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SCORCHING HOT Iran Take of the Day

[ 141 ] July 27, 2015 |


As a colleague observes, Leon Wieseltier has written an interesting critique of the Bush administration’s decision to attack Iraq:

The rut of history: It is a phrase worth pondering. It expresses a deep scorn for the past, a zeal for newness and rupture, an arrogance about old struggles and old accomplishments, a hastiness with inherited precedents and circumstances, a superstition about the magical powers of the present. It expresses also a generational view of history, which, like the view of history in terms of decades and centuries, is one of the shallowest views of all.

This is nothing other than the mentality of disruption applied to foreign policy. In the realm of technology, innovation justifies itself; but in the realm of diplomacy and security, innovation must be justified, and it cannot be justified merely by an appetite for change. Tedium does not count against a principled alliance or a grand strategy. Indeed, a continuity of policy may in some cases—the Korean peninsula, for example: a rut if ever there was one—represent a significant achievement.

Alas, Wieseltier sees this as an argument against the distinctly non-disruptive Iran deal, as oppose to the catastrophic war he strongly supported. Oh, and against the Obama administration’s Cuba policy, which I concede is disruptive but since the existing policy has been a consistent failure for decades I’m not sure why this is supposed to be a bad thing.

Wieseltier then goes on to explain his opposition to the Iran deal on the grounds that it does not present an ironclad guarantee that Iran will never in the sweep of human history acquire a nuclear weapon, and not only that the deal doesn’t even nationalize the American health insurance industry. Anticipating the obvious objection of what exactly Obama could have done to guarantee that Iran would never again pursue a nuclear reaction, he responds with an outstanding achievement in the field of vacuous pomposity:

But what is the alternative? This is the question that is supposed to silence all objections. It is, for a start, a demagogic question. This agreement was designed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. If it does not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons—and it seems uncontroversial to suggest that it does not guarantee such an outcome—then it does not solve the problem that it was designed to solve. And if it does not solve the problem that it was designed to solve, then it is itself not an alternative, is it? The status is still quo. Or should we prefer the sweetness of illusion to the nastiness of reality? For as long as Iran does not agree to retire its infrastructure so that the manufacture of a nuclear weapon becomes not improbable but impossible, the United States will not have transformed the reality that worries it. We will only have mitigated it and prettified it. We will have found relief from the crisis, but not a resolution of it.

To the extent that there is content here, it is transparently wrong. A deal that makes it less likely that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons, the status is not still quo. Oh, and the status will also not be quo for the Iranian citizens who are suffering due to the sanctions regime, citizens who do not feature in Wieseltier’s calculus at all. But, remember, his war-is-the-answer-to-any-question foreign policy views are rooted deeply in liberal humanitarianism!

Will the Clinton Rules Still Apply?

[ 76 ] July 27, 2015 |

The public editor assails the latest round of making stuff up about Hillary Clinton:

First, consider the elements. When you add together the lack of accountability that comes with anonymous sources, along with no ability to examine the referral itself, and then mix in the ever-faster pace of competitive reporting for the web, you’ve got a mistake waiting to happen. Or, in this case, several mistakes.

Reporting a less sensational version of the story, with a headline that did not include the word “criminal,” and continuing to develop it the next day would have been a wise play. Better yet: Waiting until the next day to publish anything at all.

Losing the story to another news outlet would have been a far, far better outcome than publishing an unfair story and damaging The Times’s reputation for accuracy.

What’s more, when mistakes inevitably happen, The Times needs to be much more transparent with readers about what is going on. Just revising the story, and figuring out the corrections later, doesn’t cut it.

On one level, this is encouraging, showing that the Clinton campaign and its prominent supporters can effectively push back in a way that Gore in 2000 couldn’t. On the other hand, if the pushback means that splashy A1 stories are quietly correctly online later, it’s kind of a hollow victory. It will really matter if they just stop running inaccurate stories in the first place.

Today In Bad Pundit’s Fallacies: “Joe Lieberman Cost Gore the Election”

[ 223 ] July 27, 2015 |


Almost anytime either the 2000 election or Joe Lieberman come up in comments, someone will proffer their theory that Gore picking Lieberman was why he lost the election in 2000. Just so I have something to link to so I don’t have to go through this every time it comes up, here’s why this is a very silly argument:

