Let them vote.

by

Please ignore the web source for this article and give it a fair read. Here’s an excerpt:

Let’s let the Iraqi people vote on whether American troops should stay in Iraq.President Bush has said that if a democratically elected government of Iraq asked us to leave, we would. I think Bush is sincere, but the truth is that no Iraqi government is going to ask U.S. troops to withdraw anytime soon, because American troops are the only thing holding the country together……But at the end of the day, America still might lose. I’d hate to see that happen. But I can’t think of a more honorable way for America to withdraw from Iraq and to prove it respects democracy. America won’t bow to bullets and bombs — but it will to ballots.

It sounds like a GREAT idea to me.

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51 Responses to “Let them vote.”

  1. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Let’s let the Iraqi people vote on whether American troops should stay in Iraq.

    Suits me. Just off the top of my head, at least.

    The problem is that — in theory — it’s not up to us to “let the Iraqi people vote.” Unless there’s a referendum provision in their constitution, it’s up to the Iraqi government to “let the Iraqi people vote,” and as the excerpt points out, that’s not likely to happen. Not unless the outcome is a foregone conclusion, that is.

    It would be interesting to see what our administration would do if the vote were held and “Americans Leave” won.

  2. Michael Lasley Says:

    Sounds good to me. Or it would if this were a sincere idea. But as the columnist makes clear, his concern is with the politics of the issue and not democracy or the safety of our troops. It should only be voted on if we know the vote will go in favor of our staying in Iraq. And it should be done not in order to show America’s love for democracy as much as to silence critics of our administration. Which just kind of ruined the idea for me, as it seemed insincere. Maybe I misread it.

  3. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Ah. I didn’t read the article.

  4. juvenal_urbino Says:

    And now that I pay a little more attention to the URL (all I noticed before was that it was from the Nat’l Review), I understand. There have been some serious people at Nat’l Review. Jonah Goldberg hasn’t shown himself to be part of that tradition.

    Now I’m curious, Joe. When you said, “Please ignore the web source…,” were you referring to the magazine, or the specific writer?

  5. Joe Longhorn Says:

    I don’t think he’s insincere at all. Just being pragmatic. He’s been commenting about this idea on NRO’s group blog for a few days and finally turned it into an article. In those comments, he goes more into the practical aspects of his plan.

    For instance:

    – A vote for American forces to stay would legitimize the U.S. presence internationally and re-open the door for greater international particiapation in the peacekeeping. This at least partially addresses the concern about our troops’ safety.

    – It would also enhance the stature and legitimacy of the Iraqi government, because they would now have a national referendum that supports what the Iraqi government has been saying all along, that they need help with security. How does this not strengthen democracy.

    Now what happens with a “no” vote?

    – If that happens, we withdraw our troops. That pretty much takes care of our troops’ safety.

    – When the most powerful military forces leave due to a vote of the people, how can that not strengthen the message of the power of democracy, and thus strengthen democracy itself?

    No doubt this would be good politics, but does that necessarily make it insincere?

    Even if the person putting forth the idea is insincere, does that really decrease the merits of the argument?

  6. Joe Longhorn Says:

    I made the comment in response to your advertised aversion to conservative websites. I was referring to National Review being the source. And, yes, of the NRO contributors, Jonah Goldberg tends to get dismissed immediately by many people. So I was trying to head off that gut reaction so many liberals have to his writing.

  7. Michael Lasley Says:

    Joe said: “Even if the person putting forth the idea is insincere, does that really decrease the merits of the argument?”

    I know you don’t think he’s insincere, but why I do think it actually matters:

    It does if there is no way the idea is ever going to happen, and this doesn’t seem to be in the works. Because, since it’s not going to happen, this article is more or less an attempt at taking the place of it happening (Plus, he’s not really arguing that this happen unless the vote will turn out in favor of our military staying in the first place, which, again, means this isn’t an argument as much as a political manuveur). He’s acting as if there is an actual conversation taking place about this issue. So when people read it, they think, “hey, why DON’T the Iraqi’s vote on it — since they aren’t voting on it, that must mean that they want us there.”

    At least that’s one way they could read it. Again, IF the vote were to take place, then your ideas about how it would effect our military safety and maybe — a very qualified maybe — make us think about democracy (although, I’m not sure something would represent democracy if the only way there is a vote is if there is an assured outcome on one side — it would represent a vote but not much else). But that’s a big if, in my opinion. Until then, I think all Goldberg is doing is leading people to believe something is happening that isn’t happening.

    That’s why I think sincerity matters.

  8. Whitney Says:

    You should’ve just posted the article w/o citation, then see what people think. I think you’d get more honest answers instead of knee-jerk responses to conservatives. Or tell ’em it was from a liberal. I bet then it would be a fantastic idea.

