Same story in Gaza, just different year

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s not hard to be an accurate prognosticator when it comes to wars between Israel and Hamas. Does this post from 2009 sound eerily familiar?

At what is likely to be at least a thousand dead, many more thousands injured and virtually every resident of the Gaza Strip traumatized for life, Israel may succeed in halting rocket fire for a while from Gaza. However, this action, like all the other military actions on Palestinian land will not win them peace. Others will soon be lobbing rockets inside of Israel again, or will blow themselves up at bus stations or will be finding other gruesome ways to seek retribution for the disproportionate violence inflicted on them, their families, their neighbors and friends. In reality, this incursion into Gaza simply sows the seed of future violence. Why should anyone whose home is destroyed or whose family members are killed or injured by the Israel military want to make peace? In truth, every bomb lobbed on either side simply creates a multiplier effect that ensures future military actions will be deadlier and that genuine peace will never arrive.

It’s hard to keep track of the body count in this latest battle in the extended war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Today’s press report says that at least 1060 Gazans have been killed as a result of this twenty-day (so far) battle between Israel and Hamas. It’s hard to estimate the number of wounded, but conservatively it should be at least six times as many people as those who were killed. Let’s round the number of dead and wounded to 10,000. With approximately 1.8 million people living within this 139 square mile area bordering the Mediterranean Sea, that’s roughly 1 in 200 people killed or injured within the Gaza Strip as a result of just this latest battle. To put that in perspective, if the same thing happened proportionally here in the United States, that would be 189,000 Americans dead and 1,589,000 wounded from 22 days of fighting. Over the course of this endless conflict of course, these numbers would be much higher. It would be on par, at least, with the casualties in our own Civil War, which at least ended definitively after four years.

Syrians embroiled in their own civil war can at least become refugees. Life may suck in a refugee camp in Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey, but at least you are alive and in relative safety. There is no such escape for Gazans. Of course Israel won’t take them in. Egypt won’t let them in either. You would think they could become boat people, but the Israelis have banned even fishing and their navy would sink anything that dared to leave the Gaza Strip by sea. Residents there are trapped, with nowhere to escape to. They are doomed, it seems, to spend lives traumatized by war and made more miserable by poverty and a continuously degrading infrastructure.

Living in Gaza is sort of like living in a huge concentration camp, only it lasts much longer than the Second World War. Rather than dying in gas chambers or in work camps, the dying occurs principally during these battles, all occurring at close range, or afterward from wounds or as a result of the generally pervasive poverty. You would think Israelis would know a thing or two about concentration camps, but they seem thrilled that their army is inflicting punishment on these defenseless people, cheering from the highlands as their air force drops bombs on Gazans.

Not that the Israelis are getting off scot-free. As these battles go, it’s been painful for their army. 43 soldiers have died so far, and three citizens have died from rockets lobbed from the Gaza Strip by Hamas. Most missiles are mistargeted but those that aren’t are generally picked off by their Iron Dome defense system supplied by the United States. From Hamas’s perspective, they are doing well in this disproportionate battle. For a change the Israelis are hurting, at least a bit. None of this though is doing much to establish a cease-fire, at least one that seems likely to endure.

During the January 2009 battle I noted:

Israel says it will not agree to a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip until Hamas stops shooting rockets into Israel. It also demands international guarantees that armaments will not be smuggled into the Gaza Strip via tunnels from Egypt. Hamas says will not agree to a cease-fire unless Israel ends its blockade, which for months earlier has reduced living standards to subsistence levels and ratcheted up unemployment. It also demands that all Israeli troops leave the Gaza Strip.

Curiously, these are the same demands both sides are making to “end” this latest battle. It should be noted that this battle was wholly avoidable. Supposedly it was the natural reaction to the murder of three Israeli youth by Hamas, as claimed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But that claim appears to be false. As a reaction some extremists Israelis killed a Palestinian youth. That was all of a spark necessary for this latest battle to get underway.

Not only is this war unspeakably cruel, it won’t affect any meaningful change and will actually make things worse. It is the definition of insanity, which is to try the same thing again expecting it will render a different result. Israel lives in the fantasy that if it were somehow destroy Hamas, the remaining supplicant sheep in the Gaza Strip will somehow forever accept Israeli control and domination. You can see how great this is working out on the West Bank. The truth is that every time Israeli has yet another battle with Hamas, they only exacerbate their long-term problem. Hamas looks like a crazy government, but whatever replaced it is likely to be much worse. Hamas is at least reasonably secular and coherent. Israel does not have to look too far to see what would be worse than Hamas as it is emerging now in Western Iraq, and now goes by the name of the Islamic State. Hamas is not al Qaeda, but if they actually destroy Hamas, something like the Islamic State will likely replace Hamas, and it will be on Israel’s doorstep.

Conflicts like this generally succeed in hardening the positions of both sides. Israel of course is swinging more toward the right, having the effect of reducing the possibility of a solution that might actually achieve peace: a two state solution. Instead, Israel is busy tearing down more homes in the West Bank, a cruel policy of retribution against the relatives of those who hurt Israel. It’s doing this while expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank and more recently by picking fights on the West Bank. All of this simply inflames passions more, making future conflict and war more likely, not less.

The “clear-eyed realists” in Israel are simply shortsighted thinkers, not looking at the larger dynamics and demographics. Peace is in their long-term interest. Indeed, it is the only way the nation of Israel will survive. But peace simply cannot be achieved wholly on Israel’s terms. Momentum is already underway internationally for nations to boycott Israel, since it is practicing apartheid, not against blacks, but against non-Jews. So Israel can expect more sanctions and economic boycotts as its positions harden. As I noted in 2009, their survival is dependent on us giving them the means to do so. The United States will not support Israel the way it does not indefinitely. As some point the international outrage will be too large for our country to stomach, just as happened with South Africa.

Israel has the chance, looking increasingly far away, to change the dynamic now through a two-state solution. It’s their only hope to still be a state a hundred years from now. Stupidly, Israelis are letting their emotions rather than logic dictate where they should be going. They are sowing the seeds for their own second Diaspora. However, during the next Diaspora there may not be an escape. The Islamic states that surround them will probably not let one of them out alive.

A bad dream realized: Iraq 10 years later

The Thinker by Rodin

Sometimes you hate being right. Today on the 10th anniversary of our counterproductive invasion of Iraq, I looked back on my post dated March 17, 2003 are realized, tragically, I called this war right from the start.

