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Surge Thoughts

[ 16 ] November 15, 2007 |

I’ve been waiting a bit before posting any thinking on the Surge and the drop in violence in Iraq, but I think it’s time now for a few observations.

First off, it is important to recognize that there has been a drop in violence. Our measures are inadequate and susceptible to bias and manipulation, but pretty much every quantitative and qualitative assessment of the situation indicates that attacks and deaths are down substantially. Moreover, this drop is beginning to have some positive economic effects, with oil and energy production climbing a bit. Of course, this drop is only relative to the situation in 2006 and early 2007 (we appear to be roughly at 2005 levels, which were unacceptable then and are unacceptable now), but it is a drop nonetheless. The causes for this drop appear to be several, including successful ethnic cleansing, the policy of allying with tribal elites, the decision of the Mahdi Army to lay low, and both the quantitative increase in US forces and qualitative changes in US doctrine. There has also been a substantial drop in the number of IED attacks, which explains much of the reduction in US casualties. It would be wrong to attribute all of the reduction in violence to the Surge, or even to the combination of the Surge with the tribal alliance strategy, but I suspect it would also be wrong to so attribute none of the reduction.

When we’re evaluating the Surge as policy, we have to remember that it should be evaluated as a whole, not solely on its October effects. The Surge began in February, and its execution resulted in an enormous increase in violence that lasted until about June. The Surge has thus resulted in the bloodiest year for the Coalition in Iraq thus far, despite the fact that a month and a half are still left in the year. Even if we allow that the Surge has had a positive impact on violence in the second half of 2007, you cannot separate out the two phenomenon; the increase in violence was a necessary consequence of the strategy employed, and the surge must be evaluated on that basis. If violence in Iraq remains at its current low level, the Surge may eventually pay off in terms of US casualties, but it has failed to do so thus far.

To the extent the Surge and the associated strategy of tribal alliances has succeeded militarily, it has undercut the political justification for the war and undermined the exit strategy. We are now farther away from having a capable, centralized Iraqi state than we have ever been. Even in 2003 and 2004, there was potential that a state might have been constructed that could govern Iraq. Now, in a process that US military authorities have more or less acknowledged, the central national government has become essentially irrelevant. The tribal strategy has cut violence, but it has also, by privileging substate actors, substantially eliminated the prospect of a democratic, unified Iraq. The Iraq we see today is utterly prostrate, completely incapable of defending itself from any outside actor with anything other than a guerilla strategy. It has no air force, no significant armored formations, no navy to speak of, and no unified military command capable of developing long range defense plans. The central government does not control its own territory, in the sense that it utterly lacks a monopoly on legitimate (not to mention illegitimate) violence. It’s also worth mentioning that the actors we’re currently enabling represent the most reactionary, anti-democratic elements in Iraqi life. Indeed, it’s unclear which of the Sunni militias or the Shia government has less of an interest in Western conceptions of democracy.

We should acknowledge that what the US has accomplished in the last year may have been the best we could hope for. It’s possible that the centralized Iraqi state was doomed from the start (or at least by the start of 2007), and that no alternative strategy could have saved it. I’m not convinced by that; a credible threat of withdrawal prior to the gutting of the centralized state might have produced some national reconciliation. It also might not have, but we’ll never know.

Although I hate to use variations on the theme “military victory, political defeat”, the concept can be useful in some situations. Since military force is used to achieve political purposes, the idea that military success can be combined with political failure is usually self-refuting; if it’s a political failure then it’s a military failure by definition. But there are some situations in which it’s illuminating to distinguish between specifically military and specifically political phenomena. In the case of the French experience in Algeria, for example, it’s accurate to say that the exercise of French military power saw considerable success; the FLN and its allies were substantially destroyed before independence, and the military situation of the French forces considerably improved between 1956 and 1960. It’s probably even true that the Algerians could not have thrown the French out if the French themselves had not been willing to leave, and that the military costs that the French had already paid were higher than the costs they would likely incur in the future. The point of this comparison is the fact that it’s hardly irrational that opposition to the war continues to increase even as the violence drops. Even with the drop in violence, there remain no good political options in Iraq. A fair amount has been written about Colin Kahl’s contribution to this debate, but I’m not sure why; it seems almost desperate in its effort to elide the basic problem of Iraqi state capacity. I suppose that the believing that something needs to be done almost invariably drives someone to think that something can be done, but there are times when we face only very bad options, and this is one of them. I don’t see the current US position in Iraq as any more tractable than the French position in Algeria in 1961 or the American position in South Vietnam in 1973. We have created a situation of utter Iraqi military dependence on the United States for both internal and external security, and we lack any plausible options for changing that situation.

