The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

It’s a Good Thing @GabrielMalor Isn’t Trying to Win Any Popularity Contests

Posted on | October 1, 2013 | 101 Comments

The morning Open Thread at AOSHQ gives their resident Eeyore a chance to voice his dissent from the GOP shutdown strategy:

So the score is: conservatives didn’t manage to stop Obamacare. Conservatives are oddly celebrating a shutdown they claimed they did not want. The GOP is getting blamed. Oh, and how are voters looking at this? A new Quinnipiac poll out this morning finds voters opposed 72%–22% to Congress shutting down the fed govt to block implementation of Obamacare.
Brilliant work. And, of course, we still have the eventual GOP surrender to look forward to, wherein the ultimate pointlessness of this strategy is revealed for all to see.

Lots of savage RINO-bashing from the commenters, which is fine and dandy. We don’t necessarily have to be waving our pompoms and doing backflips in celebration of the “Don’t Fund It” strategy. Nobody ever asked me for my advice on this, and if I had volunteered my advice, they would have ignored me, so I try to avoid the tempting illusion that anyone is going to be persuaded by my strategic advice or strategic criticism. “The dogs may bark, but the caravan moves on.”

My bedtime reading recently has been The World Crisis, Winston Churchill’s 1,400-page history of World War I, which is not just a history but a memoir, given Churchill’s key role at the Admiralty, and subsequently in the Ministry of Munitions. This is the third or fourth time I’ve read The World Crisis, as it is my habit to re-read old books I like, because it is good to be reminded of excellent stuff you’ve forgotten since the last time you read it, and this time I found myself fascinated (again) by Part III, Chapter II, “The Blood Test.”

Here, Sir Winston examines the bloody folly of the “attrition” argument that was used to justify a series of murderous Allied offensives on the Western Front from 1915 through 1917. Churchill undertakes this survey after chronicling the failure of the Gallipoli campaign, for which Churchill was widely (and unfairly) blamed.

The strategic purpose of the Gallipoli invasion had been to support a British naval effort to force their way through the Dardanelles and to knock Turkey out of the war. The fall of Constantinople would have tipped the Balkans toward the Allies, and would have relieved pressure on Russia’s southern front. If the Dardanelles campaign had succeeded (as it quite nearly did, and might still have succeeded even after the initial setbacks, if only its importance had been more widely appreciated), the endless slaughter on the Western Front could have been averted, an Allied victory in the East may have forced the Central Powers to negotiate an early peace and . . .

Well, that’s all a gigantic “what-if” scenario, because instead the Allies gave up on the Dardanelles after the Gallipoli disaster, and concentrated instead on trying futilely to score a breakthrough on the Western Front. British commanders told themselves that their offensives of 1915-1917, which never broke and only slightly penetrated the German line at the cost of many thousands of British lives, were successful because of “attrition.” Yet Churchill said at the time (in a memorandum circulated during the Somme offensive of 1916) and demonstrated conclusively after the war, when both German and Allied manpower and casualty figures were available, that the British lost nearly 3-to-1 in casualties during their attacks. German casualties 1915-1917 were never greater than the number of new recruits they added to their forces, so that the “attrition” actually worked the opposite way, weakening the British armies in comparison to the Germans, who grew steadily stronger.

It was only in 1918, when the Germans mounted their own overwhelming offensive — attempting to defeat the Allies before the addition of U.S. troop strength could tilt the balance of the war — that the “attrition” worked in favor of the Allies. Ironically, then, it was the German offensive that ultimately defeated Germany.

Only after the German army had exhausted itself on the attack and the Allies then counterattacked (employing a powerful new weapon, the tank, in whose development Churchill played a key role), did the tide on the Western Front turn decisively against Germany.

All of this is evident in hindsight, but Churchill saw it with foresight. Yet his warnings about the futility of the Allied offensive strategy, and the wrongness of the “attrition” argument that justified that strategy, fell on deaf ears at the time. Churchill was absolutely right, but the truth was unpopular, and so hundreds of thousands of British troops died in pursuit of the wrong strategy.

The “what-ifs” of politics are much the same. Looking back now, I see the presidency of George H.W. Bush (the father, that is) as the moment when the revolutionary impetus of the Reagan triumph stalled and went off track. Newt Gingrich attempted, with some success, to recapture the Reaganite spirit in the mid-1990s, but the Lewinsky episode backfired and destroyed Gingrich rather than Clinton. This was followed, in short order, by the deadlocked Florida election of 2000, and by 9/11 and the War on Terror, which led the GOP eventually to the electoral disasters of 2006 and 2008.

For the past several years, then, the Republican Party has been trying to get back to the hegemonic position of dominance it enjoyed after the 2002 and 2004 elections. Yet those were wartime elections, and even in 2004, Bush only won by a narrow majority of the popular vote, so that we see how fragile and thin was the success of the GOP in the “good years” even while Karl Rove and other Bushies were talking about a Permanent Republican Majority.

So, the shutdown strategy: Is Gabriel Malor correct that this has all been a colossal blunder and a waste of time? Perhaps. We should not rule this view out, just because we don’t agree with it, or just because it’s what spineless RINO wussie-boys are saying.

The real problem, anyway, is that Republicans aren’t winning enough elections, so that Obama is president, we have only 45 GOP senators, and John Boehner’s House Republicans control only one-half of one branch of the federal government. Holding a weak hand, Republicans must play it the best they can. We must therefore ask what is the alternative to what their actual strategy has been?

Should House Republicans just “go along to get along”? Should they rubber-stamp whatever Harry Reid’s Democrat majority in the Senate passes? Would such a strategy of collaboration really be better than the headline-making brinksmanship we’ve seen?

It is not enough to criticize what has been done, if we cannot propose a feasible alternative that would be more successful. The problem is not Gabriel Malor, however, and it doesn’t advance the conservative cause to demonize him for his arguments. He may even be right.


WHAT? No, hell — of course he’s completely wrong!

Made you think about it though, didn’t I?



101 Responses to “It’s a Good Thing @GabrielMalor Isn’t Trying to Win Any Popularity Contests”

  1. Finrod Felagund
    October 2nd, 2013 @ 11:20 pm

    Fiscal conservatism traditionally has to do with government taxation and spending, hence the Tea Party: Taxed Enough Already.