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Be Angry—but Patient

President Bush's "surge" isn't solving Iraq's political problem. But what's the Democrats' hurry to end it?

Pity Gen. David Petraeus, the military commander in Iraq. Before Memorial Day, his September progress report from Baghdad was expected to be a turning point in the Iraq war. By Labor Day, it looked like most of the other turning points in this strange war: one where nothing turned.

Partisans worked through the summer to show that nothing as trivial as the field commander's assessment would influence their views. In July, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean announced, "We do not need to wait until September" to know that President Bush's "surge" strategy had failed. In August, Bush's allies shot back that the strategy was plainly succeeding.

People who knew better than to listen to partisans paid more attention to a raft of August progress reports: a partially declassified National Intelligence Estimate; a leaked draft report [PDF] from the Government Accountability Office; early accounts of a congressionally commissioned study of Iraqi security forces; and reports from members of Congress and think-tank experts who traveled to Iraq.

The assessments disagreed on some details, such as how much Iraq's security forces are improving, if at all. Taken together, however, they painted a coherent picture, which Petraeus's report seemed unlikely to change.

  • Tactically, which is to say militarily, the troop surge is making headway. Partly thanks to Sunni tribes joining with U.S. forces against Al Qaeda, and partly because the Pentagon is devoting more resources to a better plan of attack, security has improved in Iraq's contested central regions. But:
  • Iraq is still a dangerous and volatile place, far from stable. Sectarian militias, foreign terrorists, and domestic insurgents remain potent; violence remains unacceptably high. And:
  • Strategically, which is to say politically, the surge is working much less well. As the National Intelligence Estimate summarized, "Broadly accepted political compromises required for sustained security, long-term political progress, and economic development are unlikely to emerge unless there is a fundamental shift in the factors driving Iraqi political and security developments."
  • Absent a political settlement, Iraq's government and security forces are too incompetent, sectarian, and corrupt to stabilize the country without continued large-scale U.S. intervention.
  • The troop surge is not sustainable much beyond next spring unless combat tours are extended, which would strain the Army to or near the breaking point. Pre-surge forces could be maintained a while longer but not indefinitely.

In sum: The surge has temporarily stabilized what had become a downward spiral and, by doing so, has bought some time. But not much time, and the Iraqis have done little with it.

Here's a startling headline: "More Troops, Better General, and Smarter Strategy Yield Some Results." It would have been surprising if the troop surge had _not_ yielded tactical improvements. (To the extent that the surge is working, it gives a depressing taste of how much better this war could have gone if Bush had provided adequate manpower and leadership four years ago.) The question has always been whether tactical progress -- suppression of the conflict -- could be translated into strategic gains, in the form of political stability.

Partisans draw opposite conclusions by focusing on different parts of the picture. Bush and his Republican allies use tactical military success to argue that politicians should not undermine the surge just when it is showing some momentum. War opponents and their Democratic allies use the absence of strategic gains to argue that the surge is an exercise in futility.

The problem is that both sides are right. The car has stopped rolling backward, which is good. But it has yet to find a road forward, which is not good. To put the point more precisely, the surge appears to be doing better at peacekeeping than pacifying.

Pacification uses military force to reshape a contested political landscape so as to create conditions for peace on favorable terms -- usually by turning the balance of power decisively in favor of one faction or another. Pacification is what Bush still thinks he is doing in Iraq: turning the balance of power in favor of Sunni and Shiite moderates.

Peacekeeping, by contrast, merely interposes force between parties to a conflict. Instead of rebalancing the power, it suspends the fighting. When peacekeepers leave, fighting tends to break out again.

War opponents believe that, regardless of what Bush thinks, what he is doing in Iraq is peacekeeping -- at an exorbitant cost, if not counterproductively. In July, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, told the Associated Press bluntly that preventing potential genocide in Iraq is not a good enough reason to stick with Bush's policy. "When you have a conflict like this," he said, "military efforts and protective forces can play an important role, especially if they're under an international mandate as opposed to simply a U.S. mandate. But you can't solve the underlying problem at the end of a barrel of a gun."

