Goldilocks Warrior at Penn

Last week, a Columbia University anthropologist made the New York Times and other national media, when he told 3,000 students at a campus teach-in that “I wish for a million Mogadishus”—the 1993 battle that cost the lives of 18 U.S. soldiers. (By the way, the same prof also emitted this statement at a Columbia sit-in last year: “The heritage of the victims of the Holocaust belongs to the Palestinian people. The state of Israel has no claim to the heritage of the Holocaust.”) The wish for a “million Mogadishus” is in a class of its own—leave it to Columbia faculty to scrape bottom—but it does have some interesting parallels in more respectable quarters.

For example, consider a talk delivered by University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian Lustick. Lustick, who works mostly on Israeli and Palestinian issues, isn’t a raving campus radical. Still, he has admitted that the radical 1960s “affected me long term.” It looks like the prime effect on Lustick has been a susceptibility to conspiracy theories. He’s a big promoter of the “cabal” theory of policymaking, which he’s tirelessly advanced on Nightline and in The Nation. Lustick has described the war in Iraq as a “supply side” war: 9/11 created a surplus of political capital, which the neo-con “cabal” diverted away from the legitimate war on terror to a “criminal” war in Iraq.

In Lustick’s theory, there is another crucial factor that preserved this political capital from erosion: the ease of the American victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan. Lustick (verbatim):

I supported the war [in Afghanistan] but I warned that we needed a Goldilocks outcome and we didn’t get it. And what did I mean by that? What I meant was if we did not win quickly enough, if the war lasted through to the summer we would end up destabilizing Pakistan and risking nuclear events in South Asia. On the other hand, if we won too quickly, if we broke things in Afghanistan too successfully, and that’s definitely what we’re good at, we’re fantastic at breaking anything we can find—it’s putting things back together that’s the tough question—but my fear at that time was that if we broke the Taliban too fast and it was perceived in the United States that we had a quick and relatively bloodless on the American side victory, that this would give the necessary fill to that wing, that cabal in the administration….What I wanted was a war, a Goldilocks war, not too fast and not too slow but we didn’t get it. We got one that was too fast and it gave the whip end to the cabal.

To borrow academic jargon, this statement can be “unpacked,” and if you unpack it, this it what you get: regret that American forces didn’t suffer some sort of Mogadishu in Afghanistan, so that the victory would not have seemed “relatively bloodless on the American side.”

There’s probably a valid if banal analytical point lurking behind this: military superiority is its own temptation. But there is something more sinister and cynical in Lustick’s remarks, because he’s stating a personal preference, not an analytical thesis. And the remark’s cynicism extends beyond possible American losses. For if a bit more American blood had been shed in a longer war in Afghanistan, it’s certain that a lot more Afghan blood would have been shed as well.

It’s just not enough to plant an American flag on the podium, as Lustick did before one of his anti-war talks. (Even this gesture was tinged with camp: “Every demonstration must have American flags,” he told his audience, “if only to prevent the cops from beating you.”) No, it really is the thought that counts. Lustick’s Goldilocks thought is another example of why anti-war activists got so little traction opposite the so-called “cabal.” If you want to change outcomes in Washington, you have to speak the language of national security and solidarity, with feeling. That’s something well beyond the capacity of those “affected long term” by Vietnam-era radicalism. And that’s why they never stood a chance.

I’ve been fascinated by Professor Lustick’s computerized attempt to simulate the behavior of a typical Middle Eastern polity, a project he’s now extended to terrorists. “I think about terrorism in terms of popcorn,” Lustick has said. “You assume you’ll always have some kernels that are going to pop. How much lower does the temperature have to get before you have a dramatic decrease in the ability of terrorists to operate?”

Interesting idea, but why not test it in a more familiar environment? I’d like to see it applied to the professors. How much higher does the temperature have to get before still more of them pop, so that they clamor openly for American defeats? Sandstorm will employ the latest equations from the laboratories of the political sciences, to provide as much advance warning as possible.