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Pentagon on Afghanistan: We Got to Go it Alone, Basically...

Due to a shortfall in contributions from NATO allies, the Pentagon is considering sending as many as 7,000 more US troops to Afghanistan, write Steven Lee Myers and Thom Shanker in the New York Times:

[Senior Bush administration officials] said the step would push the number of American forces there to roughly 40,000, the highest level since the war began more than six years ago, and would require at least a modest reduction in troops from Iraq.

The planning began in recent weeks, reflecting a growing resignation to the fact that NATO is unable or unwilling to contribute more troops despite public pledges of an intensified effort in Afghanistan from the presidents and prime ministers who attended an alliance summit meeting in Bucharest, Romania, last month.

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Zyme on :

There was an article recently about a possible delay for german reinforcements for Afghanistan - because of general elections in one of Germany´s 16 states, namely Bavaria. http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518,551288,00.html Not much background information there. Should it be the case though, I guess that would tell us volumes about how highly our Nato allies are valued in Berlin ;)

Álvaro Degives-Más on :

Actually, it speaks more to your understanding of the importance of "regional politics" in the decentralized republic that is Germany. Even so, the predictable bitterness in the US over NATO's other members' reluctance to pick up the slack it left deliberately to engage the Iraq adventure shouldn't come as a surprise. While the political, economic and social cost of Afghanistan will revolve largely on future administrations, it still is on account of an administration that received a surplus of several million votes for its reelection. If there's something to be bitter about, it's the foolhardy belief that reality won't catch up. It does. Always. Second thought: it might also be worthwhile considering the possible longer term effects (cost) of cramming Turkey into NATO. What good has that brought [i]vis ŕ vis[/i] Iraq and Afghanistan? Moreover: hasn't the underpinning common [i]geostrategic motivation[/i] (read: then, pushing the envelope toward the Soviet Union, and now, keeping a phalanx pointed at the Middle East) proven itself impracticable by now? There's simply no way that the huge investment in the Middle East can pay off. If at all, the "soft power" of the US is better hedged on the diplomatic field, as old-time military threats don't work in today's world. China and India won't play along with that anymore, and they're key to stabilizing Afghanistan. Even Pakistan illustrates that old-fashioned powerplay goes only so far.

Zyme on :

"Actually, it speaks more to your understanding of the importance of "regional politics" in the decentralized republic that is Germany." You can turn it either way - If the US had re-scheduled military decisions on state elections, would that strike you as a normal thing?

Álvaro Degives-Más on :

No, it wouldn't be normal in the context of the US. The difference here is the weight the "regional" legislatives have on the federal executive in Germany. The [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bundesrat_%28Germany%29]Bundesrat[/url] is especially relevant. The US simply doesn't have a parliamentary representative system, where government (and its individual cabinet members) are beholden to legislative sanction; as a result, regional politics exerts a much lesser influence. Where you'd have a somewhat similar situation would be, for example in the hypothetical event of a deadlocked Senate, where two senators have to be replaced and special elections are held for that purpose. In that case, those two states would exert a "disproportional" leverage. But in this case, the decision is not as much inspired by the prospect of an impending shift in regional balance of power (Bavaria is [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Composition_of_the_German_Regional_Parliaments]solid CSU country[/url]); in plain terms, it's justified in "political deference" as espoused by Mrs. Merkel, while she's in fact buying more time to shore up more support in the [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bundestag]Bundestag[/url] for her decision. It's a little bit like President Bush carefully maneuvering his $850Bn+ spending request through: because the power of the purse is held by the legislative, and the many political minefields that lie in the blocking minority (i.e. the Senate) it's not a straightforward "up or down vote" he can pursue, either. But instead of "regional" political roadblocks, he has to jump through the successive hoops set up by the political calendars of both parties in Congress, each with a very different agenda and outlook. Last but not least: the current US administration has pushed the envelope on "executive privilege" to Nixon-era proportions, also and especially on military decisions. That monarchical model of near-exclusive decision making ran out of fashion in Western Europe after 1918 (excluding its resurgence at the hands of fascists in Germany, Italy and Spain, of course).

Pat Patterson on :

In case of an open senatorial or congressional seat the governor of the affected state can simply appoint and then wait for the next scheduled election. Special elections to fill these vacancies are rare to be almost nonexistent and in many states removing a congressman or senator is simply not possible. Plus any vote scheduled without those two hypothetical vacancies would still go forward, obviously a quorum is still necessary, and the vote would still be on the basis of the majority of the votes cast. The states with the vacancies would actually be at a huge disadvantage if they had to wait for a special election thus appointments for the remaining term of office in most cases is the norm. I've always thought that one of the main weaknesses of a parliamentary democracy is the lack of local accountability and the demands placed on the office holder by his party. I wasn't aware that outside of the inner workings of European political parties that there were cases where two candidates for the same office existed in the actual voting. As to a growth in executive privilege I would like at least one citation of a power that the President has used that is not grounded in the Constitution and inherent in the seperation of powers doctrine. It was not the current president that claimed executive privilege as a justification for lying under oath and then being impeached for that lying. And in actuality President Nixon, after the succesive failed administrations of Kennedy and Johnson found the radicalized anti-war Democrats that controlled both Houses of Congress, complained mightily of congressional usurpation of his powers.

Pat Patterson on :

Sorry, in the first sentence "congressional" was a typo!

