free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ... taking an imposing analytic toolkit out of the box, over the wall and into the street ... with callous disregard for accepted wisdom and standard English

reading tea leaves from original angles, we've led with uncannily prescient takes on the federal surplus, the dotcom crash, the "Energy Crisis", the Afghan campaign, the federal deficit.

More where those came from ... stay tuned.

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All "major" articles of older material have now been imported, some with updates worth perusing. We'll keep it all on the main page for a while, will add a few loose pieces of history, will trim the main page and index the archives for convenience later.


free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ...
... gateway to the next Progressive Era?
Some say it's nothing but a train wreck ... roll in the big cranes, clear the track, see what the crew was smoking. If I thought so, I'd not be writing this ... and if they thought so, they'd not be drumming so hard.

Many thanks to Tony Adragna and Will Vehrs, still shouting 'cross the Potomac at QuasiPundit. Early Camp Enron material can be found in QP's Dispatches department.
Thursday, September 26, 2002

--- A Convergence of Parallel Li(n)es ---

There's been some grousing lately that Democrats have no clear position on Iraq. What is -- or ought to be -- the Democratic Party position? The question itself is beneath contempt. Should Democrats have a party position on Iraq? No. Hell, no. In the tarnished tradition of bipartisan foreign policy, Declaration of War (or functional equivalent) must be an absolutley free vote -- a vote of conscience.

Before that vote of conscience, does Plan Iraq deserve robust, forthright debate? HELL, yes. As (Nader stooge) Phil Donahue threatens Democrats in Congress with the "Profiles in Cowardice" tag, I must agree, and I'd apply the same yellow brush to their Republican colleagues, and to President Bush.
Bush is dead serious about war with Iraq, but -- in studied deliberation, on current evidence -- he can't make the sale. He prefers exploiting the election cycle to abbreviate debate on Iraq, and using Iraq to suppress election-season debate on domestic issues. His avoidance of debate is cowardly.

Many Democrats harbor serious doubts about preemption, and unilateralism, and the war itself, and the day after the war, but looking "soft on Saddam" might cost a swing-state Senator a few thousand swing votes. To preserve Party control of the Senate, Democrats prefer giving Bush a free pass on Iraq ... preferably an express pass, so that domestic issues might yet bob up on-screen before election time. Their avoidance of debate is cowardly.

Many Republicans share these doubts, but few dare undercut their Party leader (noted for prizing loyalty and holding grudges), and they don't mind keeping domestic issues off the radar for a few pivotal weeks. In an especially ticklish dynamic, few Republicans dare object unless Democrats take the lead, but even fewer dare object if too many Democrats line up against the President. Their avoidance of debate is cowardly.
Bush and Daschle have no viable political alternatives; Lott has no palatable alternatives. Nevertheless, all three should take their political lumps and play the statesmen -- deferring any binding vote until after the election.

There are discomforting parallels in the throwaway lines offered as pretext now, and those offered in promotion of an earlier adventure.

In the heat of 1960's high-stakes toss-up election, the die was cast. Televised Nixon-Kennedy debates became a battle for supremacy in anti-communist bluster. On the way to a razor-thin victory, JFK laid down a series of high-profile markers on containing Red China, and inherited a string of low-profile operations in places most Americans had never heard of -- Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam.

Today, in the heat of a high-stakes toss-up election, new markers are being laid down in a battle for supremacy in anti-terrorist bluster.

Then, as now, playing on naive ethnic identifications, our leaders gulled us into conflating one adversary with another.
Vietnam was a USSR client state and China's traditional adversary, not the advance guard of China's "Yellow Peril". It would have been a useful refractory buffer state (in the euro-socialist model of Yugoslavia) against Chinese Expansionism, which (as it turns out) never existed. Our leaders knew; the people didn't.

Iraq is a secular, modernist natural adversary of extreme fundamentalist Islam. It buffers the region against both Shiite Iranian and Wahhabi Arab extremism. Our leaders know; the people don't.
Then, as now, we stood on the threshold of war halfway around the world, and our leaders assured us the next step forward was vital in the looming clash of civilizations.

Then, as now, we were exhorted to take up arms in self-defense, to confront a malignant menace.
It will seem implausible today, but average Americans were conditioned to anticipate hordes of yellow soldiers in Red Army uniforms, marching like army ants, destroying everything in their path, eventually gnawing their way through redwood forests and purple mountain majesties. My 9th-grade civics teacher explained how they could march tirelessly on a handful of rice a day.
Then, as now, our expressed higher purpose was to liberate captive peoples, bringing them a better way of life.