Ideology is dangerous. If you have ideology, you don’t have to worry about whether an action is advised or ill advised. You know you are right because your ideology tells you that you are right. That’s the sort of immovable force that is George W. Bush. Morality has become a substitute for critical thinking. Circled by his coterie of advisers who only reinforce his inclinations, he does not feel dissent. When antiwar protesters come to town he is conveniently at Camp David.

If you have ideology you can pretend that our forces spread out across Iraq won’t be a target for every fanatical Muslim in the region, and there are plenty. You can pretend that because we can “liberate” Iraq, that the Iraqi people will love us, even though they hold us responsible for years of sanctions. You can ignore the minor problem that Muslims will consider our occupation something like a holy war, and that they will see us as Christians on a Crusade.

This is what “your either with us or against us” gets us as a nation: virtually the whole world is against our preemptive war. Close to half of the American people are against it too. This sort of attitude causes only further polarization, making compromise impossible.

I am deeply ashamed of our president, and aghast at what our country is about to do in the name of peace. We will not have peace, we will only be throwing more gasoline on the fire. Why do they hate us? We will be giving them plenty more reasons, rest assured.

Please tell me this isn’t happening. Please tell me this is all a bad dream.

To the people of Iraq: I am so ashamed by what we did to you and your country. Some of us tried really hard to stop this counterproductive war. Sadly, we were drowned out by an overwhelming chorus of “if you are not with us, you are against us” so-called patriots. Still we marched, we hollered, we wrote our representatives, we petitioned. It was just not enough.

Our Afghanistan folly

The Thinker by Rodin

So General Stanley McChrystal has been fired by President Obama for remarks to a Rolling Store reporter that disparaged he and top officials. General David Petraeus will assume his duties as the top commander in Afghanistan. Obama is expecting that Petraeus will succeed in Afghanistan like he “succeeded” in Iraq.

There is no question that Petraeus made a bad situation much better in Iraq. However, it is premature to call Iraq a success. Bombings, ethnic and religious-driven murders continue daily in Iraq, albeit at a reduced level compared to the height of violence in 2006 and 2007. Its government remains shaky at best, corrupt and unable to provide many basic services, including dependable electricity. With luck, something resembling a real and stable government may eventually emerge.

We won’t care. Once the last American troops leave Iraq, it will become just a bad memory. Of course, we don’t really plan to wholly exit Iraq. The 50,000 troops that remain are there primarily as catastrophe insurance. Fifty thousand troops won’t help much should Iraq devolve into a large scale civil war, but if used strategically they might prevent a fragile country from devolving back into a civil war. At least the level of violence is down in Iraq. However, this is largely due to our withdrawal. It’s harder to work up a dander when the people you hate the most are no longer patrolling your neighborhoods and killing your friends and neighbors.

Iraq and Afghanistan have vastly different cultures and climates, but they do share some similarities. Both have a history of corruption, shaky governments, foreign occupations and playing pawn in larger superpower conflicts. The success of the otherwise reviled Taliban was in part due to their ability to inject something like rule of law in a country that rarely had it before. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan quite qualifies as countries because there is not enough commonality to bind together the ethnic factions into something resembling a nation. Nationhood seems only possible during dictatorships like Saddam Hussein’s or when inflicted by repressive local powers like the Taliban. Resistance to foreign occupation is the major uniting factor among these disparate tribes. Loose federations are a more natural fit than strong centralized government, when they work at all.

So given this history, what can we expect in the way of accomplishments in Afghanistan from the wonderful General Petraeus? It’s not hard to figure out and we are seeing it unfold already. First, the government (to the extent it exists) will continue to be corrupt. Petraeus really cannot do anything about that. Second, the level of violence and our casualties will be directly proportional to the number of our troops in the country. Third, and this is really what matters the most, anything we do to bring about a stable government will at best have a very temporary effect.

Since the country has no history of strong and effective central government, in all likelihood the Afghanistan we imagine will never evolve into it. Yet, without an effective central government, any hope we have that its government will, by proxy, control the Taliban for us is just not possible.

Petraeus will try strategies similar to those he used in Iraq. Those strategies have had mixed success. Some of the local Sunni militias that he sponsored felt betrayed when the U.S. withdrew, leaving them outnumbered by larger groups of Shi’ites out to wreak revenge. Expect Petraeus to say that we cannot start to bring troops home in 2011. President Obama seems to already be tacitly agreeing, saying that people are getting too wrapped up around dates. In short, the groundwork is being prepared for an even more extended American occupation. On the surface, this is kind of nuts because our war in Afghanistan is now our longest war. In a few months, we will be beginning our tenth year of war in the country.

This strategy is something akin to making a basket from center court on a first try. It is theoretically possible, but the odds are maybe one in five hundred. Why is our strategy doomed? There are too many risky variables.

  • First, the vast majority of Afghans see us as hostile occupiers, not friends. Why would you take advice from your enemy?
  • Second, corruption is everywhere and deep seated. Our military is contributing to it by giving payola to warlords there to move supplies in.
  • Third, the strong central government we crave has never really existed in Afghanistan before. If it can be created at all, it will take decades to achieve, not eighteen months. Still, this throw from center court might be worth taking if it could be attempted at a reasonable cost, but it is already proving ruinous. Since 2001, we have spent around $280 billion just on our war in Afghanistan.
  • Fourth, the Afghan army is even less coherent than Iraq’s army, rife with the usual corruption and frequently absent if not wholly indifferent soldiers.
  • Fifth, the American people already realize the war is lost, and don’t support it.
  • Sixth, if it can work at all, it will likely take decades and trillions more dollars. We have neither the money nor the time.

At best, Petraeus will stabilize the situation for a short while. However, in the end he cannot possibly achieve the goals Obama laid out. He will be exceptionally lucky if he can succeed just to the extent he did in Iraq. No general, no matter how committed and brilliant, can lead a people or a country to a place they do not want to go.

President Obama is a smart man so he should be smart enough to realize his strategy is doomed. Afghanistan has trapped many a political leader in a box. He will be just another and it may in retrospect be seen as his most unwise action as president.

We need to cut our losses and just get out.

No good options with North Korea

The Thinker by Rodin

At one time President George W. Bush had lumped Iran, Iraq and North Korea into an “axis of evil”. No such axis actually existed, except possibly in the paranoid delusions of conservatives like Bill Kristol. The device was useful in selling a scared post 9/11 America on the necessity of starting a “preemptive” war with Iraq. Of the three countries that President Bush mentioned as part of his “axis”, only North Korea truly deserves the “evil” rap. At least the world has managed to somewhat contain North Korea these last fifty plus years. However, it probably will not be able to deter it from aggression much longer.

