When is a first strike not a first strike?
When it's Anticipatory Retaliation.

March 24, 2005

Do I Have To Be Certain?


Although the legal decisions about Terri Schiavo's fate are behind us, the ethical and moral issues probably are not. Like Eugene Volokh I'm not sure it's necessary to have an opinion on the Terri Schiavo controversy. But I have noticed something of an anomaly in the coverage, both in MSM and in the blogosphere. The issue is presented as boiling down to two basic questions:

1. What were Terri Schiavo's wishes regarding the "right to die" question?

2. Is she currently in a "persistent and permanent vegetative state?"

Now, I'm not quite sure why both of these issues are important at the same time. From an ethical perspective if she is not in a persistent vegetative state, then she can presumably be brought back at some point to a semblance of human consciousness. If that's the case then only if you believe in the right of assisted suicide would you consider it ethical to allow her to die, which is in effect leaving that decision to her rather than the "experts." So, only if she is not "brain dead" (in the vernacular) is Question 1 relevant.

If, however, she is in a vegetative state (which doesn't mean she's "a vegetable" by the way, since that state is higher functioning than a vegetable) then there really is no person identifiable as "Terri" who is alive, and more importantly there is no real possibility of ever regenerating that person any more than if she were "moldering in the grave." I realize that's harsh, but it's true. Now, I'm not presuming that this is the case. I'm just saying that if it is then what Terri Schiavo wishes or doesn't wish, or for that matter what anyone else wishes for Terri Schiavo, is simply not relevant. She's gone. Get over it. Move on.

(If her husband did something to bring about that situation then seek to find enough evidence to bring charges. But that's a different issue, entirely. And by the way, only in the case where she is "allowed to die" would he be in jeapardy of a conviction for homicide or murder. If her parents have their way the most he could be convicted of is attempted homicide or murder.)

So, I'm actually on both sides of this issue at the same time because there's a "vacuum of information" about the precise circumstances of the issue. And if that's the case then it becomes important to ask what are the parameters of that uncertainty. (Not that I know.) My pal Rusty has an excellent tutorial on decision-making under conditions of uncertainty that's relevant not only to this situation, but to the WMD question in Iraq as well as lots of other personal and public issues. I've written about it in slightly different terms myself. But the long and short of it is that if you're a decision-maker you have a choice between two basic methods, and you're constrained to choosing only one of those two.

Rusty refers to these two methods as Type I and Type II, and I call them "alpha" and "beta" but the terminology is discipline-specific, and doesn't really matter. To draw an analogy, you have the choice between "innocent until proved guilty" (alpha or Type I) and "guilty until proved innocent" (beta or Type II).

Although it's not appropriate to use the term "guilty" for someone who has clearly done nothing wrong, I'll use it for Case 1, where Terri is either "gone permanently from the body" or where she has chosen to have her life ended should she be incapacitated. Again, I'm not implying that she ever did anything wrongn, I'm just trying to keep the categories straight without relying on the slightly confusing nomenclature of hypothesis testing. Likewise, she's "innocent" (Case 2) if she is not in a vegetative state and she has not chosen to have her life ended should she be incapacitated. Note that the first situation involves an "or" condition, while the second involves an "and." This is appropriate because I'm assuming a person has a right to end their own life. If you don't believe that, then whether or not she chooses to end her life if she's incapacitated is irrelevant, and there's only one condition: whether or not she's "brain dead."

Now, in order to better illustrate these points I'm going to make a slight digression. My argument with regard to Saddam Hussein's possession of WMD (and Rusty's) was pretty simple: It was a Type II (beta) decision. This was simply because the consequences of a "false acquittal" were so dire. (They still are, with regard to Iran by the way.) We were therefore compelled by prudence and wisdom to adopt a "guilty until proved innocent" approach. The fact that we may have determined subsequently that he was actually innocent is irrelevant to the propriety of the choice of original method. That wasn't wrong then, and it's not wrong now. Only our assessment of the actual conditions about which we were uncertain was wrong. If you are assailed by an attacker in an alley who may have a lethal weapon, and who behaves as if he has a lethal weapon, it's appropriate to assume he has one until you know for certain that he doesn't. If, after shooting the fellow, you find that he had no weapon that doesn't mean your method was wrong. You still made the right decision under uncertain conditions. And you'd be justified in doing it again, under very similar circumstances (although you'd be required to take new information into account, of course). End of story.

