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Archive for November, 2006

A Response to (one of) My Critics

[ 0 ] November 21, 2006 |

Eric Martin in response to this post at TAPPED:

First things first: Payne and Farley are right to note that not finding WMD had a tangible upside. Not only did it relieve anxiety over Saddam’s destructive arsenal – and its potential use on our soldiers, or elsewhere – but it also, as Payne argued, offered evidence that policies of containment through inspections/sanctions could be “wildly successful.” That’s good to know. Further, and perhaps relatedly, the discovery of this colossal blunder undercut the likelihood of launching subsequent disastrous wars of transformation in the Muslim world. This is an unequivocal positive, despite the crestfallen Lawrence Kaplan.

But there was a down side – and not exclusively for the Republican Party. The failure to find WMD in Iraq has greatly tarnished our credibility on all matters of intelligence. This has hurt our ability to muster robust support for certain other non-proliferation strategies – as well as a host of other efforts in the GWOT. Credibility in intelligence matters is a valuable asset squandered at one’s peril (leaving aside questions of culpability in squandering such assets).

Further, and perhaps more importantly, the failure to find WMD led to an avalanche of cynicism, suspicion and mistrust about our actual motives for invading Iraq in the first place. This ‘revelation,’ as it were, has fueled the fires of anti-Americanism which has strengthened the hand of al-Qaeda and others that would commit violence in the name of Islam, while at the same time weakening our position in Iraq itself, and the Muslim world more generally speaking. The mission to win-over moderate Muslims, and lessen the intensity of anger within the hostile factions, suffered a significant setback as this story unfolded to our detriment.

Sure, but…

The cause of the loss of faith in US intelligence (and the loss of faith in the idea of the United States as a progressive force in world politics) is not the fact that weapons of mass destruction were absent in Iraq, but rather that US intelligence failed disastrously and that US motives in invading Iraq were, in fact, questionable. US intelligence services lost credibility because it made claims that could not be supported by the evidence at hand. In other words, people stopped believing US intelligence claims because the methods through which those claims were made were deeply flawed. In short, US credibility has come into question because, in fact, US claims were incredible. This is not a situation in which all the signs pointed to “YES!” and the WMD just happened not to turn up; we know now that the intelligence was politicized, the evidence was tenuous, and that the information we had could not justify the arguments the Bush administration made.

Similarly, the fact that US motives are in question is not because of the accidental failure to find WMD but, rather, because US motives in Iraq are incoherent and questionable at best. Even the supporters of the conflict cannot articulate a unified compelling narrative for why the war was fought. This was true even prior to the failure to discover WMD. People suspect our motives because our motives are suspicious. The failure to find WMD had only a minimal impact on the size of the coalition, a much smaller effect indeed than the development of the insurgency and the inability of the US to prevent chaos in Iraq.

Finally, I’m singularly uncompelled by the argument that “the failure to find WMD has made our mission in Iraq, and beyond, more problematic. We have incurred real costs as a result, both on the ground in Iraq and throughout the rest of the world, in the form of increased resistance, a greater reluctance to cooperate with our lead and greater doubt about our intentions as the world’s lone hegemon.” I don’t believe that a single insurgent has picked up a weapon because of the absence of WMD, or that their absence has motivated the withdrawal of a single coalition partner. In part, this is because I view the WMD claims (even if they had been true) as an exceptionally tendentious justification for the war to anyone other than the domestic US audience. How many partners joined the Coalition because of Colin Powell’s speech, as opposed to the number of liberal hawks that joined the cause? The only “real world cost” that I can perceive from the failure to find WMD in Iraq is that it might be more difficult to convince the rest of the world that Iran and North Korea have active nuclear programs. However, given the fact that the major players all seem to concur that Iran is pursuing a nuclear program, and that North Korea’s actions have rendered that question moot, I’d say that those are minimal costs, indeed.

Tax Cuts vs. Tax Deferments

[ 0 ] November 20, 2006 |

J. goes ballistic on suburban Virginians:

“But Allen was apparently successful in convincing voters that their taxes would go up if Webb was elected to the Senate. Almost two-thirds of voters questioned in the exit polls who said taxes were an extremely important issue said they voted for Allen.

‘I really don’t want my taxes raised,’ said Anne Harrell, 39, who voted for Allen in her Annandale precinct. ‘It’s the money that’s driving me.’

I want to shake these people and say, are you really that stupid? Do you really think the multi-billion dollar defense supplementals are free? Do you really think the BioWatch/BioShield billions are somehow written off as not adding to the debt? Do you enjoy watching the federal government grow larger as your local services shrink? Do you really think this deficit spending will never be repaid by YOU or your kids’ taxes? Me, me, me, me, me. I need more money so my kid can play his Playstation 3 on the 52 inch screen television in my McMansion. Screw the rest of you. But you have to hand it to the Repub politicians. They can sell a bill of goods to their sheep people – at least a percentage of them.