The Korean War never officially ended. Instead, it was suspended. Both North and South Korea remain technically in a state of war. Now, as North Korea demonstrates missiles with increasingly long ranges and its nuclear weapons, it is clear that this loco genie cannot be contained in its bottle much longer. What the hell can we really do about North Korea anyhow?

Apparently, not much, but it is not from a lack of trying. Various administrations have tried all sorts of carrots and sticks to help the North Korean leadership see the light. All rested on the fundamental assumption that the North Korean leadership could be persuaded to behave rationally. Experience has repeatedly shown that North Korea has no intention to act as a civilized state. If North Korea were a person, it would be diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. Worse, this paranoid schizophrenic refuses to takes its medication. Worse even still, he may be a paranoid schizophrenic but he is not stupid. North Korea has enough knowledge to maintain large armies, build increasingly sophisticated missiles and develop nuclear weapons. It clearly does not care about its citizens, who can starve for all it cares. It is essentially a Mafia state, which means it can do things no other country in the world would dream of doing, like creating counterfeit American money, and doing so with total impunity.

Unfortunately, it is now wholly reasonable to assume that reason will never work with North Korea. Until now, the West has at least been successful in containing North Korea using the Cold War tactics. It is no longer clear that this strategy will continue to work. North Korea is stronger now than it has ever been. It seems eager for an excuse to lob a missile or two into South Korea or at an American ship. Boarding a North Korean vessel to inspect its cargo, a perfectly legal action under numerous U.N. resolutions, could by itself embroil the Korean peninsula in another long and bloody war. This one though could well include use of actual nuclear weapons, particularly if the war goes poorly for North Korea.

The time of kicking this can down the road is ending. Philosophically I have always been a pacifist, but if there ever were a justified case for preemptive war, North Korea would be its poster child. Unfortunately, any preemptive war is likely to be large scale and kill hundreds of thousands. Even if the North Korean leadership can be dethroned, attempts to manage the country after the war are certain to inflict even more suffering on its people, and likely leave it an international basket case for decades. Given these realities, it is no wonder that successive administrations have hoped that North Korea would see reason. The best hope at this point is that its current leader Kim Jong-Il will die unexpectedly and that his successor will be less paranoid. That is very unlikely. Extreme paranoia seems to run in the family.

So war of some sort in the next few years is likely and its cleanup, assuming it can be won, will be long and costly. Moreover, the peninsula is armed to the teeth. North Korea has an estimated 1.1 million active soldiers. Add in its reserve and paramilitary forces and it has almost 6 million of its 22 million people are potential combatants. In response, South Korea has about 655,000 active military forces, but with its reserves and paramilitaries could bring over five million forces to bear. The United States has about 26,000 soldiers currently stationed in South Korea.

My daughter is of draft age and I certainly do not want to see her involuntarily fight in that hellhole. My suspicion is that the longer the world drags its feet on cleaning up the North Korea mess, the more expensive it will ultimately be in lives, treasure and destruction. If I were the president’s national security adviser, I would reluctantly be making the case for a preemptive war with North Korea. Of course, we currently have our hands full in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tactically it would not make much sense to go to war with North Korea until our troops are out of Iraq, rested and our army has been rebuilt. Perhaps this more than anything else is the reason the United States is disengaging in Iraq as quickly as it can. President Obama is a smart man. Al Qaeda and the Taliban remain threats to our national security, but are diminished threats. Unless Al Qaeda finds a way to acquire a nuclear weapon, today biggest national security threat is North Korea.

In the Korean War, the North Koreans had the Chinese to fight with them. One thing that has changed is that China has become something of a lukewarm ally of North Korea. China’s leaders are aware that North Korea is a huge problem that it helped create. Aside for voting with the United States on a few U.N. resolutions, China is a long way from taking a huge step like helping depose North Korea’s leadership.

Since China is unlikely to assist in a new war against North Korea, if there is to be a preemptive war, the best the United States can hope for is a tacit agreement by China not to interfere. My suspicion is that China would be glad to if it had reassurances that the United States would not occupy North Korea. China could help in the war’s aftermath by readying and administering the huge amount of humanitarian aid that would be needed and acting as civil administrators. If China were to participate in cargo inspections or a blockade of North Korea, that also might help deter North Korea from starting a war. It is unclear whether China would participate in such an endeavor, although by doing so would demonstrate its emergence as a sober world power. North Korea is big, but not big enough to win a war against China should it decide to enter into the fray.

Presumably, war plans are constantly being updated. North Korea has already drawn its line in the sand and has said that inspections of its international cargo shall lead to war. The United States and South Korea should also set clear criteria for actions that will lead to war. It could reasonably include attempts by North Korea to interfere with the legal inspection of its cargo. Certainly any missile attack on South Korea or United States possessions should constitute grounds for going to war. Initial actions would presumably include the rapid destruction of North Korea’s nuclear facilities, airbases and weapons depots. Our attacks should also target Kim Jung-Il and the senior leadership personally. In the next Korean War, surrender is likely to be as elusive as in the last war. However, there may be de-facto capitulation. If executed smartly there would hopefully be minimal loss of life. More likely though, both sides would quickly find themselves reliving the Korean War quandary.

Unfortunately, there is no way to know what will happen when the North Korean genie finally comes out of its bottle. The genie seems poised to come out within the next few years, whether we want it to or not.

Review: Downfall (2004)

The Thinker by Rodin

I can think of few places that I would want to be less than in Adolph Hitler’s bunker during the last few weeks of the Third Reich. The Russians were approaching from the East, the Americans from the West, and the proud city of Berlin was quickly being reduced to rubble by invading forces. A few German armies outside the city still fought but were quickly being encircled. They were unable to assist Adolph Hitler in his final days. In April 1945, Hitler’s empire, which had at one time extended from the Russian Front to Northern Africa, was rapidly being reduced to a strip a thousand meters wide in downtown Berlin. Some Germans, including a boy on the edge of adolescence, rallied to defend the city. Many that did not were shot or hung as traitors. Artillery shells rained down on central Berlin. In the bunker beneath the city, the final remnants of the Third Reich catered to an increasingly dysfunctional Adolph Hitler, tried to reconcile the dichotomy between their devotion and their understanding that the Reich was ending, drank to excess, partied and fornicated.