Álvaro Degives-Más on :

No problem - I understood that you referred to the Senate. Yes, special elections are rare - but that's why I put that (rare) situation in a hypothetical example, to clarify how "regional" elections can have important effects on national government. Perhaps another illustrative example of such an effect, albeit evidently not tied to the legislative side, is (clearly ignoring this year's highly unusual protracted Democratic primaries) the preponderance of Eastern states on the Presidential candidacies of both parties. Either way, it's neither exclusive to (Western) European countries, nor even that unusual to see regional politics getting somehow stubbornly in the way of national politics. However, when you say: "one of the main weaknesses of a parliamentary democracy is the lack of local accountability and the demands placed on the office holder by his party" I'm afraid you've lost me. It seems you've either scrambled the parliamentary system (referring to a national body) with local government; alternatively, you'd imply that there's no "district tie" between an elected official and the pertaining electorate. Neither is true. In the latter case, it's important to note that there is no homogeneous system. Therefore, while there are countries that have a unified (national) ballot, it's certainly not a rule of thumb. Secondly, Senates oftentimes fulfill such a (strengthened) role representative of districts or regions - but again, it's not a uniform system. And not all parliamentary systems have a "direct" suffrage of Senators (via ballots per district) as, for an interesting example, the Netherlands has a system of indirect elections for the Senate, where elected members of each provincial assembly in turn elect "their" senators. But finally, you also overlook the preponderance of [b]coalitions[/b] in Europe, a phenomenon which is a natural albeit not foolproof antidote against party clientelism (a.k.a. a spoiler system in the US), and reduces opportunities for such a government (cabinet) member beholden to "excessive" party influences. Government coalitions imply government pacts among several parties, resulting in a governance plan ("agenda") that is previously negotiated and agreed upon. This is why the process of government formation can be such a complicated and protracted thing in some countries. But it results in a strongly diminished "grip" of a party on "its" government member - posturing and "unforeseen issues" aside. Either way, and without wanting to go deeper into it, there are typically several institutional firewalls in place to avoid on the one hand that a minority party can wield excessive leverage, and on the other foment a more constructive engagement of parties that entered the coalition. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions that go against this general "rule". It's true, overall, that parliamentary accountability of the executive (of the government leader and his/her cabinet members, both "full portfolio" ministers and "junior ministers" or secretaries of state as they're often called; in the US, deputy secretaries) can lead to proverbial banana peel encounters along the road. But the high visibility of such parliamentary "political impeachment" proceedings (i.e., a vote of no confidence) also compensates the representativity toward the electorate; a party that gingerly and merrily sends a cabinet home will inexorably face the electoral consequences. But I don't want to digress too much into detailed comparisons - my point is simply to indicate my impression that your critique responds to a fairly broadly existing lack of understanding in the US of how parliamentary systems work, especially in Europe, with all the ensuing misconceptions (not to mention strange caricatures!), on the other hand notwithstanding the equal and corollary truth of a disconcerting lack of understanding of how the system in the US works, sadly prevailing on the other side of the Atlantic. Again, such different manifestations of different traditions don't warrant an implication of a fundamental difference in essential, underlying common intent: keeping the players of the game honest and accountable to the electorate.

Álvaro Degives-Más on :

Now it's my turn to rectify a typo! By "a party that gingerly and merrily sends a cabinet home" I meant: "a (political) party that sends a cabinet home on a fickle whim"...

Pat Patterson on :

I guess I would agree that on the purely local level the US and Europe share some commonality. but the fact must remain, though I would be perfectly happy to see contradictory information, is that a local politician is essentially a product of his party through the, I'll use English terminology, selection lists. While in the US, though we have an entrenched two party system, the Constitution made sure that party rule by coalition is impossible. The goal was to create a system that the representatives owed their loyalty to their constituents as they were directly elected by them from slates of candidates running as members of the same party. Not as a fait accompli of being the sole and annointed candidate of any particular party. Again I will repeat that the idea of two candidates in the primaries or public caucuses claiming to represent a party is the norm in the US and simply doesn't happen in a parliamentary form. A good example of this would be George Galloway being expelled from the Labour Party and having to run as a candidate from a party of his own creation but still a party. Compared to David Duke who was expelled by the Louisiana Republican Party but simply still ran as a Republican and won. That occurence of a politician running under any banner he chooses and being elected by his local constituency makes his support completely locally based and without any form of party discipline available to limit his introduction of even the most noxious of bills. Our current election proves the point by simply noting that the two most senior Democrats in the government, Sen. Reid and Rep. Pelosi are not the heirs to the throne nor are they even considered the heads of their Democratic Party. Granted they had to round up the necessary votes to attain their positions within the party but neither expected to become leaders of the executive branch simply because the Democrats took control of Congress. While, using Gordon Brown or even Nikolas Sarkozy as examples, they as heads of their repective parties are automatically the new leaders of their countries because their party acheived a majority or plurality in the total of the local elections. But neither could simply chose to run representing their party if not first selected by their party and thus becoming less likely to rely and be sensitive to local concerns.

Joe Noory on :

[i]Last but not least: the current US administration has pushed the envelope on "executive privilege" to Nixon-era proportions, also and especially on military decisions. That monarchical model of near-exclusive decision making ran out of fashion in Western Europe after 1918 (excluding its resurgence at the hands of fascists in Germany, Italy and Spain, of course).[/i] There is no evidence of that being true at all. Clinton didn't take the deployments to the former Yugoslavia to congress, it was simply announced. Moreover, there was no long period of "run-up to war!" that ran 7 months in the case of Iraq. As for the near-monarchical decision making being out of fashion, I find the very opposite to have been true in every war Europe engaged in in the 20th century, and running over the will of the majority "for their own good" has been a central feature of European political life - i.e.: VAT, capital punishment, EU accession, etc. If anything the public is ignored, and various NGOs/lobbies/pressure groups are held up as examples of public engagement when they clearly aren't concidering that they represent politically effective groups, non populous groups. The "public concent" model seems broadly in force to a degree much greater than one finds in the US is SOME parts of Europe, but it's limited to the least populous states such as those in Skandanavia - otherwise it seems that executive privelege is the model in the populous states. Think of all of the Parliamentary governments where party lists are drawn up with little input by the public, and where the PM is not directly elected by the population.