I would love to agree with the “let’s declare victory and leave” position, but part of the problem with declaring victory is that it’s not something you can do unilaterally; the other side has to believe it’s been beaten, and third party observers have to believe you’ve won. This, to say the least, is implausible. That said, to the extent that claiming victory can work as a domestic strategy for provoking withdrawal, I’m all for it. Withdraw, give an external security guarantee to the rump Iraqi state, and hope that things sort themselves out without too much bloodshed. Seems to me that the only alternative is stay more or less forever; I think the whole 60-80000 dedicated to training is kind of absurd, given that you need a state to have an army, and that such a rump force will either be withdrawn or doubled at the first sign of trouble.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

Menstruate? Murderer!

[ 37 ] November 15, 2007 |

This story may when the award for fastest turnaround time from satire to reality. Last month, Amanda posted a satirical piece on RH Reality Check claiming that the wingnuts could try to ban menstruation if they continued with the logic they’ve been following for years now to protect fetuses, often from the moment of conception — when, mind you, there isn’t technically even a pregnancy yet. Pregnancy does not happen until implantation in the uterus is complete and the body starts to produce the hormones necessary to support the pregnancy.

Anyway, little did Amanda – or anyone – realize that her satire would become real so quickly. Anti-women activists from a group named Equal Rights for Colorado (yes, equal rights) have announced that they are collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that would define a fertilized egg as a person. That’s right folks. That fertilized egg would have the same constitutional rights to due process as you and me. And the Colorado Supreme Court is letting it happen.

If the law were to pass, it would mean no abortion. No selective reduction for women who become pregnant with several embryos through IVF. No stem cell research. And, yes, no menstruation. Because about 1/3 to 1/2 of fertilized eggs fail to implant and are flushed out of the body during menstruation. Which, as Amanda notes, would make “your average tampon a potential scene of negligent homicide.” Funny. Andm as a Pandagon commenter notes, startingly like Ceaucescu’s Romania where there were literally menstruation police. A policy that starts from a place of disgust with women’s bodies and moves to limit women’s constitutional rights and bodily autonomy? Might actually have a chance of passing. [Shudder at the thought.]

Whether it would be constitutional if it did pass is a whole ‘nother matter. But not one I’d want decided by this Supreme Court.

"Bush Derangement" Derangement Syndrome

[ 11 ] November 15, 2007 |

Is there anything more pathetic than someone whining about excessive “Bush hated” based on generalizations derived from nameless individuals at apocryphal-sounding dinner parties…in 2007? This column has been written so many times that there must be a template you can use by now. Well, you could use the occasion to return to your feeble defense of Bush v. Gore. Most embarrassingly, Berkowitz claims that it was “Al Gore who shifted the election controversy to the courts,” when of course the first lawsuit was filed by Bush, who challenged Gore’s first attempt to seek the recounts he was unequivocally entitled to under Florida law. And, needless to say, he has yet to explain how the recount that gave the election to Bush — which was conducted under even more arbitrary standards that the one the Supreme Court reviewed Bush v. Gore — was any more consistent with the equal protection clause. Really, he should give it up, especially if he wants to accuse other people of distorting issues for partisan reasons.

"This Woman Claims To Be A Feminist, But She Seems More Interested In Apologizing For Radical Opponents of Women’s Rights."

[ 17 ] November 15, 2007 |

Professor Althouse approvingly links to some winger interviewing Kathleen Willey, who asks people to look at what Hillary Clinton “has done to me.” Needless to say, Althouse omits the fact that one of the things that Willey believes Clinton to have done to her is to have her husband killed. Admittedly, to Althouse the fact that Willey is fabricating lunatic conspiracy theories about the Clintons probably adds to her credibility, but to people capable of a modicum of rationality where the Clintons are concerned this may serve as a reminder that one reason why feminist groups may not have given Willey the level of support she deemed appropriate is because her story was utterly lacking in credibility. Willey also trots out this classic routine:

The feminists, NOW, they’re all about one issue: abortion. They’re not talking about women’s rights, being an advocate for women, or equality in the work place. Those aren’t issues anymore. It’s abortion, plain and simple.

