Reale Simple

The world is more than what they tell you. Listen up. It's not complex. It's Reale Simple.

Name:

Former USCHO writer, former writer at a Midwestern broadsheet, occassional CHN blogger.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Release the hounds

For all of its bluster about being equal in importance and prestige as the United States, the nations of the European Union continue to fall short in both arenas for one simple reason - they are generally useless when it comes to dealing with obstreperous countries and getting their way.

The crisis with Iran is a real chance to change that, for the benefit of both Europe and the United States. Iran has obviously noted, likely with a great degree of amusement, that Americans are losing their stomach for war while Europeans have displayed zero willingness to fight for years. Thus, the ayatollahs and their puppet president (who was "democratically elected," remember) know well that they can continue to defy the world with little to no real ramifications. They've decided that if they want the bomb, they can go ahead and get it.

While the misguided "anti-war" movement in this country is undoubtedly helping Iran reach this conclusion by adopting the popular European approach of all wars being unacceptable, the bigger, more direct problem that a military solution to the Iranian issue presents is the current level of committment of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, Europe - with the possible exception of the United Kingdom - does not have this problem. While Britain remains committed in both Afghanistan and Iraq, countries like France and Germany have remained specifically on the sidelines in Iraq and have minimal commitments in Afghanistan and elsewhere. They have militaries. They have means. But Iran is willing to wager everything that the nations of Europe will keep those militaries idle while the big dog is busy taking care of issues on either side of their border.

Europe is supposed to be an ally of the United States, but the alliance is clearly uneven, with the balance tipped toward America. The European Union was founded with the unstated goal of evening that balance. But when was the last time you heard of any grand coalition being led by a European power?

To their credit, Europe has been steadfast in taking point on negotiations with Iran up until now. The question is whether they will continue to be steadfast and put due pressure on the ayatollahs to bend to the world's view. With the United Nations revealed time and time again to be nothing more than a paper tiger when it comes to dealing with totalitarians, the task falls to other organizations to achieve goals the UN could only dream of achieving, and such is the case here. Europe's challenge is to avoid falling into the same trap that the UN did long ago by issuing demands and then doing nothing when those demands are not met.

Both World Wars were largely fought in Europe, and the horrible experiences that the continent went through during the early 20th Century has led to the prevalent belief that war must be avoided no matter the cost. That belief kept the peace during the second half of the century and helped ensure that the Cold War came to a conclusion without significant conflict and bloodshed returning. However, we are now living in a world where dangerous extremists seek more and more power and are more than willing to give their lives to that end. The War on Terrorism and radical Islam is not a war of choice, we merely choose to dictate the terms of when and where the battles will take place, because if we do not, as Europe does not, the terms will be dictated to us, and they will not be palatable.

While the United States is certainly not alone in fighting the War on Terrorism, it certainly has been shouldering a significant part of the load. For decades, the powers of Old Europe have looked to the United States to serve as the policeman of the world, making more sacrifices and more commitments to save Western civilization than any other country has been expected to. And now, Europe has arrived at a point where they would normally look to the United States for assistance, but none will be readily available militarily.

How would a military campaign on Iran work? It would clearly be very similar to the coalitions which won the Gulf War, which rooted out the Taliban, and which toppled Saddam. But the one thing each of those coalitions had in common were the nation which took point. This time, why not a French and German led coalition, a coalition in which the United States could still play a key role - perhaps making use of our air power as a solid augment with special forces on the ground and our powerful Navy operating along Iran's coast - while the nations of Europe lead the operation. Regardless of whether they approve or not, the French must realize that our commitments in Iraq are not going to simply disappear just because Iran is causing trouble. If they want things to get done, they may have to grow the backbone that they lost long ago and start pointing guns in response to saber rattling. Hell, if I were French, I'd want to do it if only to show that we still mattered, and if I were German, I'd want to do it if only to finally be invading another country for the purposes of good instead of evil.

A European-led coalition would benefit the continent by allowing the European Union to grow in international prestige while the world benefits from a defused crisis and likely, a free Iran. Everything the EU has wanted is right there for the taking, but if they refuse to take risks, it will only make matters worse for the entire world.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Calling the Maytag Repairman

If you want to be among the trendiest of the trendy on the Left today, you need to be claiming that American democracy is broken. Why, and how is it broken, do you ask? Why, it's broken because those of those cursed suits who are rigging elections so that those darn Republicans win so often! Why, of course the Democrats won in 2000, more people voted for Al Gore, therefore he should have been President! And everyone knows that incumbent parties are supposed to lose mid-term elections, which is why 2002 was a stolen election, and there was 2004, where John Kerry was winning those exit polls, and therefore was supposed to win the election! Democracy is broken because the people's voice was ignored!

All conspiracy theories aside, it's popular for an increasingly agitated and angry Left to simply make the claim that they can't win elections because the democratic institution just isn't working correctly. After all, if it were working correctly, they'd be in power.

Underneath all of the paranoia and power-hunger, there does appear to be an increasing amount of truth to the basis of the argument. Is Democracy itself broken?

If so, it can hardly be blamed on the Republicans solely. Yes, they are the party in power right now, but one thing Democrats rarely do is turn their critical eyes inward - if they did, they'd probably find ways to win elections through other methods than by default.