    Sorry, all, but the bias that automatically comes in due to a source is really irritating to me. Why don’t we have the ability to see any merit in ideas that come from someone we think we disagree with? You automatically assume insincerity and political fervor. (And you may be right, but how do you really know? And like Joe says, does this discredit the merit of the ideas?) It’s what we call in psychology the fundamental attribution error. We think we know what causes a person’s thoughts & actions when we, in fact, do not. This is largely based on our ideas of in-group v. out-group. This causes us to make incorrect judgments of other’s intentions fairly regularly. Check yourself.

  9. Whitney Says:

    Sorry Michael, we were simulposting.

    You said:
    So when people read it, they think, “hey, why DON’T the Iraqi’s vote on it — since they aren’t voting on it, that must mean that they want us there.”

    Never crossed my mind. Not once. That doesn’t even make sense to me.

    And I don’t see that he’s leading us to believe anything. I think he’s saying, “Look, here’s a possibility.” A possibility, that’s it. Something to think about. That’s all. Frankly, I don’t even know who this author is. I don’t listen to conservative radio or read their blogs. It would make me only slighly less crazy than reading/listing to liberals blabber. I don’t care who he is. I think he brings up an interesting thing to think about. Interesting. Logical. I think you’re reading way more into it than is there.

  10. Sandi Says:

    I must point out that the tendency to discount ideas because of the source exists on both sides of the aisle. Conservatives pull that crap all the damn time. Not you guys specifically, that I can recall, but dare to mention Ted Kennedy and most conservatives will give you a face that looks like they’ve been sucking on a lemon or else immediately bring up Chappaquitick (sp?). That’s not the greatest example because he’s primarily a politician rather than a writer, but you get my drift.

    Personally, I just don’t read conservative publications as a matter of course. But I will read conservative commentators in otherwise okay publications, and I have on rare occasion agreed with something that David Brooks or Christopher Hitchens said even though as a general matter I disagree with most of what they say. (Cut to conservatives falling out of their chairs with laughter because I consider David Brooks and Christopher Hitchens conservative). 🙂

    Does this make me biased? I certainly don’t claim to be any less biased than the average bear. Or rather, maybe I’m just following the precept that all stereotypes have 80% truth.

  11. Sandi Says:

    That was a reference to a previous post, by the way. Okay, I am clearly too delirious to be commenting this afternoon.

  12. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Post w/o a citation? I don’t know what all you academics think of that proposal, but we preachers love the idea!!!
    🙂

    I need to invite all of you into this huge gray area which is my life, and out of this black/white, liberal/conservative world. (smiley face emoticon again!)

    Articles published in National Review come with an agenda. As do articles posted on Salon. That liberals read articles published on the former while considering ulterior motives is quite natural. It works just the same with the latter. Let’s be honest enough to realize that both sides do the same thing and leave it at that.

    But if you do name a source, expect it to be read with that skepticism from people on the other side. And if you’re truly on the other side, realize you do the same thing.

    Now with all that said, I agree with Whitney that I’d love for ideas to be evaluated solely on their merits. I’ll vote for that.

  13. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I never advertised an aversion to conservative websites, Joe. I don’t have an aversion to conservative websites. I both advertised and have an aversion to the American Spectator, because it’s the print equivalent of rage radio.

    Serious, intelligent conservatism is worth investing one’s time in reading and engaging. Like I said, the National Review has had some of that. (Unfortunately, like the New Republic, its quality has fallen off in recent years.) The American Spectator’s brand of conservative rhetoric, in my estimation, is neither serious nor intelligent (nor is it even intended to be). Neither is 80% of Jonah Goldberg’s.

    In both cases, Whitney, that’s not some shallow, knee-jerk reaction; it’s based on the things they’ve said. When a source has consistently demonstrated itself to have a certain trait, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to “assume” a given piece from that source will have that trait.

    I’ve said nothing that even remotely resembles the thing you guys are reacting against, Joe and Whitney. (Nor has Mikey, I don’t think. He’s pretty much apolitical. Just a careful and highly trained reader.) What I have done is make a couple of measured statements that there are conservative sources I find worth reading, and others I frankly don’t. And I’ve taken seriously the part of Goldberg’s article that Joe excerpted here.

    If that qualifies as some kind of knee-jerk liberal bias, then I guess I’m guilty as charged.

  14. Whitney Says:

    You said:
    I must point out that the tendency to discount ideas because of the source exists on both sides of the aisle. Conservatives pull that crap all the damn time.

