedy of this sort of dealing is that a lot more people get hurt by it at the large scale.

51:

The difference between "values" and "interests"?

Your country's national interests affect what you have to do. For example, assure reliable oil supplies.

Your country's national values constratn how you achieve those targets.

The failure to maintain civil order in Iraq ia a failure to meet either standard.

And, take reliable oil supplies as an example, policies for reducing energy consumption can meet that particular national interests requirement. So what "national values" are stopping that response?

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52:

Guthrie - I would chose India as our only potential challenger. Europe, Russia, Japan, and China all have severe demographic weaknesses. Europeans and Japanese are aging at a rapid rate as the become voluntarily infertile. Russia's population is imploding due to alchoholism and AIDS. China's population is going to collapse as a result of the "boy bomb" gender imbalance caused by their draconian one baby rule. Only India has both a growing economy and healthy demographics. Which is why it is important that the world's richest democracy and the the world's largest democracy need to be close allies militarily and integrated economically. Europe is a stagnant backwater, militarily weak and demographically doomed. America's future lies in partnership with dynamic young India not "shackled to a corpse" like Europe.

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53:

Daniel: there's an awful lot of self-serving propaganda in what you're posting lately.

I prefer to think of it as counter arguement, which you are free to refute.

Why you should pay attention to the UN? You founded it. (You might want to look up the organization that the Axis powers surrendered to in 1945.)

The organization that recently chose Libya to be the head of its human rights commission is nothing like the organization we founded in WWII. The inherent contradiction of the UN is taht it is a democratic body made up primarily of representatives from anti-democratic countries and corrupt kleptocracies. If it weren't for the the good work done by organizations like WHO it would be a complete farce. The point you are missing Charlie, is that if we were truely the oppressive hegemon you make us out to be, the UN would have remained an American tool without a single word or hint of anti-Americanism being tolerated.

Think American cultural and economic dominance is mostly bloodless? Go ask the two million dead Vietnamese,

There was no economic advantage to our involvement in Viet Nam. A cold blooded analysis of South VBiet Nam's importance would have shown it to be real estate of no value and not worth fighting for. It had no large industrial centers like Japan or western Europe, no important resources like the Persian Gulf, and no valuable location like the Panama Canal.

As for the dead in Viet Nam, I distinctly remember a massive silence from the Left back in the 70s (with the exception of Joan Baez) when the Killing Fields became common knowledge. Apparently as far as they were concerned, atrocity was OK so long as it was done by left wing regimes. Perhaps they were too busy disco dancing to notice or care.

the half-million-plus dead Iraqis ... and those are just the ones killed directly by your military in the post-1945 era, not the ones slain by proxy such as the victims of 9/11 (that's 9/11 of 1973), or the Greek colonels, or Saddam's Iranian victims in 1980-88 during the proxy war against Iran, or ... hell, why do I bother?

Well what can I say about your post except that it made me wistfully nostalgic for the Cold War. Now where to start? How about with the obvious: it's not a perfect world where the choices a nation makes are always morally unambiguous. During WWII for example, we were allied with Joseph Stalin, a mass murderer whose body count exceeded Hitler's and whose reign of terror lasted longer. I suppose the advocates of moral purity (if they were consistent) would have us shun the Soviet Union and try to fight Nazi Germany by ourselves. But they never seem to get around to doing that, as they are always much more concerned with alliances America made on the far right during the Cold War.

Which is odd, since in every instance history has shown that authoritarian regimes of the right (like the Greek colonels or even Pinochet) were less oppressive and produced higher standards of living for their peoples than did totalitarian regimes on the left, or religiously motivated totalitarian regimes. America was often forced by the real world to choose the lesser of two evils. The bottom line is that there were never any mass migrations of refuges fleeing authoritarian regimes, no boat people, no need to build a wall so their own people couldn't leave.

Was America always perfect in its actions and in its foresight? Of course not, history shows this conclusively. Was America in the main right to do what it did? Yes, history and millions of refugees, shows this to also be true.

The British empire was pretty ruthless, and pioneered the technique of claiming benevolence for itself, but the US empire has taken it to an entirely different level -- and when the dust settles and the history books are written, I figure it'll have killed a whole lot more people, too.

Yep, American wars have killed people - that happens in wars. But I ask compared to what? Mao? Stalin? Pol Pot? I recently posted here the numbers tallied for democide by Communist states in the 20th century. Care to revisit those numbers?

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54:

Back to assassination as a method of warfare.

The problem with assassination is that it removes a focused leadership and forces a more dispersed organization. This is bad.

The idea of making the enemy leadership fear you, because they are at risk, always sounds like a good idea. Unfortunately some of them are idealists and will act anyway, or your leadership is more frightened than theirs. Targeting political structures does not pay off.

A cell structure, which usually results, is very hard to negotiate with. The most likely surviving leadership is going to be the extreme paranoids. Chaos is the result.

You might reach an agreement, but find you're still fighting a war because the rest of the organization doesn't agree. You somehow have to convince a committee to agree to peace, and they're not willing to meet because you might try to kill them.

In the end you only win wars by exterminating entire populations or negotiating a peace. Negotiation is always cheaper, though not always possible.

Most warfare seeks to force the opponent to the table for negotiation. This is not possible if you have killed their leadership.

Assassination as a strategy is used mainly by "terrorists " who have no hope of achieving their goals, (Hamas or the Israili's). Unless that goal is chaos.

Only people who are losing and desperate are willing to turn to this strategy.

55:

Brian on assasination: Only people who are losing and desperate are willing to turn to this strategy.

e.g. the nations that repesent the second half of the worlds defense spending.

56:

Right, so you agree there are actually counhtries coming up on the horizon to take over the USA's position?

57:

I should have elaborated that a little but my sinuses are full of muck and I cant always think straight.
I think it more likely that the Iraq situation is the last gasp for America trying to be more physical in foreign policy. (Unless someone attacks it again).
Then over the next few decades, we shall see a large decline in terms of USA'ian economic might, which has already been declining in relative terms for the past 30 years. Eventually it will be just another country in the world, like the UK. I would put that inside the next 50 years.

58:

Daniel Duffy,

I'd not put it that way.

The UN's real work is NOT done by the Assembley. The Assembley is a talking shop, with little bearing on the actual working branches of the UN.

Among dozens of other other organisations... the IAEA, ICAO, IMF, ITU, UNICEF, UNESCO, WFP, WHO, WIPO and WTO.

And please don't claim that the USA dosn't gain immensely from participating in many of those.


And if you are reading a few European countries demographics as the whole, especially given the Eastwards expansion which the EU is commited to, heh. Especially when you start considering the economic growth potentials of the new members.

India has no real interest in being tied to America. It is, for example, keeping American arms companies firmly at arms lenght, buying from Russia and Israel. (And you might also note the Israel - Turkey arms deals..)

i.e.

Democracy can mean several things. And if there's one thing which Israel, Turkey and India agree on, it's that the American view of democracy is not the only one avaliable.

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59:

On the subject of assassination: assassination is always unpopular with superpowers because it levels the playing field -- assassins are much cheaper than ICBMs.

The only time assassination appeals to a superpower is when it's possible to deploy it as a tool with no likelihood of retaliation-in-kind -- or when the folks ordering it are too fucking stupid to realize that what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Pretty much the same thing goes for state-sponsored terrorism. In fact, we can view 9/11 strictly as the blowback from CIA-sponsored anti-Soviet terrorism in Afghanistan in 1979-87. (See comment about "too fucking stupid to realize ..." above.) If the Carter and Reagan administrations hadn't been running Stingers and dirty money to the Mujaheddin and encouraging a darwinian process of survival-of-the-craziest in the hills around Kabul, we wouldn't have ended up with Osama bin Laden thinking he could take on the western world (of which he considered the Soviet Union to be a part).

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60:
assassination is always unpopular with superpowers because it levels the playing field -- assassins are much cheaper than ICBMs.
Except, of course, when the superpower wants to maintain deniability while still getting rid of the "commie bastard" at the top. I'm thinking of the CIA's blundering attempt to kill Castro in the 1960s. Maybe whoever ordered it figured there was no way for Cuba to retaliate in kind, which seems like a pretty half-assed assumption. It's certainly easier for an operative to cross the 90 miles of water from Cuba than to try to enter the States through the Mexican border. All he'd have to do is carry a kilo or two of marijuana (maybe cocaine these days?) and no one would think twice about it :-)
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61:
India has no real interest in being tied to America.
Actually, both India and China have one major reason to be on good terms with the US, at least for the next decade or two. To build up their industrial and manufacturing capacity they need to sell goods to both America and Western Europe until they're ramped up enough to start developing the central, south-east, and west Asian markets for themselves. At which point they'll be in direct competition with each other, and the US will probably have to choose a side. This will likely be China, since they hold so much of our debt.

On the other hand, neither country wants to be seen as too close to us, since they'll need to get at least some of their oil from the Middle East, where America's friends aren't going to be very popular (by which I mean a lot less popular even than now, if the Gulf area gets as pear-shaped as it looks to be getting).

