July 31, 2002

Nice Things to See on and Above the Ocean

Late Afternoon on the Atlantic Coast

It is late afternoon on the Atlantic coast of Virginia, near the Carolina border. The beach is miles long, a forty yard strip of white sand. And overhead...

Overhead, a flight of fifteen pelicans goes by, echeloned so that each gets the benefit of the path through the air carved by the one in front of it. The water is 80 degrees or so--truly pleasant. The sun sparkles off the waves. A pod of porpoises frolicks forty or so yards offshore. Somewhere in the marsh, the kingfishers hunt. The seabirds run up and down the beach, staying in front of the surf. And overhead...

Overhead, with a roar, four F-18s--at least, I think they are F-18s: they look like F-18s--thunder past less than a thousand feet up. They are beautiful--elegant, graceful, fast--but very, very noisy. For we are more than just at a beautiful Atlantic beach late on a summer afternoon. We are half a mile south of Camp Pendleton, the marine base. We are ten miles from Oceana Naval Air Station. We are forty miles from the headquarters of the United States Atlantic Fleet.

All the things I have seen in the past hour make me happy: the sun, the water, the pelicans, the waves, the porpoises, the seabirds. But today--with the world in the state that it is in--it is the F-18s--our F-18s--that make me feel happiest.

Posted by DeLong at July 31, 2002 05:19 PM | TrackBack

Comments

Right before I read your 21st century poetry, the following old-fashioned question had just bothered my otherwise blissful day of research:

How comes we still mourn the parents of American children who died in the 9.11 attacks while most of us are in favor of attacking Iraq even though it has been established beyond serious doubt that it is not behind these attacks.

That we may consider it in the long term defense interest of the United States of America (and perhaps the World at large) to overthrow a iran (of our making) who is trying hard to develop WMD's (gotta get used to this new acronym) is something I can understand (even though I reserve the right to disagree... in spite of the fact that nobody cares about my opinion.)

But, how we can be blind to the fact that many Iraqi children will become orphans is not something I can easily understand. What's standing in the way of our compassion? A border, or the lack thereof? Religion? Skin color or facial bone geometry?

Perhaps it is the fact that very few of us can "behind the veil of ignorance" imagine being incarnated as an Iraqi child thanks to our brand of Western education and our free media. How many Americans have even spoken to an Iraqi in their life?

So, please, Professor DeLong, when you smile at those planes, please remember that they are built to kill and that only specificaly trained MD's should be authorized to perform surgery in a civilized country.

I guess my point is there should NEVER be a good time to fortget Vietnam ("move on hippie dork"). Not any more than we should ever forget the Holocaust. Let's hope that the worst byproducts of these F-18s will be noise and other forms of polution...

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on July 31, 2002 06:24 PM

Not be critical, but Camp Pendleton is in Southern California. Perhaps it's a different Marine facility?

Posted by: gerald on July 31, 2002 09:50 PM

Um, it's precisely because I want to avoid having several tens of thousands of NYC or DC or LA orphans that I want to eliminate Saddam and/or his WMD capacity.

And, frankly, what Iraqi children are starving are not doing so because of U.S. policy. Saddman could buy food for them with oil revenues; he does not. Their lives will probably be better off without him than with him.

And your reference to the Holocaust is an easy mark. It is precisely because some of us remember that Britain and France could have stopped Germany in Austria, Czechoslovakia, the Ruhr, etc. etc. in '34-'38 (or in Moscow during practically the whole decade) that we want to just get rid of Saddam now. The question is not, What comes after Saddam? so much as, Will life be better after him?

(A somewhat irreverent quotation, from the South Park Movie (which may look very very foolish indeed and will probably launch a thousand dissertations after the Iraqis get the bomb): "It's been six weeks since Saddam Hussein was killed by a pack of wild wolves and the world is still glad to be rid of him." We will be glad to be rid of him.)

Posted by: Paul on July 31, 2002 09:53 PM

I hope the pelicans, porpoises and seabirds share your joy

Posted by: Hans Suter on July 31, 2002 11:24 PM

Well, even the Pentagon doesn't seem to think that invading Irak and getting rid of Saddam be a piece of cake. They actually favor nurturing the opposition and letting him be overthrown from inside.

