The Third Rail

Monday, September 09, 2002


Orrin Judd is still claiming that Dr. Strangelove is not a leftist comedy. I can't tell from his post if another person entered Dr. Strangelove before ey so the Ike bio may go to someone else, but I'll defend the movie nonetheless. Orrin Judd's case rests on one of two propositions:

1) Dr. Strangelove is not a comedy

2) Dr. Strangelove is not left-wing.

I believe he concedes the first. He has not denied it in any case. Some people in the comments section claim it's not funny, but I feel that's simply a matter of taste. Black comedy is not for everyone. Enough people have found Dr. Strangelove hilarious enough to be a classic, so he must therefore prove the movie is not leftist. In fact, he claims the opposite. He thinks it has a conservative message. I don't buy it.

I think two things mitigate against it--first, it's mostly a send up of precisely the kind of big government bureaucratic mindset that conservatism opposes.

Unfortunately, the movie does not parody a big government bureaucratic mindset. It parodies the politics of the arms race and MAD (mutually assured destruction). The alternate title of the movie is, "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Loved the Bomb," not "What an Awful Time I had Dealing with the Small Business Adminstration." It's a black comedy pushing the idea of disarmament -a leftist cause.

Sometimes Orrin Judd mentions that conservatism does not necessarily mean being pro-military, but he takes a hardline anti-Communist, pro-nuke position here:

Second, and here I imagine that few would agree with me, the nutty generals are right. We should have just gone ahead and attacked. I've always viewed it as a docudrama rather than a comedy.

It also seems to me that watching the movie today one realizes that the nutso military guys were right, specifically Teller, Patton and LeMay, and that we should have just juked it out with the Ruskies.

This is exactly the attitude that Dr. Strangelove is making fun of in the character of Air Force General Buck Turgeson. It's ridiculing the entire notion of the arms race and nuclear defense. However, Orrin Judd then concludes with a rather bizarre reason on why Dr. Strangelove is a conservative movie.

If at the end of Strangelove we are forced to conclude that even national defense must run amok in the hands of government, then what is left of the case in favor of government?

First, is Orrin advocating a type of free market armed forces here? This is a relatively recent innovation in conservative thought then. Second, the point of the movie is not, "Oh no, the government screwed up self defense, if only we had Boeing handling it instead (maybe that's a bad choice because many leftists probably think Boeing does dictate military policy)." In order for Judd's position to hold, the movie must have shown that a private system of armed defence was preferable, but it never did. It didn't even hint at it. It's an invisible message if it exists. Kubrick wanted to show the insanity of the arms race and Western-Soviet confrontation.

Now it doesn't matter whether that position was right; it's certainly not my belief. However, the movie is clearly leftist, and it is a comedy.

Over to you, Orrin.


Hilarious. I've often wanted to do the same.


I remember. It's easy to tell who your enemies are.


Thank you, but I have a mother. I trust America's parents to determine what they need to tell their children over the September 11 anniversary. In as much as they can see it given their ages, they must see it in my opinion.

Children need assurance they are safe, and it's important to remember and mourn those who died and support victims' families, she said.

Children need assurance that they're safe? Maybe ADULTS need assurance too, which we are not getting as the President has decided to hold no one accountable for the attack and allowed these Washington hacks to keep their job despite their incompetence. Homeland Security is a joke, and I'm all in favor of the Impeach Norm Mineta movement.

The first lady, speaking in English, recalled how insecure she and other Americans felt after learning of the attacks but said security has improved since then.

Oh, yes, the images of airport security hassling old ladies from Minnesota has really made me feel better. Never know when one of them may hijack an airline. In the meantime, the government is giving classified information to terrorists and approving them for flight training. Both Republicans and Democrats need to be punished at the polls for this.


This pisses me off. Will anyone get fired by President Fredo? Don't think so, but please prove me wrong some day. Please.


