Top 100 Hits Flow from the Barrel of a Gun

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Jim Henley has exactly the right response to this musty 1998 New Republic article by Eliot Cohen, specifically this bit:

One cannot separate the so-called "soft power" of the United States–the global dominance of its culture, beginning with its language–from its military strength.

Rock fans around the world listen in English; so do fighter pilots.

Quoth Henley:

Cohen tries to make a nigh-Riemannian parallelism do the work of argument. He wants you to think that if we had fewer bombers, the kidz would be listening to Chinese rappers, or maybe Islamofascist ones. Curiously, the era when American (and British) bands started dominating global culture was the heyday of Team B, who insisted that the Communist bloc had the beleaguered West utterly outclassed militarily. Those where the days when a sequence of red and blue bar graphs could bring the insecure American a parapornographic thrill of doom. Look how tall the red bar is on the tanks graph! The missile graph! The fighter plane graph! "What did you scare yourself with before 'dhimmitude,' Grandpa?" "Commitude, children!"

This is funny, and it explores one of the tropes of the "the Islamofascists/Chinese are coming!" crowd.  They believe free markets are great, yes; democracy is great, Western civilization is great (Not all of them are on board for this last bit: I see you, Dinesh.). These are not just great things, but reasons why our civilization is superior, why the rest of the world aspires to be more American (or at least more European). Yet somehow the Islamofacists (or Chinese), whose societies are hot for our markets and our culture, are going to wipe all of this away unless we kill them or isolate them.

(Via Yglesias, who has smarter comments and smart commenters.)

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  1. Both pop music AND current military spending levels are RETARDED. Coincidence? You decide!

  2. Look how tall the red bar is on the tanks graph! The missile graph! The fighter plane graph!

    Interestingly, all those numbers that went on the bar graph came from the CIA, whose estimates of USSR military might were flat wrong and their estimates of the economic prowess of the Soviets turned out to be overstated by a magnitude of five or so. These are the same people we entrusted to give us the dope on Iraqui WMD for the last 20 years, the same people who we think can divine all manner of underground evil, worldwide.

    I’m not just knocking the CIA, they are not doing a great job. I’m also knocking the entire concept of how valuable the spooks are. It is nuts to believe that if the CIA & the FBI & military intelligence had just been on the ball, 09-11 wouldn’t have happened. They could not have prevented it nor can they provide any more than rudimentary intelligence about any other threat.

  3. An even better response than Henley’s. Mine:

    The US spends too much on its military. Military spending should be cut so US taxpayer’s taxes could be cut and the people would be freer.

  4. I’m not big on military spending but that’s a relatively small figure in comparison to the rest of the bloated budget.

    How about this: We give everybody notice that on December 31, 2007 all the troops come home and all the overseas bases are shuttered. You guys are all on your own, figure it out. But is you screw with us, we nuke your capital city. Immediately.

  5. Oh yeah, and if we’d listened to Patton, there would not have been a cold war.

  6. How about this: We give everybody notice that on December 31, 2007 all the troops come home and all the overseas bases are shuttered. You guys are all on your own, figure it out. But is you screw with us, we nuke your capital city. Immediately.

    Counter-proposal:

    We cut 75% of the military and intelligence budgets and then let the military and intelligence people decide how best to allocate the 25% residuum.

    Oh, yeah, and a tax cut corresponding to the 75% budget cuts — however big or small that number may be.

  7. “Rock fans around the world listen in English; so do fighter pilots.”

    So I guess the editor preferred the latter reduction to this one:

    “8 years old Bratz fans wear thongs; so do the mobile infantry.”

  8. I’m not big on military spending but that’s a relatively small figure in comparison to the rest of the bloated budget.

    Uh, is 50% small? Relative to what, the other 50%?

  9. We give everybody notice that on December 31, 2007 all the troops come home and all the overseas bases are shuttered. You guys are all on your own, figure it out. But is you screw with us, we nuke your capital city. Immediately.

    but but but it’s our projection of force that keeps the world from blowing up! There would be chaos! Rioting! Wholesale destruction of factories vital to supplying parts for PS3s! It would simply be the end of the world as we know it.

  10. The military’s budget is 50% of discretionary spending. It’s only about 20% of the overall budget. Plus, you know, it actually does pretty well what is equipped to do.

  11. It’s only about 20% of the overall budget.

    Not clear whether this includes the Social Security related taxes or not. But even so:

    75% of 20% is 15%.

    I could really dig a 15% cut in my income taxes. Assuming your numbers are correct, that is what I am proposing here. A 15% tax cut is a good thing to a libertarian.

  12. We cut 75% of the military and intelligence budgets and then let the military and intelligence people decide how best to allocate the 25% residuum.

    I’ll see you and counter.

    That’s okay, but I don’t trust those guys to bring the troops home. I think you have to predicate it on eliminating our military presence from all foreign countries (except the Marine Corps embassy guards).

    Oh, yeah, and a tax cut corresponding to the 75% budget cuts — however big or….

    Tax cuts are like sex, no such thing as a bad tax cut, just some better than others.

