Tuesday, September 10, 2002

The International Sentinel, the site that Carla Passino wrote the preceding commentary, actually includes an interesting entry from "Mooraq" about European and American differences:

As somebody who is daily in contact with people from every latitude, I believe a lot of this is due to the stereotypes that still guide most of our reciprocal dealings. Ask most Europeans and you will be told that all Americans are obese, uneducated and overly armed brutes bent not so much on world domination, but on covering the globe with asphalt and McDonald's drive-t(h)roughs. Ask most Americans and you will be told that Europeans are foppish imbecilles that would currently all speak German or Russian if not for the US intervention and that should give daily prayer to the US for teaching democracy to the world.

Needless to say, both views are wrong, but it is surprising how our perceptions are still shaped by these stereotypes. Take Saddam: Europeans see Bush as the sheriff shooting from the hip and asking questions later. Americans in turn see Europe as an anti-semitic continent bent on pampering Arab terrorist.

I am afraid we need some effort from both sides to improve understanding and go beyond the easy stereotypes. We have to remember that our divergences are still trivial compared to the values and the culture of democracy we share. Enemies of both would like nothing better than see us bitterly divided.
Well put.

found on Calpundit:

Glenn Reynolds links to a post by Carla Passino, who has the same complaint as Sullivan, except this time it's the Post that's too liberal and she's comparing their coverage to the Times of London. Among other things, Passino complains that while the Times says Iraq could produce a nuclear weapon if it acquires fissile material, the Post says it could produce a weapon but only if it acquires fissile material. "Two more words, an entirely different meaning," she says.
Calpundit called it "medieval scholasticism at its worst"... I just call it meaningless warhawk blather. "If" and "but only if", in these cases, mean exactly the same thing, and if anything the latter better reflects the IISS opinion, which is that Saddam does not have fissile material, won't be able to develop it without years and extensive foreign help, and it's unlikely (but possible) that he might get it from outside sources.

In other words, he doesn't have nukes and isn't likely to get them anytime soon. He wants them, sure, but I'm reminded of a saying involving beggars, wishes, and horses.

The best part is that the post in question ends with "don't you just love journalism?" Not as much, Carla, as I love "media analysis".
Every time I think this administration couldn't sink any lower...

I'll just quote:

President Bush Monday told world leaders it will be the responsibility of the whole international community, rather than the United States, to determine what kind of regime should replace Iraqi President Saddam Hussein if his government is toppled by U.S. military action, European diplomats told United Press International.

During a call to the current head of the European Union, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Bush made it clear he felt "not his responsibility to define" who or what would replace the Iraqi president, according to one diplomat

Bush "expressed the view that any alternative is preferable" to Saddam, added the diplomat.
So, we've got an administration that's willing to make the mess (for what appears to be extraordinarily dubious reasons), yet not willing to clean it up. We've also got a profound example of hypocrisy in the Bush administration claiming the importance of international input in the regime that follows Saddam, but not in the removal of the regime that exists in the first place. That's ludicrous- "regime change" is more than just busting a cap in the leaders that you don't like then letting everybody else clean up the bloody mess.

Perhaps Bush is trying to throw a bone to internationalists, but I don't that they're going to interpret it that way- it just means that the U.S. government isn't even willing to deal with the consequences of its actions. (As if the neglect of Afghanistan and Kosovo now that a new sandbox has presented itself wasn't proof enough.) If anything, this is more irresponsible than what was proposed before, because at least it demonstrated some responsibility on the part of those who were planning to arrogate the decision of which governments live and which will die.

The U.N. does not exist to clean up the messes left behind by U.S. foreign policy, Mr. President. Internationalist or unilateralist... pick one and stick with it.

Avedon makes a great point here, worth repeating:

The primaries, of course, are another matter. There, you do your best to figure out who really is the best person for the job and make every effort you can to get that person the nomination. Even school board elections are important (remember Spiro Agnew?); at the lowest, local levels you have the most power. Seats really have been won by only one vote, so people who moan about the nominees in the GE frequently have only themselves to blame. If you think about all those people who voted for Nader in 2000, imagine what they could have accomplished if they'd put their efforts toward getting progressive Democrats onto the ballots and working for them throughout the campaign. To win, candidates need more than just people who will vote for them in November; they need people who will work for them long before the general election. One reason progressive candidates have been doing so badly in the Democratic Party is that so many progressive activists have abdicated in favor of spoiler politics or even just staying home. (As I keep reminding people, Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980 with fewer votes than George McGovern received when he lost to Nixon.)

Liberals and progressives need to nominate real Democrats and then get behind them all the way. Anyone who believes in democracy, anyone who believes in civil liberties, needs to get on board. The Republican leadership has made it clear that the only thing they care about is their own power. They'll protect their own property, but not yours. They will talk about "rights" when it suits them, but they won't enforce your rights because, frankly, they don't believe people like you are entitled to rights.
The greatest weapon the right has is apathy and "moral purity" on the left. Primaries are the place to ensure you get the candidate you want, but once it comes down to November 4th Avedon's got the right of it when she says "I've become one of those people who would vote for a yaller dawg if it was the Democratic nominee, rather than do anything that would help a seat go to a Republican."

This is probably one of the most important elections in decades. If the Republicans take all three elected branches, they'll make damned sure they can push through as much as possible on the chance that Bush might lose the presidency in '04. They're also largely united- there's a sense of movement identity on the right (and hatred of RINO-ism) that makes them much more dangerous than any equivalent electoral makeup would on the left, and a ton of holes in the judicial system that will be filled by only the most conservative nominees possible. They could push through a ton of bills, making sure that each of their sacred cows becomes law. Heck, they could even work against any sort of democratic backlash in the future, because if the Repubs win, then Scalia's probably going to become the chief justice. Then they'll follow it up by placing a conservative on the SC that will easily on Scalia's level. If not more so. And we know that the presidency work to push the whole thing even further to the right- we have a deeply conservative administration and president, and we can be sure that the cheerleading from the right will only push him farther over. Sure, he's looking at election in two years, but two years is a long time in politics, and he can do an awful lot.

If any election should inspire progressives, liberals, leftists or whatever to get out there and vote, then this is that election.

Monday, September 09, 2002

I tend to agree with the Globe and Mail's interpretation of the IISS study... it's contradictory. On the one hand, Saddam supposedly has the ability to create the nuclear devices, but he hasn't got any fissile material, any ability to create it, or any ability to acquire it, which kind of makes his nuclear program a big bust. (It's a nice make-work program for Iraqi military engineers, but other than that...) If he gets it from someone else then he might be able to make a bomb... but then again, considering what you could find on the Internet these days, most of you could probably make a bomb were you to have the fissile material.

As for chemical and biological weapons, it's somewhat less contradictory, although IISS thinks that Saddam has less than a dozen missiles that could actually get to Israel in the first place, and it's anybody's guess as to whether the bloody things would work... and apparently owing to their "impact fuses", they'd do a damned poor job of it anyway. They also say that Saddam has maintained stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, but I do wonder about Ritter's critique of that point of view... that most chemical and biological weapons degrade and that he hasn't had the ability to produce them. Dead biological weapons aren't too scary, and inert chemicals less still. I'd like to read the reasons why the IISS believes that Saddam has production capabilities, and how and why they believe that he could "resume producing both (biological and chemical weapons) within weeks or months", as the G&M said.

To be honest, I just want to read the damned thing myself. Anybody got a URL?

(I guess now we get to wait until Bush makes his big speech.)

Sunday, September 08, 2002

For those who would actually want to check out such things, I've switched the privacy level on my sitemeter. I just couldn't think of any earthly reason to keep it secret when the extreme counter is public, and it's not like hiding such things provides any sort of competitive advantage. (Against who? For what reason?)

Anyway, feel free.
Y'know, considering the relatively low amount of both blogging and readership of blogs (or at least my own) on the weekend, I've gotta ask...

Is the blogosphere really just a way of killing time at work?

It'd explain so much.
Edit: Fixed a sentence.

Jay Caruso took a potshot at me today, first in a post:

(Honestly, I wouldn't have even responded to this, but what the hell... it's the weekend.)

Yep. The United States was attacked. By Al Qaeda.

Rather a lot of "imposed forgetting" going on, isn't there?

Trying to justify plunging the Middle East into violent chaos and invading Iraq that way is like a German trying to justify invading Belgium because the IRA blew up the Reichstag.

Yes Demos, attacked by Al Qaeda, and now there is evidencing surfacing that Iraq helped them before and after 9/11.

I really don't want to sound mean here, but do people who believe that the Middle East is stable and our attacking Iraq would bring about chaos, realize how utterly ridiculous they sound? 'Stability in the Middle East' is a bigger oxymoron than 'jumbo shrimp.' This was the same ridiculous argument being used to oppose the Gulf War (amongst other wrong reasons) and it's just as bogus now as it was then.
and then as a response in his comments section:

If you actually believe the Middle East has EVER been stable and that a military conflict will THEN make it unstable, then you really need a HUGE dose of reality pills
As should be obvious, Jay's using a falsely binary way of describing the situation- stable vs. not stable. Even if there is some instability in the middle east, it pales compared to what could happen, which is the exact reason why every administration since WWII has tried to protect what stability exists there. Not surprising there- he's pushing a simplistic argument, and acknowledging that degrees of things even *exist* devastates that argument almost by definition.