I remember the initial days after the September 11 attacks when all sorts of crazy people disputed whether Al Qaeda was responsible. Now of course, the cowards have finally confessed. In an interview with Al Jazeera designed as a propaganda move to bolster faith in the failing organization Khalid Sheikh Mohammed talked as if Bin Laden was killed during the American operation in Afghanistan:

During two days of interviews, Mr Mohammed referred to bin Laden, who has not been seen since the fall of Afghanistan’s Taleban regime, in the past tense. The reporter Yosri Fouda, London bureau chief for al-Jazeera, concluded that bin Laden is now likely to be dead.

I remain unconvinced because I am a pessimist. However, this is indeed a blessing. The US government could not claim Bin Laden was dead without risk of embarassment if he showed up alive - it would be a huge propaganda coup if he appeared hale and hearty after claiming he was dead. But now we can have the world media harp on a comment made by Al Qaeda itself that he's dead. It's time for either Al Qaeda to admit he's dead, sufferring a huge propaganda loss, or be in a position that Bin Laden is a coward for being so frightened he won't give the American's proof he's alive. Let's put these jerks in the ringer.


Jane Galt asks why doesn't the US take advantage of its overwhelming power to conquer the world. The immediate answer is of course America's natural inclination of isolationism, an isolationism particularly strong in the Midwest where I grew up. If you grow up near Chicago like I did, not only are you protected by two vast oceans, any enemy would have to slog through a thousand miles across the Appalachians or Rockies to get to you.

However, there are other answers that make a very smart geopolitical and strategic sense.

Let's start with America's unique geography. We are a continent sized nation with only two neighbors, neither of which is able to threaten us in any way, unless you fear the rise of Mexican restaurants. Both countries do pretty much what we need them to do. Incorporating Mexico into the union would entail great economic and cultural identity costs. As for Canada, the United States already gets what it needs out of the relationship. Joint hemispheric defense is done out of NORAD and under American control. Canadians and Americans can travel and work freely between both countries. NAFTA creates an internal market almost as efficient as that within the union. Conquest nets us nothing but ego points and a lot of pissed off Canadians.

Conquest may appear to be apotheosis of power, but it always brings about excess burdens that saps that selfsame power. Armies can conquer, but but the cost of garrisoning your winnings saps your strength for the next battle. The Wehrmacht was a terrifying force in World War II, but one reason Hitler lost the offensive was the need to divert troops to garrison his conquests. Thus, power can be seen as the inverse of actual, as opposed to potential, force used.

In other words, it's easier influence people by threatening people than it is to force them to do something.

The US finds more advantage in NOT using its power than it would in using it. Expending force to achieve an aim is just that, spending it. Once lost, you cannot regain it. Much better to conserve your energy.

It's like being in a fight with three people. No one wants to be the first one to get hit, so they all stay back. The moment you hit one though, that gives the opportunity for the others to get in and knock the crap out of you.

Of course, the threat that is can and will be used must be there, but as long as the threat is credible, people will act out of fear of that force. You could call it the Tarkin Doctrine>, something known to Star Wars geeks (Rule by fear of force, rather than force itself) as Grand Moff Tarkin's strategy of using the Death Star to maintain order in the galaxy. Hey, Peter Cushing was one bad mother, what can I say?

The US has a fairly unique way of fighting wars: we let others do it for us. In every modern war, we have always used proxies to absorb casaulties for us as our owned armed forces act as a force multiplier. In World War I we let the British and French fight on our behalf to drain Germany's armed forces. Only when it looked like they would fail in containing the new European hegemon did we intervene and tilt the balance. In World War II, we let the Russians take the brunt of the fighting against the Germans and the Chinese against the Japanese. In Korea it was the South Koreans, and in Vietnam it was the South Vietnamese. This is not to discount the heroism of American troops, but the historical record speaks for itself.

How did we fight in Afghanistan? We used native troops augmented with Special Forces and airpower. When we fight in Afghanistan we'll be using a proxy force as well.

