Professor Bruce Ackerman and Congressman David Wu: Simpletons Weigh in on Iraq
In recent weeks, I've been lamenting the decline of the "Forum" section in the Sunday editions of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The new editor of the "Forum,"Greg Victor, publishes one superficial, carelessly reasoned article after another. One of the worst recent articles is "The Half-Trillion Dollar Solution," co-authored by Yale political scientist and law professor Bruce Ackerman and Oregon Congressman David Wu. They might as well have called it "An Iraq Analysis For (and By) Dummies." I'm sure the piece will be popular with Ackerman's and Wu's colleagues, most of whom spend their time bending over backwards to impress one another.
Here's the boldfaced quote that sums up the article's message:
"But now, the U. S. government should end this war with a minimum of domestic name-calling, a maximum of motive and opportunity for the many peoples of Iraq to solve their own problems without killing each other and a focus on finishing the job in Afghanistan (the last known mailing address of Osama bin Laden)."
For many academics -- I was one for a decade-plus -- discussions of the Iraq unpleasantries rapidly descend into a game of "let's pretend." For example, let's imagine that the solution to the Iraq problem is to assume that it really doesn't exist. Or, let's imagine that the best way to deal with the global presence of fanatics and mass murderers is "to bring our boys and girls" home. Or, let's imagine that if we could just capture bin Laden and/or Zawahiri and/or Mullah Omar, the whole nasty, agonizing business would just go away.
Also, let's not call John Murtha's "redeployment' by its proper names of retreat and defeat. By all means let's not identify the real causes of the emerging debacle, a bunch of poll-reading leftists led by people like John Murtha, Nancy Pelosi, and David Wu.
In addition, let's give violent sectarians in the Sunni Triangle some undefined "motives and opportunities" to stop killing one another. Perhaps we could do so by serenading Muktada al-Sadr with regular renditions of "Give Peace a Chance" or even inviting him to visit the Yale Faculty Club.
Above all, let's pretend Al Qaida isn't a major orchestrator (bombing mosques, blowing up marketplaces, beheading infidels) of the carnage in Iraq. The Ackerman/Wu visualization is as follows: We leave, and people who've been slaughtering each other will sit down and sing the Arabic version of "Kumbaya." These are the academic solutions to the eternal problems of war and peace.
At the same time, let's get about "finishing the job in Afghanistan," where bin Laden used to get mail -- before he moved to Waziristan in Pakistan. How exactly should we finish said job? Perhaps by having the French and Germans send more troops who actually fire a shot or two in anger. Presumably, we shouldn't finish the job by having Afghanistan look like a smaller version of Iraq, which unfortunately it is, complete with a horde of IEDs and suicide bombers.
Sooner than we wish, Professor Ackerman and Congressman Wu will be urging us to "give peace a chance in Afghanistan." They will suggest -- trust me -- that the time has come to "bring our boys and girls home from Afghanistan," where the Taliban and its supporters apparently don't like us.
Why would the Post-Gazette publish such a threadbare, manipulative essay? I think it does so because Greg Victor, along with his editorial minder Tom Wasaleski, agree with Ackerman and Wu. Like their academic and political counterparts, such editors don't have a clue about how to conduct the War on Terror.
I'm not condemning them because their political beliefs differ from mine. Instead, I'm doing so because they have no beliefs that are worthy of any sacrifice on their part. If they do, which I seriously doubt, I'd love to hear what they are.
The following (in red) is the original letter I sent to Ackerman, Wu, and Victor. I don't expect it to have any effect on them, because their main purpose in life seems to be gaining the approval of their peers. To all of them I'd repeat the old statement that "a mind is a terrible thing to waste."
Dear Professor Ackerman and Congressman Wu (sent in separate mail): Referring to your "Half-Trillion Dollar Solution" column that appeared in the March 4, 2007 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Your concept of setting a cap on expenditures in Iraq sets a bad precedent. Which wars should we fully fund? And which should we shortchange? Should we make such determinations by conducting polls, perhaps focusing on the prevailing attitudes at Yale and in Congressman Wu's district?
In terms of health funding, you might reflect on the fact that the U.S. already is spending at least 50% more per capita on health care than other developed countries. Perhaps Congressman Wu has some ideas on how we might bring our spending more in line with those countries? I've always believed that wealthy communities, such as those in Southern Connecticut and the district represented by Wu, should pay for their own health care, but maybe that's just me.
As for the "$200 billion annual [Bush] tax cut, channeled mostly to millionaires," I wish you had said the "$200 billion annual tax cut, channeled mostly to people who pay the vast majority of the taxes." Most economists -- and perhaps even one or two at Yale -- believe the tax cuts have been responsible for the dramatic growth in the U.S. economy that's occurred during the Bush presidency, even in the face of the sharp economic downturn resulting from 9/11.
Frankly, the 80/20 Principle holds with income taxes, with a relatively small percentage of the population paying most of them. That's a point I wish congressman Wu would reveal to the Democratic Caucus at an appropriate time. For him to do otherwise would be to engage in misrepresentation.
Having been engaged in the recent campaign to unseat John Murtha, I was intrigued by your remarks that U.S. troops in Iraq (but not in Afghanistan?) should be part of "planning for a prudent departure for friendlier nearby countries or home."
You don't mention the problem with this approach. If we retreat -- hastily or prudently -- none of the nearby countries will want us. Perhaps recognizing that probability, Cong. Murtha, Mr. Wu's distinguished colleague, suggested we redeploy to Okinawa, which is approximately 5,000 miles from Baghdad.
General Abizaid indicated that if the American troops left in a hurry, "the enemy would follow us." I fear he meant places like New Haven, the 1st District of Oregon, and my tiny hometown of Ambridge, PA. Your essay neglects this probability.
As far as "rebuilding America's foreign policy on its traditional bipartisan basis," that horse left the barn in the Viet Nam War, particularly in the Ford years, when the Democratic Congress cut off funding to South Viet Nam. That resulted in military chaos and basically the enslavement of many people who depended on the U.S. to help them gain a better fate.
The problem with bipartisanship now is that most Democrats in Congress don't see it as being in their political interest. Being the "Party of Peace," even when that encourages the Saddams and bin Ladens of the world to wage war, has electoral "legs" in today's America.
I agree with the analysts who say that the most honest approach for the Democrats would be to de-fund the war. That would eliminate the temptation to prolong the war in such a way that it would help in the elections of 2008.
One problem I see with articles like yours is that something like the Iraq War becomes a purely theoretical issue. Some quick statistical work suggests that there have been more graduates of high schools in Beaver County (where I live) killed in Iraq and Afghanistan than graduates of all the Ivy League schools, plus the major universities of Oregon.
Thus, I can assure you that those killed and wounded in war zones are not mere abstractions. I fear that many academics at schools like Yale look at American soldiers and see people who are nothing like them or their colleagues. I fear many Democrats at Congress look at those same soldiers (and their families) and see people who are: (1) unlike members of Congress and their own children; (2) likely to vote Republican.
Sometime ago, the (Democratic) governor of Wyoming said that supporting the troops but not supporting their mission was to make a distinction without a difference. A smart governor he is.
Stephen R. Maloney, Ph.D.