My answer to the hypothetical question.

The Liberal Avenger posted a hypothetical question, which I referenced previously in The Liberal Avenger Asks . . . . I promised him an answer, but, as is my wont, it’ll probably be lengthy. :)

The question was, as I reformulated it (and the Avenger even approved):

(I)f you became convinced that the war was not only unwinable, but would cause both the United States and Iraq greater harm the longer we continued to try to win it, what would you suggest should be done?

The first part to answering that question has to be defining what victory is. To me, victory would be defined by the achievement of some very basic, defineable goals:

1- The removal of Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath Party regime from power;
2- The emplacement of a government in Iraq which would be less harmful to American interests and the interests of peace in the Middle East; and
3- The emplacement of a democratic government in Iraq.

Goal number one has been achieved; that makes the war at least a partial victory already.

Goals number two and three are very interrelated: if a reasonably democratic government can be installed in Iraq, the other part (that government being less harmful to the US and its neighbors) will follow naturally. Goal number two can be met without achieving goal number three, but that would probably be both more difficult and shorter lived.

Having defined the goals of victory, it comes time to consider the hypothetical question concerning defeat. The Avenger’s question needs to be addressed through two possibilities:

1- If I am convinced that we must lose the war because we are following the wrong strategy and tactics; and
2- If I am convinced that we must lose the war because there is no reasonable strategy that will lead to a victory, as I have defined victory.

If I believe that the first situation obtains, the obvious answer is that I work to get a strategy that I do believe will work into place. Such a situation can be accomplished through the current Administration, by persuading them that a changed strategy will produce the victory that they seek; if the perceived strategy change is too different for the current Administration to accept (such as some form of turning it over to the United Nations, not that I think the UN would ever accept), it might have to wait for the next Administration . . . and that’s three years down the road.

Of course, the question the Avenger really wanted to have answered by conservatives is: what would we do if we became convinced that the war was inevitably lost, regardless of what strategies we employed.

At that point, options have to be weighed: is it better to just declare victory, turn it over to an Iraqi government that we assume will fall within a few years to the Islamists, and leave, or is there something that can be done to, if not win, at least try to shape the configuration of the loss?

Assuming that I were persuaded that a loss (by which I mean that goals numbered two and three above cannot be met), I would be interested in how such a loss could be shaped to ameliorate the loss. Quite frankly, that could be done by the strategy I have said all along ought to be pursued: we ought to break up Iraq into three separate states.

President Bush initially promised that he would do no such thing, a promise made primarily to the Turks, who were very afraid of an independent Kurdistan on their border. The Turks did none of the things President Bush wanted them to do leading up to the war; I see no problem in breaking that promise.

And the fact is that in the Kurdish and Shi’ite areas, we already have won. They have embraced democracy, as nascent as it is there. A fully independent Kurdistan and Shi’ite Mesopotamia would be two entirely separate states, both with oil wealth, both with the beginnings of a democratic polity, and both with significant internal rebuilding to do. The Kurds would (probably) wind up with a more secular (though still Islamic) government than the Shi’ites, but even in the Shi’ite Islamic Republic of Iran there is some democracy present.

These things would be victories, not defeats. Both nations would have their own internal goals, and, quite frankly, more important things on their minds than causing a lot of trouble. They would want to keep their oil flowing to Western markets, because they need the money, and neither has any particular reason to be sympathetic to al Qaeda, an Islamist movement that is more closely tied to Sunni and Wahhabist sects of Islam.

And that would leave only the Sunni areas. If the war is unwinable, it is only because of the unrest in the Sunni areas. Separating out the Sunnis into their own country (which is what I have wanted to do all along) would leave them with some oil reserves, but not as large as that of the Kurds and the Shi’ites. Turning around and leaving the Sunnis to whatever fate they wished to build for themselves would mean that there would be a struggle for governing power in the rump Iraq, a civil war that might last a couple of years. Even if there was no such struggle, even if a leader emerged on day one, the rump Iraq would have enormous problems, problems that would force them to turn inward. They would need all of their possible oil revenues to not only rebuild their cities and infrastructure, but to buy food: the Sunni areas have the poorest agricultural lands in Iraq. Even if the Sunnis wanted to be holy warriors against the United States and the West, they’d be poorly positioned to do so; the infrastructure and food supply work in those areas only because the United States is pouring in so much aid. Withdraw that aid, and the Sunnis would have to fend for themselves and, quite frankly, it’s hard to be much of a holy warrior when you don’t have food to eat.

