Obama and national security: Pragmatism, continuity


Sorry I haven’t posted today — actually, I DID post something, but it blew up when I hit SAVE, and I’m not about to type it again, so there.

Anyway, I thought I’d put up something that would provide a chance for y’all to discuss Obama’s National Security team. I’ve already expressed my concern about Hillary Clinton, and I don’t have a lot to say about the rest. I like that Robert Gates is staying. I’ve always liked Gates. (See my Nov. 10, 2006, column, "The return of the professional")I thought he was a great pick to rescue our military from the screw-ups of Rumsfeld, and he’s generally lived up to that.

But the Gates choice speaks to a larger issue, which is continuity of policy. Obama spoke of his "pragmatism about the use of power and my sense of purpose about America’s role as a leader in the world." Which speaks to something I like about him, and appreciate. I hoped it would have been like this, and he’s not disappointing me.

Some of y’all who know about my support for our national endeavor in Iraq may have wondered how I could have been so wholehearted about endorsing Obama in the primary last year, given that he stressed so much how he was the one guy who would NOT have gone in there. Well, there’s the issue of whether we should have gone in, and the issue of what to do next. And the next president is about what to do next. And I believe Obama will be sensible and pragmatic about what to do next.

Some of his most ardent supporters are likely to be disappointed by the very things that reassure me about Obama and foreign policy. But personally, I don’t think Obama’s going to blow Iraq just to please them. He’s fortunate that the Surge (which he was wrong to oppose) has produced a situation in which an ordered withdrawal of American troops is actually advisable, and no longer reckless. I think he’ll be careful to do it in a rational manner, according to conditions on the ground. I think he’ll see the things that Tom Friedman sees, and wrote about in his Sunday column:

In the last year, though, the U.S. troop surge and the backlash from
moderate Iraqi Sunnis against al-Qaida and Iraqi Shiites against
pro-Iranian extremists have brought a new measure of stability to Iraq.
There is now, for the first time, a chance — still only a chance — that
a reasonably stable democratizing government, though no doubt corrupt
in places, can take root in the Iraqi political space.

That is
the Iraq that Obama is inheriting. It is an Iraq where we have to begin
drawing down our troops — because the occupation has gone on too long
and because we have now committed to do so by treaty — but it is also
an Iraq that has the potential to eventually tilt the Arab-Muslim world
in a different direction.

I’m sure that Obama, whatever he said
during the campaign, will play this smart. He has to avoid giving Iraqi
leaders the feeling that Bush did — that he’ll wait forever for them to
sort out their politics — while also not suggesting that he is leaving
tomorrow, so they all start stockpiling weapons.

If he can pull
this off, and help that decent Iraq take root, Obama and the Democrats
could not only end the Iraq war but salvage something positive from it.
Nothing would do more to enhance the Democratic Party’s national
security credentials than that.

The really miraculous thing that Friedman notes is a sign that an independent judiciary is emerging in Iraq: The high court came down on a member of parliament for trying to persecute a government official for visiting Israel. This is a startling development, almost miraculous, really. I remember several years back listening to Lindsey Graham talk about how very far Iraq was from developing the institutions that support the rule of law. Graham believed we needed to stay there; I believed we needed to stay there, but contemplating how long it would take for such institutional changes to take hold was extremely discouraging.

Now we’re seeing such encouraging signs as this, which is actually as important as the reduction of violence. As Friedman says, "It’s a reminder of the most important reason for the Iraq war: to try
to collaborate with Iraqis to build progressive politics and rule of
law in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world, a region that stands out for
its lack of consensual politics and independent judiciaries." That’s why Friedman was for the Iraq War, and it’s why I was, too. But I didn’t think something like this would happen so fast. As you’ll recall from what I wrote the week we invaded, I really didn’t expect us to be talking realistically about withdrawal this early in the process. But now we can — as long as we don’t screw it up. And keeping Gates at Defense is an important way of maintaining the continuity needed to avoid screwing it up.

I realize that doesn’t fit the hopes of those who thought an Obama administration’s policies would be as different from the Bush administration’s as night and day, and Obama’s going to have to do and say some things to keep those people happy, but I suspect he can do that and still chart a wise course. To them, "continuity" is probably a cuss word. But it’s the wise course, and it will be respected abroad. More than that, it’s what will work.

As David Brooks wrote today, in a column headlined "Continuity We Can Believe In:"

Over the past year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has delivered a
series of remarkable speeches echoing and advancing Rice’s themes. “In
recent years, the lines separating war, peace, diplomacy and
development have become more blurred and no longer fit the neat
organizational charts of the 20th century,” he said in Washington in July.

