Sunday, February 7, 2016

Echo Chamber? Only When Confronting the Incredibly Stupid

One of the best ways to piss me off is to dismiss expertise via calling experts "elites."  So, I woke up with this
 What was Mark reacting to? Ah, the folks who study national security find Ted Cruz's references to carpet-bombing to be appalling.  Not just from a moral standpoint, but from a standpoint of, dare I say it, expertise and experience: that we know that indiscriminate bombing does not work.  Bombing German cities did not reduce the economic production of the Nazi war machine until the last few months (one could say it served to distract German resources, but then again, the bombers were a distraction from allied resources and efforts as well).  Carpet bombing Vietnam was somewhat useful in bargaining but did not defeat the Viet Cong nor Vietnam.  Oh, and carpet bombing Cambodia?  Not good.  These experiences have created a consensus on the issue of carpet bombing by those who take national security seriously.

Is this consensus an echo chamber?  Probably not since the folks who study national security disagree on damn near everything, whether that is partition (not a fan, but many are), counterinsurgency strategies (contrast the Exums of the world with the Fousts), the effectiveness of drones, and on and on.  Cruz just happened to hit one of the few things upon which most national security folks agree--that carpet bombing is such a bad idea that it creates a consensus.  Indeed, I told Mark that it was really strange that he wanted to "die" on this particular hill....

This does not mean that there is a consensus on how to fight ISIL or on the efficacy of targeted bombing.  But those are different issues.

The broader problem with Mark's statement is the implication that those who study national security are wimpy effete elites--the reference to pinky extended wine glass holding.  Besides the fact that many of us prefer beer to wine, this statement is problematic because it suggests that manly men who are not wine-swillers are better judges of national security (I spent the earlier part of yesterday tweeting the twitter handles of a bunch of smart women who do international security stuff).  This is akin to, but perhaps not identical, to the frequent argument that only those with military experience can judge national security issues.  I always find this problematic precisely because we are better off having both military and civilian experts on this stuff--that civilian expertise serves as a check on the military.  Indeed, civilian control of the military, a fundamental aspect of modern democracy, requires voices outside of the military to provide some perspectives on the issues.  Otherwise, you just get Presidents and Prime Ministers simply doing what the Generals and Admirals want, and that is not always good (despite the Presidential candidates saying that they will exactly that--just listen to the military folks).

Perhaps there is a consensus these days among national security elites: that the Republican Party is producing presidential candidates who are mostly or entirely ignorant about national security, which leads to stupid statements and problematic stances.  It used to be the case that the Democrats were the party where ignorance of all that is military was a badge of honor.  These days, it is the GOP, and I would much prefer it if both parties saw expertise in these issues as a good thing, rather than something to disparage.  Because I know that calling something elite these days is supposed to be an insult.

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