To a strong extent, this is the ONLY way the US can wage a war. We do not have the advantage of masses of easily disposable troops. Every US soldier is highly trained and a huge investment. We can't sustain losses the ways Russia or China could in World War II. Likewise in terms of military usefulness, an American soldier was much more valuable than a corresponding member of the ARVN or Northern Alliance. I'm not comparing the intrinsic worth of people here, just their military value as soldiers. You always fight according to your advantages.

Besides that, the US must always project its power across the globe. It is extraordinarily hard to project power. While no one in the Eastern Hemisphere can even contemplate an invasion of the Americas (a real invasion, not just a terrorist strike), we can routinely go anywhere. But that is not without cost. The logistics involved are enormous, and to keep an American army adequately supplied it must be small. In order to reduce risks to such a small army, we need allies that can provide a much greater manpower.

Every country in the world knows that we can destroy them if we wished. They simply can't stand against us, but let's say they end up fighting us anyway . When that occurs the rest of the world knows we can't take the time to pound them into sand. This is why we had the "fight two regional wars simultaneously" doctrine; we didn't want the North Koreans getting frisky if we had to fight another war in the Persian Gulf. Thus even if we are fighting Iraq, the North Koreans aren't likely to start trouble. But let's say we try to fight both wars in Jane Galt's let's conquer everyone scenario. That means we're completely busy and everyone knows the chicken coop is now open. What better time for China to take Taiwan, Russia to conquer Georgia, or any number of African countries to begin slaughtering each other?

By using our force, we reduce our ability to affect events, not increase them. By withholding our power, nobody knows when we might strike and therefore they behave better than they would otherwise.

This is not unique in history. For centuries China, as the Middle Kingdom, dealt with a variety of client states. The Romans pursued a similar policy when their power was at its height. But therein lies a good lesson.

Just as the Romans began to dismantle their old client system (where they would support various small kingdoms on the Empire's edge to keep out invasion), their power began to decline as they had to devote more and more of their military and political assets to protect the new parts of their empire. Why did the Romans integrate the previously independent, but allied, frontier states into the empire? Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. The client state system could seem very inefficient as it required constant diplomatic efforts. In addition, the client states themselves desired some of the benefits of the Pax Romana. What else was being an ally of Rome if the only you did was fight border skirmishes on their behalf instead of having the powerful Roman legions make you safe as well. By doing so though Rome lost the initiative and gradually adopted a Maginot Line type of mentality that eventually doomed them.


The inability of our modern leaders to articulate any of our thoughts, hopes, and mourning speaks ill of us. I don't expect every President to be a great orator, but then somebody needs to pick up the challenge - whether Rudy Giulani, Tom Daschle, or hell, David Lettermen.


Utter barbarity.

An Iranian man cut off his seven- year-old daughter's head after suspecting she had been raped by her uncle, the Jomhuri-ye Eslami newspaper said on Sunday.

And wouldn't you know...

A post-mortem, however, showed the girl was still a virgin.

So ignorance is now combined with malice, and a young girl is now dead. The obscene actions of one man does not necessarily fault society, but something is vile and corrupt in any land when justice cannot be done for the following:

Local people have called for the man, who has been arrested, to be hanged, but under Iran's Islamic law only the father of the victim has the right to demand the death sentence.

When faced with such corruption and depotism, the people must take the law and justice into their own hands. I hope they lynch the bastard.


Cardinal Martini is a good man, but no Jesuit will ever become Pope anytime soon. My own predictions for the next Pope:

A) He will not be Italian.
B) He will be European. I'll be pleasantly surprised if it's Cardinal Arinze however.
C) He will be old. The Cardinals do not want another long pontifacy.
D) At least one major reform will happen - either married men will be allowed to become priests or birth control be considered acceptable. Abortion will still be anathema, and the Church will not permit homosexual marriage however.
E) There will be a move to weaken the office of Pope so that the spirit of Vatican II can take over.

The next Pope will preside over a mere interregnum. The true war for the direction of the Catholic Church will happen with the one afterward.