Álvaro Degives-Más on :

(I'm sorry I got carried away... I'm typing between sessions, and it just kept growing and growing - kudos for your patience if you manage to read through it!) Well, first of all: this topic [i]is[/i] about NATO, incidentally grounded in the United Nations, so your comparison with the air campaigns against FYR and its clear UNSC mandate seems to defuse itself. Besides, I think the reams of unilateral declarations of executive privilege (e.g. in denying appearances before Congress hearings, or in cloaking decision making in a thick fog of secrecy) make a comparison with especially the Clinton administrations a doomed endeavor for your argument. To be sure, I'm not arguing the intrinsic aspects of (for example) the Clinton policies, but from a formal / institutional point of view, any reasonable comparison with the Bush (#43) administration would prove you wrong in denying a spike in claims of executive privilege, compared to any administration from Carter (i.e. post-Nixon) through today. But now about your observations on European political / institutional tradition and its democratic credentials... I'm not sure what you're looking at when you refer to "every war Europe engaged in in the 20th century." I deliberately dated the headstone for de facto absolutism in 1918, more precisely: the end of WWI. That is when heads of state in Western Europe abrogated their "executive privilege." And I specifically mentioned the incredibly brutal resurgence at the hand of fascists in Italy, Germany and Spain (in chronological order) as key exceptions, although I'm quite confident that Greek and Portuguese readers of AR would have no problem in reminding us of pertinent other cases. Of course, that's still Western Europe; in Eastern and Central Europe, there's definitely the factor of powers unleashed after the sudden release from Soviet oppression and the subsequent vacuum; most notably, in FYR. But I honestly have no idea what else you're referring to with "every war Europe engaged in" in the context of Western Europe. By the way, I seriously hope I'm not wrong by discounting the last throes of post-colonialism (e.g. Indonesia, Indochina, Algeria, Suez...) from your consideration here, because there's very little there to allow for a connection with "absolutism" in the sense we're discussing here. Interestingly, you say "running over the will of the majority 'for their own good'" and then go on to mention some presumed instances of such. So I'll play along with your order: *) VAT: that is the equivalent of ye olde Sales Tax in the US, and is accorded as a financing tool for what today is the EU. Precisely to avoid opaque situations that would easily arise from funding through income-related taxes, the introduction of sales taxes were a straightforward and practical means, and have been proven quite effective. Of course, in some countries the "newly introduced" VAT has tempted politicians beyond resistance so as to pad the national public coffers some more, but that's a different issue that cannot be attributed to the phenomenon or principle of levying a sales tax by itself. *) Capital punishment: after WWII, and the inevitable wave of "settled scores" in its wake, the recent, burning and intensely shameful realization of the consequences of allowing a state to subsume the fundamental right to take a life rang quite medieval. That is why there was broadly consensus, hardly a political issue, in taking capital punishment out of the criminal system. It's true that phenomena like mass immigration and others, such as on account of "globalization," have led to an impression among many of a "soft" criminal system. But if you look at the underlying fundamentals, the occasional appearance of claims to return to capital punishment is more of a claim for stiffer sentencing (i.e. longer jail terms for certain crimes) rather than reflective of any considerable group of citizens. The death penalty is dead, dead, dead in Europe. *) EU accession: if you truly believe that a majority of any current EU member favors stepping out, I'd appreciate its specific mention. Not even in archetypal Euroskeptic Britain will you find a majority in favor of leaving the EU. Something else is the degree of comfort with the current situation, but that's why there's a lengthy, arduous and highly complex debate going on, precisely to remedy that. It's preposterous to either claim that there's been a "majority" in a country that opposed accession and yet acceded, or that such a majority arose after accession and the country remained an EU member; I challenge you to provide such a case. Now, onto a deeper aspect of your claims: you appear to deny the socio political representativity of parties and social pressure groups (lobbies, NGOs, etc.). I suppose it's fair to state that each party / pressure group doesn't encapsulate a social majority - the only significant example that comes to mind is Solidarnos (Solidarity) in Poland, during its years as a Soviet proxy. So yeah, in Western Europe parties and social pressure groups [i]do[/i] represent "special interests." Guess what: that's true democracy at work, right there. Unlike other systems that have but two flavors to choose from, which presume with a straight face to represent the whole spectrum of opinions, such a "fractured" representation much more [i]accurately[/i] represents such shades of socio political orientation. And wherever a government is deemed as yielding "too much" to a given group, elections set them straight very quickly. For some reason you appear to believe that governmental policy models that are consensus-seeking are (practically / typically) limited to Scandinavian countries. That's yet another interesting yet very typical preconceived notion. You're probably not so much familiar with recent Spanish political history, but I submit that that's just as much a phenomenal example of consensus seeking to build up (reinvent) a parliamentary representative democracy. I'm not denying that there are many excellent things to be found in Northern European countries; I'm simply denying that there's nothing exclusive going on there toward either "governability" (i.e., the degree to which efforts are successful to implementing effective government policies) or "representativity". Again, that's but a tired, old caricature living beyond reality. Finally, about parliamentary elections and resulting governments. True: in many countries you see "closed" lists. However, you see [b]many more[/b] "feasible" lists on the ballot than you see in the US and its (again) all but two options. More importantly, parties in Europe have a much stronger [i]ideological foundation[/i] than a stifling two-party system could afford. So, in Europe there's usually a [i]choice among policies[/i] instead of (rather artificial) choices of puppets / people. Besides, the party leader of the most voted list (where applicable, of the government coalition) is almost naturally the next Prime Minister; most decidedly that's democratic, most naturally, that's decided by the voters. [i]Precisely[/i] because politics in Europe is much more about the ideological approach of politics (the "res publica") than the rather superficial affability (or beer-drinking buddy potential) of specifically Presidential candidates in the US. Given the hardly fleshed-out political programs ("planks") in the US, and by comparison, the choice among the most fetching / charming candidate doesn't exactly place the specific purpose of the candidates (namely: qualifications and sound feasibility of plans proposed) any service. Again: it's an interesting but fantastic caricature that which you portray. Having said all that: I'm not trying to hold up the goodness of the proverbial "Western European political / institutional system" (which doesn't exist as such, beyond the common EU) as something to copy, let along as something that's to be implemented in the US. In Europe, the European traditions make eminent sense, and they work. Not too coincidentally, I believe that electoral participation (as the percentage of [b]eligible[/b] voters) bears that points out; compare that with the appalling low figures in the US. However, just as well does the system in use (for centuries now!) in the US make eminent sense, here too (because I live in the US now). In its own context, each system makes sense. It's not only absurd and patently disprovable to seek "superiority" in each of the two traditions; it's all the more reason to redouble efforts to break down such pathetic misconceptions and work toward mutual understanding. From there onward, reasonable, durable and truly profitable consensus will ensue, e.g. on the issue at hand - Afghanistan.