    Sandi, I haven’t even read the rest of your comment, but to that statement, I must say you are exactly right and I would be the first to say that conservatives are just as likely to discount based on source. We’re certainly no better!! I was not trying to point fingers solely at liberals, so I hope it didn’t sound that way. (I did say “we”.) I think it is wrong to do from any angle.

  15. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Even if the person putting forth the idea is insincere, does that really decrease the merits of the argument?

    Not necessarily, but it might, because it does change the argument that’s actually being made.

    If Goldberg’s article was not a sincere call for an Iraqi referendum on our presence there, but a false front on an argument that we should stay there (with a suggestion for how the president might win popular support for staying there, thrown in as a kicker) then whatever merits his false front may actually have are sort of beside the point, because the author himself doesn’t give a darn about those merits.

    I’m not saying that’s what Goldberg was doing. I haven’t read the article, so I don’t know. I know what I think of Mikey’s reading ability. And I know I’d bet money he’d never even heard of Jonah Goldberg before reading this article, so I’m dubious about claims of bias.

    I’m just pointing out that, yes, the sincerity of an argument does affect its merits, because it changes what argument is actually being made.

  16. Michael Lasley Says:

    Maybe my response was knee-jerk, I don’t know (can one self-diagnose that?). I’ve been speed-grading papers for the past few days, so maybe I’m overly critical of everything I read.

    When reading the snippets that Joe posted, the idea sounded fine with me. Seriously. But the article itself isn’t nearly as thoughtful as Joe’s snippets suggest. And as Sandi and Whitney pointed out, k.j.rs. happen on both sides. My problem was with what I perceived to be insincerity. Here’s why I thought he was insincere. Goldberg says in paragraph two, point blank, this is my thesis statement: “let’s let the Iraqi people vote on whether the American troops should stay in Iraq.” And then spends the entire rest of the article telling us that his thesis is only a good thesis IF it never happens.

    For instance: “the truth is that no Iraqi government is going to ask U.S. troops to withdraw anytime soon, because American troops are the only thing holding the country together.”

    And then my favorite: “Obviously, if you know that a referendum on keeping U.S. troops in Iraq would not pass, my idea isn’t so hot.”

    And so I think he’s insincere to say, hey, I’m arguing that we propose a vote, when his real argument seems to be further down in the article (this is a long quote, so sorry):

    “If Iraqis voted to keep American troops, everything would change. The ‘occupation’ and ‘war for oil’ rhetoric would be discredited overnight. America would have put its vital interest money where its principled mouth is. Iraq’s anti-American factions would be further pulled into the process, even if they [the anti-Americans]voted ‘no.’ The Iraqi people would ‘own’ this project in their own right. Iraqi politicians would no longer have to worry about being called lapdogs to America — ‘the people have spoken,’ they could respond. Arab nations couldn’t claim that the democratization of Iraq was inauthentic or imposed by ‘imperialists.’ Even the Europeans would be floored by the audacity of the gesture. And our own troops would have the idealism of their project reaffirmed.”

    This is why I thought he was being insincere. He says, this is my argument at the beginning of the essay (and seems to mean it), and then argues that that really isn’t his argument (seems to mean this as well). And then throws in why, if that had been his argument, it would be a good idea (ummm…). And that good idea is all about making people think good things about our administration.

    Actually, as I write this, I’m starting to like his writing style more and more. It’s kind of clever. (Smiling and winking, emoticon here.)

    Sorry for the long response. I’m not trying to be grumpy. Just wanted to explain how I read the essay.

  17. Michael Lasley Says:

    And Juvenal was right about my never having heard of Jonah Goldberg before. I also tried not to pay attention to the source (honest), but the banner at the top of the page was too big to ignore.

  18. Joe Longhorn Says:

    “Obviously, if you know that a referendum on keeping U.S. troops in Iraq would not pass, my idea isn’t so hot.”

    I really don’t think Goldberg’s talking about the political ramifications for the Administration when he says this. That would make his proposal insincere. I think he’s talking about what would happen to the security situation in Iraq.

    I read commentary from Jonah Goldberg everyday. He takes a rib-poking, tongue-in-cheek approach with most of his writing. I found this article had a different tone. I think he really believes in the idea, but doesn’t see the practical path from concept to action given the current political situation.

    The big obstacle to the idea is the risk that the Iraqis could vote to expel U.S. forces, and no one wants to take such a risk with Iraqi security, no matter what the political and practical ramifications might be.

  19. Michael Lasley Says:

    Since you read his stuff, Joe, you are in a much better position to hear tone and have more context to go on. Maybe I’m being too critical of him. I get his point that US troops are needed in Iraq now in order to maintain any sort of order in the country and prevent a civil (or world) war.

