I intend to use this blog as a platform for my daily thoughts on a variety of topics. I welcome comments, objections, and questions.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bush's Speech and Iraq Policy

Last night I wrote a general statement about Iraq policy in an e-mail. I'd like to start by posting an adaptation of that here, followed by updated comments since hearing Bush's address tonight.

Spreading "democracy" is destined to fail without other subsequent conditions being met. The simple ability to elect a government does not guarantee freedom, security, and prosperity. In fact, it can do quite the opposite. If the people of a country do not have the right values, they have the ability to elect awful leaders. After WWII, we saw a lot of Arab nationalists taking power in several Middle Eastern countries. They downplayed the role of Islam in government and were generally thugs and strong-men. Despite this, fundamentalist Islam remained as the undercurrent of popular opinion. By removing these Arab nationalist strong-men and bringing democracy to the Middle East, we achieve the exact opposite of that which we want. Since the people are motivated primarily by fundamentalist Islam, they will elect leaders that reflect this interest. Thus in Afghanistan we see Sharia law and a Constitution largely based on Islam. In Iraq we see a slightly watered-down version of this, with the religious majority of the country in power. In the Palestinian territories we see the fundamentalist group Hamas popularly elected into power. In Lebanon it seems highly possible that the fundamentalist group Hezbollah will gain popular support and rule the country. Are you starting to see why democracy is not an inherent good?

What exists in Iraq now is a very weak government that is propped up only by our presence there, and does not actually reflect the popular will of the country. Most of the will of the country is either behind Sunni terrorists or Shi'ite militias, both killing each other and us in the process. I do not think it that far off to call the current situation a civil war. The only way to really obliterate the insurgency is to be absolutely ruthless. In 2003, extremist Shi'ite militias took control of Falljuah and occupied the city. (Correction: Fallujah is Sunni, not Shi'a. I mixed it up with a similar occurence in Najaf and Karbala, two centers of the Shia. Thank you Jason for the correction!) Our response was weeks of negotiation followed by a very timid threat that we would enter the city if they did not leave. We gave them ample warning, they left, we performed some "operations" and "took back" the city. We scattered these forces, only to have them prop themselves up elsewhere. They actually came back and re-took Fallujah, and we did the same kind of thing. The only really effective way to stop such an insurgency is to absolutely crush every hope that the opposition has. They have to be absolutely convinced that nothing they can do will achieve their objectives. We have not come even close to doing this. We have been afraid of civilian casualties and causing too much damage, and thus have never engaged in the kind of military operations necessary to crush an enemy. Instead, our primary strategy has been to pour ridiculous sums of money into the country in the attempt to create jobs and economic prosperity. But economic prosperity is impossible without first having the rule of law and well-protected security. We virtually ignored the security situation and poured all our effort into reconstruction prematurely. Not only was the reconstruction INCREDIBLY half-assed, but it was impossible to achieve given the security situation.

As I see it our only option for victory is to be incredibly ruthless. We assassinate Al-Sadr (the biggest leader of the extremist Shi'ite militias) and every other Islamic cleric that advocates violence of any kind. We move into several cities and decimate insurgent bases of operation and weapons caches. But most importantly, by being ruthless in hitting these targets, we must scare the living crap out of anyone that even thinks of supporting the insurgency. I am talking absolute Machiavellian tactics here. To do this we would have to completely abandon the notion (for the time being) of reconstructing Iraq. Reconstruction is not possible until the enemy has been completely wiped out or has such an utterly devastated morale that they see no point in further fighting. So in summary, we completely abandon all notions of creating a democracy and reconstructing the country economically, and turn it back into a severe war zone until the insurgency is crushed. At that point, we could consider economic reconstruction, and only at that point.

Here are my thoughts about President Bush's address to the nation tonight:

I have mixed feelings about Bush's address tonight. Surprisingly, there were several aspects of his speech that I found to be encouraging. While I am skeptical of the actual implementation of these positive suggestions, they do sound encouraging. For example, Bush openly recognized the fact that our rules of engagement and general counter-insurgency strategy have been utter failures. He specifically recognized that we did not have a commitment to hold territory once we "cleared" it of insurgents and that in many cases we would not even disrupt certain insurgent bases of operation for fear of offending Iraqis. I am very encouraged by his promise to eliminate these restrictions and to place securing actual territory as a prime objective.

However, I am skeptical as to how much these new rules of engagement will be implemented. Bush's speech tonight was far from promising ruthlessness. The rhetoric was partially there, but I question how tough we will actually be on the insurgents on the ground. We have to absolutely demonstrate that they will be decimated and that they will have no quarter. Up to this point, we have done nothing of the kind. At this point, I do not think we have the political capital to implement such a ruthless campaign (if we ever had it in the first place, which is suspect). If we were fighting for a really good cause, these kinds of tactics would be justified. But what would we really be killing all these people for? To create a democratic Iraq that will ultimately be dominated by Islamic fundamentalism and will stab us in the back anyway?

So in summary, I'm intrigued the military suggestions that Bush has recommended, but while I'd like to be optimistic, I'm skeptical that they will have any effect at this point. Too little too late.

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Education and Healthcare Redux

So I've had a bit of a crazy week. Things have finally calmed down some and I can get back to writing here and responding to all of the thoughtful comments that I've received. There were so many comments on my post on education and healthcare that I thought I would respond to them all in a post. I'll start with healthcare.