In a speech last month to a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, Bush warned of a humanitarian calamity if the U.S. were to leave Iraq in turmoil. But he must know that not even Republicans will sustain a massive and open-ended U.S. commitment to peacekeeping in Iraq. In last month's VFW speech, the president decried the humanitarian cost of America's failure in Vietnam; revealingly, however, he stopped short of suggesting that the United States should have stayed in Vietnam on humanitarian grounds.

For what an amateur's view is worth, I tend to believe, with Obama, that the war has devolved into de facto peacekeeping. I see little evidence that Sunnis would accept any political offer that the Shiite majority would abide by, and vice versa. My reading of the evidence is that Iraqi fundamentals are more conducive to war than peace, and that there is not much the United States can do to change that.

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  • ||

    Shocker.

  • ||

    What the hell does he know?

  • ||

    GIGO.

    Rauch accepts the talking point that the surge has decreased violence, but it hasn't.

    This summer, with the "peacekeeping" of the surge underway, was the deadliest summer for Iraqi civilians of the entire war. Just because the administration is pretending that blowing up 500 Yazidis doesn't count as sectarian violence doesn't make it true.

    This summer also saw an increase in the rate of ethnic cleansing in Baghdad - during the period in which the Baghdad Security Plan was being implemented.

    The Sunnis in the provinces turning against al Qaeda is a good thing, and bravo for Patreus for recognizing this development and reacting to it, but the anti-al Qaeda activity of these anti-government forces does not translate to an advance for the political reconcilliation that this strategy depends on. As a matter of fact, the Malaki government refers to these forces as "Sunni militias," and is furious at us for arming them. And with good reason - they will almost certainly use those arms to fight their side of the civil war.

  • ||

    Either bring the troops home and watch the fallout on Al Jazeera, or partition the country into Shia, Sunni and Kurdish states and bring the troops home, and watch the fallout an Al Jazeera. A unified, secular, democratic Iraq is a pipe dream. It ain't gonna happen, Georgie. Face up to reality and deal with it. That goes for all of the presidential candidates and congress as well.

  • ||

    (To the extent that the surge is working, it gives a depressing taste of how much better this war could have gone if Bush had provided adequate manpower and leadership four years ago.)



    *sigh* First of all, let's reflect on the idea of a noninterventionist foreign policy, and secondly, this argument could be made by any armchair pundit who hasn't read the newspaper for the last four and a half years. I mean come on, what kind of a "if I were in charge", "hindsight is 20/20", "in my humble opinion" statement is this?

  • ||

    "As a matter of fact, the Malaki government refers to these forces as "Sunni militias," and is furious at us for arming them. And with good reason - they will almost certainly use those arms to fight their side of the civil war."

    Just the opposite Joe. Malaki is furious because arming the Sunnis is going to make him have to make a deal with them. If the Sunnis hadn't been armed, the Shias had no reason to deal. Fuck you, we will just run you out of the country and take everything we want, could have been their attitude. Now, he can't do that and he is screaming like a stuck pig. Sometimes a balance of power is a good thing.

  • ||

    Maybe, John. Maybe.

    But recent history would seem to suggest that an armed Iraqi society is not, in fact, a terribly polite society.

    Two armed forces facing each other can go to war, or they can make peace. The key factor here is not the level of armament on both sides, but the will on both sides to pursue peace.

  • ||

    But anger does not justify impatience. If Petraeus says he needs more time, he should get it. If he fails, a course correction won't be long in coming. The 22nd Amendment has seen to that.

    Even if Bush could run again, he'd be very unlikely to win (I would argue any republican nominee who doesn't have an exit plan is unlikly to win in 08).

    But that doesn't mean that the democrats shouldn't push for an exit plan to be implemented sooner rather that later. I am not sure how much the "democrats snatched defeat from the jaws of victory" rhetoric that Rauch mentions will be believed in the long run (my guess would be not too much). But partisans can still make such statements if a democratic president witdraws during his/her first term (as opposed to a democratic congress pushing for a timetable to begin in 07 or 08). And the democrats would get at least short term political gains by pushing for a timetable or something.

    Another thing to consider is how, and to what extent, a timetable changes the dynamic on the ground. If there is a chance at what Rauch calls "pacification" then a timetable could give conflicting factions a reason to "negotiate faster" out of fear of being excluded from the ultimate political agreement. Such a timetable could be combined with incentives; such as monetary assistance to factions that compromise and using the remainder of the coalition's military presence to go after particularly beligerent extremists.