Irak is no Afganistan. After all, Afganistan is the poorest country is the world which the richest country of the world (that's us) gloriously rid of the Taliban regime it had imposed on it in context of the Cold War. (I know it's kind of rough but it's so true and relevant that it is worth being repeated.)

Okay, Irak shares with Afgantistan that its regime (yes Saddam Hussain) was also helped into being by US (this time in the context of the war against Islamist Iran.) So, might say an Iraqi, why didn't you spare us the interim evil regime? But does the pawn ask the King why it is being sacrified?

But what Irak does not share with Afganistan is that Irak has a powerful army. It's not that there is little chance that the US would win, but it's not going to be a clean war, or at least the chances that it won't be are quite high. What it does not share with the Taliban regime is complete diplomatic isolation. Arab "electorates" (read mobs) and thus regimes support him for he is... one of them. What would you think if Cuba argued it has the right to attack Florida because it is harboring counter-revolutionary forces?

Let me ask this question: do you have any idea about how much the US has already antigonized the Arab world? (as well as China and now Latin America.) Is America going to be able to survive in a world that hates it?

How strong do you think this country is? Think about it: two oceans, two very long unprotectable borderlines, one with a developing country. How hard do you it is to sneak in bio-chemical agent and lauch it in a water supply system? Believe me this (hopefully purely hypothetical) guy is not going to apply for a student visa and he won't have his luggage scanned because he (she?) wont't go through an airport. Do you seriously think you're going to be able to "smoke all these guys out" especially if you progressively antagonize most of the world's population?

And remember: there is no serious evidence yet that Saddam is involved with the 9.11 attacks! So, why are we wasting the tax-payer's money on him? I may be wrong, but this is the kind of move you don't decide on out of misguided vengance or political machiavelism.

Posted by: LM on July 31, 2002 11:57 PM

I'm sure Afghanistani/Iraqi/etc children don't share your love of F18s

Posted by: on August 1, 2002 02:26 AM

I read several years ago a rather apologetic CIA paper about the US sponsored coup in Guatemala in 1954. It came, in a round-about, blame-diverting manner, to the conclusion that overthrowing Arbenz was an utterly foolish mistake and that by the 1980's America would have been glad to have someone like Arbenz to deal with in Central America. Instead, the US had to negociate with the Sandinistas and the rebels and death squads in El Salvador, Guatemala and sometimes Honduras.

I wonder if Saddam Hussein will be seen in the same light in 30 years. Will people be saying everyone would have been better off dealing with a basically western quasi-socialist secular dictatorship rather than a bunch of violent, indignant, popular fundamentalist regimes in the Middle East? If the price of invading Iraq is a bunch of Taliban-type regimes through the Gulf states, I'm not sure the world isn't better off with Saddam Hussein.

Posted by: Scott Martens on August 1, 2002 03:06 AM

Mr Delong,

You might want to recheck your geography. If you were on the east coast, you were nowhere near Camp Pendleton, which is between San Diego and Los Angeles. Camp LeJeune, in NC, is the major USMC base on the east coast, and it would have been to your south. There would not have been a Marine Corps base to your immediate north.

I don't mean to be critical, I'm just offering a correction. Keep up the great postings -- I find your site to be an island of sanity in an ocean of misinformation.

Posted by: BD on August 1, 2002 04:17 AM

The military call it Camp Pendleton--right next to Oceana Naval Air Station and the Dam Neck U.C. Naval Fleet Training Center. It's very close.

Posted by: Brad DeLong on August 1, 2002 04:49 AM

Er...the F-18s didn't do much to stop September 11th, did they?

Posted by: George on August 1, 2002 08:37 AM

I don't understand why we have to prove that Iraq was involved in the September 11 attacks. Don't the same people who usually argue that also argue against revenge-taking?

And the arguments LM made are good -- yes, we should care what the rest of the world thinks of us; yes, Iraq has (had) a powerful military; no, it won't be as easy as Afghanistan -- but they don't clinch it, because at the end of the day, there's still a high chance that Saddam continues to develop his WMD arsenal. I'm a big believer in deterrence, but I also know what happens when deterrence breaks down even if you assume Saddam is rational (and I do in fact believe that). It will be much better for the U.S. in the long run.

Now, on Brad's behalf: I don't know if he wants to invade Iraq. I don't believe he's ever said one way or the other. Look back at the post! He didn't say (as several people, including one cowardly anony-poster, are implying) that he hoped the F-18s dropped their bombs on orphanages. He just said that, at this moment in this world, he's very glad to know that America can defend itself against most serious threats.

