Chinese analyst on Bush’s Iraq strategy by mattsteinglass
January 31, 2007, 11:39 am
Filed under: China, Iraq

Just saw this rather interesting piece by Tao Wenzhao in the China Daily, Jan. 17. Very dispassionate and intelligent, and it’s nice to see the calm third-party perspective. He holds no brief for the forces tearing Iraq apart, but doesn’t think the US has much chance of doing anything about it.

We Woulda Beat ‘Em, Too, If’n the Clock Hadn’a Run Out by mattsteinglass
January 30, 2007, 9:47 am
Filed under: Vietnam

Fred Barnes is still peddling the nonsense.

There’s almost no point arguing with these people; anyone who at this stage still buys the lie that US counterinsurgency worked in Vietnam, and that we would have won the war if not for the Congressional decision to cut off supplemental funding in early 1975, is simply impenetrable to reason. But if this vengeful fantasy appeals to you, here is my article in the Boston Globe on this subject, from December, 2005.

UPDATE: Here’s a photo of one of the people I interviewed in my article, General Le Ngoc Hien, who was in charge of compiling the war plan for the NVA and the Viet Cong during the Tet Offensive and afterwards. In other words, one of the guys who actually did win the Vietnam War.

General Le Ngoc Hien

Gen. Le Ngoc Hien displays a photo of himself with the People’s Army of Vietnam’s general staff in the late 1960s. December, 2005.

I know I said that, but what I meant was by mattsteinglass
January 29, 2007, 5:19 pm
Filed under: Law

Ilya Somin notes that some scholars opposed to an originalist intent stance on the Constitution claim that such a stance renders the Air Force unconstitutional. (The Constitution provides for an Army and a Navy, not an Air Force.) He thinks this is a straw-man argument.

Even under the “specific intent” originalism discussed by Chemerinksy, the Air Force would be constitutional so long as the Framers intended (as they almost surely did) to allow the power to raise and regulate the Army and Navy to encompass weapons technologies unknown in their own day.

I see your straw man, Ilya, and raise you a begged question. How do you know the Framers intended that power to encompass weapons technologies unknown in their day? If you can make inferential leaps about what you think the Framers must have intended to encompass in the altered world of the future, why can’t everybody else? What if I feel sure the Framers would have intended for Congress to have the power to regulate the standards of high-definition DVDs, for the public good?

Once we grant such extrapolations, we’re no longer in the realm of “original intent” at all. If this is a straw man, it’s one that tap-dances, moonwalks, and does a pretty good rendition of “He’s the Wizard”.

Technorati Profile

Das Golf – raus! Das Aerobics über alles! by mattsteinglass
January 29, 2007, 4:47 pm
Filed under: Economics

From the General Motors Co.’s cartoon version of Friedrich Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom”, circa 1950:

Road to Serfdom - P.17

Universal health insurance is only the start. Their true agenda is nothing less than the destruction of our precious nine-irons.

Via Ezra Klein.

Puppet Soldiers, Part 2 by mattsteinglass
January 29, 2007, 4:14 pm
Filed under: Iraq, Vietnam

In a miniature version of the troop increase that the United States hopes will secure the city, American soldiers and armored vehicles raced onto Haifa Street before dawn to dislodge Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias who have been battling for a stretch of ragged slums and mostly abandoned high rises. But as the sun rose, many of the Iraqi Army units who were supposed to do the actual searches of the buildings did not arrive on time, forcing the Americans to start the job on their own.

When the Iraqi units finally did show up, it was with the air of a class outing, cheering and laughing as the Americans blew locks off doors with shotguns….

…Many of the Iraqi units that showed up late never seemed to take the task seriously, searching haphazardly, breaking dishes and rifling through personal CD collections in the apartments. Eventually the Americans realized that the Iraqis were searching no more than half of the apartments; at one point the Iraqis completely disappeared, leaving the American unit working with them flabbergasted.

“Where did they go?” yelled Sgt. Jeri A. Gillett. Another soldier suggested, “I say we just let them go and we do this ourselves.”