Then, as now, our enemy was a demonized former partner in regional stability.

Then, as now, we banked on highland minority tribes as our ace in the hole ... knowing nothing of their language, culture, history or vital interests, and frankly caring less.

Then, as now, the case for war was a concoction of bright, shining lies ... transparent enough at the time, if anybody bothered to look.

Then, as now, most of us conceded the real reason must be something the President knew, something he dared not reveal.

Then, as now, public figures operated under pressure to demonstrate unity, lest the enemy sense weakness.

The, as now, the media waxed enthusiastic in their democratic idealism and lust for the Big Story.

Then, as now, the first step -- the first regime change -- was a piece of cake. (So was the second, and the third.)
"Now, as a result of our taking the strong stand that we did, the civil war there was ended; and today, at least in the south of Indochina, the Communists have moved out and we do have a strong, free bastion there." (Nixon, 1960)

First a few undercover agents, next a few dozen "advisers", hundreds of troops, thousands, tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands. The "hearts and minds" problem was discovered later. The word "quagmire" wasn't heard for a decade, and it was a decade more before we bugged out -- pretending we weren't -- divided, defeated, and diminished.
Then, as now, our first efforts were operationally efficient, but failed to produce the intended results.

Then, as now, we were a decade into the conflict before the President asked Congress to endorse a blank check.
I remember the sweltering August night as if it were yesterday. The voiceover-of-God announced "we interrupt this program". LBJ told us (falsely, we know now) that North Vietnam had attacked US vessels in the Tonkin Gulf, and we weren't going to stand for it. Even as I believed it then, I knew -- how, I don't know -- something wasn't right. Someting in the eyes? Body language? I felt it viscerally ... felt the cable snap and the elevator plummet ... and "wasn't it a long way down?"
Then, we found ourselves mired in a war We The People had neither debated nor endorsed nor properly understood at any of several tollgates on the road to hell.
Then, the war hobbled pursuit of US interests elsewhere in the world.

Then, we couldn't exit without explaining why we entered ... and we had no such explanation. We kept putting off the inevitable loss of face, while other losses doubled and redoubled.

Then, the war refused to confine itself to recognized borders. Military action in one country spurred military buildup in the next, fusing a succession of military regimes, and counterreactions, and bloodbaths, creating a persistently conflicted region which now (by some accounts) provides the world's most fertile habitat for al Qaeda.

Then, we elected a President who promised to limit US involvement, but opted for massive escalation instead. Four years later we elected another President on his promise to get us out ... but he came to office with a secret plan to procrastinate and triumph anyway.

Then, one mother after another got her big baby boy sent home in a box. Other boys came home as living ghosts ... souls who will never rest. Odds are you've encountered -- and instinctively avoided -- at least one of these souls since yesterday's breakfast.

Then, the Pentagon commissioned a study to find out what we were doing there and how we got into the freaking mess. The report leaked, sensationally, and the President tried unsuccessfully to suppress it, and chartered a covert task force -- "the plumbers" -- to plug similar leaks, and these plumbers turned their talents to political operations, and broke into opposition party headquarters, and got caught, and got tracked back to the White House, and -- long story short -- a President resigned in disgrace.

Then, White House speechwriters penned a slick transitional phrase ("... now that we have learned the lessons of Vietnam ...") but when an alert reporter piped up "Mr. President, what were the lessons of Vietnam?" Mr. President was at a loss for words.
Today, we still at a loss for words. Every released archive and first-person confession only deepens the mystery. This much is clear: our leaders knew the disclosed casus belli was nonsense; our leaders knew the hidden agenda was insubstantial; leader after leader perpetuated the charade rather than own up to previous error.

Of those who saw combat then, relatively few went on to greater things. Today, some of those who avoided service are promoting war with Iraq by cultivating popular misconceptions ... myths that are not taken seriously in their own informed circles ... fictions that will not stand the test of time.

Again, what were the lessons of Vietnam? Have we forgotten the cost of going to war without authentic consent? If the gambit plays out badly -- as honest strategists know it can -- questions will be raised, documents leaked, and "managed information" exposed for what it is, and poll-sniffing trough-feeders who foreclose debate in trade for a mess of political convenience will be judged harshly in the court of History ... and perhaps even more cruelly in the night court inquisitions of Conscience.

The current public case for the current recommended action is a fraud upon the marketplace of ideas. Perhaps a better case can be laid, but I stand against those who would coerce, misinform and stampede us with rhetorical sleight-of-hand ... and I stand with Senator Byrd when he thunders "Lay on, Macduff, and damn'd be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!'".