Tag Archives: priorities

8/8/08, like 8/2/90 and 9/11/01

was a day when history turned. On August 2, 1990, Iraq used the opportunity of American success in the Cold War to launch an invasion of a sovereign, recognized, and important country: Kuwait. On September 11, 2001, al Qaeda used the opportunity of the American-led extinction of interstate war to launch a direct territorial attack on the United States. And on August 8, 2008, Russia used the opportunity of apparent American success in Iraq to launch an invasion of a sovereign, recognized, and important country: Georgia.

In Vladimir Putin, we have Saddam Hussein with nuclear weapons.

The Long War against al Qaeda will continue after 8/8/08, just as America still led mop-up operations against communism after 8/2/90. Still, the world has changed. Russia’s invasion of Georgia opens the door to a world much more violent than aynthing we have seen in a generation. Interstate war, that nightmare of history that has been with us since the formation of strong stages, may be back as a tool of diplomacy between neighbors in important places.

There are many implications of this new time. After 8/2/80, men of goodwill naturally cheered the death of Iraqi soldiers in battle (as it weakened our enemy. After 9/11/01, we naturally were hopeful after every airstrike killed an al Qaeda operative. After 8/8, we must similarly smile everytime a Russian soldier dies, whether from a Georgian surface-to-air missile, a Chechen explosion, or a submarine accident. Obviously, we regret that this time of death has come. But the choice is Vladimir Putin’s. And the alternative is much worse.

Everything does not change overnight. For both better and worse, 8/8/08 does not have the emotional chock of 9/11/01. This allows us to finish up business in Afghanistan-Pakistan, without the smarminess that characterized our post-8/2/90 mop-up operations after 9/11/01. Occasionally we will have opportunities to do both at once, as the Iraq War both destroyed the Saddam regime that launched the 8/2/90 invasion and send feedback after 9/11.

An example of this might be separating the militant Islamists of central Asia from al Qaeda’s anti-Americanism. In southern Afghanistan and north-west Pakistan, this may come from co-opting the Taliban in the way that we co-opted Anbar’s tribes in the “Surge.” In Chechnya, this may be from working with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan’s ISI in arming mujaheddin. In China, this may mean stepping-up cooperating with China against the Turkestan Islamic Party, making Russia a more attractive target for Jihad than a Core country like the People’s Republic.

It’s wrong to say that “everything changed” on 8/8. But certainly priorities changed. Realities changed.

And the proper understanding of Vladimir Putin changed. By attempting to overthrow the peaceful global order, he is not merely a mafia captain, but rather a revolutionary chieftain. A Saddam Hussein with nukes.

I wonder how long it will be before Maria and Yekaterina meet Uday and Qusay?

How serious is the Russian invasion of Georgia?

It strikes me as obvious that the Russian invasion of Georgia is far more serious than, say, Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb. I’d be happy to give Iran nuclear weapons in exchange for Iranian on-the-ground assistance in building up anti-Russian militias and political parties, for example.

Still, how do we prioritize containing Russia, now that it’s reverted to its invade-neighbors strategy of territorial growth? Is accelerating the decline of Russia more important than winning the Pakistani civil war? Defeating al Qaeda?

While Iranian-backed anti-Russian death squads are fanciful, covertly arming the Islamists in Chechnya is not. So where do we draw the line?

Barack Obama would rather lose a war than lose an election

John McCain said that Barack Obama would rather lose a war than lose an election.

Supporters of Barack Obama are offended.

  • Was John McCain right?
  • Should Obama’s supporters be offended?
  • What does this all mean?

John McCain was right

One of the main differences between conservatives and leftists is the role of the government. Conservatives believe that, in general, the government was created to protect the people against violence. Thus, conservativs are more likely to views wars as legitimate, more likely to support stiff punishment of criminals, and less likely to support taxation: these are all issues where those who oppose violence against the people are united in opposing foreign powers, opposing criminals, and minimizing the government’s tax burdens. Leftists do not care much about violence against the people, and so do not focus on it.

For leftists, the general role of government is social justice. Leftists believe that, in general, the government exists to protect people from the randomness associated with birth. Thus, leftists are more likely to view affirmative action as legitimate, more likely to oppose penalties for criminals, and more likely to support taxation: these are all issues where those who oppose unequal environments for infants are united in opposing unequal outcomes in work (merely because one population is more connected, more skilled, or more hard-working than another), opposing long punishments (merely because some people are more violent, more impulsive, or less reflective than others), and increasing the government’s expenditures. Rightists do not care much about social justice, so do not focus on it.

Obviously, a leftist would rather lose a war than lose an election… becuse winning elections help leftists decrease material inequality and increse social justice. Likewise, a conservative would rather lose a social justice struggle than lose an election… because winning elections helps conservatives protect the people from violence and win wars.

John McCain was obviously right. Barack Obama would rather lose a war than lose an election.

Obama supporters should not be offended

However, true facts can also be offensive.

Earlier, General Wesley Clark generated outrage when he said that John McCain’s experience as a POW does not give him the experience required to be Commander-in-Chief. On one level, the statement is trivially true. However, it is important because it rhetorically minimizes the motivation of the other side. An analogous statement would be, “The fact that Barack Obama is black does not give him the experience required to be Comamnder-in-Chief.” Again, the statement is trivially true. Such a statement about Obama, though, would read as trivializing the social justice motivation of leftists, and also insult someone with a politically correct (for the left) lifestory (he is black, and therefore good). Likewise, General Clark’s statement about McCain trivialized the public security motivation of conservatives, and also insulted someone with a politically correct (for conservatives) lifestory (he fought our enemies, and is therefore good).

However, McCain’s statement about Obama does not tred on such mythic personal space. Rather, it complements a famous statement attributes to President Lyndon Johnson, who said that the Civil Rights Act delivered the South to the Republican Party for a generation. That is, Johnson bragged that would trade some future potential for action by leftists in action for some actual action in the present time. This is entirely sensible from a leftist’s perspective. Likewise, it is entirely sensible for a conservative like McCain to brag that he would rather lose an election than lose a war.

However, if you take pride in what you use your power to achieve, it’s fair for opponents to criticize you for what you forfeit along the way. Obviously, a McCain administration would rather lose ground on social justice than lose an election. And obviously, an Obama administration would rather lose a war than lose an election.


Obama would rather lose a war than lose an election. His supporters should not be insulted when people point this out.

However, Obama supporters are often insulted. Donna Brazille was insulted when a fellow Democrat noted that Obama was re-forming the failed Michael Dukakis coalition. Likewise, the Obama campaign was insulted by a cartoon. Now Obama supporters are insulted when John McCain points out Barack Obama’s preferences.

Obama being insulted by criticism is a feature of his campaign. It’s a feature typical of people who are used to being the smartest person in the room, and so feel that disagreement can only come from disagreeableness. Hopefully, Obama’s wising up and realizing that he is not that smart.B