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62:

Assassination unpopular with superpowers? Well, maybe Russia isn't a superpower anymore, but right now there's a lot of flak flying about London about the 'assassination' of Alexander Litvinenko, supposedly at the behest of the man with his hand on Europe's gas tap, that nice Mr Putin.

Leaving aside that Mr Putin is former head of the KGB, and that Mr Litvinenko was a former employee of the KGB (and so anything either says is automatically untrustworthy) and that the chosen method of assassination was Polonium 210 - which seems like a remarkably exotic method for an organisation whose favoured method appears to be a bullet or two in the back of the neck and dumping the body somewhere very public, just to encourage the others (doubtless someone here can fill us less than informed types with chapter and verse) - that serious people are taking the prospect seriously means that, for the moment, assassination is back on the table.

Unless, of course, you're talking about the assassination of duly elected political leaders, and here my memory may fail me, but I can only recall a couple in the recent past, and they were both inside jobs (the USA and Israel)

This is probably not the place to discuss Patrice Lmumba and Dag Hammerskold.

63:

I call bullshit on the assasination of Mr Litvinenko - you dont condemn someone to a lingering radiation death if you want to keep them from spilling the beans. Now, if you wanted to send a warning signal, thats another matter.

Chances are, he was involved in nuclear smuggling operations.

64:

I wonder when we will see the first assasination by foam bodied R/C aircraft?

65:

Brian,

Most warfare seeks to force the opponent to the table for negotiation. This is not possible if you have killed their leadership.

But you don't kill all the leadership - you target the intractable and preserve/incarcerate the ones who might negotiate later, either out of fear of assasination or out of being truly moderate. And you back it with a really good "hearts and minds" campaign. Between the two it would even dampen down, through both positive and negative reinforcement, the process of replacing the terrorist leaders and the leaders who enable them.

Case in point - Northern Ireland.

Regards, Cernig

66:

Assuming that "we" should have gone into Iraq at all, then far too few troops were used.There wasNO equivalent of "Civ Mil Gov" in posrWWII Germany - just choas.
And now we wonder why it has gone pear-shaped.

A "Structured" withdrawl is probably the best we can hope for. Oddly enough, even Ahmenidjad and his nutters don't want an unstable Iraq - it's on their border.

What does frighten me is the thought that the moment his nutters do get a nuke it'll be goodbye Tel Aviv, followed, very shortly by Tehran .....

BTW "Europe" is not moribund and dead. If we could get a real confederation of nation-states, rathe than the petty squabbling we now have, it would be a lot better.
It is probably because we don not yet percieve any reral threat - though it is ther.
Islamicism is now ehere Adolf was in about 1934/5 ....

PS to Charlie: note change of e-mail address.

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67:
Oddly enough, even Ahmenidjad and his nutters don't want an unstable Iraq - it's on their border.
Probably true, but not necessarily the case for everyone in the power structure in Iran. I would not be surprised if Gen. Abizaid is correct when he says that there is a group within the Iranian government that is supplying money and arms to the Shia militias in Iraq, very likely without the consent of the higher levels of the government. Covert ops and proxy wars are very seductive concepts to a certain type of intelligence / military mind, what's often called the "cowboy" mindset.
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68:

it's not immediately obvious that bringing the troops home won't make everything a whole lot worse in the long run,

Making the reasonable assumption that things are getting worse, not better, this leads to three options:

i, Remove 'em now, and things go to hell.
ii, Remove 'em later, and things (possibly) go to a bigger hell ("The Sunnis are cockroaches..." drifting over the local radio")
iii, Commit to staying in forever.

The third is politically impossible for the US. The second is politically difficult for the US, and getting more difficult. The first is politically difficult for the US, but getting easier.

The trouble with a common foreign policy is that it requires our allies who supposedly share the values and goals of such a common foreign policy to also forego their selfish national interests and work together as a team for the common good. Ain't gonna happen. In the political maneuvering leading up to the invasion of Iraq, our old allies the French and the Germans along with our new best friend Putin's Russia united to stop us.

I'm sorry, Daniel, but the unexamined assumption in that comment is that the "common good" was served by American policy.

The tens of millions marching against the war disagree. Events demonstrate them to be correct. The French were right.

Apropos of this, can I suggest that everyone contributing to this thread find the time to obtain and read Andrew Bacevich's "The New American Militarism"?

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69:

Robert, did you mean something like this:

http://thepaincomics.com/weekly060315.htm

This one also seems appropriate to the thread. And, sadly, it was written a full year ago...

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70:

Charlie, all the US troops involved in Iraq have already "been home" as brigades are rotated in and out of the Middle East, so the "desensitized to violence" stuff is absurd. Some units are on their third tour.

There have been no crazed bands of veterans running amok, in the manner of the (statistically mythical) "deranged Vietnam Vet". Nor is fighting in Iraq any more bloody or traumatic than, exemplia gratia, WWII or Korea. And if you think there weren't any tortures, killings of prisoners, massacres of civilians, or what have you, in those conflicts... I can give you chapter and verse.

Do you _know_ any American soldiers? I do (both Vietnam-era and current) so puh-leeze, let's not go to "New Statesman Land".

Soldiers kill; soldiers die. It's what they're for, and it never changes.

The US armed forces are more upfront about it than most -- witness the unoffical but frequently seen sign on American bases: OUR MISSION: TO KILL PEOPLE AND BREAK THEIR STUFF.

Military force is a blunt instrument; it exists to exert political coercion through force, fear and the threat of same.

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71:

As to possible outcomes in Iraq, one is crystal-clear: the Shia Arabs want to kill or ethnically cleanse their Sunni Arab neighbors. All of them.

Only American power is preventing them from doing so right now.

The old Sunni dominance of the army and police is broken, and Shia outnumber Sunni by about 3 to 1, not counting the Kurds.

They have ample reason, from their own p.o.v., for extreme dislike -- historic oppression by the Sunnis, rising to mass-murder levels under Saddam, and the post-2003 Sunni refusal to admit they're a minority and accept Shia voting power.

(The latter mistake is evidence of the "Arab Disease"; while optimistic self-delusion is a common human failing to which we Westerners are certainly not immune, Arabs seem especially prone to it, and hence to reckless all-or-nothing gambles based on underestimating the opposition and overestimating themselves. In the case of Iraq's Sunnis, it may well end up giving them what the Palestinians got and for much the same reason.)

If we were to stand back and let them do as they please, within a year the only Sunni Arabs left in Iraq would be the dead. The rest would be in refugee camps in Jordan and Syria, collecting a dole from the UN and writing poems about how unjust it all was. No doubt their grandchildren in 2100, if any survived that long(*), would still be telling each other how they'd be going home in triumph soon.

This would, of course, scare all the Gulf states green with purple spots. Many of them have large Shia minorities -- majorities, in some cases, at least regionally -- and there's a long, bad history between them and the Sunni rulers.

In fact, if memory serves the primary oil-producing areas of Saudi Arabia have a very large Shia community.

As to Iran, they're not a long-term problem. Iraqis, regardless of sect, don't like them -- there's already a simmering anti-Persian guerilla war in "Arabistan", the southwestern province of Iran where the ethnic Arabs (and the oil) are.

They have a major Kurdish population, too; and there's been trouble among the Baluchi over on the Pakistani frontier.

Like pre-2003 Iraq, Iran is basically a hegemony of one group over others who hate them.

These give us obvious leverage for giving them a hefty kick to the testicles when necessary.

The joker is, of course, their nuclear ambitions.

The Israelis have made crystal clear that they won't tolerate an Iranian bomb, for obvious reasons -- the little Holocaust-denial conference in Tehran was a bit of a hint.

They'll wait until it's clear that the US and the Europeans aren't really going to do anything and then they'll act -- and while the Iranians may get _a_ bomb, the Israelis have _many_ bombs.

200-400, some of them fusion weapons, and they have good delivery systems.

A dozen would be enough to destroy Iran utterly; it's a highly urbanized country.

(*) most of the Arab world -- and Iran -- are essentially kept alive by oil money, directly or indirectly. But the oil is running out; production in the area is already past its peak. Some countries (Iran) will cease to be significant producers within 20 years; others will last a bit longer, but not much. Where will the food for the bloated cities come from, when the petroleum no longer flows?

The non-oil exports of the entire Arab world are worth about what one large Israeli software company fetches.

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72:

Charlie: as to WWI & II turning Europe into a "tolerant, peaceful" society, that's sorta putting the best possible face on it.

OTOH, what if the reason the French and the Germans don't kill each other any more is not that they've become morally better, but that they've become morally exhausted?

And are no longer willing to sacrifice or fight for _anything_?

Europe and the US have had quite different historical experiences over the past 100 years. One reason for the misunderstandings between them currently is that this isn't widely appreciated. In many respects, Americans are now more the way Europeans were before 1914.

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73:

As to the 'rise of China' this is overhyped, and for one massive reason, leaving aside potential political instability and the rest.

Demographics.

China's TFR (Total Fertility Rate) dropped below the replacement level of 2.1 in the 1980's. It had already started dropping to near-replacement levels well before that.

