Mark

Your proprietor is a political progressive and a strategic pragmatist. When not bending the ear of those bending an elbow, he pursues a lively suite of interests including European and American history, historical costuming and living history, archaeology, physical cosmology, art, music from Palestrina to Portishead, and NBA basketball.

Oct 152014
 
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Let me start here: it really is a dangerous old world out there. The United States does have legitimate strategic and economic interests around the globe; there are those who would very much like for us not to have them. And the biggest military power in the world does bear some responsibility to weigh in when something ghastly is going on, like chemical warfare against civilians or genocide.

So I am not going to argue here that the U.S. is always the Black Hat, or that we are a maniacal imperialist juggernaut, or any of the other standard left castigation of American usages of power. I have done so about specific instances of such usage, such as the disastrous Bush Iraq con job/fiasco. Nearly every American use of military force during my lifetime has been a tragic mistake, in my opinion. But I’m not going to argue–nor do I believe–that the United States is overall or in every instance a force for evil in the world, nor that any use of military might is wrong. I believe such a position to be uninformed and naive.

If I lost you there, you should probably stop reading this now.

However, it is starting to look to me as though there is less and less of a point to such extensions of military power, because they don’t work.

It is remarkable how few wars in recent decades have been “won” by anyone but the home team. During the era of empire, it was routine for European powers–and later, the U.S.–to march into any backwater it pleased, fling about a bunch of bullets and shells, and then run up the flag. Whatever local resistance was proffered never amounted to much to worry about, which had the deleterious effect of encouraging more of this behavior.

Since the second World War, however, that kind of outcome has become increasingly rare. More often, guerrilla insurgencies and indigenous resistance have made “winning” impossible, and holding areas in dispute debilitatingly expensive in both lives and treasure.  If you don’t think things have changed, consider Belgium’s savage and near-instantaneous conquest of the region now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo and compare it to the mess the United States finds itself mired in in Afghanistan.

You can draw a line from Korea through Southeast Asia and into Central America, Afghanistan (twice), Iran and Iraq, and Ukraine, and the common denominator is that militarily superior invaders and proxy armies have simply been unable to hold territory they think they have won. The moment–sometimes within minutes–they turn their backs, that territory is back in the hands of popularly supported insurgencies.

As I see it, there are two major drivers of this. One has been with us forever, but the second is brand-new to the latter half of the 20th, and now the 21st century.

PROXY GAMES. The first is the principle of a proxy war, in which Greater Powers battle using smaller ones as proxy armies. The Korean War was a fine example: the US and its allies were fighting the Chinese in that war, yet we still don’t really talk about it in those terms. Today, Ukraine is shaping up as a fine opportunity for a proxy war, though the fact that it is so close on the doorstep of Russia means Western powers may decline to play.

WEAPONS, WEAPONS EVERYWHERE. This is the more important point, and one I don’t hear anyone else talking about. Empires used to win their colonial wars of conquering because they had better arms and training. That is still, by and large, true, but there is a matter of diminishing returns. If everyone in a country you are trying to invade has an AK-47 and one in every 25 has a rocket-fired grenade launcher, it doesn’t matter how superior your weapons are: you still can’t hold a hostile population that is armed to the teeth. It’s impossible. You would need a 1-to-1 soldier to inhabitant ratio even to attempt it, and you’d have to commit massive civilian slaughter in the process.

Since the second World War, the United States and its allies (like the UK, France, Sweden and Israel) have been the arms merchants to the greater world, and China and the USSR/Russia have done their best to follow suit. World arms trade is staggering in scope, and is the lion’s share of so-called “foreign aid” provided around the world.

The result has been a world awash in weapons. So many, in fact, that even though the “good stuff” is carefully guarded, it simply doesn’t matter. Unless you have the hearts and minds of most of the population of the area you are trying to occupy–in which case, you probably don’t need to be fighting a war in the first place–you cannot possibly hold and stabilize a significant region of the modern world, because pretty much every native population of areas under conflict is thoroughly armed with weapons of enough sophistication and enough deadliness to make it impossible.

Yes, we make lots of money selling death technology. So do our friends, and so do our enemies.

But when it comes to war, the outcome of this tidy business is that we are hoist on our own petard.

At publication, the Dragon was IRONIC

Oct 112014
 
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It’s that time again, Green Dragon patrons! Elections are coming up, and here are the house recommendations.

Please note that I don’t endorse in races where I don’t feel I have enough knowledge to make a call. I have been out of circulation from most municipal-level politics for awhile now. I encourage you to check out conservationaction.org, where you can find report cards on incumbent local officials and endorsements of candidates in races where I haven’t made one.

Federal and State Offices

GOVERNOR: JERRY BROWN. Though some are grumpy about it, I feel that Brown has been smart and sensible about not going overboard with new expenditures as the state’s budget has recovered from the Bush Recession. I’m not a big fan of his concepts of “realigning” incarceration and child care to local governments, nor some of his labor votes, but overall, he’s done a great job.