– James Glanz and Damien Cave, “In a New Joint U.S.-Iraqi Patrol, the Americans Go First”, The New York Times, Jan. 25 2007

Nearly every adviser I spoke to agreed that the reasons that “our” Vietnamese did not yet fight as well as the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese could be summed up in two words: “leadership” and “motivation”.

It is difficult to find a single improvement in these areas since the Tet offensive supposedly led the Saigon Government “to realize that we weren’t going to win the war for it and finally pull up its socks,” to quote the official American cheering section, for whom patriotism and optimism have always been synonymous in Vietnam.

– Tom Buckley, “The ARVN Is Bigger and Better, But — “, The New York Times, Oct. 12 1969

Puppet Soldiers by mattsteinglass
January 29, 2007, 10:33 am
Filed under: Iraq, Vietnam

Lt. General (Ret.) William E. Odom testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 18, and offered some of the most comprehensive and resounding analyses of the failures of the war in Iraq that I’ve seen to date. Crucially, he recognizes that the idea that the US can train Iraqi troops to “stand up” as we “stand down” is a chimera. “The problem is not the competency of Iraqi forces,” he says. “It is political consolidation and gaining the troops’ loyalties to the government and their commanders as opposed to their loyalties to sectarian leaders, clans, families, and relatives.” There is no way for the US to make such a transition occur, Odom says; the Iraqi government is weak, and Iraqis quite sensibly place their confidence in their own clan and sectarian militias instead. And Odom’s understanding of this insoluble problem comes from having drawn all the right conclusions from his experiences in Vietnam:

As a military planner working on the pacification programs in 1970-71 in Vietnam, I had the chance to judge the results of training both regular South Vietnamese forces and so-called “regional” and “popular” forces. Some were technically proficient, but that did not ensure that they would always fight for the government in Saigon. Nor were they always loyal to their commanders. And they occasionally fought each other when bribed by Viet Cong agents to do so. The “popular forces” at the village level often failed to protect their villages. The reasons varied, but in several cases it was the result of how their salaries were funded. Local tax money was not the source of their pay; rather it was US-supplied funds. Thus these troops, as well as “regional forces,” had little sense of obligation to protect villagers in their areas of responsibility. For anyone who doubts that the Vietnam case is instructive for understanding the Iraqi case, I recommend Ahmed S. Hashim’s recent book, Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq. A fluent Arab linguist and a reserve US Army colonel, who has served a year in Iraq and visited it several other times, Hashim offers a textured study that struck me again and again as a rerun of an old movie, especially where it concerned US training of Iraqi forces.

“A rerun of an old movie.” Yes. Or perhaps a remake.

The Quiet American 1958

The Quiet American 2002

A God-loving and patriotic community by mattsteinglass
January 26, 2007, 3:39 pm
Filed under: Vietnam

In honor of Prime Minister Dung’s meeting Thursday with the Pope in the Vatican, I decided to celebrate  by posting a picture of some young Catholics doing what they do best: badminton.

Seminarian Badminton

 St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Hanoi, Jan. 25 2007.

Still by mattsteinglass
January 26, 2007, 8:52 am
Filed under: Iraq, Uncategorized, Vietnam

Amusing AP headline today:

Iraq War Still Being Compared to Vietnam

In other news, Hitler is still being compared to Stalin, Jif to Skippy, and “American Idol” to a pack of slavering cannibals dancing around a bikini-clad girl tied to a stake.

Is Maureen Dowd a Good Witch, or a Bad Witch? by mattsteinglass
January 24, 2007, 12:31 pm
Filed under: United States

Good witch:

The city was riveted by opening statements in the Scooter Libby trial, where the aspens were turning but not in clusters.

Beautiful, densely textured snark – snark rising to the level of an elegy for an era. Rich historical textual references, ambiguous subtexts. Roland Barthes could write a book about it.

