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Clueless about war

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A lot of columnists over the last day or so have been taking John McCain to task for being somehow "inconsistent" with regard to his criticisms of former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld's policies in Iraq.

Now, I'm not a big fan of McCain - I think he suffers from the "fight the previous war" school of thought, particularly dangerous when that previous war is one that you lost - but it seems to me that his position here is at least perfectly consistent.

The fact is, McCain was always critical of Rumsfeld's minimalist approach to warfare. Way back when the invasion of Iraq first occurred, McCain thought Rumsfeld should be using a lot more troops. Now, almost four years later, he still thinks we should be using more troops. He actually thinks we should be sending to Iraq twice the amount of extra troops that Bush is actually planning on sending - though of course he's happy that, from his point of view, the administration is finally at least starting to come around to the course of action he prefers.

So why do these columnists think this is inconsistent?

Evidently, these columnists can only distinguish two positions: prowar and antiwar. Rumsfeld was by definition prowar because he was Secretary of Defense for most of the war up to date. Bush is prowar too, since he was and is President. The columnists seem to think that if you're prowar, you necessarily agree with everyone else who is prowar; if you disagree with any of them, you're antiwar, and have to disagree with all of them. Thus, the possibility of someone who agrees with Bush's policy decision to fight the war in the first place, while disagreeing with the specific military strategies Rumsfeld used, is beyond their powers of comprehension.

Wake up, guys. Just because someone agrees or disagrees with you on one thing doesn't mean they agree or disagree with you on everything.
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On February 21st, 2007 10:09 pm (UTC), greyautumnrain commented:
Oh, sweetie, don't hold your breath on them getting this. Remember, these are former English majors we are talking about here.

Next thing you know, you'll be suggesting that people who are opposed to the war shouldn't necessarily be for an immediate troup withdrawal. You'll want them to think through the actual consequences of pulling out now using actual logic instead of wishful idealism.
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On February 22nd, 2007 05:32 am (UTC), psychohist replied:
I take your point - though I don't know that this is quite fair to English majors.

I remember when I made a similar statement to my father, and he said that when he was in college, it seemed that the people who actually thought about things were in the liberal arts, and the engineers were mostly drudges who memorized formulas by rote. I suggested that perhaps it was just biased points of view on our parts - he was in liberal arts and I was an engineer - but he said he thought it had actually changed over the intervening decades.

It seems to me it shouldn't be too much to ask that to get any college degree, whether in liberal arts or in science and engineering, people should be required to be able to think clearly and logically, and preferably also have enough mathematics to analyze things quantitatively and enough writing skill to communicate and present their thoughts clearly. But then, maybe that's just my own wishful idealism showing.
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On February 22nd, 2007 08:08 pm (UTC), twe replied:
My father is also an English major, and he used to say how it seemed much more likely to find a scientist or engineer who could write well than a liberal arts major who had any concept of even basic "science." (He translates for a living and is constantly aghast at the nonsensical things his co-workers write when translating anything technical, because they have no grasp of even the most basic physical concepts.)

Then again, my father doesn't have a very high opinion of much of the fourth estate's ability to form grammatical sentences, let alone critical thoughts. :)
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On February 21st, 2007 10:11 pm (UTC), desireearmfeldt commented:
For a slightly less absurd rephrasing of basically the same point: they may be imagining that it's impossible to hold the position "I don't think we should (have) start(ed) this war, but if we're going to start/continue it, I think we ought to fight it with lots of troops rather than with not so many."
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On February 21st, 2007 10:26 pm (UTC), treptoplax commented:
Expect a lot more of this.
It's broader than that; for some years now, McCain has been penciled into the memetic niche of 'prominent conservative republican who nonetheless disagrees with the crazed Bush administration' by people who find it necessary to believe such creatures exist; it was only partially true, and McCain didn't particularly discourage it because it was politically expedient. (E.G., the whole 'gang of 12' Judicial confirmations mess.)

Now that he's the most conservative Republican presidential front-runner, that whole dynamic has changed.
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On February 22nd, 2007 03:52 am (UTC), readsalot commented:
psychohist, can you point me at some examples? So far, all I've found is someone who thinks that criticizing Rumsfeld's policies is a "flip-flop" after thanking him for his service to the country. Sigh. (I don't like McCain--I think he's pandering to the conservative Christians--but attacking him for things he's not doing is just stupid.)
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On February 22nd, 2007 05:05 am (UTC), psychohist replied:
Google News is great for getting diverse viewpoints, but one of its problems is that it's sometimes hard to track down things you've seen once they drop off the front page. Here's one that wasn't one of the ones I read, but is similar:


Unlike the ones I read, though, this one contains at least one factual error I can identify - it says McCain missed the vote on "his own plan to escalate the war in Iraq", whereas in fact McCain's resolution never came to a vote, and the vote he missed was the one on exactly the opposite resolution - and that error makes the rest of its 'facts' suspect in my opinion. The columns I remember were only guilty of logical errors, not factual ones.
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On February 22nd, 2007 05:23 am (UTC), psychohist replied:
Oh, and I'm afraid we'll see a lot of "pandering to conservative Christians" for the next year or so. The primaries come before the general election, and there are a lot of conservative Christians voting in the Republican primaries.