It's currently between 1.2 (the government figure) and 1.7 (the CIA estimate). And it's still dropping. In the big urban areas where over 40% of the Chinese now live, it's at _1_ or _below one_. (Hong Kong is below 1.)

Urban Chinese, soon to be a majority of the Han people, have simply stopped reproducing to any significant degree. Peasant birth-rates are higher, but not much higher.

The total population is now growing at less than 0.5% yearly.

Even if birth-rates didn't drop any more (and they will) fairly soon, within the next 20 years or less, China will stop growing at all and then start to drop, slowly at first and then with ever-accelerating speed.

But note: that also means the Chinese are now about the most rapidly aging people on earth, as the huge birth-cohorts born at higher TFR's in the 50's, 60's and 70's trundle massively into middle age and beyond.

30% of Shanghai's population is now over 60. Each successive age-group is smaller than the last. The typical Chinese born in 2006 has four living grandparents... but few or no siblings or cousins.

The supply of strong young peasants eager to work for peanuts is drying up already. Every year the number of children born decreases, which means fewer potential mothers 20 years from now.

Add in a grotesque gender imbalance of nearly 120:100 in favor of males among children in the past generation, due to sex-selective abortion and infanticide.

This situation will get worse with every passing year and with the ever-increasing rapidity of urbanization. China will have an unsustainable mass of elders which its still relatively poor economy won't be able to support.

A nation staggering under the burden of 600,000,000 geezers is not a candidate for world domination.

By way of contrast, American TFR's have been _rising_ since the low point (of about 1.7) in the 1980's; partly due to immigration from higher-fertility countries like Mexico(*), but mostly due to a slow upward drift in fertility among the native-born.

Our birth-rate is now at 2.09, almost exactly the replacement level, and it's still trending up - in 2000 it was 2.00. The number of babies being born within the US is at an all-time high over of over 4,000,000 annually.

Combined with immigration, this means that our population is steadily growing at about 1% a year, and that the median age is rising only very slightly and very slowly.

By 2050, the US will have 450,000 people, more than Europe. And while Europe's median age will be 54 (and China's around 47), that of the US will still be below 40. Plenty of inventive young brains, and strong young backs and arms to work and fight.

(*) Mexico's own TFR is now at 2.4, barely above replacement level and dropping fast. Much of Latin America now has fertility levels below those of the US; Cuba at 1.6, Puero Rico at 1.7.)

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74:

As to Afghanistan in the 80's, note that the USSR was a far greater menace than Islamist terrorism can ever be, serious though the latter is.

The terrorists can hurt us, in a worst-case scenario; the Soviets could have _destroyed_ us (and of course vice versa).

People were afraid of Global Thermonuclear War in the 1980's. With good reason. We aren't any more, and the reason is simple: no USSR, and Marxism discredited as a ruling ideology. Even Mao's heirs don't believe in that crap any more. The Russian successor state is a minor nuisance in a state of demographic collapse, not a threat.

And leaving nuclear worries aside, the American army in 1989 was twice the size it is now, and our defense spending in the 1980's was a far higher percentage of GDP than it is in 2006.

The cost of our current conflicts is chump change compared to the ongoing expenses of the Cold War. What we've got going now is a 21st-century equivalent of "Queen Victoria's Little Wars". The Cold War was a mortal threat; it was WWIII.

Afghanistan was an excellent opportunity to bleed the Soviets on the cheap; it may well have been the straw that broke the camel's back, and it certainly hastened the Soviet collapse.

And of course, they deserved it. Aside from payback for Vietnam (deeply satisfying in itself) nobody made them invade Afghanistan, and their local clients prodded the insurgency into existance by an insanely over-ambitious policy.

Afghanistan was making steady, if slow, progress before the local Marxists seized power with Moscow's connivance. The KGB should have known that they didn't have any significant local support, and were lunatics who'd prod the villagers into revolt.

Whatever negative consequences there were subsequently, it was a good move to support the anti-Soviet forces. Not to mention that they were fighting a merciless aggressor who'd killed 15% of their national population.

So was giving support to both sides in the Iran-Iraq war, which is what we did, the direction of flow depending on who looked like winning at any given time.

As Henry Kissinger said at the time, what we wanted was for both sides to be massively defeated, which is essentially what happened.

They were preoccupied with each other, their respective regimes (both already implacably hostile to us) were weakened and internally discredited by the enormous bloodletting, and they had to pump every barrel of oil they could and sell it for whatever they could get to pay for their arms purchases.

The real pity is that it didn't go on forever.

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75:

Oh, and as to the geopolitical facts of life: note that the US share of the world's net economic product has _increased_ over the past 30 years. It's about 10% higher now than it was in 1980.

The reason for this is simple: the US economy has been growing faster than any of the other large developed countries, and hence faster than the world average, from about the time of the second oil shock on.

From 1945 through the 70's, Europe and Japan grew faster than the US, as they recovered from WWII and completed their modernization.

That ended before I sold my first book, and since then the US has done better -- and the gap is increasing, due to the miracle of compound interest.

These days the Germans celebrate when they manage to push growth up to 1.5%. In the US, twice that is thought to be mediocre and unsatisfactory.

Year in, year out, the US grows at 3%-4%, allowing for cyclical fluctuations. It also has higher annual productivity growth than other large developed countries, and generally very low unemployment.

The US has not been growing faster than some of the "tiger" economies, but that's another matter altogether. They're in the sectoral-change period of economic growth, turning peasants into factory and office workers.

That can produce very rapid growth -- even the Soviet Union grew rapidly in the 30's, 40's, 50's and 60's, much faster than we did -- but eventually you run into a brick wall unless you can replace qualitative with quantitative growth.

Much of Asia did that in 1997. They have high rates of economic growth in gross output, but low total factor productivity growth.

The US completed its urbanization a long time ago; it's already done the easy stuff, putting farmers in factories, building the dams and railroads and roads. All its growth is at the cutting edge. It grows rapidly because it employs the factors of production more efficiently than anyone else -- capital and labor move more flexibly, there's more 'creative destruction', and so forth.

To illustrate that, note that it takes a lot more nvestment in China to generate an additional unit of output than it does in the US. China invests the equivalent of a third of its GDP annually and gets (allowing for inflated statistics) about 8% real growth. The US invests the equivalent of about 12% of its GDP and gets 3%-4%. Subtract the result of sectoral shifts in Chinese growth (farmers to cities, etc.) and the gap is even more striking.

As to the future, note two things:

1: The US, with about 30% of the world's GDP, spends _50%_ of the world's R&D money. Harvard's endowment income _alone_ is greater than the -total budget- of all British universities put together. The American government spends a bit more in per-capita terms on R&D than European ones, but American companies spend about twice what EU area corporations do, and the non-profit private sector is also much bigger here.

This is reflected in a massive inward flow of scientists and technicians -- 400,000 from Europe alone -- and in unrivaled higher educational resources. The US not only spends more on R&D, it's better at commercializing developments because of the bigger private research sector and its closer links with academic and governmental institutions.

2: the US is the _only_ developed country with replacement level fertility, and the _only_ developed country with _rising_ fertility. In fact, it's the only large country in the 1st _or_ 3rd worlds with consistently increasing fertility.

Hence in 2006 the three largest countries in the world are China, India and the US; in 2050 it'll be India, China... and the US.

The US is also the only one not heading down the demographic toilet of shrinking work-forces and swelling masses of dependent elderly. We have pension problems; the rest of the advanced world has _catastrophes_ about which they're in complete denial, and so does increasing chunks of the developing world -- China, for example.

In fact, the US now has higher fertility than much of the underdeveloped world -- higher than pretty well all of East Asia, higher than much of Latin America (Brazil's at 1.9, for example), higher than much of India.

Current best estimates are that the world TFR will drop below the replacement level in the next decade or so, and that world population will be dropping by the middle of this century. That means that over the next couple of generations, the American population will grow not only in absolute terms, but as a percentage of the world total.

76:

I really shouldn't argue politics with Mr. Stirling: he's so vehement about his axioms.

But the EU is an economic entity which can expand. It's demographics aren't so monolithic, and the freedom of movement for labour, as well as goods, makes it different from systems such as NAFTA.

Plus, it appears to show that something between the extremes of state commmunism and dog-eat-dog, let-the-market-decide, capitalism works well.

The demographics are a problem. The problem varies from place to place. So does the political toolset available to fix it. From here, Wall Street Capitalism looks like a particularly crude hammmer.

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77:

Somebody or other not worth naming mentioned R&D.

Naturally enough, he failed to make comparisons distinguishing between "defence" and non-"defence" related R&D. Strange, that.

Also interesting is the way American pundits spend vast amounts of time and intellectual effort attempting to prove that Europe is doomed by comparison to the US, while the Europeans seem quite happy to just get along with it - and the rest of us look increasingly towards European countries as better models than American society.

78:

The biggest risk we now face is that, if the United States withdraws from Iraq, the withdrawal will trigger a regional collapse.