Gates does not talk about spreading democracy, at least in the short
run. He talks about using integrated federal agencies to help locals
improve the quality and responsiveness of governments in trouble spots
around the world.

He has developed a way of talking about
security and foreign policy that is now the lingua franca in government
and think-tank circles. It owes a lot to the lessons of
counterinsurgency and uses phrases like “full spectrum operations” to
describe multidisciplinary security and development campaigns….

During the campaign, Barack Obama embraced Gates’s language. During his press conference on Monday, he used all the right code words, speaking of integrating and rebalancing the nation’s foreign policy capacities. He nominated Hillary Clinton and James Jones, who have been champions of this approach, and retained Gates. Their cooperation on an integrated strategy might prevent some of the perennial feuding between the Pentagon, Foggy Bottom and the National Security Council.

Some of you might not be seeing the change you believe in. But I’m already seeing continuity I can believe in.

And here’s the change that we WILL see, and that will matter: I think Obama can sell this policies, and make them work, better than Bush did. He was a lousy salesman. As I wrote about the Surge when I first heard about it, it was the right strategy, but Bush was the wrong guy to have selling it.

Obama’s the right guy. This is going to be interesting, and I hope gratifying, to watch.

36 thoughts on “Obama and national security: Pragmatism, continuity

  1. bud

    Another day, another mass bombing in Iraq. Millions are still refugees. Yet all the war mongers can discuss is how successful our occupation of Iraq has been. Shameful. Just shameful. At least 66 more Iraqi civilians have died in December alone. I suspect now that we’ve declared victory and we leave in about a year there will be a civil war to resolve the situation. Right now there is no real equilibrium situation as Sunnis and Shiites hunker down for a future showdown. Even so there are hundreds killed each month even with a large U.S. presence. And all the war-mongers can do is gloat about the Pyric victory that we’ve supposedly won.
    Incident Civilian ISF Total
    12/03/08 Mosul – Pupils were leaving the school after finishing their classes when the bomb placed in a cart in the northern city of Mosul was detonated, killing four people and wounding 12.
    4 0 4
    12/02/08 Hilla – In a second attack, a roadside bomb targeting an army patrol killed five soldiers in Hilla, south of Baghdad, police and an eyewitness said.
    0 5 5
    12/02/08 Tal Afar – In the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar, a car bomb killed five men and wounded 30, including five children, Sabih Hussein, a senior medic in the city’s main hospital, told Reuters.
    5 0 5
    12/01/08 BAGHDAD – A roadside bomb killed three people and wounded 13 when it exploded next to the patrol of Iraqi Major-General Mudhar al-Mawla in the Sulaikh district of northern Baghdad.
    3 0 3
    12/01/08 BAGHDAD — Iraqi police said the blasts killed 15 people and the suicide bomber. Iraqi officials said the victims were young recruits. Some hospital officials put the death toll at 20..
    0 15 15
    12/01/08 Kirkuk – Police found 12 unidentified bodies in south Kirkuk.
    12 0 12
    12/01/08 Mosul – 16 Iraqis were killed, most of them policemen, and 37 others were injured when a suicide car bomber attacked a joint convoy of Iraqi police and US military in New Mosul area in west Mosul city around 1 p.m.
    6 10 16
    12/01/08 MOSUL – Gunmen killed the principal of an Islamic studies high school in a drive-by shooting in Mosul, police said.
    1 0 1
    12/01/08 Mosul – Gunmen killed two women in al Yarmouk neighborhood in west Mosul city on Monday morning.
    2 0 2
    Total 33 30 63

  2. marconi

    And BW did go forth and understand that Obama would chart the middle way.
    Truly he has seen the light.
    Actually, wanted to say that was one hell of editorial yesterday on smoking.
    I could smell the sulfur from those righteous fulminations six counties away.

  3. Brad Warthen

    bud, with whom are you arguing? With me, or with Obama’s team — Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden, who both voted to go into Iraq? Robert Gates, who presided over the Surge?

    One of the great things about Gates is the way he’s mainstreaming the DIME concept — that the proper way for the U.S. to project power constructively is through Diplomatic, Information, Military and Economic means. Note above that Brooks quotes him as putting it this way:

    recent years, the lines separating war, peace, diplomacy and
    development have become more blurred and no longer fit the neat
    organizational charts of the 20th century.”

    I might quibble with that wording. The fact is, when we were successful in the 20th century, we employed the broader concept. We stuck to the military approach with WWI (plus the failed diplomacy of the League of Nations), and that led unavoidably to WWII. We took the DIME approach to the latter conflict, thereby leading to an unprecedented global era of peace and security. I’m not just talking about the Marshall Plan and the UN. Civil affairs units followed the combat troops in every theater of war, nation-building as hard as they could.