    But the long-ish quotation I cut-n-pasted into my last comment (and I don’t believe I used it out of context, please correct me if I did) was specifically addressing typical criticisms against the Bush administration. The “let them vote” idea Goldberg started the essay with is now a way to silence those criticisms (‘everything would change’ — everything here being a list of criticisms typically aimed at our administration), rather having something to do with the security of Iraq. The article has much more about looking good politically than having a stable Iraq, I think. I’ll cut and paste another long-ish couple of paragraphs (I’ve now cut-n-pasted way too much, sorry to everyone):

    “Even here at home, critics of the war have come to paint Iraq as an entirely cynical and gloomy affair, launched on fraudulent rationales and continued out of hubris. Ted Kennedy calls it an ‘occupation,’ and his crowd snickers at the idea that democracy has anything to do with the enterprise.

    An Iraqi referendum would counter all of that. A national debate in Iraq over the continued presence of American troops would force many Iraqis to stop taking our protection for granted. Not everyone there craves democracy, but very few of them relish the idea of a civil war. Politicians, now invested in the survival of the political system, would be forced to take the responsible position if they wanted to keep their jobs”

    He does talk about security here, but am I completely mis-reading this here? A referendum would counter political cymicism (towards our administration), questions concerning the reasons for the war (directed toward our administration), and the apparently irresponsible politicians who aren’t satisfied with our aministration’s handling of troops.

    Joe, you and I are probably the only ones still on here, so feel free to let me have it. I won’t get upset or anything.

  20. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I’m still here. But I won’t get upset if Joe lets you have it, either.

    Joe — you seem certain that we would pull our troops out if the Iraqis democratically asked us to. I gather that’s Goldberg’s view, too. What makes you so confident? Does Goldberg cite any reasons for his confidence?

    It’s hard for me to imagine we would. Now that we’ve created the current situation in Iraq, it would be against our strategic interests to pull out, and against the president’s political interests.

    On the international scene, the neighboring countries with whom we have friendly relations would go apey. Iraq would really become a breeding ground for terrorists; it’d make Afghanistan under the Taliban look like a girls’ day-school. Every single member of the several-thousand-member pro-Israel lobby would go by and personally have a litter of kittens on the president’s desk. Israel itself would probably take a harder line with the Palestinians out of sheer defensive reflex.

    Here at home, the president would lose what support he has left from the “movement conservatives” in Congress and at the grassroots — the people on whom Rove’s [re-]election strategies have all been based. Bush’s second term would be effectively over. There just couldn’t be a bigger disaster for him, in purely political terms.

    Closer to home for the president, he would have almost no choice but to fire Rumsfeld (or accept his resignation), Rice’s credibility would be undermined, and Dick Cheney might never speak to him again. Not to mention, he has staked his entire “wartime presidency” on the success of Iraq; if it goes sideways, he goes down in history as one of the great failures.

    Even I, as a liberal who thinks we were misled into Iraq in the first place, think it would be irresponsible for us to pull out right now, and a vote of national pride by the Iraqi people wouldn’t make it any less irresponsible. Our going into Iraq wasn’t a democratic decision. Our decision to leave can’t be, either. Now that we’re there, we have to stay until it’s safe to leave.

    All that to say: I just can’t think of a reason why we would leave if the Iraqis voted tomorrow that we should. I’ll grant that the president would be in a tough spot, having said what he has on this subject in the past. But politicians can always find a way to explain away what they’ve said in the past, if the need is great enough. The real consequences would be for the soldiers on the ground there, because then they would be very baldly an occupying force. Yikes.

  21. Michael Lasley Says:

    And see, now I just read back through the comments to make sure I was on top of things. Whitney said that one of my comments made no sense to her. She’s right. It made no sense to me either when I re-read it. Apologies. Now I’m scared to read the rest of my comments. I need to stop reading my students’ papers before I start writing non-sensical comments on them as well.

  22. Whitney Says:

    Michael,
    I completely, 100% understand your jumbled mind after grading student papers. I have about a week until my mind goes to jell-o, too. 🙂
    Do you have to tell your students not to us IM language in the papers they turn in? Sometimes just trying to figure out what they’re saying in the midst of run-on sentences is enough to make me kooky. Only a few more weeks, though!

  23. Michael Lasley Says:

    Whitney — it is amazing how students have their own language worked out. If it were possible for them to text their papers to me, I’m sure they would, as they can type on their phones more easily than on a keyboard. I have really small classes, so theoretically grading shouldn’t be that bad. But our finals are this week, and grades are due MONDAY. Which gives me a whole three days to grade all of my final essays. Oh well. After that I’ll just sit on the beach and laugh at everyone.

