Sunday, August 29, 2004

Holy Crap

The Justice department just got caught trying to censor a supreme court decision.

Worse than that, it was in the context of the ACLU's battle with the Patriot act, which means that they just tried to censor (for reasons of "national security") information about censorship (for reasons of "national security"). Here's the redacted paragraph:

"The danger to political dissent is acute where the Government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect 'domestic security.' Given the difficulty of defining the domestic security interest, the danger of abuse in acting to protect that interest becomes apparent."
Mindblowing, huh?

Thanks to the Memory Hole for catching this.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Liberal Hawks and "GreyProp"

Ok, I have access for a little while, so here's a longer piece.

Atrios wrote a very insightful piece yesterday about the problem with many liberals that supported the invasion of Iraq- that despite the clear reality that there were no weapons of mass destruction or indication that it'd accomplish any of its goals, those who opposed it at the time are marginalized. Not were, are. Atrios (echoing Tim Noah) considers that insane. Atrios described it as a liberal "testosterone test". Some people got mad at him, largely liberal hawks like ogged who are pissed at Atrios "hounding liberals who supported the war", but he's more right than wrong. Another, Jack O'Toole, asks "does [Atrios] really believe that people like me -- people who've spent our lives fighting for the same progressive ideals that he holds dear -- could possibly think that way?"

Atrios drew the distinction. I don't. Sorry, ogged and O'Toole, but your attitudes weren't part of the problem, they WERE the problem.

The key issue, however, isn't Iraq and never was. The problem is unity and division. I've brought this up many times, but the key strength of the right and key weakness of the left is that the right gets to define all the issues, and thus remains publicly united when it comes to dealing with both domestic and foreign policy issues. People on the right disagree, but they agree to table their disagreements when dealing with the "other guy"... the liberals and the left. Part of this is due to the visceral loathing that most have for both the liberal left, but it goes further than that, and it gets back to liberal hawks.

Many (if not practically all) Liberal hawks (along with "centrist" liberals) are naturally focused on legitimacy. They want to be part of the discussion, but it's a discussion that the right has framed. They are, further, either unwilling to change that framing, or are ignorant that it is even taking place. Thus, in order to gain legitimacy, they need to accept the framing concepts that the right has built up. This means that they're essentially doomed, of course, because they're fighting on foreign terrain... but if you see this as a choice between relevance or irrelevance, then anybody sane would choose the former, right?

Unfortunately for them, the right has little interest in actually dialoguing with them. What they provide is legitimacy for the right's arguments... the classic "even the liberal [insert name here]" argument that we're all familiar with. It's the classic intelligence concept of "grey (or black) propaganda"... you know that your opponents aren't going to listen to you, so you get some that is presumably "neutral" or even "opposed" to make your arguments for you. It works spectacularly well, as we've all seen, especially when they're doing it of their own free will. They are quoted and used to the extent that this role is necessary, then are thrown away. Of course, they're all familiar with this too, but the argument remains... isn't it better to be relevant?

The weapon that they provide, however, is aimed squarely at those who could actually change the framework of the debate. There are, naturally, a lot of people on both the liberal and radical left who don't accept the framework, and attempt to break out of it. The radicals pretty much exist entirely for this purpose... it is their raison d'etre, and whatever disagreements that liberals have with them, it's an important role. (Yes, this includes the protest movement.) Even relatively "normal" liberals, however, often question a lot of the conventional wisdom and accepted assumptions that provide the framework of debates. Were the left in the United States akin to the right (or, for that matter, the left in, say, Canada... the situation is quite a bit different there), this would mean a tug of war between framers on the left and framers on the right, with the actual debate being held somewhere in between. This is where that legitimacy becomes critical for the American right, however, because they use those liberal hawks to ensure their framing assumptions are dominant. The same does not exist on the left, because the right simply doesn't have the same numbers or kinds of legitimacy-granting "opponents".

The practical upshot? The right (nominally the Republicans, but of course it's bigger than that) depended on their "Saddam was going to build WMDs and ruin the region" story to support the invasion, and by selectively choosing which liberals to praise by making the "proper" arguments for a "proper" dialogue, they ensured that those on the left who depend on access and acceptance by their rivals on the right will grant the legitimacy they need and force out those who are looking at the situation through a different set of assumptions. They knew that arguments by self-named "liberals" would carry much greater weight as classic grey (or, perhaps, black) propaganda. They put the machine into motion, the usual suspects came through for them, and everything seemed to be going swimmingly until they had the error of their assumption shoved brutally in their faces.

This creates a problem for the right, but they still control the frame. It creates a much BIGGER problem for liberal hawks, because the one source of power they have-- legitimacy-- is utterly threatened. Thus we get to where we are, where we end up with the bizarre situation where you can't be taken "seriously" unless you made a massive mistake. The fundamental problem of the left cannibalizing itself remains, and as long as it does, this sort of DoubleThink isn't going anywhere.

Fortunately, the solution is simple, and somewhat embodied in something O'Toole said. He said "When demagogues like Andrew Sullivan challenge the motives (i.e., the patriotism) of the liberal wing of the Democratic party, I stand shoulder to shoulder with my friends". It's a good start, but it doesn't go far enough. What liberals (not merely Democrats) need to do is accept that trying to leech acceptability from those who are opposed to everything you stand for is a mug's game. You're being used and thrown away. When somebody like Scott Ritter comes up and says "I was right, and you didn't believe me", the general liberal response should be and must be "you were right, we were wrong, we apologize to those whom we so thoroughly denigrated before the war and pledge to put away the right's convenient filters and listen to you in the future". Then, when the time comes, somebody other than Paul Krugman needs to speak up and say "these people have a point, they're not 'un-American', and we'll stand up for them and pay close attention to what they have to say, no matter what kind of flak we get."

