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October 03, 2004

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David Brooks in the New York Times has a good op-ed today looking at the debate perfomances the other night and using them as windows into the two candidates. He argues that Kerry is great on details - an engineer... [Read More]

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David Brooks: Wrong On The Debates, Wrong On Morality :... [Read More]

» A better takedown of David Brooks from An Ergodic Walk
Via Obsidian Wings, a good takedown of David Brooks. It's not even that he is a shill for the Republican Party, in a kind of "looks reasonable on the face of it but makes no sense upon further inspection" defence... [Read More]

» A better takedown of David Brooks from An Ergodic Walk
Via Obsidian Wings, a good takedown of David Brooks. It's not even that he is a shill for the Republican Party, in a kind of "looks reasonable on the face of it but makes no sense upon further inspection" defence... [Read More]

Comments

In defense of my sanity, I should say that yesterday I had one of those annoying flirtations with illness that make obsessive little tasks seem oddly compelling, especially since one doesn't have the mental wherewithal to do anything that's actually worthwhile. Otherwise I would never have bothered counting the moral claims in the debate transcript.

Otherwise I would never have bothered counting the moral claims in the debate transcript.

And yet you did, and we thank you for it.

Incidentally, the first sign of me becoming sick is similar to yours: I become absolutely obsessed with stupid little minutiae (usually about things that, under normal circumstances, I couldn't care less about) to the exclusion of all else, including whatever it is I'm supposed to be working on. I remember spending a good two or three hours once typesetting answers for my students because I absolutely Could. Not. Let. It. Go., despite, well, not actually having finished the answers themselves; I came down with a fever later that night.

That was exquisite...thank you hilzoy.

When did "rationalistic" become a bad word with conservatives?

There seems to an attempt, among certain conservatives, to portray Bush Jr. as an “overman/superman” who is not bound to traditional laws of ethics and morality. Real men are not bound to the lessons (or nightmares, depending on your persuasion) of The Enlightenment, I guess.

The fact that Bush has the bleeding heart of a martyr and the cold steel glare of a Hollywood cowboy is enough to excuse his highness of any responsibility of anything…but what if he is acting?…what if he is not being sincere? Wouldn’t that make him a fake? A phony?

Anyway, thanks again for great post.

hilzoy - "If, for instance, you believe that morality requires that you bring freedom to Iraq, then it is not enough to pronounce yourself in favor of that goal and leave its implementation to take care of itself. You have to think as hard as you can about how, exactly, to bring freedom to Iraq, taking account of all the complexities you can discover."

Great post. It's always fun to have someone disect someone elses weak, if not lazy reporting. The section I segregated above is an example of an argument, the nature of which you repeat often. I'll slip by leaving it's implementation to take care of itself, I truly can't believe that situation exists. You're attaching to morality tactical implementation. If your destination is moral, but the path cannot be clearly determined in advance then somehow the journey becomes less moral? If in someones opinion the path taken, in hindsight, should have been redirected, then the original morality is diminished? I truly understand the view of no action toward Iraq. That is what we'll be voting on in November. Your argument may have clarified in what orifice Brooks' head resides, but it swayed me not regarding the morality of President Bush's efforts in Iraq.

Great post.

Not on point, but I thought I'd mention the Washington Post editorial cartoon this morning. GWB has jumped out of a plane without a parachute. Announces he's going to stay the course.

Good post. In my initial read, I reacted to the article a bit differently -- I (perhaps naively) thought Brooks was being pretty evenhanded (at least he was willing to point out that strong principles divorced from reality can create a mess), and I have to admit that I'm so used to the official storyline on the two candidates that I didn't really question his dichotomy. Thanks to you and your brief illness for pointing out how wrong he was.

Bolgsbud, I'm unclear on your ends/means calculation. I think there are fine moral arguments to be made for my helping my daughter with the cost her expensive undergraduate education. I think if I accomplish this by knocking over 7-11s there a little morality problem.

Doesn't make helping her less moral, of course, but, well, that helping can be said to be moral doesn't give me any kind of blank check.

OK, here's a better one. I have on occasion represented clients, almost always from Africa, in political asylum cases. They are not close cases -- these are people that stood up to authority, for freedom, at great personal risk to themselves, and their families. They've almost all been tortured,* and several have had family members killed. Winning their cases is certainly a moral pursuit -- but I can't put on perjured testimony. Or fabricate evidence.

