Tuesday, October 19, 2004

American Soldier

Today I finished listening to American Soldier -- General Tommy Franks Autobiography. I highly recommend it for many reasons. General Franks overall life story is quite inspiring. He comes across as very much American -- in the best sense of the word: A man with a strong sense of justice, a curious, active mind, a thinker and a doer. His experiences in the Vietnam War provide a good backdrop to his later leadership roles. I thought he became somewhat more political (and hence more compromising) in his later years but I think here he is no different than most his contemporaries. His strategy of relying on high-technology to achieve great advantages in speed and maneuver was militarily successful in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, though the conclusion of the Iraqi aftermath is yet to be written. All in all he appears to best among the best of the current crop of leaders this country possesses.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Wars, Facts on the Ground, and Interpretations

I came across two descriptions of what's going on in Iraq at the moment. An article featuring numerous interviews with marines and soldiers in Iraq offers a pessimistic assessment in the Washington Post (free registration required -- the article is from Oct. 10 and may not be available forever) and was featured in the most recent issue of Scott Holleran's Concord Crier. Here's a few revealing excerpts from the article:

"Sometimes I see no reason why we're here," [Lance Cpl. Carlos] Perez said. "First of all, you cannot engage as many times as we want to. Second of all, we're looking for an enemy that's not there. The only way to do it is go house to house
until we get out of here."
"Every day you read the articles in the States where it's like, 'Oh, it's getting better and better,' " said Lance Cpl. Jonathan Snyder, 22, of Gettysburg, Pa. "But when you're here, you know it's worse every day."
Lance Cpl. Jeremy Kyrk, 21, of Chicago, said the insurgents took advantage of the limitations imposed on U.S. troops. "They don't give us any leeway, they don't give us any quarter," he said. "They catch people and cut their heads off. They know our limits, but they have no limits. We can't compete with that."

Read the whole article -- it will not make you optimistic about the future in Iraq. Still, I also came across a commentary written by Joe Kane, who is with the US Navy and stationed in Baghdad, his blog Able Kane Adventures. Ironically, Joe was commenting on another article in similar vein to the WP article mentioned above. Joe grants that the facts do not look particularly great at the moment but he writes:

I don’t think this is going to be a pretty or clean victory. Nor will it be a short battle. There is a lot of complexity and very little understanding. We, the Americans will do things bit by bit, stepping forward and back, and making our way through this seeming minefield of confusion and some great things will be done while some great opportunities will be missed. In the end, I can point you to one of my earliest blog entries about my outlook for Iraq. Whenever I get confused or discouraged by things this refreshes me and puts me back on track.

“This will be primarily a war of ideologies, and it is inevitable that we win. I just flew over the rooftops of downtown Baghdad and what do you think I saw? A lot of poverty, overheated heaps of garbage, small herds of goats and sheep among dried vegetation, burned and bombed out cars and half-naked children gazing up from mud-brick walls.

I also saw cell phone towers, and most importantly I saw satellite dishes. Shining disks, perfectly round, straining like great aluminum flowers toward an unseen sun of free-flowing information orbiting the equator, bringing light into minds as surely as the other sun brings daylight into the cold of the desert night. These are the weapons of freedom. These are the destroyers of tyranny.

No amount of tyranny can stand against people who are free to engage in the trafficking of ideas. That is why our first amendment is protected and fought over so fiercely at home, and ultimately, if you want to understand the American soul you can look back over our history of arguing and fighting and dying for that very thing - the right to speak your mind regardless of what anyone else might think of it.

Again, read the whole entry in Joe's blog -- it is instructive and will give you some hope for the future. I'm not sure which is right. Generally speaking I lean more to the pessimistic side as can be seen by some of my previous posts but it's good, in this case, to know that there's a chance I'm wrong.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Objectivism & "the Right"

Brad Malestein of Contemporary History has written a provocative essay entitled "Objectivism is Not Part of 'The Right'". Brad argues that TIA editor Robert Tracinski's is mistaken in his recommendation to create a "secular right." Brad writes:

What Mr. Tracinski proposes can only result in confusion and disaster. The confusion would result from the package-deal of putting Objectivism, a pro-reason, pro-egoism philosophy, under the same concept, The Right, as religious groups and pragmatist conservatives. The disaster would come in the form of Objectivists wasting untold effort combatting the package-deal, especially since it would be Objectivists themselves inciting the confusion.

