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Wednesday, July 28, 2004
The Debate Continues

I think this is easier to follow point by point.

Should those without military service keep quiet on issues of war and peace? Under what circumstances can someone who has never served in the military advocate war?

Raffi: It is not dishonorable for those who are against war (to) say so without joining the military. I believe that it is dishonorable for those who are for war, and are physically able to go, to not go, especially if the war is controversial and they their wish to start a war.

TJ: This is the crux of the problem, Raffi. What you have created is a rule of debate in a democratic society in which pacifists, isolationists and appeasers have a de facto “veto” over those who favor military action.

Your new demand for a one sided debate with only one answer (Peace at all costs!) raises a lot of questions – what, for instance, would qualify as a “controversial” war? Is it required that there be no significant public protests? Well, Afghanistan wouldn’t qualify. Is it bipartisan support? Well, take a look at the roll call vote giving our President authorization for war in Iraq. Is it majority support in the opinion polls? Again, at the time of the conflict, there was wide but not universal support (somewhere in the 60% range as I recall).

A further consequence of your logic is that those without military experience and no intention of joining the military should refrain from taking part in any public debate on the military. If there is only one answer they could “honorably” conclude, then why bother participating in the debate at all. The answer is already a given. How many people would that exclude from questions of war and peace? Has to be in the high tens of millions. You do the math, I ain’t so good at that thing with all the numbers.

Also, I have to imagine your logic would have to apply to other elements of public life. If you support aggressive police action to target gangs and drug dealers in the inner city, and you are physically able, it would certainly be “dishonorable” to allow someone else to do the dirty work. To be honorable, you would have to advocate a lax police policy, unless of course, you proved yourself willing to give up your present career and join the police force.

Name calling is a desperate tactic that is intended to shut down debate rather than address real points. Now, if you want to say – hey, let’s consider the costs of war really carefully. That’s fine. But don’t impugn people’s patriotism. If we were 25 year old single guys, you would have a bit more ground. We are all between the ages of 34 and 36, we all have kids, and we all have a long history of strong support for men and women in uniform, and respect for the work they do.

Raffi: You can bet that if some foreign country was invading the US or if the Nazis were taking over the world again, that I would be an advocate of war, and I would go and enlist. I suppose there are some who in those conditions would hide in their basement and hope someone else would do the fighting.

TJ: Ok, Raffi, you got me. When the Islamic hordes hit the American beaches, I will be hiding in my basement wishing we had never confronted Islamic terror at its roots. Meanwhile, you and the legions will be repelling the invaders with copies of Michael Moore’s book and precision guided open toed shoes.

Raffi: You and your friends have the luxury of being able to debate the pros and cons of war with each other when none of you have any intention of putting your lives at risk. But you don't mind at all risking Mark's life, or the lives of thousands of servicemen like him. Because - hey thats the career they signed up for right? They are paid to fight at your whim aren't they? Newsflash: they are not. Americans enlist in the military with the full expectation that they won't have to fight unecessary elective wars.

TJ: Exactly where in the recruiting brochure did you see that promise? Maybe military mark can shed some light on this, but was he given the assurance that he will not be called to serve in any “unnecessary, elective wars”? I would think that anyone who joins the military would have the clear understanding that if the commander in chief deems it necessary, it ‘aint elective.

Raffi: I'm sure you think of yourselves as being part of some higher value while collar class that should not be expected to dirty your hands with the actual fighting.

TJ: Actually, no. I come from the lower middle class, Rafi-mon. I considered a career in the military. I applied to West Point and, as clear evidence of the military’s clear thinking, denied. I scored a 99th percentile on the AFSAB and sat down on a number of occasions with the Marine Corps recruiters. But I, like many, many others, chose a different path. I don’t look down at the men and women who serve in the military – I look up to them, precisely because I respect what they do and what they sacrifice. Not just in war. One of our colleagues from college is a career army officer, and is married to a woman who is also an army officer. They have one child. He is stationed in Colorado, she is stationed in Washington state. Don’t imply we don’t respect that sacrifice. We do. Again, I don’t agree that we are doing as much as the guys in the military to win the war. Those guys are sacrificing far more. But I am not going to stay quiet about issues that I think are critical to the future security of this country because you are going to accuse me of being unpatriotic.

