Category Archives: Politics

Not So Fantastick

 

BLOGGER’S NOTE:  One of the personal rewards of authoring this blog has been the opportunity to reminisce and draw on many past experiences which help clarify my understanding and influence my perspective of current events.  Today is no exception.  In February 1967, I was cast as Luisa’s father Huckebee in the first ever high school production of The Fantasticks.  Fifty-four years later, this longest running off-Broadway musical in American history (over 17,500 performances and still counting) is more than an evening’s entertainment.  Tom Jones’ (pictured) brilliant book and lyrics are perhaps the the best artistic metaphor for the adage “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Yesterday on Morning Joe, president of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass suggested there could be residual value from the U.S. military’s 20 years in Afghanistan if we take advantage of and heed the lessons learned from the experience.  To his credit, substitute host Willie Geist pushed back, asking whether we should have already learned those lessons from previous incursions such as Vietnam and Iraq.  Haass’ inability to see the obvious suggests we need to pull back the blinders taking a different tack, employing the power of metaphor.

The Fantasticks (Original Off-Broadway Production, 1960) | Ovrtur

In this case, the source of our analogy is the arts.  A musical in two acts.  The Fantasticks, in which two fathers become accomplices in a love story that begins in the shadows of the moon only  to sour when exposed to bright sunlight.  Sound familiar?  The Pentagon Papers? Echoes of “mission accomplished” in Iraq?  And now the Afghanistan Papers? Our guide in this journey from fantasy to reality is El Gallo (Jerry Orbach in the original 1960 cast pictured with Rita Gardner/Luisa).

At the conclusion of Act I, the lovers Matt and Luisa join their fathers in a song, “Happy Ending,” after which the actors freeze in place creating a tableau of the newly merged families.  Only El Gallo anticipates what is to come.

Hmmmmm.
I wonder if they can hold it.
They’ll try to, I suppose.
And yet it won’t be easy
To hold such a pretty pose.

Time and time again, military interventions in far away lands track the the lover’s fate, like a roller coaster, initially reaching highs, soon followed by accelerated plunges into valleys.  All well intentioned.  Bathed in hubris and unrealistic expectations.  “Shock and awe.”  “A slam dunk.”  “We will be welcomed as liberators.” At the same time, ignoring time-tested axioms.  “If you break it, you own it.”  “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”  “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else (Yogi Berra).”

There is one more adage worth consideration, “We learn more from our failures than from our successes.”  However, situations resulting in positive outcomes should not be overlooked.  In the case of recent U.S. military interventions, that exception is Operation Desert Shield, the response to Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait for the purpose of seizing Kuwait’s oil production capacity.  The United States, with support from 35 allied nations, launched an air and naval attack on January 17, 1991 followed by a ground assault on February 24.  Three days later Iraqi president Saddam Hussein ordered a retreat from occupied areas of Kuwait.

Despite calls to pursue Iraqi troops all the way to Baghdad and remove Hussein from power, President George H. W. Bush, in consultation with then chairman of the joint chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, pulled back U.S. forces once Kuwait was liberated.  They understood, the devil we knew was preferable to one which might arise from the aftermath of Hussein’s overthrow.  How unfortunate junior and his vice-president did not follow suit.

The lesson?  Military engagements should never be based on what happens in Act I.  History tells us happy endings at intermission are not permanent.  As does El Gallo.

So we would like to truly finish
What was foolishly begun.
For the story is not ended
And the play is never done
Until we’ve all of us been burned a bit
And burnished by – the sun!

Perhaps the time has come for The Fantasticks to take its place along side Sun Tzu, Josephus and Colin Gray as mandatory instruction for military leaders and national security policy officials.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

What Afghanistan Is NOT

 

The situation in Afghanistan is a humanitarian tragedy.  One hopes the Biden administration can minimize the suffering by keeping the Kabul airport open and fast tracking emergency visas for those who may be targeted for assisting American operations for the past 20 years.

As was the case on September 11, America once again fell victim to another failure of imagination.  Yes, it was reasonable to expect U.S. trained and equipped security forces to hold back the Taliban to allow for an orderly evacuation.  But, where was the 10th man, a staple of Israeli decision making?  This process was created following the surprise attack on Yom Kippur, 1973 and can be described as follows (Source: Reddit/Historians).