I must admit to initially being somewhat taken aback by Brad's essay, having always considered myself part of the right, even when I was not an Objectivist and when my economic views would easily have been categorized as socialism-lite. My primary motivator at the time were my hawkish views with respect to Israel. While I was hardly consistent, I rejected the dovish peace-now groups and always thought Israel needed to defend itself using its strength.

Since becoming an Objectivist, I have considered Objectivism to be the lone, sane voice of the right, even if I was not always entirely happy with the whole left-right spectrum and its implications and have written about this. The reason for this consideration is obvious. The left has for the last 100 years been most easily identified with statism and since Objectivism advocates laissez faire capitalism, it is easily placed on the right. Of course, given the types of people that are included in both the "left" and the "right," things are not in fact this straight-forward.

If we follow Brad's advice then Objectivism must be placed in its own category, neither left nor right. In fact, this is as it should be. The whole left-right spectrum should be rejected as a completely inadequate description of ideological views. We need to return to identifying people's ideas by what fundamental principles they endorse, not by some arbitrary groupings of disparate groups on a spectrum without any unifying commonalities. A far superior approach would be to rely on Dr. Peikoff's DIM Hypothesis and its five categories for analyzing intellectual movements. I have already outlined my understanding of Dr. Peikoff's views here and here.

Nevertheless, I think it is important to counter the increasing influence of the religious right with Objectivist ideas. Tracinski's proposed "Secularism Reader," is definitely a step in the right direction and its publication will, along with many other efforts, hopefully result in increasing the awareness of all Americans in rational ideas and the proper foundations of a free society. I can't speak for Mr. Tracinski but I took his advocacy of a "secular right" as implying the eventual replacement what passes today as "the Right" with a political Objectivist movement. If so, I wholeheartedly support the project.
"Not yet at war"

The subject of this posting is excerpted from a posting at the Belmont Club, in which Wretchard praises Mark Steyn's analysis of the proper attitude to the Islamic killers we are facing. Toward the end of Wretchard's essay he writes:

Radical Islam is self-evidently at war with the West because their efforts are limited only by their capability. And the West is just as clearly not yet at war with radical Islam because its actions are still limited by its intent. Zarqawi sawed off Bigley's head simply because he could; America spares Fallujah from choice. [bold characters in original]

Thus Wretchard joins Objectivists such as Dr. Leonard Peikoff and Ayn Rand Institute director Dr. Yaron Brook in their criticism of the less than serious response that the West and the US in particular has so far given the endless provocations of the Islamic militants.

Some readers may wonder how this can be. Haven't we fought two wars against the enemy already? Yes and no. Both Afghanistan and Iraq were enemies but arguably in neither case was there a total war against either country. In the case of Afghanistan the US fought to support the overthrow of the Taliban. In the case of Iraq we fought to liberate the Iraqi people from the Saddam Hussein. In neither case was war declared and in both cases the enemy government (the people of either country were not considered hostile) was given ample opportunity to repent and thus avoid war altogether. In both cases the Bush administration followed the principles of "just war:" Despite rhetoric to the contrary, both wars were heavily altruistic in justification as well as execution, both wars were done as much as possible under the sanction of world bodies and in the context of coalitions, and finally, both wars placed local civilians above the lives of American military personnel and ultimately American civilians.

Since our government refuses to name the obvious enemy (militant Islam), we claim to be engaged in a so-called "War on Terrorism." With respect to this war the ultimate enemy is really quite clear. For some time now, the leading sponsor of terrorism in the world has been Iran. Iran also happens to be the ideological center of Islamic fundamentalism along with its Sunni rival Saudi Arabia. But Saudi Arabia is still regarded as an ally, while the US administration is attempting to make a diplomatic deal with Iran and thus talk it out of its nuclear program.

Therefore while we are and have certainly been fighting, we have not been at war. If we were at war the country would be in far different mood. Our political and military leadership would be fully clear and open on who our enemies are and comitted to total war and victory over them to the point of restoring what's is referred to in latin as the status quo ante -- the state of affairs that existed previously. That means a return to the days when, to take one obvious example, we did not have to take off our shoes at the airports. But that would require a complete destruction of the enemy to the point that its spirit is broken, its resources exhausted and its ideology utterly discredited. One hopes that one day the US will have the political and military leadership to assert our right to destroy our enemies with the moral certainty that such a battle will require.