    Gates understands the way the U.S. needs to engage the world. Personally, I only heard of the DIME concept this past year, when some Air Force public affairs guys from the Pentagon dropped by here for a visit. But it’s just a neat way of saying what I had been saying for years. For instance, I refer you to the editorial I wrote for the Sunday after 9/11 — Sept. 16, 2001:

       IF YOU HAD MENTIONED the words "missile defense shield" to the terrorists
    who took over those planes last Tuesday, they would have laughed so hard they
    might have missed their targets.

       That’s about the only way it might have helped.

       Obviously, America is going to have to rethink the way it relates to the
    rest of the world in the 21st century. Pulling a high-tech defensive blanket
    over our heads while wishing the rest of the world would go away and leave us
    alone simply isn’t going to work.

       We are going to have to drop our recent tendencies toward isolationism and
    fully engage the rest of the world on every possible term – military,
    diplomatic, economic and humanitarian.

       Essentially, we have wasted a decade.

       After the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union crumbled, there was a
    vacuum in our increasingly interconnected world, a vacuum only the United
    States could fill. But we weren’t interested. After half a century of intense
    engagement in world affairs, we turned inward. Oh, we assembled and led an
    extraordinary coalition in the Gulf War – then let it fall apart. We tried to
    help in Somalia, but backed out when we saw the cost. After much shameful
    procrastination, we did what we should have done in the Balkans, and continue
    to do so. We tried to promote peace in the Mideast, then sort of gave up. But
    by and large, we tended our own little garden, and let the rest of the world

       We twice elected a man whose reading of the national mood was "It’s the
    economy, stupid." Republicans took over Congress and started insisting that
    America would not be the world’s "policeman."

       Beyond overtures to Mexico and establishing a close, personal relationship
    with Vladimir Putin, President Bush initially showed little interest in
    foreign affairs.

       Meanwhile, Russia and China worked to expand their own spheres of
    influence, Europe started looking to its own defenses, and much of the rest of
    the world seethed over our wealth, power and complacency.

       Well, the rest of the world isn’t going to simply leave us alone. We know
    that now. On Tuesday, we woke up.

       In the short term, our new engagement will be dominated by military action,
    and diplomacy that is closely related to military aims. It won’t just end with
    the death or apprehension of Osama bin Laden. Secretary of State Colin Powell
    served notice of what will be required when he said, "When we’re through with
    that network, we will continue with a global assault against terrorism in
    general." That will likely mean a sustained, broad- front military effort
    unlike anything this nation has seen since 1945. Congress should get behind

       At the moment, much of the world is with us in this effort. Our diplomacy
    must be aimed at maintaining that support, which will not be easy in many

       Beyond this war, we must continue to maintain the world’s most powerful
    military, and keep it deployed in forward areas. Our borders will be secure
    only to the extent that the world is secure. We must engage the help of other
    advanced nations in this effort. We must invest our defense dollars first and
    foremost in the basics – in keeping our planes in the air, our ships at sea
    and our soldiers deployed and well supported.

       We must always be prepared to face an advanced foe. Satellite intelligence
    and, yes, theater missile defenses will play roles. But the greatest threat we
    currently face is not from advanced nations, but from the kinds of enemies who
    are so primitive that they don’t even have airplanes; they have to steal ours
    in order to attack us. For that reason, we must beef up our intelligence
    capabilities. We need spies in every corner of the world, collecting the kind
    of low-tech information that espiocrats call "humint" – human intelligence.
    More of that might have prevented what happened last week, in ways that a
    missile shield never could.

       But we are going to have to do far more than simply project military power.
    We must help the rest of the world be more free, more affluent and more
    democratic. Advancing global trade is only the start.

       We must cease to regard "nation-building" as a dirty word. If the people of
    the Mideast didn’t live under oligarchs and brutal tyrants, if they enjoyed
    the same freedoms and rights and broad prosperity that we do – if, in other
    words, they had all of those things the sponsors of terror hate and fear most
    about us – they would understand us more and resent us less. And they would,
    by and large, cease to be such a threat to us, to Israel and to themselves.

       This may sound like an awful lot to contemplate for a nation digging its
    dead out of the rubble. But it’s the kind of challenge that this nation took
    on once before, after we had defeated other enemies that had struck us without
    warning or mercy. Look at Germany and Japan today, and you will see what
    America can do.

       We must have a vision beyond vengeance, beyond the immediate guilty
    parties. And we must embrace and fulfill that vision, if we are ever again to
    enjoy the collective peace of mind that was so completely shattered on Sept.
    11, 2001.

