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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Fish. barrel. law professor — bang!

It seems to be Jonah Goldberg week at BeldarBlog. (It may be some strange convergence of the stars, or maybe the end of the Battlestar Galactica season. Jonah is the only nationally famous pundit whose dog has ever linked to my photo album of my dog, which did endear Jonah and Cosmo to us both). But anyway:

Quoth the fish Professor Paul Campos of the University of Colorado School of Law in a Rocky Mountain News op-ed today brazenly entitled "Confess Your Hypocrisy" (emphasis mine):

[T]he parallels between [Sen. James] Inhofe's criticism of Gore and the "chicken hawk" argument made by opponents of the Iraq war are striking. Consider the hypothetical case of an Iraq war supporter who we'll call "Jonah." Jonah posts lots of things on the Internet in which he argues that the Iraq war is the central front in the war on terror, and that the war on terror is a fight for America's survival.

When critics point out that our military has had to lower admission standards in order to meet recruiting quotas, and that Jonah himself is a healthy man of military age, Jonah replies that he's contributing to the global war on terror in his own fashion, by posting pro-war arguments on the Internet, attaching a yellow ribbon magnet to his car, and so forth.

This response is just as lame as Gore's, and in exactly the same way. If you claim we're facing a huge crisis that requires great personal sacrifice on everyone's part, but refuse to make any real sacrifice yourself, then your attempts to obscure the latter fact through empty symbolic gestures deserve to be mocked.

If you mischaracterize your opponents' argument, then in comparison, in the very short term, your own argument will sometimes look better than it deserves to. They teach us in law school, however, that that is not a very smart thing to do, because when you do it, it's fairly easily demonstrated that you've been disingenuous. Then you lose your credibility, and people think you're a mullet (or worse).

I defy you, Professor Campos, to find a single speech of President George W. Bush in which he has urged all American men of military age to enlist so that we can pursue the Iraq War. I defy you to find any argument by any prominent and respected supporter of the Iraq War in which the argument is advanced that, "To win in Iraq, we need every eligible American male to join up!"

That is silly. The parallels aren't "striking"; rather, they're a figment of Prof. Campos' rhetoric, and not a very good figment at that.

Many people on the left, on the right, and in the center have remarked — and correctly so — on the enormous difference between the Iraq War and, for example, either of the World Wars, in terms of the sacrifices the American public has been asked to make. The sacrifices asked of the public in those other wars were non-trivial, and they weren't just for show. Rubber and petroleum, for example, are commodities that get used up very rapidly in wartime, and for which synthetic substitutes or alternate production processes were just becoming available in the 1940s. Japan seized Indonesia precisely to guarantee its own supply of those commodities; the southern half of Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union was directed at seizing the strategically essential oil fields of the Caucasus (in part so the Germans could make synthetic rubber out of the oil there). And America, in addition to building the network of government-owned (but industry run) petrochemical plants along the Texas gulf coast that remain a backbone of our petrochemical economy today, instituted rationing to ensure that the military had the rubber and petroleum it needed to fight and win the war. People had to patch their flat tires, run them bald, or just do without, and gasoline was rationed too.

But of course, World War II was not just a "world war," it was a "total war." The total strength of the U.S. armed forces by the end of that war was over 12 million men and women, and we built more entire airplanes during World War II than we've ever had individual soldiers stationed in Iraq. Our modern military forces were able to topple, in a matter of weeks and with amazingly few casualties, the armed forces of Iraq that had withstood years of conventional warfare, and that had inflicted and taken hundreds of thousands of casualties, against Iran just a few years earlier. But they're just that damned good, God bless them. And yes, we were able to do that without having to stop manufacturing new cars (to switch the auto plants to tank production), and without having to ration gas or rubber, and without having to draft millions of new soldiers.

If it's your husband or your sister who's been killed or wounded in Iraq, it's as horrible a tragedy for your family today as it was for the American families of the 1940s; so I don't mean to minimize or trivialize the casualties we have suffered. And yes, we've spent a whopping bunch of money on the Iraq War too.

But we could double, or triple, or grow ten-fold our current commitments in Iraq — of course that would take a while to do, but I'm talking hypothetically — and still not make a fraction of a shadow of a dent in the American economy, or in everyday Americans' lives, as compared to the upheavals that World War II created.