  13. Including the Iraq appropriation, military spending today is about 530 billion out of a 2.7 trillion.

  14. Regardless, whatever amount is totally unacceptable. Humaniterror bombing is retarded. If you think the armed forces of the United States help anyone overseas, you are a retard. Isolated cases of positive action on the parts of individuals exist without a doubt, but they are the exception and can not balance the retarditude of the military brass.

  15. If you think the armed forces of the United States help anyone overseas, you are a retard.

    That’s what I tried telling those pesky Kurds and Bosnians, but for some reason they disagreed.

  16. . . . 530 billion . . .

    Assuming this number is correct, I am suggesting that $3

  17. Assuming this number is correct, I am suggesting that $397,500,000,000.00 be cut from the budget and from the income (not capital gains) tax bills of the nation.

  18. “If you think the armed forces of the United States help anyone overseas, you are a retard.”

    How so not true. I became a retard from eating paint chips.

    /hrumph

  19. I take exception to the statement that Yglesias has smarter commenter’s. BTW, if the Chinese come and kill us all, who would tell them what to buy, like, drive, eat, etc?

  20. We shouldn’t have a standing army. Have a navy and some national guard types in case Canada or Mexico invade.

    Imperialism is so expensive we’re going to have to give it up sooner or later. Hopefully we’re still a relatively prosperous constitutional republic when we do.

  21. Uhh, hmm. I’ll just say I said on highclearing, slightly edited.

    There is only one enforcement arm of any international agreement, and that is the US military. I know the standard line is that nobody really needs to be able to project power and enforce agreements worth enforcing, but at the end of the day such criticism mirrors the anarchist gripes about minarchy. Who needs a night watchman, right?

    If you think a context of enforcement and consequences for negative behavior is not important, then by all means lets get rid of the cops and the army. If you think such context is nearly essential for liberty to be exercised, well, who is that watchman going to be? All negotiation is supported by a power structure. I don’t think it is an extraordinary obervation that it probably helps to be on the right side of the power distribution that underlies everything else you do.

    To me, it is a pretty shocking claim that we’d all be just as well off if China were the only nation capable of projecting military power. I get that we might not want to be the only ones providing a force, but I think it a bit myopic to say that it doesn’t matter at all.

  22. Note: There is room to give, a LOT of room to give, between being an expansionist empire and maintaing force projection capability.

  23. JasonL,

    I have some sympathy for your argument, but it is not true that the US military is the only “enforcement arm of any international agreement.”

    Most agreements have reciprocal elements, just like contracts between individuals or companies. If one side stops performing, the other will, too. And you’re not going to get international treaty-enforcement to look anything like US judicial enforcement, standing army or no.

    There are limited international agreements for which armed force is a useful mechanism — arguably the non-proliferation treaty, for example. But most of them are enforced in a more third-grade way: If you won’t play by the rules, I’ll take my ball and go home. And tell the other kids not to play with you, either.

  24. Shelby,

    I hear you about reciprocal elements, but I wasn’t really proposing military intervention for those sorts of agreements.

    The real problem comes when you are dealing with an actor you know will try to extort from you, cheat on agreements, and lie to your face in the attempt to get what they can up front.

    Any tyrant, for example, has personal command of national wealth. You can’t establish in most cases a reciprocal deterrent that is meaningful to such a person.

    In other words, we don’t believe in our everyday lives here in the states that you can get by with only carrot incentives for agreement. We broadly believe that there has to be a stick to deter some types of behavior. I’m just saying that some folks are awfully cavalier when it comes to the stick.

  25. Frankly, I think a force financed to the tune of $125 billion a year should be plenty to enforce whatever agreements we need enforced. I sign on to Dave’s plan, though I’d like to use some chunk of that $397,000,000,000 to pay down the national debt a bit.

  26. “Oh yeah, and if we’d listened to Patton, there would not have been a cold war.”

    don’t get me wrong, i love me some fantomas and mr. bungle – not so hot on peeping tom, though his collaboration with dave lombardo was pretty amazing – and recently the patton-kaada album was super nice, but i’m pretty sure he didn’t start recording music until after the cold war.

  27. “Yet somehow the Islamofacists (or Chinese), whose societies are hot for our markets and our culture, are going to wipe all of this away unless we kill them or isolate them.”

    entirely misses the point. it is a lot easier to destroy something than to build it. you don’t have to be rich or smart or technologically superior to send western open society into chaos. certainly reason is underestimating the threat posed by islamofascism.

  28. As to how the islamofascists (or the chinese, or the russians, or some combination) could threaten what really is the best civilization ever, there are two points to consider, beyond pete’s point on relative ease of destruction: 1)numbers. 1.3 billion chinese alone outnumber the west, as do the 1.2 million muslims. you don’t need all, or even most of these movbilized against us to do a lot of damage especially because of b) they care we don’t. it’s as simple as that. members of ours civilization don’t really care enough to defend it.

  29. that’s right, man.

    all those brown people will throw themselves at western civilization with lemming-like fanaticism!

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