  • First, let’s start with actual evidence. The political science literature shows that vice presidential selections generally have no discernible impact on election results, and 2000 was no exception. If either party had an advantage, it was the Democrats, but the effect is negligible. Reaction to the pick of Lieberman was more positive than is typical for a VP pick.
  • Yes, social science is far from perfect. But the stories told to justify the idea that Lieberman swung the election to Bush are massively implausible. The election came down to Florida. So…we’re being asked to believe that Lieberman was a net negative in a relatively conservative southern state with a large population of elderly people and a relatively large numbers of Jewish people? Please. Or you could also see the election coming down to New Hampshire, and, again, I don’t see how a New England Democrat who was immensely popular in his own state at the time was a net drag on the ticket there.
  • There’s also another important point, which helps to explain why Gore picked Lieberman although he didn’t particularly like him. The media, which was engaged in an all-out war on Gore, loved Lieberman. Picking Holy Joe earned Gore pretty much the only positive media coverage his campaign generated. I don’t know how much this helped but it couldn’t have hurt.
  • But “LIEBERMAN WANTED LABELS ON VIDEO GAMES” is one of the more hilariously solipsistic pundit’s fallacies I’ve ever heard. You will be unsurprised that exit polls do not find evidence that this issue drove voters in 2000.
  • Yes, Lieberman was terrible in the VP debate. As for how much vice presidential debates affect election outcomes, ask President Michael Dukakis.
  • We should also remember that while at the time Lieberman was an irritating squish, in 2000 he was bad like Dianne Feinstein, not bad like Zell Miller.
  • One thing that a lot of people have forgotten, willfully or otherwise, is just how much “Bill Clinton shouldn’t be impeached, but what he did was horrible” was a consensus position among the Democratic caucus during the impeachment. Lieberman has come to symbolize this just because he’s such an insufferable blowhard in general, but on this issue he was the rule, not the exception. Paul Wellstone, fer Chrissakes, called for a censure vote while going on about “the disgrace which those lies have placed upon his Presidency for all time” and “the President’s behavior was shameful, despicable, unworthy, a disgrace to his office” and “we all condemn the President’s behavior.”
  • As the consensus among even liberal Democratic officeholders suggests, the idea that using Clinton was a completely straightforward question for the Gore campaign because of the former’s good approval ratings is an anachronism. There were many people who approved of Clinton’s performance in general while believing that he had engaged in troubling, immoral behavior that also reflected badly on history’s greatest liar, the man who claimed he invented the internet Al Gore. Look at those exit polls again. Choosing Lieberman to try to diffuse this line of attack was not irrational.
  • Does this mean that Lieberman was a good pick by Gore? Well, no. Precisely because vice presidential picks don’t affect electoral results very much, the most important thing is to choose someone who would be an acceptable president if that is necessary and who could make a useful contribution as a vice president. Lieberman obviously fails both tests, and hence I think Gore shouldn’t have picked him. But did Lieberman cost Gore the election? It’s overwhelmingly clear that he did not.
  • …oh, and I forgot to mention this, but even worse is the idea that Lieberman cost Gore the election by calling for military ballots to be counted.  First of all, Lieberman was not the relevant decision-maker.  And second, “we should use an ‘intent of the voter’ standard for every ballot except those cast be people in the military” would be a massive political loser and the Florida courts would have rejected the argument anyway.  So…no.

Today In Editorial Misjudgment

[ 113 ] July 27, 2015 |


I love the NYRB in general, but…publishing a self-serving, fact-challenged defense of the nail salon industry that didn’t meet the standards of the New York Post (!) (No, really, !) is a doozy of a blunder. Hopefully, this is is an aberration — if I see “Massey Energy: The World’s Safest Workplaces” by Don Blankenship next week I’ll have to cancel my subscription.

Slave Labor in Fishing

[ 19 ] July 27, 2015 |


I’ve talked about this several times before and I discuss it in Out of Sight, but slave labor in the southeast Asian fisheries is endemic and basically no one cares. This is an outstanding report on that slave labor. Almost all of the fish in the southeast Asian seas goes to the United States in Europe–for pet food, for farm animal feed, for fish farming, and sometimes directly onto U.S. plates. It’s totally unsustainable from an environmental angle and the long-term overfishing of these waters makes the future of much of the U.S. meat supply in serious question, but that’s a secondary question to the sheer brutality these laborers face, which you can read about in great and disturbing detail at the link. It simply isn’t a priority of the federal government and certainly not of the American companies buying from these sources to make sure the fish are harvested within a basic framework of human rights for the laborers. And in fact, there are no human rights on these boats.

This is why we need real international frameworks that place the burden of proof on the American companies buying this stuff. How does this end? That’s a complex question, but American companies canceling contracts with the suppliers who buy from these boats is a necessary step. That will only happen if we make those American companies legally liable for these conditions. Simply put, the global supply chain exists in no small part to separate big western companies from any responsibility for global labor conditions. They don’t want to know and mostly they don’t have to know. That’s not acceptable. We can publish all the articles we want about these labor conditions on the boats and we can feel bad for those workers. But when you start looking at what to do, only by demanding that we hold western companies legally accountable for the conditions can we the consumer make a difference. Otherwise, we aren’t doing anything useful at all and that’s not OK either.

