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12 September 2014


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Ex-PFC Chuck

Awesome post! Who's the poet?


There is something like that work in governments, fairly close to a universal rule....

In most European governments, a friend of mine who specializes in European political economy told me, most successful advances in labor rights and welfare states took place under governments controlled by (or, at least led by, in case of coalitions) right-wing, pro-market parties. Likewise, most major market reforms took place under allegedly left-wing, socialist governments. It is worth remembering that the first serious attempt at a welfare state in the world was created under Otto von Bismarck, who supposedly lived his whole life in mortal fear of socialist-inspired social unrest.

I think this process works like this. To the degree that the party/parties in control of government are successful at establishing credibility with their own side, they don't really need to do much to appease them. But they can do much to deprive the other side of rallying points, by stealing their thunder. If the unions have been granted extensive social welfare state, for example, they have very little to fight for (exactly what Bismarck did). "We want even more of X" does not carry the same ring as "we want X."

If we have right-wingers who need to advance right-wing policy (and vice versa for the left), that means the right wing (or the left) has failed politically, that they don't have enough credibility that they have to pick fights to be respected by their own side at all, even if that means the other side is going to be energized as well, I suspect. That's my two cents, at any rate.

William R. Cumminh

Walrus! Pretty much agree with the post and noting the confusion in Washington over whether this is war or CT!


thought that was by design - not a bug or a perverse outcome, but a feature


Tidewater, responding to Ex-PFC Chuck,

It's T.S. Eliot. "Gerontion." The poem dates from 1920. Wikipedia has a nice essay on it. Also on Youtube you can find both Eliot and a Tom O'Bedlam reading it. The latter is terrific; hearing Eliot once is essential.

I was intrigued to learn that in earlier drafts the poem was called Gerousia. The Gerousia was a Council of Elders in Sparta created by Lycurgus. You had to be over sixty to be on it. Among other things the Gerousia "prepared motions for the wider citizen assembly to vote on." They advised! Gerontion is not exactly a word in a dictionary, but its meaning is "old man." Amusingly, there is an argument that it is really J.Alfred Prufrock grown older. I don't think so. My reading, which is, of course, irresponsible, is that this old man, who doesn't think like Prufrock, the social butterfly and presumed aesthete, was a British Intelligence agent in War I who worked on a contract basis. That would account for knowing a lot of odd continental types and being in a rooming house. Like some of Smiley's people, he is having a hard time of it later on. It seems that the phrase "wilderness of mirrors" in Gerontion is very dear to the intelligence communnity. That is a very strange coincidence is it not?


I remember when there were only 5000 dead enders in Iraq.

Now just 31K?


As many who contribute to the Colonel's site no doubt know, the poem is "Gerontion," and its author is T.S. Eliot. It is said to have been a favorite of the late James Angleton, who adopted another phrase from the poem as a preferred description of his own milieu - the "wilderness of mirrors."

Jim Buck

Stated intentions may be at odds with the actuality. I am not convinced that the territorial gains allowed to Hitler were intended to dissuade him from warfare. Some historians (i.e. C. Quigley) argue that Western powers plan was to strengthen Nazi Germany's tactical and strategic position, with regard to an attack on the USSR. If that was indeed the case, then the plan succeeded---even though the eventual outcome let much to be desired.

Babak Makkinejad

I had also arrived at the same conclusion - never having read Quigley at all.

Late into 1939, the Imperial General Staff's war plans called for a war with USSR and not Germany.

In France, they called that period the phony war.

The foreign policy of England for 600 years consisted in preventing a central European great power to rise.

They succeeded all too well in Europe; they made Western Europe as well as themselves a dependency of the United States - and with no end in sight.

Babak Makkinejad

Like this Spaniard told me - "Franco was better than these (socialists)".


I read Prufrock as the opposite of social butterfly and presumed aesthete, i.e. an introverted depressive too negative and fearful to actually try for the woman he yearns for. It was far more convenient to daydream about her.


This is great. I agree with you that I don't see how we can defeat IS without spawning new versions. The only question is whether those new versions will arise anyway. IS has provided a positive blueprint for a state, a new program, quite different from the nihilistic efforts of Al Qaeda. That makes them much scarier, though perhaps more manageable.

I'd observe also that your rule also applies to IS as well. In attempting to terrify the West into leaving them alone, they're prodding it into action.



"In most European governments ..."

I've heard this too. I think the explanation is this:

Any reform finally happens when the last opponents of the reform stop blocking it. Perhaps in exchange for something, or to move their focus to another issue with more current relevance, or maybe because the reform is an obviously good idea and gains universally popularity.

In any case, it is much easier to abandon a long-standing roadblock when you're in power -- it doesn't look like you're "giving in". That way the opponents of the reform actually get credit for implementing it, and deny the victory to the original party which everyone knows proposed the idea the victory.

