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February 12, 2007

Well, we've gone through the first few weeks of the new Congress. I can't say that I'm much impressed.

One of its first actions was to try and pass a bill that restricted freedom of speech, by burying grassroots organizations in mountains of paperwork. Much was made of the fact that groups like MoveOn.org would not have to obey these restrictions while the American Family Association would be forced to comply. I think that it would still have been an infringement on the First Amendment if everyone had to follow those onerous restrictions; it would simply have been a worse infringement.

Granted that no political party has a monopoly on trampling the First Amendment; some years ago, John McCain's name was coupled with a law gagging certain persons some thirty days before an election. The Supreme Court also gave freedom a good thrashing when it upheld that law. At the end of the day, however these restrictions on our rights (our real rights, not the boogeyman rights that suddenly jump out from shadows- I mean, penumbras,) come about, it is we and our children who lose in the end.

Returning to the present, we find that Congress is now considering opposing the troop surge and demanding that all the troops come home soon. I get the feeling that no one among the Congress' new leaders has had the temerity to ask certain, very necessary, questions:

One would hope that the people who stepped forward to lead our future would at least have thought a little bit about such questions, or been asked such questions by their opponents and given some consideration to them. Unfortunately, I find no evidence of rumination upon such questions.

You can probably tell that I've framed these questions in a similar manner to questions an executive may ask about a business deal. These questions may seem a bit cold and cruel, because they're basically treating human lives like dollars and cents. I think these are appropriate questions to ask about current Congressional initiatives because they help us keep perspective.

If, for example, I had ten million dollars invested in a business that was losing money, I'd need to ask similar questions about the business to decide whether or not I'd try to sell my stock. If it's a bad idea to sell my stock, then it's a bad idea to sell my stock. I'd have to sit through uncomfortable news stories about how my business is hemorrhaging, and I'd have to keep close tabs on the situation to keep my investment good. Despite this bad time for the business, it may turn out to deliver a sizable return on investment. Even if it doesn't, I'll have achieved whatever strategic objective I set out to achieve: perhaps a new technology for another, more profitable business, or a position in which I have a business so valuable to someone else that they'll pay me more than my previous losses on it. If I had abandoned the investment when things seemed to be going bad, I would've thrown down the drain all my previous efforts and lost the future rewards. Perspective is therefore essential to prevent waste.

I think the current wave of retreatism is largely based around the fact that we don't like to think about our friends and children being blown up by evil men far from home. Yet we must keep these questions in mind, or we may find our friends and children being blown up by evil men at home. It's already happened. Do we remember 9/11?

I'd like to take a shot at answering my four rhetorical questions. I can think of no foreign policy objective that would be achieved by bringing the troops home now. The objective which would be satisfied is that of humiliating domestic political figures (Pres. Bush) and of appealing to the idea that if there is no obvious war, America is not obviously in danger. This misses the fact that on 9/11, there was no obvious war: at least, it wasn't obvious to us.

Second, our opportunity cost will be substantial. We'll lose the opportunity to engage terrorists in a region they are swarming to. We'll lose the opportunity to penetrate and destroy their networks in that region of the world. We'll lose the opportunity to give the Iraqi people hope for the future.

Thirdly, we'll make the sacrifice of our troops in vain, because we'll have told the world that we don't have the will to do what we say we will. This message will embolden our enemies. Our enemies will also make substantial material progress, as they infiltrate the region and set up new networks to replace the old ones: as they say, when the cat is away, the mice will play. These particular mice wear bombs and self-detonate around pregnant women, but the mice think it's great fun.

Fourth, since there is no foreign policy goal to be achieved by leaving, and we'd lose quite a bit by leaving, we'd be taking an unacceptable loss.

Now for the rebuttal section of my post. John McLaughlin recently claimed that debates about the war do not harm troop morale. I suppose if the debates about the war were conducted in good faith and with similar goals but different ideas about how to get there, that might be true. I might even be encouraged if the debate were proceeding with the congresswoman on the right side of the aisle saying, "No, no, no, we need to do this and this and this to win in Iraq," and the congresspeople on the left side of the aisle jump to their feet and insist, "No, no, no, we need to do things this way to win in Iraq!" One would hope that in such a competitive climate, one would end up with at least two strategies that would work, and even if the lesser of the two were selected, we still would win.

We are not blessed with such a debate at the moment. Right now, some congresspeople on both sides of the aisle say, "We need to win in Iraq!" and some congresspeople on both sides of the aisle say, "Win? We can't win! We have to bring our troops home! Why leave them there if we can't win!" No one has said in so many words that it is impossible to win, but that is the logical conclusion that our enemies will draw if we do run away. How could our nation's leaders proclaiming on national television that we can't win the war not manage to dampen spirits?

Finally, on the whole troop withdrawal front, let's draw it out to an absurd conclusion. Why are we still in Kosovo? Why do we still have bases in Japan and Cuba? Why aren't we bringing those troops home?

I hope it's clear by now that we do not because there are reasons and advantages to having troops in those places (no longer for the same reasons as those in Iraq, of course.) It's hard to think about the violence in Iraq, and we'd like it to stop. Certainly it'd be nice if we didn't have to defend ourselves by sending our soldiers far from their families, and ordering them to hurt and kill people. It's nice to be nice, but if being nice results in innocent people being beheaded, then was it really being nice? Perhaps we ought to concentrate on being good to others before being nice.

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