The Tenth Man strategy says that if nine people agree on a particular course of action, the tenth person must, in the context of the strategy, take a contrary approach so that all alternatives can be considered.

At every meeting of Israel’s national security cabinet there is a designated 10th man (or woman).  That individual’s responsibility is to ask, “What if all of us are wrong?  What will we do if every assumption we are making is incorrect?  What if the opposite was true?”

Furthermore, the current crisis is one more example how two things can be true at the same time.  Yesterday, President Biden made a strong and compelling case for the total withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.  He was right there would never be a good time to do so.  And another 20 years would not change the inevitable outcome.  And he was correct the original mission was not about nation building.  History taught Biden too many nations had tried and failed to achieve the goal of a stable, centralized government in a country based on regional, tribal loyalties.

However, the exit surely could have been better planned and executed.  All that was needed was one person to ask, “What if every assumption we have made is wrong?  What if the Afghan security forces refuse to fight and lay down their arms without firing a shot?”  Not a farfetched possibility.  After all, U.S. troops had witnessed similar behavior by members of the Iraqi regular army and Sadam Hussein’s elite Republican Guard in 2003.  If that lesson had been heeded, the current chaos might have been avoided.

Notwithstanding the above facts, the media has been quick to make other comparisons which defy logic.  Above all are suggestions a small U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan is nothing compared to the numbers of American stationed at several overseas bases since the end of World War II.  This morning Joe Scarborough put up the following data related to the number of U.S. forces deployed around the world.

Japan/50,937
Germany/47,761
South Korea/28,500
Italy/10,922

Afghanistan is NOT Japan, Germany, South Korea or Italy.  To suggest any such similarity is foolish.  NONE of the four nations are currently engaged in a civil war.  The U.S. mission does NOT involve preventing an insurgency.  The U.S. presence is part of a global, geopolitical strategy of MUTUAL cooperation.  Our troops have the support of stable democracies.  Their troops participate in joint exercises with U.S. personnel.  And all have demonstrated they are willing to come to our aid when we were attacked.

Kurdish YPG Fighters | Warrior woman, Female fighter, Military womenNor, as Scarborough also suggested, is the Afghan situation analogous to the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Syria in November 2019.  If only the Afghan security forces had made a fraction of the effort of the Kurds (pictured) and Syrian resistance forces who were backed up by U.S. special operations forces and air cover in Northern Syria.  They were not just partners, but took the lead when it came to retaking much of the ISIS held territory.  Americans, returning home following deployments to the region, often talked about the commitment and heroism of the Kurds.  Afghan security forces do not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath.

Let me close with a “10th man” observation which many may find unpopular or even distasteful.  That is what a 10th man is supposed to do.  As I watched thousands of Afghans at Hamid Karzai International Airport desperately trying to board planes, risking and in some cases losing their lives to get out of the country, I wondered how different the situation might be today if those same men and women had been equally committed to holding off the Taliban.  In which case, I might feel differently about Biden’s decision.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

American Taliban

 

The Sunday talk shows were abuzz with stories about the speed at which the Taliban erased 20 years of nation building in Afghanistan.  Many prognosticators had envisioned an ISIS-like reemergence to fill the avoid following an American and allied withdrawal.  But the scope and pace of the demise of the Afghan government challenges the imagination and explains why a country often referred to as “the graveyard of empires” earns its name again and again.  The list seems endless.  Persians.  Greeks. Arabs. Mongols. Sikhs. British. Soviets.  And finally the U.S. and NATO.  To paraphrase an Italian proverb, “Fool me eight times, WTF!”

What I do not understand is why anyone would be surprised by how rapidly the Taliban took advantage of the situation.  Have we not seen this movie before.  Where and when, you ask?  America!  2021!

For 233 years, the United States existed as a democracy in which the peaceful transition of power took place on each and every one of 45 occasions.  The losers conceded and the winners took office.  Violence played no part.  Until January 6, 2021.  However, if you think I am comparing the insurrectionists at the U.S. Capitol to Sunday’s occupation of the presidential office in Kabul, you are mistaken.