STATEWIDE OFFICES: vote for Democrats. The California Republican party has gone far out on the loony-tune Tea Party limb, and none can be trusted to serve the public interest. Of those running, I particularly recommend KAMALA HARRIS, who has been a terrific Attorney General.

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 2nd District: JARED HUFFMAN. Huffman has been simply stellar. Not only is his voting record superlative, he has proven capable—as he was in the state legislature under Schwarzenegger—of moving legislation even when he needs opposition support to do so. His bill protecting a large swathe of the North Coast as wilderness was the only such bill to pass the House this year.

STATE SENATE, District 2: MIKE McGUIRE. McGuire was an adequate Supervisor, especially given the historically conservative district he represents. I’d hardly give him rave reviews, but the fact is that in the Senate he will be more beholden to progressive voices than he is now. What he will lack is the political savvy that Wes Chesbro’s long tenure in Sacramento gave him, but McGuire is young—perhaps he will learn. This is a safe Democratic seat.

ASSEMBLY, District 2: JIM WOOD. This is Noreen Evans’ seat, and those are big shoes to fill. Wood, let’s be clear, will not fill them, if his very cautious, don’t-make-waves tenure on the Healdsburg City Council is any indicator. That said, if he wants to get anything done in Sacramento he, like McGuire, will have to partner with progressive Democrats who are the majority there. This is a safe Democratic seat and Wood will be the next Assemblymember.

Ballot Propositions:

1: NO. Although this measure improved considerably in the final days before the Legislature put it on the ballot, it is still a wrongheaded approach to solving the state’s water woes.

2:  YES. Prop. 2 would ensure that the State manages its finances more wisely instead of every budget surplus being the cause of a free-for-all over who will get the money. While opponents claim to be speaking for schools, even the President of the California State Board of Education supports it.

45: :YES YES YES!!  This measure gives the California State Insurance Commissioner real authority to force insurance companies to PROVE that they need to raise rates before they can do it. It’s that simple.

46:  NO. The state cap on medical malpractice awards is grossly out of step with the actual harm it causes, and that is the heart of this measure. The prescription database, also, is a good idea. The drug testing, however, is a poison pill. California is already short on doctors and many will simply retire or move out of state before they will be subjected to drug testing. It’s a dumb idea and makes this measure unworthy of support.

47:  YES YES YES!!  “Three Strikes” and other draconian sentencing policy have been a social, budgetary and judicial DISASTER for California. Limiting such harsh sentencing to violent and serious offenders will save money and prevent the wholesale injustice that is happening now.

48:  NO. Tribal gaming is out of control in California. Any opportunity to prevent yet another casino from being built is a good idea.

Local elections:

Supervisor, 2nd District: Shirlee Zane. Zane has done a good job, and has been particularly strong on health and mental health issues. She deserves another term.

Supervisor, 4th District: DEB FUDGE. Deb has been an exemplary leader on the Windsor Town Council and was my pick four years ago. She’s fantastic on the environment, urban planning and transportation, and a real listener who cares about her constituents. You couldn’t do better.

Ballot Measure M: YES. Our libraries have been crushed by budget cuts. This measure will allow us to have a public information-access system and library we can all rely on and be proud of.

 

Santa Rosa:

Measure N: Yes. For complicated reasons, this modernization of the city’s Utility Tax will actually increase revenue while also cutting the tax paid by current ratepayers, as it expands the tax to VOIP and mobile phone customers who should be taxed at the same rate as everyone else. It’s a reasonable idea and should be approved.

City Council: CHRIS COURSEY. Coursey was certainly a mixed bag as a Press Democrat columnist—fair disclosure, he did a hatchet job on me as I left Conservation Action, and I haven’t forgotten it—but I think odds are better than 50/50 he will be a neighborhood-oriented vote rather than a Chamber of Commerce rubber stamp. Because of his name recognition, he has more latitude than many others in voting as he believes rather than as a given political camp wishes.

Many progressives are also supporting Curtis Byrd and Lee Pierce along with Coursey. I don’t know anything about Byrd, but Pierce was unimpressive when interviewed for an endorsement many years ago. Since, he has served a term and been burned by the Chamber of Commerce crowd who expected him to be One Of Theirs—he may therefore have a new perspective on politics.

Petaluma:

Mayor: DAVID GLASS. Glass has been an exemplary Mayor; his opponent, Mike Harris, who has been a lackluster city council member who has appeared primarily to be driven by personal ambition rather than any set of values or vision for the city.

City Council:  JANICE CADER-THOMPSON and THERESA BARRETT

Local Measure Q (forever sales tax increase): ABSOLUTELY NOT. A slush fund without accountability for how it will be spent.

Sebastopol:

UNA GLASS is a friend, and was appointed to replace her husband, the former mayor, who died suddenly this past spring. I think she deserves a full term to develop her ideas for the direction of the city.

Windsor:

SAM SALMON has been a terrific vote on the Town Council for many years, and deserves a return to office.

 

Go vote!