At least that is the story presented by Traudi Junge in the movie Downfall. Junge was the personal secretary to Adolph Hitler, and lived with him in the bunker during those last days. She was one of a few to escape and lead something like a normal life afterwards. As played by Alexandra Marie Lara, Junge was a pretty, lithe and early twenty-something single woman dutifully devoted to the Fuehrer but blithely unaware just how evil her boss was. She also possessed an ability to remain largely unruffled by the chaos around her. These turned out to be useful survival skills in those final days. Somehow, despite the death outside and the dying and amputations inside the bunker she dutifully knew her place, always looking clean and fresh, and could faithfully take dictation or type when called asked.

The real Traudi Junge, who survived nearly to the 21st century, is interviewed at the start and conclusion of the film. This, and a brief scene near the start of the film capturing the night she was hired by Hitler, are virtually the only parts of this two and a half hour movie that do not occur in or around Hitler’s bunker. The film is disturbing for its high level of violence but like most fine great war movies feels uncannily accurate.

Hitler’s inner circle ranged from the fanatically devoted, to the pragmatic realists and to those who found escape in drinking or dancing. Hitler himself veers sharply between lucid and crazy. At times, he seems resigned to his defeat and at other times, he feels that he will somehow turn things around and resurrect the Third Reich. His mistress Eva Braun, on the other hand, is portrayed as something of morale officer. Knowing her end is imminent, she seems determined to dance, have fun and spread some cheer until the moment of death. You might say she fiddled while Berlin burned.

Bruno Ganz’s portrayal of Adolph Hitler is chilling, intimate, memorable and feels eerily accurate. Hitler is not always portrayed as mad. At times, you see something in him resembling a common man. Mostly though he is a man consumed by passion, his ego and his feelings of righteousness. Faults ultimately lie in his staff and his generals, but never in himself.

The most chilling of many portrayals in this movie is probably Corinna Harfouch’s, who has the dubious privilege of portraying Mrs. Goebbels, the Ann Coulter of the Nazi Era. Mrs. Goebbels knows only unquestioned duty, so of course she dutifully drugs then poisons her own children as the end nears. If her children have to die, she figures, it is best if their mother does the evil deed. Yet, she is one of many memorable characters in this movie. The subject matter may be hard to endure, but once you begin watching Downfall, it is hard to turn it off. It is riveting.

Downfall thus is one of those really good but awful movies, excellently directed and acted but certain to churn your stomach if not empty it altogether. The end of this war is portrayed in all its garish horror. It should be hard to feel any sympathy but you do at times for men, women and children foolishly devoted to this wretch of a man, as well as the dutiful and patriotic soldiers doing their best in an impossible situation.

The movie was shot in German and is subtitled.

3.4 on my four-point scale.

Eyeless in Gaza (and Israel)

The Thinker by Rodin

784 Gazans are dead. It is likely that the actual count is much higher. After all, it is hard to find bodies when they are buried beneath all that rubble. Traumatized children watch their parents die. Injured or unable to escape these children stay next to the corpses of their parents, crying, thirsty, starving, wounded and traumatized for life. There is no food, no heat, no water, no toilets and no escape from this war. Instead, there are massive, disproportionate and random acts of madness, terror and death. Bombs fall from the air and level buildings. For four days, the Israel army refused entry by the Red Cross to certain areas where innocent people were known to be dying. Even U.N. aide workers in the Gaza Strip are not safe. While driving a clearly marked UN vehicle during a three-hour suspension of violence, a UN relief driver is killed by Israeli soldiers.

Hamas retreats but continues to lob rockets into Southern Israel. The United States unhelpfully abstains from voting for a cease-fire resolution in the United Nations Security Council. Israel says it will not agree to a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip until Hamas stops shooting rockets into Israel. It also demands international guarantees that armaments will not be smuggled into the Gaza Strip via tunnels from Egypt. Hamas says will not agree to a cease-fire unless Israel ends its blockade, which for months earlier has reduced living standards to subsistence levels and ratcheted up unemployment. It also demands that all Israeli troops leave the Gaza Strip.

At what is likely to be at least a thousand dead, many more thousands injured and virtually every resident of the Gaza Strip traumatized for life, Israel may succeed in halting rocket fire for a while from Gaza. However, this action, like all the other military actions on Palestinian land will not win them peace. Others will soon be lobbing rockets inside of Israel again, or will blow themselves up at bus stations or will be finding other gruesome ways to seek retribution for the disproportionate violence inflicted on them, their families, their neighbors and friends. In reality, this incursion into Gaza simply sows the seed of future violence. Why should anyone whose home is destroyed or whose family members are killed or injured by the Israel military want to make peace? In truth, every bomb lobbed on either side simply creates a multiplier effect that ensures future military actions will be deadlier and that genuine peace will never arrive.

How is this war in the Gaza Strip being funded? Much of this death and destruction comes courtesy of you, the U.S. taxpayer. Since 2001, the United States has provided more than $15 billion in direct military aid to Israel, as well as over three billion dollars to an Economic Support Fund, which Israel is free to also use for military procurement. In addition, special supplemental appropriations for Israel for over a billion dollars have been signed into law since 2001. When many of those bombs have “Made in U.S.A.” written on them, is it any wonder why Palestinians do not trust the United States as an honest peace broker?

Here is the truth: Israel cannot have both genuine peace and remain a Jewish state. Moreover, Israel really does not want genuine peace because it will not make the concessions needed to actually achieve peace. The Israeli terms include rights to a monopoly on the water resources in the region, the right to indefinitely expand Jewish settlements in occupied territories and requiring that East Jerusalem never be the capital of a Palestinian state. They want all this along with the assurance that not one of the millions of Palestinians will ever engage in violence against them. And I want a pony!

Despite the carnage, probably a majority of Palestinians would love to have peace, maybe even on Israel’s usury terms. Unfortunately, among them is a virulent minority of militants who will never agree to peace under any circumstances. They are making it their mission to make sure their children carry on the cause after they are gone. It is not that hard to keep the cycle going. Every few years you just irritate Israel to the point where they feel they must take some sort of Orwellian action to keep the state “safe” again. Every time this happens, the cycle is guaranteed to continue into another generation. Israel seems to suffer from some cognitive dissonance. It seems to believe that by continually making war more miserable for the Palestinians, they will see the light. It has never worked with any other ethnic group, but they are sure it will eventually work with the Palestinians. In reality, fear spawned by vengeance ensures future violent retribution.

