Confessions of an Epistemological Skeptic
July 01, 2010
I’m struck by how quickly some of my fellow Entanglers have brought up the mother of all epistemological quandaries: How can we, the not very well informed, know what is the case in a far-off land of which we know, well, not very much? The difficulty in knowing what is true on the ground in Afghanistan, for example, is massive. And the reason is not that “the liberal media” blight the national climate with pessimism because they’re of a wimpish or Qaeda-loving disposition.
Dismal Perhaps, But Is It A Science?
June 30, 2010
As if there weren’t enough transatlantic rifts already, from the Middle East to the environment, another has opened over economic policy.
The Paradox of Boots on the Ground
June 29, 2010
On a balmy summer’s day in the village of Hiratian in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, locals found the body of eight-year-old Dilawar hanging from a tree of a small fruit farm. Taliban fighters had accused the boy of spying for the American forces and had kidnapped him, strung him up and left his body to sway in the wind for hours for all to see. The murder was horrifying, yet few villagers would come to the defense of anyone charged with spying for the hated foreign forces. But slowly, the details of the story emerged.
A Guide to Avoiding Disaster in Afghanistan
June 28, 2010
For those of us who can remember how lonely it was to be in favor of the Iraq war and the hoped-for surge in 2006, reflecting on America’s current travails in Afghanistan—a “fool’s errand” (George F. Will) administered by “well-meaning infidels” (Andrew J. Bacevich)—isn’t nearly so depressing.
Every once in a while, one experiences a “clarifying moment,” foreshadowing an important policy debate that hasn’t yet taken shape. In 2003, for example, just before the Iraq war began, I heard Paul Berman give a talk to a group of liberals and leftists on his new book, “Terror and Liberalism.” The reception was almost uniformly hostile, so much so that Berman warned that the left was in danger of demonizing George Bush in the same way that the right had demonized Bill Clinton. He was prescient.
My colleague on ‘Entanglements,’ Adam Kirsch, posted a perceptive column a few days ago that asked both why we are—as we seem to have been since at least the advent of the middle-class newspaper-reading public in eighteenth-century London, Edinburgh, and Amsterdam—so passionately interested in the affairs of “leaders and nations we don’t know, never will see, and certainly have no power over,” and whether this avidity for consuming news actually brings us closer to reality or instead makes it harder to “see things as they actually are?” It’s an excellent question, whether or not one agrees (I
What a Relief, Except...
June 25, 2010
The plainly intolerable violations of professional behavior exhibited by General Stanley McChrystal in the Rolling Stone article surely justified his firing. Any officer in a position of responsibility who permits a culture of arrogance and contempt for civilian leadership to develop, instead of crushing both at their first appearance, surrenders his or her legitimacy as a commander of American armed forces. This was hardly a trivial gaffe or some error in judgment.
The World Cup and American Exceptionalism
June 24, 2010
This year’s World Cup demonstrates, as it has in the past, a particular feature of American exceptionalism: the rest of the world cares passionately about soccer and its quadrennial championship. Americans don’t. True, the United States has a team in the tournament that has played well, earning a place in the second round with a dramatic last-minute goal; but unlike in other countries, the names of its leading players are little known outside their own households.
Why Do We Care About Countries We'll Never Go To?
June 24, 2010
This week, as I looked forward to the launch of Entanglements, I happened to be reading selections from the Spectator of Addison and Steele.
Why General Petraeus Is Better Suited for Our Afghanistan Mission Than General McChrystal Ever Was
June 24, 2010
“Command climate” is what shapes a military organization. The preferences, priorities, and peccadilloes of the commander echo across its staff and subordinate units. Command climate functions as an organization's persona and it plays just as powerful a role in its behavior—and effectiveness—as an individual's personality.