* Example: a young Sudanese man smarted off to the military police (they were interrogating him about pro-democracy activities of his father). They'd told him he didn't have anything in life that they wouldn't let him have. He (a player on the national youth soccer team) said, well, you can't stop me from playing soccer. Ha, said the MP, as he cut both Achilles tendons. Client passed out, waking up the next morning, weak from loss of blood, in a muddy vacant lot near his home. I won the case, and feel that we, as a nation, are enriched by the presence of this young man.

After reading one of Brooks early NYT columns, I wrote him congratulating him on his clever satire. It was only when I got his reply that I realized he had been writing in all seriousness. I cannot read his columns without wondering how he is writing for the Times instead of Readers Digest.

blogbudsman You're attaching to morality tactical implementation.

I think that's a slight misinterpretation of hilzoy's post. It's not that in order to be properly moral one must effectively implement a tactic designed to cause a moral outcome, but rather that in order to be properly moral one must factor the realities of the situation into one's tactical planning to maximize the probability of a moral outcome.

For example: if I had met the young man of whom CharleyCarp spoke prior to their meeting, I would have felt that the moral outcome would be to get the young man asylum. If I attempted to do this by representing him myself, I would in some sense be less moral than if I had helped him seek proper legal representation because, not being a lawyer, I'd be less likely to get him asylum than real counsel.* It would be markedly less moral were I to write to the Lebanese ambassador, knowing full well that the Lebanese ambassador has an approximately zero probability of caring about this particular incident.** And were I to tell him not to take any further action because I would take care of it then write to the Lebanese ambassador, I would (in hilzoy's sense) be acting immorally, despite my presumed good intentions, because I would be taking actions that would reduce the likelihood of a moral outcome.*

The essential point is that it is insufficient merely to want to do good in order to act morally, but rather that one's actions must -- in the context of the real world, not some idealized version thereof -- be optimally aimed at producing a moral outcome; at least, that's how I interpret hilzoy's point. I'd be interested to hear her take on this example.

* The key here is that this is effectively knowable to me at the moment the decision is made; it doesn't rely on future information in order to arrive at this valuation.

** Would it be morally neutral? That depends on your calculus, I guess. On the one hand, I would be acting on his behalf (a moral positive). On the other, I would be doing so in a manner that I am certain would have almost no effect (a moral neutral) and, presumably, might suboptimally influence his hopes or later courses of action (a moral negative). Tough call.

blogbudsman: I used the Iraq example mainly because it is Brooks'. He writes:

Bush sometimes acts as if it's enough for a president to profess his faith. But a coach can't just dream up a game plan. He has to understand what his specific players can and can't do, and adapt to those realities.

Bush launched a pre-emptive war even though his intelligence community was incompetent. He occupied a country even though he didn't really believe in, or work with, the institutions of government he would need to complete the task.

I just meant: if so, this does not show his 'ethical cast of mind'. It's a hypothetical; my only actual criticism of Bush is in the last sentence.

The point of the hypothetical is not to say that you have to get everything right. As you say, it can be hard to figure out how to achieve your goals, and sometimes a decision is the right one given what you know at the time, even though you later learn something that, had you known it at the time, would have made you decide differently. That's all fine, and if that's what you think happened with Bush and Iraq, then of course it implies no moral failure on his part (any more than the fact that I now know which lottery ticket I should have bought last night shows that I wasn't serious about winning when I bought a different one.)

But I didn't say anything that conflicts with that. I just said: suppose you decide that morality requires trying to bring freedom to Iraq, but you don't bother to try to get it right. In Brooks' words, you rely on an intelligence service you ought to know is incompetent; you don't really think out how to rebuild the country because you don't believe in the agencies you'd need to work with to do so, etc. That's not about making an understandable mistake; it's about not bothering to make sure that you actually succeed in your goal. And if Brooks is right to say that this was Bush's problem, then I say he is not serious about morality.

Maybe a different example would help. Once, in an odd part of my professional career, I was one of the favorite teachers of some of the student leaders of both the left and the right. The leftists once had a problem with some administration policy, and they were going to have a demonstration about it. This was their first move: they had not previously tried e.g. talking to the administration about their concerns, or anything. I told them that I thought this was wrong, both because it's inconsiderate to use demonstrations as your first move, but also because it's ineffective: administrators are much more likely to change their policies when approached politely than when you demonstrate against them, both because, being human, they can get defensive, but also because no one in their right mind would want to encourage the idea that if a large number of students with bullhorns showed up and protested, they could force the administration to back down. I asked them to imagine that their roommate had a problem with how loud they played their music or something, and instead of talking about it with them, got a group of friends to lead a demonstration against them outside their dorm room, and to ask themselves both how they would feel, and whether this approach would make them more or less likely to turn down the volume.