Can you pick the ultimate winner in this game? Perhaps it is obscene to suggest anyone can come out ahead when this ends. It will probably not end in our lifetimes, but it will end. It will end someday, probably after millions have died. Israel will dissolve because this is a war of attrition. Whoever remains standing “wins”. Since due to the toxic dynamics in play genuine peace is impossible, it will end when one side folds. Israel’s opponents will never fold because they also outnumber Israelis ten to one. So in the end it will be Israel that folds, probably some years after the United States decides to stop funding the carnage. And that will happen when the cost of supporting Israel eventually grows too burdensome for U.S. taxpayers to bear any longer. Then yet another Jewish Diaspora will begin.

Sadly, to hasten Israel’s end, smart Middle Eastern terrorists will emulate Osama bin Laden. Israel cannot be beaten militarily, but in a part of the world where it is vastly outnumbered, it cannot afford its military indefinitely without a benefactor. The United States is the only significant benefactor of note. We provide the means for Israel to exist when it could not survive long by itself. If it could survive without us, there would be no reason for us to give it aid. The terrorism will migrate to the United States because we are Israel’s Achilles Heal. They will find ways to explode dirty bombs on the National Mall. They will blow up airport terminals and metro stations. At some point, we will realize that the only way to stop them at home is to stop supporting Israel. While we support Israel, we will not support it indefinitely if it is at the cost of our standard of living and way of life.

A Jewish homeland is a wonderful dream, but it exists only through denying and oppressing the legitimate grievances of the residents that Israel evicted. Until these grievances are rectified, there can be no peace. They cannot be rectified if Israel is to remain a Jewish state. Meanwhile, as is demonstrated from this latest incursion into Gaza, Israel can only survive at the price of its soul. Such a state, like the quasi-state run by the thugs who run Hamas, is unworthy of any nation’s support. We would do all sides, including ourselves a favor by gradually reducing our aid to Israel now.

The war taxes you are already paying

The Thinker by Rodin

Doubtless, you have noticed rising oil prices. At closing today, a barrel of light sweet crude oil was selling at $105.15 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In my neighborhood, this translates to a price of $3.15 to $3.25 a gallon for unleaded gasoline. Diesel was priced at $3.95 a gallon at a gas station I passed today. In fact NPR reported today that gasoline is now more costly in constant dollars than it ever has been, including during the first Arab oil embargo in the 1970s.

Some investors are seeing crude oil as the new inflation hedge. An NPR analyst estimated that these investors are driving up the cost of oil by about $20 a barrel. Whether their investment will be the inflation hedge they are looking for remains to be seen. These investors may be fooling themselves. At some point, oil may become so overvalued that the price of oil returns to what now seems like reasonable levels, $80 a barrel or so, or even less. I will not shed too many tears for these speculators, but $80 a barrel oil still strikes me as expensive, since it typically results in gas prices of about $2.60 a gallon.

One thing is clear, as these graphs in today’s Washington Post point out. A good portion of the cost of oil is not because the commodity is in greater demand, but because its price is tied to the price of the dollar. If the demand and supply of oil are relatively constant as is currently the case and the value of the dollar diminishes, oil will cost more dollars per barrel.

In case you have not paid attention, the U.S. dollar is reaching record lows too against most major currencies. Last September for the first time since 1976 when we were in the midst of a stagflation epidemic, the Canadian dollar and the U.S. dollar were worth the same amount. Oil prices went up 75.6% since the beginning of 2007, according to the Washington Post. Because the Canadian dollar is in better shape than the U.S. dollar, oil prices went up a more modest 46.6% in Canada. If you bought your oil in euros, prices rose 49.6%. The price of our relatively weak currency means that we pay considerably more for oil than some of our closest trading partners with better-managed governments and economies. As you can imagine, we pay extra for many other things because of our fallen dollar. Oil is an easy one to quantify because it is tied directly to the dollar.

Perhaps you are thinking that our government is doing something to stem the drop of the dollar. If you think this, you are sadly naïve. No, the situation is quite the opposite. Ben Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, told Congress recently that the Fed would drop interest rates again to stimulate the economy. This will undoubtedly drive the dollar even lower. It will also put more upward pressure on the cost of oil and cause inflation to rise, likely adding to the likelihood of the stagflation we saw in the 1970s. In addition, sometime around May you will get a fat check from the government. The government wants you to go out and spend the money to stave off a recession that looks like it arrived in the end of 2007. Where is the money coming from? The government is borrowing it. Who is loaning their money to the government? While many of us do this by buying bonds and treasury bills the bulk of this money will come from foreign governments and creditors. To make sure we have the money now we will raise interest on U.S. treasury bills until it becomes worthwhile for creditors to buy all the bonds we need to sell. Not surprisingly, rates on treasury bills are up.

When the time comes to pay creditors for loaning them their money, the government will not pay them in assets like military aircraft or wheat surpluses. No, it will pay them off in dollars. The problem is that the government has no spare dollars sitting around in a teller’s drawer to give them. The government will not hold up an investment group like Vanguard Securities until they cough up $100 billion. Instead, they will print more money. They are doing this today to pay off creditors who bought securities years ago. Because the economy is not growing fast enough to keep up with our spending, this means there is more money in circulation chasing the same relative assets. Creditors know what this means: their investment is worth less. Thus, the dollar loses value against other currencies and investors require higher interest rates. Prices for everything become comparatively more expensive but the effect is worse for prices pegged to the dollar, like oil.

In short, deficit financing drives down the value of the dollar and is inflationary. Granted sometimes it is hard to tell. When the economy is doing well it may seem that there are no inflationary effects from deficit financing. This is an illusion. Of course, there are times when you have to borrow for an important need. I borrowed money recently to replace the windows on my house. I did receive some value from it. My house is much more energy efficient, our rooms are less drafty and we use fewer kilowatt-hours of power. Unlike the government, I have been paying off my debt. The way our government works, it only very rarely pays down the principal. Instead, it keeps borrowing more and more money. All that matters is whether the government can meet its interest payments. If it can, creditors keep loaning us money. As Dick Cheney reputedly said, “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.” Oh, but they do. They do.

While there were many reasons for the prosperity of the 1990s, I think that it was mostly due to the government living within its means. Steadily decreasing deficits gave investors confidence that government was being run by rational people. No recession stimulus could provide that kind of boost. Like a savings account, the interest started compounding, resulting in true wealth that affected all income levels.