I mean, look at it like Pakistan. Pakistan is terribly unstable right now, yes. That happens when you have a lot of theocrats rubbing up against a military dictatorship. That doesn't mean it begins to compare to the instability that could exist there, and anybody who doesn't understand that should start mainlining those reality pills that Jay was trying to Ad hominem me with.

And as for his other argument? That "evidence" is practically nonexistent, always has been, and will remain so barring something extraordinary*. If it existed, Bush would be using it. It'd be an instant justification for invading Iraq, and save both him and others a lot of grief and effort. They would have pulled it out a looong time ago. He isn't, even though Cheney has gone on the record telling intelligence officials that he wanted the proof of such a connection to be their first priority. That says volumes.

If I was feeling uncharitable, I'd suggest that Jay should stick to taking cheap potshots at Tom Daschle, completely misunderstanding how the U.N. human rights commission works, and making nonsensical remarks about class sizes that contradict every study ever written on the subject, because he's punching above his weight. Since I'm a nice guy, though, I'll assume that Jay's just having a bad blogging week.

*Yes, it is possible that he'll pull out some sort of connection when he addresses the U.N. I find the prospect extraordinarily unlikely, however, because it makes any such address unnecessary and the entire WMD argument utterly pointless. Besides, why wait? It only means that the U.S. couldn't use the facilities and resources of its allies up until the address, damage the U.S.'s relationships with its allies, and would only work as a political tool against the Republicans who have been against it, because the Democrats have been careful to avoid positioning themselves as against invading Iraq. As a tactical move, it's weak. As a strategic tool, it's counter-productive. I can't believe the Bush admin is that stupid.

Saturday, September 07, 2002

by the way..

The answer is that the picture is rather graphic proof of the one thing anti-war activists are doing their damndest to try to make everyone forget: we were attacked first. See, if people thought about that part it might make them think we actually have a legitimate reason to go to war.
Yep. The United States was attacked. By Al Qaeda.

Rather a lot of "imposed forgetting" going on, isn't there?

Trying to justify plunging the Middle East into violent chaos and invading Iraq that way is like a German trying to justify invading Belgium because the IRA blew up the Reichstag.
Edit: A little bit of copyediting. Thanks to Ampersand for pointing it out. Great cartoonist, by the way.

just to let Steven know:

It's finally sinking in amongst some that the only way they can dissuade the Bush administration is by coming up with a viable alternative, and the ones proposed so far don't cut it. Most people are now coming to understand that the existing inspection protocol was a pointless waste of time, what with Iraq in some cases resisting inspections with force of arms. (There are reports during the 1990's of inspectors showing up at a facility only to have guards fire over their heads to keep them away, while others carried boxes of "something" out the back into waiting trucks to be carried away.)
The "somethings" were documents. Not surprising, nor necessarily proof that the Iraqis have WMDs. As Scott Ritter has taken great pains to point out, documents don't produce weapons, factories produce weapons. Iraq doesn't have them.

Then again, considering that the whole post is an attempt to discredit the notion of inspections because (I'm paraphrasing here):

-"Iraq doesn't want them" (contradicted by their own statements),

-"nobody else would want Americans to command them" (based on what?),

-"the forces wouldn't be trustworthy" (and America is? I seem to recall scandals involving U.S. intel plants helped create this problem in the first place)

-"they would be ambushed by Iraqi forces" (Saddam is not that stupid)

and the big one:

-"Iraq is going to get a bomb within a few years, and the inspectors would never find it in time" (based on little but Steven's own unsupported assertions that because finished weapons can't be found, the facilities with which they are produced can't be found either, and Iraq is so close to having nukes that this is actually an issue.)

Personally, I have to bring up a timing question here. Why now? Why wouldn't Saddam have developed the weapons before now, or still have a long way to go before he could get anywhere near deployment capability? Sure, 9/11 was a huge event in the U.S. and for Al Qaeda, but it doesn't change the pace and nature of Iraqi nuclear research one whit.

Let's be honest here. The opposition to inspections from parties both offline and online has nothing to do with their accuracy or their efficiency. The case for invasion of Iraq has never had much at all to do with weapons of mass destruction. It's about a created villian that we let go when we could have killed him. It's about the desire to create a friendly client state in the region. It's aboutt he unwillingness of neoconservatives to admit that their opponents might have a point. It's about the pseudo-realist doctrine that the United States should ignore interests it has in common with other states in favor of perceived interests that differ from them. And, of course, it's about the need for an illusory focus for a focus-free war that, if handled logically, would have precious little to do with the internationally isolated, largely disarmed and utterly secular Iraqi regime.

I hate to attack such a popular guy, but what on earth is Lileks talking about?

In just 18 months, this administration has made drastic changes in the United States' approach to preserving world peace. They denounced and discarded the ABM Treaty, the no-first-use doctrine and several international accords. The first two were linchpins of international stability in the nuclear age. The last were imperfect, but important, products of nations working together to create a better world.

Linchpins of stability. Snort. Let’s assume that the US had completely, utterly, unilaterally disarmed in the 70s and 80s, while holding on to the ABM treaty and the no-first-use doctrine. There would be red flags over Paris. Well, more than usual. Without a credible deterrent, those “linchpins” were cardboard shields.As for the “several international accords” Dayton mentions, his priorities are revealed: “important” trumps “imperfect.” The tangible effect on US security and strength matters less than the shiny-eyed groping towards “a better world.” Whether a "better world" might result from a planet rid of the Taliban, the Tikrit mafia, and any other changes the coming war will force on the Middle eastern satrapies isn't even considered, because they did not originate in a position paper penned by a UN diplomat who has lunch with his Syrian counterpart and tears up his parking ticket when he returns to his double-parked limo.
Nowhere in the quoted section does Mark Dayton even make a peep about unilateral disarmament, so why does Lileks feel the need to build up a particularly precarious strawman? Absent that strawman, what exactly is wrong with Dayton's statement? The ABM treaty and no-first-use doctrine enshrine the idea of MAD, which was deeply disturbing but still key to preventing both conventional and nuclear war during the Cold War.

For that matter, what's with Lilek's baffling misinterpretation of the word "imperfect"? He seems to have that common hawk misconception that warfare is a magic wand with which one can make problems magically disappear, instead of a dangerous and chaotic tool that should be used only when necessary and with great care when such situations occur.

(I won't address the misconception of the word "interest" that occurs later on in the article, except to say that it's sad that some people seem to think that the it's against U.S. interests to have good relations with other countries.)

I don't know; although I do think that it's more and more likely that war is inevitable (whether it's just, necessary, or honest or not), the arguments in favour of it and the rebuttals of those who are against it get weaker and weaker by the day. It's gone beyond dangerous and annoying to just somewhat, well, dull.
You have GOT to be kidding me.

Courtesy of Les Dabney comes the latest spin from the idiot right: the idea that Scott Ritter is an Iraqi agent. The usual suspects (Newsmax, Fox News, the Weekly Standard, etc.) have been passing around the story that Ritter was given 500 thousand by the Iraqis to make a video. Les quotes an interview with Ritter where he takes down these ridiculous charges, and it's pretty obvious he's mad as hell:

Basically, if they call me an Iraqi agent, they're accusing me of committing a crime against my country. I find that to be a horrible charge, the absolute worst charge you could make against someone, anyone, whether they're a former Marine or whether they were serving their country in another way, as a worker or an office manager or what have you. You can't make these charges lightly. The fact that I am sitting here talking to you right now, with so much attention being put on me by the FBI and other law enforcement organizations, speaks volumes as to just how clean I've been. Shame on them. These are baseless charges being brought by people who are unwilling to debate the message that I am trying to get out, so they take the cheap tactic of attacking the messenger.
(Italics mine.) I encourage you to check out Les' more detailed quotation of the interview so that you'll be forewarned and forearmed when some idiot tries passing this off as legitimate, but I personally want to highlight how downright evil it is to use this sort of tactic against critics that make you uncomfortable. It's dishonest, it's disgusting, it's fascistic if not Stalinistic, and it's against everything that conservatives profess to hold dear.

Yet more proof that neo-conservatives have nothing but contempt for the traditions that conservatism is supposed to stand up for. No wonder the Bull Moose left.
Ignatz (by Sam Heldman) comments on that whole "southern liberals are guilt-ridden" line being pushed by Sullivan et al:

So far, it appears, I am the only person in the world flabbergasted by the arrogance of the suggestion that Southern liberals don't really have honest and considered opinions as other folks do, just manifestations of personal psychology.