After a promising start, Robin Wright is headed into all types of bad territory. While it is good to see he acknowledges that poverty does not cause terrorism, he still clings to the idea that traditional left wing interpretations still apply. I don't exactly see how "poor nations" rather than "poor people" resurrects this idea, but he tries. He has one major problem.

If poor nations cause terrorism, why aren't there terrorists from African countries, as opposed to oil rich Middle Eastern ones?

Wright is right that terrorism - like all forms of political violence - basically rests on overeducated young men who can't get jobs. These men need something to put their talents too, and lacking a good job market, they gravitate to extrajudicial means. Whether it is Al Qaeda or the SA is really quite irrelevant.

What's terrible is that there are jobs available - but not at the level that these educated men desire. Saudi Arabia is flush with all sorts of migrant labor, but they perform menial tasks that calls into question why these men earned degrees in the first place. Instead of investing in the sons of the very rich, Saudi Arabia should have invested in basic education that would build prosperity from the bottom up. But you can't expect a kleptocracy like the Saudi Royal family do so.

Policy Prescription No. 6: Draw Islamic nations—and for that matter all nations—into the web of global capitalism.

The one problem with this is that this cannot be imposed from the outside. Saudi Arabia's problem is not being cut off from international markets, it's the low level of internal development that can take advantage of such markets. This low development is a direct consequence of policy decisions taken by the House of Saud, and the US will not be able to change that without taking over control of Saudi Arabia, which I think would be a short term disaster.

There is a tendency for various analysts to look over the policy gap of intervention in the form of nation building and the solution to our problems. It implies that only if we did a Marshall Plan for every country that hates us our problems would end. This is not the case. While our generosity towards Japan and Germany helped them, it was their own culture of hard work and order that created their economic miracles. Marshall Plan aid was given to many countries in Europe, but Italy still lagged behind the others. American guidance helped Korea to prosper, but the Philippines stagnated. The American involvement was a constant, the difference in results must be a consequence of inherent qualities in those national cultures.

If the Afghanis cannot make it work, no amount of American involvement can save that land. Likewise for the Saudis. Too much depends on how others will perform, and therefore it makes a poor public policy. It basically is a more sophisticated version of "Wish real hard and it'll come true."

The only way such nation building enterprises can work is if we impose American rule over them for a long time, and are willing to use draconian measures to enforce our well. Otherwise, we cannot impose change on them. The Germans and Japanesewanted American troops to protect them from the Soviets - the Arabs have no reason to tolerate a new "Crusader state." A better solution is to inflict such a crushing defeat on militant Islam that it becomes discredited among Arabs.


The secret to eternal life is within our grasp. Unfortunately, the French have mastered this technology before us.

The mayor of a French Mediterranean town, faced with a cemetery "full to bursting," has banned local residents from dying until he can find somewhere else to bury them.

If only those darn French weren't smarter than us. I demand Congress ban dying immediately. I just hope whatever country Osama bin Laden is in doesn't beat us to it.


I hope this is true. If so, another major financier of Al Qaeda's war is in our hands.


We are all going to die because we're morons.

But he added that if the word "niggardly" was used in a nondiscriminatory manner, he doesn't have a problem with a teacher teaching the word. He said he could not be sure of the teacher's intentions in this case.

For those who don't know, the word "niggardly" is not in anyway related to the word "nigger" and therefore can't be used in a discriminatory manner. A teacher was reprimanded not only because a kid's parent was too ignorant to know what is and is not a racial slur, but also because her union are a bunch of cowards who are too afraid to simply tell the truth. Found via Opinion Journal.


I still remember the television images of retrieving the bodies of dead US Marines as a kid in 1983. I'm all for finally getting those bastards who did it.

It's the same damn war then as now. It took twenty years, and I'm glad to see we're starting to fight back.


Some astute writing from Christopher Hitchens. I like Hitch because he's always willing to buck the groupthink of the left. More people - whether liberal or conservative - should follow his example.