Indeed; for example, NOW completely ignored the major employment discrimination case that ruled in favor of companies engaging in rank discrimination (thanks to the decisive vote of Althouse’s beloved Justice Alito) that came down this term! And refused to try do anything about it! The claim is also transparently wrong in another way. NOW and other feminist groups came out strongly against Bob Packwood, a strong pro-choicer who opposed Bork on the grounds that he would vote to overturn Roe, because there was actual credible evidence that he had repeatedly sexually harassed members of his staff.

At any rate, it’s obvious that while Bill Clinton has engaged in personal behavior that is potentially objectionable on feminist grounds he’s certainly never done anything remotely bad enough to justify supporting alternatives who are vastly worse on women’s rights in policy terms. And while Hillary Clinton overall would be no higher than fourth if I was ranking the potential Democratic candidates in order of overall preference, it is overwhelmingly likely that if elected her administration would do more to advance women’s rights than any previous one — this is one of her strongest selling points. When you’re reduced to citing Kathleen Willey against this (and are a Rudy Giuliani lickspittle selectively claiming that how a candidate treats the women in his or her personal life is of overriding importance), it’s pretty clear that you don’t have a serious rebuttal to this.

Alberta Bound Arrived

[ 7 ] November 15, 2007 |

I have just arrived in not-as-cold-as-it-might-be Canada for a wedding; I will not be absent over the next week but blogging will be more sporadic. Fortunately, bean has seamlessly fit into the Dowd-bashing role. (Hopefully this won’t be a Wally Pipp situation…)

…Admittedly, even Dowd’s gigantic narcissism-to-achievement ratio pales next to that of Camille Paglia.

Worst American Birthdays, vol. 30

[ 18 ] November 14, 2007 |

Next November 14 will be the 100th anniversary of “Tailgunner” Joe McCarthy’s birth. On that day, we can surely look forward to a stream of nonsense regarding McCarthy’s record, as contemporary apologists like Ann Coulter, M. Stanton Evans and Elliot Abrams crawl forth to insist that the Wisconsin senator was actually correct when he claimed in February 1950 that 57 “card-carrying communists” had been identified within the State Department. Disabled by appeasers and fellow-travelers in the media and federal government, McCarthy’s Senate investigations — or so the fable has it — had actually exposed severe national security weaknesses until McCarthy himself was rechristened as an solitary, irresponsible, drunken egomaniac by his enemies.

A wingnut avant la lettre, McCarthy is of course an appropriate subject for rehabilitation. His methodology — based on the alchemical conversion of rumor to fact — allowed him to build a narrative worthy of disgruntled German nationalists during the era of the Weimar Republic. As McCarthy understood it, two decades of conscious Democratic treason (a word he used as freely as whiskey) had enabled the Soviet Union to outflank the United States, thus delivering the free world to the brink of extinction. Like the contemporary hard right, McCarthy was empurpled by the State Department and its limp-limbed “intellectuals,” who were incapable of confronting the global menace of communism with the monotoned toughness required to defeat it. As McCarthy framed it, pantywaists like Dean Acheson, John Service, Philip Jessup and Owen Lattimore had surrendered America’s freedom to multilateral institutions like the United Nations, promoted the dangerous fiction that Soviet leaders were capable of reason, and surrendered China to the communists. Their crimes, in other words, flowed effortlessly from their mistaken assumption that America’s power was — and should be — limited by circumstance.

We might locate the essence of McCarthyism in any number of places, but perhaps the best example can be found in his excruciating 1951 attack on General George C. Marshall, who was serving at the time as Defense Secretary for Harry Truman. McCarthy accused Marshall of at least a decade of treachery, acts that included recommending against an allied invasion of Eastern Europe through Italy; making “common cause” with Stalin at the Tehran Conference; enabling through inaction the Soviet occupation of Berlin and Prague; accepting Soviet domination of North Korea; crafting the destruction of Chinese nationalism; and refusing to “impose [our] will” on the nation’s enemies overseas. Having listed Marshall’s crimes, McCarthy thundered forth a stream of paragraphs that, published today with nominal revisions, would be earning yawps of approval and howls of “indeed” across the blogosphere.

What can be made of this unbroken series of decisions and acts contributing to the strategy of defeat? They cannot be attributed to incompetence. If Marshall were merely stupid, the laws of probability would dictate that part of his decisions would serve this country’s interest. If Marshall is innocent of guilty intention, how could he be trusted to guide the defense of this country further? We have declined so precipitously in relation to the Soviet Union in the last 6 years. How much swifter may be our fall into disaster with Marshall at the helm? Where will all this stop? That is not a rhetorical question: Ours is not a rhetorical danger. Where next will Marshall carry us . . . ?