...[R]ather than trying to figure out why Andrew Sullivan and Mickey Kaus say the silly things that they do (is it that the former is ashamed of being British and therefore looking for someone to look down on, and the latter was taunted about a certain Disney character in elementary school?), I eagerly await their belated recognition that they have said something silly, or their explanation that everybody's political opinions are just psychological symptoms. And yes, you can see that this is getting under my skin a bit.
The weird thing about that whole sort of argument is that anybody who's come within shouting distance of Brock's book (and I'm tempted to set up a bloody Amazon connection, I've been hyping it so much) knows that neo-cons can be accused of a whole laundry list of psychological hang-ups and disorders. Why on earth would a group that is so vulnerable to such criticism itself attempt to use such tactics on others? Projection? The desire to "do it to them before they do it to us?" Or is it just an unwillingness to admit that a liberal might actually say something intelligent?
O. Dub has managed to summarize every warblog ever written.

Friday, September 06, 2002

Judah Ariel gives me a little hope:

Hopeful survery results from Search for Common Ground:

80% of Palestinians would support a large-scale non-violent protest movement and 56% would participate in its activities.

78% of Israeli Jews believe that the Palestinians have a legitimate right to seek a Palestinian state, provided that they use non-violent means.

A strong majority (62%) of Palestinians thinks that a new approach is needed in the Intifada and overwhelming majorities (73-92%) approve of Palestinians using various methods of nonviolent action.
Perhaps the cries of "paleostinians" are a little premature. As well as being, y'know, offensive as hell and deliberately stupid and whatnot.

(How much you want to bet this little study doesn't end up on LGF or Instapinion?)
Krugman, once again, shines a light:

if history is any guide, many reporters will soon return to their usual cringe. The next time the administration insists that chocolate is vanilla, much of the media — fearing accusations of liberal bias, trying to create the appearance of "balance" — won't report that the stuff is actually brown; at best they'll report that some Democrats claim that it's brown.

...Once an administration believes that it can get away with insisting that black is white and up is down — and everything in this administration's history suggests that it believes just that — it's hard to see where the process stops. A habit of ignoring inconvenient reality, and presuming that the docile media will go along, soon infects all aspects of policy. And yes, that includes matters of war and peace.

The trouble is that eventually reality has a way of asserting itself. And in case you are wondering, ignorance isn't strength.
Whether you agree with Bush's policy positions or not, the methods by which he advances those positions are obviously dishonest. Then again, with a media desperate to accomplish the impossible task of pleasing neocons crying "liberal bias" in order to further their agenda, why not?
Josh calls it:

It's always irksome to lean in to defend someone who's wrongly accused, only to see them buckle and beg forgiveness because they can't stand the heat. But that's precisely what's happened here. Say what you want about the Times, or anti-regime change bias, whatever. The Tyler/Purdum article's characterization of Kissinger was right on target. I've explained why several times already so I won't do it again here. (For a really good explanation see this new article by John Judis.)
Josh, and the case of the NYT, has shown us something important: Big Lies work. They work well. In fact, they work spectacularly. Repeat it loud enough, and often enough, and stridenly enough, and you will wear down those who disagree because either they aren't numerous enough, not powerful enough, or not strong enough to resist it.

Who knew it would be so easy for a few conservative columnists and their yahoos-in-waiting to bitch-slap the Times into saying that up is down or humiliate two good reporters who zigged when the neos were demanding a zag?
Right over here, Josh. There's a reason I started this blog: it's everywhere, and it's appallingly easy. Frightening, too... not just because of the examples that we know about, but all the ones we don't.

Chad Orzel's Uncertain Principles (which is a great read; if you haven't been there, check it out) has an excellent entry about what he calls "lies-to-children". I'll let him explain:

Terry Pratchett has a great phrase he uses to describe the way we "dumb things down" to explain them to people who lack the background to understand the real situation: "lies-to-children" (its first appearance may be in The Science of Discworld, though the idea certainly exists in Hogfather). The explanation you give when you lie to children isn't really true, but it's close enough to the truth to get the basic idea across, and you figure you can correct the misapprehension you've created sometime later, when the children are a little older.

It's like when we teach children that we vote to elect the President of the United States. In reality, we vote to choose electors, and the Electoral College votes to choose the President, except if nobody gets a majority of the electoral votes, in which case the task passes to Congress, unless it's a year that ends in three zeros, when-- but by the time you get there, their cute little eyes have already glazed over, and you fall back on "we vote to elect the President." You can explain the real process later-- barring a truly bizarre set of circumstances, they don't really need all the details.

Lies-to-children needn't be told to actual children, of course. The cocktail-party explanation of what it is that I do for a living (on the research side, at least) is a lie-to-children, whatever the age of the people I tell it to. Lies-to-children are part of the price of doing business in a technical field. The tricky part is crafting the lie in such a way as to minimize the amount of damage done through misinformation.
Being a site about science, not politics, Chad takes this concept and uses it to explain why scientific education is tricky, but it's as applicable to politics as well. Many of the principles, ideas, and concepts that people use in political debate on a popular level (when such debate exists) are based on these sorts of "lies-to-children".. where complex political or economic concepts are "dumbed down" so that the general public doesn't have to learn the sometimes extensive rationales and bases that these ideas come from. This is especially pronounced in popular economic debate, but it's present in politics as well. Political philosophy and political theory can be just as complex, as anybody who has had to wade through the first twelve chapters of "Leviathan" can attest. Nowadays it's in some respects even worse, because a lot of the empirical work in the field is based on either some sort of statistical analysis or the application of game theory.

There's a lot of problems with this. Sometimes these sorts of "lies-to-children" are deliberately crafted to support a point of view. This is the difference between science and politics; politics is usually a means to an end, and simple arguments often convince people better than more complex ones. Complex arguments often contain flaws or assumptions underlying the work that are almost inevitable due to their complexity, but a simple argument can be straightforward enough to be nearly ironclad, whether it's correct or not. It also tends to appeal more; people look for simple answers so as to order and understand the world around them.

Sometimes a simple answer isn't some sort of political weapon- as in Chad's example, it might be a genuine attempt to explain a complex system using simple concepts. Unfortunately, once a simple answer enters into the public consciousness it becomes incredibly difficult to dislodge. Qualification, complexity, and nuance is ironed out in the search for simple answers and simple solutions. Eventually, it usually displaces and competes with the complex answer itself. If it wins (and it usually does), you end up with products that rarely resemble the works that started them.

In some respects this process is necessary in order to influence the public or at the very least help them to understand the true conflicts involved, but it's highly dangerous, because any simple argument contains a number of complex assumptions, and those assumptions themselves might be controversial. Since the simple arguments require them, though, and since people depend on these simple arguments to explain the world around them, any attack on those underlying assumptions becomes a direct threat to someone's worldview, and all you get as a response is cognitive dissonance.

The world isn't simple, folks, and neither is politics. Anybody pushing simple answers, whether well-meaning or not, is usually lying to you. Whether or not it's in your best interests and in a sincere attempt to assist you in understanding something that's complex, there's complexity behind it. Without understand that complexity, you're functioning at a disadvantage, and neither do not nor cannot understand what's really going on.
I hadn't read Jason McCullough's "Hronkomatic" much, but I'm somewhat tempted to run through the archives after reading this jab:

This article, linked from Instapundit, is the silliest justification for invading Iraq so far I've seen.

Construction at the Abu Ghurayb Presidential Palace features extensive and complex water works. U.S. government web site notes that the Iraqi officials claim extensive crop damage due to drought. Photo shows use of scarce water resources to ensure that the lakes of Saddam's palaces are filled and grounds are well tended. CREDIT: U.S. Department of State.

Filling your swimming pool when there's a drought on = justification of overthrow, apparently. The suburbs of the U.S. better watch out.
There seems to be a fundamental confusion here between liberalism and realism (in the IR sense). A realist doesn't pay attention to the morality of different countries, but to their (converging and diverging) interests. A liberal, on the other hand, pays attention to the morals, but must also (in order to avoid inconsistency) look at the morality of the warfare itself in addition to the morality of the actors that is being used to justify the warfare. Yes, Saddam might be causing poverty and hardship, but the chaos that an invasion would case would create more hardship, and (very likely) a bumper crop of corpses to go along with it before everything settles down.

If one is going to argue morality, then look at it in its totality, not whichever facet you find useful.
Yeesh, now I know why Instapundit doesn't normally have a comments section: you end up with drek like this, with dozens of RightThink-spewing automatons, mistaking ad hominem attacks for legitimate criticism. A few stand out (at least Jane Galt made legitimate points, and both "pj" and Jason McCullough did their best to stand against a sea of blather), but by and large...feh.
By the way... thanks for the link, Ampersand.

One odd thing, though; Ampersand referred to one of my earlier entries as an "essay"... I just thought of it as an entry. I'm constantly forgetting just how much of an anomaly long postings are in blogdom, and a post that I think of as, y'know, adequate length is probably a monster to everybody else.

Well, not everybody.
Seeing The Forest did a little research:

I did something fun today. I went to the Heritage Foundation's PolicyExperts.org and looked up some right-wing organizations. All I did was sort by "National Research Organizations" so it shows me the entire list.

Then I started picking a right-wing organization at random and going to Cursor's Media Transparency to see who is funding them. I did this several times. Guess what I found? There are hundreds of right-wing organizations, but they are almost all funded by a foundation whose name contains Scaife, Olin or Bradley, and a few others.

