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Liberal Hawk Illogic: Vintage Edition

[ 0 ] October 11, 2007 |

I could keep picking on the arguments of the few remaining dead-enders — did you know that Marc Danzinger is still blogging, with Weber quotes of no discernible relevance? — but I thought I would check back on the Slate year-after “reconsideration” by the Bush administration’s liberal stooges to trace the lineage of the bad arguments still being made by the Roger Cohens of the world. Let’s hear first from Paul Berman:

I never did think that Saddam’s weapons were sufficient grounds for war. I even said so here, in Slate, before the war. If WMD were the problem, containment and deterrence were the solution. But I can understand, sort of, why Bush and Blair ended up harping on the weapons issue, and why the Bush administration kept hinting at conspiracies that probably never existed. I don’t defend Bush and Blair for speaking in these ways, and I hope that future elections will show that Bush has been punished for his misdeeds, and Blair has not. But I can imagine what drove them to do this.

See, the problem is that Berman apparently had never considered that the administration sold the war in this way not to provide a clever sales job for their secret liberal-hawk-approved humaritarian war, but because they actually believed what they were saying. More to the point, one might have thought by by early 2004 it would have been obvious that irrespective of their motivations their war plan was consistent with the objective of disarming a regime with nothing to disarm but utterly inconsistent with an ambitious nation-building plan. This kind of thing remains the ultimate in “liberal hawk” solipsism: projecting a different war with different objectives that you support onto the administration and then supporting that. Of course, Berman’s conceptualization of the problem is so confused that one hardly knows what the objectives should have been:

What was the reason for the war in Iraq? Sept. 11 was the reason. At least to my mind it was. Sept. 11 showed that totalitarianism in its modern Muslim version was not going to stop at slaughtering millions of Muslims, and hundreds of Israelis, and attacking the Indian government, and blowing up American embassies. The totalitarian manias were rising, and the United States itself was now in danger. A lot of people wanted to respond, as any mayor would do, by rounding up a single Bad Guy, Osama.

Obviously, this is a strawman; presumably deposing the Taliban, say, goes beyond “rounding up one bad guy.” But the larger problem is that this whole framework is not helpful in itself and does not provides any clue for why the Iraq War in particular was a good idea. In Stephen Holmes’s phrase, “Berman’s cultural and philosophical approach…raises the identification of Saddam and Osama, the tyrant and the terrorist, to a level of blurry abstraction that no facts can possibly refute.” All of which conceals that, in classic “liberal hawk” fashion, Berman never quite gets around to explaining how installing an Islamist quasi-state in Iraq would stop this “totalitarian menace.” Indeed, once you’ve conflated Islamism and secular Baathism as part of one great “totalitarian” threat, the argument for war completely collapses on itself; attacking the latter militarily just helps the former to no discernible purpose. But he knows that dictatorships are really bad, so this must be a serious argument!

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Politicians? In the United States Congress?

[ 0 ] October 11, 2007 |

Shorter Verbatim CNN: “More and more, Congress is acting less like a deliberative legislative body, and more like a political campaign. We’ve been seeing the politicization of every aspect of government.” What kind of deliberation is inherent to a five-minute radio address, or how “politics” is to be avoided on an issue where two branches of government support overwhelmingly popular legislation and the president vetoes it, is not clear.

I don’t think that CNN has a “pro-conservative” bias so much as a “pro-stupidity” bias, although in the Age of Bush there’s obviously considerable overlap between these two categories.

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She Got Me…

[ 0 ] October 11, 2007 |

I’ll confess; I was planning to tiptoe behind Michelle Malkin and institute a single-payer health care system while Ezra distracted her.

Foiled again.

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George W. Bush, Man of Principle

[ 0 ] October 10, 2007 |

February 19, 2000:

The twentieth century was marred by wars of unimaginable brutality, mass murder and genocide. History records that the Armenians were the first people of the last century to have endured these cruelties. The Armenians were subjected to a genocidal campaign that defies comprehension and commands all decent people to remember and acknowledge the facts and lessons of an awful crime in a century of bloody crimes against humanity. If elected President, I would ensure that our nation properly recognizes the tragic suffering of the Armenian people.