If there is a perception that we are losing the war in Iraq, it is because news coverage homes in on the unrest in the Sunni areas. Cut out that area, separate it from what does work, and we have two-thirds of a victory already won. And then, if we have lost the Sunni areas, even though the left will wish to call it some great defeat for President Bush, it will have been the achievement of most of our goals.

There is no particular reason to want to keep Iraq in one piece; there is no traditional Iraq. It was a creation of an agreement between France and Great Britain, and the British set up a Hashemite monarchy over artificially drawn borders; the British gave three of the Hashemite princes kingdoms over which to rule, and the Hashemites still rule in Jordan. The borders simply have no rhyme or reason other than those of the early twentieth century British Foreign Office! Breaking up the country into its more natural ethnic regions would probably be the wisest thing we could do.

I don’t think that this is quite the answer the Avenger had in mind; I believe that his question assumed that if we lost, all of Iraq would be a loss. I don’t see it that way; if there is an area that cannot be won, by the criteria I set forth as the definitions of victory, it is only a much smaller area, one that can and should be isolated from the areas in which we have already been successful. Yeah, we could “lose” a rump Sunni Iraq, but the way that I have set it forth, it would still mostly satisfy the second condition of victory, in that it would be far less able to cause problems with its neighbors.

If Liberals Really Understood Economics . . .

National Review, one of my favorite magazines, just printed an article by Byron York:

Panic in a Small Town

The new movie WAL-MART: The High Cost of Low Price, directed by the Hollywood liberal activist Robert Greenwald, begins with the story of H&H Hardware, a small, family-owned business in Middlefield, Ohio. A man named Don Hunter describes how he founded H&H in 1962 and how it grew until one day it filled an entire building. As sensitive, slightly elegiac guitar music plays in the background, Don Hunter introduces viewers to his son Jon, to whom he turned over the business in 1996. Jon runs a good store; the employees really know the hardware business, and they work hard to help customers find what they need. And make things comfortable, too — an employee sets up benches outside the store each morning, right after he proudly raises the American flag.

At that point, the movie abruptly cuts to a black screen. The guitar is replaced by an ominous synthesizer. Shots of giant earthmovers appear, with the full-screen declaration: “WAL-MART DESCENDS ON MIDDLEFIELD!” Just in case the viewer might have missed the change in mood, a bulldozer dumps a load of dirt right onto the camera lens, and the screen goes black again.

A new Wal-Mart store is being built nearby, and the Hunters are not happy. “I’ve seen a lot of small communities crucified and forced out,” says Don Hunter. “There will be a dramatic change of some type.” And indeed there is; a few seconds later, the movie cuts to a shot of a sign announcing a liquidation sale at H&H. After 43 years the store is facing unbeatable competition and going out of business.

Wal-Mart has claimed another victim, leaving H&H’s frustrated, angry employees looking for ways to rein in the company’s power in the retail market. “I think the government should have more control,” says one worker. “You talk about monopolies — if Wal-Mart’s not a monopoly, I don’t know what is.” “They busted up Standard Oil and they busted up Ma Bell,” says another employee. “But Wal-Mart seems to be going on a rampage through the American economy and nobody’s even paying attention.” Shortly thereafter, the movie cuts to a shot of the H&H Hardware building at night, and the store’s lights go out one last time.

It’s an affecting scene, and the end of a powerful segment, but, as it turns out, it didn’t happen that way.

In fact, H&H closed before Wal-Mart even opened — three months before. The hardware store had suffered from Ohio’s recent economic slowdown, and additionally, according to some in Middlefield, H&H had been a troubled enterprise for quite some time, hampered by poor business and management decisions. Whatever the cause of H&H’s failure, it wasn’t the arrival of Wal-Mart in Middlefield. “Really, there was no connection,” Don Hunter recently told National Review. “I’ve seen a lot of small local entities wiped out because of Wal-Mart. It happens all over, but that was not the case here.” In fact, Hunter said, the business was sold to a new owner who has reopened it . . . as a hardware store.

