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Works and Days

Iraqi thoughts

November 13th, 2007 - 9:33 pm

The New Iraqi Debate

Now that the Democrats suspect that the U.S. is not only not losing Iraq, but may well “win”—victory being defined by stabilizing the country with a radical cessation of violence—expect the critique suddenly to morph as well.

We will soon hear that the war, while granted that it may be winnable, was not worth the commensurate cost, from liberal critics who have embraced much of the realist and neo-isolationist creed of the past (at least apart from Darfur). That is a legitimate debate—as long as opponents accept that it is a fallback position, and Harry Reid was mistaken when he announced the war “lost”.

Also expect Democrats to find ways to exaggerate the aggregate costs (like counting the rise from 20-100 dollars a barrel for oil entirely due to the Iraqi war without notice of the new Chinese/Indian demand, unrest in Africa, and declining production from the UK to the US), while Republicans will claim that Iraq is part of a larger existential war against Islamic extremism. How to resolve the dispute?

It depends on whether Iraq is stable—and the effect it has on Lebanon, Iran, Syria, the Palestinians, etc. I know such thinking is now dubbed “Neocon” warmongering and worse, but should the constitutional government in Iraq encourage reform in the region, then it would be impossible to compute all the multifarious ways in which that would contribute to world stability and US security. We’ll see, and 2008 for a variety of reasons will be interesting to say the least.


Iraqi Turn-about

I posted this thought the other day on NRO about the radical change in Iraq. There are three sub-texts rarely discussed—at least publicly—about the so-called Anbar awakening. First, oil is now $98 a barrel. Even with oil production still not quite at 2003 levels, the Iraqi government is raking in an enormous amount of cash–the equivalent of Iraq pumping about 7-8 million barrels per day at the 2002-3 price. Even if oil production were to stay flat (and some think it may climb to over 3 million b. a day by next year), Iraq might earn per annum well over $70 billion from oil alone at the present price. And for all the inefficiency and corruption, the money is starting to permeate Iraq, as any can attest from the storefronts stuffed with consumer goods and the astronomical climb in Iraqi demand for electricity. And Iraq is not the Saudi desert, but has the richest and best irrigated land in the Middle East, with an ideal commercially-strategic location, all suggesting that without Saddam’s wastrels, the country could very rapidly turn things around.

Second, the US military has eliminated a large number of terrorists, insurgents and general terrorists since 2003. Given the noxious fumes of Vietnam-era “body-counts” we don’t mention this. But many of the sheiks suffered horrendous losses among their tribes to the US in the past four years that led to some demoralization and the simple absence of their more skilled and veteran fighters. So, when they weighed the odds–increasing oil-generated wealth on the one hand versus being mowed down by the US on the other–the choice was to join us.

Third, for all the criticism of the Shiite government, it continued to function despite hourly threats and constant assassinations, both from Iranian-backed extremists and Sunni-backed Al-Qaedists. It has been a congressional pastime to trash the Iraqis, but few people in the world have so braved daily mayhem and still clung to a constitutional government process, however sometimes exasperating.

I’m not suggesting that the repugnance of al Qaeda, concern that the US pressure the Shiite government to help Sunnis, or machinations about the future did not play a role in bringing the Sunni tribes to our sides. But the notion that life could be pretty good with oil wealth and without US bullets—coupled with the acknowledgment that the elected government wasn’t going to quit or flee—played a large role in turning things around.

European Battlefields

Half the available slots for our European battlefield tour next May have already been reserved. Bruce Thornton will give a number of lectures on Nato and the EU, drawing on his just released book on Europe’s decline and fall. Tom Connor, an excellent military historian at Hillsdale College, will also give site lectures. I’ll give formal talks, on both ancient and modern battlefields. All three of us plan to dine separately with each of the participants. The price was fixed months ago, so the slide of the dollar should not factor into the cost.

What Drives Americans Crazy

Travelers seem to become unglued during the boarding—and especially the un-boarding—of airliners. I was watching their reactions during a number of recent trips, especially those who seemed frenzied and swore they were missing planes during the 10-15 minutes it sometimes can take to deplane. I omit airline error, especially the inability to get the ramps to the plane in reasonable time. So what causes the problem?

1. Window/Middle/Aisle. I’m sure sophisticated studies resulted in Zone 1-5 loading patterns, whether getting people to the back first or privileging those with frequent flyer statuses. That being said, what seems to slow everything down is the person searching for his window seat, and stopping in the aisle while two others must get up, get out of their seats, and return to the aisle.

Solution? It would seem wiser to load planes in window/middle/aisle sequence, with perhaps exemption for frequent flyers the airline wishes to reward for patronage.

2. These ensemble-sets of a big wheeled carry-on, with a bag sort of strapped on top. That monstrosity apparently counts as one item, since the owner often has in addition a third brief case or purse. The result? Passengers block the aisles wrestling with their carry-ons, as they try to squeeze them in overhead slots—too few and too small.

Solution? Enforce one carry-only and insist it’s of reasonable size

3. Idiocy and Selfishness. Too many passengers shuffle on the plane, often while talking on their cell phones, or slowly shedding coats as if they are undressing before a mirror while blocking the aisle. They could usually do their business by stepping to the side, but instead simply hold up 60-70 others while they unthinkingly stay fixed. Others can’t find an overhead, so they walk back and forth blocking the aisle as they hunt for space. Then when they leave, instead of staying seated until all have left, they get into the aisle, hold up the line, and try to squeeze four or five rows back to retrieve their luggage.

Solution? Bar cell phones while boarding or deplaning. Have constant announcements NOT to block the aisles. Warn those to remain in their seats until others have deplaned if their luggage is not in the immediate vicinity.

4. Body size versus seat capacity. In a recent flight I deplaned last, and so watched all 140 passengers leave. At least 50 seemed far larger than their seats, and had real trouble squeezing through the aisle even without their bags.

Solution. There is none, barring taking out seats and widening the aisle—or putting us all on a national diet.

5. Rudeness. Or is it the new equality of post-feminism? Often a middle-aged woman will struggle with her oversized carry on—as if she can push or pull out 30 lbs with her arms far above their head. As often as not, bystanders are too busy phoning or black-berrying to assist.

Solution. When passengers pull out the first bag, they might ask if any in the vicinity wish their own luggage in the compartment taken down as well.

Getting in and out a plane has become analogous to finding a rare parking spot, when perfectly normal people resort to their primordial selves and see all others for a few moments not as fellow humans, but rival carnivores that must be gored or run over—or else!

Mail

I received a deluge of private mail concerning the Bateman replies, 99% of it positive, though many thought his savage and incoherent attacks were not worth the time to reply.

I tried to be systematic in the first two replies to illustrate the poverty of his analyses. Last time, and in future replies, I’ll just summarily go through his mistakes, since I know the modus operandi of Media Matters, which is to target a moderate-right TV personality, columnist, or perceived ‘enemy’, then go on the ad hominem attack (I suppose that explains the flavor of slurs like ‘pervert’ and ‘feces’ and ‘devil’), and then either hope the target wastes time replying to the inane slanders, or receives enough mud through the blogosphere that some eventually sticks.

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