In other words, when you feel Fido or Fluffy today, think a little bit about where their pet food comes from and consider how you can ensure that their food isn’t produced on the backs of slaves.

Foreign Entanglements: The Battle for Britain

[ 0 ] July 27, 2015 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, I spoke with Tony Cummings about his new book, The Battle for Britain: Interservice Rivalry between the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, 1909-1940:

Confederate Monuments: Memorials to State-Sponsored Terrorism

[ 84 ] July 27, 2015 |

Brent Staples makes good points about what Confederate statuary is really about, especially when we are talking about people like Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Not all monuments warrant that kind of challenge. But those honoring the Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest deserve the backlash they have generated. Forrest presided over the 1864 massacre of Union soldiers, many of them black, at Fort Pillow in Tennessee. He was also a prominent slave trader and served as the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Apologists argue that his involvement with the Klan was unimportant because he later adopted more enlightened views. But as the Forrest biographer Jack Hurst writes, by lending his name to the K.K.K. even temporarily, the general accelerated its development. “As the Klan’s first national leader,” Mr. Hurst writes, “he became the Lost Cause’s avenging angel, galvanizing a loose collection of boyish secret social clubs into a reactionary instrument of terror still feared today.”

Protests erupted in Selma, Ala., in 2000 when a bust of Forrest was unveiled on the grounds of a museum. (One critic likened it to erecting a statue of Hitler in a Jewish neighborhood.) The sculpture was subsequently moved to a cemetery.

Wait, Selma unveiled a monument to Forrest in 2000? Wow.

What should we do with such monuments? Some should clearly be taken down. I’m not 100% supportive of erasing the racist history of the past from the public spaces it occupies. It’s possible to interpret it as sites of racism. But really, who is going to do that? Does Memphis have the capability and money for the long-term interpretation of its infamous Forrest statue? Probably not. And we are not bound by our ancestors choices in who to memorialize. Just because a statue was erected in 1895 does not mean need to leave it up in 2015. If the statue was to an open racist, KKK founder, and commander during the Fort Pillow Massacre like Forrest, I don’t see any good reason to keep that statue up. That’s what belongs in a museum, with plenty of interpretation as to why it was seen as desirable to put that statue up and what that said about white supremacy and black rights in the post-Reconstruction South.

Some will claim that these fights over the Civil War are meaningless and don’t solve racism. First, no one claimed they would solve racism, a fight that can be fought but not won. Second, if you don’t think the past matters, talk to Lynne Cheney. Talk to the people fighting the AP US History standards for being too liberal (typically the AP response was to make this year’s DBQ about the rise of conservatism, which according to my grader friends, was all set up to make students write about how government doesn’t work). Ask the Texans seeking to eliminate all discussion of civil rights from the state’s history textbooks. Ask Bree Newsome. Ask the victims of Dylann Roof. The past matters a lot, and especially the Civil War past. These symbols are almost as much about the present as the past and symbols are incredibly important. We are turning a corner in the popular understanding of the Civil War as being about slavery and racism and eliminating statues honoring people like Forrest are an important part of that, especially since that’s where the energy and momentum is right now. And as I’ve said before about many movements, no one can control where the energy is at a given time and it needs to be built upon with concrete gains before it dissipates.

Similarly, we aren’t beholden to what our ancestors decided to name sites in this nation, north or south. Does Minnesota need a Lake Calhoun? I think not. Does Michigan need a Calhoun County? No. Why not rename it? Might I suggest Harrington County, after former Duck and Lions legend Joey Harrington? That’s sure to gain support throughout the Mitten.

Speaking of such things, yesterday I visited one of my favorite spots in this great nation: where the traitorous slaveholder Stonewall Jackson was shot and mortally wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville.


Terrible battle for the Union, but good times. I wanted to run out to where Longstreet was shot in the neck by his own troops at the Wilderness, but I ran out of time. Next trip to Virginia I guess.

The 35

[ 27 ] July 26, 2015 |

Noreen Malone’s story about Bill Cosby’s accusers will be a blockbuster, and it eminently deserves to be. The sheer fact of 35 women pictured together and telling their stories is powerful enough. But what they have to say is equally important. Essential reading.