  4. Lee Muller

    1. Terrorists already see Obama as a weakling and are ramping up attacks.
    2. There were more people gunned down on the streets of Chicago last year than in all of Iraq.
    3. What makes anyone consider Tom Friedman’s opinion to have any value on this or any other subject? He is just a wordsmith without much knowledge.
    4. Gates staying speaks volumes about Obama and the Democrats having no one to replace him, and to how hollow their anti-war rhetoric was during the last 4 years.
    5. What makes anyone think Obama, who has described himself as an international socialist, has the security of the USA as his priority, beyond doing just the minimum to stay in office and get the rest of his socialist agenda passed.
    6. Obama and the Democrats have already committed to $8.5 TRILLION in new deficit spending just for “bailouts” and “stimulus”. (Source: Bloomberg Financial). That is enough to pay for 9.5 of all the military operations of the last 8 years.

  5. Doug Ross

    As usual, Andrew Sullivan has a more realistic assessment of the current state of affairs in Iraq. Read this to provide some balance to Brad’s rendition performance of Queen’s “We Are The Champions! [of the world!]
    Andrew Sullivan
    Here’s the opener:
    “Of all the idiotic things that Bill Kristol has said, this has to be one of the dumbest. We currently have around 150,000 troops occupying Iraq. By coopting the Sunni tribes, engaging in serious counter-insurgency, dividing Baghdad into walled sectarian enclaves, and exploiting exhaustion, we are no longer hosting a murderous civil war. But we have not left; there is no stable state to fill the security vacuum that will be created by our departure, and violence remains a daily occurrence.
    There is no stable national political settlement, no real integration of the Sunni forces into the Shiite national government, and a great deal of unease and fear. 21 people were killed by bombs yesterday, including children, and Mosul and Kirkuk remain explosive. And that’s while the occupation is in force. To argue that this has been “won” is therefore absurd. ”

  6. Doug Ross

    And as for Lee’s claim that there were more people gunned down on the streets of Chicago last year than in all of Iraq, here are the official homicide numbers for Chicago for the past twenty years:
    Homicides 1990-2007
    1990: 851
    1991: 927
    1992: 943
    1993: 931
    1994: 929
    1995: 827
    1996: 789
    1997: 759
    1998: 704
    1999: 641
    2000: 628
    2001: 666
    2002: 647
    2003: 598
    2004: 448
    2005: 449
    2006: 467
    2007: 442
    There are no official counts for the number of deaths in Iraq last year but I’d bet a fair amount of money it’s significantly more than 442.

  7. Brad Warthen

    I, too, enjoy Andrew Sullivan — which is why I link to him from my blog at left.
    But who on Earth wrote anything like “We Are The Champions (of the world)?”
    Certainly not I.
    Global nihilists and others who wish the United States to ignore the world think that when we mention this nation’s military and economic power — and the responsibilities that come with such power — we are somehow arguing something that OUGHT to be, when we are merely acknowledging what is.
    If the U.S. does something, it has an effect, for good or ill. If it does nothing, it likewise has an effect. We are just that interconnected with the rest of the world.
    I realize that Ron Paul supporters like to pretend we can return to some Jeffersonian fantasy world (a worldview that Jefferson himself abandoned once becoming president, recognizing the need to purchase the Louisiana territory and to use the U.S. Navy — the creation of which he and his party had opposed — to put down the Barbary Pirates) in which we are all self-sufficient yeomen farmers, and all we need an Army for is to keep penniless campesinos from crossing our southern border.
    As I noted parenthetically above, Jefferson himself realized that didn’t describe the real world 200 years ago, when this nation was far, far less of a global actor. It’s just bizarre to me that people in 2008 can cling to that fantasy, and dismiss those of us who believe in engaging reality as well as we can as some sort of militaristic triumphalists.
    Thank goodness the new president is a pragmatist.

  8. bud

    Not counting Iraqi military there have been AT LEAST 4,646 Iraqis killed as a result of violence since January 1, 2008. This is from the web site icasualties.org. According to thier disclaimer these numbers are probably understated.