In short, it's a side effect of politics.


What else could they have done? Looking way back, I think they have been pretty reasonable given the circumstances of the times they lived in. American Revolution being one example, independence of India another and many more in between. A much more unrealistic nation would have done worse.



They have already prodded the West into action, perhaps a miscalculation on their part. But if they can ride it out, they will come out stronger than ever. Maybe that was also a grand strategy on their part, who knows?

Mark Logan

I really like that. Government are always wrong because they appeased Hitler therefore government will be wrong if it attempts to stomp out ISIL.

One of the best features of Russian humor is it's irony. Mark Twain struck a chord with many Russians, or so I've heard. Irony, at it's best, incorporates the ability to laugh at ourselves. Being able to laugh at one's own folly is the key to defeating one's own self importance and a survival tool. The combination of realism and knowledge tends to curl most people into an intellectual fetal position frequently labeled cynicism, perhaps the exact opposite of wisdom.


So, by this reasoning:
Ignore ISIS and they'll fade away,
Shrug off Putin and he'll roll over and leave Ukraine.
People are in love with the so-called "law of unintended consequences" because it provides a default (and simplistic) answer when there no clear solutions for a complex problem,
ISIS can be totally destroyed - by ruthless brutal use of force - with no concern for fallout,"collateral damage", diplomatic BS, etc.
Which means they will not be destroyed.

ex-PFC Chuck

Thanks for answering my question. Although I must confess that I'm not much of a poetry reader, I did read and study Prufrock and, of course, Wasteland in college more than half a century ago. The former made such an impression on me that I still can quote verbatim (I think) the first half dozen lines or so:

Let us go then you and I
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table
Let us go through certain half deserted streets
The muttering retreats of restless nights
In one night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster shells

That's where my memory burns out. Now I'll have to find the text online and see how badly I screwed it up.

ex-PFC Chuck

in re "The only question is whether those new versions will arise anyway."

You'll be happy to know The Onion is on the case:

Peter Brownlee

A sub-set of this may be the old journalistic saw about never believing anything until it has been officially denied (attributed to Bismarck via Claud Cockburn).

The gerousia was part of Sparta's much admired (Polybius, American Founding Fathers, etc.) "balanced" constitution but I am not sure what was theory and what was actually practised, how much was flimflam even at the time and if, as usual, people just believed whatever they wanted.

Jim Buck

The "rule" (if it is one) seems nothing more than a footnote to Hegel.


TV, no, not "ignore them", engage with them in the friendliest manner and then stick a stiletto between their ribs, if you understand my meaning.

Ridicule them, taunt them, slander them, tell muslims that ISIS is about raping children, do anything but treat them as a threat to our way of life! Make examples of their supporters as enemies of all muslims not us. Do anything but this building a bogeyman thing.


Anyone remember the old Firesign Theater line "The first word in Turkish is "border" ??? At one time thought the first word- or one of the first words to teach a child is "paradox." It's a fundamental principle.


This has been rattling around in me since PL's thread about suggestions for a strategy against IS. Walrus's reply to TV squeezed it out, as it is so similar.

In college I took a class called "Warfare" which was taught by a guy named Kieth Otterbein. One day we went in and started on terrorism, and he says, 'OK, the purpose of terrorism is to make the govt which it is aimed at more repressive.'

It being the 80's and me lacking the sense to keep quiet, I said, 'Wait a minute, when the IRA pops off a bomb in Harrods, the want MORE doors kicked in and MORE Bobby Sands'es??'
He says, 'Yes, because eventually that alienates the entire population, and there's a full scale uprising, and those are really difficult to deal with.'

This, and a native spiteful streak, has given me the habit of trying not to do what i think an adversary wants me to do. In the wake of the attacks of 9-11-2001, I said 'dirty tricks and deny everything.'

These guys should just mysteriously be exploding and dying of poison or whatever, and the official USG statement should be, "Look, we dunno, we can't be bothered with every head-chopping asshole on the planet, but it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy."

This denies IS the big enemy that it not only relishes, but defines itself against and without which it's not such a big player.

And just to be clear, I don't believe in the magical power of UW or commando operations(thanks to SST for teaching me the difference)...just using the right tool for the job is no guarantee of success, but using the hammer of big war on the screw of IS could turn out to be a bad strategy more easily than than a quieter strategy.(I get that this would be politically untenable, because there is no big show of toughly doing something to protect the chirrens, but that's a whoooooole other discussion)

I think it might be interesting to consider why governments so often have this problem, but discussions like that have a way of degenerating in to drunken chit chat.


You would not find too many among the 100k + people he jailed, tortured, killed, or at best, blacklisted, offering that opinion. Me thinks some people have very short memories. Or else, some people, because of the ubiquity of torture in their culture tend to down play it with others.

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