Raffi: And yes, I do find it kind of disgusting to see strong, able bodied men say that the current war is necessary and is addressing a real imminent devastating threat - and then push off the responsibility for fighting it on someone else. If I believed as you apparently do that this war is necessary - I would volunteer. The bar for going to war should be set that high.

TJ: You have obviously spent too much time looking at our photos at the white house. I appreciate the acknowledgment of our “able-bodied-ness”. We do try to watch our figures.

I assume that you think that having a military is necessary, right? So, even if you don’t support the war, you are pushing the responsibility of protecting our country on to someone else, right? You are setting the bar awfully high. In fact, if your standards were intact, we might still have slavery. There were, after all, draft riots throughout the North during the Civil War. The American military allowed people to pay others to take their place in the union army. In other cases, immigrants were taken off boats and immediately conscripted into the army. The south was not, after all, an imminent threat (they wanted to be left alone to continue the southern slave way of life). People were pushing their responsibilities onto others. Many hundreds of thousands were conscripted to join the union army against their will. Sounds like your definition of an elective, un-necessary war to me. Perhaps Lincoln should have just let well enough alone.

At the time, many wars seem “elective” and “un-necessary” to at least some of the people. We only know in hindsight. We stayed out of an “elective” and “Un-necessary” conflict in Europe until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and brought us into the war. Yet, we would have been far better off to have defeated Hitler in 1938 or 1939, when there was no clear consensus for action in the United States. We would have also been far better off to have prepared for a war that was clearly coming. That’s what leadership is about. FDR failed the test. He redeemed himself, but he failed the initial test. Korea was certainly elective and you can debate whether it was necessary. At the time, I think it was more controversial than it is today. On the other hand, there is a consensus (which I don’t agree with) that we should have stayed out of Vietnam and should not have gotten involved in that “un-necessary conflict”.

I think Bush made the right decision – to attempt to change the course of the Middle East by removing two of the worst regimes on the planet and providing 50 million Arabs in those countries with a chance at Democracy.

The Democrats say that Iraq was all about September 11th. They are right, in a sense. September 11th made it clear that we cannot live with the status quo of anti-American dictatorships in the Middle East. Afghanistan alone does not change the middle east – with all the forces of the Arab world lined up to prevent its success, it was an experiment doomed to failure. Now, we have expanded the playing field and, if we are successful (a risky proposition, I admit), these two countries will serve as shining cities on a hill for the rest of the Arab world. An alternative to the oppression, deprivation and despotism they live under now.

WMD’s is a part of the calculation, but the broader calculation is about the future of the middle east. We can’t just live with the status quo in the Middle East, because it has one and only one endgame – a nuclear device exploding in a major American city. Bush understands that, and that, ultimately, is why the Iraq war was necessary.

2. Do you really know Military Mark? You seem like an odd pair.

Raffi: How kind of you to inquire. I have known Mark and his family since childhood. The only reason I'm posting on this web site is that Mark wanted me to read your shockingly craven replies to his post about how if you are for the war you should enlist. The editorial level of this web site is not high enough to attract me for any other reason.

TJ: Again with the name calling. You seem very angry. Perhaps you should take some time off and watch the soothing sounds of the Democratic National Convention. We don’t apologize for the editorial level of the web site. It exists to entertain us, not you.

3. Why do you feel compelled to cloak your opposition to Bush in conservative rhetoric you don’t really believe? (How do we know you aren’t a conservative - - well, for one, you didn’t like the picture of Reagan in the Cowboy hat and that’s a tell tale sign. Two, you rhetoric is somewhat to the left of Michael Moore and your talking points cribbed off of; Three, you criticize Bush for not spending enough on education; and you suggest we should follow the (socialized) health care models of the “rest of the industrialized world” in order to fix the problems with our own system. Fourth, you lose sleep over our fictional status as an “international pariah”. Conservative? Give us a break, Raffi. For bonus credit, what does it tell us about the state of your ideology that you aren't even willing to admit you are a liberal, even on the web?

Raffi: Let me address now your many sub questions:

a. As a conservative, I still think that the nation needs to invest in education. I don't think it should be the federal government doing it. We should return all the federal education money back to the states. Block grants would be a start. Lowering federal taxes and such that states can raise their taxes so that the money is raised and used locally for education would be better. The fact is that it is very scary how far our educational system (up until college - our mostly private secondary educational system is still the best in the world) is falling behind the rest of the world. This is a serious threat to our economy which already manifests itself - and will only get worse until we fix it. It doesn't make you a liberal to be for investment in public education. This has been basic US domestic policy for 300 years.