By the way, the reason why the decision-maker has to stick to one and only one approach is that the consequences of mixing approaches can be disastrous, and because you can only optimize for one kind of false outcome at a time: either false conviction or false acquittal. Sorry, but there's no free lunch. Only where the odds of either are exactly 50% is it possible to optimize for both at the same time, and in that case it doesn't matter which method you choose. Note that although Hans Blix originally stated (on Charlie Rose) that he was adopting a "guilty until proved innocent" approach to Saddam, be gradually shaded over into the other method without realizing it. That was dangerously sloppy. He was inconsistent, which is frankly what one ought to expect of a career diplomat.

Now, back to the Schiavo case. This is essentially the opposite of the Saddam/WMD situation. The consequences of a "false acquittal" are not dire at all, at least not for any of us. Someone would have to pay her hospital bills, but apparently there are people willing to shoulder that burden. So, if I were the decision-maker (which I am not) I could afford to adopt a Type I or alpha method, and simply assume until proved otherwise that Case 2 is a fact: she is not in a vegetative state and she has not chosen to have her life ended should she be incapacitated.

So, we're done right? Well, not quite. We still would prefer not to commit an error, even though we're only optimizing to avoid one sort of false outcome: false conviction. So the facts of the case are still important. We can probably dismiss the issue of what her actual wishes are, because we can't really know that beyond the degree of certainty that we currently possess. We have the word of her husband and a couple of sisters-in-law, apparently. Various judges have considered that testimony credible, so from a legal standpoint that issue has been settled as much as it will ever be settled. There's no new evidence coming down the pike. The only part of Case 2 that's potentially still up for grabs is whether or not she's in a persistent vegetative state, and the clearest and most unambiguous evidence of that has to be physical. The CT scan suggested that she has no cerebral cortex, and if that's the case then our assumption has been proved false. That is, even though we've assumed that Terri is "innocent" our actual analysis has proved otherwise, and we therefore are compelled to reject our assumption. But some people, including a Nobel Prize nominee named Hammesfahr, have suggested that the CT scan evidence is not conclusive. Are his objections, or the objections of anyone else on that side of the argument, to be believed?

Well, I feel confident that I can dismiss Hammesfahr as a credible witness. Anyone who solicits a nomination for a Nobel Prize, but who lacks any peer-reviewed articles that might qualify him to actually win the prize, is a con man, charlatan, vulture. The same was true of another man of infamy, Armand Hammer, who solicited a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize (and nearly won, by the way) but who was actually a KGB bag man. So Hammesfahr not only does not call the CT scan into question, he taints everyone on that side of the argument who relies on or associates with him.

But it's still possible that the CT scan isn't definitive, and I'm simply not sufficiently expert to know whether a PET or an MRI might settle the matter more definitively. If they can I'd be all for using them. That's not something we want to determine conclusively only in an autopsy, after all.

So I'm afraid that I'm still stuck on both sides of the issue. And it has occurred to me that the real meaning of this controversy is less about the fate of Terri Schiavo than about our own deficient perceptions of life and death, and what those mean. Terri Schiavo is a kind of ink blot for all of us, so that we can observe what it is that we really believe about the single greatest uncertainty in all our lives.

Update: I can think of only one rather unconvincing reason to allow Terri Schiavo to die of dehydration (which will get her long before starvation). It's simply our queasiness about making a decision with consequences that prevents us from giving a lethal injection on the chance that even those in a vegetative state can feel pain. (However, for those distressed by this possibility, odds are people in this state don't experience anything, including pain. If that's not true, then perhaps death really is the lesser evil.) The one sorry reason I can think of for not doing that is that if Michael Schiavo ever faces trial he could argue that it wasn't he who killed her, but the state. Thus, he could only be tried for attempted murder. But it's not really much of a reason.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia and The Jawa Report)

