Archive for September, 2005
Matt makes good points about Jon Chait’s failed attempt to defend his initial support for the Iraq war. I have a couple whacks of my own. Perhaps the most problematic aspect of Chait’s argument, to me, is his use of the over-inclusiveness of the category of WMDs:
I should probably note at this point that my argument for the Iraq war, unlike that of many liberals, did not hinge upon democratization. I wasn’t sure creating a democracy in Iraq right away was feasible, and I figured that the Bush administration would settle for a stable, less repressive but still illiberal government in Baghdad. My rationale hinged upon Saddam Hussein’s failure to disarm. While the weapons of mass destruction rationale has gotten an even worse rap than the democracy rationale, I still believe the logic made the most sense given what we knew at the time. Let me explain.
The truce terms of the first Gulf war called for Saddam to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction program under the watch of international inspectors. Throughout the 1990s, Saddam played a cat-and-mouse game with the inspectors, alternately extending and withdrawing cooperation, depending mostly on how much diplomatic and military pressure he faced. It reached a crisis point in 1998, when Iraq stopped cooperating altogether. In response, the Clinton administration ordered three days of bombing, but–in part due to the impeachment–essentially let the issue drop. And, yet, even as Clinton left office, the reasons for enforcing the truce terms remained compelling. Iraq under Saddam posed a major regional menace and harbored ambitions to obtain a nuclear weapon. Saddam’s dreams of regional domination and history of irrational aggression suggested that allowing him to obtain such a weapon would be extremely dangerous.
Now, I will concede Chait’s point that it was not knowable at the time that Saddam had no WMDs. I certainly thought he did. The problem is that most of the weapons that are grouped under the WMD rubric are weapons that 1)simply did not pose any significant threat to American citizens, and 2)are no more (and in some case significantly less) powerful than weapons that can be constructed with materials that you can purchase at any Home Depot. Saddam having stockpiles of mustard gas or similar weapons is obviously not an adequate reason to go to war. Chait–like TNR generally–seems to realize this, and therefore throws nuclear weapons into this mix. I agree that if Iraq’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon was imminent, this would be a serious security risk that would justify the war. The problem, though, is that it was abundantly clear that Saddam was nowhere near acquiring a nuclear weapon; this is not just 20-20 hindsight but was obvious at the time. And what’s additionally maddening is that Chait doesn’t really argue otherwise; he relies on the same rhetorical ponzi scheme that has always been used to justify the war. Chait, rather than arguing that Saddam appeared to have a serious nuclear program, instead conflates intentions with capacities–a hallmark of Bush foreign policy that (as was noted in a recent cover story in Chait’s magazine) is an abject disaster. Chait is right that Hussein would have liked to have nuclear weapons. And I would like to have a billion dollars and be dating Scarlett Johansson, something that is about equally likely to happen. And the vague possibility that Saddam might acquire dangerous weapons at some point in the future certainly did not justify an immediate, nearly unilateral war.
Another thing to note is that Chait is, I think, quite right to oppose The Nation‘s quasi-pacifist foreign policy, and is correct in pointing out their blunders. But by tying being a “liberal hawk” to an ongoing defense of a disastrous war against a country that posed no security threat to the United States, he plays into the hands of his bete noires (as well as demonstrating the fundamental uselessness of the “hawk” vs. “dove” distinction.) The difficult task of the Democrats is to develop a foreign policy that allows for necessary interventions while being something different than reflexively supporting every military action of the United States government. Chait’s attempt to argue that the Iraq war was justified in national security terms–something that is not only false in retrospect but was quite clearly wrong at the time–is not a helpful contribution to this project.
Jill mentions a protest at NYU over TA unionization, and I certainly agree that they should be strongly supported. However, it’s important to remember why TAs at NYU do not have the right to collectively bargain now. Eric Alterman:
When I debated Cornel West and Frances Fox Piven before a large audience at NYU, our introductions were preceded by a plea from graduate student union organizers to support their efforts to elicit decent pay and conditions. I tried to point out that those students who supported both Nader and the union might wish to concern themselves with the makeup of the presidentially appointed National Labor Relations Board. Well, in July of this year, the graduate students who stuck with Nader got what they apparently wanted. The Bush-controlled NLRB voted to reverse an earlier decision and deny all American graduate students the right to bargain collectively.
As I’ve mentioned before, it is correct that path dependencies have prevented the GOP from rolling back the core elements of the New Deal and Great Society. However, it cannot be emphasized enough that the modern regulatory state gives a large amount of discretion to the executive. You don’t have to modify or repeal labor or civil rights legislation to make it a great deal less effective, and having Republican appointees at the NLRB makes it much harder for labor to organize without any changes in statutes. Which should again teach the obvious facts that 1)control of the presidency matters a great deal even if it’s hard to pass major progressive legislation, and 2)third party politics at the federal level is remarkably foolish and counterproductive.
There are four levels of hell inside the refugee city of the Superdome, home to about 15,000 people since Sunday. On the artificial-turf field and in the lower-level seats where Montrel sat sweltering with her family, a form of civilization had taken hold — smelly, messy, dark and dank, but with a structure. Families with cots used their beds as boundaries for personal space and kept their areas orderly, a cooler on one corner, the toys on another, almost as if they had come for fireworks and stayed too long.