Posted by: Paul on August 1, 2002 08:48 AM

But that's the point. The F-18s hardly protect America against anything. They certainly proved worthless on September 11th.

What would have defended the US on September 11th was decent airport security.

Posted by: George on August 1, 2002 09:00 AM

RE:

>>I'm sure Afghanistani/Iraqi/etc children don't share your love of F18s<<

Oh, Afghans should--and do--share my feelings (unless they're part of the Taliban). Certainly the Kurds in northern Iraq share my feelings too. Plus the Bosnians. And the Kosovar Albanians. Not to mention the western Europeans. Plus the ex-subjects of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere...

Brad DeLong

Posted by: Brad DeLong on August 1, 2002 09:21 AM

>>The F-18s hardly protect America against anything. They certainly proved worthless on September 11th.>What would have defended the US on September 11th was decent airport security. <<

No, what would have defended the US on September 11 was better intellgience analysis and collection ... just like December 7.

Posted by: Paul on August 1, 2002 10:25 AM

"No, what would have defended the US on September 11 was better intellgience analysis and collection "

I agree with Brad, but I agree with Paul here,too.

What defended 1/4 of the targets on

September 11 were not F-18's but Patriots.

Not the missiles.

Beamer, Burnett, Bingham, Glick ...

Using cell phones, news reports, and common sense, they were among the first to figure out what was happening and what to do.

Homeland Security is not up to the pilots, AA or F-18 either one. It is a task each of us shares.

Posted by: Melcher on August 1, 2002 11:01 AM

'But what Irak does not share with Afganistan is that Irak has a powerful army.'

No they don't. They're less powerful than the last time we defeated them.

'Arab "electorates" (read mobs) and thus regimes support him for he is... one of them.'

They support the Iraqi children we're supposedly starving, not Hussein.

'So, why are we wasting the tax-payer's money on him?'

He's pure, unadulterated evil?

'But, how we can be blind to the fact that many Iraqi children will become orphans is not something I can easily understand. What's standing in the way of our compassion? A border, or the lack thereof? Religion? Skin color or facial bone geometry?'

I think a lot more Iraqi children will be orphaned under the continuing barbaric regime of Saddaam Hussein than anything we can do.

Some wars are just. This one is one of them (ok, assuming we don't just drop in and install *our* tinpot dictator, something I don't entirely trust Bush to refrain from.....)

'If the price of invading Iraq is a bunch of Taliban-type regimes through the Gulf states, I'm not sure the world isn't better off with Saddam Hussein.'

I haven't seen any arguments really supporting that line of thought. Have any links?

Posted by: Jason McCullough on August 1, 2002 11:56 AM

'Homeland Security is not up to the pilots, AA or F-18 either one. It is a task each of us shares.'

As inspirational as Flight 93 was, defense is best left to the professionals.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on August 1, 2002 11:57 AM

The debate over whether one should be happy about being well protected, whether it matters that the protection comes in the form of the capacity to rain down death, whether we are well protected -- all very interesting, but a bit abstract. I have a (slightly) less abstract question? Does anybody have a firm handle on why the White House, Pentagon and Senate Foreign Relations Committee all seem to be inviting the public to think invasion may not be necessary? All at once, in the span of half a week, after months of F-18 rattling, on the heels of endless leaks about how we might invade, we are now invited to hope that invading Iraq may not be the first policy option.

Is this diplomacy by other means? Even Blair was coming close to falling into the soup for agreeing Saddam has to be removed, and none of our other allies has any patience for the notion of an attack. The same allies passed up the opportunity to adopt "smart sanctions" for Iraq, apparently because it would be too annoying to have to shift from selling Iraq dual-use technology to selling them something else (Brad, am I getting the economics right here? Iraq has a certain level of income, a certain level of domestic production, a certain volume of investment opportunity - imports don't fall for long, they just change.) Have we been trying to show our scurilous allies that there are worse things than being responsible - like our going to war when and where we see fit over their objections? This is not a theory I necessarily like. It's just the only one I have to explain the apparent about face in rhetoric from our hawks. Anybody have a better feel for this?