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Kos, False Even to Form


Not only is this "Interview with the Devil" from Daily Kos a shameless ripoff of Jeff Goldstein in both style and substance, but it's an incompetent copy. With Saddam Hussein awaiting trial, Bin Laden hiding out, the Oil for Food scam and child pornography rings at the UN, the Myanmarr Junta, Kim Jung Il, and the headletting of Zarqawi and the Baathist thugs, this idiot (Markos Zuniga) can think of no one more evil than the man who conceived of and carried out the liberation of Iraq? That's not imagination, it's the shape of the Marxisant left as it circles the toilet bowl for one last time, heading for the septic tank of history.

And speaking of the Marxisant left, Bill Kristol's mommy just published a masterwork that clarifies how and why the radical heirs of the French Revolution have gone so consistently and spectacularly wrong, while the American Revolution's legacy has been so consistently and pragmatically right. Here's an excellent review.of The Roads to Modernity: "Which Enlightenment?", by Keith Windschuttle . My favorite three paragraphs:

In the American colonies, the first Great Awakening, the religious revival of the 1730s and early 1740s, paralleled the Methodist revival in Britain. The contrast with France was dramatic. In seeking respite from the religious passions of the Old World, Himmelfarb writes, the Americans did not, like the French, turn against religion itself. Instead, they incorporated religion into the mores of society. They "moralized" and "socialized" religion, turning its energies into movements for voluntary association, local organization and, ultimately, the politics of liberty.

In Britain and America, those who wrote about social reform and those in government who could do something about it were either the same people or else people cooperating closely with one another. In France, however, the philosophes were unconstrained by practical considerations about how their ideas might be translated into reality. They were all the more free to theorize and generalize precisely because they were less free to consult and advise.

This profoundly affected the political consequences of their ideas. The philosophes initially decided that enlightened despotism would be their political instrument of choice. "Enlightened despotism," Himmelfarb argues, "was an attempt to realize-to enthrone as it were-reason as embodied in the person of an enlightened monarch, a Frederick enlightened by Voltaire, a Catherine by Diderot." The failure of these attempts subsequently produced the theory of the "general will" that legitimized the terror of the French Revolution. The people, in whose name the revolution purportedly acted, was a singular abstraction, represented by an appropriately singular and abstract general will. "In effect, the theory of the general will was a surrogate for the enlightened despot. It had the same moral and political authority as the despot because it, too, was grounded in reason, a reason that was the source of all legitimate authority."

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia and The Jawa Report)

Launched by Demosophist at 03:03 AM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (5)

March 17, 2005

Leadership Standards: Another Peeve


On Bill Maher tonight I heard the host say something to the effect that "Well yeah, Bush had a list of reasons for invading Iraq and about the fourth one down had to do with regime change to rid the people of that brutal murderous dictator. But he obviously lied about everything else." And a similar bit of dissembling wisdom popped out the other night on Dennis Miller, from some panel guest whose name I have no good reason to recall. Well, I could waste time, as did David Horowitz on the Miller show, recounting how a lot of people made quite a big fuss about regime change and the "suffering of the Iraqi people." But I recall almost no one on the left saying anything like that, other than the usual suspects: Paul Berman (who wrote a book about it), Bernard Kouchner, and Chris Hitchens, as well as a few bloggers like Marc Danziger on Winds of Change. And all of those folks have subsequently been disowned and shunned by many of their ideological compatriots.

Moreover, the democratic transformation of the Middle East was always my primary reason for supporting the invasion, no matter what the odds of success. (Just read my blog, if you doubt it.) It's true that I was concerned about WMD, but only to the extent that I was hugely relieved we were about to put that worry out of the way as well. And in all of the exhaustive and exhausting sessions I participated in on this topic with folks on the anti-war left, not one single person... not one single person, felt it remotely reasonable to suggest that a democratic transformation of the Middle East made sense, or had much merit even if it could be accomplished. Not one! It wasn't as though anyone said, as they're claiming now: " Yeah that objective would just be so-o-o-o worthwhile, but dammit Bush isn't being straight about his intentions, and if he were, well I'd be right behind him."