    Of course its also possible that Rauch is right, that the US can't do much to help solve the underlying political problems. In that case, we might as well have the troops out of combat areas in Iraq sooner rather than later.

  • ||

    Have we stolen their oil yet? We should really get around to that before we get our boys out of the meatgrinder.

  • ||

    Link to some of Petraeus' numbers. Before anyone puts their foot in their mouth any more.

    (and I do not support this war either)

  • ||

    """The Sunnis in the provinces turning against al Qaeda is a good thing, and bravo for Patreus for recognizing this development and reacting to it,"""

    What does this have to do with the Baghdad surge? Am I wrong in thinking we have been given a red herring as to why the surge is working?

  • ||

    I post the above assuming the surge is working, which I disagree with, being the main purpose was not achieved.

  • ||

    Ah, Finkelstein. It's so cute to see people who still uncritically accept data from the administration about Iraq.

  • ||

    TrickyVic,

    The Anbar developments have nothing to do with the Surge. They began a year and a half before the surge, when American forces had largely left the area. I didn't mean to imply a connection.

  • ||

    It doesn't matter if we are winning or not. The Republicans keep arguing that we can win, and the Democrats keep arguing that we can't. But both sides keep missing the point: there is no moral justificaiton for this war. It doesn't matter if only a few more troops can turn the tide, we need to leave now. And that's "leave" as in to "bring our troops home", and not the Democrat's plan to leave so we can reploy to Pakistan or Iran or Darfur.

  • ||

    Have we stolen their oil yet? We should really get around to that before we get our boys out of the meatgrinder.

    Well, someone has been. Something to the tune of 300k barrels a day for the last four years. Which adds up to a lot of corruption or a well funded militia. Or both.

  • ||

    Whoop, not "a year and a half."

    "Severals months." We left Anbar a year and a half before, the schism between the locals and the jihadists came about later.

    On the oil: you know the oil law that the silly Iraqis won't pass, out of pure sectarian spite? The one Bush tells us is essential to achieving national reconcilliation? It includes huge concessions to foreign oil companies. Apparently, keeping them in there is more important than seeing a political deal among the Iraqis.

  • ||

    Exactly, Yet that's a talking point about how's the surge is working. I'm not saying you implied any connection, the WH is doing plenty of that.

    I did look at that slide show. It seems way too rosy and it doesn't add up with independent auditing in some respects. The source of the ppt data is Coalition and Host National Reporting. I make no apologies in trusting the GAO over them.

  • ||

    joe did your count of IEDs come out differently?

  • ||

    Interesting quotes from a different era:

    "If we are going to commit American troops, we must be certain they have a clear mission, an achievable goal and an exit strategy."
    ---Karen Hughes, speaking on behalf of George W Bush

    "Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is."
    -Governor George W Bush (R-TX)

  • ||

    Rauch's position is that someone has to be the nice guy. Since Bush clearly won't be the nice guy, the Democrats have to be. But nice guys finish seventh, so why should we play Joe's game? If you aren't willing to play to win, you won't.

  • ||

    """ It includes huge concessions to foreign oil companies. Apparently, keeping them in there is more important than seeing a political deal among the Iraqis.""""

    I wonder if the Iraqis will wake up and figure out they have been getting ripped off left and right, then blame us. It would figure.

    Our presence is only one problem. I think they will build more unity and state self-esteem if they fix their own problems with limited help.

  • ||

    """joe did your count of IEDs come out differently?"""

    I doubt joe counted. But the IED is only an issue because it's finger pointing to Iran. The statistic that ppt presentation won't tell you is how many troops were killed from muitions that were in the conventional weapons depots we didn't think were worth securing at the start.

    And, before you sing the truthfulness of the Coalition and Host National Reporting, have you considered the quality of that source?

  • rho||

    Assuming things go swimmingly from now on, and we end up with a strong, highly-trained Iraqi Army, and a strong, highly-trained Iraqi National Police force. Then what?

    The Sunnis will still hate the Shia. Whoever runs the INP will be the Mesopotamian Beria. The Iraqi Army, likely largely Shia, may or may not enthusiastically join any military excursion by Iran. The country will be nearly entirely dependent on oil revenues, and the citizens largely on the dole.