The public, the media and policymakers think they hear a wide range of voices. For example, you might see on C-SPAN or MSNBC a panel with experts from five or six different organizations. But in fact the likelihood is you are hearing the voice of Scaife, Olin, Bradley or one or two other billionaires. NO WONDER so much of the national policy debate is about giving huge tax cuts to billionaires!

Try it yourself.
Now, don't get me wrong; I'm not about to rail against these organizations and those that fund them. What always astounded me, however, is how relatively cheap the whole enterprise is. According to David Brock, Scaife funds the whole thing for, what, 57 million or so a year? That's chump change; easily matched by someone who wanted to support the media and research arm of any liberal movement.

The catch, of course, is that there is no such movement, so how could you fund it? Between far leftists attacking the center-left in order to ensure that they're sufficiently "radical", "critical", and free of supposed hypocrisy and centrist neo-liberals (like Mickey Kaus) bashing everyone to the left of them in order to disassociate themselves with the far left and ingratiate themselves with the right, there's more movement apart than together. It's a shame. If there's one thing that the neo-cons have taught everybody else, it's that a sense of movement identity, properly channeled and exploited, can lead to extraordinary power and influence.

Thursday, September 05, 2002

Warren Ellis has a weblog! Go read it, dammit!

And if you don't know who Warren Ellis is, you obviously haven't read Transmetropolitan yet. Which means that you have something to do this weekend.
Very nice breakdown of the concept of "libertarian socialism" over at Lake Effect. I tend to refer to such things as "left-anarchism" myself, but perhaps that label isn't quite accurate, and it's refreshing to read both a treatment of Noam Chomsky's politics that isn't base namecalling and an examination of the politics of the far left that looks at it as it actually is, instead of as one wants it to be (ie, TransProg.)

And to resolve an instant question: no, "libertarian socialism" is not self-contradictory. He explains why.
Avedon weighs in on the attempt by SDB to recruit feminists into the War on Islam. She ain't happy:

I have been trying to come up with a response to this rant from Den Beste but I just keep sputtering. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Gah! is it wrong! Back in the '70s when I used to try to warn folks about the increasing danger of Islamofascism, the only people I could get to listen to me were the women's libbers and a few other lefties. And where were the conservatives? Why, they were telling me that all that abuse and oppression was the way things should be.

The people who are suddenly talking about the oppression of women as an excuse for war are, to my mind, coming awfully late to the cause - and not, I think, in good faith. I'm not going to jump on their bandwagon just because they are trying to hitch a ride on mine.

This is serious business. We really don't need this kind of sophistry thrown into the mix. I want to see people freed, but I don't think rewriting history is going to achieve that.
(Sorry to disappoint, Ginger, but I'm just inarticulate with disgust.)
Hardly inarticulate. Still, no matter how long the subject piece, all that's needed sometimes is a well-timed "Horseshit".
Well damn... looks like I didn't make it onto Altercation after all. Ah well; I'll have to try harder next time.

(Pity I've been busy over the last week or so; Jeralyn from TalkLeft probably noticed that I been sporadically updating and thought it was permanent or something.)

Then again, the additions are all great stuff, so I have no complaints. And it's not like I'm a heavy permalinker either, so I probably shouldn't complain anyway. Heh.
Sadly, as one friend of mine put it recently, the internet is something of an 'echo chamber,' and this means that even the flimsiest vitriol gets posted and reposted, annotated and updated ad nauseam until the accumulated pettifogging becomes a kind of beslobbered palimpsest that looks and reads like a snot rag.
Hey, don't look at me. She must have got it from somebody else. I happen to like the Rittenhouse Review, and somehow doubt that she's going to remember the E.C. effect when she's passing on the latest factoid about the demonic, monolithic "Left". No doubt, though, that this is going to be a useful quote for future Norah critics.
Poor Sully. Fact-checked beyond all recognition, forced to write articles for a site that's pretty obviously just using him to create some controversy (against their readers, for some reason) now that nobody can take David Horowitz seriously, and reduced to arguing against the obvious.

Now you may agree or disagree with the idea that Iraq is a state that sponsors terrorism. You may agree or disagree that such states should be opposed or attacked. You may have all sorts of reasons to oppose a war on Saddam. But to argue that the Bush administration has never been clear about this, that it has only recently conjured up a campaign against Saddam, or that "another war" has been "grandfathered" onto an old one, is ludicrous on its face. The issue of Iraq was on the table before the campaign against the Taliban had been waged; it was on the table before Enron hit the headlines; it was on the table when Bush's ratings were in the stratosphere; it was on the table as long ago as 1990 when Colin Powell, in the last Gulf War's endgame, helped pave the way for our current predicament.
This was the closing paragraph of his most recent article in Salon. When I read this I was rather surprised. Does anybody honestly not believe that Iraq was on the agenda regardless of whether or not it actually had any ties to terrorist organizations? Even if the Rumsfeld memo didn't imply it, many of the neo-con hawks in the Bush administration had been making the argument that invasion of Iraq is a necessity long before they came into power, and certainly before 9/11. The attacks didn't change the goal, just the rhetoric- the start of the War on Terrorism prompted a change of tactics, but not the ultimate target, which had been around (as Sullivan acknowledged) since 1990.

I mean, some of the things Sullivan says makes me wonder whether he even cares about credibility. How on earth did Colin Powell "pave the way for the current mess" in 1990? Not invading Iraq had precisely nothing to do with Al Qaeda's attack on the United States; it can be argued that the Gulf War itself did, but certainly not the decision by the previous Bush administration to obey the U.N. resolutions and restrict their actions to the liberation of Kuwait. Iraq had little to nothing to do with Al Qaeda- if such a connection existed, it would have long ago been trotted out in order to support the invasion. Sullivan's citation in the article of the belief that Saddam had something to do with it that existed shortly after the attack doesn't explain anything now, either; at first we didn't know who was responsible, but we do now. Quoting former CIA chief James Woolsey as saying that they need to "develop some confidence that Iraq is involved in terrorist incidents against us, not meaning Sept. 11" right after the attack misses the point: that confidence never was developed, and we need to function knowing that, not in denial of it. His examples of the assassination attempt on Bush the Elder and the (supposed) development of WMDs as "terrorist acts" is absurd on its face; the latter would make half the countries on the planet terrorists (including India and Pakistan) and the former tactic has been endorsed by the Bush administration itself. That doesn't make the U.S. a terrorist nation, of course- it means that such acts aren't terrorism. Saddam may be a thug, but he's no terrorist.

Without that connection, then what's the point of attacking Iraq in order to forward a war on terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda? Very little- at best, it's useful to create a (theoretically) friendly regime in the region (which we don't need, and already have in countries like Jordan), and to protect the U.S. against the incredibly dubious threat of Saddam passing WMDs to terrorist organizations that are about as friendly to Saddam as Bush is. The harm done by this sort of invasion probably outweighs the benefit, but whether that's true or not, it means precisely nothing when it comes to actually dealing with terrorist organizations...they will still have failed states to operate within, friendly regimes that the United States can't touch as they weren't demonized a decade ago (like Pakistan, which is absolutely untouchable, and is one revolution away from arming terrorists with as many nukes as they desire), sources of funding, and an increased zeal to attack the United States and its allies.

I'm not the only one that's come to this conclusion.. practically every government outside the United States has (including those in the first world) and the split within the formerly united Republican party speaks volumes. The Democrats can't critique the administration for political reasons, but that doesn't mean they agree either. More and more, no matter from what angle you look at it, Sullivan is wrong- Iraq is another war, another battle, one that predates the war with terrorist organizations (started by Al Qaeda, not Saddam) and is barely related to it. Nobody's buying the administration's arguments anymore. If Sullivan keeps on parroting them, nobody's going to buy his, either.

If that's the case, then by definition the war on Iraq is "grandfathered in". Despite administration rhetoric to the contrary, it predates the war on terror and is only dimly related to the real targets and stated goals . The Bush administration saw their opportunity to justify the war that they had been calling for for a decade within the new paradigm of a war on terror, and they took advantage of it. Whether or not this war has anything to do with or real terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda has nothing to do with it. Sullivan's (or Dubya's) transparent attempts to try to shoehorn Iraq in won't change that.
I know I start a lot of entries with this lately, but...


Jay Reding, in reaction to the TRR article I referred to earlier, had this to say:

Look, if you're going to make an argument, tossing out some ad hominem attacks isn't the way to do it. In fact, I'd love to see the Review, or any other leftists go on the record and say that a free and democratic Middle East is a bad thing. It would be great to hear them say that Iran should remain an oppresive theocracy rather than be allied with the US. If they're going to start that line of reasoning, they should finish. Let's get all the Left on the record as being anti-capitalism, anti-freedom, and anti-American. The American people deserve to see the real face of the Left.
Jay, as long as you're pulling out absolutely absurd charges (in the same entry with which you define selective quotation as "ad hominem"), why not just say "anybody who doesn't want the United States to invade the Middle East rapes kittens for fun and profit" and be done with it?