Nope, I don't recall anyone saying that.

So yeah, Maher and these others might have a point had they made it before March 2003, but they didn't.[1] Which means that their judgment on this matter just plain sucked. Sorry, but there's no other way to put it. And what's more, the evil Neocons were not only right, but they knew they were right from the start. And maintaining a position that is ultimately vindicated, in the face of massive social intimidaton, subjected to taunts of "Nazi" or "fascist" by former friends, etc.,... well, that's simply what leadership has always been about, since somebody erroneously credited the serpent with having a clue.

So now these folks, still whining in emphatic sidebars about their victimization in "the great deception," are leaping on the bandwagon... enthusiastically. Which would be fine I guess, except that they've overdoing it claiming that the transformation of the Middle East now looks like a done deal, just because the odds seem about even finally. And that's neither a sophomoric flip nor an over-the-hill flop, you know.

[1] Somone somewhere along the line must have made some anemic statement that Bush ought to trot out the pro-democracy argument more often, but not because they believed it. Rather, it was because they were certain it would be an easy argument to put down. Either that, or it just provided them an opportunity to jauntily affect an ironic smile at the silly notion that McChimpyBushHitlerHalliburton would be, of all things, pro-democracy. Ha. Ha.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia and The Jawa Report)

Launched by Demosophist at 06:58 AM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0)

March 13, 2005

A Peeve

Bravo Romeo Delta

Just because you have an internally logically consistent framework that fits all the data you have available does not mean that your explanation is correct. More data may come to light that disprove your thesis or require you to re-evaluate your assumptions and premises.

This is, in large part, all derived from what I feel is the most important discovery of all time: the Scientific Method.

In brutally inept summary, the deal put forth in the Scientific Method is this: come up with a new theory, test it. If the tests don't agree with theory, pitch the theory and go back to square one. If the tests do agree with theory, then come up with more tests until you break your theory and go back to square one.

Simple, no?

Except no, it's really not. Sure, people accept the concept in theory, but in day-to-day application, most of the time, people use it as a reason to point out why other people are stupid, and in so doing, miss perhaps what is the most critical element of the entire Scientific Method: self-appraisal.

In other words, we should debunk ourselves, so you don't have to.

And this is where people fall apart.

Most of the time, particularly when it comes to the broader question of ideologies - be they political, theological, philosophical folks use the amazing debunking power in exactly the way it shouldn't be used. As a tool to make data fit to their thesis, rather than revising their own thesis. For example, just before the heliocentric model of the universe came on to the scene, astronomers were having an increasingly difficult time getting their model of the universe, in which everything orbited around the earth, to square with observation. So the astronomers kept adding on and pasting over with new revisions and patches to their theory.

In a roughly similar fashion, in fields which are not nearly as neatly quantitative, people do a similar disservice to themselves when analyzing the world around them. When looking at the question of media bias, I don't know of a single soul who really believes that the media breaks in their favor. Now, given that there are cries that the media is right biased or left biased, one should expect that it is breaking in someone's favor.

Without delving into the media bias question again for right now, lets broaden our scope again. In the aftermath of the election (possibly one of our most final empirical experiments in today's democracy, there were a number of reassessments prompted by election results. But for some the reassessment was not one of whether or not their policies were most palatable to the greatest number of people, it became a question of whether or not the electorate was just stupid or stupid and malevolent. For others, the electorate was thought to be wise and intelligent, but had been thwarted by the evil machinations of the proto-fascist government led by the Svengali-like Karl Rove.

It seems that the genuine proposition that maybe the worldview presented in the election, combined with lackluster campaigning, an uncharismatic candidate, and disastrous campaign management led to the failure of a campaign.

But no, folks have gotten just enough scientific theory to be dangerous. They look back and tell themselves that sometimes conventional wisdom (e.g. phlogiston, the heliocentric model and so on) is sometimes wrong and the daring explanation is right. But in so doing they forget that whether or not one likes it or not, if the data fits - wear it. Just because one happens to be so darned right and so incredibly moral, if the world presents you with an option that you don't like, you may have to live with it anyway.