  24. Joe Longhorn Says:

    Juvenal,

    I do think we would actually leave if asked by the Iraqis. President Bush has said that we would, if asked by a democratically elected government. We’d be forced to put our money where our mouth is when it comes to democratic principles.

    You bring up valid concerns about the prospect of the U.S. leaving Iraq. I especially liked this one:

    “Every single member of the several-thousand-member pro-Israel lobby would go by and personally have a litter of kittens on the president’s desk.”

    I can’t refute any of them. They are all possible outcomes, but none is a foregone conclusion.

    You make a great point about Iraqi national pride. It is very conceivable that national pride vice rational thought could be a powerful motivator in such a vote.

    I think that alone is the best reason for ditching the idea.

    Still, the idea provides an interesting thought experiment.

  25. juvenal_urbino Says:

    President Bush has said that we would, if asked by a democratically elected government.

    Um, okay. Needless to say, that doesn’t give me the same confidence it gives you. President Bush has said a lot of things he later backed away from.

  26. Joe Longhorn Says:

    How did I know you would say that? 😉

    If the Iraqis held a referendum like this with U.S. support, how could the administration do anything but abide by the results? Dismissing the results of a legitimate democratic process could conceivably be more damaging to Bush than failure in Iraq. I think that’s another reason we’d never see it. Bush is too deeply invested in Iraq to expose the situation to the uncertainty of a vote.

  27. Michael Lasley Says:

    I’m afraid in all of my complaints about the article yesterday, Joe, that I failed to say that I, too, think it’s a good thought experiment. There are problems with the idea, sure, but it is an idea that is worth exploring.

  28. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I think I must be a horrible person for not taking the time to notice things such as this, but something prompted me to do a little looking today, and I read that there have been something like 35,000 “civilian” deaths in Iraq that have been “reported” since the war began. Supposedly one source estimates 100,000 civilian deaths.

    Is this right? And if so, is this sickening to anyone besides me?

  29. Michael Lasley Says:

    I read that at some point around Christmas. The reports ranged from 30,000 to 100,000 at the time. President Bush said in a press conference that he estimated around 30,000, I think. It is very troubling.

  30. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Numbers like that probably should make me queasy, but they don’t. Maybe it’s because casualty numbers like that just aren’t real to me. It’s like talking about the national debt. Trillions of dollars? That’s a number of dollars that has no real meaning to me.

    I think that’s another reason we’d never see it. Bush is too deeply invested in Iraq to expose the situation to the uncertainty of a vote.

    Indeed. So what do we do with Iraq? We can’t leave until the country is stable, and there’s no sign it’ll be truly stable in the foreseeable future; meanwhile, Afghanistan is sliding backwards and bin Laden, et al., is still on the loose. And we can’t afford to lose any of those fights.

    To me, this is all looking more and more like a situation where we’re going to have a very high demand for active-duty troops for quite a number of years. We don’t really have that number of troops available right now, even with requiring the Nat’l Guard to serve long tours overseas.

    Do we need a draft? That’s a serious question. I’m inclined to think we do. I’d be interested in hearing what the military folk here’bouts think. Joe? Duane? Cap’n?

    (And lest I be accused of advocating such just in hopes of adding to Bush and the Republican Congress’s political woes, I’ll add that I think the draft would have to be continued at least through the next administration and next few Congresses, regardless of which party controls them.)

  31. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Maybe it should even be made permanent. Compulsory two years of military service for everybody.

  32. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I’m interested in the opinions of military folks (don’t forget DeJon!) on a draft, too.

    This is easy for me to say (past my prime), but I think the idea is a good one simply from a sociological standpoint (if it includes a domestic Americorps sort of thing option for pacifistic folks) – simply to break down the “always under construction” walls that we like to build in our country (race, class, gender, etc.). If implemented at age 18, it would also allow the grand majority of 18-year-olds w/o a clue what they’re going to do with their lives some important life experiences w/o wasting two years of college money.

    I haven’t thought about this much, so feel free to destroy my thinking, but what thinking I’ve done on the issue is simply from this sociological perspective – not from military need, etc.

    Which is why I’m interested in Joe/Duane/DeJon/Cap’n’s thoughts, too…

  33. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Yeah, the possible sociology of it is pretty fascinating, Al. I’m also curious about the economics.

    How would we pay for the training, housing, feeding, and equipping of all those young soldiers/sailors/marines? Would the defense contractors have to give up some of those high-tech, high-profit contracts so the military could buy more old fashioned rifles and boots, or would we just pour even more of our GDP into the defense budget?

    What would it cost us in the civilian economy, losing all those man-years of entry-level labor?

    Lots of countries have mandatory military service. Anybody know how they handle it?