October 10, 2007:

I urge members to oppose the Armenian genocide resolution now being considered by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. We all deeply regret the tragic suffering of the Armenian people that began in 1915. This resolution is not the right response to these historic mass killings, and its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror.

Any proper accounting of George W. Bush’s character will record the fact that his choice of words to describe the Armenian genocide — including empty meditations on the “tragedy” and the “suffering” and the meaningless expressions of “regret” — reflects not merely the preferred, minimizing language of the Turkish government, but could just as easily have been lifted from the memoirs of Mehmed Talaat, the Ottoman interior minister who in April 1915 ordered the relocation of all Armenians to the Syrian desert of Der Zor.

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Conservative Liberal Hawks

[ 0 ] October 10, 2007 |

Speaking of “liberal hawks,” the Bush administration’s idea of a Deep Thinker tries to combine the vain preening of liberal Iraq War dead-enders with very strange conservative strawman arguments about moral relativism. And, alas, it succeeds:

It is inherently difficult for liberals to argue against the expansion of social and political liberalism in oppressive parts of the world — though, in a fever of Bush hatred, they try their best.

Yes, some liberals hate Bush so much they really don’t want states to become more democratic! Omitted: not only actual names, but what the Iraq War, at its immense cost in money, opportunity, and human life, has actually done to advance “political liberalism.” Reason for omission: the answer is obviously “nothing.” Gerson’s argument is the flipside of the “you were opposed to the war because you secretly like Pol Pot” silliness of Cohen. It’s all an attempt to pre-empt rather crucial questions about whether their favored policy is actually advancing their very noble-sounding goals. Then there’s this:

The unavoidable problem is this: Without moral absolutes, there is no way to determine which traditions are worth preserving and which should be overturned. Conservatism assumes and depends on an objective measure of right and wrong that skepticism cannot provide. Without a firm moral conviction that independence is superior to servitude, that freedom is superior to slavery, that the weak deserve special care and protection, the habit of conservatism is radically incomplete. In the absence of elevating ideals, it can become pessimistic and unambitious — a morally indifferent preference for the status quo.

Again, this is just a pointless non-sequitur. Very few Americans on either the left or right believe that the Hussein regime was a just social arrangement worthy of preservation. A lack of moral conviction on the trite question of whether liberal democracy is better than brutal dictatorship is not the issue. The problem Gerson is eliding by conflating normative and empirical skepticism is that our conviction that a social order is unjust is neither here nor there in terms of whether or not a half-baked military intervention is capable of replacing said unjust social order with something substantially better at a cost that wouldn’t be put to better humanitarian purposes elsewhere. Like “liberal hawks” Gerson wants to be judged on intentions rather than results. I’m guessing most Iraqis suffering under the disaster Gerson helped create and is still apologizing for might want to apply a different criterion.

UDPATDE: Beutler, Joyner, and Logan have more.

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Books That Really Needed Writing

[ 0 ] October 10, 2007 |

Although I remain almost as confident that McCain’s primary campaign will remain a dead parrot as, er, I was sure that the Dems wouldn’t take over the Senate in 2006, this looks great:

At any rate, in the event that a McCain surge does materialize, the antidote is Matt Welch’s new book McCain: The Myth of a Maverick, a comprehensive dissection of the man who for a long time held the title of America’s most overrated politician and who still in many circles is viewed as something of a sympathetic, tragic figure.

In the book, Matt builds upon some earlier writing of his on McCain through the revolutionary (given the subject matter) method of actually examining McCain record and views than the more traditional approach of wishful thinking and ideological projection. In essence, it’s the story of a man who succeeded in turning his own life around through embracing hard-line American nationalism and then decided to adopt this as a governing philosophy before becoming a media darling in a way that left him simultaneously overexposed and underanalyzed.

Obviously, my favorite example remains people straining to find a pro-choicer beneath a 0% NARAL rating, but there’s plenty more where that came from. The movement in the early 2000s to pretend McCain was a liberal because he didn’t embrace (at the time) the very nuttiest supply-side policies remains utterly inexplicable.