  9. bud

    Brad, there’s a big difference between acknowledging our significant power to shape world affairs because of our military and economic strength and addressing a very real failure on our part to responsibly use that power. We went into Afghanistan with a great deal of international support and quickly achieved a military victory. But we squandered that goodwill immediately with a misguided invasion of a harmless country.
    On the one hand we used our strength for the good of the world. On the other we embarked on a mission of insanity that has cost us dearly in blood and treasure. To suggest that the surge has succeeded rubs me very much the wrong way. The surge was nothing more than putting lipstick on a pig. It may or may not have been a minor factor in some short-term abatement of violence but the main reason the violence is down is because the dynamics of the situation in Iraq largely played out. None of the major players wished to continue the bloodshed any longer. In addition, much of the civilian population abandoned the nation. All the surge did was stir up the dust a bit and cost us hundreds of billions of dollars more. The surge was the wrong policy just as any significant U.S. military presence in Iraq will also be a mistake.
    What we need in Iraq is a complete, quick and orderly withdrawal from the place. That is what is pragmatic. Anything less is the wrong policy. Sadly, Obama has succumbed to political pressure and it appears we’ll be there a while longer. The good news is we’ll probably be out in less than 2 years.

  10. Doug Ross

    What is bizarre is that you try to disparage Libertarian policies THAT HAVE NEVER BEEN IMPLEMENTED and use a two hundred year old reference as proof!
    It’s the same game you play with Sanford — blaming him for all the things he wants to do but hasn’t.
    It’s the same game you play with the school voucher efforts… you won’t even give them a chance because they might work yet you are 100% sure our current system is the best one — despite the results.
    When we truly have a chance to see Libertarian policies in effect, then you can comment on whether they will work or not.
    Hey, you think spending billions of dollars in Iraq to suppress a civil war over there is more important than defending our borders. I (along with the majority of Americans) disagree.

  11. Lee Muller

    Most of the 4,600 “Iraqis” you list as killed in 2008 were enemy combatants killed by The Surge. Good riddance.
    It’s a big improvement from the 100,000 per year killed by Saddam Hussein.
    The number of US coalition troops killed in Iraq is less than the 900 civilians murdered in Barack’s Chicago each year.
    But let’s focus on the big fact that Obama is a Marxist who does not have America’s security as his top priority.

  12. Lee Muller

    Realize that Brad Warthen hasn’t a clue what libertarianism is, much less what Libertarians are. He thinks the Marxist Obama is a “pragmatist”, and he fancies himself as a pragmatist. FDR and Hitler thought they were being pragmatic in the application of their dogma.
    Pragmatism is not a comprehensive philosophy, just a democracy is not a form of governing. Both are just methods of accomplishing parts of real philosophies. When people try to use them as comprehensive systems, they always fail.

  13. bud

    The whole Iraq debate have been incorrectly framed for years now. Unfortunately Obama seems to have accepted the flawed framework and now he’s running with it. Instead of focusing on what works and what doesn’t work, we should be focusing instead on cost vs benefits. The cost of remaining are clear. We’ll continue to suffer military casualties. Families will be separated and time will be sqaundered. That’s the human side of it. The financial costs will continue to mount and we lose the resources needed to fulfil our domestic obligations. The various baleouts are not free. The Iraq money would make a nice down payment on some sort of meaningful stimulus package. Instead it goes on the national debt.
    The other side of the debate is benefits. Aside from the vague notions that we will “drain the swamp” or “create an island of democracy” in the middle east we really are not given much in the way of benefits to consider. Whether Iraq is run by a military strongman or a democratic parliament it makes little difference to the welfare of the world. Whoever is in charge will be willing to sell us oil. And how can anyone even begin to suggest the Iraqi people are better off by our continued occupation. Pleeeez. We’re kind of like an unwelcome inlaw who has long ago worn out their welcome. Only then can the Iraqi people begin to re-build their country.

  14. Lee Muller

    The cost of Clinton’s letting Iraq remain a training base for terrorists was 3,000 American killed on September 11, 2001, and $500 BILLION in direct losses, and prolonging the 2000 Clinton Recession.