The better analogy is the ongoing effort to change the method by which our leaders are chosen.  And the elected and appointed GOP officials who have promoted and enabled the change.  The “big lie” was an opportunity for the American Taliban to go on the offensive just as the withdrawal of allied troops from Afghanistan opened the door for the Afghan Taliban to return to power.

It is difficult to tell who stole the battle plan from whom.  Just like their middle eastern counterparts, the American Taliban started its assault at the provincial (i.e. state) level.  One by one Republican governors and legislatures passed new laws to address non-existent voter fraud.  According to the Brennan Center for Justice, “Between January 1 and May 14, 2021, at least 14 states enacted 22 new laws that restrict access to the vote.”  Dozens more are already in progress or waiting in the wings.

However, many analysts have warned this is not about voter suppression.  If nothing else, we learned in 2020 those most affected by state and local voting laws and governors’ executive orders, making it harder to vote, showed they were willing to walk through fire to be heard.  When the GOP realized voter suppression tactics had the opposite effect, they moved in a new and more sinister direction.  Create methods by which Republican dominated legislatures could nullify the vote count.  In other words, if you disagree with the electoral outcome, ignore it.

In many of those states, despite persistent warnings, nominal opposition fell by the wayside as quickly as Afghan security forces, leaving a clear path for insurgents to achieve their goal of changing the rules by which elections are conducted.  Questions have been raised why Democratic leaders in these jurisdictions did not follow the example of Texas legislators who have used every tactic at their disposal to hold off this assault on democracy. Sadly, the national Democratic leadership has ignored the calls for help. A la Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, congressional Democrats fled the nation’s capital following the failure of a closure vote on the voting rights bill.  The next question is whether Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer will join the ranks of Ghani and Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf (aka Baghdad Bob), claiming “all is well” right up to the moment democracy is overrun.

H.L. Mencken, the 'Sage of Baltimore' - Baltimore SunBut the future of democracy ultimately resides with “we, the people.”  As H. L. Mencken wrote, “People deserve the government they get, and they deserve to get it good and hard.”  With the exception of a few activists in each state, where is the uproar from the general populace?  Again, a situation analogous to current events in Afghanistan.  This week, we learned first hand the Ghani government had neither the respect nor loyalty of the 300,000 U.S. trained and equipped security forces or the millions of citizens we always assumed would stand up to the Taliban.  Likewise, it is one thing to declare a belief in democracy.  It is quite another to stand up for it.

While the battle, as was the case in Afghanistan, started at the subnational level, make no mistake.  If the GOP takes control of Congress in 2022, like Kabul, Washington will be the final domino to fall.  Certifying the electoral college vote will become more than a pro forma exercise, setting the stage for the ultimate assault on democracy in 2024.

If you thought the electoral college was counter to the principle of one-person, one vote best articulated by the Supreme Court in 1962 in the case of Baker v. Carr, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Just wait until a contested election is decided under the following provisions of the 12th Amendment to the Constitution.

…the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote.

Liz Cheney - WikipediaYou read that correctly.  If the GOP had succeeded in their effort not to count the state-certified electors from three jurisdictions in 2020, sole Wyoming representative Liz Cheney’s vote would have had the same weight as the 52 member congressional delegation from California.  And the 27 states with GOP-dominated House delegations could have thrown the election to Donald Trump despite the 7.5 million margin in the popular vote and 74 vote margin in the electoral college.

Not unlike Sunday morning, when Afghans woke up to the realization insurgents were at the gates of the city, Americans may have a similar experience days or weeks after November 5, 2024.  Only then will they understand it does not matter how they voted.  That is what happens when ballots are subject to what can only be described as a “Tally Ban.”

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

47?

 

He that deceives me once, it’s his fault; but if twice, it’s my fault.

~Italian Proverb

Isn’t having one U.S. president per millennium who thinks he is the smartest guy in the room enough?  Especially now that we know the consequences.  Such a level of arrogance and narcissism leads to a lot a bad ideas.  For example:

  • Thinking a 2,000 mile penetrable barrier will stop illegal immigration.
  • Separating babies and young children from their parents and putting them in cages is good national policy.
  • Offering the president of Ukraine a quid pro quo to smear a political opponent the day after the attorney general falsely exonerates you of obstructing justice in the Mueller investigation.
  • Lying about an imminent health crisis which has led to the death of over 600,000 U.S. citizens.
  • Recommending quack remedies to fight a deadly virus.
  • Inciting an insurrection to overturn a free and fair election.
  • Hiring Rudy Giuliani, Lin Wood and Sidney Powell to be your legal advisors.

