Thursday, January 02, 2003

Hrm... it would appear that there has been another response to Marshall's piece, this time from PejmanPundit. Like Oxblog, he has some points, but they don't seem to really point where he thinks they do:

(I hate point-by-point, and don't call this a "fisking", but it seems appropriate:)

Josh Marshall believes that the recent elections of Gerhard Schroeder in Germany and the win of President-elect Roh in South Korea mean that "hostile reactions to America's newly strident and confrontational stance in the world are becoming an important force in world politics and an important force in the domestic politics of many of our allies."

This analysis is as old as dirt, and has been repeated in one form or another virtually since the Bush Administration came into office. And it is all wet.
Here we have the first problem; the security situation in the United States was very different before and after 9/11 in terms of the actions and perception of the Bush administration. They're 180 degrees from each other, except on the issues like Star Wars where old policy goals are being retrofitted for the War on Terror (or Whatever). Pejman is therefore saying that the world reaction to the United States has gone along with it both before and after these changes, despite several (like prioritization of terrorism) being practically opposite. Nor, for that matter, does he address the pre-9/11 situation; the post is entirely based on current events. So even if it's all wet now, it may not have been. Pejman overreached.

Marshall, of course, fails completely to point out that Schroeder's government is one of the most unpopular in German history, that it trails the Christian Democrats in polls by as much as 22 points in the polls, and that the serial promise-breaking Gerhard Schroeder has engaged in after the election has made him a national joke, and has made Germans who voted for Schroeder feel angry and betrayed. Just out of curiosity, if the election of Schroeder is an indictment of "America's newly strident and confrontational stance in the world," is Schroeder's sudden unpopularity a vindication of the American stance?
As I'm not as familiar with German politics as some, I don't know whether or not the failure of Schroeder's party after the election has anything to do with anti-Americanism or not. Unfortunately, judging by this response, neither does Pejman. In actuality, though, it might prove the very argument that Pejman seeks to disprove: that anti-Americanism saved the election for Schroeder. It's quite probable that anti-Americanism is at a low buzz right now thanks to the handoff to the U.N., and the Schroeder government is, of course, in power right now, so it has little need to antagonize the Americans and every reason to work with them. Without that anti-Americanism, the polls might have dropped, as people focus more on Schroeder's government itself and its failings. Unfortunately, then, Pejman's paragraph means nothing; it could mean that anti-Americanism is unimportant, or that it's critical. It's a washout.

As for Roh's election, Marshall refuses to consider the possibility that America's supposed unpopularity in the Korean peninsula may have more to do with the fact that South Koreans who personally remember America's assistance of their country during the Korean War are dying, and that the younger generation, which obviously has no personal memory of the assistance rendered by America to South Korea, is now the major decision-making force in South Korean politics. Additionally, Marshall fails to consider the fact that the reason Kim Dae Jung's "sunshine" policy keeps getting a new lease on life (its newest lease being granted by Roh's election) is that South Koreans, being bonded by blood and family to the North, desperately want to have some form of rapprochement with the North. This sentiment may very well have helped elect Roh no matter who the American President, and no matter what the American policy on the global stage is.
I'm personally suspicious of "Demographics are Destiny" arguments such as these; there's a reason history books exist, and the example of Americans that are still quite bitter over the civil war despite it being ages gone implies that this process of historical amnesia is a much less compelling idea than it would seem. Indeed, Pejman fails to address the obvious fact that the war never ended, which would be as much a spur to rememberance if anything could be.

Pejman is closer when he mentions the desire of "rapprochement with the North", but fails to extend it to its logical foreign policy conclusion: that when this desire conflicts with American policy and rhetoric, it can fan the flames of anti-Americanism. It's not like this is a new thing, after all; rather a lot of anti-Americanism around the world (and even in the Americas) arises when the United States' foreign policy conflicts with the interests and desires of the citizenry of the country in question.

Pejman also engages in a "takedown" that doesn't work in-and-of itself:

And of course, Marshall doesn't allow the facts to get in the way of his invective. He offers us the following appealing scenario:

Think how much time and diplomatic capital might have been saved if the White House had figured out three, or six, or even nine months earlier that it's guns-blazing-screw-the-UN policy toward regime change just wouldn't work.

Well, the White House didn't take a "guns-blazing-screw-the-UN policy toward regime change" towards regime change. Instead, and rather cleverly, the White House helped create the diplomatic conditions that made a unanimous Security Council vote in favor of a new UN resolution on Iraq possible. And of course, it is entirely typical that this triumph receives no mention whatsoever. When the Bush Administration acts in a unilateral manner, it is bad. When it acts in a multilateral manner, it is ignored.
There's a timing mixup here; Josh was obviously talking about the summer when the Bush administration was arguing that it can and will invade Iraq unilaterally if it chooses, whereas Pejman is talking about the here-and-now, completely missing the point. The only way this can be resolved is if Pejman is actually arguing the "the Bush administration was playing everybody all along" argument, which is possible, but contradicted by Marshall's own work in Washington Monthly showing that the Bush administration is not nearly as skilled and Machiavellian as it and it's supporters like to portray it as. Other media sources (Time articles and the like) point to Marshall's conclusion being the accurate one: that the Bush administration burned a lot of political capital and diplomatic bridges with its rhetoric before it realized that the U.N. needs to be involved, and that unilateral invasion is something that is best avoided. That is, of course, what the multilateralists had been saying all along.

Besides, has everybody forgotten that Bush actually (and embarassingly) had to redefine the phrase "regime change" in order to acknowledge the possibility that Iraq might be as good as its word?

As for that "Bush just gets pissed on all the time" bit... please. That would be true if he were entirely and sincerely multilateral when it comes to Iraq, but that just ain't the case. The administration has been waffling back and forth between arrogating the right to decide when a U.N. resolution has been violated and saying that they'll listen to the Council on this. It has called Iraq "in material breach" dozens of times, despite those proclamations often involving issues (such as the no-fly zone) that have absolutely nothing to do with WMDs and that are only peripheral to the U.N. resolutions involving Iraq. The rhetoric of both the left and right acknowledges that the U.S. is probably going to go to war with Iraq no matter what, which makes the U.N. inspections a cheap charade. Why on earth shouldn't people criticize Bush for that? Faux-multilateralism is not multilateralism, no matter how convenient it is for the Republicans and their fellow travellers.

I really don't expect this meme to change anytime soon. After all, why should it when it fools at least some of the people some of the time (contrary to the old aphorism, this is a cynically effective political tactic)? But so much of the meme is wrong, and so much of it fails to stand up to the facts. One would expect those facts to at least get some hearing by left-of-center pundits like Josh Marshall. Then again, intellectual honesty must seem supremely boring when compared to the opportunity for cheap, rip-roaring partisanship.
Nah. Too easy.

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