Some people think the US will have to be hit again and harder for it to come to its senses. I don't know if that's true. I could site the example of Israel which was certainly faced with an endless series of provocations over the last few years, only to have its current leadership settle for building a wall and withdrawing from part of its land. It is hoped that the American people will ultimately decide better than that.

Monday, October 11, 2004

A book worth waiting for

Ever since I discovered Ayn Rand and Objectivism, I have heard and read about Ayn Rand's alleged hypocricy, her alleged personal flaws, the "cult", the "religion", etc.. Many, if not most, of these personal attacks stem from two biographies written by her former associates, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, associates with whom Ayn Rand broke off all contact while she was still alive. These former associates chose to wait until after Ayn Rand's death to publish their vile attacks.

Fortunately, there will soon be published a well-deserved critique of the Brandens' biographical tracts. This criticism will include never before published excerpts from Ayn Rand's journals about the Brandens. The author, James Valliant had released an earlier version of his analysis (which did not include any of Ayn Rand's journal entries) on the web but in anticipation of the publication pulled it from the public web site. I have read the earlier web based analysis and found it quite convincing. The upcoming book will be called The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics and will be published by Durban House Publishing. I suspect this book will not put to rest the attacks on Ayn Rand but at least it will offer those of us who do admire her an opportunity to read her side of the story and, as a result, to answer some of these unjustified personal attacks with facts and logic.
Happy Columbus Day 2004

I grew up in West Germany in the 1970s before moving to Israel for most of the first half of the 1980s and arriving in Los Angeles in the summer of 1984. In Germany, to the best of my knowledge, I did not notice any controversy about Columbus. He was treated as a hero, a person worthy of admiration. I would say the same was true for Israel. It was only when I arrived in the US that I learned there was some controversy here. I admit to being somewhat ignorant and confused about the controversy at first. I don't consider myself an expert on Columbus yet but the moral arguments now used against him I no longer find convincing.

For some discussion why Columbus day is important see Tom Bowden's essay at ARI, as well as Joe Kane's comments. Tom Bowden, in particular, played an important role in clearing up some of my misconceptions on the topic with his pamphlet that I read about 10 years ago. The pamphlet was a well researched objective set of questions and answers on Columbus and the American Indians. Mr. Bowden has since turned the pamphlet into a short book.

Today I am looking forward to attending Tom Bowden's lecture Columbus Day without Guilt. Anybody interested in Columbus day should try to attend the ARI sponsored talk which will be held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Irvine, California at 7:30 PM. See the flier for details.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Objectivists and the 2004 Presidential Elections

It may come as a surprise to the uninitiated but Objectivists are very much divided in this presidential election. "Supporters" of President Bush include Robert Tracinski, Michael Hurd, and Alexander Marriott. "Supporters" of Kerry include Leonard Peikoff, Craig Biddle, John Lewis and others. I put "supporters" in quotes because neither side is really enamored with "their man" but rather they argue on different levels as to which one is the least worst in both short and long-run terms.

Supporters of Bush admit Bush's inadequate war but believe it is preferable to whatever Kerry will do (or most likely not do). Supporters of Kerry are worried about Bush's injection of religion into government and are not at all sure that what little Bush has done to fight this war will be all that different from what Kerry will be pushed to do to get reelected. There are other arguments as well but the above are some of the most important.

I'm still slightly more supportive of Bush than Kerry, though I have to admit the anti-Bush arguments are giving me great pause. I'm now somewhat afraid no matter who will get elected. I still can't help but think that with the small number of Objectivists around the effect of our votes is more an issue of moral sanction than electoral effectiveness. For example, in California where I reside, it is a more or less foregone conclusion that Kerry will win regardless of what Objectivists will do.

I used to think that Bush's reelection was a given since Kerry's pacifistic arguments would not win over the American public. However, Bush is now apparently doing such a poor job defending what little he's done that Kerry is gaining on him. We will see how tonight's debate goes but it does appear that the momentum is now with Kerry.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Last night's debate did not change the fundamental positions of both candidates but it did clarify them for anybody who hadn't been paying close attention to the issues so far. Whatever problems one may have with Bush's approach to fighting this war, Kerry wants to returns to the days of Clinton. That is, to the days of delusionary diplomacy and wishful thinking. I therefore come to the simple conclusion that a vote for Kerry is a vote for surrender. Thus, I vote for Bush.