  34. Joe Longhorn Says:

    I think a draft is a colossally bad idea. First off… it’s not necessary. Despite what you may read, all services are pretty close to their recruiting goals. What the media doesn’t report is that all services are exceeding their retention goals. The net effect being that we are maintaining end-strength across the board. People are re-enlisting and staying in, even after having served multiple tours in Iraq. I think that speaks volumes about how the importance and progress of the mission in Iraq is perceived by the folks on the ground.

    Now for the mandatory service idea… The idea is interesting, but completely impractical in the U.S. You see it work in other countries with smaller populations. Here are some VERY rough numbers that show how unfeasible this is for the U.S. The 2000 census shows that about 7% of the U.S. population was between the ages of 20-24. 7% of our current population of 290 million is about 20 million. Let’s just say that half the people are doing their two years of service at a given point in time. That would mean that the military combined with other acceptable service organizations must accomodate about 10 million people. The numbers wouldn’t change much when adding in 18-20 year olds, assuming that you could do your two years of service anytime between the ages of 18-24.

    Anyway… to put a little perspective on this, the U.S. military (including the Coasties) has a current end-strength of around 1.5 million, less than 2 million including reserves.

    So Juvenal’s economic concerns for such a program are very valid, and precisely the reason something like this would never work in the U.S. We’re just too big!

  35. juvenal_urbino Says:

    First off… it’s not necessary. Despite what you may read, all services are pretty close to their recruiting goals.

    That’s great, Joe, but it sure looks to me like maintaining the numbers we have now isn’t good enough. We clearly need more troops in Afghanistan, almost as clearly more in Iraq, even though it’d be unpopular there. Plus, at our current numbers, it seems to this civilian that we don’t have enough troops available if another crisis arises. Maybe I’m wrong about that.

    As for the economics of mandatory service, I’d be curious to know what the military currently spends per soldier on training, housing, feeding, and equipping. Anybody know?

    You started off saying a draft was a “colossally bad idea,” Joe, then argued that it wasn’t necessary. “Colossally bad” and “unnecessary” are two pretty different things. What makes the idea “colossally bad?” I’m not trying to be difficult or pick nits. I’m just curious if you see other problems with it that you didn’t mention.

  36. Joe Longhorn Says:

    Here’s my justification for the “colossally bad” characterization.

    Protracted war with waning public support + mandatory service = a lot of folks that are unhappy about being where they are.

    I think just about any military leader, having learned the lessons of Vietnam, would rather have a small corps of dedicated individuals than a full complement of unmotivated troops.

    As far as having enough troops for another crisis… If it truly is a crisis, we can respond. At any given moment, less than a third of our military forces are actively engaged. We could ramp up to provide close to another third within 90 days. Those levels of activity aren’t sustainable indefinitely, but we could at least respond and halt any advance of a crisis.

  37. Whitney Says:

    That’s great, Joe, but it sure looks to me like maintaining the numbers we have now isn’t good enough. We clearly need more troops in Afghanistan, almost as clearly more in Iraq, even though it’d be unpopular there.

    Juvenal, I’m really not trying to be rude, so please don’t take it this way, but Joe knows an awful lot more about these situations than most of the rest of us, much of it which he is not at liberty to talk about. I just think it is interesting that you think we have a “clear” need for something. I really don’t know what you do for a living, so there is always the possibility that you’re more aware of our troop staffing needs/requirements throughout the world and that we do have a “clear” need for more troops in certain places, but I would think that if that were true, there would be a bigger push, both congressionally and militaristically (is that a word), to get people there.

    So far as cost, let’s just take Joe for example. He has a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree both paid for by the Navy as well as several speciality schools under his belt (Naval War College & others) courtesy of USN (education & training); housing for an O-4 in San Diego is $2115/month; it was around $800 in Mississippi so housing expenses vary. The BAS (food allowance, basically) is somewhere around $150/month. Joe doesn’t take much equipping and he has to pay for his own uniforms. But still, we’re talking lots of money for just one guy.

    Although enlisted get paid less and get a lower housing allowance (not much less), they get other allowances that officers do not, get education assistance, and go through all sorts of training & tech schools, so I would guess the difference in cost of 1 enlisted sailor v. 1 navy officer would not be as great as we might think. (I could be wrong.)

    Regardless, the cost of requiring service would be absolutely over the top, especially in a society, as Joe says, that only supports our military actions at a rate of 40-50%.

  38. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I think just about any military leader, having learned the lessons of Vietnam, would rather have a small corps of dedicated individuals than a full complement of unmotivated troops.