    This is a social order than can only exist in bull-sessions while sitting around sharing a spliff. The only chance for it to work is if Iraqis become infatuated with the rule of law and individual rights, and we'll have to stay there as a unloved peacekeeping unit for 50 years to get to that point.

  • ||

    "If they managed to ram through a withdrawal or timetable on party lines this fall, when most Republicans think the surge is working, they would be flayed for a generation as the party that seized certain defeat from the jaws of possible victory. For years to come, Republicans would insist that Democratic pusillanimity emboldened jihadism, an ugly narrative that some are already rehearsing."

    Rausch, get a clue. No matter what the circumstances in Iraq, the Republicans are going to claim a stab in the back. The tactical and strategic situation is absolutely irrelevant because the details will simply be invented to fit the argument.

    [Get ready to drink.]

    ...You'd think that at a magazine named Reason you'd see a more realistic assessment of the political realities.

  • ||

    "Fortunately, without Republican support, Democrats can't pull the plug or impose a strict timetable this fall"

    This keeps getting reported, but it is not true. Nancy Pelosi could just keep any funding bills from comming up for a vote.

  • ||

    Fluffy! I call Godwin on you! "Stab in the back?" Tsk, tsk.

  • ||

    Fluffy's got it exactly right. The Republicans have about 3 options regarding Iraq, as far as I can see:
    1) Blame Bush.
    2) Blame the Democrats.
    3) Blame sunspots.

    Since Bush & Co. have been slamming the Dems as "soft on terror" since shortly after 9/11, it's hard to believe they'll stop now.

  • ||

    On the oil: you know the oil law that the silly Iraqis won't pass, out of pure sectarian spite? The one Bush tells us is essential to achieving national reconcilliation? It includes huge concessions to foreign oil companies.

    Assuming that's true, what's keeping the Iraqis from passing an oil revenue law that DOESN'T include those concessions?

  • ||

    Whoever runs the INP will be the Mesopotamian Beria.

    Damn straight. We need to send a message to terrorist-sponsoring dictators: mess with us and we'll replace you with someone even worse.

    Well...it sounds better in the original Croatian.

  • ||

    Finkelstein,

    The GAO's count came out differently.

    crimethink,

    Assuming that's true, what's keeping the Iraqis from passing an oil revenue law that DOESN'T include those concessions?

    168,000 Bad Motherfuckers, that's who.

  • ||

    Assuming that's true, what's keeping the Iraqis from passing an oil revenue law that DOESN'T include those concessions?

    You've got to keep America's definition of "sovereignty" in mind when asking questions like that. Think of it in terms of the US' American Indian tribal "sovereignty".

  • ||

    OK joe, how are those BMFs keeping them from passing such a law? Is our army poised to exact vengeance on the Iraqi parliament if they don't pass the Hal'burtin'-friendly bill?

  • ||

    Or, I should say, if they do pass a Hal'burtin'-unfriendly bill.

  • ||

    It would be a shame if the debate became centered around how many troops to move where over the next six months. There's a prior question that needs to be asked: where do we go from here?

    Both a stay-the-course policy and a withdrawal policy could be consistent with keeping troop levels where they are for six months. That's more of a tactical question, and isn't really the question Congress should be answering.

    The question is whether to make withdrawal the country's policy and direct the President to carry it out, as an amendment to the Pentagon appropriations bill or whatever. It might well be that we need to set a date to begin the drawdown after the next six months.

    The Republicans have switched their rhetoric from badmouthing withdrawal to badmouting a "precipitous" withdrawal. If this signifies a substantive shift, there might be a deal to be made that involves us declaring victory and going home, sooner rather than later, after enough of an intervale to allow the White House to save face.

    Not pretty, but probably the best we can hope for, since the Congressional leadership is willing to let the units in the field run out of stuff, and the President is, to win the political fight.

  • ||

    Additionally, in what may be the most significant development of the past 8 months, the tribal rejection of Al Qaeda that started in Anbar Province and helped produce such significant change there has now spread to a number of other locations as well.

    That is the sound of joe and therou being kicked in the nuts.

  • ||

    crimethink,

    President Bush has made it quite clear: passing that oil bill is part of the "national reconcilliation" that would allow those
    BMFs to leave. We can't leave before there's reconcilliation!