If we can stop our addiction to deficit spending, real prosperity is likely to reemerge. However, it will not be easy. Deficit spending cannot be cured by trimming the fat in a few government departments. I do not believe we will have real prosperity again until we end our War in Iraq. It is paid by foreign creditors, many of whom do not have our best interest at heart. It is like a chest wound to the national body. We are losing a lot of blood. We must stanch the wound. Waging a hundred year war, like John McCain has suggested, will simply bankrupt the country. If the country is bankrupt then in some way the terrorists have won because whatever is left of our country will sure not resemble the America we know today.

We should not throw good money away on a bad investment. Iraq not only a bad investment, it is increasing your costs of living. The Iraq War costs us about three billion dollars a week. Those are the short-term costs; the long-term costs of the war are truly frightening. When you factor in costs like caring for our disabled soldiers, paying interest on the debt (but never the principle) the real cost of the war will reach at least three trillion dollars.

If you think you are not already paying a war tax, you are mistaken. If you are applauding President Bush for not raising taxes, you are naïve. You pay the war tax every time you go to the gas station and fill up your gas tank. You pay it in $3 a gallon milk. You pay it in high credit card interest rates and in huge tuition costs. You pay it every day but you do not necessarily associate these costs with the war because the money is not going through the U.S. Treasury. The falling dollar and the inflation it brings is the price of a country living way beyond its means. It is the price of financing a war that we cannot afford but chose to start anyhow. These indirect taxes though do not buy you any additional prosperity. It goes to oil companies and foreign governments, many of whom we do not like. In fact, much of this war tax simply provides the financial means for us to become embroiled in more wars, because we give the money to states that do not like us. It gives them more capital to carry on their animosities. This money does not build new bridges. It does not improve the educational standards of Americans. They are in effect squandered dollars, and squandered wealth — your wealth.

We will leave Iraq and sooner than we think simply because we cannot afford to finance it must longer. What point do gas prices have to reach for us to pull the plug? My guess is about four dollars a gallon. Perhaps at that threshold we will reach national consensus and end this pointless and foolish war.

The Rise of Soft Power

The Thinker by Rodin

When I first read this story in the Washington Post this week, I felt the need to check my glasses. Surely, I needed a new prescription because I read that our Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates was promoting soft power. Poor Donald Rumseld must have had a heart tremor when he read this story. Surely, Gates’ speech this week at Kansas State University, was one of those “unknown known” threats that Rumsfeld had rambled about when he was Secretary of Defense. Gates’ words must have risen the hair on his head and the heads of everyone in the Pentagon’s E corridor. Say it ain’t so, Mr. Secretary!

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called yesterday for a “dramatic increase” in the U.S. budget for diplomacy and foreign aid, arguing that al-Qaeda does a better job than Washington of communicating its message overseas and that U.S. deployment of civilians abroad has been “ad hoc and on the fly.”

In a speech that emphasized the importance of “soft power” to prevent and end conflicts, Gates suggested beefing up the State Department’s foreign affairs budget of $36 billion, even as he acknowledged that Pentagon observers might consider it “blasphemy” for a sitting defense secretary to make such an appeal for another agency.

What is shocking is that in the insular world of the Pentagon, where the mantra has always been that all national security problems can be won if necessary by wielding the Pentagon’s vast military and intelligence machine, its top man was saying this was no longer true.

“One of the most important lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that military success is not sufficient to win,” said Gates, delivering the annual Landon Lecture at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan. The wars of the future, he said, are likely to be “fundamentally political in nature” and will not be solved by military means alone.

I think inside the Pentagon, on Monday a paradigm shifted without a clutch. For many of the rest of us though, this is hardly news.

Yes, of course future wars cannot be solved by military means. I mean, duh! We did not need to invade Iraq to find this out. It is just now, 65 years after the Voice of America was created that the Pentagon has finally acknowledged the obvious. Wars are political conflicts. In today’s world, using military might to achieve political results is by far the least effective way of getting the results you want. It is also the most expensive way, if it can be done at all. War as we practice it today is the manifestation of the late Isaac Asimov’s belief, embodied in his character Hari Seldon that “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”

When the dogma no longer fits the real world, we need better dogma. Soft power should be our new dogma. Soft power, typically exercised through diplomacy does not always work. Rarely do all parties in a dispute come out victorious when conflicts are resolved diplomatically. However, diplomacy does have some advantages. First, diplomacy does not kill anyone. Second, it costs pennies on the dollar (if that) compared to warfare. Third, since wars are the military manifestation of political conflicts, until the political issues are resolved the war does not really end. It may have the appearance of ending but instead it will eventually return. Adolph Hitler understood this. That is why he instigated genocide as his “final solution” to the perceived problem of the Jews and others. It is why the Huns and the Mongrels left no survivors when they pillaged Europe. They may have been bloodthirsty, but they were not stupid.

Now of course the world is much more populous and multiethnic. The atomic bomb was a neat trick but really, you could use it to win a war just once. To win conflicts in today’s world, you have to win hearts and minds. You do not do it by bombing people back into the Stone Age. It is good that our brave troops in Iraq have stemmed a lot of violence there, but do not mistake a lessening of violence with success. The political quagmire in Iraq is as confounding as even, with few signs that it will be resolved any time soon. Our invasion of Iraq merely allowed the centuries old animosities to resume. It is highly unlikely that anything that this country can do can resolve these political conflicts, although we should try.

The new reality, as I mentioned in an earlier entry, is that the United States alone cannot dictate the order of the world. It is folly for us to try. We squander more than half a trillion dollars a year annually on a defense budget in an attempt to ask the military to do for us what it cannot. Essentially, the military can blow up stuff and kill people. At great expense, it can hold land and the skies. It is most effective in a defensive role, such as keeping incoming missiles from hitting the United States. Our power will be based on our willingness to join up with other states and organizations of like mind. We will win through collaboration and negotiation. However, winning will not mean surrendering our goals. Instead, it will mean understanding that partial winning is okay because mutual accommodation in win-win, and win-win fosters a long term collaborative climate. At best, victory will be getting 80% of what we want. We will never get 100% again.

Secretary Gates is right. We need to become adept at exercising soft power again. It is a skill we lost sometime in the early Reagan years, but it is one that we can acquire again. We saw its manifestation after World War II in the Marshall Plan and in alliances that kept the Cold War from exploding into a real war. Frankly, in our new reality we need only a fraction of our armed forces. Much of our armed forces are engaged in futile work: preparing as best they can to win types of wars we are unlikely to win again. Instead, money should be redirected to keep small problems from exploding into larger problems. We could use some of our defense money to stem the tide of AIDS in Africa and improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians. To the extent we can win, we will win through a strategy of prevention and international cooperation.