Doughnutman: We probably pay the most and have one of the worst returns because we have the worst of both worlds. I would not be surprised if a completely socialized system of healthcare was actually better than what we have now. We pretend that we have a market system of medicine, so high costs are blamed solely on capitalism. Corruption, patronage, and laziness are thus easier to get away with. If we have an entirely socialized system, there will be no one else to blame. A good analogy would be Hamas before achieving government power in Palestine. As long as they were not part of the system, they could avoid accountability.

You make valid points about the weaknesses of our system, but I do not accept the premise that things would improve under socialized medicine. Look how government subsidy of any industry works. Sure, access improves: more people are able to receive the service or good that is being subsidized. But, quality plummets. Move to Canada, where you'll wait online for months for access to basic medical care because bureaucracy and inefficiency are rampant. And doctors will be happier?! Give me a break. Their freedom to practice medicine as they see fit is completely taken away and their hands are tied behind their back. Under socialized medicine, doctors become slaves. Yes, I do not exaggerate. Slaves. If I granted the assumption that socialized medicine was more effective (which I do not), nothing, would make it ok to violate the fundamental rights of EVERY individual, including doctors. I do not care if socialized medicine would save 1,000 babies per year, or any other ridiculous statistic. It does NOT justify trampling on anyone's rights.

As for the comments by Anonymous and Mark, Cheers!

Now onto education. I'm very happy to see comments by two public school teachers! Miss Judice, you are absolutely right about the fundamental problem of teachers who focus almost solely on preparing their students for standardized tests. I'm sure that you recall studying for a test that you did not care anything about, memorizing what you needed to know, and then forgetting most of the material shortly after. At least, I remember much of my public school education being this way. When teachers do not have to worry about the satisfaction of parents (who are paying for the education), but rather "teaching" their students to parrot out enough material for a meaningless federal test, it's no surprise that the quality of education suffers. Parents and other individuals that are forcibly paying into a public education cannot withdraw their support when they think the education being offered is poor. Thus, there really is very little economic pressure for educational reform. Now, I do not make the claim that infusing more economic pressure through the free market would completely rehabilitate educational philosophy. But, at the very least, it would make some improvement. Parents who are paying directly for their child's education are going to have a more vested interest in whether their money is being well-spent. I'm preaching to the choir here with you I think, but it's good to reiterate.

You make another great point about the length of education. Did you ever feel in high school that you were being taught the same things that should have been taught a long time ago? I felt this way a lot, particularly in English and History classes. If earlier education were much improved, the kind of branching off that you talk about would definitely be a possibility, and quite beneficial to many students. If school curriculums (curriculi?, lol) were ordered like Lisa VanDamme suggests, students would be much better off.

Justin, it's going to be extremely difficult to transition from what we have now to a good educational system. Our system right now is so abhorrent and pitiful in my eyes right now, that I see any improvement as a very long-term process. As with most government programs, simply pulling the plug is probably not a good idea. It's like trying to get off a drug addiction to heroin. Going cold turkey is usually more harmful than being on the drug, so rehab centers first put their patients on lesser drugs to gradually make them better. What exactly the "lesser drug" is for our educational system, I do not know. But perhaps the best course is to create a new kind of private school that can eventually replace our failing public schools. Lisa VanDamme has done just that. Her educational philosophy is essentially that there is a necessary order to conceptual knowledge that must be followed in order to actually teach children. Take science for example. In most classrooms, Newton's Laws of Motion are explained in the following way. The teacher takes a piece of chalk, goes up to the blackboard, and writes down the laws. The students are told to copy these laws and memorize them. There will be a quiz tomorrow. What is actually learned here? There is no understanding about why Netwon came up with these laws or the logical progression from earlier science. They are to be taken as floating abstractions, accepted as truth by faith. To boot, students are asked how they "feel" about this knowledge. On what basis could they have any valid opinion, given how the material has been taught? Sadly, this pattern is followed not only in science but in just about every academic field.

As for teachers, a fully private educational system would hurt some teachers and benefit others. Success in the field would be largely based on merit, not the circumstance of which school district has the most political pull via unions or school boards. Given how incredibly valuable education is, I think good teachers would be well-rewarded for their efforts, most likely more than they are now. Having a private education system would force parents to readjust their economic priorities somewhat - spending less on luxury items and more on what is really important. As it stands now, they take it for granted that their kids will receive an education, since they are forced to pay anyway. But when forced with the possibility that their kids will not be educated, they will focus more of their money on rewarding those who do educate well. Also, if I was running a school, I would definitely do away with the nonsensical standardized testing that goes on there now. Multiple choice?! This rewards only what the child can memorize best, and leaves no lasting knowledge at all. I would make all tests short answer and essay. As for your criticisms of No Child Left Behind, they are dead on. Republicans (or Democrats) in charge of educational philosophy and administration...terrible idea.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Busy Schedule

I appreciate the explosion of comments in the past couple of days! They have all been well-said and interesting to read. I intend fully to respond to all of them in the near future. Going back to work has made my schedule a little more hectic. Plus, I got a wonderful present from Route 287 in the form of a flat-tire this evening. I may be completely tied up trying to take care of that tomorrow, but hopefully I will get home early enough in the evening that I can respond to all! Thanks again.