Abu Muqawama is one of the best sources out there on counterinsurgency and insurgency theory and practice (along with the Small Wars Journal). They are still prone, however, to the “Extremely Serious People” syndrome. This is the illness where being wrong about Iraq in 2003 is better than having been right about Iraq in 2003, because it reflects one’s deep seriousness about foreign policy. Symptoms include going on national television with a somewhat sincere apology, continued regular appearances on cable news shows, and (in its worst form), believing that the next six months will be crucial (aka the Friedman unit).

The syndrome manifested itself the other day at Abu Muqawama with the great surprise that a left-winger (and a female one, to boot) might, actually, shockingly, know what they’re talking about in the realm of foreign and military policy. Sample quote:

And out of nowhere, Rachel Maddow — Rachel bleeping Maddow! — calls my boss to task and asks him if being a strategic thinker means more than tweaking our operational design. Damn! When pressed, to be fair, John gives his fellow Rhodes Scholar a pretty good answer about the costs of failure in Afghanistan. But who would have thought that lefty smart-ass on MSNBC would be the one asking the key questions? (Rumor has it that Afghanistan is actually one of Maddow’s pet subjects. Good on her, I say.)

It was apparently such a shock that Rachel bleeping Maddow! might actually know something about matters strategic that multiple exclamation points were required. The consequences of this syndrome are numerous. For example–as Robert Farley highlights–the United States spends an insane amount of money on the defense budget compared to the rest of the world. The discussion of the defense budget, however, is funneled (by extremely serious people) into specific channels that allow little in the way of reality to intrude:

Today, however, debate over the defense budget almost never results from the question “How much do we need to spend?”, or even “Should we spend more or less?”, but rather “How much more should we spend?” And this is simply insane, given the massive advantage that the United States enjoys over any potential competitor, and the security gains that the United States has accumulated since the end of the Cold War.

It is, as Farley notes, an imperial defense budget, and rarely have those two adjectives been more paradoxical than they are at the moment.

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