Not being evil here, but why is that a problem we face? I don't live in Iraq. Or anywhere else in the Middle East. The Middle East has collapsed into violence and war many, many times - 1948, 1967, 1973, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1999 - and none of these have caused me much discomfort (let alone harm). The moral argument's different, but practically, why is this our problem?

SM Stirling: The US armed forces are more upfront about it than most -- witness the unoffical but frequently seen sign on American bases: OUR MISSION: TO KILL PEOPLE AND BREAK THEIR STUFF.

Ha. In other armed forces, the real motto of the US army is known to be ALL THE GEAR AND NO IDEA. (yes, I have met and operated with US soldiers, marines, and naval personnel. No, I was not impressed. Except by their kit, which was very nice.)

Your MISSION, for any servicemen reading, is not KILL PEOPLE AND BREAK THEIR STUFF: it is DEFEND YOUR FELLOW CITIZENS FROM HARM.

KILL PEOPLE AND BREAK THEIR STUFF is the mission statement for Godzilla.

It is very important indeed that you not confuse these things.

79:

SM Stirling: OTOH, what if the reason the French and the Germans don't kill each other any more is not that they've become morally better, but that they've become morally exhausted?
And are no longer willing to sacrifice or fight for _anything_?

Oh, right. So when the Bundeswehr spent forty years planning to fight in the ruins of their own homes against the largest and most terrifying army the world had ever seen, knowing that their best hope was to slow them down long enough for US reinforcements that might or might not arrive; when they dug in stay-behind long-range recce units that had a life expectancy of seventy-two hours; when their pilots trained for one-way low-level flights with tactical nuclear weapons over East Germany; when their tankers prepared to face odds of five to one; when they planned for fighting on a chemical or even nuclear-contaminated battlefield that would actually have been their home towns and fields...

When the French paras held on for weeks at Dien Bien Phu, without close air support, under fire from regiments of Vietnamese artillery, with their sappers ten metres away or closer, calling in strikes on their own positions, and cost a better-armed and better-equipped enemy eighteen thousand casualties before they were finally overrun...

When Groupe Mobile 100 fought back to back through ambush after ambush at the Meng Yang Pass and took 90% casualties before breaking out and making it through to Me Thout...

they were just kidding around, right? Because they were morally exhausted and wouldn't really fight?

Pillock.

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80:

Sigh.

I was very tempted to delete Steve's sequence of large postings and replace them with a single line:

#include "std_smstirling.h"

Seriously, Steve. Isn't it about time you got hold of your own bully pulpit blog?

81:

Daniel Duffy: "As for the dead in Viet Nam, I distinctly remember a massive silence from the Left back in the 70s (with the exception of Joan Baez) when the Killing Fields became common knowledge. Apparently as far as they were concerned, atrocity was OK so long as it was done by left wing regimes. Perhaps they were too busy disco dancing to notice or care."

And I remember a US administration aiding the Khmer Rouge, to get back at the government of Vietnam. And guess what? That administration was not the Carter administration.

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82:

Bell: But the EU is an economic entity which can expand. It's demographics aren't so monolithic, and the freedom of movement for labour, as well as goods, makes it different from systems such as NAFTA.

-- well, the demographics range from "very bad" (France) to "catastrophic" (Italy, Spain, most of the new ex-Communist members).

Europe's in real denial about the demographic issue, probably because it's so serious and intractable.

83:

Two comments, Stirling. First, you have some odd confusion of being willing to go to war with moral strength. From where do you get that, in reality? I mean, not in your head, or your carnographic sfi-fi, but reality.

Second, stipulating that the Europeans are morally exhausted, did it ever cross your mind that that sort of thing is the forseeable result of too much war? That wars have costs, and wear things down?

I frequently wonder why these right-wingers don't understand that basic concept, given that they hold themselves up as knowing something about war. Sun Tzu figured out that war is destructive and wearing, thousands of years ago (then again, he was probably a liberal).

84:

Ajay:
"Your MISSION, for any servicemen reading, is not KILL PEOPLE AND BREAK THEIR STUFF: it is DEFEND YOUR FELLOW CITIZENS FROM HARM.

KILL PEOPLE AND BREAK THEIR STUFF is the mission statement for Godzilla.

It is very important indeed that you not confuse these things."

I Like it. So much so I have hereby quoted it on this page, just for emphasis!

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85:

On the demographics issue.

No government in the western world is ignoring this. They can't force their populations to breed and the population isn't responding to incentives as much as they'd like.

Check their immigration policies. They're opening up their borders to immigration from almost anywhere. They are pulling in the best and brightest from the third world. They are attracting first rate American immigrants (though not as many as they would like).

Note the issues many European nations are having over their immigration policies. The problem is that (like some Americans) large portions of the population do not recognize how vital that immigration is to their future. North Americans know (for the most part) that they are descended from immigrants, it makes the adjustment a little easier. Government policies on the other hand recogize the importance of immigration.

And on another note. American corporations do not exclusively invest in research on American soil. They will put their money anywhere they might get a return on investment (good capitalists).

86:

But the EU is an economic entity which can expand. It's demographics aren't so monolithic, and the freedom of movement for labour, as well as goods, makes it different from systems such as NAFTA.

Plus, it appears to show that something between the extremes of state commmunism and dog-eat-dog, let-the-market-decide, capitalism works well.

The demographics are a problem. The problem varies from place to place. So does the political toolset available to fix it. From here, Wall Street Capitalism looks like a particularly crude hammmer.

That's a good point -- the EU as a whole does have a lot of potential. If you're fond of comparing the EU and US, then western Europe looks a lot like the US's Northeast -- a large ammount of capital to live off of, but rather stagnant. The Eastern European nations have a lot more potential, but they need to overcome the legacy of Soviet domination before they can grow like the southern and western parts of the US are.

Regarding demographics & capitalism, I don't think that's the key to the US's success. It's more a cultural thing -- the more conservative and religous parts of the US population are the ones who have larger families once you take out recent hispanic immigrants. Europe doesn't really have anything like the US Bible Belt.

87:

This situation will get worse with every passing year and with the ever-increasing rapidity of urbanization. China will have an unsustainable mass of elders which its still relatively poor economy won't be able to support.

A nation staggering under the burden of 600,000,000 geezers is not a candidate for world domination.

What will be interesting is what China will do after that bulge of elders dies off. By 2050 most of them should be dead and they'll have a more stable population structure. Assuming they haven't had massive political problems to tear them apart, their economy should really take off in the latter half of the 21st century -- and by that time India may well be having the problems China just got over.

88:

Naturally enough, he failed to make comparisons distinguishing between "defence" and non-"defence" related R&D. Strange, that.

Don't forget that military research often has civilian spinoffs. The military in effect spends a whole bunch of money to develop new gizmos for consumers. GPS is a good example. Radar is another.

Also interesting is the way American pundits spend vast amounts of time and intellectual effort ...

I'm not sure I'd use the words "pundit" and "intellectual" in the same sentence... :)

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89:

2: the US is the _only_ developed country with replacement level fertility, and the _only_ developed country with _rising_ fertility. In fact, it's the only large country in the 1st _or_ 3rd worlds with consistently increasing fertility.

You might want to have a closer look at the *distribution* of that fertility. AFAICT, most US urban populations look pretty much like large parts of dreaded Yurp, rising levels of female education correlating with falling family size. Out in the red-state hairy hinterlands the barefoot-and-pregnant fundies may well be breeding like there's no tomorrow, but it's not necessarily the kind of world-class human capital formation you'll doubtless wish to claim. Though at least you'll have a pool of more-or-less adequate carers for your own burgeoning geezer population and won't have to resort to robots like we will in Japan.

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90:

I'm not sure I'd use the words "pundit" and "intellectual" in the same sentence... :)

I said "intellectual effort".

Charlie spends intellectual effort imagining plausible civilizations down to the designs on the underwear and then feeding them to alien space gods. I spend intellectual effort imagining and constructing useful subject access points. They spend intellectual effort imagining cab drivers who impart to them the wisdom that the world is shaped like a banana.

91:

"Out in the red-state hairy hinterlands the barefoot-and-pregnant fundies may well be breeding like there's no tomorrow, but it's not necessarily the kind of world-class human capital formation you'll doubtless wish to claim."

Oh, come one -- they aren't that dumb. While ideologically they leave a lot to be desired they aren't ignorant hicks (well, 90% of them). And heredity isn't destiny either -- a large portion of them will adopt more liberal political views, become very well educated, and generally be an asset to the world.

I've lived in both liberal, northeastern cities and the southern biblebelt, and once you get past religion and politics the actual people aren't really that different.

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92:

Andrew,
Thank you for coming to the defense of myself and those others from a rural, large family background.
I would have spoken up myself but confronted by Adrian's cosmopolitan eloquence and the clear evidence of my own less than world class human capital I thought the best response was a humble silence.

I would be interested to know what Adrian's reaction would be if I were to post his comments but substitute Muslim or Black ghettoes for Red State Hinterlands

93:

Actually I dont recall any politicians saying "If you dont want immigrants, have at least the replacement number of children, you shortsighted fools."