It's unfortunate that the two party system makes it so difficult for actual moderates to get nominated.
On February 23rd, 2007 02:52 am (UTC), treptoplax replied:
Gerrymandering makes this problem significantly worse, I think; a moderate candidate from the district-minority party is much less of a threat than it might be otherwise.
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On February 23rd, 2007 05:49 am (UTC), psychohist replied:
I'm confused, can you clarify?

I was just thinking that to win in the primary (or primaries), it's best to be close to the center of your own party, which is likely to be at some distance from the center as a whole. Moderate candidates who are near the center overall tend to be at an extreme within their party - for example, Giuliani is about as liberal as Republicans get - and thus have a tougher time getting nominated. Is this the effect you're thinking of, or are you thinking of a different one?

Approval voting would help a lot, but no one seems willing to try it.
On February 23rd, 2007 03:19 pm (UTC), treptoplax replied:
Well, one constraint primary voters do often consider is electability in the general election - you see a lot of talk about that in, say presidential primaries. There's a strong incentive to nominate a moderate for fear the other side will do the same. In a gerrymandered (eg, US congress) district one party has no realistic shot anyway, so that's no longer a concern.

Um... so, let's assume the electorate is split Left/Center-left/Center-right/Right in a 25/25/25/25 split:

The ideal candidate in a Right-party primary is at the Center-right/Right boundry; no single other candidate can beat him. However, he'll lose to any Center-left candidate nominated by the Left party, so there's a strong incentive to vote for a center-right candidate who can get elected in the general.

But now suppose Right-party controls the districting, and there are actually two kinds of districts:

20/20/30/30 (4N right-leaning districts)
40/40/10/10 (N left-leaning districts)

Hard right candidates can now win in right-leaning districts, and hard left candidates are viable in left-leaning ones. You end up with a polarized legislature that's 80% center- and far- right, and 20% center- and far- left.

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On February 23rd, 2007 04:08 pm (UTC), psychohist replied:
I'm not sure I see it - or rather, I see it only in the strongly polarized district, where in your example the hard left is almost half the vote and primary voters don't need to make any concessions to electability to keep a quarter of the center left on their side. In the less strongly polarized district, the natural winner of the right party primary, at the split between center right and far right, is still at risk of losing a critical third of the center right voters to a center left candidate.

I do agree with the general idea that electability concerns are reduced in strongly asymmetric districts. However, I'm skeptical of whether electability actually affects primary results in the first place. I understand the logic of the argument, but it seems to me that empirically, the people who win the primaries are those at the center of their party, not people who are closer to the center overall for electability reasons.
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On February 23rd, 2007 06:23 pm (UTC), psychohist replied:
Oops, finally figured out your point, I think. Your bottom line - or at least your concluding sentence - is about the makeup of the legislature, not the positions of individual candidates. I was focused on the position of individual candidates, particularly for the presidency. Yes, I completely agree that gerrymandering tends to result in a polarized legislature.
On February 23rd, 2007 06:59 pm (UTC), treptoplax replied:
Well, I think it can affect individual candidates also, but there's a lot of noise and other factors, clearly. (And political stances don't really go on a one-dimensional line, and...) In a balanced district (all other things being equal!) a candidate more than 10-15% off the median would seem to be hopeless, but in an unbalanced one that isn't at all a given.

Of course, if all that's correct I would seem to be predicting that US Representatives would be much more radical than Senators - I'm not sure if I believe that's true or not.

It's intersting that gerrymandering in effect gives us a two-party-only proportional voting system, with a big bonus for the majority (as determined by the last election).
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On February 23rd, 2007 07:17 pm (UTC), psychohist replied:
Actually, I almost put in my last post that your theory would explain why the Senate tends to be more moderate than the House of Representatives, which I think they do tend to be. Certainly there seems to be a lot more bipartisanship in the Senate, whereas in the House, whichever party has a majority pretty much ignores the minority party.
On February 23rd, 2007 07:00 pm (UTC), treptoplax replied:
Oh, and yeah, this wouldn't much affect Presidential primaries at all, because the voting districts (States) there are fixed.
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