The bathrooms, clogged and overflowing since Monday, announced the second level of hell, the walkway ringing the entrance level. In the men’s, the urinal troughs were overflowing. In the women’s, the bowls were to the brim. A slime of excrement and urine made the walkway slick. “You don’t even go there anymore,” said Dee Ford, 37, who was pushed in a wading pool from her flooded house to the shelter. “You just go somewhere in a corner where you can. In the dark, you are going to step in poo anyway.”
Water and electricity both failed Monday, and three pumps to pressurize plumbing have been no match “when the lake just keeps pushing it back at us,” said Maj. Ed Bush, the chief public affairs officer for the Louisiana National Guard.
“With no hand-washing, and all the excrement,” said Sgt. Debra Williams, who was staffing the infirmary in the adjacent sports arena, “you have about four days until dysentery sets in. And it’s been four days today.”
Bottled water was too precious to use for washing; adults get two bottles a day. Food, mostly Meals Ready-to-Eat, is dispensed in a different line. Many refugees told of waiting in line for hours only to be told no food was left.
Damn “refugees,” trying to claim the “sanctity” of “victum status”!
Walking about the perimeter of the Superdome, in brilliant sunshine and blistering heat, [Maj.] Bush could take no more than a few steps before angry and pleading residents clutched at him. An elderly woman could not get her thyroid medicine; another needed dialysis. A 3-week-old baby, clad only in a diaper, lay listless in her young mother’s arm. She had a fever.
“I know this sounds like a stupid question,” began a young woman wearing a “Home Sweet Louisiana” T-shirt, “but how are we supposed to go on as a community? As a people?”
“Be patient,” Maj. Bush answered. “Help is on the way.”
The president and the governor both asserted Wednesday that everyone would be moving to a spiffier football stadium. But although Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco had announced at 11 a.m. a plan to evacuate the Superdome to Houston’s Astrodome, Maj. Bush had received no information through mid-afternoon. By his estimate about 15,000 people remained in the Superdome, and more straggled in through the day, either wading in on foot or dropped off by a helicopter rescue effort that so far has plucked 3,000 people from the roofs of flooded homes.
Communication is spotty throughout New Orleans, which remains without power and swamped with warm, waist-high water in many places. Only one route is passable into the city and authorities have sealed it off to all but emergency vehicles, although a few media people managed to pass the checkpoint. On television, high-level officials said they hoped the evacuation would be complete in 48 hours. Public officials at the Superdome said they thought that was unrealistic. With water so high around the stadium, people can be moved only a few handfuls at a time on large-tired trucks, which will transport them to buses on the interstate.
Well, look, if you didn’t want to be exposed to serious diseases in hellish living conditions while waiting to be moved to another football stadium a few people at a time, you should have had the foresight to have a mother who could arrange for you to get a sinecure with a rapidly-declining conservative magazine…
The disaster is all the fault of big government. And the founders never intended that the Federal Government engage in public works projects. Presumably, Alexander Hamilton was a French Communist Islamofascist Moonbat spy, or, more likely, an invention of left-wing academia.
NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Forget insurance. My next guest says not one taxpayer dollar should go toward rebuilding the city of New Orleans (search).
Joining us now is Jack Chambless. He is the economics professor of Valencia Community College in Orlando.
Professor, why do you say that?
JACK CHAMBLESS, ECONOMICS PROFESSOR, VALENCIA COMMUNITY COLLEGE: Well, if we look at Article One, Section Eight of the United States Constitution (search) — and I encourage all Americans to look at that before we start opening up our tax coffers to pay for all of this — we have every obligation to provide for New Orleans in terms of charity, private charity from one person to the other.
But the founding fathers never intended, Article One, section Eight of the Constitution, never intended to provide one dollar of taxpayer dollars to pay for any disaster or anything that we might call charity. What we now have is the law of unintended consequences taking place, where FEMA (search) has come into New Orleans, a place where, ecologically, it makes no sense to have levees keeping the Mississippi River (search) from flooding into New Orleans, like it naturally should.
Now with FEMA bailing out Louisiana, bailing out Florida and lowering the overall cost of living in these places, we have people with no incentive to leave. And the law of unintended consequences means that more people are dying with every one of these storms. They’re becoming more and more expensive, more and more property loss, just because the federal government has violated the Constitution to provide for these funds.
For more Neil, see this by Radley Balko.
Jack Shafer indirectly destroys the Jonah Goldberg’s argument about “playing the class card”:
To be sure, some reporters sidled up to the race and class issue. I heard them ask the storm’s New Orleans victims why they hadn’t left town when the evacuation call came. Many said they were brokeÂ:”I live from paycheck to paycheck,” explained one woman. Others said they didn’t own a car with which to escape and that they hadn’t understood the importance of evacuation.
But I don’t recall any reporter exploring the class issue directly by getting a paycheck-to-paycheck victim to explain that he couldn’t risk leaving because if he lost his furniture and appliances, his pots and pans, his bedding and clothes, to Katrina or looters, he’d have no way to replace them. No insurance, no stable, large extended family that could lend him cash to get back on his feet, no middle-class job to return to after the storm.
This is the central issue. Nobody, of course, is arguing that anybody who is forced to evacuate–whether from a large mansion or a tiny one-bedroom apartment–is not suffering an awful fate. But there’s still a huge difference between people with insurance and the resources to start a new life, and people who have lost everything, and have no means to get it back. To pretend that there’s no difference between absolute and relative deprivation and that most of the media should continue to ignore the distinction –especially coming from someone as well-connected and priveleged as Goldberg–is morally obscene.