As always, nobody argues that democracy is a bad thing, least of all the Rittenhouse Review (which is, like everybody else, no member of a monolithic Left.) The question is whether or not the methods advocated by people like Michael Ledeen would a) work and b) create more problems than it solves. To pull out absurd arguments that say that "if you don't agree with my pet solution you're evil and deserve the scorn of all right-thinking Americans" only makes your own arguments look that much weaker.
In the comments section of my post on Saddam: myth vs. man (or whatever), a few people pointed out that Iraq is simply the first step- that the fact that Saddam is really just another dictator who happened to invade the wrong country at the wrong time is meaningless because he's only the first of many dictators that will be the subjects of American intervention. This isn't a new theory, although I hadn't been directly addressing it, preferring to stick with the simpler question of invasion of Iraq and what it would mean for the concepts of sovereignty and legitimacy, as well as the usefulness of deterrence. (I might set up a "best of" link on the side so I can simply point people in the right direction... at the moment, however, a quick trip to the most recent set of archives should turn up ample links to this sort of thing.)

However, as seen on The Rittenhouse Review, this sort of argument is becoming more mainstream, now being found on the pages of the Wall Street Journal in this article by Michael Ledeen, whom TRR calls "the most dangerous man in the world".

TRR isn't exactly sympathetic:

The ├╝ber-hawk advocates not just one war but four wars, or more accurately, one gigantic, almost simultaneous war against Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, in that order. (Not Libya?)

Not surprisingly, Ledeen's contribution to the national debate includes some of the most dubious propositions and questionable assertions currently in circulation, all presented with an arrogant certaintude that displays a complete disregard for history, politics, religion, and, indeed, humanity.
Not that this is anything of a surprise, of course, but TRR follows up with a series of quotes from the article in question. TRR quotes a whole laundry list, but I'll just bring up one or two.

"If we come to Baghdad, Damascus and Tehran as liberators, we can expect overwhelming popular support."

Um, no. Whether they have sympathy for democracy and the West or not (and why would they? Baghdad and Tehran are the home of the "Axis of Evil") they're not going to be friendly to an invading foreign power that has been demonized by their society for a generation. Whether that demonization is valid or not is unimportant- it exists, and it must be acknowledged. Any attempt to democratize the Middle East is going to be the act of a foreign power against a hostile citizenry, especially if it follows up an invasion.

(This will be especially true if the situation in Afghanistan doesn't improve, because it will prove their belief that American attempts at societal change are flighty, unserious, and transitory, to be overlooked when the Next Big Thing comes along.)

This is the other one that caught my eye:

"This war cannot be limited to national theaters; we face a regional challenge and must respond accordingly. But it is both a just war and one for which we are marvelously well suited."

Actually, the United States is unique in how badly suited it is for just such an enterprise. This the heart of the (oft-overstated) leftist critique- that the United States cares little for democracy and liberality outside of its own borders, and will act against it when its interests are involved. The United States might be uniquely suited to armed intervention, but any attempt by the United States to effect democratic change is going to be resisted hard, and long, and through the use of endless examples of American hypocrisy. Whether or not these charges are true or not is immaterial; the simple reality is that the United States is not seen internationally as either a disinterested party, an honest broker, or a force for democracy outside of its own narrow interests, and that perception will poison any attempts by the United States to introduce liberal secular democracy into the region. Even if it's done with the best intentions, nobody will believe it. While it's a valid goal and something that needs to be done anyway, attempts to force or cajole the Middle East into doing what the U.S. wants them to do will almost definitely backfire. The U.S. has too much of a history- somebody else needs to do it.

Who that "somebody else" should be is, of course, the question. I have an idea in mind, but I'll save that for later.
Courtesy of Atrios:

Media Whores Online discovered that:

CBS News has learned that barely five hours after American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was telling his aides to come up with plans for striking Iraq — even though there was no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks.

..."Go massive," the notes quote him as saying. "Sweep it all up. Things related and not."
This was pretty obvious to everybody who wasn't swept up in the hype, but it still bears repeating: the cases for and against invading Iraq predated the War on Terror and are only dimly and remotely related to it. An invasion of Iraq is not just another theatre in the wider war- it is a seperate conflict, roped in for P.R. purposes. (Well, aside from all those "strategic" analyses that presume to use Iraq as some sort of base of operations for a war against Arabs.)

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

Does anybody else find it ironic that Andrew Sullivan is hyping the fact-checking abilities of the Blogosphere:

I love the fact that the self-important pooh-bahs at 43rd Street now have to worry that they'll be corrected on a daily basis by a bunch of former nobodies. Go, Instapundit. It helps defuse the self-serving pomposity of much of the journalistic clerisy
...when I doubt there's anybody outside of Ann Coulter who's been more thoroughly and consistently fact-checked right out of the ballpark than Sullivan himself? And for that matter, what the heck is an admitted self-promoter like Sullivan doing complaining about "self-important pooh-bahs"? Not that I'm one for forced humility, but people in stone houses shouldn't throw glassware and whatnot.

Then again, his statement that "I take less time, worry less about polish, and care less about the consequences on my blog" speaks volumes.
Edit: thanks to Marc Ramsey, who pointed out a nasty little mixup of mine.

Be warned- this is a long 'un.

Molly Ivans is pissed. Why? Well, I'll let her put it in her own terms:

Excuse me: I don't want to be tacky or anything, but hasn't it occurred to anyone in Washington that sending Vice President Dick Cheney out to champion an invasion of Iraq on the grounds that Saddam Hussein is a "murderous dictator" is somewhere between bad taste and flaming hypocrisy?

This is the opening paragraph to an essay where she lays out precisely how and why Cheney profited from Saddam's regime and others like it- how his old company, Halliburton, made billions of dollars dealing with just the sort of dictator that he's attacking now that he's the infamous Saddam Hussein. Atrios wonders why nobody else had said it before; he has a good point, but I think it's besides the real point.

See, whether or not Dick Cheney made millions off brutal dictators isn't the issue, not really. It's an issue, and an important one, but it's not the issue. Right now he's more than just Dick Cheney- he's the spokesperson for the administration, and in some respects should be criticized in that respect. No, the important issue is, as always, "why Saddam"? As Ivans points out in the essay, Halliburton made billions of dollars not just from Saddam but from all manner of dictators just as evil as he is.

There's the rub. "Just as evil". Seems odd, doesn't it? This is Saddam Hussein we're talking about... he's supposed to be the reincarnation of Hitler, right? Gassing his own people and everything? Well, not really; I think anybody who sits down and studies his past behaviour would quickly notice that on comparison with any number of dictators, past and present, he's not actually that different. Although the right takes great pains to try to portray him differently, those who call him "just another tinpot dictator" are essentially right- there's little that seperates him from many other dictators, and compared to some, he's downright pleasant. (Mugabe easily comes to mind, but anybody who studies the history of African and South American dictatorships could probably come up with lots of others.)

See, there's been an excellent public relations job done on behalf of the United States government to demonize Saddam more so than any other dictator around the planet, it's been going on for a long time, and I personally believe it's one of the real reasons why invasion may be inevitable. What started it is simple- poppy had a war to fight. No, don't worry, I'm not about to pull out the whole "the Gulf War was all about oil" argument. The Gulf War was about a lot of things. It was about oil, yes, but it was also about national sovereignty, international stability, national security, middle eastern security, the reputation of the United States as a peacemaker (a role that Bush the Elder took seriously), and perhaps most importantly, the credibility of the United Nations as a body for resolving national disputes and organizing collective responses to unilateral attacks on one of its members by another of its members (or a non-member). Saddam did something Very Wrong, and he knew it, but he also thought that the U.S. would let him get away with it (thanks to the infamous contradictory signals he was getting at the time) and there was no way that was happening. Not where he was- not with Kuwait being what it is. Maybe if he lived in Africa it would be different, but he doesn't. The United States takes the middle east seriously.

Unfortunately, however, none of these particular justifications, as valid as they were, were really useful in convincing the U.S. to stay onside, and everybody and his dog remember that the last major conflict the U.S. public paid attention to, Vietnam, was a complete public relations disaster. One of the responses to that was the tight control over information that characterizes the U.S. military to this day, but one of the other responses was to make damned sure that the public was onside for this one. The fact that the Gulf War was probably not going to lead to heavy casualties outside of worst-case scenarios didn't matter. Generals famously always fight the last war, and the last war was Vietnam, a war that many believe was lost in the minds of the American public long before it was lost in the jungles of Vietnam. They had to make sure that people didn't sympathize with Iraq. So, they took Saddam Hussein, the dictator, and turned him into Saddam Hussein, the monster.

They did a fantastic job. (Who is "they"? Excellent question, and I won't presume to guess, although I had a friend who swore he knew somebody who worked at the P.R. firm who were the architects of the whole thing.) The news before the Gulf War was covered with stories of Iraqi atrocities, and carefully guided and shaped stories about Saddam Hussein that portrayed him as (as I said earlier) the worst dictator that the world had ever seen, basically the reincarnation of Adolph Hitler. The rhetoric was fierce and unrelenting, and soon became a vicious circle, with both politicians and journalists outdoing each other in digging up rumors, stories, and theories to make the man into the monster.