Álvaro Degives-Más on :

(Forgot to add: by "clear UNSC mandate" in the case of the FYR campaign I don't mean a mandate by resolution - that was obviously impossible with Russia's evident veto - but the overwhelming majority for intervention there [i]except[/i] for Russia's loud 'nyet')

Joe Noory on :

The death penalty was eliminated against the will of the majority, and happened in the 80's in most european countries. It had nothing to do with post-war reprisals. As for the American public and NATO, they simply don't care about it. They don't see how it does nothing for them. In service and ex-military people themselves see it as meaningless and profuntory, and fit for little else than the doomsday scenario or as a visible deterrent. The standard European retort would be to wonder if an American could find NATO on a map. (snark)

Álvaro Degives-Más on :

[quote]The death penalty was eliminated against the will of the majority, and happened in the 80's in most european countries. It had nothing to do with post-war reprisals.[/quote]That's three intriguing statements in a row. Both the EU and the Council of Europe have abolition as a [i]conditio sine qua non[/i] for accession, with a moratorium only being accepted as a [i]temporary[/i] (i.e. transitional) situation. So, that's probably how you computed your 1980 date as the one on which "most" countries abolished, given that the accession dates of member states lie after that. However, the [i]acquis communautaire[/i] (which among many, many things enshrines abolition) is the whole core of accession; it's terribly disingenuous to argue that it goes against a majority, as accession can't take place against a majority. Furthermore, I didn't claim it had anything to do with post-WWII reprisals: I stated that, in the aftermath of WWII, reprisal executions (i.e., of Nazis and their collaborateurs) showed a brief spike, and that shortly afterwards the move toward abolition strode forward to today's EU-wide situation. Here's a [url=http://book.coe.int/EN/ficheouvrage.php?PAGEID=36&lang=EN&produit_aliasid=668]link to a pertinent book[/url] for more information, in case you'd like to bring up the issue again. As to NATO being perfunctory and/or tough to find on a map: that goes for an awful lot of places outside the US, also including Iraq and Afghanistan. Thought I'd mention those two, also (snark with a wink)

Joe Noory on :

I'm impressed by just how very much you know, but you're being evasive. I'm talking about the pre-real-start-of-the-EU, post-WW2 ACTUAL banishment of the death penalty in the 80s and 90s that the majority of populations opposed - not all of these random citations to Council of Europe declarations and postwar reprisals. [i]As to NATO being perfunctory and/or tough to find on a map: that goes for an awful lot of places outside the US, also including Iraq and Afghanistan.[/i] So glad to see you upholding the tradition of disparaging 304 million people based on an impression and watching a few too many sit-coms. It comes from a pedantic continental tradition I've had the joy of seeing over the past three decades of both a statistically high probability of being humorless, and taking a sickly repetative joy in comparing other sociteies' low culture with European high culture.

Álvaro Degives-Más on :

I suppose you saw the infamous YouTube of those cheeky Australians looking for help to find Iraq on a world map, so I won't show you that again - but [url=http://youtube.com/watch?v=sDTpxvV8nHg&feature=related]it's still a fertile theme[/url]. More seriously: of course it's a clip spliced together with cherry picked answers. Cheap humor, no doubt. I mean, speaking of knowing your world geography, how many passers by in Europe know the capital of Montana, or tell you the name of the second most populated city in Missouri, or name the highest mountain in Nevada, for example? By the way, I'm sure you already knew that Belgium formally abolished capital punishment as late as 1996. You did know that little tidbit, right? Ah, those pesky, stubbornly evasive little details... What was your point there again?

Joe Noory on :

They abolished it as late as 96, but, like France, had done that as a formality since it was rendered unusable a decade earlier. Lat's not my point - my point is that European governments shove things down the public's throat, tells them it's good for them, and then the public, in the main, believes that they're living in a kind of pluralistic utopia - one, I might add, Americans, Canadians, and Australians would find so imposing as to be revolted. Look at the determinism that Zyme has talking about religion - it's down to two things: the governments, by virtue of having a relationship with religious institutions over the centuries, are the cause of the irrational fetish people have against them. 2) like everything else, you just have to look at the tone of the way people talk about matters of how to handle what -other people- find important to see that intellectually, they're only two steps away from packing people into boxcars. And yet so many of them get fixated with political causes whose allegations of western inhumanity can't be corroberated.

Álvaro Degives-Más on :

Governments "shove things down people's throats"? I'm sorry John, but that's a line that sounds like it's taken straight from Populism for Dummies. If you review that statement more carefully, you'll realize it's a negation of the fundamental principle of democracy. Take for instance taxes, broadly defined as taxes, contributions and social premiums. Do people [i]like[/i] to pay them? Few do; in fact, my Dad is one of them, who appreciates paying taxes because he considers it the price of civilization, and moreover, he feels it signifies he earned money and made a profit the preceding fiscal year. Different angle. People in Europe look at the dozens of millions who can't afford health care in the US, and the dozens of millions more who can't afford getting a serious condition (as their insufficient health care insurance would force them into bankruptcy). That "liberation from health care" is the resulting victory of people who, clearly successfully, argued that a universal health care system shouldn't be "crammed down people's throats". Some things that evoke almost natural resistance (e.g. taxes, abolishing capital punishment for heinous crimes) but are rationally placed in larger perspective. It's when things systematically don't add up in that larger perspective (e.g. large-scale waste of taxpayer money, weak sentences for terrible crimes) that that collective contract is considered imbalanced. But your caricaturization of governments "cramming down people's throats" resonates only with a tiny minority of malcontents who typically are xenophobes thinking in terms of "fortress Europe", and their equally ignorant peers abroad who can't resist parading their ignorance of historic development of democratic institutions. Frankly, I think you're far too intelligent to align yourself with either group by adopting their tantrum mantras.