    I can certainly understand that. But — and again, I’m not trying to be difficult — I thought taking the unmotivated and motivating them was one of the things the military specialized in. Isn’t boot camp supposed to do that?

    At any given moment, less than a third of our military forces are actively engaged.

    Really? Wow. That’s a very different picture from what we on the outside are getting. Why do we keep hearing these reports about generals being concerned that the military is “stretched too thin,” then? And why can’t we take some of those non-actively-engaged two-thirds and put them in Afghanistan or Iraq?

    If I’m calculating right, we could put another 60,000+ troops in each of those places, and still have seven-twelfths of our force not actively engaged. I realize the math gets a little fuzzy because of the way troops are organized into specialties (e.g., a tank battalion requires a certain number of non-combat support personnel), but still, it seems like we’re unnecessarily doing without a lot of available troops.

  39. Joe Longhorn Says:

    Whit makes a good point about the cost of keeping just one person in the military. She didn’t even mention base pay, health care costs (which are huge), moving costs for duty station changes.

    The biggest part of the military budget BY FAR is manpower costs. Everyone seems to think that we dump 90 percent of our military budget into weapons technology dreamed up by defense contractors.

    Speaking from the Navy perspective, we are investing more in technology and automation in an effort to reduce manning in our ships. This has two effects that the U.S. public should be happy about. It will reduce manning costs and it will reduce the number of people that may have to go into harm’s way. Both good things, right?

    Similar efforts are happening in the Air Force.

    I mention this so that I can say definitively that cutting programs will NOT allow us to fund a bigger force. If anything, cutting program funding now will increase the military budget in the future. Seems counter-intuitive, but it’s the truth.

  40. Joe Longhorn Says:

    Juvenal,

    You’ve got to take into account reconstitution, maintenance, and training of the 2/3 of the force that is not engaged. To respond to a crisis, we cut into that 2/3 at the expense of training and maintenance. That’s why it’s unsustainable for a long period of time. When the Generals are screaming that we’re stretched too thin, they’re saying that we aren’t meeting our normal peacetime rotations. The engagement in Iraq has pushed a lot of people out of their deeply ingrained peacetime comfort zones. And a lot of Generals don’t like it. It forces them to think.

  41. Joe Longhorn Says:

    I can certainly understand that. But — and again, I’m not trying to be difficult — I thought taking the unmotivated and motivating them was one of the things the military specialized in. Isn’t boot camp supposed to do that?

    The difference is that in an all-volunteer force, there is some spark of patriotism, some spark of desire for service that the drill instructors fan into a flame. That can’t happen if there is no desire to begin with. There is also a quality cut at boot camp right now. Some folks that just don’t adjust to the military lifestyle are separated very early with a “no harm/no foul” discharge.

    This quality cut would necessarily go away in the event of a draft. A quality cut like this would be politically non-viable in a mandatory service environment. How could we justify not accepting some people when we are forcing everyone into service? And can’t you just see the abuse this quality cut could be subjected to during a draft?

  42. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Juvenal, I’m really not trying to be rude, so please don’t take it this way, but Joe knows an awful lot more about these situations than most of the rest of us

    Which is why I keep asking him questions about these matters, Whitney. (Not to seem rude, either.) It’s not like I’m contradicting Joe on the need for more troops in Iraq or Afghanistan; he hasn’t said anything on that subject, positive or negative, to contradict. All I’ve done is express how things look to me as a civilian citizen, concerned about how things are going in those countries, and I think I’ve been pretty clear that I understand that’s all I am. Maybe not.

    I’m starting to feel like everything I say, no matter what it is, displeases you, somehow. This thread started off with me agreeing with Joe and the National Review, but, as best I can tell, not agreeing enthusiastically enough to suit you.

    Now you think I’m not being deferential enough to Joe’s expertise on military matters. Some time back, though, you took me to task for thinking readers here might show some deference to my expertise on the subject of Christian political involvement, which I spent 10 years of my life, both in and out of various graduate programs, studying at my own expense. It seems to me either hard-won expertise on a subject is due some deference, or it isn’t.

    I think I’ve been consistent in showing deference where it’s due, including to Joe, and claiming it where it’s due, but no matter which one I do, I can’t seem to do it to suit you.

    I really don’t know what to do at this point. Maybe you and I just don’t hear each other very well.

  43. juvenal_urbino Says:

    To respond to a crisis, we cut into that 2/3 at the expense of training and maintenance.

    Does that not suggest, coming full circle, that we need more troops?

    I’m not trying to be argumentative. I just don’t follow your logic. You suggested we had enough troops in the services because at any given time 2/3 of them are not actively engaged. Now you seem to be saying we shouldn’t really actively engage any of that 2/3 because they’re busy doing other things. If they’re busy doing other things — and those things are important and necessary — then are they really available?