Some good news on the economy at least.


Evidence from documents seized in Afghanistan, and from interrogation of foreign al-Qaeda fighters detained at Guantanamo Bay, have helped MI5 to uncover the terrorist tentacles that lead back to Britain.

I almost want to give up the posts on the little victories that are eroding Al Qaeda's capabilities to launch new attacks, but then I read ramblings such as this and despair.

Some people try to downplay the threat of our enemies so they can condemn our counterattack as too severe. Of course, one reason Al Qaeda may seem less like a threat is that we're winning, and that our victories in Afghanistan has given us vital information on the terrorists. One thing that I have not heard over the Iraq debate is that a US capture of Baghdad may net us substantial information on the terrorist network in the Middle East which will prove invaluable for the war.


Part 3 of Robin Wright's series of terrorism, and this is where our views begin to diverge. We agree that a major problem is how other countries see us. In a world where failed governmental policies of many countries have widened the divide between them and the success of the United States, such disparity is bound to create some sense of frustration, envy, or resentment. We need to be aware of this and flaunt our power little. TR's dictum of speaking softly is quite appropriate, just as if you're a rich man in a bad neighborhood - if you don't want to be robbed, don't flaunt your wealth.

However, Wright seems to be pursuing the theory that only if somehow we can make these people like us, they'll stop attacking us. However, that falls into the trap that we can somehow avoid war by sucking up to terrorists. I don't think Wright means that, he'll support fighting back once attacked, he simply thinks we should abandon policies that provoke others. There are several problems:

1 - Anti-US terrorism is almost exclusively an Arab or Muslim phenomenon. IRA or ETA are distinctly European features, and the IRA at least has shown consistently in pursuing a peaceful resolution to the conflict since 1994. We need to take the salient feature that only Muslims attack us - never Latin Americans despite as past history of interfering in their lives that dwarf anything we've done in the Middle East or Africans whose socio-economic state would make them more desperate than any Arab.

2 - We don't know where the magic mark is that will stop people from hating us. It's basically a reactive strategy we hope will work. It depends entirely on others to succeed. It'll mark us out as perpetual victims.

You can see where Wright's analysis is going by this specific paragraph:

Though 9/11 made Americans aware that in some sense the attitude of the world's Muslims toward America matters, this fact has yet to enter foreign-policy debate very explicitly. This summer, in a big policy shift, President Bush demanded that Yasser Arafat step aside as Palestinian leader, even if he is elected to office by a majority of Palestinians. Bush made no counterbalancing demand of Israel, even though there is one demand—ending the construction of new settlements in the West Bank—that has the support of roughly every American who thinks about these things. Bush caught some flak on this count, but I'm not aware of a single pundit who put the criticism in its most elemental terms: The speech's conspicuous asymmetry had in some intangible but real sense reduced America's national security.

Wright misses the point: America has fundamentally allied itself with Israel in this war now. You don't betray an ally in the hopes your enemy will cut YOU a better deal. The entire Palestinian issue is a huge ruse.

This is entirely between Israel and the Arabs. The US was not involved in any of the wars. True, we now give aide to Israel, but this is counterbalanced by the aide we give Egypt and other Arab countries much less the petrodollars. Throughout the entire peace process the US has constantly put pressure on Israel to make concessions because the Arabs and Palestinians could not do it themselves.

No country has expended greater effort - or gotten better results - on the behalf of Palestinians, yet these people hate us. They hate us not because we're being unfair, but because the result they're getting is not what they want. The Palestinians don't want peace with Israel, they want to destroy Israel. The meme we're fighting against is the delusion that Israel didn't win, that they somehow cheated, and that as long as the Palestinains continue fighting they will someday win.

The only way to get rid of that meme is to destroy by a show of force that demonstrates once and for all the moral and strategic bankruptcy of the Palestinian terrorist leadership.


Have a few days to make up. Third Rail - where all the news is several days old.


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