94:

Adrian Smith: "You might want to have a closer look at the *distribution* of that fertility. "

IIRC, the higher fertility levels of the USA are due primarily to immigrants, who have higher fertility rates, and are frequently coming in at the start of their reproductive 'careers'. Take away immigrants, and the USA would be below replacement level.

95:

Barry, even without immigrants the US would still increase, just more slowly. And that's assuming the unlikelyhood that people stop immigrating here.

It's true that the TFR for non-hispanic whites 7 asians are below replacement - about 1.85 & 1.87. But even that's still better than most European countries. Blacks are just below replacement level, at 2.03. The real growth comes from hispanics, who are at 2.78!

If you're interested, there's a report here:
http://0-www.cdc.gov.mill1.sjlibrary.org/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr53/nvsr53_09.pdf

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96:

While ideologically they leave a lot to be desired they aren't ignorant hicks (well, 90% of them).

Are you sure? The link between female education and smaller families seems to be pretty strong AFAICT, though of course if anyone has stats to show that large numbers of them are working on advanced search algorithms at Google I'll take it all back and more.

I would have spoken up myself but confronted by Adrian's cosmopolitan eloquence and the clear evidence of my own less than world class human capital I thought the best response was a humble silence.

Oh, grow some *skin*. If you don't say anything dumb no one will use you for target practice, as a rule.

I would be interested to know what Adrian's reaction would be if I were to post his comments but substitute Muslim or Black ghettoes for Red State Hinterlands

Oops, too late.

Actually, the Muslim ghettoes in Europe are a major concern, some of their denizens seem to be nurturing fantasies of eventually assimilating their host countries.

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97:

Adrian,
Please disabuse yourself of any idea that I was insulted or annoyed by your comments. Quite the opposite.
I just find it amusing that there are still people out there who buy into the old urban smart/rural dumb idea or who think that being religious is a sure sign of lacking in intelligence.
Us country folk have a term for them- sheep.

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98:

Please disabuse yourself of any idea that I was insulted or annoyed by your comments. Quite the opposite.

Oh, it *was* sarcasm. Good, good.

I just find it amusing that there are still people out there who buy into the old urban smart/rural dumb idea or who think that being religious is a sure sign of lacking in intelligence.

Well, perhaps all these sturdy country folk are just *pretending* to believe in creationism and the Rapture to lull librul pollsters into a false sense of superiority.

Crafty...very crafty...

Us country folk have a term for them- sheep.

I don't want to know what you do with those, either.

99:

Adrian, the education levels of the various parts of the US are pretty even, within a few percentage points of eachother. In 1990 the South was behind, but it's almost caught up now. The Southern states are even attracting students from all over the country to come to their universities.

And just to clarify - these are the areas with the highest birth rates, and they still have at least 1/2 the population with some college education.

Regarding the arguement that women are less educated, they tend to graduate secondary school at a higher rate (79% vs 72% for men), though they do lag behind in advanced degrees.

I think the main influences on the US population growth rate are cultural and economic. Most people want to have 2 or 3 children -- it's sort of the stereotypical middle class American family. However, in more urban areas higher property costs and lack of daycare have caused the number of children to fall. This will be offest as more businesses move to the "rural" states (lower costs) and more suburbs are built.

100:

Well, perhaps all these sturdy country folk are just *pretending* to believe in creationism and the Rapture to lull librul pollsters into a false sense of superiority.

Well, plenty of people believe in gobal warming, socialism, and that terrorists aren't a threat but we still allow that they may have some level of intelligence. :)

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101:

Adrian, the education levels of the various parts of the US are pretty even, within a few percentage points of eachother.

Averaged across regions, I wouldn't be at all surprised, I didn't mean to imply that *all* of Dixie was wall-to-wall crackers by any means, not now they have air conditioning. But wouldn't you say there were at least a few rural/urban disparities within states? Perhaps holders of advanced degrees are perfectly happy watching stock-car racing at weekends, I'm not claiming personal experience here.

Regarding the arguement that women are less educated, they tend to graduate secondary school at a higher rate (79% vs 72% for men), though they do lag behind in advanced degrees.

I didn't say they were less educated as a group, just that the ones who are more educated tend to have smaller families.

This will be offest as more businesses move to the "rural" states (lower costs) and more suburbs are built.

You don't believe any of this so-called "Peak Oil" nonsense, then.

102:

Adrian, it looks like we don't really have much disagreement then. :) I just want to point out that it's been my experience that the view of southerners and midwesterners seen in the media is off-base for the most part. So is the portrayal of Northeasterners for that matter.

America as a whole is very rural by European or Asian standards. The Northeast is just about the only area that would come close to Europe. Even the areas of the US classified as "urban" are often medium density suburbs. Based on land use and housing patterns, its unlikely that the US will reach European fertility rates this century.

Regarding Peak Oil, I don't believe in it, but even if it was the case it would likely speed up the process of businesses moving into more rural areas in the US. The pattern now in most areas is for people to live in the suburbs and to work in the cities -- often driving 45 minutes or over an hour. There's very little mass transit to speak of, and none that could be built on a Peak Oil timescale. What you'd see is a rapid expansion of telecommuting. The corporate HQ might remain in a city, but most of the workers will work from home scattered across the country. Probably half the non-retail jobs in the US could be done via telecommuting right now, if there wasn't inertia and custom to keep people driving to a cubicle farm every day.

103:

"Actually, the Muslim ghettoes in Europe are a major concern, some of their denizens seem to be nurturing fantasies of eventually assimilating their host countries. "

Posted by: Adrian Smith


I nurture many fantasies; don't bet any money that you couldn't afford to lose on them coming true.


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104:

> Here's a thesis for you: most dictatorships tend to decay, over time, towards democratic norms. In the broad sweep of history, dictatorships (even the hereditary ones known in the west as "monarchies") have been the incubators of strong national systems and, ultimately, democracy.

I think this is an excellent observation.

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105:

to Martyn Taylor:

Actually, Russia and China are good examples what Charlie was talking about. Today China is much more liberal then in Mao times, although by no means Western type democracy and slowly but surely becomes a better place to live. USSR got much more liberal after Stalin death (in 60s), and got almost to a point of anarchy in 1990s. Contrary to what you may read in New Yourk Times or Guardian, today Russia is more liberal and democratic then USSR in 1970s or 1980s (and more so then modern China), although certainly not up to Western standards. But long term trend is unmistakeble (Putin autoritarian tendencies are overblown, he is no new Stalin)

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106:

I nurture many fantasies; don't bet any money that you couldn't afford to lose on them coming true.

Thing is, just looking at the raw demographic data it's not totally implausible eventually. I would expect some kind of, er, violent immune reaction at some point before then, though.

107:

Adrian: would this "violent immune response" happen to be something like the one that went into full swing in, oh, the Netherlands, and France, and Germany, and the UK, a few years ago?

Anyway. As someone up-thread commented, just because someone is born in a fundy household, it does not follow that they're going to stay a fundy for life: you can't keep 'em down on the farm forever. A while back Randy McDonald of shw-i did a statistical breakdown of the muslim immigrant situation in France and concluded that they were assimilating, marrying out, and converting at a rate that outstrips their demographic surplus -- in other words, the whole "Eurabia" thing was a load of nonsense (mistaking a snapshot of current census figures for a deterministic future). (In a nutshell: non-fundies very rarely become fundamentalists, but defection in the opposite direction is quite common. And marrying out/westernizing/secularizing is a lot commoner in the European muslim communities than going in the opposite direction -- or at least it was, until the witch hunt started up post-9/11 and everyone stared playing at identity politics.)

Speaking as a European native, my take on it is that a lot of the tension is manufactured (it serves the interests of both our scare-mongering politicians and the opportunistic "community leaders" they deal with to have non-muslim folks afraid of the "jihadi threat"), and the non-manufactured stuff is a by-product of unaccustomedly rapid cultural assimilation. I'd draw you a diagram but I'm not sure you'd look at it, and life's too short ...

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108:

would this "violent immune response" happen to be something like the one that went into full swing in, oh, the Netherlands, and France, and Germany, and the UK, a few years ago?

None of that struck me as "full swing". In the Netherlands someone torched a couple of (empty) Muslim schools after Van Gogh's murder IIRC, hardly yer full-on Kristallnacht. What happened in the UK? I've been in Japan for the last couple of years, but I do look at the interwebs from time to time, and I'd be surprised to learn there's been some violent backlash against Muslims without my noticing it.

And marrying out/westernizing/secularizing is a lot commoner in the European muslim communities than going in the opposite direction -- or at least it was, until the witch hunt started up post-9/11 and everyone stared playing at identity politics.

There's the thing - Islamic fundamentalism seems to particularly thrive in the absence of more interesting alternatives. Unemployment in Saudi seems to be quite a driver, frex. Especially amongst more educated people, guys who've had hopes of a better future dashed. Eric Hoffer was interesting on this, don't know if he's one of the writers you're given to dismissing out of hand.

I'd draw you a diagram but I'm not sure you'd look at it,

Don't know why you think I wouldn't. Though I'm skeptical about whether a picture would necessarily be worth a thousand words in this case.

and life's too short ...