The United States will never again win a conventional war. However, we will “win” through preventing wars from occurring in the first place. Robert Gates understands this. If only our other leaders would too.

Here is how to really end the war

The Thinker by Rodin

According to an email I received today from ImpeachBush.org, approximately a hundred thousand antiwar protesters descended on Washington on Saturday in a mass protest to end the Iraq War. Most likely, the actual number was half this but it is hard to say for sure. While the crowd was undoubtedly large, it did not exactly fill the Mall. In addition, as usual the main targets of their protest were out of town. Bush was likely at Camp David. Cheney was at his usual undisclosed location. Most of Congress had vacated by Thursday anyhow, which is when their weekend usually begins. So the antiwar crowds demonstrated peacefully with largely only police and a small collection of noisy counter protesters to hear them. A few hundred protesters were arrested for sitting of the front lawn of the Capitol. While press articles about the rally were plentiful, they generally appeared well inside the A section. The demonstrators themselves apparently felt a little let down by the lack of a larger turnout.

Where were the Vietnam War era crowds? Yes, there was noise. Yes, there were speeches. Yes, there was Cindy Sheehan and Ramsey Clark at the podium. There were people from International ANSWER who had organized the protest and many mostly preprinted protest signs available for protesters to hoist and wave. Yet somehow, rather than seizing the nation’s attention the event was felt more like a footnote.

I did not to attend. I retrospect I should have, but frankly it dropped off my radar. I probably get a dozen emails like it a day and for some reason this rally did not stand out. From the sound of it, the protest was somewhat smaller than the march I did attend nearly two years ago. Many of the same speakers were at both rallies. Cindy Sheehan, then someone brand new to the protest movement, spoke passionately about the pointless loss of her son Casey in an unwinnable war. Ramsey Clark spoke eloquently about the need for Bush’s impeachment for his war crimes. There was certainly energy in the crowd on that day two years ago. I suspect the same was true during Saturday’s rally. Yet two years later, this and other rallies are not enough. While the tide has turned in the court of public opinion, the war drags on. It continues even though the people who want to end the war now control Congress.

Perhaps that is how these things go. Large antiwar protests during the Vietnam War did not materialize in size until 1968 or so. While I was too young to attend these rallies, I did watch them on the news. By the standards of that era, Saturday’s protest was simply anemic. Perhaps as a consequence today’s protests seem to have less impact.

Why is that? Is it that people are less upset with the Iraq War than the Vietnam War? Is it because the movement still has not developed a full head of steam? Vietnam did not involve troops in any sizeable level until 1963 or so. In that sense today’s antiwar protesters are faster and more agile. They are able to mobilize sizeable crowds much more quickly. Tools that were unavailable back then, like the Internet, no doubt have helped.

Still, the antiwar protests to date have paled in comparison to those of the Vietnam War. It is not as if some Iraq War protests have not come close. A protest shortly before our invasion nearly filled the Mall. Downtown Manhattan was overwhelmed with protesters during one major antiwar protest. These rallies though were the exception rather than the rule. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, campuses were regularly overtaken over by protesters. Protesters barricaded the Pentagon. Workers literally had to step on them to get to work.

The Vietnam War though had a few crucial differences compared with the Iraq War. Draftees largely fought the Vietnam War. This war is being fought entirely by volunteers. Moreover, these recruits come disproportionately from rural and conservative areas. During the years of the Vietnam War, people you knew personally died over there. Mostly people who did not want to serve fought the war.

When only those who choose to fight a war are sent, it is harder to feel the pain. I read in the newspaper of people in my county who have died in Iraq or Afghanistan, but they are rare. I do not know one of them personally. Of the people I encounter regularly, I know of only two who have sons serving in these theaters. Although the more than three thousand American soldiers killed in over four years in Iraq in a sobering number, these numbers are relatively small compared with the number of soldiers who died in Vietnam. Thankfully, today we are better at saving the lives of the wounded.

While there are exceptions like Cindy Sheehan, most of those who are marching to oppose the war are doing it on ideological grounds, and not because they have been personally affected by the war. While polls show that a majority of Americans want the war to end, feeling this way and actually by taking action to end it are two different things. Because I live near Washington, attending that rally two years was not that big a deal. Had I lived a bit further out I am not sure that my outrage would have been large enough to find the energy to attend.

The downside of fighting a war with volunteers is that you do not necessarily have enough soldiers to fight the war on the scale needed to accomplish the mission. Yet there is an upside. Aside from likely having a better class of soldier, because citizens are less vested in the war it can be harder to stop. When the War on Terror started, President Bush told us not to change our habits. He told us to spend and act as if the terrorists had never hit us. We took his advice to heart. The images of the burning Twin Towers soon faded. The War on Terror become more of an abstraction that a reality. Supporting the troops meant putting stickers on the back of your car and of course not raising your taxes to pay for the war. If you had to pay additional taxes for the war, you might have felt more attached to its outcome. Instead, only the patriotic or desperately poor had to actually put their lives in danger.

This war can be stopped, but it will likely require much more direct engagement from those of us who are against it. Contribute what you can in money. Regularly write your senators, representatives and newspaper editors to let them know how you feel. When they are in your district, take time to attend events where you can question them. Speak to power.

These things, however good, are simply not enough. Take the time to attend antiwar rallies. You need to feel vested in changing the course of the war, and you will not feel that way writing checks to MoveOn.org. Not all of you can make it to the nation’s capital, but there are likely rallies closer to home that you can attend. By attending rallies, not only will you find strength in numbers but also you will find motivation to keep fighting to end the war. You will understand that there is strength in numbers.

Only our politicians can end this war. Politicians will not end it until they believe they must end it or they will be voted out of office. An opportunity to vote them out is about a year away. In the meantime, they can demonstrate right now that they are willing to end the war. There are three ways this can be accomplished. First, Congress can rescind its war authorization. Second, it can pass a bill specifying a date by which all combat troops must be withdrawn from that theater. Or third, it can refuse to fund the war. Any of these actions can be thwarted by a presidential veto. Regardless they demonstrate real commitment from those who can do something about it. Sorry, but passing a bill requiring the president to come up with a plan for withdrawing troops indicates spinelessness, not commitment.