Amen. There must be some way for progressives to repackage the concept of tax cuts as tax deferments; the notion that, without unpopular (indeed, probably impossible) spending cuts, tax cuts simply lead the country deeper into debt. Of course, wingnuts will remain attached to the fantasy of supply side economics, and thus have truthiness on their side. Nevertheless, the idea that the stuff that people like costs money isn’t exactly counter-intuitive, and is accepted in large parts of the industrialized world. As J. points out, there’s also an obvious moral component to the idea that we should pay for the things that we buy, one that ought to appeal even to the family values crowd.

World Hello Day

[ 0 ] November 20, 2006 |

Aside from Christmas, I can’t think of a holiday more needlessly optimistic than World Hello Day, which will be observed in its proper obscurity tomorrow, as it has been every November 21 for the past 33 years. The holiday originated, according to its founders, during the October War of 1973 to urge world leaders to communicate instead of obliterating one another. The protocols of World Hello Day require participants to say “Hello” to at least ten people, with the expectation that all this spontaneous good cheer will somehow reverse the course of human existence as it spins in an ever-tightening spiral toward the drain.

Lots of people have publicly endorsed World Hallo Day over the years. I will not be joining them. To my way of thinking, World Hello Day completely interferes with my commitment to Pumpkin Pie Day, which I was planning to observe — in conjuntion with World Television Day — in curmudgeonly silence.

Smell the Glove

[ 0 ] November 20, 2006 |

Confederate Yankee has been eating paste again.

Let our soldiers use their massive advantages in firepower, training, and communications to take the fight to the enemy. Quit trying to fight a “nice” war. Such weakness does not result in a victory; to win a war the other side must realize that they cannot hope to win. It should go without saying, but if the other side doesn’t feel defeated, then it isn’t be defeated. Enable our soldiers to rely on their training and instincts and remove the overly cumbersome rules of engagement that restrict our soldiers to the point they are fighting a defensive war.

I didn’t think it was possible to pack 150 cliches into a 100-word paragraph, but Bob Owens never fails to satisfy.

. . . Tom Hilton takes a swing at the pinata as well — but he’s only bitter because Bob banned him first.

Judicial Activism For Me

[ 0 ] November 20, 2006 |

Mitt Romney goes to the next step in his program against an out-of-control state judiciary that had the un-American arrogance to scrutinize legislative enactments for their consistency with the state constitution:

Gov. Mitt Romney said Sunday he would ask the state’s highest court to order an anti-gay marriage amendment question onto the ballot if legislators fail to vote on the matter when they reconvene in January.

Romney said he would file a legal action this week asking a justice of the Supreme Judicial Court to direct the secretary of state to place the question on the ballot if lawmakers don’t vote directly on the question on Jan. 2, the final day of the session.

In case you had any doubts that the procedural objections to state judicial decisions that favor gay rights are any less farcical than most claims that opposition to Roe v. Wade is about “federalism.”

Profiting From Domestic Violence

[ 0 ] November 20, 2006 |

Roxanne:

Dear Judith Regan:

I’m leaning towards believing your explanation for why you would publish that murderer’s confession. Please consider putting your money where your mouth is and donate ALL NET PROCEEDS from the sale of OJ Simpson’s book to organizations that help women escape from living in abusive relationships.

Agreed. (Well, except for the “leaning towards believing her explanation” bit…)

…Worse, this is forcing me to agree with Christopher Hitchens. This is a good point:

Of the many things I can remember about the trial–one of them being a chat I had with a DNA specialist who told me the statistical odds against the blood being proof of guilt, which really weren’t “odds” at all–one detail that sticks in my mind was the incidental disclosure that Simpson can barely read or write. This is, in other words, not just a decision to publish “his” book. It is a decision, which must have been taken some time ago, to get such a book written and to get him to cooperate with it.

Hope that We Will Not Merely Endure, But that We Will Prevail

[ 0 ] November 20, 2006 |

Franklin Roosevelt beats Ronald Reagan 430-108. Oddly enough, I suspect Reagan might approve. Via the Ethical Werewolf.

Craven Liar of the Week

[ 0 ] November 20, 2006 |

Atlas Shrugs.

Fretting over President Bush’s visit to Indonesia, Pam Oshry runs the following preface to a stream of gory photos, which she publishes for no discernible reason other than to whip her readers into a mindless, racist frenzy:

The price for being a Christian…. in Indonesia…and soon to be Malaysia (reported in the local daily news yesterday and today.)

Death for abandoning (lapsing) Muslims and for Christians who preach in Malay.

Indonesia. An Islamic democracy. Is Islam compatible with democracy? These pictures were forwarded to me from a friend who knows a Christian in Indonesia……I cannot reveal too much or I will jeopardize the lives of those that smuggled these pics out. I am running them beneath the fold as they are too graphic to run on the main page. I am running them so the world will know and see that Indonesians are NOT the friend of anyone who is not Muslim.

The photos are indeed horrifying — and yet, as several of her commenters pointed out, they in fact date from an ethnic conflict on Borneo from the mid-1990s to around 2000-2001.

None of this, of course, detered Oshry from initially responding with the claim that the photos “ran in the local paper last week and more will be published shortly at great personal risk to those communicating it to the West.”

Oshry should also be aware that Microsoft is giving away free stock if she’ll forward this post to 25 friends.