  15. jfx

    “We took the DIME approach to the latter conflict, thereby leading to an unprecedented global era of peace and security.”
    This is, unfortunately, a revisionist mythology, as anyone who lived in a large Southern metropolis during the Cuban Missile Crisis could tell you. While it is true to say, bluntly, that our triumph in WWII saved the planet from an abominable evil, it is also true that various of our recent and historical ills were conceived and vigorously fertilized in the shadow of that triumph, particularly as regards Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
    For instance, our perpetually untenable relationship with a handful of authoritarian “allies” in the Middle East, most notably the royal house of Saud, mostly for the sake of feeding our ever-expanding military-industrial complex with the fuel it demands, is just one obvious example of a pantheon of strategic miscues that have undermined our credibility in parts of the world where we would very much like to think that we can sell the natives on the kind of freedom that we enjoy.
    This large, ominous psychological footprint in such a region, combined with an increasingly robust physical footprint most notable now in our large military apparatus spread across what the natives consider to be sacred land, does not bode well for our ability to win hearts and minds.
    This is the conundrum that breeds an endless cycle of terror and wars on terror. We seem to want to have it both ways. We want peace and freedom and prosperity for the world, but we also want access to the resources for our great societal machinery, AND we always want to be able to see and hear everything, everywhere….for our own protection. In the interest of security at home, we bring interventionism to the world, and claim to be making the world better off for it.
    Context is so important. I suspect that this is partly why the majority of Americans think that, post 9/11, our original action in Afghanistan was proper, but our action in Iraq was improper, regardless of the success of the Surge. There has always been, and will always be, terror and atrocity in the world. We have to be as sure as we can that when we wield our awesome American power, we are not creating the kind of generational societal unrest in a region that will result in a violent slapback over time. Our post-WWII support of French re-colonization in Vietnam, and the rabbit hole of “saving” that country we subsequently fell into, is another fine example of the fine mess our best intentions can bring to the world. Has anyone here done any reading on what the water table in Vietnam is like these days? Birth defects?
    Let’s step back for a minute and make sure that our grand actions really will make life better for the citizens of the world who will have to live in the aftermath of our interventions. And, if we want to think that something like Iraq is ultimately “right”, let’s damn well be consistent, and get on with the well-intentioned forced liberations of Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Zimbabwe, etc., ad infinitum.
    Personally, I don’t think we have properly reckoned the true long term scope, cost, or efficacy of such a persuasion.

  16. jfx

    But….Lee….the 9/11 terrorists were Saudis…..and none of them trained in Iraq.
    Facts are so inconvenient.

  17. T

    I don’t think I can take anything Brad says about the war in Iraq seriously now that he has referred to it as an “endeavor.”

  18. Brad Warthen

    Thanks for noticing. I like that word, "endeavor." It sounds like what JFK or some other masterful political wordsmith might have called it (or am I thinking of Ted Sorensen?). A national endeavuh, to be undertaken with great vi-guh

    Doug, or somebody — it was a ways up there — mentioned Iraq and education in SC in roughly the same breath, and it reminded me of the column I wrote about how those two (excuse me) endeavors have a lot in common, to my way of thinking. I ran across it earlier this week, and I invite you to revisit it. On the blog, I called it my "Never give up column," and the headline in the paper was "We can’t cut and run from
    our public schools (or Iraq, either)."

  19. Brad Warthen

    Wow. You know, I just went back and read some of that column, and I really liked it. It reads better than anything I’ve written lately:

    By Brad Warthen
    Editorial Page Editor
    THE CRITICS SEE themselves as realists, and can’t imagine why those of us who believe we must continue to slog on refuse to see things as they are.
        The whole thing is futile, they say, and it would be madness to keep sacrificing billions of dollars, much less all those fine young people, on our stubborn hubris.
        Don’t we know that “those people” will never embrace the opportunity we’ve sacrificed so much in order to give them? Chalk it up to DNA, or simply growing up in horrific poverty and having never known any other way. Either way, we’re wasting our time.
         Look at the generations — the centuries — of culture and tragic history that we’re presuming to overturn.
        It would be better, they say, to begin a phased withdrawal.
        The more sensible among us over in the “never say die” camp — those of us who believe we would be sacrificing our society’s future to cut and run — agree that mistakes were made. But rather than put it in such passive, Reaganesque terms, we know whom to blame. We are appalled at the “stay the course” fanatics who dig in their heels against new tactics.
        We want new approaches — but in the pursuit of success, not surrender. The odds are long, we know. Progress is slow, and sometimes — such as in recent weeks — it doesn’t look like progress at all. We see how it could look to some as though our best efforts have led to nothing but ruined lives and wasted money.
        To keep going takes determination, resolve, and a practically Churchillian refusal to give up.
        Of course, we’re talking about public education in South Carolina. Oh, you thought this was about the war in Iraq? Fine, because it is. I see both struggles in the same terms:…

    And so on. I like that. How come I don’t write like that any more? Y’all must be wearing me out; I’m losing my touch…

  20. Doug Ross

    There are similarities between the “war” in Iraq and public education in South Carolina:
    1) Some believe that a surge in spending will fix broken schools like the surge in killing Iraqis has put their civil war on hold
    2) Some don’t care about civilian casualties or dropouts
    3) The defense contractors and educrats both have a vested interest in “more of the same” and protecting their profits
    4) Many of the biggest cheerleaders for the war and for public education don’t put their own children in harms way of either one.
    5) The most important role in both endeavors is making sure no bad news ever gets out. Deny, deny, deny.
    6) If someone has the nerve to question the results of either endeavor, the best response is to question his patriotism or his commitment to the precious children.
    Yeah, you nailed it Brad. There’s plenty of victims of both failed endeavors.