What is the objective of the great conspiracy? I think it is clear from what has occurred and is now occurring: to diminish the United States in world affairs, to weaken us militarily, to confuse our spirit with talk of surrender in the Far East and to impair our will to resist evil. To what end? To the end that we shall be contained, frustrated and finally: fall victim to Soviet intrigue from within and Russian military might from without. Is that farfetched? There have been many examples in history of rich and powerful states which have been corrupted from within, enfeebled and deceived until they were unable to resist aggression. . . .

The time has come to halt this tepid, milk-and-water acquiescence which a discredited administration, ruled by disloyalty, sends down to us. The American may belong to an old culture, he may be beset by enemies here and abroad, he may be distracted by the many words of counsel that assail him by day and night, but he is nobody’s fool. The time has come for us to realize that the people who sent us here expect more than time-serving from us. The American who has never known defeat in war, does not expect to be again sold down the river in Asia. He does not want that kind of betrayal. He has had betrayal enough. He has never failed to fight for his liberties since George Washington rode to Boston in 1775 to put himself at the head of a band of rebels unversed in war. He is fighting tonight, fighting gloriously in a war on a distant American frontier made inglorious by the men he can no longer trust at the head of our affairs.

The America that I know, and that other Senators know, this vast and teeming and beautiful land, this hopeful society where the poor share the table of the rich as never before in history, where men of all colors, of all faiths, are brothers as never before in history, where great deeds have been done and great deeds are yet to do, that America deserves to be led not to humiliation or defeat, but to victory.

Read, as they say, the whole thing.

More on the Terminal MA

[ 13 ] November 14, 2007 |

PTJ has some additional thoughts, and Dan Drezner weighs in here.

To respond in some detail, I’m deeply uncomfortable with the wall that PTJ wants to erect between scholarship and policy. It’s true enough that studying baseball isn’t playing baseball, but it seems absurd to me to claim that the study of baseball hasn’t informed the practice of baseball, and to good effect. Scholarship about world politics is not about “doing” world politics, but it appears that the claim PTJ wants to make is that those who “do” world politics can learn nothing from IR scholarship. Indeed, he claims that such learning might actually make policy worse. That’s true enough as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far; policy professionals have to be educated in some fashion, and erecting a wall between professional scholarship and the instruction of policy professionals makes no sense to me. I’ll also confess that I find a lot of PTJ’s writing on this question very dense, and may have misinterpreted his argument.

Perhaps I’ve become a bit cynical about political science as a discipline, but I’m not convinced that political science as PTJ wants to describe it actually exists. I understand where he’s going in his discussion of ideal types, but I find it an almost useless way of thinking about the relationship between policy and political science. On the one hand, I’m far from convinced that much of anything that the modern discipline of political science does conforms at all with PTJ’s door#2; as such, it’s hard for me to attribute much value to holding political science apart from policy. On the other, I find PTJ’s door#1 description a bit ridiculous; no one at a terminal MA program teaches realism or neoliberal institutionalism because we want our students to go out and produce a realist or neoliberal world. Rather, we teach it in order that students will have some familiarity with the debates going on in both the policy and scholarly worlds, and that they’ll have the ability at some point to interpret the scholarly advice that even PTJ allows should be given. In short, I think it’s absurd to suggest that teaching Robert Keohane in a grad level policy seminar leads to the Terror. I don’t want to claim that teaching Keohane (or Waltz, for that matter) is harmless, but I can’t believe that we want our policymakers to have *less* theoretical grasp rather than more.

To tie this back to MAs and practitioners: if I want to go into the practice of world politics, I want to learn how to make policy decisions. If I am teaching someone who wants to go into the practice of world politics, I want to give them a sense of the irresolvable dilemmas that they are going to face, and help them to develop a critical disposition that can help them grapple with those dilemmas. None of this has anything whatsoever to do with the systematic results of my scholarly investigations into anything; it has to do with exercises designed to clarify value-commitments and their implications.

I just don’t understand this at all; why wouldn’t the results of scholarly investigations be relevant to the training of policymakers?

If, on the other hand, I am advising policymakers, I probably want to present my results but then realize that it is not my job to make the tough decisions surrounding their implementation (as Weber said, politics is the slow boring of hard boards) and leave that to the policymakers. But that’s not teaching students, it’s offering a scholarly input to a policymaking process that a scholar has to remain independent of lest she or he compromise her or his detachment and turn into a partisan for one or another group or party (and thus, by definition, no longer be engaged in doing scholarship).