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Confusion Continues to Reign

[ 0 ] October 10, 2007 |

I’ve been reluctant to comment further on the Israeli strike on Syria, because I still don’t really understand what happened. As Kevin Drum notes, this appears to be a common affliction; even the White House can’t seem to decide what happened:

This is really the damnedest thing. But one thing is sure: the Israeli evidence must have been pretty far from a smoking gun if there’s this much confusion even among the top mucky mucks. Very peculiar.

This story in Aviation Week potentially sheds some light on the means by which the Israelis evaded Syrian air defenses:

The technology allows users to invade communications networks, see what enemy sensors see and even take over as systems administrator so sensors can be manipulated into positions where approaching aircraft can’t be seen, they say. The process involves locating enemy emitters with great precision and then directing data streams into them that can include false targets and misleading messages that allow a number of activities including control.

If that’s true, then the motivation for the strike may have been a warning for Iran. Drum suggests that the Israelis wouldn’t have tipped their hand about such capabilities if they weren’t certain that they were hitting something big. I’m not so sure. The intent of the strike may have been to demonstrate to the Iranians (who have similar air defense capabilities) that they are not secure from Israeli airstrikes. If that’s the case, then I find it mildly reassuring; states that don’t want war tend to flaunt their capabilities, so as to deter foes. States that do want war, or that at least view war as inevitable, tend to hide their capabilities as much as possible.

I’m still inclined to favor Jeffrey Lewis’ interpretation of the strikes. He thinks that the Israelis struck a shipment of SCUD missiles or missile parts originating in North Korea. This explains the involvement of the North Koreans, while also explaining why the airstrike hasn’t derailed nuclear cooperation with North Korea. I have trouble believing that the US would be pressing forward with this cooperation if we had strong evidence that North Korea was actively proliferating nuclear material. Of course, that would mean that this report about Israelis commandos infiltrating the Syrian site is bogus. This is very much a possibility; one disrespects the capabilities of Israeli commandos at one’s peril, but the image of Israelis successfully invading what would have been one of the most closely guarded installations in Syria, finding some nuclear material, sampling it, and then taking it back to Israel strains credulity. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, but it still strains credulity.

Undoubtedly, more to come.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

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Elimination Day: Day After Notes

[ 0 ] October 10, 2007 |
  • It’s all A-Rod’s fault for working so hard. Make sure to see this handy “why Slappy’s homers are all meaningless” chart. I really don’t think Cashman will stick by his pledge not to sign him if he opts out, but I’m sure hope he’s being honest about it.
  • Admittedly, St. Derek of Pasta Diving supplementing his usual atrocious defense by hitting roughly 000/000/000 with 15 DPs was so bad that even his reliable apologists in the media had to say something, although this was generally framed as the loss of his previously unassailable “clutch gene” or something. How he gets a pass for 2004 is beyond me. I guess that unlike Sheffield and Slappy he didn’t make the mistake of playing well when the Yanks got off to a 3-0 lead; if they had all played like Jeter, they would have gotten swept rather than choking historically. He’s a terrific hitter who has had many good postseasons, but really, we’ve heard enough about the Captain of Clutchiosity.
  • I also have a lot of crow to eat in regards to Eric Wedge. Happy to be wrong!
  • Apparently Torre is likely to be replaced by Tony LaRussa, Super Genius (TM). Goody. Average Yankee game time in 2008: 7 hours, 22 minutes. (I’m rooting for Larry Bowa, granting that Torre’s credentials in 1995 we just as suspect.)
  • I can’t say I really grasp why an organization that gave $1 million a start to the 112-year old Roger Clemens and half the GNP of Bolivia on Kei Igawa, Jaret Wright and Official Opening Day Starter Carl Pavano would let Mariano Rivera test the free agent waters bitter because the Yanks wouldn’t give him an extension. Hopefully the Cubs will blow him out of the water…
  • I should also mention that because the Yankees made the playoffs, Planned Parenthood of Seattle is $50 richer thanks to faithful reader Howard. As long as such wagers are confined to the regular season, abortion access in this country could be significantly broadened….
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Where and To Whom The Government’s Money is Going

[ 0 ] October 10, 2007 |’s not the war in Iraq (well, it is going there. That’s just not what this post is about).