Posted by: k harris on August 1, 2002 12:32 PM

Unfortunately, it is largely US arms sales that are supplying the ammunition for much of the terror which thos F-18's are making you feel so safe from, as well (as other commentators pointed out) as allowing oppressive regimes to continue terrorising people else where in the world.

http://kerim.oxus.net/nucleus/index.php?itemid=463

http://kerim.oxus.net/nucleus/index.php?itemid=378

Posted by: kerim on August 1, 2002 06:08 PM

>>It is precisely because some of us remember that Britain and France could have stopped Germany in Austria, Czechoslovakia, the Ruhr, etc. etc. in '34-'38 (or in Moscow during practically the whole decade) that we want to just get rid of Saddam now.>Plus the ex-subjects of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere...<<

The irony of ironies is that the CIA apparently had no idea that the Soviet Union was going to implode. It did so on its own, but I still get cold sweats when I think about how many times we must have been an inch away from Apocalypse.

We all want this world, as we know it, to go on. Personally, I am ready to tolerate some "evil" even for extended periods of time if what we win in return is survival for mankind.

Hitler in his insanity also thought he had to clean to world of evil... Mother Theresa used to say: "There is a little Hitler asleep in everyone of us."

I guess it takes a foreigner to observe how much Americans like to wage war (and that's one of the reasons why the US spends so much weapons to begin with). We foreigners are ever grateful for the world as it is and for your contribution to it. Please keep it this way. It's not perfect, but it's our only world.

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on August 1, 2002 06:25 PM

'That's where you loose me again. Do you plan on attacking North Korea next then? I guess their regime qualifies for "evil" as well (together with half a dozen African countries probably.) . How about Cuba? Now, that's the path to a Third World War we're going down here. Rhymes with recession and bankrupcy doesn't it?'

Ideally, yes: I'm in favor of overthrowing evil (yes, that's a moral judgement; I'm not concerned about economic systems, mind you, only democracy) dictatorships with no popular support and installing democracies. Do you seriously think the citizens of North Korea or Iraq would *prefer* us to not invade, and continue to let their government starve them? Cuba I'm not sure enough about to favor overthrow: their citizens aren't entirely unhappy, and it'll probably end peacefully sometime soon. I can't say the same about Iraq or Korea.

If you have a explanation of how a Third World War (nuclear exchanges? mass mobilizations? fighting on every continent?) would start with the United States knocking off tinpot dictators, by all means, I'm interested.

This is definitely a first for me, though: a invocation of Godwin's law as a result of wanting self-determination for the citizens of Iraq.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on August 1, 2002 06:55 PM

"Do you plan on attacking North Korea next then? "

I think we should reform North Korea BEFORE Iraq.

We have a better ally in South Korea than in any nation around the other states of the Axis of Evil. And afterwards several divisions and carrier groups could move from DMZ stagnation in the Far East to active duty in the Middle East.

But nobody has asked me.

Posted by: Melcher on August 1, 2002 07:55 PM

>>If the Allies hadn't humiliated Germany after WWI with disproportionate economic sanctions we probably wouldn't have had WWII. At least so thought J.M. Keynes in his "Economic Consequences of Peace."<<

Entirely possible. How does that disprove my example? If Austria hadn't been imperialistic, we wouldn't have had World War I. If Bismarck hadn't been Wilhelm's Chancellor, we wouldn't have had Germany. If Napoleon hadn't invaded Russia, we wouldn't have had a struggle to maintain the balance of power.

And so on and so forth ....

And in response to the "U.S. sells arms to evil countries" point: Yes, we did. As Chris Hitchens argued in response to opponents of the Afghan war, doesn't that mean we have a duty to take those arms away now?

And we're not going after N Korea because we think that they're not as threatening as Iraq.

Posted by: Paul on August 1, 2002 10:37 PM

Jason:

We qualified the 1939-1945 was as a World War even though it mostly took place in Europe and Japan, by far not a large share of the world's surface or population.

A war that would be extended to several African and Middle East countries and to parts of Asia would qualify for a title of "candidate World War" in my view. What is harder to see is the second round consequences declaring war and actually waging it on to several countries would have.

In particular in the current Middle East context, it could inflame mobs in the Arab world with consequences that are hard to foresee. Countries would take side with a possible EU-US stand-off.

Stretching our imagination further, we could imagine China deciding to protect North Korea to establish / defend its military supremacy in Asia. We could also imagine action around the Middle East having repercussion as far as Pakistan in the tense nuclear context of inimity with India....