As I peruse some of the I Hate WalMart articles on the leftist websites, it’s always tempting to ask whether they have heard both sides of the story, but that winds up being a rhetorical question: I already know that the answer is no.

I have long said that people vote every day. We may vote for our elected representatives only every year or so, but the economic choices we take, every time we spend money, constitute a far more thorough democratic activity than voting for representatives ever does. We hear all sorts of invective about how terrible illegal immigration is, and the politicians (mostly) jump through hoops to assure us that, yes, we are right about that, and they will Do Something about illegal immigration.

And then we turn right around and go to the store, and buy produce picked by illegal immigrants. In our daily economic choices, the vast majority of Americans have supported illegal immigration, by buying and buying and buying products made, and made more cheaply, by companies employing immigrants of questionable status. To me, that constitutes a heck of a lot more important of a vote than the ones we cast for representatives!

The same is true when it comes to WalMart. WalMart has over 100 million people walk through its doors every week. Put another way, the equivalent of the entire population of the United States walks into a WalMart every three weeks. Five billion people walk through WalMart’s doors in a year’s time.

There are hundreds of places across the country where one can drive through a mostly empty main street to a strip outside town lined with big-box stores and fast-food joints.

That’s the image that disturbs so many people. But it is an image created by free people taking free economic decisions. WalMart sells goods for less, and, by and large, the American people have chosen to drive to WalMart and purchase goods at their Always Low Prices. If the downtowns have failed, if they have lost business to the strip malls and big box stores outside of town, it is because the people have chosen to shop at the strip malls and big box stores outside of town.

When I see people protesting the building of a WalMart (or a Target or a whatever), because such a store will destroy the character of their downtown or chase their old, hometown retailers out of business, I see people who are unwilling to allow others a choice in where to shop, and I see people who are unwilling to trust themselves in how they vote with their dollars.

If WalMart (or Target or whomever) builds a big box store, and the people of the town care more about their local, hometown retailers, and want them to survive, the local, hometown retailers will survive, and it will be WalMart that has to close down. That’s simple economics and free enterprise.

But if the people wind up choosing to shop at WalMart (as they almost always have), I really don’t want to hear them whining about the loss of their downtown stores.

UPDATE: 6:35 PM EST

A friend of mine passed this one on to me, from the Washington Post:

Progressive Wal-Mart. Really.
By Sebastian Mallaby

But let’s say we accept Dube’s calculation that retail workers take home $4.7 billion less per year because Wal-Mart has busted unions and generally been ruthless. That loss to workers would still be dwarfed by the $50 billion-plus that Wal-Mart consumers save on food, never mind the much larger sums that they save altogether. Indeed, Furman points out that the wage suppression is so small that even its “victims” may be better off. Retail workers may take home less pay, but their purchasing power probably still grows thanks to Wal-Mart’s low prices.

You should follow the link and read the entire article.

The Liberal Avenger asks:

The Liberal Avenger has posted a very hypothetical question on his (their) website. Guessing that our readers are more probably conservative than liberal, I’m asking you to ignore the incendiary verbiage and concentrate on the hypothetical question: if we somehow knew that the war in Iraq was a hopeless cause, what ought we to do?

Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument only, that we liberals were right about the war – that we were misled, that we’ve made life worse for Iraqis than under Saddam, that we’ve created more terrorism/terrorists and that we’ll never “win” there. In this imagination exercise we must imagine that in spite of us liberals being right the Bush Administration is too proud/ dumb/ stubborn/ messianic to accept the fact that Iraq has become a catastrophe and for whatever reason won’t budge from the “stay the course” strategy they’ve taken all along – regardless of the fact that 3+ American soldiers continue to be killed there every day and the entire enterprise costs us $7 billion per month. The Iraq misadventure is like a runaway train that will eventually derail in a high-speed, disastrous explosion.

If this were to be the case, what do you wingnuts thing that we liberals should do?