Oddly, none of the these individual actions should concern voters as much as the thought process that leads to them.  On any given day, no U.S. president can predict, much less anticipate, what new situation or circumstance he or she might have to address from the Oval Office.  Therefore, when selecting the nation’s commander-in-chief, voters should pay less attention to individual decisions and more to how a candidate makes them.

Which brings me to the latest mini-me being touted as the heir apparent to the Trump political empire, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, and the principles and logic he has employed during the latest surge in COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

  • During an interview with Politico.COM, DeSantis described his approach to the pandemic as “data driven.”  That worked when he claimed “mission accomplished” last spring and fully re-opened the state.  But now the data say otherwise.  On August 6, Florida accounted for 46,686 (27.7 percent) of the 168,343 new cases in the U.S. The daily average of 19,250 new cases over the past week is an 84 percent rise over the last 14 days.  And the daily average of 88 deaths for the same time period is a 118 percent increase from two weeks earlier.
  • As the data showed a surge in COVID-related impacts, DeSantis traveled to the Texas border for a photo op with Governor Greg Abbott and to Salt Lake City where he addressed a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council.  One could describe DeSantis’ leaving Florida in the middle of a health crisis as just one more example of the GOP on “Cruz control.”
  • During the July 29 Utah speech, he mocked CDC guidance, calling it “hysteria” and “fear-mongering.”  Would he give the same speech to the 16,038 Florida residents who tested positive for the coronavirus that same day?  And, he had no response to the COVID-related death on Thursday of a healthy 16 year-old at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville.
  • The governor’s policy response?  Withhold state funding from school districts that impose mask mandates for students as recommended by the CDC.

On his “Nothing’s Sacred” album (2005), comedian Lewis Black described the two major political parties as follows.

You see, in our two-party system, the Democrats are the party of no ideas and the Republicans are the party of bad ideas. It usually goes something like this. A Republican will stand up in Congress and say, “I’ve got a really bad idea.” And a Democrat will immediately jump to his feet and declare, “And I can make it shittier.”

In Florida, both roles are now played by Republicans who dominate most statewide elected positions, the state legislature and the state courts.  How did the Florida Board of Education respond to DeSantis’ bad idea?  Make it “shittier!”  According to the Associated Press:

Florida’s Board of Education decided Friday to provide private school vouchers to parents who say a public school district’s mask-wearing requirements amount to harassment of their children.

Just to be clear, instead of incenting parents to take actions which prevent spread of the virus, Sunshine state taxpayers are being asked to subsidize parents to the tune of $3,279/student (the approximate value of a voucher based on the 2020 legislation) to circumvent CDC guidelines.  The expansion of the Hope Scholarship program will likely be challenged in court since it only applies to students who request paid transfers to schools that do not require masks.  According to the Washington Post:

The Florida state school board did not respond to a woman who spoke in the public comments section of the meeting to ask whether the vouchers would be available for students who want mask mandates and attend districts that do not require them.

Does Florida, much less the country, really need a return to this style of leadership or an administration laden with ostriches with their heads buried deep in DeSantis?

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

Situational Representation

 

Integrity, a standard of personal morality and ethics, is not relative to the situation you happen to find yourself in and doesn’t sell out to expediency. Its short supply is getting shorter – but without it, leadership is a façade.

~Denis Waitley on Situational Ethics

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I team-taught a course titled “Entrepreneurship and Ethics” at Miami University.  Much of the content focused on situational ethics, those circumstances when one’s value system bumps up against the specifics of the issue at hand.   These occasions are the test of one’s moral compass.

However, as a trained political scientist, I found, for many elected officials, the distinction between allegiance to one’s values and expediency was blurred by how they perceived their responsibility to their constituents.  In Government 101, we learn there are two models of democratic representation, delegate and trustee, both originally coined by British philosopher Edmund Burke.