    If we need more soldiers in active engagements, and the 2/3 not currently actively engaged aren’t available, does that not mean we have to get more soldiers from somewhere?

  44. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I mention this so that I can say definitively that cutting programs will NOT allow us to fund a bigger force.

    Okay.

  45. Joe Longhorn Says:

    What I’m saying is that we are outside of our comfort zone keeping this much of our force engaged for such a long time. I’m not saying that we can’t or shouldn’t keep doing it. Most military commanders would prefer to keep it closer to 20%, 25% at the most. It’s just easier for them that way.

    If the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan were getting worse, MAYBE we could talk about sending in some more troops. As it stands, things just aren’t getting better as fast as most folks would like. Some folks think that things would get better faster if we just add troops to the equation. Well… we are adding troops. They just don’t happen to be American.

  46. Joe Longhorn Says:

    If we need more soldiers in active engagements, and the 2/3 not currently actively engaged aren’t available, does that not mean we have to get more soldiers from somewhere?

    In an ideal world, that 2/3 is engaged in training or maintenance and not available. In a crisis, more can be made available. I think we in the military need to break free from the traditional training/reconstitution cycle and have more forces available more of the time. It can be done without increasing the size of the force.

  47. juvenal_urbino Says:

    This quality cut would necessarily go away in the event of a draft . . . [I]n an all-volunteer force, there is some spark of patriotism, some spark of desire for service that the drill instructors fan into a flame. That can’t happen if there is no desire to begin with.

    But that’s concerning in and of itself, isn’t it? It almost seems like there’s an assumption that we will never mobilize a large portion of the population into military service — whether by draft or by asking for lots and lots of volunteers.

    I mean, if we ever do, that quality cut is, as you suggest, going to have to go away, and a lot of people who would rather be somewhere else are going to have to be motivated and trained. Are we not prepared to do that?

    Maybe I’m missing your overarching point. Are you saying we are prepared to do that, but it’s an effort that just isn’t necessary right now?

  48. Whitney Says:

    I think we don’t hear each other very well.

    Some time back, though, you took me to task for thinking readers here might show some deference to my expertise on the subject of Christian political involvement, which I spent 10 years of my life, both in and out of various graduate programs, studying at my own expense. It seems to me either hard-won expertise on a subject is due some deference, or it isn’t.

    Deference on subjective and objective topics is very different. I do not doubt that you are very well educated with regard to Christian politics. And if you’ll go back and read through all of the ins-and-outs of those posts, you’ll see that I came around to understanding what you were saying. Even agreeing to a point. (I think we’re talking about homosexual marriage and legal involvement in such, right? Something that I don’t think the government should get involved in…as a Christian! Which could get me hung from a high tree by some in my congregation. But you changed my mind with good rationale.) Anyway, the subject of Christian politics also doesn’t involve any top-secret information that isn’t available to the rest of the civilian world so far as I know (not trying–at all–to be sarcastic).

    I was honestly just curious if you knew more than you were telling about our troop staffing needs in Afghanistan & Iraq. I really didn’t know. You could be a gov’t contractor for all I know. But I do know that Joe knows a lot about it. That’s it, really.

    And you don’t have to suit me. You really don’t. I don’t expect that. In fact, a lot of the time you drive me nuts, which I’m sure I do the same to you. We’re very different people. And that’s OK. You’ve got to be a good guy or Al wouldn’t associate with you. I give you the benefit of the doubt even though we don’t always agree. But we don’t have to! How boring this blog would be if we didn’t argue and poke and all the other stuff we do.

  49. juvenal_urbino Says:

    If the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan were getting worse, MAYBE we could talk about sending in some more troops.

    I guess now we’re in the realm of political judgments. It seems to me things are getting worse in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not explosively so (so to speak), but more in a long, slow, steady rise in temperature.

  50. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Fair enough, Whitney. It just seemed like our disagreements tended to have more to do with personal traits (or perceived personal traits) than with the issues themselves, which I thought was unfortunate.

    BTW, I do work for a company that does a lot of business with defense contractors and various air forces around the world. I don’t know anything more about the military than the average civilian as a result of that, though.

    I’m just going by the information which is available to me. There’s nothing I can do about or with Top Secret information. I can’t form or adjust my opinions as a citizen according to information I don’t have.

    I’m sure that must be frustrating at times for the people who DO have that information, but I don’t know what they or we can do about it.

  51. Michael Lasley Says:

    You all lost me when you started using numbers and fractions and whatnot. Good point, Joe, about the retention rates. That’s something I haven’t heard much, if anything, about, and it should definitely get more air-time.

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