Now this is old territory between us and (BedRockTruth) here. I don’t want to put words in BRT’s mouth, so feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, Sir, but my impression is that your position is basically “My Country Right or Wrong” and that we liberals should shut up, regardless.

The Avenger has put this question in a form which assumes that the Bush Administration would never change course, because, the assumption is, that President Bush would not accept the notion that he was wrong and the war could not be won.

So, ignoring the Avenger’s verbiage, if you became convinced that the war was not only unwinable, but would cause both the United States and Iraq greater harm the longer we continued to try to win it, what would you suggest should be done?

More on Charitable Giving

I wrote about the trend, a few days ago, for more politically conservative states, regardless of income, to be more charitable, as measured by charitable contributions declared on Form 1040, than was the case with the more liberal states.

Well, Thomas Anger of The Liberty Corner has gone one better, with a statistical analysis of charitable giving compared to conservative voting. He wrote:

(Y)ou can see readily that — given the same tax burden — Red States outstrip Blue States in charitable giving. You can see, also, that there is a strong negative relationship between taxes and charitable giving. It doesn’t show up in the data for the Blue States, which are almost uniformly parsimonious when it comes to charitable giving, but it’s definitely there in the case of the Red States. For all States (with the exception of Wyoming, the far “outlier” at the top of the graph), a linear regression yields a one-to-one negative relationship between the tax burden and charitable giving; that is, for every 1 percentage point rise in the tax burden, after-tax charitable giving drops by 1 percentage point.

I draw two conclusions:

There is a significant, positive relationship between Republicanism and charitable giving, as indicated by both graphs.

Taxes crowd out charity (no surprise), as indicated by the second graph.

Mr. Anger’s article is a good one, and deserves your attention.

Be careful what you ask for . . .

The word “revolution” normally implies that when the revolution is over, there will be a winning side and a losing side. James Pinkerton, in his interesting review of Maureen Dowd’s book Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide, in which he contrasts Miss Dowd’s book with Hugh Hefner’s Playboy philosophy, concludes that:

“(C)onsenting adult” has proven to be a synonym for “cookie,” or “cheesecake” — which Hefnerians love to graze upon, without having to stick around and stake a legal and binding claim. Women were liberated from the need to get married, but in a different way, men were liberated from the need to get married, too.

The Sexual Revolution is over . . . and it was men who won.

Mr. Pinkerton’s review is fairly long, but it’s definitely worth the time to read it.

Devolution

Oh, well. After a period as an Adorable Little Rodent, our website had advanced up to being a Marauding Marsupial on the TTLB Ecosystem. I, unfortunately, not being the greatest (meaning: close to the worst) website programmer, was constantly unable to get to the right place to put the TTLB Ecosystem details on our site in a decent looking place.

Well, thanks to some help, I’ve now been able to do so . . . just as Mr. N. Z. Bear, the proprietor of The Truth Laid Bear website changed his ranking system! Even though CSPT ranks at number 3852, which would have been solidly in the middle of the Marsupial ranks before Thanksgiving, it’s now good enough for me to be a . . . Slithering Reptile. :(

I wonder if I can sue for great emotional distress? For loss of consortium, when my wife finds out she’s sharing her bed with a reptile? After, all, I do follow some of the lawyers’ blogs!

Mr. Bear, I’ll see you in court!

Multiculturalism run amok

This Week The Holidays

Celebrations started at the beginning of November with Eid al-Fitr, and as we head into December and January, people are readying for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Three Kings’ Day.

What traditions are most important to you and your family? What’s unique about your celebrations? What’s your favorite memory?

Send in essays of 250 words or less by Dec. 1. E-mail voices@phillynews.com (please put “holidays” in the subject line); fax essays to 215-854-4483; or mail them to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Commentary/Holidays, Box 41705, Philadelphia 19101.

For those of you who don’t know, Eid al-Fitr is the celebration of the end of the Islamic fast of Ramadan. Hey, I had to look it up myself!

One of the (few) sites on my blogroll, The Daily Brainwash, has a good article about the silliness of this multiculturalism:

Merry Christmas, dammit!