Just stop being tools. It doesn't mean you have to agree with ANSWER or whatever, but stop being tools. It's demeaning, and it's why liberals continue to struggle.

Edit: One other thing. O'Toole said that cheap shots should be left to people like the RNC. No. Wrong. Utterly wrong. This "holier than thou" attitude is one of the best GreyProp weapons out there, because its melding with liberal equivocation lends even the most scurrilous attack credibility by being even dimly associated with those who "behave better". ("Sure, Rush said some horrible stuff, but this other liberal guy said something like it, and he's a LIBERAL and above this sort of thing. Maybe Rush is just 'overstating' an essential truth, and those who are attacking him are just covering their asses.")

If you're a centrist liberal who has been playing the legitimacy game, then you're hurting people you should be helping. Period. Take your medicine and start laying off the "own goals".

Saturday, August 21, 2004


Interesting piece in Haaretz today about the increasing isolation and irrelevance of both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, describing both of them as being inside "Muqatas".

The term "Muqata" has long ceased to designate that amputated structure in Ramallah where the ghostly Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat lives. "Muqata" is already a metaphor for an existential state. For example: Yesterday we were free men, young bachelors will say before their marriage, and now we are in the Muqata. Or, the Likud Party has put Prime Minister Ariel Sharon into a Muqata - that is, it has shackled him. It is even possible to illustrate the new use of the term: Sharon in Metzudat Ze'ev, Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv, as all around him, is besieged like the original Muqata...

The clearest example is Arafat, who with being confined in the Muqata became irrelevant. The reason for this is that no one among the "relevant voices" wants to talk to him any more, neither Sharon nor United States President George W. Bush...[h]is long speech last Wednesday immediately elicited a scornful reaction. In Haaretz it appeared only on page 6 and not at the top of the page. That is, Arafat, too, has become a metaphor for irrelevance.

It is possible that last week Sharon also entered the Muqata of the Likud and he too is beginning to become a metaphor for irrelevance. After all, if a prime minister like him does not manage to convince his party to support him, neither with respect to the disengagement plan nor about bringing the Labor Party into the coalition, that is neither with respect to the new ideology nor to the tactic aimed a accomplishing it, then perhaps, as is said of someone in a different Muqata, "He no longer controls the street."
They also added that Bush is in a different sort of "Muqata", as he cannot interfere in either Sharon or Arafat's fate right now... the election and the Iraqi quagmire make that impossible.

Unfortunately that leaves, well, nobody to deal with the situation. Which is probably as the Likud voters wanted it, but it doesn't do much for regional or Israeli security and stability, does it?

Wednesday, August 18, 2004


I don't have much time, so I'll make this quick. The big news yesterday was Bush's huge proposed reshuffling of American forces; from so-called "old Europe" and South Korea to (among others) the Central Asian "-stans" (like Uzbekistan and Khazakhstan). Some of the commentary I've been reading on this proposed reshuffling focuses on how it's supposed to "punish" countries like Germany that opposed the U.S. in Iraq and reward countries like Uzbekistan who gave their complete support.

There is some truth to that, but I think it runs a little deeper. The greatest strategic threat to these central Asian states (other than their own flawed-at-best systems of governance) is the growing numbers and militancy of the Islamic populations in the region. Many of them are looking north to the conflicts in Chechnya between broadly Islamic rebels and the Russian army and are seeing their own futures. Since the United States' interdiction-ahhpy attitude towards Communism has been transplanted to Islamic militants, it makes sense that the United States would be establishing bases there, especially considering that these states would be ground zero for any "clash of civilizations".

(Which is what is usually meant when people talk about the "War on Terrorism"... you don't establish bases when you're fighting a noun, but you do when you're building up for Huntington's war. Of course, according to his latest articles in Foreign Policy that enemy is actually hispanics... but I digress.)

The most disturbing part, though, is the already-revealed movement of troops out of South Korea. Don't get me wrong; I don't believe that North Korea is really all that interested, currently, in invading or destroying the South. They're not that crazy, and never have been, posturing aside. What gets me is the signals it sents to East Asia, saying that the United States' interests in the Middle East and Central Asia are to be prioritized, and East Asia is expected to fend for itself. Japan and Korea are both going to get the message that North Korea is their problem, and China must feel like a kid in a candy store.

The result? Well, as ol' Niccolo often said, there are two ways it can go. First, the region could start seeing serious strategic conflict and competition, with China moving to consolidate its power in the region and North Korea becoming more aggressive (They aren't crazy, but aren't going to ignore "low-hanging fruit" any more than the neo-cons did in Iraq). Second, if they see the threat as largely coming from the outside, the area could start coalescing together- first through economic regionalism, then perhaps regional security arrangement. Either way, it's increasingly likely that Japan will remilitarize. This is critically important for the U.S.-Japanese relationship, because the United States won't be able to hold their military support over Japan when they get into disputes over the highly capitalized, high value labour and products that both specialize in. Indeed, I can see tension forming over trade relationships with China, considering both benefit from access to the large Chinese labour pool and markets.

Remember, folks, the Middle East is NOT the only game in town. It's probably not even the most important one, current conflicts over oil and religion regardless. South Asia probably holds that distinction, but that's something I'll have to get into later.

(As you can tell, for those who were wondering, this is NOT an abandoned blog. Far from it.)