Why wouldn’t it be better if the policymakers in question had some theoretical training, such that they could, on their own, evaluate elements of the claims that the scholars are making? This IS teaching students; it’s teaching students to be better, more critical policymakers.

1)I still don’t see the intellectual point of a terminal MA because, contra Doug, I don’t see those classes at operating at a level any higher than what one finds in undergrad. In fact, I teach my MA theory course like I taught my undergraduate theory classes: we read Hobbes, Locke, etc., and talk through their arguments and implications thereof. Precisely what I did and do for undergrads. So from my perspective a terminal MA in IR looks like more undergrad plus a few “policy” classes (talk about some issues, generally in a completely a-theoretical way) and some “methods” classes (basic stats — which they probably had in undergrad already anyway — and sometimes “risk analysis,” which to a social scientist like myself just looks like bad research design and flawed data analysis). Yes, I get that this helps people get jobs. What I don’t get is why it helps people get jobs, and what people think that a graduate of such a program can possibly do that a well-educated undergrad can’t already do.

I suppose that a retreat into the empirical data is in order; government agencies, NGOs, and private companies come to Patterson (and presumably to other MA programs) to recruit our students, and demonstrate a clear preference for our students over similarly situated undergraduates. Members of these organizations have expressed to us that there is a clear and obvious difference in the performance of students with MAs and those without, and they prefer the former. Now, it’s possible that they’re just wrong, or that their assessment is biased, or that they’re telling us what we want to hear, but given how often I hear the same thing, I have my doubts. Moreover, I’m not sure what’s wrong with the idea that an MA should be an extension of an undergraduate degree, rather than a project dedicated to bringing students to a higher intellectual level. A terminal MA student in a program like ours receives one and a half to two years more training than a BA, and this training is both more rigorous and more specialized than that found in BA programs. I’m not sure why PTJ thinks that an MA should represent a qualitative rather than a quantitative change in a student; we like to think that a Ph.D. makes a qualitative difference (we like to think that), but it’s unclear to me why we should think about an MA in the same fashion. Students getting MBAs learn stuff that’s pretty much like what they learned in undergrad, if they were business majors; I don’t understand why policy should be thought about any differently.

3) I pity the student who comes to me hoping to be trained in job-relevant skills if their anticipated job is someplace other than academia. Academia is where I work, and I know how to do that job pretty well, so I can pass on bits of practical advice and professional wisdom. The State Department? I can find it on a map, but I’ve never worked there and have no desire to do so, so I am not likely to be of any use to students looking to be trained in how to succeed at State (or in any other DC institution).

I’m a bit appalled by the logic of this argument; if as academics we only have knowledge relevant to work in the academy, then our capacity to make any contribution to the training/education of any of our students (including undergrads) is rather trivial. I happy to acknowledge that I can’t “train” anyone to have a successful career at the State Department, but I can certainly make educated guesses as to what skills will be needed in such work, educated guesses which are in large part informed by what State Department personnel tell me.

To put it more directly, I know a lot about aircraft carriers; not as much as someone who has served on one, but a fair amount. I’m deeply convinced that students interested in policy (as well as you, Gentle Reader) ought to know more about aircraft carriers; it would be a better world if both our policymakers and our voters understood what an aircraft carrier is, does, costs, etc. I talk about aircraft carriers during my defense statecraft course, and because of my own theoretical training (and my scholarly investigations) I can situate with aircraft carrier within a variety of different theoretical perspectives, which is something that most people who have served on aircraft carriers cannot. Moreover, because I spend time in my courses giving students a basic theoretical foundation (this is Realism, etc.) they can understand this situation, disagree with it, question it, etc. Because I know that the students are interested in international affairs (I don’t know the same about undergraduates), and because I know they possess a certain level of basic academic skills (I also don’t know this about undergraduates), I can challenge the students with more difficult material and more pressing questions than I would otherwise be able to. It’s also worth noting that this kind of course is utterly unlike what one would find in a standard political science program; such a course might produce some ideas for scholarly research, but in general will be far too empirical for the taste of most Ph.D. students.

As a last note, I should say that I’m very happy that my school does not have a Ph.D. program. I think it would be enormously difficult trying to figure out in each new cohort which students I should pay attention to (because they’ll be around for six years) and which I shouldn’t (because they’ll be gone in two). It seems to me that does a disservice to both groups, but especially the latter. I do enjoy dealing with the occasionally Ph.D. student who wanders down from political science, but that’s different than having a course made up of the two different communities.