Joe Noory on :

I'm not talking about taxes and everything else. Did your father vote on matters that involve taxation? Probably not. It's not the tax, it's the society buying into it by affirmation that I'm talking about. I'm talking about wether or not the public is consulted about things like the (former) European constitution, etc. As for Americans without health insurance, the state we're in now is by acclimation of the public. Every state that has experimented with a form of socializiation of medicine or made insurance maditory has eliminated these programs at the request of the majority - even Hawaii has curbes it's universalization of healthcare. Plus, when you control for people who don't have insurance because they don't want it, you're left with less than 2% of the population that wants more than they can afford, and they are by law entitled to treatment by hospitals and avail themselves of free clinics. This myth about America is tiring, even if healthcare in america WAS any of your concern. The only feature of it that is, benefits you, becuase the market system encourages inovation and drug research worldwide because it IS a market for new therapes that nationalized systems would be loathe to pay for. The only "concern" I ever seem to detect from European critics of American society are a sort of self-affirming schadenfreude meant to act as a pallaitive over their disaffection with life in general. I spend about 2 months a year in western Europe, and about every 3-4 hours in public, I have to answer one stupid question after another. "American? Oh! You don't get enough holiday!" to which I have to explain that I get all the vacation I want, I only get paid for 3 weeks of it, and then we get to do the math about how dividing 49 weeks of income over a year of pay periods is better than 46 weeks weeks of pay over a year... etc., etc., etc. year after year, after year. It's usually the same 7 or 8 feeble questions, but might include things like "do you all carry assault rifles around all the time?" Ridiculous.

Álvaro Degives-Más on :

First of all, apologies for mistyping your name, Joe. I should've hit the "Preview" button first. Tangentially: asking a rhetoric question and then proceeding to run away with your injected opinion, happily but unfortunately incorrectly assuming you're correct, doesn't necessarily mean you're doing your argument any favors: "Did your father vote on matters that involve taxation? Probably not." He did. As do I, every time I cast my vote, not for a candidate, but for a program, laid out with great detail in plain sight and within reach of anyone interested in its content. As you point out in your comment concerning my example (i.e. the health care crisis in the US), things of such a magnitude and social scope happen as a result of collective voting behavior. Therefore, the result -- certainly when confirmed over successive terms, as in that case happened over [b]decades[/b] -- is profoundly mandated in ballots cast. Sticking to that other example, of taxation, as I think it's an interesting case of an "unpleasant" collective necessity, there are tons of examples of contentious revenue increasing initiatives that have been shot down by voters; either preemptively by not supporting the party (or coalition) proposing it, or after the fact, i.e. in the subsequent next elections. And that's aside from many instances of major political upheaval caused by a controversial announcement of such a plan, in the middle of a government's term. Again, that's democracy. It's truly [i]beyond ridiculous[/i] to argue some generic democratic deficit based on an executive's adoption of specific policies when and where they do not have equally specific and pertaining democratic consultation. Especially with larger projects (e.g. in a plan for a major shift in obtaining / distributing revenues), as such plans [i]are[/i] placed before the electorate. Failure to do so, when facing existing strong objections, is typically punished with banishment from government in subsequent elections. And that's a fairly universal, common trait in democracies; no matter on which side of the Atlantic you look, you'll see the electoral checks and balances working in practice. For the last time here, I don't think it's either helpful or realistic to make overall qualifying statements based on straight comparisons among two radically different democratic traditions and their institutional and procedural differences; suffice it to say that each one makes sense in its own setting, with all pros and cons that each one has. What surprises me most from your reply is that you apparently come away from your run-ins with Europeans, who are any combination of dumb, ignorant or malicious (at least in their chosen approach to "debate"), with an impression that because their preconceived notions are wrong, that somehow serves as a testament to their environment. However, I do note with some degree of concern that your contact with Europeans seemingly is limited to those dumb/ignorant/malicious ones: "The only 'concern' I ever seem to detect from European critics of American society are a sort of self-affirming schadenfreude meant to act as a pallaitive over their disaffection with life in general." What can I say, other than: congratulations, you've discovered that "ugly Europeans" also exist. Welcome to human nature! Wouldn't you agree that it makes more sense to [i]engage[/i] such stupidity, rather than remaining stuck in bitter resignation? That's my approach here: instead of accepting it as a given, as a 'truth', I consider it a challenge - one that [i]must[/i] be engaged, lest one yields to defeat and its intolerable consequences. It's not 'stupid Europeans' or 'stupid Americans' that are the problem, it's [i]stupidity,[/i] which knows no national borders.

Joe Noory on :

If you'll recall, you raised the matter of taxation, US healthcare, etc., operating on assumptions as if to force someone to address them or allow the usual bien pensent stuff about the USA stand. It reminds me of a friend in Paris who made the mistake of having an employee and going bankrupt. Because he was personally liable for the taxes owed with nothing to pay them with, unless he was bleeding to death, he was denied entry into hospital because his taxes weren't paid up in full. Thankfully there have been some insurance oriented privatization measures that leave something to the discretion of the practitioner, but how would you feel if a culture fetishized examples of failure like that as is commonly held in the media in western Europe about America over the course of 2 or 3 decades? As for the content of a vote by a matter of course discussing taxation, you're correct. But when the cost appears to be several steps removed from the promise, it's hard to say that people are aware of this. Mostly, they want their candy. It's truly beyond ridiculous to argue some generic democratic deficit based on an executive's adoption of specific policies when and where they do not have equally specific and pertaining democratic consultation. Especially with larger projects (e.g. in a plan for a major shift in obtaining / distributing revenues), as such plans are placed before the electorate. Failure to do so, when facing existing strong objections, is typically punished with banishment from government in subsequent elections. So we can count NOT RIOTING as a yes vote? You realize what implication that has: it depends rather heavily on public passivity. Applied to accession, I wonder why it is that there were not more referenda. I suspect it's becuase they wouldn't have passed, and the population was bypassed, accepting as acclimation, that they didn't riot, and that if they did they would eventually stop. As for the sort of questions I get being a rarity or seem limited, they aren't. We're also not talking about the kids on the short bus - these are 'normal' people asking me these questions, and they truly sound as if the issues were trained into them. To call these people Stepford children would be rude, but correct. In fact many of them are the engineers I work with, and there are a lot of people like them. My motives for bringing this up are simple: the comparatively monolithic nature of the pop culture that takes as a given what Americans are like, and has repeated it often enough to demonize us. Certainly not done with any intent, it's repellant, and can't be corrected with patient explanation, nor are people who persist in believing that sort of thing worth being patient with. As people, they aren't worth my time.