    Like those Iraqis reconciling themselves those oil concessions.

  • ||

    joshua corning,

    What are you, kidding me?

    joe | September 10, 2007, 4:12pm | #

    The Sunnis in the provinces turning against al Qaeda is a good thing, and bravo for Patreus for recognizing this development and reacting to it, but the anti-al Qaeda activity of these anti-government forces does not translate to an advance for the political reconcilliation that this strategy depends on. As a matter of fact, the Malaki government refers to these forces as "Sunni militias," and is furious at us for arming them. And with good reason - they will almost certainly use those arms to fight their side of the civil war.


    Yeah, real terrified of that fact. You boggle my mind, joshua.

    You've been arguing with me about Iraq for years now. I don't understand how you could manage to be so bloody ignorant about your opponents' arguments after all that.

    Seriously, you think that it is somehow evidence against what I've been saying all these years that the only measureable success to come out of the Surge is completely unrelated to the President's strategy, and looks a whole lot more like the counter-terror policies I've been saying we should have done instead of this war?

    Did you somehow manage to miss the several thousand times I compared the Iraq War unfavorably with the actions we took in Afghanistan and the Phillipines in 2001-02? Military objectives aimed at disrupting al Qaeda operations vs. efforts to establish political control over foreign populations and remake them in our image - does any of this ring a bell?

    Cripes, haven't you noticed that I - me, myself - have been commenting favorably on the events in Anbar over the past few months?

    joshua, are you the guy from Memento? Do you have some kind of disorder, or injury?

    It just doesn't make any sense that you would think the news about the Anbar tribes would be "a kick in the nuts" to me.

  • ||

    All right, joshua.

    Weapons of Mass Destruction. Overthrow of an undemocratic regime. Holding elections. Standing up the central government in Baghdad. Militarily defeating insurgents opposed to that central government. Creating a stable, unified Iraq that respects human rights and is an American ally. Ending ethnic cleansing. Advancing the reconcilliation of Iraqi factions. Producing an Iraq that is a model democracy. Birthing a new Middle East.

    vs.

    Carrying out military operations against al Qaeda, and al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups, in conjunction with local forces. Operating in areas with friendly populations, to fight off military threats.

    You really don't see why our efforts in Anbar, and their success, are a refutation of the strategy and doctrines that brought about the Iraq War, and a vindication of what people like me have been arguing instead?

    I'm genuinely taken aback.

  • ||

    I'll bet $10 that General Patraeus has been ordered NOT to use the phrase "We see the light at the end of the tunnel." Other than that, expect to hear regurgitated Westmoreland.

  • ||

    Link to some of Petraeus' numbers. Before anyone puts their foot in their mouth any more.

    If you look at the maps on p. 5 of the pdf (Ethno-sectarian violence), you'll notice that it doesn't show any change in demographics over time. Wouldn't that change (ethnic cleansing) be pertinent to the drop in violence in certain areas?

  • ||

    One of the main reasons that there has been less sectarian violence is because so many Iraqi neighborhoods have been cleansed of their heterogenous elements. Either the folks were killed or they are part of the four million refugees (internal and external) that this war has spawned.

  • ||

    Syloson,

    So what you're saying is...the surge is making Iraq a safer place! Think how safe it'll be if we keep this up for 5-10 years.

  • ||

    Happy Jack, Syloson,

    I saw a map of Baghdad recently that showed the neighborhoods with a Sunni majority, and the change over time.

    It looked exactly like that ethnic violence map, with the highlighted area getting smaller and smaller, the areas in the easter part of the city disappearing entirely, and the big blob in the west/southwest being gnawed away.

    It might have been in Time magazine, or maybe linked to on the Think Progress site.

  • ||

    WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The 30,000 additional troops deployed to Iraq in January could come home by next July, but further American withdrawals would be "premature," the U.S. commander there told a fractious congressional hearing Monday.

    --

    By complete coincidence, of course, that will be the point in time at which the army is unable to continue this level of deployment. By complete coincidence.

    Christ, how dense does this administration think we are?

  • ||

    joe, you're probably thinking of this.

  • Gene Callahan||

    God, this piece was awful. The Democrats are in a "rush" to end the surge? I must have missed that "rush."