TJ: Yet, this basic US domestic policy is, by your lights, failing. Curiously, the failure seems to have accelerated right around the time that the United States local, state and federal governments were making massive “investments” into education. I agree with you that the system is a mess, but I think that more “investment” is largely wasted. We need to implement school choice and bring competition into the system. Not more money. The fact is, immigrant nuns with 12th grade educations are able to teach kids to read and write better than all the high paid public school teachers with Education MA's equipped with the latest technological gizmos and the latest “research” from academia.

b. Nationalized health care is very inefficient - like most things administered by the government. But right now the current health care system is horribly broken. I've been a corporate manager for a number of years, and I'm now running my own business. Providing health benefits is the biggest financial problem I face. It costs more than $1500 per month per person to provide it. This is almost an additional salary per person. My competitors in Canada, Europe, China and Japan don't have to pay this. Its a huge cost advantage for them. They can hire more people than I can. This impacts my business - it slows me down. In fact it has caused me to hire a number of Canadian contractors. This is one of the major reasons that jobs are being outsourced to other nations. I bet you are comfortably ensconced in a salaried job with benefits, blissfully unaware of how difficult it is for your employer to provide benefits. It will come as a big surprise when they lay you off and ship your job abroad to somewhere with nationalized medicine.

TJ: Well, I disagree, at least partly. Your “competitors” in Canada, Europe, China and Japan certainly do have to pay the costs of health care in their countries, as do the workers in their plants. It comes in the form of higher taxes that they have to pay. The money has to come from somewhere. No free lunch, right? I don’t know your individual business, so I can’t really comment on whether or not this is accurate or not – I’ll take you at your word. But don’t be fooled into thinking that national health care will make your business more competitive – again, the money is going to come from somewhere and, as a business owner, you should take a long look in the mirror.

Exactly what makes sense for the government to provide is a long discussion. I think a federal benefit that covers only catastrophic health problems (cancer, diabetes, aids etc.) would go a long way to solving this problem. People should pay out of pocket for day to day health maintenance.

TJ: A partially nationalized health care system.

c. About being an international pariah - I guess you don't read foreign newspapers much. Give it a try - you may be surprised. Hey no one is lining up to send troops to Iraq. Remember when we were kids that Americans could travel all over the world and count on the goodwill of the people in almost every nation? Boy that was a happy memory. Thanks George!

TJ: I like the Sun. They have a very interesting column on Page 3.

When was that time? Was it raining gumdrops? Was it during the Reagan administration? I doubt it. The Europeans hated us. As I remember, a number of US nightclubs were firebombed. I would have hated to travel in Iran in the late 1970s- - we weren’t too popular there either. Was it during the Bush 41 administration? I don’t remember my fellow SU students feeling a lot of “international goodwill” when their plane was blown up over Scotland.

Face it, the international goodwill towards Americans has been a fiction. PJ O’Rourke wrote about the anti-American attitudes among European elites and people in the Arab world at least as far back as 1987. Was there a wave of sympathy for the US after 9/11 – sure, we had experienced a tragedy. But that sympathy was shallow and meaningless. The very article that declared “we are all Americans now” included the useful reminder that America bore some of the blame for the cowardly attack.

As for the Iraq war, the French, the Germans, the Russians were on Saadam’s payroll! The UN Oil for Food scandal clearly shows that these guys were hip deep in Baathist blood money. International goodwill. Sorry, I don’t feel so bad for you international globetrotters – if you aren’t willing to stand up to the European elites during your next trip overseas, then you can just tell them how much you appreciated Michael Moore’s movie and I am sure you will get a warm reception.

Raffi: Anyway I laid the challenge down - I'll take any of you on, on any issue I've mentioned, and I'll argue it without challenging the basics of traditional "conservative" economic theory - which apparently unlike you I actually understand and believe. I laid them out in broad strokes for you in two posts already. In your looking glass world my belief in these conservative ideas somehow makes me a liberal.

So far, you have supported some form of national health care and increased educational spending. No offense, Raffi, but you are not exactly Barry Goldwater.