By and large, the public believed it. especially convincing was when they heard that he "gassed his own people"- an act hauntingly familiar of Hitler and his horrific factory-like gas chambers. What Saddam and Hitler did are hardly the same, of course, but they're still close enough to make the connection viable and plausible, so the connection can be made and on some level justified. (It's a tactic that Cheney, and others, deliberately exploit when they pull that out to demonstrate Saddam's supposed irrationality.) Not that Saddam's use of chemical weapons against the Kurds is in any way defensible, of course, yet neither is it unique- it's only the nature of the weapon that seperates it from the sort of "ethnic cleansing" and pacification that is probably going on somewhere as I write this. The choice of weapon does not make someone any more or less dead- the genocide in Rwanda was no less a genocide because it was due to machete-wielding Hutus hacking Tutsis (and suspected sympathizers) limb from limb, over and over and over and over, day after day, as others call on the radio to slaughter the Tutsi "cockroaches"...

(Did I mention that there's much worse out there than Saddam? I don't know whether it's relieving or disturbing that most westerners have little idea just how bad it can get, and how relatively benign Saddam really is. To this day, I have trouble thinking about the genocide in Rwanda.)

In any case, the problem is that they did their job too well. Bush the Elder's administration knew that trying to depose Saddam would be much more controversial both in the U.S. and around the world than kicking him out of Kuwait. Many thought it wasn't an issue. Nobody expected Saddam to retain power after the Gulf War, yet he remains, defiant as ever. Yes, he was an international pariah, and ruled over a broken, poor, and besieged country by a combination of the fear of secret police and sheer force of will, but he still remained. This was, of course, a major problem for Washington. Between the end of the Gulf War and the start of the War on Terrorism there was a definite thread of latent hostility between Iraq and the United States. Remember, the United States never stopped operating in Iraq; the whole reason the inspectors got pulled was because the U.S. was going to start Desert Fox and resume bombing Iraqi targets. Any given issue of the National Review featured some hawk arguing that Iraq needed to be "dealt with", using the same arguments we hear nowadays- Iraq will (somehow) build up a vast array of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and (somehow) use them on the United States or its allies.

Of course, this line of argument, as old as the Gulf War, returned with a vengeance after 9/11. In most respects it's the same bloody thing we've heard for a decade now, but with a twist- Saddam's delivery system might be terrorists, and therefore getting Iraq is somehow part of the "War on Terrorism". The same hawks that were advocating the ouster of Saddam back then are either part of the administration or are closely listened-to advisors of the administration, and thanks to the War on Terror they're finally able to put their arguments into action- finally able to "get Saddam". It isn't new, of course; nothing about it is new. It's just hawks harnessing new fears to aid an old argument, nothing more.

The problem with this whole line of argument is that there's any number of dictators out there who could theoretically get ahold of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and who hate the United States. So why Saddam? Those of us who either didn't believe or didn't listen to the propaganda (for that is what it was) continue to ask that question, and with good justification. Despite Cheney's (and others') rhetoric, there are definitely worse than Saddam, and quite a few others who could theoretically develop NBC capabilities (or might even have them already) and who might theoretically use such weapons on the United States or its allies. Certainly Iran is higher on this list than Iraq, and I'd imagine that Syria, Egypt, and (possibly) Saudi Arabia would be more inclined as well. Saddam would be seriously foolish to even contemplate such a thing; he's suspect #1, watched like a hawk, is threatened from all sides, and has an uneasy relationship with theocratic Muslims that might turn his own weapons against him. So why him, as opposed to, say, Khaddafi?

If you think of him as "Saddam Hussein, the dictator", then it makes no sense, none at all. Even if he were irrational, he'd have to be near suicidal... not just suicidal, either, as it would endanger the carefully-groomed succession of his son, and his legacy as the leader of Iraq, something that he's obviously very, very interested in. It would mean that the United States would win the game he's playing, the game of survival. After all, as long as he stays in power it's a victory of a sort; the kind of victory that rankles those hawks who value U.S. preeminence over all else, but would hardly trouble anybody who understood the real interests of the U.S.

But. Look again. Look at him as "Saddam Hussein, the monster", the hideous mental creation of the Bush administration, born of the necessities of the Gulf War. Suddenly, it makes perfect sense. He isn't rational, isn't sensible, doesn't care about his own life, the lives of his family, or his precious power. He lives only to kill, to destroy, to (if he could) personally cut the throat of every westerner he sees. The Saddam of mythology is a madman, totally obsessed with the United States, and willing to do anything, sacrifice anything, if only he could kill just one more American. He gasses his own people, oppresses everyone around him, and leads a totalitarian state such as the world hasn't seen in decades. He is Cheney's "worst dictator in the world". He is Hitler reincarnate, with all that that implies, and cannot be predicted, trusted, understood, or bargained with any more than Hitler could have been. All attempts to do so are Chamberlain-like "appeasement" which, thanks to the obsessive focus on WWII by most Americans looking for historical comparisons to modern situations, are acts of almost transcendental cowardice, fear, and evil.

Unfortunately, outside of the United States this portrait of "Saddam as monster" never really took. Most see him as yet another dictator, but didn't really support him and hoped to see him gone. As I said, international pariah... at least up until the U.S. administration, emboldened by public support for the (somewhat unrelated) War on Terror/Islam/whatever and success (of a sort) in Afghanistan finally started talking invasion. When that happened, those who realized that really meant the end of national sovereignty as we know it started backing an unloved dictator whose ouster nonetheless represented something much bigger. Saddam was ignored- now, Russia is making deals with him, and country after country is lining up to publicly support his legitimacy. They don't see him the way Americans do- as this reincarnation of Hitler. They see him as what he is- a dictator, unremarkable (tragically) in his cruelty and desire for power, who invaded the wrong country and pissed off the wrong hyperpower. They wonder who'll be next.

They wonder if it might be them.

Sunday, September 01, 2002

Seeing The Forest is fuming about the "big lie" techniques used by the right in this faux-debate over those supposedly anti-American NEA study guides.

What get's me is that Mona Charen knows that the NEA didn't do what she's writing. She is lying, and knows it, and is getting paid well to repeat these lies because the end result is people believing bad things about the NEA, and "liberals." And all the others participating in this lie, like George Will and Ollie North and Rush Limbaugh and all the rest of this crowd. It is a lie. They know it is a lie. They are repeating it because focus groups have shown that this particular lie will stir up the public in certain lasting ways, and if they keep circulating lies like this the public becomes more inclined to vote Republicans into power so they can give big tax breaks and defense contracts to their cronies. And, of course, pay Mona Caren and the rest of them lots of money.

We know how this works. (Read "Blinded By the Right." This is from the guy that started the whole "Clinton Scandals" lie. He talks about how they do it, how much they're paid, and the people doing it. People like Ted Olson, rewarded by Bush with the job of Solicitor General of the United States.) We know that they circulate lies to achieve their political goals...

...How long can this character assassination/lie machine go on before enough of us are telling the rest of us what it is, making it ineffective? It worked on Carter and got Reagan elected. It kept Clinton from accomplishing very much. It got Bush elected. It threatens to take us into perpetual war now.
Well put, but I think that the author of the site, "Issuesguy", should remember that it's only some of these people who actually know that it's a lie; once the ball gets rolling, it can be considered truth (or "true enough") and therefore worth repeating. Someone like Will, or North, or Limbaugh might actually think that these charges are true, and are already predisposed to dismiss any attempts to debunk them as the actions of the hated liberals.

In fact, if I was going to lay a finger on the biggest problem of the "big lie", it's the latter aspect- the deliberate attempts to invalidate and discredit those who disagree. After all, any statement made publicly can be rebutted publicly, but the whole point of the thing is to sway the public... and how can the public be able to properly evaluate any argument if they've been conditioned to distrust the source? The problem isn't any single lie, or spin, or bias, or whatever. The problem is the attempts by people like Coulter and Hannity to preemptively discredit anybody who disagrees, using weak logic, base namecalling, and ludicrous strawmen.

It's not like the Blogosphere isn't prey to it either. Just look at the rabid, hateful, foaming rhetoric aimed at so-called "idiotarians" and ask yourselves what the purpose of that could possibly be. Is it to forward an argument? To advocate a position? Hardly. It's to discredit the opposition, so that readers will never give a fair reading to a dissenting voice. It's an attempt to win the argument before it begins... to use Sun Tsu-like tactics to ensure that battle is won before a sword is ever drawn from its scabbard.

IssuesGuy, if you want to change the way that people debate, the first and most important step is to deal with the ridiculous, hateful, and sickening rhetoric aimed at the left, the kind that neo-conservatives specialize in and that the left (both moderate and radical) has ignored and explained away for far too long. And yes, that includes people who, like Kaus, attempt to gain centrist cred by mocking those to the left of them, the worst scourge that both liberals and social democrats have facing them right now. Once people start treating liberal arguments fairly, rebutting the lies will take care of itself.