The former (delegates) are exemplified by legislators who check the pulse of those who elected them and vote in accordance with those preferences.  Although they are sometimes criticized for making decisions “on whichever way the wind blows,” I do not share that opinion.  “I was elected to articulate the viewpoint of residents in my district” is a value statement, not a concession to expediency.

Trustees approach their job from a different perspective.  They believe they were elected based on their ability to consider arguments for and against proposed legislation and decide what is in the best interests of their constituents.  A broader view of the trustee model suggests a legislator, though chosen by a subset of a larger population, should also balance the national interest with local priorities.  To stay in office, delegate representatives have an additional burden to explain votes which differ from the majority opinion of those who put them in office.

Which raises the question, “If both the delegate and trustee models are accepted means of public service, is there such as thing as situational representation?”  The evidence suggests the answer is a resounding YES.  We see it when a local, state or federal representative switches back and forth between the two models.  Just yesterday, Florida Senator Rick Scott was a case in point.

Florida's Scott Has One Eye on 2022—and Another on 2024 - WSJWhen it fits his partisan leanings or career ambitions, he plays the role of delegate.  Perhaps the best example was his vote in the early hours of January 7th, when he opposed the certification of Joe Biden as president.  He knew his path to the 2024 Republican nomination would disappear if he publicly acknowledged the facts.  The majority of likely voters in 2024 GOP primaries, despite dozens of audits and failed legal challenges, still believe Trump is the rightful president.  Therefore, Rick Scott dare not suggest otherwise.

Last night was a different story.  Scott voted “no” when it came to avoiding a filibuster which would have tanked the bi-partisan infrastructure bill.  He did so despite 60 percent Republican support for the compromise measure according to a June 21 YouGov poll.  In this situation “Delegate Scott” became “Trustee Scott.”

Ironically, the one member of the GOP who has been the most consistent is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.  He acts based on his own analysis of whatever it is the modern Republican party stands for, regardless of the opinion of his party’s registered voters.  He blocks legislation which has overwhelming public support, even among Republicans.  Universal background checks.  Fifteen dollar minimum wage.  The Dream Act.

McConnell: Wearing a mask is 'single most significant thing' to fight  pandemic | TheHillBut he also has bucked his own party, being an advocate of science-based responses to the coronavirus despite skepticism among Trump supporters.  He encouraged colleagues to wear masks.  And yesterday, McConnell announced he will use funds from his own re-election campaign for pro-vaccine radio ads in Kentucky designed to counter bad-advice from “people practicing medicine without a license.”

Which model anyone adopts as modus operandi is not the issue.  Fidelity to one’s model preference is.  Either can serve constituents and the nation as a whole.  Take same-sex marriage as an example.  In 1988, a University of Chicago poll found 67.6 percent of Americans opposed same-sex marriage.  In line with the national mood, there was little interest by state legislatures or Congress to address the issue.  Quite the opposite, with passage of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996.

As state supreme courts (Massachusetts/2003 and California/2008) ruled in favor of marriage equality, attitudes among state legislators “evolved” with four New England states adopting statutes in support of same-sex marriage beginning in 2008.  By the time the Supreme Court overturned DOMA in 2015 (Obergefell v. Hodges), all but 17 states had legislation guaranteeing equally treatment of same-sex marriages.

This shift was the result of support from both trustee representatives (calling for change ahead of public opinion) and delegate representatives whose own votes came as a result of an about-face in national support.  Immediately following the Obergefell decision, support for same-sex marriage rose to 61 percent (Gallup/May 2016).  A June 2021 Gallup poll shows support now stands at 70 percent.

As the 2022 midterms approach, candidates will be asked their opinions on a range of issues.  Unfortunately, few if any of the questioners ask whether candidates see themselves as trustees or delegates.  Why is this important?  Because it offers voters the opportunity to delve deeper into a candidate’s motivation.  If they claim to be a delegate representative, ask them why their stance on an issue is contradictory to the voters’ position.  And if they claim trustee status, ask them to explain why their position makes sense in light of public opposition.  (Hint: Follow the money.)

 

If they cannot answer the above question, beware!  Their BURKE is worse than their PLIGHT.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP