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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Star Trek is Real

The United States Navy has used a laser to shoot down four separate target drones.  We now are living in the age of science fiction.  See the movie of the event.


The Searchers in Afghanistan

I was watching and thoroughly enjoying my now favorite John Wayne movie, The Searchers, for the first time the other day and a thought struck me that we've fought a war like the one in Afghanistan before.  It was called the Indian Wars. 

In the Indian Wars after the Civil War, the US Army was fighting in a sparsely inhabited country against an enemy that was largely insurgents but also able to call up moderate sized paramilitary units who were well trained and very knowlegeable of the local terrain.

There are of course differences.  The Indians tended to be somewhat nomadic, and Afghans tend to live in villages.  Although some of the Indians had a sort of religious fervor, their religion supported their war aims rather than created their war aims as does Islam in Afghanistan.

But the similarities are pretty strong.  A largely ignorant population living in wretched conditions with a mostly stone age culture piggy backing on modern civilization for some basic tools and rudimentary commerce tried to resist a modern mililtary.  In both wars, the United States military fought or is fighting the war with a less than full effort.

What can we learn from the Indian Wars to help us in the Afghan war?  First and foremost, we learn that an insurgency does not always win.  Perseverance on the part of the United States can overcome a very determined insurgency.  We also learn that kinetic military actions are usually a sign of taking a step backwards in winning the war.  Custer may not have had to make that disastrous charge if promises were kept to the Indians (or if he had a lick of sense that day, but that's another story).

We need not admire all the acts taken by the United States to note how the war was won over a couple centuries or decades, depending on how you measure it.  The Indians were channeled into reservations if they wanted to retain sovereignty.  So far as I've been able to tell, any Indian who wanted to live off the reservation was generally free to do so, so long as they acculturated into western civilization.  They may have experienced some racism and other challenges, but they were generally tolerated, as can be attested by the innumerable people who have a combination of Indian and white or black ancesters.

What are the keys to success in the Indian wars that might apply to Afghanistan?  The primitive culture must be pre-empted by our modern culture.  We cannot allow them to continue living like they have been.  We must build roads, create a thriving economy based on the newly discovered minerals and other potential sources of wealth.  We must begin the process of educating people and erasing the impact of the Madrassas.  The United States had a policy of punishing school children for speaking in native languages.  While this seems unfortunate for linguists and cultural studies, it certainly did help eliminate the warrior culture of the plains Indians.  Perhaps a similar approach would work to eliminate the jihadist elements of Afghan culture.

I haven't heard of any attempt to get the Afghans to become accustomed to buying Western goods and participate in Western economies.  The more they become accustomed to interacting with us and benefitting from our immensely superior technology and markets, the less likely they will be to bite the hand that feeds them.

Many insurgent Indians sought refuge in Canada or Mexico and launched occasional raids into the US from those places.  Similarly, the Taliban and Al Qaeda seek refuge in Pakistan and other places.  We can see that this is troublesome but not fatal to succeeding in stopping an insurgency.

I'm not saying that Afghanistan and the war on terror is a simple matter, and we need only cut and paste our tactics and strategy from the Indian Wars to win in Afghanistan.  I am suggesting that the Indian Wars show that we can win in Afghanistan.  I think I'll be taking some reading material with me to Afghanistan as an additional source of insight.  

Friday, July 16, 2010

Checks and Balances Failed

The Europeans are a good lesson for us to watch, but I fear it is too late.  Daniel Hannan, a Brit member of the European Parliament who is against the concept of a European Parliament, reports the latest shenanigans in the EU.  It seems that the EU has created a vast foreign office.  This was done quietly and over time, they have had a huge budget for quite some time without officially existing.  They now are official and much larger.  The citizens of the various countries have little impact on what happens in their name and with their money, the EU government is a leviathan that is consuming with seemingly little in the way of objection by its people.

In our nation, the federal government is constrained by the tenth amendment and the Bill of Rights and various other amendments to be of limited power.  To restrain any one branch of government from getting too powerful, a scheme of checks and balances was created.  The president can't create laws, the congress can't enforce them, and the judiciary is independent and can stop either branch with its paper pronouncements.  The people are responsible for not allowing the judiciary to be ignored, though it has happened from time to time.  Andrew Jackson famously declared that "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it," in response to the Supreme Court's decision in Worcester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. (6 Pet.) 515 (1832).

That balance of powers has a major flaw whose results we're now seeing only too plainly.  Rather than limit the power of government, our checks and balances have finally served to limit only the people's checks on the extent of each branch's power.  The perversion started quite some time ago, becoming most noticeable during Reconstruction, with major expansions made after Roosevelt's attempt at court packing and the New Deal, and then the Warren Court's rewriting of the legal landscape, and now finally the Pelosi/Reid Congress for the past four years has loosed all restraints.  That's not meant to let either party off the hook, both parties and all three branches of government are equally guilty.

When you study for the bar exam, one of the hints in the subject of Constitutional law is that if an answer offered is the Tenth Amendment, it will always be the wrong answer.  The Tenth Amendment has so little power that even in academia it is given no regard whatsoever.

The checks and balances between the branches of the federal government failed to check the power of the federal government.  It only succeeded in protecting each branch's share of power, and each branch is more than happy to expand its own power.  That is, each branch retains its portion of the power by not allowing the executive to control the purse strings, etc., but there has been no check or balance on the federal government's taking power from the states or the people.  The 17th Amendment ended the states' input on federal power.

The only remaining check on federal power has been the ballot box, and that has proven to be singularly ineffective.  With each encroachment of power, the people have become more and more used to ceding self-determination, more and more used to receiving federal benefits and entitlements, and more and more used to accepting government presence in every part of their lives.

Just as Europeans have no ability to stop the EU leviathan from expanding its power, despite widespread disapproval in several referenda, so too are we succumbing to grotesque over reaches of federal power.