In short, the war will end when we hold accountable those who keep it going. No matter how much you may like your representative or senator here is what you have to tell them: I will vote you out of office unless you end it.

Review: At the Abyss, An Insider’s History of the Cold War

The Thinker by Rodin

The Cold War, thankfully, is receding into history like a bad but distant memory. I was born about a decade after the Cold War began and I was in my early thirties before the Soviet Union finally collapsed, which of course ended the Cold War. For a few wonderful years afterward Americans lived largely free of the fear of imminent nuclear attack.

Of course, we have not given up our nuclear weapons. We still have nuclear missiles on standby. We still think nuclear weapons are a deterrent. Instead of building nuclear arsenals to destroy the planet, now we develop smaller yield tactical nuclear weapons designed to drill deep underground and destroy hardened bunkers. Nor has the end of the Cold War diminished interest in nuclear weapons. The cost of entry into the nuclear club has dropped dramatically. It seems that every rogue state with sufficient means, and even many mainstream states like India, also wants the bomb.

The threat of nuclear war thus only receded a bit with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now it has morphed and become a different and arguably far more complex chessboard. Today we are beginning to understand that the Cold War never wholly left, but instead it has mutated. What have changed are its players. Use of a nuclear weapon today, if it occurs, has only one small redeeming aspect: it is less likely to start a worldwide thermonuclear war and the United States is less likely to be its first victim.

Therefore, in a way the Cold War seems almost nostalgic. For all its immense cost the problem of nuclear deterrence was, in some respects, simple. Our strategy was to show that if attacked we could also attack our foes with equally lethal force, meaning that neither state would survive to claim victory. Was it luck, the hand of God or enlightened leaders that kept us from Armageddon? While we may never know for sure, former Air Force Secretary Thomas C. Reed would argue it was the latter. In his 2004 book, At the Abyss, An Insider’s History of the Cold War he walks us through its long history.

Mr. Reed though does bring some unique insight to the Cold War. He was one of our nuclear program managers, and managed the development of a number of nuclear weapons as a young Air Force officer. It is in his description of the development of these weapons and his witnessing of their testing that this book shines. There is no substitute for a first hand account of a thermonuclear test in the Pacific. Mr. Reed gives us insight into what a real thermonuclear war would be like. I would say it would be chilling, except it would be just the opposite. The reality is hellish:

There’s the light, a brightness that simply does not stop. People talk about a flash, but a thermonuclear detonation is not a flashbulb event. The sun starts to burn on earth; darkness seems never to return. There are the colors- purples and other hallucinogenic hues that confirm Shakespeare’s observation about the next world: “What dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil must give us pause.” There’s the heat. It makes no sense to the brain, because the explosion being observed is almost over the horizon, as far away as Baltimore is from Washington. Yet the first flash gives way to an oppressive, lingering heat whose persistence is unnerving. And then there’s the all-enveloping roar of the savage beast unleashed… So much else happened that the senses are numb. The first shock wave is not a crack or a pop, as one hears from a gun fired far away. It is the opening of a roar encompassing the senses, seeming to continue forever.

Reed’s first hand accounts of thermonuclear tests, along with his recollections of what it was like working in the nation’s premier nuclear laboratories at Los Alamos in New Mexico and Lawrence Livermore in California are fascinating and insightful, as well as very scary. I was struck by the utter sobriety of those engaged in this ghastly nuclear weapons business, as well as their ingenuity in making such arrays of nuclear devices work from so many platforms: from submarines that lurked beneath the seas, from airplanes, and from all sorts of land based missiles. This was done while also ensuring that they would remain inert unless very complex permission schemes were used. Reed does us a favor by giving us a very intimate glimpse of these years. It is fascinating and sobering reading.

Eventually Reed got out of the nuclear weapons business and the Air Force. Politics attracted him. In particularly he was a devoted follower of a certain former actor and governor of California. No, I do not mean Arnold Schwarzenegger, but Ronald Reagan. Reed was a friend of Reagan during his years as governor, and acted as his chief of staff during those years. He also assisted in his many campaigns and won Reagan’s personal respect and friendship. He served as the Secretary of the Air Force under President Ford, and then went to work on Reagan’s National Security Council, ably assisted by a certain Major named Oliver North. Consequently, Reed also brings us some unique insights into the back stage shenanigans at the Reagan White House. We learn that the White House was broken into two sets of key players, the Old Guards of which Reed was a member, and a newer and more politically savvy set, epitomized by James Baker. Reed was an unabashed admirer of Reagan. He gives him full credit for ending the Cold War, although he is certainly respectful toward most of the presidents who developed the strategies and exercised the leadership needed during our long Cold War. He does not even mention Reagan’s fiscal and environmental wreckage.

While this book has many merits, it also has some detractions. Where Reed has personal insights, it shines. When he has no first hand experiences, like the Vietnam War, we tend to get short histories of the sort you can read free on Wikipedia. You can also tell that he chooses to walk a fine line. He is in awe of Reagan’s leadership and personal character, but he is less enamored with Nancy Reagan, who he portrays as “The Queen of Hearts”. On the other hand, even when he gets into sensitive areas, like Nancy Reagan’s behavior, he manages to do so in a way that is mildly gossipy, yet offers little in the way of new revelations.

Reed is also Republican to the core, so his bias is obvious. In the first chapter, for example, he gives a history of the death and misery inflicted by Communist rulers. It was a tragic chronicle but the numbers of deaths that he asserts were caused by Communism are so large as to seem incredulous. He asserts, for example, that Stalin killed over twenty million Russians and more than thirty million Chinese died in Mao Tse-tung’s Cultural Revolution. Unlike others, like Barbara Tuchman, he thinks our bombing of North Vietnam actually was quite effective.

The book’s title is a bit misleading. I imagine his publisher demanded a florid title to ensure brisk sales. He was never at the abyss, unless that means being fifty miles from a planned thermonuclear explosion. He was not starring down the Russians in the seas off Cuba in 1963. He does however provide plenty of insight and personal experience in significant aspects of the Cold War. This makes his book worthy of the read, in spite of its abject partisanship. For Reed is as much a patriotic American as he is a Republican. He comes across as one of the more eloquent and grounded people in the Republican Party, more of the Barry Goldwater mindset than the Newt Gingrich variety. Books like his are invaluable for historians and scholars. We should be grateful Mr. Reed took the time in the autumn of his life to capture it for us.