Bad witch:

She [Hillary] simply lectured him [Gen. Petraeus] crisply on her belated discovery that the administration has a “dead-end” and “blank check” policy, as she tried to seem like the kind of gal who could command the most powerful military on earth. This is odd from someone who is running infomercials on her Web site promising “a conversation.”

Commanding a military precludes having conversations? What kind of weirdly internalized gynophobia-cum-anti-rationalism is that? I’m not sure whether to approach this from the standpoint of Betty Friedan or of Karl Popper.

Thank Heaven for Little Girls by mattsteinglass
January 24, 2007, 11:31 am
Filed under: China

Beth Nonte Russell, the adoptive mother of two Chinese-born children, worries in today’s NY Times that rising Chinese restrictions on adoption may stem from a nationalistic desire to conceal the number of girls in Chinese orphanages. (The problem, familiar by  now to most, is that the one-child policy leads Chinese parents to abort girl fetuses so they can try again for a boy – an imperative in a patrilineal, family-oriented Confucian society. This has led to a boy-to-girl ratio in the current cohort estimated at 117 to 100.) Russell’s column contains a number of weird misunderstandings which are hard to explain without assuming some type of anxiety towards China’s rise on her part.

Let’s start with some very, very bad math. Russell says Chinese census researchers in 2005 concluded there will be about 60 million “missing” girls in the population by the end of the decade. Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, estimates that about 5 million female fetuses and 2 million male fetuses are aborted in China each year. Russell multiplies 5 million by 10 (for “end of the decade”), gets 50 million, and asks “where are the other 10 million girls? If even 10 percent end up in orphanages… well, you do the math.” I think we’d better; Russell’s math skills here do not meet 7th grade standards.

First off, the difference between girl and boy abortion rates cited here, obviously, is 3 million, not 5 million, which would produce a gap of 30 million, not 50 million, over 10 years. Second, the phrasing of the Chinese census figure is ambiguous; it’s not clear whether they cited a gender gap of 60 million babies over the course of the decade 2000-2010, a gender gap of 60 million babies from the moment of the study through 2010, or what, exactly. Third, the estimate produced by Planned Parenthood is inexact, and it would be ludicrous to conclude that a difference of 10 million from the Chinese census figures (also inexact) implies that there really are 10 million girl fetuses which have disappeared somewhere.

Fourth, and most important in terms of mathematical illiteracy, none of the 60 million “missing” girls in the Chinese census calculations can “end up in orphanages”, since if they were in orphanages, they would not be missing. The Chinese census calculations refer to girl fetuses which were never born. It seems a safe bet to assume that any girl babies in Chinese orphanages were born at some point.

Finally, we get to the most important error of logic in Russell’s piece: her attack on the one-child policy. Russell says the policy must be scrapped if China is ever to eliminate the disturbing surplus of abandoned girls which, she thinks, it finds so embarrassing that it’s restricting foreign adoptions to conceal the problem. But Chinese parents don’t abort girl babies because they’re only allowed one child; they abort them because they’re only allowed one child AND TRADITIONAL CHINESE CULTURE CONSIDERS MALES MORE VALUABLE THAN FEMALES. There are two ways to alter the problem of Chinese female abortions and numerical gender imbalances. One would be to remove the one-child policy, which would entail tremendous social, economic and environmental costs for China. The other would be to encourage Chinese culture to value women as highly as it values men.

The latter policy is far more realistic than the former. Chinese attitudes towards the economic and social roles of women are already in a state of fervid transformation. Women are assuming senior roles in business, politics, academia, and the media – just as they have in every other country in the world as it develops. Furthermore, the very rarity of girls in the current cohort of Chinese kids is forcing Chinese to reevaluate their attitudes. Desperate Chinese men are now paying large dowries to import brides. The notion that Chinese male chauvinism is fixed and unchanging is a symptom of the same kind of Western anti-Chinese condescension that seems unable to cope with the rise of China as a world power.

And anyone who thinks that encouraging average Chinese in their attitude shift on gender will take longer than intervening, as foreigners, to push the Chinese Communist Party to scrap a longstanding and largely successful feature of its domestic policy…does not have much expertise on this question.


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