Oh, they said, as they got the point. Now: I thought (but didn't say): the fact that this fairly obvious point did not occur to them made me wonder whether their goal really was to change the policy. If that's what you want to do, the question how to accomplish it is obviously crucial. But if, instead, what you really want is to protest and feel righteous, then demonstrations are obviously the ticket. (I should say that these were very good kids who were just having a momentary lapse.) A totally different example in which inattention to tactics calls one's commitment to one's goals into question.

Anarch and I think alike ;)

Another example occurred to me just after I posted, this time from real life. A girl I knew got involved with an abusive boyfriend. It was clearly the moral outcome that she break up with him. She was also quite contrarian, though, and had a tendency to passive-aggressively dig her heels in when challenged too hard.

There were two strategies we could have taken. One would be to point out, loudly, what an abusive bastard he was and how much better she deserved. The other was to quietly offer her support and let her come to this realization on her own, hoping that she'd wise up before she was too damaged. [The third option, beating the crap out of him, was never really practical for various reasons.] Both strategies would clearly be aimed, and with the best intentions, at effecting the moral outcome.

As I understand hilzoy's position -- because it's mine, too -- only the second of the two strategies would be morally positive because it was the only one that, given the practical exigencies of the situation, had a real chance of success. Getting in her face was cathartic and all, but it could (and, regrettably, did) have the effect of driving back into her abusive bf's arms... while making her feel guilty for doing so, and making her more likely to tune you out in future. Leaving her to realize her own mistake took for bloody ever, but was ultimately the correct strategy: absent the external disapproval, she was finally able to overcome her mental/emotional block and leave him.

The key point is that all these calculations and predications could be made before employing either strategy if you studied her carefully enough -- which, to be honest, wasn't all that careful. Pursuing the first strategy would therefore be a morally poor course of action, even though the intent, in some abstract (and pointless) way, would be good.

Or, more succinctly: having good intentions does not excuse one from fully educating oneself about the realities of the situation in order to effect a moral outcome. Failing to do so makes one just as morally culpable (at a practical level) as if one had acted from poor intentions.

Anarch and I think alike ;)

Yay! I too must have a great mind! :D

Brooks on Kerry:

"He talks like a manager or an engineer."

Brooks has obviously meet neither lest he would not make such a simile.

Based on the evidence, I don't think he's met many ethicists either.

hilzoy and anarch, I appreciate the discourse, and agree that the core argument is sound. Our exchange, from a political perspective is how judgment is passed on the implementation, although we may be in disagreement on the premise. This is what the election should determine. The larger debate is The United State's responsibility on the world stage, as well as government's obligation to it's citizens for self preservation. Or even how safe democracy will allow us to be. The next series of attacks against us may make that easier to decipher.

On the flip side, is it moral for me to continue to enjoy hilzoy fillet a 'journalist', then make Chucky Bush faces while trying to swallow the nuances of the argument.


But while Kerry defines our enemy as "terrorists", and takes it to be obvious why we should try to defeat them, Bush spends time describing them as motivated by "an ideology of hatred", and as frightened by freedom. This is a clear difference, though I do not see what it has to do with Bush's supposedly ethical cast of mind.

This is actually a very important difference between the two candidates. Kerry talked in the debate about isolating radical Muslim fundamentalists, whereas Bush talked about "an ideology of hatred." Now, all we really have to go on here is Bush's record, and, er, the ideology of hatred has risen under his watch. Heck, even Donald Rumsfeld knows that. And we are in the process of putting a colation of fundamentalists and Communists in power in Iraq.

Now, all we really have to go on here is Bush's record, and, er, the ideology of hatred has risen under his watch.

Sure. We'd never seen Islamic fundamentalist terrorism before Bush was elected. Right.

I think you're focusing too much on your interpretation of Brooks' words and not the theme of his column. You can disagree with the way he expresses himself, but that's not the same as being wrong. He's not saying that Bush is more moral than Kerry. He's saying that Bush's approach to problem solving is different. What he's saying, I think, when you cut out the cutesiness which is the hallmark of his writing is that Bush is a big picture guy and Kerry is a little picture guy. To take a specific example from the debate and Brooks' column:

Bush looks at 9/11, sees we were attacked by those from the Middle East, sees that the Middle East is a mess, and says, "We have to fix the region by democratizing it so this won't happen again."