I lead a secular life. I’m not an atheist or agnostic but I’m not a member of any church. To tell the truth I’ve always been wary of organized religion because even as a child, I could see that being active in a church does not make people better people. I’m a firm believer in separation of church and state, and while I think it’s perfectly OK for religious groups to use public facilities for their activities, I have concerns about organized prayer in public schools.

But lay off Christmas.

There is value in tradition, and Christmas is one of our greatest. Beyond the religious meaning, Christmas in America is a time when we celebrate values like family, generosity, compassion. In our culture it has become something so big that it easily accommodates both the secular and religious worlds. You don’t have to celebrate it if you don’t want to, and are free to give back the federal holiday and go in to work if you feel that strongly about it (hypocrite!), but don’t try to take Christmas from me.

Here’s yet another attempt to erase the existence of Christmas from our collective memory. Boston renamed its Christmas tree the “holiday tree.” The logger who donated the tree says he wouldn’t have gone to the trouble if he’d known that was going to happen.

When we try to cleanse every possibility of offending anyone, we leach the color from our world and make it lifeless. Why such a vapid, characterless existence seems to appeal to so many people, I don’t understand. And by the way, where are all these people who can’t handle the word “Christmas,” because in my life I’ve only met one person who was offended by it. That was 15 years ago and she was a Jehovah’s Witness. I told her “Merry Christmas” and she informed me very sharply, “I do not celebrate Christmas.” I said, “Well then, have a great weekend,” but by the look she gave me, I suspect they don’t do that either.

Another time more recently I asked a coworker if he was looking forward to Christmas, and he said, “No.” I figured he was in a bad mood but found out later he’s more likely to be looking forward to Hannukah. But he didn’t get his nose bent out of joint by the question. He just said “No” and we both went about our business. He didn’t even sue.

If I wish you a Merry Christmas, I’m not pressuring you to drop to your knees and join me in a prayer. I’m expressing a sentiment. I’m wishing you well. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, discard the words like so much wrapping paper and gracefully accept the gift within – my warm thoughts. That’s the adult thing to do. Parents tell children all the time, “It’s the thought that counts.”

Every year I make a point of telling people Merry Christmas, not Happy Holiday or Season’s Greetings or any of that twaddle. On Dec. 25, this nation marks Christmas. That’s the way it is.

I urge you all to tell as many people as you can “Merry Christmas” this year. Make sure your Christmas cards, family portraits, form letters to all your relatives, wrapping paper and house decorations say Christmas and not holiday. When people object, say it louder.

“Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!”

Let’s be honest here. The Muslim population of the United States is only a few percent; Eid al-Fitr simply isn’t that big an event. Hanukkah is a traditional Jewish holiday, but as Jews reckon things, one of the less important ones on their calendar. The only reason that non-Jewish Americans pay attention to it (as in: more attention than Yom Kippur or Passover, far more important days in Judaism) is because it occurs in December, making it the Jewish holiday closest to Christmas.

At least Hanukkah is of ancient tradition; Kwanzaa is simply a made-up holiday, a recent innovation to try to celebrate African American pride. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but please, it ain’t the cultural equivalent of Christmas.

We have become so freaking tolerant that we tolerate everything but our own traditions. As the quote from Robert Frost that I posted Saturday put it, a liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel. We have become so embarassed by our own traditions, by the notion that we might see Christianity as a dominant culture in the United States, that we have to downplay it, that we have to have “holiday trees” and “winter break” and crap like that, just because we are so worried we might offend someone.

We are a tolerant society. That means we do not criminalize or penalize people for having views which are different from the majority culture. The majority does not seek to impose its culture on the minority. That’s why we tolerate atheists, people who don’t believe in God.

The problem comes when the minority tries to impose not only cultural tolerance, but cultural silence on the majority, claiming to be offended and in some way (usually a legally actionable way) harmed. That’s why we don’t bother the people down the street who say they are atheists, yet leave well enough alone, but get angry at idiots like Michael Newdow, who tries to use the legal system to require the majority to conform to his minority views.

If people in minority cultures expect the majority to be tolerant toward them, they ought to learn that tolerance works both ways.