It might be tempting to assert that the guys on the other side of the aisle are less moral and more devious than you are, but is one choosing that theory because it is more likely and a better fit to data, or because it is more tempting and emotionally satisfying.

In the end, if this were simply a matter of discussing the relative merits of the designated hitter rule, then it would be something I would just as soon let slide. As it is, however, this is the discussion of the fate of perhaps one of the grandest experiments in governance the world has ever seen. If that weren't enough, we're discussing the future of a republic locked in an existential struggle. A republic with more than enough nuclear weapons to destroy civilization and jeopardize the fate of a number of species around the globe.

So yeah, is it too much to expect that we can at least decide on what analytical tools we can use to decide if something works or doesn't? If we can't manage that how are we going to even seek compromise and effective cooperation?

(Simultaneously Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta from Anticipatory Retaliation and Demosophia)

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March 09, 2005

What's Next, Debtors' Prisons?


I'm sorry, but there's just something obscene about the way this Bankruptcy Bill is sailing to passage, without even token opposition from anyone. It seems almost self-evident to me that if it's such a walk in the park to file bankruptcy under current statute then the appropriate reaction from a responsible credit industry would be to... lend less, or at least cut the predatory lending, deception, etc.. That being the case, there's simply no way to interpret the desire to make bankruptcy as painful as having the skin stripped off your back by a cat-o-nine-tails (instead of just losing a hand or something), unless it's an over-arching GRUNCH (what R. Buckminster Fuller used to call the "Great Universal Cash Heist.") Gosh, you'd think that'd be a Democrat issue, right? I mean them being the guardians of the poor and disadvantaged and all.

We know how that worked out, for Iraq and the Middle East.

A few years ago I wrote a dissertation on the influence of money in elections, concluding that it was about as important as ideology or incumbency, which is fine with me frankly. I'm not a purist. But this is something else. This is rather clearly a case where an industry has both bought and sold a congress... to the detriment not only of most of the middle class, but quite possibly the country itself. And nary a soul to stand and raise their voice against the invisible tide. Not even those bastions of progressive activism on behalf of the downtrodden: Kennedy and Byrd. You'd think Democrats weren't really progressive any more, or something.

Is there no shame? None at all? Yes, I know we're "new conservatives," but this smells like something that's been under an ancient Danish dock since before the Great War. Glenn Reynolds is willing to say so, while he posts a challenge to the blogosphere from Jim Bennet:

It has occured to me that the bankruptcy bill (which I detest for the same reasons that you have mentioned) would be an interesting test of blogospheric power. Here's a situation where the Democrats are planning to make a major issue out of Bolton's appointment to the UN -- where his crime is merely speaking out loud what most Americans already feel about that place -- while rolling over to the corporate lobby on something most Americans would want some opposition to. If the blogosphere could mount an effective campaign for people to write to their senators, it would mark its emergence as a genuinely independent force in US politics.

Is it too late? Let's post the names of some of the honorable legislators in the odorous back pockets of the credit card industry, starting with Jim Moran (VA) and Hillary Clinton (NY). But the mugging continues...

As Louis O. Kelso, the inventor of the ESOP said once: "every step that concentrates ownership and control of capital is a disguised leap toward socialism." This is an evil bill. Yes, evil. And if bribery weren't implicated in the bum's rush to get it by, it wouldn't even be on the agenda.

Update: Armed Liberal is on the same soapbox (and has been for some time). He says calls are better than emails.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia and The Jawa Report)

Launched by Demosophist at 07:15 AM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (2)

March 06, 2005

The Stone and the Sword: Nation-Building in Iraq


I've been thinking lately about the process of nation-building in Iraq and elsewhere, under the difficult conditions imposed by a vicious terrorist insurgency. The prospects for the enterprise sometimes seem as likely as the quest for the Philosopher's Stone, the mythical device that was supposed to turn "dross into gold." Somehow the transfer of legitimacy from an occupying power to a new liberal democratic government, in a recently totalitarian society, seems just as implausible, and valuable. Recently I compared this bit of alchemy to a famous cycling contest, between American Lance Armstrong and Italian Marco Pantani, up the slopes of the bleak and legendary Mont Ventoux. Cycling is such a rich mix of competition and cooperation that it often supplies useful analogies for political processes, and this particular contest seemed appropriate because it involved an attempt by Armstrong to "render the victory" to another rider, in order to obtain cooperation of that rider's team in a larger strategy. The attempt was unsuccessful for a number of reasons.