Seeing Through the "Federalist" Solution to Abortion

[ 0 ] November 20, 2006 |

Neil links to very detailed public opinion about abortion. In light of the previous discussion of John McCain, I was particularly interested in this:

“Do you think the question of whether abortion should be legally permitted is something that should be decided at the national level, or is it something that each state should decide for itself?”

National Level 55%

Each State 39%

Unsure 6%

This suggests that, even in the abstract, a surprisingly large percentage of the public recognizes the “federalism” evasion as the unprincipled dodge that it is. The other thing to say is that the majority of the public is, in this case, clearly right: the “leave it to the states” argument, even if it were serious, doesn’t make any sense. If you believe that the state has a sufficient interest in protecting fetal life to make abortion a serious crime, the “federalist” position makes no sense at all–it’s ridiculous to say that a fetus as largely analogous to a baby in Mississippi but is not protected at all if a woman boards a plane to New York. And if you don’t believe this, reproductive rights have been embedded in our constitutional law for decades, and if you don’t think the state has a substantially larger interest in protecting fetal life, these precedents are obviously applicable to abortion: it makes no sense to say that a woman has less interest in reproductive autonomy after she’s pregnant. So unless you think Griswold should be overturned–and the number of pro-choicers who believe this could fit in a phone booth–leaving abortion “to the states” is unacceptable. It’s nice to see that more people than I would have expected understand what the David Brookses of the world don’t.

You, Sir, are an Idiot

[ 0 ] November 19, 2006 |

Josh Muravchik is a real prize, but at least he helps me hold out hope that, if I fail to get tenure, I could drop 40 or so IQ points in the ensuing binge and still get a job at the American Enterprise Institute. Josh:

In short, Tehran can build influence on a mix of ethnicity and ideology, underwritten by the region’s largest economy. Nuclear weapons would bring regional hegemony within its reach by intimidating neighbors and rivals and stirring the admiration of many other Muslims.

[...]

The only way to forestall these frightening developments is by the use of force. Not by invading Iran as we did Iraq, but by an air campaign against Tehran’s nuclear facilities.

Right, and since Muravchik allows in this very column that an attack will give Tehran MORE influence, GREATER capacity to build on ethnicity and ideology, and win the admiration of many other Muslims WITHOUT the need for a nuclear program, it’s quite likely to exacerbate the very problems that Muravchik poses. To make things worse, Muravchik cuts and pastes from half a dozen or so Weekly Standard articles in an effort to compare modern Iran with Germany in 1933 or the Soviet Union in 1917. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, Josh, but isn’t it true that only a genuine moron would believe that the rise of either Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia could have been forestalled by a few airstrikes. Indeed, as Yglesias points out, the Western Allies (and Japan) DID intervene in Russia in a failed effort to strangle the revolution in its crib. There’s nothing worse than a neocon without the courage of his own convictions.

The LA Times typically refrains, Jonah Goldberg aside, from publishing the incoherent scrawlings of stoned 8th graders. Hopefully there will come a time when nonsense like this receives the same treatment. It barely rises to the level of the New Federalist.

Grunt

[ 0 ] November 19, 2006 |

I thought that the tale of the grunting weightlifter kicked out of the gym was a mildly amusing human interest story without political import. Others disagree, and Erik’s on the case.

…zuzu also has thoughts.

Best Bond Since 1969

[ 0 ] November 19, 2006 |

Casino Royale did not disappoint. It’s easily the best Bond since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and is competitive with top Connery films. The reasons for the improvement are clear; Craig is an excellent choice as Bond, the producers decided to return to Fleming’s source material, and partially as consequence of the latter the movie is about spying rather than about trying to conquer the world.

I recall reading somewhere that Connery played Bond as a thug who had become a fop, while Moore and the rest played fops who had learned to be thugs. Craig, given the opportunity to play a younger Bond, takes the role a step farther and simply plays an unformed thug. In the wake of Brosnan’s irritating sophisticate, this is a remarkably refreshing turn. Craig emphasizes the “unformed” aspect, making it clear that the Connery Bond could emerge from the character that he’s taking over. Bond preferences are always a bit idiosyncratic (for some reason I have a high tolerance for both Roger Moore and George Lazenby), but I think it’s fair to say that Craig has the opportunity to become no worse than the second best Bond.

Casino Royale is the first serious use of Fleming source material since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, allowing that some of the Moore films used elements from various of Fleming’s works. The Fleming material (with some modification for an audience unfamiliar with baccarat) covers the middle portion of the movie, but the producers do a good job of filling in appropriate story on both sides. The overall storyline is very reminiscent of Secret Service, taking advantage of Bond’s humanity and uneasy relationship with MI6. Unlike most recent Bond, it’s simply a good story and could make for a decent spy movie even in the absence of the Bond character. The opening sequence is radically different than recent (or, really, just about any) Bond, although the opening titles aren’t so strong.

Casino Royale went long by about 20 minutes (fat could have been trimmed in several places, including the longer poker sequences) but it’s an extremely strong entry in the Bond canon, and suggests that there may be hope for the future of the franchise.

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