Álvaro Degives-Más on :

[quote]If you'll recall, you raised the matter of taxation, US healthcare, etc., operating on assumptions as if to force someone to address them or allow the usual bien pensent stuff about the USA stand.[/quote]I don't lightly arrive at this conclusion, but either your own memory is failing you (as you were [url=http://atlanticreview.org/archives/1070-Pentagon-on-Afghanistan-We-Got-to-Go-it-Alone,-Basically....html#c13857]the first one[/url] to raise taxesVAT), or you totally misread what I posted (baffling, given the length to which I've gone, precisely to avoid misunderstandings) or you're misrepresenting it, for whichever reason (on which I won't speculate any further). [b]You[/b] brought up VAT to "exemplify" how, in your opinion, things in Europe are "imposed" by government on people, Joe; I merely commented on that. However, beyond what probably is an honest failure of memory, to inject intent by suggesting I brought it up, as you just did, so as [i]to force someone to address them or allow the usual bien pensent stuff about the USA stand[/i] is anywhere less than honest. Quickly, therefore, three final comments: 1) if your friend "made the mistake" of hiring an employee [i]and[/i] managed to go bankrupt, the more fundamental mistake your friend made was to run a business while being patently unprepared for business life. Apparently, consequences ensued; I believe a more appropriate response here would be [i]tant pis.[/i] Such is life. 2) As to your awkward limitation of available options to "So we can count NOT RIOTING as a yes vote?" I'd say that at best the exactly opposite might, perhaps, hold: rioting counts as a "no vote" of sorts. Even so, rioting isn't deemed either acceptable or less so a substitute for voting - not in the US, and not anywhere I know in Europe. 3) Lastly: you indicate that in your opinion misconceptions "can't be corrected with patient explanation". I do, however, note a mild irony in your [i]plaintive note[/i] regarding stubborn ignorance and/or stupidity and/or malevolence (not exactly synonymous with "Stepford children" but [i]soit[/i]...) coexisting with your denial of the fertility of exchanges, of the use for education. Not only do I on principle reject such a notion of unmovable ignorance; I deem it amusingly contradictory with your own engagement here, precisely on a forum created to further such border crossing education.

Joe Noory on :

1) No, he made the mistake of hiring someone. With that hire, a rude young person who offended his client, he made the mistake of hiring someone in an environment where employer mandates are punitive and arbitrary. He's moving to New York. 2) If a lack of resitance is interpreted as affirmation, I think things are in a sad state. Not rioting = yes, you say that rioting = no. I just don't know what to say to that. 3) Trust me, it can't be corrected with patient explanation. It isn't always irony: it's frequently it's anger. Sometimes it's hatred. The fact that I've heard the same stale, unthought, quasi-retort-like phrases since, say, 1987 impirically proves more than any kind of concurrent smart sounding circumloquation about treaty titles and history. Back then it was that American culture was about nothing other than safety and comfort. It was a laughable thing about proving machismo to the polite whoever standing in their midst and taking them at their word. I didn't buy it then because it was a generalizaion, much like those of the present age about the society I live in, and ones that I don't live in.

Andrew Z on :

Sending an additional 7,000 troops would be great...if we had them. Fred Kaplan notes that we just don't have these troops right now: The numbers are perhaps debatable but nonetheless reflect a very serious problem. NATO's reticence may actually force the US to confront the issue of overdeployment earlier than might otherwise happen. It is a smart move by NATO allies opposed to continued occupation of Iraq because it highlights the challenges of continued US deployment in Iraq without being too pushy. Something has to give, and I think NATO allies in Europe are in a stronger position right now.

Andrew Z on :

Kaplan's Article: http://www.slate.com/id/2190661/

Don S on :

"Something has to give, and I think NATO allies in Europe are in a stronger position right now." Stronger in the short term, but much weaker over the long-term I think. Once we are past our present troubles (no doubt into future troubles) a rethink is going to come, and we will realise that many of our present allies hold a view of the NATO alliance which are fundementally incompatible with the US understanding (or indeed the US national interest). What comes out of that won't look so good - but so be it.

Álvaro Degives-Más on :

While that's an understandable analysis, it does align with those who are wary of a NATO serving the US' national interests. The key here is to move past narrow interpretations, and find common ground. If that common ground - which exists, no doubt - and shared interests are aligned more intelligently, and mechanisms are devised to avoid that NATO is (mis)treated like a "foreign extension" of national policy, there's more than enough reason for optimism. If not, I'm sure NATO will be ditched in favor of continental alternative really quickly. And frankly, I'm not too sure that that prospect would be met with enthusiasm by the strategists, neither on Capitol Hill or the Pentagon - and most certainly not the White House. I think that the Chinese interpretation of "crisis" is more healthy here; NATO simply can't survive on its old, Cold War foundations. We live in a new, multi-polar world where diplomacy, commerce and consensus-seeking compromise efforts carry the day. The role of NATO can't be more than a supporting one; not a forward-based instrument as the traditional "pointed end" of foreign policy by other means. Looking at the current tragedy in Myanmar, for example, I think an intelligent manager of the enormous asset that is NATO would use its "humanitarian logistics" potential to its fullest use. No doubt, the strategic effect and projection of such a new primary but equally forward-based role will have a tremendous positive impact. And it needn't be incompatible with the quintessential function of a communal defense force, either; it's just a matter of re-shifting accents - and that takes political will and intelligence. In any case, not a brash and blunt submission of NATO as the contemporary equivalent of the Roman foreign legions. Those days are really, really over now.

Joe Noory on :