In the context of establishing a new nation victories attributable that nation's fledgling military forces confer badly needed legitimacy on the new government. For instance, a critical turning point for the United States occurred when it defeated the British in the "Second American Revolution," during the War of 1812. (We don't emphasize the fact that our role in that war was rather minor, or that we experienced a number of ignoble defeats, as well as one astounding and unlikely victory.) But if this victory's contribution to the modest stock of political/social legitimacy of the new United States was so formative, imagine the "legitimacy problem" confronted by a nation that owes its very existence to an external liberating power. The cycling analogy works reasonably well as an introduction to the essential difficulty of passing legitimacy from a greater to a lesser power, but it fails, ironically, because it actually overstates the problem. In fact it remains useful as an analytical tool not so much because it's a good analogy, but because it fails in a relatively well-defined way. That failure focuses attention on some extremely important aspects of the nation-building process.

Although many of the differences between a bike race and a nation-building effort are obvious, they aren't necessarily non-trivial. It isn't especially important to the utility that one is a sporting event and the other a war strategy, because we already understand those implications well. It's enough that both are contests, with opponents and alliances. It's also not terribly important that one is a contest between individuals, and the other groups. Again, it's enough that both individuals and groups are capable of conflict as well as cooperation. But two aspects of the analogy bear significantly on the comparison: The definitive and brief nature of the finish, and the necessarily obvious proximity of the finishers.

First, the finish in a bike race, or almost any sort of sport race for that matter, is measured in hundredths or even thousandths of a second. It is therefore both definitive and brief in a way only slightly exceeded by ballistics analysis, computer electronics design, or advanced particle physics experimentation. More importantly, as the contestants approach the finish the subjective stakes for the riders and their supporters ramps like a tsunami approaching a shallow coastline. During the long climb up Mont Ventoux (an ascent so difficult it is considered "beyond categorization" or hors categorie) the interests of both cyclists are served cooperation as well as competition, because two riders of closely matched ability not only provide one another with incentive to give their best effort, but riding in a close line gives them a combined aerodynamic advantage not achieved by a lone rider. (This combined advantage diminishes at lower speeds typical of a steep climb for most mortals, but pro riders still climb at speeds where aerodynamic drag is a factor.) However, at the finish of Mont Ventoux after the long and arduous duel up the mountain and the abrupt approach of the denouement, it became nearly impossible to mollify Pantani's sense of disgrace when Armstrong relented at the last instant to allow the stage victory to the Italian. It was all too obvious to Pantani's fans, let alone the rider himself, that he was the inferior contestant on that day. The disgrace overwhelmed and spoiled any implied goodwill, and instead of inducing an alliance, as intended, the gesture turned sour. The Italian was livid, and vented furiously in the press the next day. He later dropped out of the race entirely. (Some have argued that this result was intended by Armstrong, but I see no evidence for that. Pantani was not competitive for the overall lead, and with his team he might easily have been a useful ally.)

Any attempt to similarly bequeath Iraqi victories must, therefore, avoid any hint of the sort of transparent gesture that enraged Pantani, because the "fans" of a new government are everything. If they see their new state as merely a puppet of the US, dependent on American support for its very survival, the new nation won't survive independently for very long. At best it will be a "hot house" colony. But if those who are ruled have faith in their government and its institutions, the nation may endure some very difficult trials on its own. Fortunately, unlike a sport race the finish of a nation-building effort is not only indeterminate but prolonged. It can drag on for months or years, and involves many turning points. It therefore offers "opportunities for alchemy."