  21. RL

    There are no similarities between the war in Iraq and public education in this state! As someone who teaches one 45-min. period a day and spends the rest of the day dealing with student behavior, I see even in award-winning Richland Two schools a need not only to stay the course and build the facilities we need, but also to make certain every year that every classroom has a caring, hard-working staff member who is devoted to children, listens to them, and just likes being around them. I constantly marvel in my school at the dedication of our staff as I walk around the building. I see creativity at all levels of instruction, real engagement, and real academic achievement.
    You have but to look at our state report cards and, for the high-school level, you will see that Richland Two consistently outperforms other schools at our socio-economic level in such measures as the End-of-Course tests as well as other standardized measures. Many students are taking challenging Advanced-Placement tests and excelling in a variety of ways. Our fine arts program including dance, orchestra, band, theatre, as well as our magnet programs, JROTC, and extensive athletic programs allow students to be engaged and successful in a variety of ways.
    Having also worked in Beaufort, Saluda, and Newberry, I can honestly say that taxpayers here get their bang for the buck. The buildings are safe and clean and our disciplinary environment is firm, fair, and appropriate. We are quite willing to deal with student misbehavior, but we do so in a manner that is both ethical and legal. Everyone has rights and, as I tell my one social studies class, they are constitutionally entitled to the equal protection of the laws.
    Even though the teachers in my building make an average of $48K a year, that’s nothing compared to the time they put in. Since I do mostly administrative work, my day doesn’t end until the last bus leaves, and I am usually working in my office for an hour after that. I see teachers who stay late to tutor kids or sponsor activities every day. And let’s not forget the tireless efforts of our coaches to field winning teams about which we can all brag!
    How would you like to march through a day that begins before 8:00 a.m. in which you teach six 45-minute periods a day, have lunch duty (you get to eat your lunch standing up in the hall while talking to kids and dealing with their myriad issues) and then work in your classroom or at home far into the night grading papers, writing lesson plans, calling parents, posting grades, writing letters of recommendation, doing paperwork, answering e-mail, etc.
    You’ve got to love the kids to do this kind of work. It’s that love that greases the wheel. When I enter my school in the morning, the kids are already there, walking jauntily and smiling with that endless adolescent optimism that sees the world as their oyster. The future’s going to be just great, it seems to say. And I, in my 50s, catch the feeling and plunge into another day with a walkie-talkie in my belt and hundreds of students and teachers to deal with every day, not to mention my one class–which I work on at home, by the way. Who has time at school?
    What I have just sketched for you is the reality of most of public education in this state. It’s not perfect, but just try living without it. Pare it down to the bones and empty the schools onto the streets and then you’ll be crying for public education again.
    We are the schoolhouse of democracy and social acceptance. Our kids learn to live with all kinds of people. They learn the ropes of adult life in a diverse and challenging world.
    So don’t go making idiotic statements comparing Iraq to public education. That just shows how little you know and how empty your rhetoric truly is!!

  22. Lee Muller

    If public schools were doing a proper job of civics education, no one would have voted for Obama the Marxist with no work experience.
    If public schools were doing a proper job of civics education, no one would ask for illegal programs like Social Security, Medicare and nationalization of medicine, and no politician would vote for it.

  23. Lee Muller

    Not all the 9/11 hijackers were killed, nor captured, and they were not all Saudis.
    We captured film of some of the 9/11 hijackers being trained in Salman Pak, Iraq.
    We captured records of Saddam’s cash payments to finance the hijackers, and other terrorists, like the ones in Kenya and Spain.

  24. bud

    Doug, I have to agree with RL on this one. My brother teaches in Richland 2 and he is very devoted to the cause and endures long hours for low pay. His work definately does make a difference. The Iraq war analogy is misquided in this case.

  25. Doug Ross

    The broken schools are not in Richland 2.
    I’ve sent one kid through K-12 in Richland 2 and two more in high school. The schools are fine — but they would be even better without the intervention of the state Department of Education.
    My comparisons with Iraq were on our strategy for dealing with the worst schools. Spend more, deny bad news, no real concern from the educrats for trying anything outside their control… there’s political motivation and excessive bureaucracy in both situations that prevent progress.