When a European continental military entity emerges, not only will there be no need for NATO, but it will likely disintegrate to a titular status at best. The single entity with the mojority population (the EU) will not represent the bulk of the effective force (the US). It will leave Turkey and Canada dangling, and along with the US, will defer to independant, multilateral excercises, because under EU leadership no action could be taking while the political miasma hems and haws over whatever political, military, or humanitarian disaster is at hand. Moreover, I don't detect any sign that the EU would take into interest the defense and interest of anyone else in NATO. Four campaigns in the Balkans are proof of that, and in Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast, for example, the UK and France bypassed NATO and the UN altogether. Look at Afghanistan and how much arm-twisting it took to get France and Germany to concider any sort of committment. The dope was almost exclusively going to Europe, as were the most politically risky refugees, dissidents, and the like, and they couldn't see why they needed to act. There rally isn't anything wrong with NATO expressing the reality of the relationships of the member states, the problem for Europe is that once a EU defense structure is constructed in earnest, there will be a sort of competative downsizing which will throw back into the lap of the non-EU member states Europe's deterrent non-nuclear defense. They might be able to do expeditions to a limited area at risk of impacting the fortress, but a serious reconstruction activity in a populous African state? Doubtful - and the EU won't have a robust international policy until it can, becuase while the U.S. can have a position because it can always "go it alone" if it had to, an EU "BRACed" any further wouldn't, and would have to moderate any response to a risk with the needs of coalition partners. On the other hand, the US has a force that permits it to use those partnerships positively, such as with Canada threatening to leave Afghanistan. The U.S. can say: [i]"we understand. Do what you have to to protect your force. We'll be here when you need us."[/i] And in a way, that's the EU's problem. They can postpone losing their virginity forever because the U.S. won't stop saying [i]"We'll be here when you need us"[/i]. It's because the EU can maintan the threat of opening up the "safety valve" of risks to the US by players in the near east as leverage, but the US knows that the world can't afford the risk of Europe descending into disorganization or even hostility. So really... who's the crazy girlfriend threatening suicide in this sick love triangle between the US, the EU, and their risks?

Don S on :

"And in a way, that's the EU's problem. They can postpone losing their virginity forever because the U.S. won't stop saying "We'll be here when you need us"." It's a problem for both sides. I make a distinction between Canada because Canada was there for the US so it's 'we understand' is merely the Canadians due as a valued ally. Similar comments could be made about the Brits and the Aussies. But Europe (with some honorable exceptions)? Demented girlfriend. Particularly the bigger states, with France (I think) somewhat closer to sanity than the other three, and Germany on the other side of dementia, Spain and Italy poised between those two extremes. "It's because the EU can maintan the threat of opening up the "safety valve" of risks to the US by players in the near east as leverage, but the US knows that the world can't afford the risk of Europe descending into disorganization or even hostility." If push came to shove the US' really fundamental interests are no other major power allied with Canada or Mexico and clear naval superiority in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Everything else is a luxury, including all of Europe if need be. So crazy girlfriend or no, the US can cut bait with continental Europe if it comes to that. Perhaps 'the world' can't afford it, but don't forget the great advantage of the US' geographical position - no land borders with any significant threat, even a potential threat. Brazil is the closest thing to a major power in the western hemisphere, absent someone like Hugo Chavez gaining power there I think we can do business with the Brazilians because of the distance between us. Lula is a perfect example. Strong trade unionist, serious lefty, and in the past Washington would not have much liked his ascent. But now? He's arguably the strongest partner the US has in the the hemisphere except for Canada. If Russia goes nuts - not our problem (if we're out of continental europe). China goes ape? Japan, India, Korea, and Taiwan are in the way. India becomes a rogue elephant? Pakistan, Iran, Sri Lanka, maybe the east coast of Africa? That's my point - an alliance with the US is an optional thing for the US. Which means that any alliance has to serve national interests of the US because geography makes it optional. Not ONLY the national interests of the US. But as you point out: "The single entity with the mojority population (the EU) will not represent the bulk of the effective force (the US). " What I see is that continental Europe wishes to have an equal say (collectively the decisive say) over how the 'effective force' is deployed and used. They wish to decide but not contribute anything like a proportional share, so the net effect of the policy of the continental NATO members will be to convert the armed forces of the US, UK, and Canada into unpaid mercenaries at the beck and call (and veto) of the EU. And that ain't gonna fly.....

Joe Noory on :

In a world with global trade, distributed communications, economic dependency, the worry is not Brazil, it's the general stability of key crossroads on the world. On top of that, everyone has something to lose.

Don S on :

"it's the general stability of key crossroads on the world. On top of that, everyone has something to lose." In that case everyone should contribute something like a proportional share to the solution of the problem. What I see instead is that a large part of NATO is not only failing to contribute but in many cases are actively working to make the job harder or (perhaps) impossible for those who ARE trying to maintain the stabilty of key crossroads! I'm not advocating general isolationism, but rather a recast of one treaty, one organisation which is currently seriously disfunctional. I pointed out what the US' fundamental irreducable strategic interests is; that doesn't mean we should withdraw to 'Fortess America' any time soone. My point is that we could - and would probably lose less nby so doing than the continetal European nations who are so vociferously wanking out.

Álvaro Degives-Más on :

Eh... If on the one hand you engage the hypothesis of a [i]continental alternative[/i] to NATO, what's Turkey got to do there? They're not even getting into the EU, certainly not during the next generation. They're more relevant in their own region, where they probably ought to set up their own comfort zone. And what about Canada? It's not exactly on the same continent. I presuppose it's straightforward to assume that such a hypothetical demise of NATO, the US and Canada likely will do something. But the irrevocable cost of a breakup of NATO will be that whatever substitutes it, won't [i]take over NATO's role[/i] but instead serve the "national interest" of the respective constituent blocks. The "average European" isn't as preoccupied as the "average American" is with the firepower aspect of NATO; instead, the notion is more economy of scale. And there's a strong propensity to leaving well enough also; good is good enough - which is why there isn't remotely as much interest in developing "big equipment" that especially the US has. A continental defense block that has sufficient cover of its own continent is good enough. The prevailing notion in the back of the head of many in the US of "projection" simply doesn't exist as such in the EU - aside from humanitarian / logistical assistance capability. This difference of approach of the role of NATO is, in my view, the underpinning force that drives it out of existence. And the only remedy there is to refocus; there's no practicality in harboring any illusion whatsoever of "convincing" either shore of the Atlantic. Unless compromise is found, NATO will be dead - other than as a paper pact to streamline circumstantial cooperation, of which the current disconnect in policies concerning Afghanistan is a tragic illustration. Unlike the international Boy Scouts, there's no ideological / political common foundation; precisely that "different interpretation" to which I alluded. Lastly, again on Afghanistan but more specifically: in my estimation, there are two elements that play strongly throughout Europe. One, resentment over the absurd diversion into Iraq, which directly impacted Afghanistan and for which they're not happy to pick up the slack, and two, a hesitation about the pertaining policies of the next administration. To commit relative major forces at this juncture to a scenario that bears a big question mark over its mid-term future feels like a political mortgage that has no practical offset. That's another costly legacy of the adventure in Iraq. Perhaps a change of occupant of the White House feels like a total make-over within the US, but from the outside it's still expected to face that legacy. Which also goes to that which you call "virginity:" you seem to ignore the burden of (for example) the Dutch troops in Afghanistan, which illustrates that it's not about "willingness", but a lack of certainty (as in: a clearly perceived commitment) to count on a nearby feasible, realistic and commonly agreed to policy that is really stuck to, instead of hung out to the whims of what blows out of the White House. Whether that's another instance of a caricature / misconception isn't that important - the point is that there's a fundamental lack of solid [i]trust[/i] which is the bigger priority here, and not the salvation of NATO. It'll survive with revived trust; it'll perish in its continued absence. No otherwise interesting and perhaps entertaining analogy with some "crazy girlfriend" will alter that, let alone will such language prove helpful in the process.