4. Please tell me which federal programs you would cut?

Raffi: Oh boy.... lets not spend out time trimming around the edges shall we? If we're going to cut federal spending we need to get serious - and address them in order of size. About half the budget goes to finance the debt. We can't afford to cut taxes without reducing debt. We were on the right track for few years on the debt issue. Not any more... Thanks for that too George.

TJ: Again, your instincts are liberal. The reality is that it was ECONOMIC GROWTH that led us out of deficits in the 1990s. Yet, you want to throw a wet blanket on growth by raising taxes.

Raffi: The other issue is the amount we spend on the military. We could start by not spending a billion dollars a day in Iraq. We could continue be not allowing no-bid contracts that give impossibly good deals to certain well connected firm. This is just robbery and we should put a stop to it. We could continue by being more efficient about how we procure military hardware. Like how about buying instread or renting those new bombers. Or how about not developing programs like the Crusader artillery program till just about completion - and then killing it at the end. etc. etc. We need a strong military for sure - but you can't be serious about reducing the federal budget without addressing waste in military spending.

TJ: You are four for four. Cut military spending/pull out of Iraq. Raise taxes. National health care (for catastrophic coverage) and increased education spending. I am waiting for all this promised conservatism.

Raffi: We could continue by eliminating social security and replacing it with some kind of properly structured investment account based retirement program. So long as its not another giveaway to the big finanacial firms.

TJ: Finally! But, of course, you leave yourself an out. How can we do it if big financial firms will make money! Well, you can’t. Of course, who is the only candidate pushing to make part of social security a personal retirement account? Uh… Bush.

Raffi: We could continue again by repealing the insane medicare drug benefit that locks in outrageously high drug prices. (Remind me again - you guys think Bush is a conservative right?) Btw, why are drug prices lower in Canada? It couldn't be because their health care system is more efficient than ours or is it because their government didn't sell them down the river to the drug companies.

TJ: I’ll let Jason handle this one. It’s his area.

Raffi: We could continue further by returning all the education money back to the states. And I'd remove federal subsidies to local law enforcement too. Like education it should be paid for locally. I'm for raising state and local taxes to meet the needs. We could remove all the federal subsidies to big agricultural companies. Or the bail outs of the Airlines. Or bail out of banks. If you screw up your business you should be out of business.

TJ: You are a federalist. Good for you. But who is the candidate who will fight for more local control over money? Bush. Again you support increased taxes. Even at the local leve, that's not a good sign of conservatism. Agriculture subsidies bad. Sure. I agree. Pair it with an end to subsidies for big city transit and we can work something out. I agree on the bailouts, although I think the Airline industry bailout post 9/11 was probably needed given the circumstances.

Raffi: The list goes on of course but then we start getting into the smaller budget items - while some of them might be outrageous - like Nasa - they really don't amount to a significant amount of federal money.

TJ: Did you skip the cuts to Medicaid and other welfare programs? That's usually a big conservative thing. I guess it goes without saying for all us conservatives, right?

5. Did you support the Bush tax cuts?

Raffi: I want federal taxes cut - but the Bush tax cuts are of course to any right thinking conservative - insane. If you raise spending, then tax cuts just add further insult. You are not only spending more - but by delaying payment you are increasing the cost of your purchases. Its irresponsible. It used to be that proper "John Wayne" conservatives didn't much like debt. Of course the Republican party is now occupied by Bush the Lesser. Always was an irresponsible wastrel his whole life - we shouldn't be surprised how he runs the country.

TJ: “Bush the lesser” – this is classic MoveOn type rhetoric. I don’t like the debt either and I am 100% behind dramatic cuts to the federal budget in all non-military areas. It isn’t a question of whether we can “afford” tax cuts. It isn’t the governments money. Cut the spending. Cut the spending. Cut the spending. Also, you should look into counseling for your anger issues.

Raffi: Assuming we cut spending and could afford tax cuts, my preference would be to simplify the tax code. A flat tax, no deductions, around 30% for all the income above say 70k. If you earn less than 70k, you pay no tax. The rate stays the same, the cutoff moves up and down depending on the needs of the treasury.

TJ: Sure, it’s a flat tax, except the people making over 70k (what, 10% of the country?) pay 100% of the tax. Sounds more progressive than our current system. Given that the current top rate is near 30% already (is it 28%?) you would bankrupt the country with this plan. I would support a true flat tax – around 15% -- with a small personal exemption for those living below the poverty line. We are all about shared sacrifice here on the right, aren't we Raffi?