The federal government yesterday picked five companies to whom it will award a five-year, $15 billion in counter “narcoterrorism” funds. The companies will supply “equipment, material and services” to the Department of Defense’s Counter-Narcoterrorism Technology Program Office (CNTPO).

And the winners are… (drumroll please):

Blackwater USA, Northrop Grumann, Lockheed Martin, Arinc, and a subsidiary of Raytheon.

Because killing people in Iraq and using confidential information in the bidding process just makes the federal government love you more.*

(via Lindsay)

* It’s worth noting that, to Raytheon’s credit, it was the first big government contractor to add sexual identity to its equal employment policy, which now prohibits discrimination against transgender men and women.

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Worst American Birthdays, vol. 27

[ 0 ] October 9, 2007 |

Before death carried him off to that great covert operation in the sky, Everette Howard Hunt, Jr. — who would have turned 89 today — sowed discord among his his earthly fellows throughout the worst years of the cold war. Trained in literary studies at Brown, Hunt’s literary enthusiasms somehow led him to the Office of Strategic Services after serving in the US Navy during the second World War. Over the next few decades, he prowled the globe on behalf of the CIA, uprooting communists — and anyone who looked like them — from governments in Latin America, East Asia and Europe.

In 1954, he helped eviscerate the elected government of Guatemala, unleashing forces that would eventually consume upwards of 200,000 lives during the course of a 40-year civil war. (Asked years later about the deaths to which he contributed, Hunt famously snorted, “Deaths? What deaths?”) Having made the world safe for capitalist bananas, Hunt soon turned his attention to Cuba’s Fidel Castro, whose “neutralization” did not proceed quite as smoothly as the ouster of Jacobo Arbenz. Charged with assembling a government from the ranks of disgruntled Cuban exiles, Hunt watched his career founder in the sands of the Bay of Pigs.

Rescued a few years later by the burglars and felons who comprised the Nixon White House, Hunt moved his softer side, orchestrating the array of black bag jobs and rat-fucking schemes that would eventually land much of the administration in state custody of some kind or another. During Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign, Hunt arranged for McGovernite literature to be placed in the apartment of Arthur Bremer, the lunatic who shot George Wallace because he was an easier target than Nixon himself. At other times, he tried to sabotage other Democratic candidates by making them look like jackasses. As one of Hunt’s former collaborators explained,

Howard had some fliers printed saying that Mayor [John] Lindsay of New York was having a meeting and there would be free beer. Howard handed these fliers out in the black areas, and of course there was no meeting or beer, so the blacks would come for their beer and leave hating Lindsay.

Howard thought this was the greatest thing since Chinese checkers

Always helpful, Hunt protected his bosses from humiliation — for the time being, at least — by supervising the break-in at Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, blackmailing Watergate co-conspirators and administering the customary financial leverage required to soothe the jangly nerves of those with the ambiguous fortune to be “in the know.” Hunt’s first wife, Dorothy, worked as an occasional courier for Hunt’s bribes until one of her flights went down in Chicago in December 1972. The $10,000 in her handbag survived, more or less, though Dorothy herself did not.

After serving nearly three years in jail — quite a bargain, actually, as a trade-off for his crimes — Hunt spent the rest of his life scribbling right-wing spy novels and fending off accusations that he’d been involved in the Kennedy assassination.

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[ 0 ] October 9, 2007 |

I know, I know. The Larry Craig thing is old news, which is why SNL is finally picking up on it. But this is funny, which is perhaps the most surprising thing of all.

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Like Before Sunrise, But More Long-Winded!

[ 0 ] October 9, 2007 |

You know, sometimes when the studios suppress the work of artists they have a point. It did produce a great summary of Hawke’s acting in such roles: “He still seems to mistake brooding for depth, solipsism for self-awareness, and gaudy declarations of love for the thing itself.”

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