As you please.

109:

Somebody further up the thread poses the question of US intervention in Somalia in late 1991, citing it as a case where there was no discernable self-interested motive at work.

I would submit that the US government had at least three self-interested motives in intervening in Somalia.

1. Secure a US presence in the strategically important Horn of Africa, which abuts on both the Red Sea (opposite US ally Saudi Arabia) and the Indian Ocean. 1991 was the year which saw the fall of the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia, the liberation of Eritrea, and the fall of the Somali dictator Siad Barre, a US ally since the 1970s. The new regimes in Eritrea and Ethiopia were at this time unknown quantities where their attitude to US interests was concerned.

2. Had the US intervention in Somalia been successful, it would have helped establish a new ideological premise for imperialist interventions, i.e. that they could be carried out on humanitarian grounds.

3. According to one source I've read (and I'm open to correction on this) there appear to be oil reserves off the Somali coast, perhaps even greater than those possessed by Saudi Arabia.

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110:

"First, you have some odd confusion of being willing to go to war with moral strength."

"War is an ugly thing, but it not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothikng for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made so and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

-- John Stuart Mill

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111:

"Second, stipulating that the Europeans are morally exhausted, did it ever cross your mind that that sort of thing is the forseeable result of too much war? That wars have costs, and wear things down?"

-- only if you're foolish enough to repeatedly get into prolonged wars with people who can resist effectively. If you pick your fights carefully the profits and benefits outweigh the costs.

General guideline: attack the weak, especially if they've got something worth stealing, appease the strong, and when forced to fight someone of comparable or greater power form a coalition and trick your allies into doing the heavy lifting. It helps to be an island.

Historical note:

In 1606, the "English-speaking world" consisted of England and some slices of Scotland and Ireland; say 4.5 million people on about 70,000 square miles of land.

As of 2006, it consists of _420,000,000_ people on _10,000,000_ square miles of land.(*)

As to how this was accomplished, try asking a Beothuk or a Yahi or a Tasmanian aborigine... but -- oooopsie! -- that'll be difficult because we killed them all(**) in the process of seizing their land.

It's a testimony to the power of PR that we Anglo-Saxons have managed to get an image as twee, fuzzy-minded, ever-so-kindly garden-and-dog-cherishing types, when in fact our main historical role on the global scale could best be described as that of "merciless predators".

(*) by way of comparison, the number of French and German speakers increased by about 4x over the same period, and is now probably declining, and the speech-areas have expanded not at all (German) or very little (French).

(**) or nearly all. I probably have some Beothuk ancestors, but the point is moot since that doesn't make me a Beothuk. The last actual Tasmanian aborigine died in the 1870's, though there are some people of mixed origin around, descendants of kidnapped women. The famous Ishi was the last Yahi -- that was a clean sweep.

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112:

Charlie's quite right on the alarmist "Eurabia" bit being nonsense, tho' it makes a good pin to stick into people's rumps to make them jump.

If nothing else, birth-rates in the Muslim world are already falling very quickly. Tunisia has a lower birth-rate than France nowadays, and Algeria's is almost exactly the same.

Of course, the Muslim minorities in Europe will grow proportionately before this fertility imbalance corrects itself, and this will probably cause severe problems (as if it weren't doing so already!)

While not totally immune to assimilation into general Western society, many Muslims are exceptionally resistant to it. Much more so than, for example, Chinese. Ideology matters, and as an ideology -- a set of self-replicating memes -- Islamic culture is extremely efficient.

The US is lucky in that most of its immigrants are either from other Western countries (it's well to remember that Mexico had universities teaching Aquinas before the first English settlement) or from East Asia, and they assimilate and intermarry very rapidly. More so than the Poles and Italians we were getting a century ago, in fact.

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113:

"What will be interesting is what China will do after that bulge of elders dies off. By 2050 most of them should be dead and they'll have a more stable population structure."

-- not if the TFR continues below 2.1 In that case each succeeding generation is smaller than the one before, so the median age continues to drift upward. More slowly, but quite inexorably.

A declining population with a stable or increasing average lifespan is necessarily an _old_ population.

114:

-- not if the TFR continues below 2.1 In that case each succeeding generation is smaller than the one before, so the median age continues to drift upward. More slowly, but quite inexorably.

A declining population with a stable or increasing average lifespan is necessarily an _old_ population.

If you look at China's population pyramid (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Chinapop.svg) you'll see that they have two bulges. The first one, ages 30-50, will be a problem for the next 30 or so years. After that their age distribution should start looking more like the US, and by the 2050s or 2060s they should have a pretty steady population.

And really, the main disavantage of the elderly in a modern society is the cost due to medical care. If, in the next couple decades we find ways to decrease this then there is no demographic problem. China's also a special case in that 2/3rds of it's population is pretty much surplus -- no one needs peasants in a modern nation.

This is also assuming that they don't institute some draconian policy like they did to cut birth rates, some sort of limit on care for the elederly or euthanasia. Or that their economy doesn't end up like Russia's and they just can't care for them any more.

Maybe we're just thinking on different timescales though. I'm not worried much about China until after 2050 or so.

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115:

And really, the main disavantage of the elderly in a modern society is the cost due to medical care. If, in the next couple decades we find ways to decrease this then there is no demographic problem.

That's a pretty big if. It's more likely that a wider and wider range of more and more expensive treatments will continue to be developed. A nanomedical magic bullet for immortality doesn't sound very likely.

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116:

It's a testimony to the power of PR that we Anglo-Saxons have managed to get an image as twee, fuzzy-minded, ever-so-kindly garden-and-dog-cherishing types,

That would be the (present-day) English - it's not a stereotype I've ever seen applied to Americans. I could supply a few, but there appear to be sensitive types about.

when in fact our main historical role on the global scale could best be described as that of "merciless predators".

Al Qaida are essentially right, IOW?

117:

That's a pretty big if. It's more likely that a wider and wider range of more and more expensive treatments will continue to be developed. A nanomedical magic bullet for immortality doesn't sound very likely.

The main costs right now come from scarcity -- the expense of research and the expense of trained doctors to perform proceedures. Actually making medicines is pretty cheap, and likely to be so in the future.

Research costs will likely go down significantly once we have good computer models of the human body, and enough processing power to simulate every possible interaction a drug could have.

Robotics are also likely to reduce costs of things like surgeries, already they reduce recovery time by allowing for much smaller cuts.

Then there are other techs which might or might not work out like stem cells and theraputic cloning. Being able to regrow damaged tissues or organs in vivo would really cut down costs. Who'd need expensive drugs or daily dialysis if they could just reboot their kidneys with a simple outpatient proceedure?

Eventually people will die, even if we boost lifespans to 100 or so -- I suspect we'd really need to be able to tinker with life on a molecular scale to have immortality. But if you could live most of that century physically no different than you were at 40 then there would be a huge boost to national economies.

118:

Al Qaida are essentially right, IOW

Al Qaida are pussies compared to our Anglo-Saxon ancestors. We're talking about a people who thought genocide was good fun.

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119:

Research costs will likely go down significantly once we have good computer models of the human body, and enough processing power to simulate every possible interaction a drug could have.

Don't know if I'd bet on that one being computationally tractable.

Eventually people will die, even if we boost lifespans to 100 or so -- I suspect we'd really need to be able to tinker with life on a molecular scale to have immortality.

Redesign it from the ground up, I suspect. It would waste evolutionary resources to have something capable of lasting forever if it didn't need to.

But if you could live most of that century physically no different than you were at 40 then there would be a huge boost to national economies.

As long as there's no Singularity to suddenly make everyone as surplus to requirements as a Chinese peasant, yes.

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120:

On the medical front, here's what I'm betting on:

* Within 10-15 years: a full understanding of the causes and pathology of hypertension, early vaccines against the receptor-site malfunctions that cause it. Heart attack, stroke, and arterial disease rates go down 30% and survival probability (in cases where medical intervention is in time) goes from about 50% for heart attacks to more like 90% with full recovery.

* Within 15-20 years: tissue engineering and limb regeneration. (Yes, this stuff is a real hot spot of research right now. There's no reason to think it's impractical.) Partial organ regeneration or repair using cultured tissues donated from the subject begins to replace transplantation. (Again: early experiments are already showing promise.)

* Within 5-20 years: significant improvements in cancer therapy. We know a hell of a lot more today about how they happen than we did even five years ago; and there's a huge range of stuff under development.

These three items will raise the average life expectancy in the west by a decade ... or more.

Now for the speculative bit:

* 10-30 years: understanding of cellular senescence and the cumulative malfunctions underlying "old age" turn it from being a catch-all description (like "cancer" in the early 1900s) into a huge range of different conditions (e.g. various categories of mitochondrial DNA transcription errors leading to respiration pathway collapse in cells; immune system malfunctions; epigenetic cumulative errors in the siRNA modulation pathways that control non-germ-line genetic transcription) lead to a bunch of treatments for various types of "old age" condition. There won't be any single magic bullet but there'll be a bunch of pills you pop when you turn 50-60 that give you more energy, tighten up your skin, stop your bones shrinking, and help you think more clearly.

