Thursday, January 17, 2008

The War In Iraq Is Everyone's Fault

It’s easy to blame the violence in Iraq and the pitfalls of the war on terror on a small cabal of neocons, a bumbling president, and an overstretched military. But real fault lies with the American people as well. Americans now ask more of their government but sacrifice less than ever before. It’s an unrealistic, even deadly, way to fight a global war. And, unfortunately, that’s just how the American people want it.


How can you resist an article that starts out with a smack to the face like that? In the November/December 2007 issue of Foreign Policy magazine Alasdair Roberts, a professor of public administration at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, lays out the case (subscription required) that the current crises in American foreign policy didn't arise because a shadowy band of Neo-Cons hijacked the government; it arose because 27 years of a political philosophy based on mistrust of the central government and that ability of the government to deal with large issues, a desire for low taxes, tight spending, free trade, and a loose regulatory structure (neo-liberalism) practically insured it would.

His points -

During the Clinton Administration as part of the philosophy of fiscal restraint defense spending reached a historic low. After 9/11 there was a desire to avoid disruption to everyday life so instead of asking Americans to shoulder a larger tax burden to help support the invasion of Afghanistan (and later Iraq) and increased domestic security requirements we tried to do it on the cheap. This effort gave Neo-Cons such as Paul Wolfowitz a chance to put their theories into practice. The failure of these theories coupled with such things as lead to the beating the American image has taken abroad. The failure of the American people to step up and shoulder a burden has also probably lead to the prolonging of the Iraq War as well as increased casualties if you carry his theory to it's logical conclusion.

With those points in mind and given that the majority of Americans still embrace neo-liberalism Professor Roberts concludes that the war in Iraq is every bit as much the fault of the average American as of President Bush.

It's an interesting case and in some ways it parallels my own thoughts. (I bet Professor Roberts is sleeping a lot better knowing that he has received a least a partial coveted Kuru Lounge endorsement. Can the Nobel Prize be far behind?)

The military was cut way too much in the 90's and anyone with any brains knew it. I have also admitted that the initial occupation force for Iraq was too small, but at the same time the troop strength that General Shineski was calling for didn't exist. I also agree that there hasn't been a sense of national sacrifice. For Christ's sake we don't even show footage of the 9/11 attacks on the anniversary to remind people what started this.

But at the same time I disagree with Professor Roberts. His article implies that skepticism about government is a bad thing. I disagree. Government does somethings well (National Security / Policing / Fire), but outside those areas almost any government program is guaranteed to:

a) be very expensive
b) be inefficient
c) infringe on peoples rights or property

That deserves skepticism. In some cases such as infrastructure projects like the interstate highway system or public schooling the need is great enough that we have to accept those problems (although we should try to minimize them) but the need should be pretty great before we have the government throw money at a problem.

I think Professor Roberts is on to something in his article but his identification of the sources of our problems is slightly flawed. Unfortunately he doesn't provide any suggested solutions so we are kind of left hanging which is too bad. It would be interesting to see his suggestions.

(editing note - halfway through this post I started referring to Prof. Roberts as Prof. Reynolds. I have fixed that)

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