Friday, August 30, 2002

While I'm (briefly, I assure you) looking at USS Clueless, I should note: There's a difference between advocating something and unconditionally supporting those who cynically appropriate your issues to support their own interests.

No, Women's Studies departments don't have to support the War on Terror, because they know damned well what everybody else knows- the U.S. right wouldn't give two tugs of a dead dog's cock about the treatment of women in Islam, were they not trying to find justification for going to war against it.
Upon surfing around different blogs, I had wondered what my old "friend" SDB was up to... he hadn't been linking to me for a while, and those twin shibboleths (anti-pseudonymity and TransProg) had died down as topics of debate over the last while. So I headed on over.

Some things never change.

Rothschild presents the case as a choice of two alternatives: go to war in Iraq, or stay home and be at peace. I see it as these two alternatives: go to war in Iraq, or stay home and wait for the war to come to us. There will be war; it's only a question of where it will be fought, and who will do the dying. Innocents will die, if for no other reason than because our enemies do not care about killing innocents. Our choice is not whether to spare innocents; it is to choose whether it will be our innocents who do the dying. All other things being equal, I'd prefer it wasn't.
Hesiod has done a good job of dealing with this argument from one end (why would Saddam attack us?) and Scott Ritter has done a good job of dealing with it on the other end (how could Saddam attack us?) So I'll let it be for now, except to note that he's (still!) operating from assumptions that are far from proven.

(He then brings up the question of constitutionality, but Jeff Cooper is the authority there, so I'll just link to him and let that be as well.)

Unfortunately, it seems that our little back-and-forth session hasn't really affected his arguments one whit. He quotes Matthew Rothschild (the target of this article) as saying this:

International law is quite clear: Country A cannot attack Country B unless Country B has already attacked Country A or is about to attack Country A. Iraq has not attacked the United States. And it's not about to. Saddam, as brutal as he is, loves to cling to power. He knows that attacking the United States would be suicidal.

Actually, under international law, Saddam Hussein may have a better case for attacking the United States today than Bush has for attacking Iraq, since Bush is threatening an imminent war against Iraq. But no one wants to hear that!
None of this is substantially incorrect- that concept of "defense, not attack" has been around since, yes, the Treaty of Westphalia, and is a bedrock principle of the United Nations Charter. Rothschild even has a legitimate point with that latter paragraph, as unsettling as it might be to those who believe that the United States has the authority to preemptively attack whomever it wishes.

Steven, unfortunately, doesn't agree, and revives several common SDB arguments to back that up:

Unfortunately, this argument is also totally wrong, because imminent military attack is far from the only reason that such wars, big or small, take place. I suspect Rothschild probably objects to all the cases where such wars have been fought for other reasons, but that's beside the point. Ignoring his sensibilities and looking at the actual practice of war, imminent attack on self is far from the only acceptable justification. There are several others.
Rothschild probably does object to those other wars. And? He'd be justified in doing so. Odd little bait-and-switch... Steven switches the normative for the empirical. International law doesn't ignore that other reasons for war exist, it merely proscribes them, just as national law doesn't pretend that motives for assault don't exist.

What are these "other reasons", though? Let's see:

First, it is considered acceptable to go to war to defend an ally or to satisfy a treaty obligation to an ally. Second, it is considered acceptable to go to war against a nation which consistently and unrepentantly refuses to carry out its obligations under treaties it has signed. All diplomacy is backed by the threat of force, but that requires the willingness to apply force when all other means of persuasion have failed. Finally, "self defense" covers far more territory than simply the issue of "imminent attack".
Hrm... well, let's see. The first case is pretty simple, and perfectly allowable- it falls under the category of "self-defense", exchanging a collective for a single nation.

The second case is a little trickier, but if it's a question of security, it actually still fits under the concept of collective defense. If one nation enters into a collective security agreement and then exploits it, that can threaten the security of other nations. This could possibly justify some sort of retaliation. Rarely if ever does that retaliation include actual warfare, though... the threat is usually the cutting off of trade ties or breaking off of collective security agreements. This threat is a very serious one; an isolated country is dangerously weak. Yes, there are cases where breaking a treaty might provoke violence, but it's telling that Steven fails to name a scenario where this has actually legitimately happened in the past, that wasn't condemned by international law, and that doesn't fit under the heading of "collective response to an attack on a member" . In any case, this is kind of a bait 'n switch as well, because there's no way that failing to live up to obligations prompts the invasion and eviction of the legitimate state, and therefore is inappropriate as a defense of an invasion of Iraq.

Third is this notion that "self defense" covers far more territory than "imminent attack". Indeed it does- but you can't go to war over it, or else everybody and his dog would be attacking their neighbours, under the rubric that it's "self-defense". The entire point of having an international system is so that arms-race cycles of "self-defense" don't turn into massive conflagrations. If somebody is making threatening noises, then you can complain to international bodies, cut off diplomatic ties, move troops around on the off chance that they really do invade, get your allies to gently suggest to the other party that attacking is a really bad idea. You can't, however, invade them first.

But all of that is moot, because there isn't any such beast as "international law", in the sense that he invokes it.
This was accompanied by links to earlier articles. I think I'll do the same. Failing that, go read Yuval Rubenstein decimate this line of argument. (Permalinks not working... do a page search for "According to Steven den Beste" and you'll find it). Yuval was responding to the very articles that Steven linked to, so it's quite relevant, and definitely asks some questions that Steven has yet to answer outside of referencing a quickie response from G. Hill that was quickly and decisively rebutted in Yuval's comment section.
Furthermore, for the United States to take this aggressive action without the approval of the U.N. Security Council would be a violation of the U.N. charter, which the United States has ratified.
Again, true, and oddly not contradicted by Steven's response:

I think you'd be hard pressed to find any organization whose members give more lip service and less actual compliance with the terms of its charter. I don't consider the UN charter to be binding on the US any longer because few other nations on Earth bother obeying it, either. To play a game by the rules when nearly everyone else is cheating is idiocy.
Indeed.. nobody wants to play the sucker. Odd, though, because extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and I'm not seeing anything even remotely resembling that (nor, actually, variations of this particular argument on his website.) This is certainly an extraordinary claim, and prompts a simple response- if the U.S. is not bound by the charter, then why be a member? Why claim the presidency of the Security Council, and why participate in the workings of the U.N. or any aspect of it at all? After all, as long as the U.S. is a signatory to the charter it is bound by it to the extent that it is constitutional, so if the U.S. should not be bound by the charter, then shouldn't it withdraw from the United Nations?

(For that matter, who exactly is breaking the charter, and why? Steven argued there were "other reasons for war"... if others are breaking the core principles of the Charter, then why exactly should we believe that those "other reasons" don't come into play?)

In any case, there's a simple answer: some parts of the Charter are followed and enforced more strictly than others, and obeying those that are followed and enforced strictly doesn't make you a sucker. Disobeying them, on the other hand, makes everybody else suckers. Hence Rothschild's valid argument- nations don't go invading each other and changing each other's governments- when they do, they're rightly condemned by everybody else. That includes the United States.

There's more, of course, but much of it falls under cultural generalizations and assertions that Hesiod and Ritter (as well as many others) have already addressed (those interested in the former can go here, and those interested in the latter should google up the guy and will easily come across lots of interesting stuff- this is a good start) so I'll just leave it at that. One last quotation, though:

"killing" doesn't equate to "murder". Not all killing is murder, and the death toll in war isn't "mass murder". It's not that we're going to send in the 82nd Airborne to go in and round up and slaughter Iraq civilians just because we want them dead, as much as that it isn't possible to fight a war without at least some civilians getting in the way and becoming victims of it.

Perhaps that, too, is still unacceptable. But if that is true, it would be equally true of all wars, anywhere, fought for any reason at all. When, exactly, would Rothschild ever support any war?
Killing isn't necessarily murder; sometimes killing is sadly necessary if a war is necessary. The reverse is also true, however: if a war is unnecessary (a distinction Steven misses), then those deaths are unnecessary; and if people die unnecessarily in a necessary war, then those deaths remain unnecessary. Whether an invasion of Iraq is necessary or not is the question at hand here. If it isn't, there will be a lot of unnecessary blood on American hands. It may not be murder, but it sure as hell isn't just.

(Yeah, yeah, I know; I'm flogging a dead horse here, and I'm getting the rotting crud all over my hands. It's still worth addressing, though.)

Edit: fiddled around with the wording, fixed a link or two, etc., etc. No substantial additions, except a link to G.Hill's response and the subsequent message board discussion.
In my best Blaxsploitation voice:

I'd make a comment about Mickey Kaus and Matthew Hoy and the rest, but I think at this point that, for Krugman, they're half the fun. I wonder if he ever thought that he'd be this big back in his days writing pro-globalization articles for Slate?