Kerry looks at 9/11, sees we were attacked by people from a specific group, Al Qaeda, and says, "Why would we look at Iraq? It was Al Qaeda that attacked us; Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan. Let's deal with them so this won't happen again."

Brooks is not saying that Kerry's approach is unethical or immoral; he's saying that it doesn't address the big picture. "We must work with allies" is not an ethical statement in Brooks' formulation merely because it uses "must." It's a statement about tactics. Work with allies to what end? What will the world look like if Kerry has his way? There would be more inspections at ports. Probably rules to prevent money laundering. Monthly meetings of NATO countries to discuss ways to prevent terrorism. Etc., etc. But what would the world look like? That's Brooks' point.

(Incidentally, Brooks is not saying that tactical decisions aren't made in the Bush administration; he's saying that they aren't made in the oval office in the Bush administration.)

The issue with whether Kerry is a big-picture thinker is clouded, I think, by the fact that, if he is elected, he will be inheriting a big mess in Iraq. He has a very limited capacity for being a big picture thinker, as opposed to a more focused one, because of the necessity of dealing with the problems created by this administration in its quest for a big-picture world.

It is all well and good to go back and forth on whether Iraq was a good idea or not, but the problem is that, in the here and now, Iraq has to be dealt with. Big picture thinking is, frankly, out of place in Iraq now. It has been done, and now we have to focus on the details of winning there. That is what the administration seems to be incapable of doing.

Whether a potential Kerry administration would be better is what I think the voter's choice is really about. Bush's track record on the details is poor, and that is a big part of my vote. It is an acceptable method, I suppose, of not making tactical decisions in the oval office, but in that case, I would like those decisions to be made somewhere qualified. To paraphrase what hilzoy said above, if you're going to occupy a country for big-picture reasons, then you'd better believe in, or work with, the institutions of government to complete the task.

crutan

David N.: first, I disagree with you both about Kerry's lack of a broader vision, and second about whether his internationalism has a moral basis (or: was presented as having one in the debates.)

Second, I focussed on Brooks' claim that Bush has a more ethical cast of mind both because ethics is what I do and I was annoyed by the way Brooks was talking about it, but also because it was, I thought, central to his argument. Here are the two places where he is most explicit about Bush's cast of mind:

"The atmosphere of Bush's mind is more creedal or ethical. He talks about moral challenges. He talks about the sort of personal and national character we need in order to triumph over our enemies. His mind is less coldly secular than Kerry's, but also more abstracted from day-to-day reality."

"in a faithful and moralistic nation, Bush's language has a resonance with people who know that he is not always competent, and who know that he doesn't always dominate every argument, but who can sense a shared cast of mind".

Now: I don't see the claim that Bush's cast of mind is more moral as peripheral here. It's not just a throw-away claim; it's central to what Brooks is saying. Moreover, if you subtract the idea that Bush's cast of mind has some connection to morality, you're left with two main ideas: first, he is religious, and second, he is 'big-picture' in a sense that involves inattention to details and 'day-to-day reality'. Bringing in morality makes it seem as though there is something noble about the inattention part, and moreover that this nobility is not just something that his co-religionists can appreciate, but something that should appeal to all of us. It comes across as a good thing, not just a form of incompetence.

Again, I don't agree with Brooks that Bush didn't focus on concrete steps to be taken in the debates. But if I did agree, I wouldn't try to make it seem like the regrettable cost of a basically good thing, which is what Brooks seems to me to be doing.

Sure. We'd never seen Islamic fundamentalist terrorism before Bush was elected. Right.

Are you arguing that the number of incidents of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism has not, in fact, risen since Bush's election?

[I mean, arguing a post hoc fallacy would be one thing, but this?]

Anarch: didn't you know that "risen" means "appeared ex nihilo"?

Ah. By "risen", then, what was meant was some increase in a specific profile? What I was thinking was what was meant by "risen" was a coming-to-life sense. Surely that couldn't have been the intention, I see that now.