This Old Thing?

[ 18 ] November 14, 2007 |

MoDo’s title today? “Should Hillary Pretend to Be a Flight Attendant?

Why did I even read on?

But I did. And I learned that smart women and women who do not cleave to gender stereotypes sometimes are discriminated against in the dating scene and in the workplace, and that pretty women have an easier time getting dates. What shocking and new information! And presented in a way that helps challenge these damned stereotypes and provokes insight into how to get rid of them and alter societal norms!

MoDo’s next column, waiting to be written: how so-called feminist op-ed columnists reinforce the crap they purport to critique.

Who Knew Mercenaries Acting Without Legal Restraints Could Pose Such A Security Risk?

[ 0 ] November 14, 2007 |

According to an FBI investigation, most of the September 16 Blackwater killings were unjustified:

Federal agents investigating the Sept. 16 episode in which Blackwater security personnel shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians have found that at least 14 of the shootings were unjustified and violated deadly-force rules in effect for security contractors in Iraq, according to civilian and military officials briefed on the case.

The F.B.I. investigation into the shootings in Baghdad is still under way, but the findings, which indicate that the company’s employees recklessly used lethal force, are already under review by the Justice Department.

But whether there’s any legal redress is highly questionable:

Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to seek indictments, and some officials have expressed pessimism that adequate criminal laws exist to enable them to charge any Blackwater employee with criminal wrongdoing. Spokesmen for the Justice Department and the F.B.I. declined to discuss the matter.

The case could be one of the first thorny issues to be decided by Michael B. Mukasey, who was sworn in as attorney general last week. He may be faced with a decision to turn down a prosecution on legal grounds at a time when a furor has erupted in Congress about the administration’s failure to hold security contractors accountable for their misdeeds.

Let freedom ring!

Going Out In A Blaze of Union-Busting

[ 4 ] November 14, 2007 |

Brad Plumer has the goods on what the Republican-majority NLRB has been up to and what’s coming out with its term set to expire.

Meanwhile, Kung-Fu Monkey takes on some of the more specious arguments aimed against the striking writers.

1880′s Wingnuttery Today

[ 5 ] November 14, 2007 |

Idaho Republicans try to use public policy not only to trap women in marriages they want out of but to encourage them to stay at home where they belong. Which is indeed in character with their refusal to regulate day care because, of course, quality day care might provide a disincentive against women staying barefoot and pregnant! Ugh.

Worst American Birthdays, vol. 29

[ 96 ] November 13, 2007 |

Fred “Gramps” Phelps, patriarch of “The Most Hated Family in America,” turns 78 today. Best known for his work with Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church — a clown ministry consisting almost entirely of his extended family — Phelps enjoys a parasitical relationship to the ills of the world. Picketing various funerals and endorsing mass catastrophe on behalf of God, Phelps enforces his Lord’s gay-unfriendly agenda with a devotional style best described as canine. By Phelps’ account, the 9-11 attacks, the Virginia Tech shootings, IED casualities, and the Minneapolis bridge collapse are all expressions of God’s displeasure with American infernalities like Will and Grace.

In one of his typically breathtaking moments of Biblical exegesis, Phelps explained the most notorious of his organization’s slogans:

“Fags” is a contraction of the word “faggots,” which is an elegant metaphor for all the homosexuals and their enablers. It’s elegant, and its appropriate. They’re called faggots . . . because they have kindled the fires of God Almighty’s wrath. They’ve kindled the fires of wrath in their lust, one for another — kindled the fires of wrath by virtue of the place they’re headed, where the worm that eats ‘em never dies and the fires never quench. By a multitude of common sense arguments, “God hates fags” is not only true, it’s profound, and it’s divine. And we are intent on publishing that message to the whole world. God indeed hates fags.

If Phelps didn’t cause real people genuine agony by picketing their loved ones’ funerals or harassing them through the mail and in the media, one might be tempted to dismiss him as a clever performance artist, a useful idiot cultivated by the Anita Bryant caucus. After all, among other things, Phelps’ antics provide a helpful alibi to less-obviously deranged public figures who — having inoculated themselves by denouncing the open and unsophisticated hatred espoused by the WBC — endorse more subtle and consequentially homophobic policies. Social conservatives (and squeamish liberals without the courage to oppose them) might not love gays and lesbians enough to protect them from job discrimination or offer them equal rights of contract in marriage, but — thank heaven for small favors — at least they don’t hate them enough to picket their funerals or blame infrastructural failures on them.

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