[ 86 ] July 26, 2015 |
Military power of NATO and the Warsaw Pact states in 1973.svg

“Military power of NATO and the Warsaw Pact states in 1973″. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


Over at the National Interest, I run through some of the history of late-Cold War operational planning…

During the 1950s and 1960s, NATO and the Warsaw Pact agreed about two things regarding combat on the Central front. First, Warsaw Pact forces would quickly overrun NATO forces, achieving rates of advance across Western Europe that exceeded even those of World War II. Second, both NATO and the Warsaw Pact would make plentiful use of tactical nuclear weapons, both to break up enemy formations and also to pave the way for advancing forces.

Both of these assumptions began to break down in the early 1970s. On the first, the increasing strength of NATO land forces (especially American and German) suggested that Western armies might have something more to hope for than reaching the English Channel ahead of the Russians. Second, both sides became skeptical that conflict would necessarily result in the use of tactical nukes.

Comments are a bit less entertaining this week.

That Green Lantern Won’t Raise Itself!

[ 170 ] July 26, 2015 |


In this confusing, ever-changing world, it’s reassuring to know that Joe Lieberman is always an asshole:

Former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is pressuring a top Senate Democrat to buck the Obama administration on its Iran nuclear deal to ensure a safer future for Israel.

Yes, nothing would ensure a “safer future for Israel” than having the sanctions regime that is inflicting immense suffering on ordinary Iranian citizens collapse without getting any concessions at all! But, of course, Lieberman is pretending that this wouldn’t be the outcome of Congress overriding Obama’s veto and preventing the deal from going into effect:

Lieberman blasted White House negotiators for a deal that he said would allow Iran to ignore U.S. demands and instead support its own regional allies, which he described as “terrorist.”

“How can you make a deal with somebody who says they want to kill you?” Lieberman asked, reiterating the stance of Israeli leaders and its supporters who oppose the deal. “Pretty impossible in my opinion.”

Israel’s leaders say the agreement will make the country more vulnerable in an already-volatile region.

Instead, Lieberman encouraged the White House to go back to the drawing board to negotiate a better deal.

See, your garden-variety warmongering hack would just stop with saying that Obama should have gotten everything hawks want from Iran in exchange for nothing, using the same powers he could have used to get Congress to pass the Patient Protection, Single Payer, and a Clinic Offering Free Abortions in Every County Act of 2010 only he Didn’t. Even. Try. That Lieberman makes this argument only after asserting that it’s inherently impossible to make any deal with the Iranian state is the kind of thing that makes Lieberman very special.

The Flagship Journal of American Conservatism, Everybody!

[ 141 ] July 26, 2015 |


Shorter Crazy Andy McCarthy: “Given that Obama has used his imaginary “executive branch” powers to reach an agreement with Iran, he should be impeached for treason. I am not a crackpot.”

Meanwhile, at America’s most popular winger blog:

McCarthy’s right, of course. But as his ending query reveals, no one realistically expects the Republican establishment to call for impeachment, despite the fact that the House GOP could issue articles of impeachment with a simple majority vote, sending the case to the Senate for conviction (which would require 2/3 supermajority).

Why not? Because the GOP leadership has given up, and like a jilted lover, is trying so hard to “look the other way” that it no longer sees the obvious, and has lost all self-confidence in its own power, and the power of the truth. It also is betting the farm–i.e., the country–that the U.S. can survive another 18 months of an Obama presidency, and that the next (hopefully) GOP President can magically “cure” all of the Obama-induced cancers. It’s a risky and stupid gamble.

Yes, impeaching Obama on absolutely ludicrous grounds and have removal fail massively in the Senate would be the risk-averse and intelligent gamble. I hope that Ms. Foley will go on to a long and lucrative career as a Republican consultant.

The Great One Speaks

[ 60 ] July 26, 2015 |


I will have more about my favorite of today’s Cooperstown honorees later today, but let us explore some other reasons why Pedro Martinez is awesome. First, his remarks on “sock a teenage boy keeps under his mattress” Colin Cowherd:

Second, his comments on blowhard drug war moralism:

Pedro Martinez doesn’t think Alex Rodriguez will someday be elected into the Hall of Fame based on the track records of the BBWAA members with votes.

But he does think Rodriguez and other steroid users with Hall of Fame-worthy statistics deserve to get in.

“There’s nothing I can do with the way voters handle who did what,” Martinez said. “Certainly the numbers are there (for Rodriguez). But as you know, from previous cases where — Why not Roger Clemens? Why not Barry Bonds? — because of the same reason. So I’m not going to go into that and make a big deal out of this. I hope they all make it to be honest.”

Incomparably great on the field, also great off. (He’s also a treat to watch on the MLB Network if you’re into that kind of thing.)

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