George Bush, given 9/11 and the terrorist events leading up to it, understands our way of life is threatened and that he is uniquely positioned to react stronger than any before him. Afghanistan was a given, Iraq was a calculated risk. Regardless, this historic single issue dominates his presidency. Best to worse case scenario ends with him losing the 2004 election. John Kerry is a veteren politician who's sole purpose is to be elected President. His contrarian posturing could prove successful given the polarity from the course our country has taken. Kerry is being credited for presenting his fluctuating message in fine debater style in a structured format. Bush has taken some hits for sticking to his guns and not keeping a poker face. This thread is about ethics and morals. If Kerry truly believes this country is heading in the wrong direction, then I'll accept his moral conviction. Bush certainly believes in how he is leading us, and is no doubt doing everything in his power to achieve success. He's betting the presidency on it. It'll be extremely important to all of us that Kerry has strong moral conviction if he is to lead our country in some other manner. I'm not going to risk my vote on it.

hilzoy, there are meanings of "risen" that are approximately just that.

hilzoy, there are meanings of "risen" that are approximately just that.

Ah, I misunderstood your point. Seems like an honest mistake all around, tbh, so I hereby retract my snark :)

No need to retract, Anarch.

Snark: It's what's for dinner.

Snark: It's what's for dinner.

I'll have mine medium rare, please.

Bush certainly believes in how he is leading us, and is no doubt doing everything in his power to achieve success.

Well, that may be so, but of course it depends what Bush & Co think of as "success".

Problem is, "success" is constantly being revised downward in BushWorld.

Seems another retired flag officer has joined the shrill:

“What was envisioned as 'winning’ at the outset is no longer possible,” he said. “You’re going to have to settle for something much less.”

...........

If Van Riper could ask both presidential candidates one question, he said he would quiz Kerry on his strategy for war against terrorists and ask how Kerry would instruct the military to plan for that task.

For Bush, Van Riper would ask one question: Why did the president not hold Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Defense Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz – the men considered to be the architects of the Iraq war – accountable for what has occurred in Iraq?

The problem for me is that Kerry's definition of success seems to include wholly irrational fantasies about being able to remove any substantial number of troops from Iraq within six months of being elected.

Thanks, Anarch. Your interpretation is correct.

Kerry's definition of success seems to include wholly irrational fantasies about being able to remove any substantial number of troops from Iraq within six months of being elected.

Maybe so, but there's another irrational fantasy lurking here--the idea that any kind of democratic order is going to arise in Iraq. And that's the fantasy that got us into this mess in the first place. Are you interested in re-electing the morons who screwed everything up? How many more second chances in life does Bush get? When is he going to hold anyone accountable? Why does Doug Feith still have a job?

Seems you have a quandary, Sebastian. But, first, you might wish to accurately reflect what Kerry said about a US drawdown in Iraq within 6 months.

You don't believe Kerry can succeed in Iraq; that's fine. I think a President Kerry is going to have an extremely tough time extricating us from this quagmire. I believe our choices WRT Iraq are severely limited and will ultimately be unsatisfactory.

OTOH, why would you reward Bush with your vote after he's amply demonstrated his incompetence WRT Iraq? And let's be honest--Bush hasn't indicated things aren't working out or suggested he'd do anything differently.

Slarti -- when I wrote my snarky little post I hadn't thought of that other meaning. I did toy with a few ways of putting it that would have made it clear that, according to me, argument by mischaracterization wasn't your usual style at all, but they all came out sounding even more snarky, so I opted for the minimalist approach.

I remain mystified about why someone with Sebastian's broad views, as I understand them, would vote for Bush. Kerry is, basically, a standard-issue member of the foreign policy consensus that held among Democrats and Republicans for over 50 years, with the difference that he has at least tried to update his views to deal with the end of the Cold War and the problems it entails. (E.g. in his book on international crime, which I haven't read. Thus the word 'tried'.) I have no idea how well he'll do in Iraq, but that's mostly because I have no idea how well anyone can do in Iraq, given the mess it's in. But he's perfectly competent, and his foreign policy positions are completely mainstream.

Bush, by contrast, has a completely different view of foreign policy; but whether you like that view or not, he has proven himself to be incapable of actually executing it without disaster. So I wouldn't see questions like "should we try to establish democracy throughout the Middle East by force" as decisive here, since whatever Bush might try to achieve, he has shown that he is incompetent to produce it. And if this just meant that he had not succeeded in bringing about some laudable result, that would be one thing; but he has created a failed state where none existed before, done enormous damage to our credibility and to our moral authority, damaged the army, and moreover not begun to actually pay for it.

From jadegold's link - "But Van Riper said that in today’s world, no targets are off-limits to terrorists, within or outside U.S. borders. And no one seems to have a coherent strategy for the global terror war, he said, noting that it should be called a global war on terrorists, not terrorism.