See it doesn't take that much imagination ;-)

All I am trying to say is that war is serious, and most often messy business, and not a soap opera you watch on cable TV while splashing in your bath tub... The attacks have brought the horror of war a little closer to home than usual. Our only response should not be bid up the level of violence. I can't help to think that violence begets violence, and humiliation begets retaliation...

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on August 1, 2002 11:48 PM

Someone remind me again why fighting a war against a brutal theocracy, defending one's oilfields against a hereditary dictatorship and suppressing a rebellion in the North of your country makes you a uniquely evil monster who cannot be suffered to live?

Posted by: Daniel Davies on August 2, 2002 03:03 AM

Hello,

my name is Kim Il Sung Jr. I lead a cool life because nobody's telling me what I should do (not even my Daddy). I'm worried lately. There's some dude living far away (let's call him W.) who's obsession is to put people like me under pressure and eventually to threaten my chosen way of life. He's after my sidekick Saddam and he seems to mean it. I can tell you one thing for sure: the moment this W. puts the foot of any of his guards into Saddams turf I'll do anything to get any weapon to defend my lifestyle. Oh sure, I've always been keen to get some of these toys - but this situation would change my idea of what I need to keep on partying. I'm sure Pooti, Deng (or is his great granpa now at the helm?) or some shady character will supply me. You think I'm nasty now? Wait until then. I've never really used my toys, that would be the perfect time to do so. I'll blast anything in sight just to scare the sh** ot of this W. I know that my friends in Teheran, LaHavana, Tripoli,... will do the same. I'm sure it'll be too much for W. to handle. Me and my buddies only want to keep on living the way we are used to. You know, we have no choice because nowhere else do guys like us have such great oppotunities as we have now. We'll fight to death and we don't care if the world goes down in the process. Leave us alone W. and we'll leave you in peace. Touch us and we'll hit back as never before.

Posted by: Chris K on August 2, 2002 07:11 AM

'Someone remind me again why fighting a war against a brutal theocracy, defending one's oilfields against a hereditary dictatorship and suppressing a rebellion in the North of your country makes you a uniquely evil monster who cannot be suffered to live?'

You can do the same formulation with Mao or Stalin, you know. Not that Saddam's anywhere near that bad.

He's just an undemocratic leader who kills his own citizens. He needs to go.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on August 4, 2002 01:37 PM

Yes, aren't the F-18s lovely? Like having your guardian angels going by overhead, with a fine reassuring swoosh. I fell in love with them the first time I saw one come circling around the city, flying into and then out of the smoke of Ground Zero. For a few very bad moments there I'd thought it was another kamikaze, but when it burst out into the light again I knew it was one of ours, and was profoundly grateful.

By contrast, what I thought the first time I was overflown by a squadron of pelicans was, "My god -- pterodactyls!"

Posted by: Teresa Nielsen Hayden on August 4, 2002 03:49 PM

>>He's just an undemocratic leader who kills his own citizens. He needs to go.<<

See, the disconnect between your first and second sentences suggests to me that you don't believe this shit either.

I'd also note that the "Saddam gassed his own people" story is based on very, very shaky foundations.

Posted by: Daniel Davies on August 4, 2002 11:09 PM

Ok, ignore whether the gassing or murder happened. He still runs a police state, and he's still a dictator. Personally, I think it's a good idea to overthrow *all* the dictatorships out there, but there's obviously feasibility issues with that.

Not that I really trust Bush to do it. If he can't summon the minimal interest to keep Afghanistan from disintegrating.....

Posted by: Jason McCullough on August 5, 2002 10:58 AM

Hello. I would like to add a comment, even though I am only young and foolish.

From what I've been able to gather, Americans want to protect themselves and have no desire to hurt anyone, except in self protection, and are also generous and willing to help other people. I also understand that America also has a limited amount of resources with which to make the world a better place.

I would like to see more discussion on the best way for Americans to use their resources to protect themselves and to protect other people. For example, how much weight should we put on the future? (Remember I am only young.) And how much importance should be placed on protecting non Americans? (I'm not American myself, but people often mistake me for one.)

How can America (and the world) get the most value for it's money over the long term? How do you account for externalities? Hoping to see some thoughts on this in the future.

Posted by: Ronald Brakels on August 14, 2002 06:46 PM
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