Monthly Archives: November 2014

Is there a trend?

The notion that the US should use its military forces to police the world and determine its future has been a bipartisan disaster for a long time. The opposition to this concept has been centered with the left wing of the Democratic Party in recent years but there are signs now that it may be losing favor in conservative circles as well. Andrew Bacevich, the intellectual leader of the opposition, is himself a conservative by inclination and Pat Buchanan has been outspoken in his magazine “The American Conservative.”  Most recently Rand Paul has caused a stir by his opposition to international meddling and his potential as a Republican presidential candidate.

Today Paul Mulshine, a conservative columnist for the Star-Ledger has taken on Max Boot, who has evidently advocated US military action against both Bashar Asssad and ISIS in Syria. Max Boot is a neo-conservative who  is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, a title that should tip you off on his thinking.

In his column Mulshine mentions that he researched the issue by consulting with Andrew Bacevich. What’s happening here? Are the conservatives going to take over this issue? Can Rand Paul get conservative support for his campaign? Are the Democrats going to continue their hopeless quest for so-called centrism? Will Obama never rid himself of Susan Rice?

 

Jim Webb?

The dismal performance of the Democratic party at the polls and the dreary prospect od Hillary Clinton have sent people searching for an alternative candidate. In today’s NY Times Thomas Edsall looks at Jim Webb’s prospects. Interesting stuff and it comes with a quote I like from Morris Fiorina:

We have a situation where voters can choose between a party that openly admits to being a lap dog of Wall Street and a party that by its actions clearly is a lap dog but denies it. At least vote for the honest one.

Fish or cut bait?

The hysteria about the “threat” that ISIS poses to the US continues. Obama hopes to do something with air support to the opposition, while right wingers imply that they would support “boots on the ground”. Yet no one really believes that will happen or that the Obama approach will be successful. In an op-ed in the LA Times, Andrew Bacevich  says the obvious. If this is so  important either mobilize to achieve success or stay home.

Bacevich argues that we are following a continuing trend in our military posture, trying to see just how little we can commit and thus achieve a cheap victory. Instead he argues we should mobilize for success or stay out of the fight.

Through its military exertions in the Islamic world, the United States is clearly trying to achieve something very big. And whatever that something might be, it seems plain that the job is nowhere near to being finished. If nothing else, the rise of Islamic State affirms that “Mission Accomplished” is still nowhere in sight.

Yet from the outset, Americans have refused to acknowledge what employing military means to do big things entails. On this point, the lessons of history are quite clear. Business as usual won’t do. Put simply, doing big things militarily necessitates reconfiguring national priorities, with peacetime pursuits taking a back seat to wartime imperatives.

The old-fashioned word for this is mobilization, which implies changing just about everything: tax rates, patterns of consumption, social relationships, educational priorities, the prerogatives exercised by the state and, of course, the size of the armed forces. In simplest terms, mobilization implies collective effort that involves collective sacrifice, without which wars fought to achieve big things are doomed to fail.

It’s clear that the people of he US are not ready for such a mobilization, but fortunately Bacevich has another alternative. Stay home. Eleven years of continuing war in the Middle East and the expenditure of about three trillion dollars have shown us that a much greater effort is required to reorder the area to our satisfaction.

(Incidentally Bacevich has retired from Boston University and is now visiting professsor at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia.)

 

 

Educational Testing

The New York Review of Books has been campaigning against the current fixation on testing as the solution to all problems in education. Here are two recent articles, both reviews of books by Diane Ravitch that look at the competition.

First: The Myth of Chinese Superschools. This reviews Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World by Yong Zhao. Both the author and Ravitch conclude that the Chinese system is closer to the second alternative in the title, and that is due to their traditional emphasis on testing.

Second: Schools We Can Envy reviews Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?  by Pasi Sahlberg, Here the author considers what makes Finlands schools superior despite their lack of emphasis on testing.

I haven’t studied these issues sufficiently to reach a personal opinion, but the very nearly unanimous emphasis on testing in recent years is enough in itself to make me suspicious.