“We don’t fight ideas, we fight people,” Van Riper said.

Isn't that the quandry. The military could have wiped many troubled areas off the map, killed thousands more Iraqis, the impact on our own casualties uncertain. But then we'd have been true occupiers. We could have made Iraq the 51st state I guess. But in the valiant attempt to minimize the civilian deaths, destruction and give the new Iraqi leaders some credence, we do find ourselves in a longer term chess match with the terrorists. Call it what you want, whatever serves your purpose. Historians sorting through the typical press coverage will discover it was an amazing accomplishment of changing world events, like changing the direction of the Chicago River.

Blog: It was not concern for the Iraqis that led us to stand by while their country was being looted, and while moreover they were begging us to provide some sort of order. It was not concern for the Iraqis that led us not to put in enough troops to win the peace. It was not concern for the Iraqis that led us to dismiss the people at State who had been planning for this for a year and let Rumsfeld start from scratch with only a few months in which to do the detailed planning for the occupation of a country; or that led the CPA to hire people not based on their expertise but on whether or not they had applied for jobs at the Heritage Foundation. I could go on, but you get the point.

It is like changing the direction of a large river, but I would add: changing it without first looking to make sure its new course didn't run right through downtown Chicago.

Please hilzoy. I love your well structured arguments and well thought out discourses on ethics. But just about every point you listed follow talking points and have been argued to the contrary with some effectiveness, even if some element of truth surround them all. Many of us just flat disagree that these arguments are all damning in of themselves. And the Chicago River does go through the middle of Chicago. Flooded all their basements when they carelessly dug too deep not that long ago.

Blogs: But just about every point you listed follow talking points and have been argued to the contrary with some effectiveness

No, not so.

"You don't believe Kerry can succeed in Iraq; that's fine. I think a President Kerry is going to have an extremely tough time extricating us from this quagmire. I believe our choices WRT Iraq are severely limited and will ultimately be unsatisfactory."

I don't believe that Kerry wants to succeed in Iraq. He wants to leave Iraq. I believe he is quite capable of succeeding in that.

It will also be disasterous for the War on Terrorism to do so.

"Kerry is, basically, a standard-issue member of the foreign policy consensus that held among Democrats and Republicans for over 50 years, with the difference that he has at least tried to update his views to deal with the end of the Cold War and the problems it entails."

This view entirely ignores Kerry's Senate history. He opposed almost the entirety of Reagan's foreign policy both in terms of goals and in terms of means.

Furthermore there is a major difference between the USSR and groups like Al Qaeda. A failure to realize that 'containment' isn't available against the latter is one of the huge areas of analytic weakness in what little of Kerry's foreign policy plan we are allowed to see.

jesurgislac, try a couple of these on for debate http://edition.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/11/11/sprj.nilaw.antiquities.returned/>Here and http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/ledeen200407091114.asp/>There

The 'enough troop' debate is like having enough tax money. You got what you have. Now plan around it.

And the folks Eefense let go. Did they take their work with them? Didn't we pay for that? I'll bet we got to use what we needed.

Of course we need to pan to Kerry, standing just off camera, with his thousand dollar pen, nodding his head in agreement with my stellar debating points.

CBS headline, Blog typos D with an E, loses 4 points in the polls.

I don't believe that Kerry wants to succeed in Iraq. He wants to leave Iraq.

Don't you? Or do you want the US military to be stationed there indefinitely? I don't believe that's a good idea.

In any case, your choice is now between rewarding Bush's failure to take the WoT or the occupation of Iraq seriously, or to take a chance that a new President will do better. (Or abstaining, if you can't bring yourself to vote for Kerry, of course.) I think Kerry stands a better chance of doing better in Iraq than Bush: I certainly see no reason why, having messed up the situation so completely, Bush should be allowed back in to continue with "more of the same".

I'm reminded of a slogan that a Bush supporter came up with on one of Kevin Drum's threads: Don't change horsemen mid-Apocalypse: Bush/Cheney 2004. Curiously enough, he seemed to think that this was a positive slogan...

He opposed almost the entirety of Reagan's foreign policy both in terms of goals and in terms of means.

Indeed he did:

All that changed in early 1988, when John Kerry, then a young senator from Massachusetts, decided to probe the finances of Latin American drug cartels. Over the next three years, Kerry fought against intense opposition from vested interests at home and abroad, from senior members of his own party; and from the Reagan and Bush administrations, none of whom were eager to see him succeed.