  • ||

    And of course the media have all decided that the big headline about yesterday's testimony is "Petraeus calls for troop drawdown next year."

    Are they idiots, or do they just think we're idiots?

  • ||

    Happy Jack,

    No, I was thinking of a demographics map, not a map of violent events.

  • ||

    joe, you have to check the ethnic area box. Then you can toggle between current and pre-2006.

  • ||

    Oh oh oh. I'll have to try that on my home 'puter.

  • ||

    Hey for fun, Google the source of the data. Between Google and Yahoo, using "Coalition and Host National Reporting" with the quote, I found 3 hits, one of which was this thread.

    If you look at the civilian deaths chart it show a decline in the run-up to the surge. Assuming the data is good, death dropped by 1000 between December 06 and March 07. I believe this is a result of bad guys not fighting our troops head on. They know to lay low and wait us out. It's their country they can wait us out well beyond the time it takes us to go bankrupt, in money and troops.

    The success of the surge can not truly be determined until we drawdown significantly. Then we'll see if the violence increases again. I also found it interesting that the charts only show 06 and 07. If it went back to 04, the data wouldn't look too rosy.

  • Thomas Mc||

    Democrats fiddle while Rome burns, thinking that when the entire world has been destroyed, they will be able to point their fingers and say, "Ah Ha!"

  • ||

    The Iraq issue has been reduced to a farce with a body count.

    No amount of American troops could effect reconciliation in Iraq. With a much larger force, we could set up our own police state there and end the violence, but politically that's obviously unlikely.

    In any event, neither Democratic nor Republican officeholders really give a crap about resolution--it's simply posturing toward 2008. A festering Iraq is very good for the Democratic Party.

  • ||

    If the Dems are playing fiddle while Rome burns, the Republicans are playing cello.

  • ||

    The "Vietnamization" of this war officially begins next year.

  • ||

    Did I accidentally click on the Weekly Standard again?

  • ||

    Bradley, David G. - Chairman of Atlantic Media Company and CFR member is Rauch's employer at the National Journal. Rauch is also a Brookings Institute guy. So of course Rauch is goign to argue that "we give the war more time to suceed". The position of all CFR members is that we maintain defense spending at a minimum of 3% of GDP and keep hundreds of bases around the world. So if they are a democrat who is tight with the CFR they care more about making sure the democrats win the next election, they are not overly concerned baout an additional 20,000 -40,000 serious US military injuries(2,000 - 4,000) deaths. They never want to end the policy of interventionism, just shift it around.

  • ||

    Starting to think Reason magazine is the Libertarian wing of the CFR just in case small government politicians actually start winning some elections in America. It helps the cause to have "libertarians" that can be counted upon to write pro-war peaces. While many of the domestic policy articles are nice.

    Michael Young:
    Jonathan Rauch:

    You make Reason's roreign policy segment a joke. There must be some real freedom minded members of Reason who see this.

  • Will Chamberlain||

    This is really a mediocre piece.

    My full critique:

    http://notsomalia.typepad.com/its_not_somalia/2007/09/be-angry---at-j.html

  • ||

    the most important detail about the iraq situation is that the administration had to lie to get support for it. that means that we have absolutely no legitimate reason for being there.
    i am not concerned by details about how well a bully has pacified the nerds and band fags, but why this jagoff hasn't been stopped by those in a position to do so.

    sh was a bully as well, i have no favorite side in this conflict, only an interest in stopping the killing of people in iraq, by insurgents, by sectarian militias, and by our military, as ordered by their CiC, whether they are americans, iraqi shiites, or sunnis.

    when one starts an unnecessary fight, there is no honorable exit plan for them, but an exit is the MOST honorable thing that can be done.

    winning a war that never should have happened isn't even an issue as far as i am concerned.

    the corporate interests that stand to gain most from this debacle should be exposed, and that includes major shareholders of oil infrastructure groups. do you really believe cheney doesn't stand to gain from all of this?

  • ||

    Did anyone else notice the WSJ article today where they give praise to the "pro-war libertarians" like Barnett and call Reason magazine the "flagship magazine of the libertarian movement"...very bizarre. I like to read reason but does anyone really think that reason is more of the flagship outlet for libertarian thinking? mises.org definitely gets more serious thinkers is far more important when it coems to sustaining the movement.

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