If we have the political will to do so, we have the military and economic resources to continue to maintain our current activities in Iraq more or less indefinitely. The "data" Prof. Campos cites are ridiculously shallow and inconsequential. If he means to suggest that we're actually at the brink of our national capacity in war-fighting already, he's insulting not only current-day America, but the legacy bequeathed to us by our parents and grandparents. Sure, we might have to up some financial incentives or do some other juggling to maintain (or better, grow) an all-volunteer military force; and in the short term, individual units and personnel and families have indeed had to contribute more than what's "fair," more than would be prudent, more than they would have if we'd planned more wisely and farther in advance. But redirecting even a tiny fraction of our GNP could certainly produce more volunteers than we could train and absorb even if we were growing the military ten-fold. There is no conceivable scenario in which the Iraq War will ever require the United States to draft — or even accept, if we volunteered — Jonah Goldberg, or me, or Prof. Campos.

That's a good thing, and not just for the three of us. That we have the capacity to prosecute such a war, without having to disturb the economy or the daily lives of most Americans, is a mark of how incredibly rich our country is, in just about every way you want to measure that. If you want to find anything bad about that, it's sort of an inverse, perverse corollary of Prof. Campos' silly argument: Many Americans don't properly appreciate the stakes involved in Iraq precisely because we, as a nation, have had to sacrifice so little of our blood and treasure on it so far, as compared to previous wars like World War II, or even as compared to the wars in Korea or Vietnam. World War II was a war in which we'd take more American casualties on a single day — to advance 250 yards across an insignificant speck of an island in the middle of the vast Pacific — than we've taken in the entire Iraq War so far put together. That we can affect matters of global strategic importance without hundreds of thousands of casualties, or without redirecting 30 percent of our gross domestic product, is a very good thing!

So Prof. Campos' premise — that those who support the Iraq War "claim we're facing a huge crisis that requires great personal sacrifice on everyone's part" — is a load of crap. Nobody (other than the odd straw-man manufacturer or two) is claiming that.

Mind you, an American loss in Iraq would indeed be a crisis. The strategic and geopolitical risks being defended in Iraq are huge, even if you just look at geography and natural resources and completely ignore the threat from radical Islamic fundamentalists. The consequences of a failure there might indeed impose sacrifices on everyone in the United States — the West continues to be incredibly vulnerable to disruptions in the supply of Middle Eastern oil, and it's not hard at all to imagine scenarios in which the pump price for gasoline paid by Americans, for example, might triple, or in which we might have to ration gasoline as a result of failing to commit sufficient resources in Iraq that are now, comparatively, plentiful. But we're at no risk of losing the war, or a battle, or a skirmish, or a velcro patch off anyone's uniform, because of the absence of buck privates Goldberg, Campos, or Dyer.

To any rational student of world history and world affairs, the cost-benefit ratio of continuing in Iraq is a no-brainer — on a national, macroscopic basis, it is indeed something we can afford to invest in, even if it's a high-risk, long-shot investment, without having to make "great personal sacrifices on everyone's part." That's not a "gotcha" for critics of the war to throw in the faces of "chicken-hawks." Rather, that we can pay the requisite price without great across-the-board sacrifices by all our citizens is another reason why it would be so very tragic to simply quit, to cut and run, to give up, to abandon both hope and strategic interests.

Gore's argument, by contrast, is indeed that without changes in each and every one of our lives and in our national and world economy altogether comparable to the disruptions created by World War II, Manhattan Island will be twenty feet under water before my children have grandchildren. I think that's a preposterously overstated argument, which I suppose makes me an "aggressively ignorant demagogue" (the term Prof. Campos uses for Sen. Inhofe, who I'll agree acted badly during Gore's recent Senate testimony). But whether Gore's right or wrong, there simply is no way to equate his arguments about individual responsibility for global warming to anyone's arguments about what's needed to maintain, or even increase, our operations in Iraq. As Prof. Campos himself concedes, based on the nature of Gore's own argument and his lifestyle, Gore indeed has some hypocrisy to concede.

I rest my case. Prof. Campos — hey, you, swimming in circles over there in the barrel! Bang.


P.S.: Re-reading this post, I recognize that my snark dial was obviously cranked up to eleven as I wrote it. Prof. Campos' own snark dial was probably only at about an eight in his op-ed, and I think his jabs at Mr. Goldberg were probably intended to be at least in part humorous, even though these are very serious subjects.