By the end, Kerry had helped dismantle a massive criminal enterprise and exposed the infrastructure of BCCI and its affiliated institutions, a web that law enforcement officials today acknowledge would become a model for international terrorist financing. As Kerry's investigation revealed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, BCCI was interested in more than just enriching its clients--it had a fundamentally anti-Western mission. Among the stated goals of its Pakistani founder were to "fight the evil influence of the West," and finance Muslim terrorist organizations. In retrospect, Kerry's investigation had uncovered an institution at the fulcrum of America's first great post-Cold War security challenge.

Blogbuds, your "There" link is broken. As for your "Here" link: yes, some items were returned. The looting of the Baghdad Museum, though, remains a savage casualty of the Iraq war - and one that was wholly avoidable, if Rumsfeld had cared enough to pay attention to the experts who warned him that it would happen, and it would be a disaster the impact of which could be remembered for decades. Rumsfeld's response, at the time, was to make fun of the people who cared. I've considered him a slimeball ever since.

Consider also these: hospitals were looted of medical supplies, the occupation failed to police the streets, when Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" the number of children with cholera, dysentery and typhoid was more than doubled from May 2002... I regret the looting of the Baghdad Museum more than I have words to say, but the failure of the occupation to provide protection to the hospitals was a basic humanitarian failure, as was the failure to provide basic utilitarian needs like clean water and electricity.

And museums and hospitals were not the only places to suffer looting - shops, homes, offices, all suffered from the utter failure of the occupation to provide safety for the occupied people. It was a disaster, Blogbuds - and one that Rumsfeld has never been held responsible for.

Funny, BCCI wasn't a major portion of Reagan's (might we say successful) foreign policy.

I don't believe that Kerry wants to succeed in Iraq. He wants to leave Iraq.

Don't you? Or do you want the US military to be stationed there indefinitely? I don't believe that's a good idea.

We have had this discussion before. Having US troops leave at some point (6-12 years) would be an excellent side effect of a wildly successful Middle East policy. As a goal, especially in the next 6 months, it is awful.

Funny, BCCI wasn't a major portion of Reagan's (might we say successful) foreign policy.

No, you're right: that wasn't the only aspect of Reagan foreign policy Kerry opposed:

Kerry's inquiry widened to look at Cuba, Haiti, the Bahamas, Honduras and Panama. In 1989 he released a report that slammed the Reagan Administration for neglecting or undermining anti-drug efforts in order to pursue other foreign policy objectives. It noted that the government in the 1970s and '80s had "turned a blind eye" to the corruption and drug dealing of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who had done various favors for Washington (including assisting the contras). The report concluded that "individuals who provided support for the contras were involved in drug trafficking...and elements of the contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers." And, it added, US government agencies--meaning the CIA and the State Department--had known this. cite

Or did you have some other aspect of Reagan foreign policy in mind that Kerry also opposed?

Having US troops leave at some point (6-12 years) would be an excellent side effect of a wildly successful Middle East policy. As a goal, especially in the next 6 months, it is awful

We have discussed this before, and I've noted before that you are unable to come up with any positive reason for supporting Bush in Iraq - merely that you're convinced Kerry will be worse. Why reward failure?

I don't believe that Kerry wants to succeed in Iraq. He wants to leave Iraq.

Why are you doing all this heavy mindreading? If, instead, you listen to what he says

We have to succeed. We can't leave a failed Iraq.

you can leave all that to the fortune tellers.

We have had this discussion before. Having US troops leave at some point (6-12 years) would be an excellent side effect of a wildly successful Middle East policy. As a goal, especially in the next 6 months, it is awful.

I understand your mistrust of Kerry, but you're once again misrepresenting his statements on the matter -- he suggests that with foreign support we can begin withdrawing troops in the next 6 months, and hopefully be out completely in four years. He hasn't said what he'll do absent that foreign support (no doubt he won't acknowledge the possibility until and unless he's won the election), and he's certainly not saying we'd be completely withdrawing starting by next June. Yes, he's pandering and being over-optimistic (not unlike other candidates in an election year), but there's no evidence yet that he's going to be irresponsible.


"Or did you have some other aspect of Reagan foreign policy in mind that Kerry also opposed?

Quite.

The central part.

It had to do with our dealings with the USSR.

You might have heard of them. They played some small part in the Cold War. I know it might take some serious research to find out about the part they played, but you might want to put the time in. Once you get past the centrality of the BCCI to Reagan's foreign policy you might find that the USSR played a very interesting part in the Cold War.