Another important aspect of the bike race, for comparison, is that it was necessary for Armstrong to engineer a close stage finish in order to optimize his overall lead in the multi-stage tour, which was his real objective. A rider finishing a stage within what is considered the aerodynamic "wake" of a leading contestant receives the same time as the winner, and the overall lead for the multi-stage contest is entirely a matter of the time accumulated over many stages. This meant that the American could not afford to allow Pantani to take a sufficiently commanding lead that it would have been a convincing stage victory for him. (Nor would it have been useful to do so, for Armstrong.) Although Pantani was not a serious overall contender, others were. The Texan therefore had to finish in as brief a time as possible. Yet, if Pantani could manage to hang on or stay close, or better yet actually help, Lance wasn't averse to rewarding the cooperation by allowing the other rider to cross the line first, to stand on the winner's platform for a day. Ultimately, although some of these circumstances suggested the possibility of enlisting Pantani as an ally, others made such an objective extremely difficult, if not impossible. To work, the gesture had to be sufficiently obvious to be recognized by Pantani and his team, but not so palpable as to be, well... embarrassing. Armstrong has since stated that he will never again attempt such a gesture, and has not done so.

Again, what we're doing in Iraq is building a vanguard for democracy in the heart of the Arab Middle East in order to oppose the enemy's own vanguard. (For a good elucidation of the enemy's strategy see Mary Habek's Heritage Foundation lecture: Jihadist Strategies in the War on Terrorism, or the video archive of the same.) So maintaining an ally is a critical part of our objective, not merely a secondary opportunity. The last thing we want is to enrage or demoralize the new nation's "fans," or undermine their faith in the enterprise. But fortunately, unlike the contest between the Texan and the Italian, there is no real need for the US forces to cross the finish line at all. Our "reward" is the success of the new Iraqi nation, not our own. Our stock of legitimacy is rather substantial after more than 200 years. While it's true that we need to avoid the appearance of defeat in order to deter potential adversaries, there is no real need to claim the final stage of the military victory as our own. We can afford to let the Iraqis reap that reward convincingly.

The finish in Iraq will ultimately be governed by two interrelated trends. The first is the growing competence of the domestic security force together with public confidence in the national institutions it represents (including, in this case, the direct transfer of Ayatollah Sistani's personal charismatic legitimacy). The second is the waning capability and spoiling effort of the opposing insurgency, and if possible its catastrophic loss of legitimacy. Obviously this is a far more complex scenario than a bike race, but ironically it's not correspondingly more difficult to manage. In fact the very complexity of the scenario renders the task of nation-building somewhat more manageable. Furthermore, the two "finish trends" aren't quite mirror images in terms of predictability, and this can be turned to advantage as well.

While the two trends are related and similar, control of the learning curve for the defense forces (the police, National Guard, etc.) is far more reliable than the enemy's actions. The training of the domestic security force is characterized by relatively small or incremental day to day ups and downs, while the insurgent capability is characterized by relatively high variability, and corresponding uncertainty. Still, over time each trend will tend to be the inverse of the other. As the Iraqis become more competent the mujahadeen will become more stressed and less effective. At a certain point the frequency and intensity of the insurgency's attacks will become largely manageable by domestic security, assuming both a successful training program and military strategy/tactics. But the US role in achieving this result can remain largely obscured from the "fans" of the domestic force, ironically by the relative unpredictability of the insurgency's actions. The uncertainty of both its successes and failures are actually an advantage. We can think of the variability of the latter function or trend as providing a certain amount of "cover" for the transition, during which the precise role of the US contribution will become increasingly obscure. And victories obtained by the domestic force during this period provide the primary means of transferring legitimacy from the occupying force to the domestic force, and to the institutions of the new nation.

It is therefore the very uncertainty of asymmetric warfare, usually considered one of its primary strengths, that provides the most reliable means for the mystique-laden transfer of national legitimacy and the consolidation of sovereignty that is the core of this particular form of "alchemy." By gradually bringing the insurgency under control we are progressively employing the enemy's strengths against its own long term objectives. In a sense we are enlisting the enemy in the service of the ally, and it's precisely the advantage of this sort of practical irony that's the real "secret" behind the Philosopher's Stone's power.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia and The Jawa Report)

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AMERICAN DIGEST Retaliates with: A-Team of the Blogroll

March 01, 2005


Bravo Romeo Delta

Slightly used Mercedes for sale.

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