Hey, maybe that's why Kaus has such a hate-on for the guy! Krugman moved on up to the prestige and influence of a NYT column, but Kaus is stuck writing an embattled weblog for Slate. That's gotta suck.
Well, this is interesting:

Quiz for the Bush-Basher Brigade
1. The Big Question. President Bush should:

A) Declare war on the House of Saud.
B) Close the US Embassy in Riyadh, expel the Saudi ambassador, and state that the House of Saud is our enemy, but not make war on them.
C) Make demands, but not back the demands up with any threat of force or retaliation.
D) Declare the House of Saud our enemy and do nothing else.
E) Other

If you choose E) you must explain, IN TWENTY-FIVE WORDS OR LESS, what the other option is.

I suggest that if you cannot forthrightly answer this question, directly and without evasion, you are nothing but a kvetching, irrational child, and should shut the hell up and let the grownups get on with fighting the war.
I'll take E) Horribly mock those who think that policy should consist of sound bites.

What the hell is this? This is policy analysis, not a contest for the new Meow Mix slogan. Is Dean not able to handle longer arguments, or is this some sort of bizarre attempt to conserve space in his comments section? Sure, I can appreciate and understand why those who peddle simplistic arguments want to attack their opponents for not doing the same thing. It doesn't mean that they should artificially limit themselves, either by picking one of those choices (which contain assumptions that many critics don't share) or restricting themselves to a totally arbitrary word limit.

In any case, the quick answer would be that there already appears to be some change going on in Saudi Arabia; men and women are protesting side-by-side (with bare skin, no less), the religious police are under fire, and the House is under near-constant fire from domestic opponents. This implies that there may be change going on in Saudi, just as there is in Iran. No surprise: change does not always require the United States sending in soldiers, and if we can have change without chaos, so much the better.

Oh, and a government that uses terrorists as a weapons vector is as deterrable as a government that uses missiles. Just in case that comes up.
Antiwar.com uses a current article by Chris Hitchens in the Observer to trace his transformation from leftist to pro-war neo-conservative. They get some good hits in (especially when addressing the silly "you're wrong because some of those who feel the same can be criticized" argument), but it's more useful as an example of how radical leftists seem to be constantly reinventing themselves as neo-conservatives. David Brock's transformation from one to the other in college formed the opening (and the backdrop) for his indictment of neo-conservativism early this year, but he's hardly alone: David Horowitz and Hitchens himself are other prominent examples.

The question, of course, is why. Why would a radical leftist jump all the way to the other side of the spectrum, instead of simply becoming a moderate social democrat or liberal? What is it about neo-conservatism that prompts this sort of defection? For that matter, and this is a legitimate question... what the hell is neo-conservatism anyway, considering that its arguments, ideology, and goals seem to change more often than a runway model? It isn't libertarianism (quite), it isn't classical liberalism (quite), it isn't conservatism (quite), and it isn't especially religious (usually). Is it simply economic neoliberalism run amok within the political sphere? Is it just what David Brock described it as: a negative ideology, adopting whatever positions the left is against? Maybe, but how the hell can you formulate policy that way?

Perhaps the key aspect is its radicalism, or at least percieved radicalism. Neo-conservatism (whatever it is) gains a lot of its rhetorical power from the notion that "the liberal establishment" is running things, and that conservatism is embattled, endangered, and faces extinction. (Not to mention alliteration.) The supposedly liberal media and bureaucracy prevents the truly conservative character of the American population from coming to the fore- a conservative character that is the prime reason why the United States is (in their minds) the best country in the world. In turn, that status as the best country in the world legitimizes the United States as a "hyperpower"... not only is it legitimately powerful, but it is the only truly moral wielder of power, and therefore any organization which seeks to check that power is in-and-of itself immoral.

All well and good (although certainly debatable- any political philosophy includes differences of opinion)... but why on earth would any of this attract leftists? Well, it may be that sense of being embattled and under siege. The radical left, or at least some of those on the radical left, define themselves by the struggle against the forces of the establishment. If that establishment holds some of the same views as the leftists themselves (or at least variations of those views), though, then what exactly are they setting themselves against? And what happens when (as often happens) they find themselves on the same side of an argument as those from the opposite side of the general spectrum on an issue (such as would happen between, say, social conservatives and radical feminists on the issue of pornography?)

More to the point (and this goes back to a controversial but still illustrative section of Brock's book), what happens when the anti-establishment character of a leftist sees the liberal or left establishment actually silence a conservative? There's a big contradiction here- the left is supposed to treasure people's rights, including the right to free speech and free assembly. That student might react badly so much so that they might apply their radicalism and anti-establishmentism in a completely new direction, coming from the right instead of the left. Encouraged by their new friends on the right, they still get to fight the establishment, only they see a whole new establishment to be fought. This is what happened with Brock, and he's only one guy who happened to switch again to liberalism and write a book about it. How many neo-conservatives didn't switch back and wouldn't admit they were wrong if they did?

There's also an important nationalistic element, especially nowadays. It's partially that "best country in the world" stuff, but I think there's more to it than that- neo-cons often pull out rhetoric about the evils of internationalism and international government, yet are hardly libertarians- they acknowledge the importance and necessity of the nation-state. (Heck, look at "TransProg".) It was always present and has a lot to do with the relatively hawkishness of many neo-cons, many of whom seem to fervently believe that there's no way the United States can lose a conflict, retconning history to make it seem like Vietnam was only due to liberal squishiness. It doesn't really include the disturbing racial aspects of nationalism, though- it seems to be rooted in the American ideological conception of a nation, rather than an ethnocentric one. (Hence the hatred of multiculturalism and the obsession with immigrants being assimilated into the dominant culture, whether that culture is American or British or Canadian or whatever.)

Ok, whatever. Why is this important? It's important because right now, whatever it is, neo-conservatism happens to be (ironically) the dominant ideology right now, especially on the blogosphere. A lot of people get all offended when they're called "libertarians", replying that they don't share that movement's obsession with individual property rights and individuality. Perhaps, but the question remains about what that dominant ideology is, and neo-conservatism seems to be the only one that fits the profile. After, all, what else could there be? It ain't liberalism, it ain't social conservatism, fiscal conservatism doesn't begin to explain all of it, there's a nationalistic and somewhat imperialistic element that flies in the face of the notoriously isolationist tendencies of libertarians, it sure as heck isn't leftist, and outside of some heated rhetoric it isn't fascist either. The one thing it certainly is, though, is astoundingly hostile to the left.

It's consistent and thus classifiable, but it doesn't fit into any of these common categories (and no, Steven, "engineerism" doesn't work either), thus prompting a rather puzzled reaction from those of us who don't agree with it and work against it. I like the word "conservatarian", but it's obviously not appropriate, and the longer this ideology wields power and influence the more difficult the job of figuring it out becomes.
There's something incredibly ironic about the author of "The Satanic Verses" coming out against the invasion of Iraq. He makes some legitimate points (both about the problems with Anti-Americanism and with some legitimate causes of it), and I might look at it in more detail later.
Found on Letter from Gotham:

It is quite possible for Saddam Hussein to conclude that the United States could be severely damaged by a series of nuclear detonations in American cities. It would be absolutely rational for Saddam to conclude that he should string the world along while arming terrorist organizations whose sole purpose is to do just this. He would be thoroughly justified in believing that the US reaction would be to scurry around hysterically and mount an ineffectual military response.

He would be absolutely wrong to believe this. We would wipe him out in short order. But it wouldn’t be irrational for him to come to the wrong conclusions, and--we can't afford to test this thesis.
Odd definition of "rational" there. On what basis would he build this belief? The concept of rationality assumes that actors don't pull actions and beliefs out of thin air; they actually look at what's happened, interpret it, and react according to that interpretation. Considering that, what possible reason would Saddam have to believe that the "US reaction would be to scurry around hysterically and mount an ineffectual military response"? Other than its convenience in supporting Diane's theory? The U.S. is itching for a reason to get him, most of the world's objections are based on the idea that the U.S. needs a reason, Saddam using any sort of WMD would constitute just such a reason, and the world community has shown that it has no qualms about acting against Saddam when it is supported by international saction (witness the Gulf War.)

I commented on the sort of risk/reward analysis that Saddam would likely do earlier, and echoed Hesiod's conclusion that using terrorists to nuke the U.S. would be of such great risk for such weak rewards that under no definition of rationality would Saddam attempt such a thing. Saddam would have to be either an idiot or insane to supply possibly-hostile terrorists with bombs that could be traced back to him, and the current pseudo-debate over invasion due to the possibility that he might theoretically attack at some point in the future shows that he has zero reason to give the U.S. a reason to invade...

unless they're already about to do it anyway. Want to talk risk? Two words: Cornered and Desperate.

Update: Jim Henley, the target of this post, also responded to it. His point was less about the question of the rationality of what Diane proposed, and more the simple observation that deterrence doesn't usually fail as long as there is proper communication, which minimizes possible miscalculation. Personally, I think that the unspoken communication of the prior actions of the U.S. is pretty damned clear in-and-of itself. Henley, however, also makes a legitimate point in that ensuring the rational behavior of Saddam is the last thing the current administration wants (which is why the recent Iraqi invitations of inspectors from both the U.S. and U.N. is only further cementing world opinion against the U.S.)