In any event, Prof. Campos is a serious scholar with a distinguished record and position; I don't intend any personal insult by my snark; and neither do I suggest that Prof. Campos' arguments are made in bad faith. They're just silly. If he'd care to reconstruct them without the faulty premise, I'd be glad to give him space here or, as he'd more likely prefer if he thinks any response is appropriate (which he may well not, given the humble nature and limited audience of my blog), I'd gladly link to wherever he might choose to publish his extended and revised remarks. (Not that I'm actually humble, nor that you, gentle and valued reader, are limited in anything but a numerical sense.) Onward and upward.

Posted by Beldar at 11:58 PM in Global War on Terror | Permalink


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(1) nk made the following comment | Mar 28, 2007 9:56:04 AM | Permalink

If Professor Campos could point to an army ever in the history of the world which won a war without twenty productive non-combatant civilians for every soldier to equip it, supply it and feed it ...?

(2) Jinnmabe made the following comment | Mar 28, 2007 11:50:50 AM | Permalink

In any event, Prof. Campos is a serious scholar with a distinguished record and position

I thought you said you were going to quit it with the snark.

Hah, I kid, I kid. Seriously, though, folks, I may be one of the very few who are immediately lost when someone begins an argument with "Consider the hypothetical case of an Iraq war supporter who we'll call "Jonah.""

Don't you mean "whom" we'll call "Jonah"? I'm not a total grammar snob, but the who/whom thing seems more stark to me.

As for the chickenhawk thing, I'm with you. Why do I have to constantly switch professions to avoid "hypocrisy"? To be very flip, if I say "why doesn't Krispy Kreme make more macadamia nut-avocado doughnuts?" do I have to quit being a lawyer and go to work as a doughnut maker to avoid a hypocrisy charge?

(3) dchamil made the following comment | Mar 28, 2007 1:32:59 PM | Permalink

Anyone who advances the "Join up or shut up" criticism is a person who wants to stifle commentary from those who are too old, too feeble, or too female to serve.

(4) Mark L made the following comment | Mar 28, 2007 6:51:36 PM | Permalink

Anyone who advances the "Join up or shut up" criticism is a person who wants to stifle commentary from those who are too old, too feeble, or too female to serve.

So that means they are sexist, anti-aged, and hate the physically challenged, right?

(5) Neo made the following comment | Mar 28, 2007 9:30:20 PM | Permalink

Prof. Campos' obviously misses the real parallel between the runup to the "Iraq War/Global War on Terror" and the runup to the "Global War on Climate Change".

Both are said to be a "rush to war" due to declaring the "debate is over", both required the commitment of "significant treasure" and both seem to be based on "facts" that eventually will prove "we were all wrong".

(6) ajacksonian made the following comment | Mar 29, 2007 10:38:21 AM | Permalink

What I find interesting is those Congresscritters who claim that no 'sacrifice' is being made... and then load up a spending bill with billions of dollars in pork instead of seeing after the Nation's military. And, mind you, that was the last session of Congess and quite some few before it, going back at least 15 years.

Where is the sacrifice, O Congress?

And why do you complain that others are messing things up when it is *your* job to ensure that the things vital to the Nation are fully and completely funded *first*? Because that is your job... and every complaint about things not bought must be *funded* and appropriated by Congress. That is your responsibility, Congress, not the President's under that document you are ignoring called the Constitution.

The one you swear an Oath to uphold and defend.

(7) Bobbo made the following comment | Mar 29, 2007 12:34:18 PM | Permalink

I get very irritated at the "sacrafice" meme, as well. WW2 called for great sacrafice in terms or rationing, etc. but it was total war and we were afterall coming out of a DEPRESSION! Nobody had anything. Now, our greatest weapon/asset is our fricking economy. Thats why one of GW's first priorities after 9/11 was to ensure that that asset was protected. The sacrafice that was (and still is) needed for this new war isn't material things or manpower. It is making sacrafices to protect and enhance the most critical factor in this conflict -- our national will to win. That means that politics stops at the border. That if you truly dissent, you keep it inside the tent. Instead of sacrafice, we got active resistance from the left. They didn't and don't give a F--- about supporting the national interest. They have treated this conflict at a partisan wedge/weapon from the day they voted for it and the country be damned! Where woulod Iraq be now if a consistent, unified message of national will to win had been in place from the beginning? If every problem had been an opportunity to get better, instead of a chance to take internationally public pot shots at GWB?

(8) Bill from INDC made the following comment | Apr 27, 2007 5:29:04 PM | Permalink

Generally agree, but the problem is, political will is generated by participation.

America's political will is flagging not only because the cause and potential outcomes in Iraq are complex and hard to grasp for many folks, but also because most of the country has little personal stake in the outcome.

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