6. How is it that you believe it simultaneously to be true that (a) Iraq and Afghanistan were meager, irrelevant and militarily powerless nations and, at the same time, that (b) Iran is very pleased that the US military (and not, presumably, the pitiful Iraqi and Afghan armies) is situated on their borders? I would think that Iran would prefer the weak pushover nations you described to the might of the US military. Please explain.

Raffi: Afghanistan, and Iraq together - with US financial and military support - are a good match for Iran - not for us. This was the policy of previous smarter presidents going back to Nixon. Thanks for blowing that beautiful setup George. (I've learned my lesson. I will never again vote for an idiot.) The US being tied up fighting insurgents in Iraq makes us less threatening to Iran - not more. This is why they now have no fears and have accelerated their nuclear program. We don't have the means to do anything to them without resorting to things (like the draft) that they and we know we don't have the resolve to do. I'm sure it is a comfort to them by the way to hear about how Americans like you encourage the nation to war, but would never enlist personally.

TJ: This is entirely ass-backwards. I don't even know where to start. Why should I bother? If you really think this is the case, you are either deluded or insane. You neglect to mention the US sanctions which kept Saadam in a nice tight box for the Iranians -- my guess is that they would prefer that to an Iraqi democracy spoiling for another democratic ally next door and backed by the US military.

Again with the assault on our patriotism. Again with the insults to the President. All those “smart” presidents (and I include Reagan on this score) allowed anti-American islamofascism to fester for 30 years.

7. How is it that you believe it simultaneously to be true that (a) it is a travesty that those who have volunteered for service (national guard members), were trained for service, and paid for that training, are now expected to go to fulfill their duty when the President calls on them and (b) civilian supporters of the war who have established jobs and families and chose for various reasons not to join the military, are unpatriotic for not rushing out to the recruiting station?

Raffi: Thanks for confirming that you think that men like Mark are your personal army to send out on oil gathering errands so you can drive your SUV to get "Big Gulps" down at the service station. Just because they have enlisted does not mean we have the right to put them in harms way unless there is no other choice.

TJ: I do not believe that we should put servicemen in harms way for no reason. But when there is a good reason – and I think changing the face of the middle east to help secure a safer future for our country – I am going to support it. I just don’t share your view that members of our armed forces are victims. They are heroes. They are doing great work and accomplishing great and difficult things.

As for the National Guard, I sympathize with people being activated – but I just don’t agree with the mentality that the military is some sort of work-fare program that provides a nice little stipend and tuition benefits. It is not AmeriCorps. Joining the military is a serious commitment – with real consequences. My point is that I don’t think it makes any sense for you to expect untrained 35 year olds to make a contribution to the war but think that the trained national guard units who have been preparing for this duty should stay home. Of course, you don’t really expect us to make a contribution, but it is hard to call us “dishonorable” without that canard.

For what it is worth, if they were my personal army, our flag would be flying over a liberated Tehran. I don't expect them to follow my every whim (as you suggested earlier), but when the commander in chief calls, I expect them to do their duty (and I know that they will). In contrast, you would recommend, what? They refuse to go? They call for a special conservatives only draft of 35 year old married men with kids? Please. I think the anti SUV language is a nice touch. Very very conservative.

Raffi: The president's "bring it on" comment speaks volumes about what kind of president we've got now. About the only thing he guarded back in the Texas Air National Guard was bar stools all over Texas. Well all over the south when he was AWOL. I'm voting for Kerry because I can't bring myself to vote idiot. If I had my proper choice I'd be voting McCain.

TJ: Again with the anger and namecalling. It really undermines your credibility. I guess if you can’t win an argument, you can always offend people into staying away from you. I'm sure you joined me in voting for McCain in the GOP primary, right?

Raffi: I'm conservative on the issues - not because I like Reagan's Cowboy hat.

TJ: Let’s graph this out:

If C = I’m conservative, and H = I like the hat.

Your argument is as follows:

C and ~(H therefore C)

You cannot conclude “H” from this statement, since you are saying you are conservative for other reasons. You could be a conservative because you think it strengthens your liberal arguments (for who?) and at the same time, really hate the hat.

This issue really needs to be clarified before you can be fully accredited as a conservative.

Thanks again for playing. Sorry we aren't more entertaining.

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