* New diseases of extreme old age will appear -- stuff that's low-probability today (10% within 80 years, 20% within 110 years, 30% within 150 years ... and so on) and which need dealing with. There's no free lunch in medicine; even if we do crack cellular senescence and organ regeneration and stem cells, people will still be committing suicide from depression and killing themselves in car crashes. Defeating old age won't mean immortality, or even immorbidity and indefinite youth.

But it'll beat what we take for the human condition today, no question.

And the social fallout will be ... interesting.

(See also "Holy Fire" by Bruce Sterling.)

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121:

D'oh ... the time span for hypertension should be 5-10 years, not 10-15. Some of this stuff is showing up in clinical trials right now.

122:

Yeah, a big source of medical costs are the ongoing treatments to suppress symptoms of diseases that show up in old age. My grandfather-in-law takes pills to boost his absorbtion of vitamins, and heart medications. If you could get his stomach lining and heart to at least partially regenerate, there'd be no need for those medications.

Likewise, that sort of thing would cut down on expensive sugeries like heart bypasses.

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123:

"Out in the red-state hairy hinterlands the barefoot-and-pregnant fundies may well be breeding like there's no tomorrow, but it's not necessarily the kind of world-class human capital formation you'll doubtless wish to claim."

-- this comment displays a depth of prejudice and ignorance at which the mind boggles.

Take a look at Utah... which, incidentally, has the best educational system in the US.

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124:

Andrew G: Al Qaida are pussies compared to our Anglo-Saxon ancestors. We're talking about a people who thought genocide was good fun.

-- yeah, pretty much; though what they're really complaining about is that we're much better at it than they are. Losers talk about the morals and winners smile.

As to the ancestral Anglo-Saxons, see the recent University of London DNA study, which explains why there's a sharp genetic barrier at the Welsh border.

Not a transiatory characteristic, either. An early New England town meeting responded to an antinomian who doubted that the King of England had the right to issue charters giving away Indian land by passing the following three resolutions:

Resolution the first: the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof.

Affirmed by unanimous vote.

Resolution the second: the Lord therefore may give or gift the earth or any part thereof to His Chosen People.

Affirmed by unanimous vote.

Resolution the third: We are His Chosen People.

Affirmed by unanimous vote.

I'm sort of waiting for Al Qaeda or some equivalent to really, really piss us off; they're almost comically inept, but if they keep trying they'll eventually get lucky once or twice. Shortly thereafter -- solved problem.

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125:

Charlie: I'd like to believe in a cure for old age in the near future, but the recent history of medicine has been discouraging.

First, there's been no extension whatsoever of potential lifespan in the last 50 years. We're simply letting more people live up to the maximum which some people always reached. The average age of death in 17th-century New England was a little over 70 for men. 90-year-olds weren't uncommon.

The area was more healthy than most, but it's a bit daunting to realize that all we've done in 350 years is to emulate generally what Needham, Massachusetts, had in 1656.

In fact, the big reductions in overall mortality occurred in 1850-1950, not since, and they were due to basic sanitation, not fancy high-tech stuff.

Most of the medical 'advances' of the past 50 years have served to keep very old and/or very sick people alive for another 6 months or a year at vast expense.

This is why medical expenses have escalated so disproportionately. Most of the added money, over half IIRC, is spent on people in the last few months of their lives.

My mother, when she developed a rare marrow cancer in her mid-70's, just refused to undergo the 'treatments' after she'd carefully investigated what they could do for, and to, her.

As she said, she'd lived as long as people live, and there was absolutely no point in spending a lot of money and effort on a few months of excruciating discomfort. "Spend it on a kid who might get better", to quote her, and she insisted on pallatives only, mostly morphine.

For the immediate future, I think we'll get better and better, very expensively, at keeping very sick people alive a little longer.

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126:

Steve: one of the interesting factors in medicine that isn't obvious outside the field is that there's a huge front-loaded burden of research that needs doing before certain treatments become possible -- and even then, it takes 8-14 years to get treatments through clinical trials. The golden age of genomics began in earnest only about 10 years ago; we're still learning a metric shitload of new stuff every month, and the actual applications resulting from them are still mostly a decade away.

On the other hand, what's happening in the biomedical field is a bit like aviation in the 1920s, in relation to its dependency on new sciences like aerodynamics and exotic metallurgy. We're finally getting to grips with understanding why biology works, and how to make planned modifications to it, rather than poking the machine with pointy sticks to see what happens when a piece of bark gets caught in a gear-train.

I'm so out of date it isn't funny -- I've got a degree in pharmacy from the mid-1980s, and I feel like a 18th century mining engineer trying to keep up with 1950s developments in jet propulsion. But there is a lot of very significant stuff happening, it's just that we're too removed from the front line to hear more than a general distant rumbling.

127:

For the immediate future, I think we'll get better and better, very expensively, at keeping very sick people alive a little longer.

It depends on what we're thinking of when we talk about the near future. For the next 10, 15 years I agree with you. We're different generations though, so I think we might be looking at different dates when we're thinking of future medical advances.

I'm figuring that medical costs will start decreasing in the 2020s, and that we'll see huge advances and drops in price by the 2040s. By 2060, good health and long life should be taken for granted in the developed world as much as cheap food and affordable clothing is here in 2006. We'll have universal health care and eliminate most of the symptoms of old age by 2060, not because of massive government programs, but just because technology will reduce costs to the point that pretty much everyone can have it.

Of course, if you're looking at the 2010s and early 2020s rather than the 2040s+, then things are different.

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128:

-- this comment displays a depth of prejudice and ignorance at which the mind boggles.

At least I don't believe in creationism or rapturing.

Take a look at Utah... which, incidentally, has the best educational system in the US.

Best state system? BFD. The best educational system in the US is the private one. Mormons aren't fundies, either, they're heretics. Sixth circle, below the wall of Dis.

Sheesh.

I'm sort of waiting for Al Qaeda or some equivalent to really, really piss us off; they're almost comically inept, but if they keep trying they'll eventually get lucky once or twice. Shortly thereafter -- solved problem.

Not quite sure what you're suggesting here. Nuke the whole ME, perhaps waiting for a west wind for the sake of the Israelis? You can't, you need the oil - that is to say, it's a world market and the price of South American and Canadian products *will* tend to skyrocket in the absence of ME production. And besides such minor practicalities, committing genocide would likely change America in disturbing ways. It's much easier to do that sort of thing to insiders once you've done it to outsiders, frex.

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129:

Not quite sure what you're suggesting here. Nuke the whole ME, perhaps waiting for a west wind for the sake of the Israelis? You can't, you need the oil

Hell, oil's expensive enough now that it would be economic to bring the Albertan oil shales on line. However, I think it's clear now why I feel so uneasy with SM Stirling's politics...

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130:

Not quite sure what you're suggesting here. Nuke the whole ME, perhaps waiting for a west wind for the sake of the Israelis? You can't, you need the oil

Hell, oil's expensive enough now that it would be economic to bring the Albertan oil shales on line. However, I think it's clear now why I feel so uneasy with SM Stirling's politics...

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131:

Hell, oil's expensive enough now that it would be economic to bring the Albertan oil shales on line.

It might be economic to produce it if the extraction plants were already in place, but actually building those plants when there's a fear that the price could go down again is a tricky one. Has someone found a way to get oil out of shale with an ERoEI better than 1, btw? I keep reading about stuff like this and some bizarre Raytheon thing a while back about cooking it out of the rock in situ, but it seems to be mostly talk ATM.

However, I think it's clear now why I feel so uneasy with SM Stirling's politics...

Apparently it goes down quite well with people in the US military, who consume his product by the skipload.

132:

Apparently it goes down quite well with people in the US military, who consume his product by the skipload.

I don't think his books reflect his politics that much. He has said that the "Republic of Nantucket" from the Island in the Sea of Time trilogy is close to ideal for him, but most of his books stick to adventure and not politics, IMO.

Charlie's books are the same way -- he doesn't force his politics on the reader. The mark of a good author, if you ask me. :)

133:

Me: "First, you have some odd confusion of being willing to go to war with moral strength."

S.M. Stirling, quoting
John Stuart Mill: "War is an ugly thing, but it not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothikng for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made so and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

A perfect example of Stirlingism - first, substituting sayings for thought; second, confusing (deliberately, I'd say) refusal to casually go to war (at the whim of the American president) with refusal to fight under any circumstances.

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134:

I don't think his books reflect his politics that much.

Not as much as some, I suppose, though having only glanced fleetingly at a couple I'm not really in a position to judge. Maybe all those guys in the military are just going for the cover art.

Charlie's books are the same way -- he doesn't force his politics on the reader. The mark of a good author, if you ask me. :)

I could take it from Heinlein most of the time, but yeah.

135:

...though having only glanced fleetingly at a couple I'm not really in a position to judge.

If you like Charlie's Family Trade series, then you might enjoy Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time trilogy. Most of the stuff before that might be too military oriented for you, based on your comments.

Probably his most popular series so far is the one that starts with "Dies the Fire".