franchie on :

I can't but agree with your reflexion

Don S on :

"The "average European" isn't as preoccupied as the "average American" is with the firepower aspect of NATO; instead, the notion is more economy of scale" Hmmm, this statement kind of begs the question of where 'economy of scale' leaves off and 'let the Yanks do it - they are already and we can get it when we need it' begins. "A continental defense block that has sufficient cover of its own continent is good enough." That points up a crucial difference between how the US role in NATO developed contrasted to the way the German role developed. The Bundeswehr could sit down at home (all they could do , and good ebnough till the end of the Cold War), while the US had to develop a huge capability to 'project force' to even begin to meet it's NATO obligations much less obligations to Japan, South Korea, Australia, etc. Tell me what 'Reforger' was other than a plan to effectively project force in time to protect Europe from a Red Army invasion? "And the only remedy there is to refocus; there's no practicality in harboring any illusion whatsoever of "convincing" either shore of the Atlantic. Unless compromise is found, NATO will be dead" Precisely correct - this is the same point I've been amking, differently worded. "One, resentment over the absurd diversion into Iraq, which directly impacted Afghanistan and for which they're not happy to pick up the slack" Look at the context and you may see why this plays extremely poorly in the US. Iraq may be a 'diversion' in European eyes, but I see the very phrasing of this as an indication that many europeans cannot be bothered to bear any burden on the behalf of their US ally whatever! How so? Because look at it this way. Total US committment to the area is about 200,000 troops between the Iraq and Afghanistan. The US committment in Afghanistan is at least half of the total NATO forces in that country - already disproportionately large compared with any measure you care to use, whether GDP or population. Actually more if you count fighting as a greater burden than whatever the Germans are doing in Kabul. So by counting Iraq as a 'diversion' you are effectively stating that the US ought to be bearing a much higher proportion of the burden in Afghanistan. So what prioportion is this? 75|%? 85%? 98%? At what point does NATO become a 'UK/US/Canada' do it 'alliance? And what kind of alliance is that, tell me? "you seem to ignore the burden of (for example) the Dutch troops in Afghanistan" Yes, we often hear this argument at this point. The French/Italians/Spanish/Germans are nowhere to be seen in the fighting latitudes, but by god those doughty Dutch and Norwegians are pulling their weight, so Europeans clearly have the honors. No. The Dutch, Norwegians, Poles, are supporting the alliance well, but that doesn't excuse the big powers apart from the UK not bearing a fair share. It's GERMANS who ought to look at what the Dutch are doing - and feel shame.

Álvaro Degives-Más on :

That "question of where 'economy of scale' leaves off and 'let the Yanks do it - they are already and we can get it when we need it'" almost answers itself in analogy to the fundamental cause for the rift: "national interest". NATO is losing its appeal to a growing number of people in the US (no matter whether there's intrinsic reason to reevaluate) because they look at the bottom line. Unsurprisingly, the perspective from the other side of the Atlantic yields the same conclusion to such a myopic approach. Again, I'm not advocating for doing away with NATO (in fact, quite the contrary) but I do believe that unless the optic under which the Alliance is valued / assessed changes, and with it the key criteria that run the organization itself, it's running on a highway to extinction. As to "rephrasing" the analysis of the whole Iraq adventure (especially its management, or lack thereof), I can afford the luxury to not be diplomatic as I'm merely attempting to convey a viewpoint. Again, the bottom line remains the same - it is quite obvious that it doesn't "play well" in the US, if only measured alongside the rather opposite electoral assessments in, say, 2004. I can go along quite a while in accepting what I basically consider misplaced pride as a factor, but that doesn't necessarily [i]justify[/i] a fundamental, collective concession (i.e., by "Europe") to that circumstance. Finally, I merely mentioned the Dutch specifically, as their commitment rated to population [i]is[/i] by all means considerable. I don't think one can read anything in that mention whatsoever toward "therefore exempting" the rest of NATO. On the other hand, if one discounts the Germans' overarching reservations toward the US' handling (focus, orchestration - the works) of the so-called GWOT (which I think is pretty much a sham!) as prone to deserving a sense of "shame", it denies existing similar profound reservations in other larger European countries. Perhaps it's useful to evoke that shameful image of a (misguided) [url=http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/02/20030205-1.html]Colin Powell's show[/url] which, strangely, seemed to have been recognized at the time anywhere in the world but in the US itself. General Clark's [url=http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/JE07Ak01.html]list of seven countries[/url] is another reminder that there's ample reason to suspect that there's more to European reservation about this so-called war on terror, than facile self-exculpatory affixing of labels such as "laziness" or a masochistic tendency toward attracting shaming scorn might mask. If support within the US for a more serious engagement of the dire (and yet deteriorating) situation in the country that was the virtual birthplace of the horrendous atrocities of 9/11 can't seem to garner much strength, why expect so much more effort from Europeans who have their own peculiar concerns over imported hyperterrorism inside their own territory? Perhaps it's more suitable in that context to revisit the definition of "realism", before resorting to disqualification from a safe distance.

Joe Noory on :

It looks like the "Party of God" is [url=http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,354579,00.html]Clinging to God and Guns[/url] again. Is [url=http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&categ_id=2&article_id=91752]UNIFIL 2[/url] going to step in?

franchie on :

Joe Unifil under chapter 6 can't, but Lebanese army yes, and I hope it 'll manage hehe, toujours ŕ l'affut pour taper sur la France, eh, aren't you a half Lebanese, I advise you to make donation for your poor government there so that they get proper arms

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