  26. Birchibald T. Barlow

    Mr. Warthen writes:
    I realize that Ron Paul supporters like to pretend we can return to some Jeffersonian fantasy world in which we are all self-sufficient yeomen farmers, and all we need an Army for is to keep penniless campesinos from crossing our southern border.
    What? I have not seen or heard anyone who would want to see this country make an attempt at becoming “self-sufficient,” especially from the “libertarian” crowd. And I’ve never known Ron Paul supporters to be against trade even if Jefferson in his 18th century worldview didn’t think it was important. Hell, free trade is one of libertarians’ most firmly-held positions.
    Talk about your straw man arguments…

  27. Lee Muller

    Thomas Jefferson’s “fantasy world” was one shared by George Washington and all the other Founders of America – minimal government, controlled by citizen-politicians and protected by citizen-soldiers, to ensure free trade, honest dealings and safe streets.
    Modern liberals’ fantasy world, expressed by Brad Warthen, is an omnipotent State which supplies all the goodies which the free market doesn’t, because no one wants to pay for them.

  28. Lee Muller

    Justice Thomas to Force Court to Look at Obama Citizenship Case
    03 DEC 2008
    “December 3, 2008) – In a highly unusual move, U.S. Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has asked his colleagues on the court to consider the request of an East Brunswick, N.J. attorney who has filed a lawsuit challenging President-elect Barack Obama’s status as a United States citizen.
    Thomas’s action took place after Justice David Souter had rejected a petition known as an application for a stay of writ of certiorari that asked the court to prevent the meeting of the Electoral College on Dec. 15, which will certify Obama as the 44th president of the United States and its first African-American president.
    The court has scheduled a Dec. 5 conference on the writ — just 10 days before the Electoral College meets.
    The high court’s only African American is bringing the matter to his colleagues as a result of the writ that was filed by attorney Leo Donofrio. Donofrio sued the New Jersey Secretary of State Nina Wells, contending that Obama was not qualified to be on the state’s presidential ballot because of Donofrio’s own questions about
    Obama citizenship.

  29. jfx

    Re: Salman Pak, short Wiki excerpt-
    “The facility was discussed in the leadup to the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a result of a campaign by Iraqi defectors associated with the Iraqi National Congress to assert that the facility was a terrorist training camp. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has since established that both the CIA and the DIA concluded that there was no evidence to support these claims. A DIA analyst told the Committee, “The Iraqi National Congress (INC) has been pushing information for a long time about Salman Pak and training of al-Qa’ida.”
    Yes, our good friends the Iraqi National Congress, who wanted so badly to get Saddam, and were perfectly willing to pour this poison into eager ears in the Bush/Cheney admin if it would precipitate regime change. Who cares about facts? Just so long as we get Saddam!
    I bet people who swallow this Salman Pak pap still think Ahmed Chalabi is a credible source.

  30. Lee Muller

    That Wikipedia post, if it is real, is a lie.
    Anybody can post on Wikipedia, and apologists for Islamofascism are constantly trying to alter history. That is an old communist tactic, going back to Trotsky.
    Salman Pak and all its photos of the airliner, train, busses, and photos of Al Qaeda graduates was in the official full 9/11 Report. A bunch of it is still on official government sites. If Brad let us post photos, I would post some photos, as I already have.

  31. jfx

    Oh dear, Lee. You belittle Wikipedia, cry communist tactics…
    …and then you post a YouTube link.
    Here, look, I can play the arbitrary internet multimedia sourcing game, too.
    How about I pull rank on you?
    I’ll see your bumbling Lt. Col Buzz Patterson, and his factually inaccurate conflation of post-invasion Al-Qaeda in Iraq with pre-invasion Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan…
    …and I’ll raise you President George W. Bush:

    Reporter: What did Iraq have to do with the attack on the World Trade Center?
    Bush: Nothing!
    I guess Bush, the CIA, the DIA, and the Senate Select Intelligence Committee are all lying! Only Lee Muller knows the real truth!
    By the way, here’s the full Wiki link on the Salman Pak facility:
    I’m sure you’ll side with Charles Duelfer, despite his total lack of evidence, and the overwhelming expert consensus that no foreign nationals were ever trained at the facility, and certainly no Al-Qaeda.
    If we want to believe in something strongly enough, we will insist that our belief is truth, and refuse to acknowledge overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

  32. Lee Muller

    Facts bounce off the apologists for Saddam Hussein, again.
    If someone copies a video of a direct source from a network TV show to YouTube or this blog, how does that suddenly render the facts contained therein dismissible?
    It doesn’t.
    The FACT is, Iraq was involved in financing and training terrorists, including Al Qaeda and the 9/11 hijackers.
    FACT is, Clinton’s former military advisor, details it all in his book and some of it on this video, one copy of which is on YouTube, and other copies on other web sites.
    FACT is, Barack Obama only went to Harvard Law School because strings were pulled by radical lawyer Percy Sutton, and it was paid for by Saudi money. Sutton’s bragging about it is also on YouTube.

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