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136:

Well, I'm giving it a go - sort of like Twain's "A Connetticut Yankee", innit? But I keep...tripping over things. The military (in this case a convenient Coast Guard sailing ship) do still seem to be the prime repository of the manly virtues. And what have we here?

Her Southern accent made her voice soft, but the diction was oddly precise, almost finicky, as if every word was carefully chosen. The voice of an autodidact, self-educated.

Lord knows I'd be the last to complain about discreet attempts to expand the vocabulary of one's readers, particularly the ones in the forces. But what about those who already know what an autodidact is? Don't they deserve some consideration?

And could this be a gratuitous lefty stereotype I see before me?

Cofflin recognized her too, a member of the flake-and-nut contingent, a weaver who sold fantastically expensive handmade blankets to support a "simple" lifestyle. She was a tall thin woman, her only noticeable features large green-gold eyes and an air of intense conviction; she was involved in every good cause, and a great many marginal ones as well.

Note the absence of sexual charisma, unless those eyes have more to offer than one might normally expect. Will she persist in saying Inane Things?

"Hey, he's not a registered voter in this town!" Lisketter exclaimed. "He's an off-islander!"

What can fate hold in store for her, I wonder.

"Whales! You can't kill whales." Pamela Lisketter gasped.

The other members of the Council looked down the table at her. "Why not?" Rosenthal snapped.

"They're an endangered species!"

You may not consider this kind of thing to be "shoving his politics down your throat", but it's still a little clunkily obvious for my tastes, caricaturing one's ideological targets as being this stump-dumb.

Oh god, the ship's captain's a lesbian, I dread to think where that's going to lead. And "May you live in interesting times" isn't Chinese - at least, Chinese scholars haven't been able to track it down, other than to a short story by EF Russell.

Apart from that I suppose it's workmanlike enough, out to chapter 4 at least.

137:

Well, the book's not perfect, I find Lisketter to be annoying and something of a parody of the tree-hugging environmentalist stereotype too.

Too be fair, there are some characters later in the series that are basically amoral capitalists and depicted in a negative light.

The most interesting characters IMO are the natives to the time period, who appear in later chapters.

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138:

Oh right, I'll soldier on a bit then.

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139:

Adrian: At least I don't believe in creationism or rapturing.

-- God is a hypothesis which can't be empirically tested.

You, I'm afraid, believe in propositions which _can_ be easily falsified; eg., that religious people are inferior, ignorant or stupid.

This is an almost textbook example of prejudice overcoming rational thought; and you've got far less excuse than a theist.

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140:

Adrian: Not quite sure what you're suggesting here. Nuke the whole ME, perhaps waiting for a west wind for the sake of the Israelis? You can't, you need the oil

-- ummm... well, just to get technical, the oil is in the _ground_, dude. Airbursts wouldn't harm it at all -- in fact, I don't think you _could_ harm the resevoirs, even if you tried.

You could damage the above-ground facilities, of course, but they can be repaired.

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141:

Adrian: "But what about those who already know what an autodidact is? Don't they deserve some consideration?"

-- since they're a fairly small minority even among the literate... no.

"And could this be a gratuitous lefty stereotype I see before me?"

-- no, it isn't.

The director of "Thelma and Louise" was asked whether it was an anti-male movie. Reply: "No, it's an anti-idiot movie".

Lisketter isn't an environmentalist idiot because she's an environmentalist, but because she's an idiot. There are a number of quite sensible conservationists in the book. Every subculture has its own fruitloops, and they tend to come in certain flavors.

"Oh god, the ship's captain's a lesbian, I dread to think where that's going to lead."

-- actually, a high proportion of the long-serving female officers in the Coast Guard _are_ lesbians.

At least, that was what I was told while talking to various people at the Coast Guard Academy -- "Island" was made required reading there and they invited me down to give a talk and attend a seminar with some of the cadets.

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142:

-- God is a hypothesis which can't be empirically tested.

Er...yes. Is this fact supposed to instill a sudden respect for creationism/rapturage?

It's not working.

You, I'm afraid, believe in propositions which _can_ be easily falsified; eg., that religious people are inferior, ignorant or stupid.

Curious to know where you've inferred that. I've been talking about a *specific subset* of religious people, and it's not the bloody Jesuits. I don't think they're *all* intrinsically stupid, but taking these memes on board means IMO that you have to shut certain faculties down to some extent.

This is an almost textbook example of prejudice overcoming rational thought; and you've got far less excuse than a theist.

If theists have an excuse for believing dumb things, that kind of proves my point.

Point me at some of these highly intelligent Cre-apturists, why don't you? I'm all for falsification of propositions, but it has to be hands-on.

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143:

-- since they're a fairly small minority even among the literate... no.

I'd have thought the device was clunky even if it was a word I didn't happen to know. But then, I must be in that small minority who have access to dictionaries.

I remember David Brin sprinkling a bunch of really low-frequency words thoughout "The Uplift War" for no readily apparent reason. May have been some kind of code. Irritating distraction, I felt.

The director of "Thelma and Louise" was asked whether it was an anti-male movie. Reply: "No, it's an anti-idiot movie".

I always thought it was a complete coincidence that all the idiots happened to be male myself...but I can't help forgiving him on the strength of Blade Runner.

Every subculture has its own fruitloops, and they tend to come in certain flavors.

Well of course, it's about the distribution, and the clustering.

-- actually, a high proportion of the long-serving female officers in the Coast Guard _are_ lesbians.

It wasn't the realism I was worried about.

"Island" was made required reading there

They could hardly help feeling fellated flattered by the mirror you held up to them.

and they invited me down to give a talk and attend a seminar with some of the cadets.

Nature imitating art, innit.

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144:

-- ummm... well, just to get technical, the oil is in the _ground_, dude. Airbursts wouldn't harm it at all -- in fact, I don't think you _could_ harm the resevoirs, even if you tried.

You're very sanguine about the effect the enactment of this little genocidal fantasy would have on the rest of the world, and on the nature of the American project itself. Jerry Pournelle has written some interesting things about the transition from Republic to Empire, but I guess they may not have come up during your sundry collaborations.

You could damage the above-ground facilities, of course, but they can be repaired.

Well, you'd have to recolonise the area, for a start. Who are you going to use? I suppose you could offer Mexicans a two year stint servicing wellheads in a lightly-irradiated deathscape with a green card at the end, and I'm sure the Israelis would help out if you'd been skillful with the wind directions. But it's still a somewhat larger project then Iraq, and judging by how well that's going it might be wise to lower your sights a little.

On the bright side, you'd have to stop going on at people about how much better you are than the Nazis and Soviets and ChiComs and Khmer Rouge etc. etc. ad nauseam. High price to pay, tho'.

145:

Steve, two points.

[T]he US is the _only_ developed country with replacement level fertility, and the _only_ developed country with _rising_ fertility.

Iceland and New Zealand are minor exceptions to this rule, France a major exception.

[B]y way of comparison, the number of French and German speakers increased by about 4x over the same period, and is now probably declining, and the speech-areas have expanded not at all (German) or very little (French).

German I certainly grant. The old German minorities in the Balkans and Romania, Russia and the Baltics are gone, once solidly German territories like the Sudetenland and what is now western Poland have been repopulated by Slavs, and German is now of relatively little consequence as a language of wider communication.

But French? Nadeau and Barlow's recent The Story of French demonstrates rather the contrary. At one point, too, French was a minor language in France:

This can seem mystifying to English speakers, who take a much more casual attitude toward their own language, perhaps because English spread through the British Isles much more rapidly than French did through France, a country where regional dialects persisted until the mid-20th century. On the eve of the French Revolution only about 3 million French citizens out of a population of 28 million spoke French well, and as late as 1940 about half of the people spoke a regional dialect as their mother tongue.

Since that time, as a recent INED study as demonstrated, the French language has spread further, becoming the main language of 90% of France's population of ~60M.

Outside France, too, the French language has grabbed territory. Leaving Qubec and Acadia, with their seven milloion Francophones and perhaps a million square kilometres of ecumene, and the various French overseas territories with their more than two million people, French has managed to entrench itself nicely in Africa, especially in highly diverse societies like Cte d'Ivoire, Cameroon, and Congo-Kinshasa where French has become the conmmon language and increasingly a first language. Compare the Hispanicization of formerly Spanish Latin America in the 19th century, or the ongoing Lusophonization of Angola in our time.

The US is lucky in that most of its immigrants are either from other Western countries (it's well to remember that Mexico had universities teaching Aquinas before the first English settlement) or from East Asia, and they assimilate and intermarry very rapidly. More so than the Poles and Italians we were getting a century ago, in fact.

It's important to keep in mind that Muslims in Europe don't form a homogeneous population: Not only is Europe not a homogeneous continent, but different Muslim populations are of different origins in different proportions. The situation in the Netherlands, where Turks and Moroccans form a highly segregation and endogamous population, is rather different from the situation in France, where Muslims--who mostly come from long-colonized and still Francophone countries--are highly intermarried and secular and tend to speak French as a first language. Mexicans don't come from an Anglophone country, after all.