What Democrats have done since losing the White House in 2001 is to gradually make it the exclusive position of the party to oppose the President at every turn. Despite President Bush's promise of a "new tone" in Washington following the 2000 election and the subsequent appearances of such items as steel tariffs, the No Child Left Behind Act (authored by Sen. Ted Kennedy), and a record in five and a half years of precisely one veto, which wasn't for a spending bill, Democrats have chosen to lambaste the President continuously and without remorse on every single issue. Even when the President enacts things like NCLB, which, if you look carefully at it, looks like exactly what the average liberal wants in an education bill, the Democrats and their liberal allies will find fault and stand against it. If you want to know where the Democrats will stand on an issue, ask the President what his stance is, and the Democrats will take the opposite view by default. That's not exactly a party of principle.

This strategy has led the Democrats to several unenviable positions, which make them successful only when bad things happen to the nation - whether it is the economy, the war in Iraq, or elsewhere. No, I'm not questioning their patriotism. They told me I couldn't.

But then there are the Republicans. By spending like a drunken sailor with a three-day pass, the Republicans have drawn the ire of Americans of all political walks. Conservatives are frustrated with the unbalanced budgets and want to cut spending. Liberals are flabbergasted that taxes aren't higher to pay for all of the spending (never mind that the Bush tax cuts spurred the highest ever government revenue numbers last year). Further compromises on domestic issues like immigration and energy policy has conservatives up in arms. But who are they going to vote for in 2006? Are they supposed to vote for the party whose sole tenet is "Bush is an idiot," or are they supposed to vote for the party they've tended to support in the past who has let them down and continues to let them down? Should they vote for Bad or Worse?

The tinfoil hat crowd is in a similar predicament. They'd never vote for the Republicans and that evil fascist Bush. But they'd never vote for the Democrats who refuse to call for the President's public execution by stoning. Who are THEY supposed to vote for?

Vote for a third-party, sure. But it's not considered a two-party system for nothing. It's been said that voting for a third-party is like throwing your vote away because, well, it is. If you vote for someone who is not going to have a chance at winning, what have you accomplished? Sure, you've shown your displeasure, but either Bad or Worse still won the election. Which one is more palatable for the next 2, 4, or 6 years, Bad or Worse? Could your vote for either of them have changed things? Was your vote for a third-party just a helper vote for Worse? Who would vote for Better if Bad was more likely to beat Worse? So you end up voting for Bad to keep Worse from winning. As such, conservatives will vote for the GOP even through the party continues to abandon its principles in favor of whatever will keep it in power, and liberals will vote Democrat even though the party continues to abandon its principles in favor of whatever will help them gain power.

It is because of this "spoiler effect," as seen recently by H. Ross Perot and Ralph Nader, that the two parties have gained a new stranglehold. Now that the Republicans have had their Perot, and the Democrats their Nader, the political arena has only become more polarized as voters increasingly begin discounting third-parties completely while the two main parties become so convoluted that up becomes down and left becomes right, and the only choice for America is to vote for either Bad or Worse, because Better has no shot.

That's how Democracy was broken.

How do we fix it? Perhaps the answer comes from an unlikely source. The concept of Instant Run-off Voting, or the Alternative Vote, has been a prime tenet of the Green Party (yes, that Green Party, the one that championed Ralph Nader in 2000, and is beloved by left-wing radicals all over the nation) for years. The reason for their advocacy is simple - under IRV, they'd wield more influence. Yes, many times advocates for change are motivated by greed, even on the Left. Because of this, I've been skeptical in the past of IRV, but recent events and trends have led me to believe that it's an idea whose time has come.

IRV is simple. Given the choice between Better, Bad, and Worse, a voter would be able to vote in a manner which eliminates the spoiler effect by essentially ranking the choices he or she was willing to vote for. Instead of voting just for Bad in order to beat Worse, the voter could vote for Better first, Bad second, and Worse third (or even not at all). In Instant Runoff Voting, the first vote on every ballot is counted and recorded. After the counting, if a candidate does not have a majority, the candidate in last place is eliminated. That candidate's votes are then recounted and redistributed to other candidates by using the second preference among the eliminated candidate's voters. This process continues until one candidate has achieved a majority.

For example, in the first round of voting, perhaps Worse leads, but does not have an absolute majority. Better got the fewest votes, so Better is eliminated. Now everyone who voted for Better has their second choice counted. It may well turn out that the majority of Better voters voted for Bad second. Thus, after the second counting, Bad pulls ahead of Worse and nets a majority thanks to Better voters generally preferring Bad to Worse. It would allow a conservative to vote for an Independent or Libertarian while still preferring Republicans to Democrats. It would allow a liberal to vote Green or even Socialist while still preferring Democrats to Republicans. In short, it would allow a much more vibrant and diverse range of political discussion in the public forum.

This is the reason why the Republicans and Democrats will never go for IRV. It eliminates the advantage that they currently hold, and allows third-parties to challenge either their grip on power or their near-grasp on power.

And in the meantime, everyone will continue to vote for Bad just so we don't end up with Worse.