"Why are you doing all this heavy mindreading?"

No mind reading necessary. If a candidate says they aren't anti-gay, but they were pro-stoning for homosexuals I don't think you would let some one off with the quote: "I am not anti-gay". You would look at their proposal. Kerry's proposal suggests that drawing down large numbers of troops in six months is a real option. It is not, unless you are willing to leave Iraq in chaos. That suggests either that Kerry is blatantly lying about the troop draw-down, willing to leave Iraq in chaos, or woefully naive about foreign policy. If he is elected, I will deperately hope that he was just blatantly lying. But I suspect he is woefully naive about foreign policy.

he suggests that with foreign support we can begin withdrawing troops in the next 6 months, and hopefully be out completely in four years. He hasn't said what he'll do absent that foreign support (no doubt he won't acknowledge the possibility until and unless he's won the election), and he's certainly not saying we'd be completely withdrawing starting by next June. Yes, he's pandering and being over-optimistic (not unlike other candidates in an election year), but there's no evidence yet that he's going to be irresponsible.

A) Even with huge amounts of foreign support we couldn't draw down significant troops in six months. The idea is ridiculous.

B) There isn't going to be huge amounts of foreign support.

C) Kerry knows or should know both A and B.

He has made withdrawing troops a defining goal. It is the only defining goal in Iraq which he is willing to quantify. He has offered an irresponsible schedule for a goal which should never be anything other than a side-effect from a successful goal. That suggests irresponsibility. It suggests irresponsibility in a way that is incredibly dangerous in the current foreign policy arena. If he were suggesting that Bush wasn't willing to commit to Iraq ENOUGH it would be one thing. Instead he is suggesting we need to get our soldiers out of harm's way. That isn't how you win. That is how you retreat.

I think a lot of Republicans are confused and think that the war on terrorism boils down to Iraq.

It doesn't. After September 11th George Tenet came to George Bush and asked him to approve covert operations in 80 countries.

80. Eighty. Four score.

That's a lot of countries. Iraq is one country. True, it's the focus of world attention right now, and to withdraw under fire would be bad. The terorrists would claim victory. The only person I've heard that's advocating complete withdrawal is George W. Bush, according to Robert Novak. I've heard John Kerry and his principal advisors reaffirm the importance of staying and winning. But I think what Sebastian is hearing is, dare I bespeak the words, THE NATIONAL INTEREST calling. That is, what is the opportunity cost in terms of American national and economic well-being of the $4-plus billion dollars we're spending each month in Iraq? Could we get better bang for our national security dollar by becoming more realistic about what we can hope to accomplish there, and work instead to stabilize the situation with the help of regional players?

Sebastian,

I guess our difference is in whether we take Kerry at his word. You believe that he's telling us his true convictions, I think he's simply being a politician. Neither candidate can say what's really involved in winning the peace without getting hammered at the polls -- they know that the public can't handle the truth and wil punish anyone who gives it to them. So Kerry, with the idea that he'll have better relations with the Europeans, has found a way to differentiate himself from Bush and plausibly (to some) offer a noble way out. Bush is in a more difficult spot, since there's not much he can promise that he couldn't already be doing. So all he's left with is to be relentlessly optimistic about the current situation.

Damned if I know what either of them will actually do if elected/re-elected.

BTW, where do you see us getting the troops we need for the extended commitment you foresee? (Sorry if you've already answered this in one of your posts).

Sebastian: It had to do with our dealings with the USSR.

Now, that's such a vast and sweeping comment that I'm sorry, you'll have to do what I did - provide cites.

I suspect that you are arguing from the talking points expressed by the RNC's so-called Research Briefing back in February. Fred Kaplan debunked those talking points in Slate on February 25.

If you have anything else in mind, and want to be convincing about it, you should specify. But Kerry's key focus during the years 1985-89 was certainly in opposition to Reagan's foreign policy - but an opposition that, by this time, I'd have thought most honest Republicans would respect. Who wants to defend the Iran-Contra deals these days?

Sebastian: In case you hadn't noticed, Iraq is currently in chaos. How do you justify supporting Bush, whose defining goal appears to be "Bring it on!"

You have a lot to say attacking Kerry. You don't appear to be able to say positively why you're supporting Bush.

Who wants to defend the Iran-Contra deals these days?

Elliot Abrams, John Pointdexter, Michael Ledeen, Otto Reich ...

Oops. Forgot John Negroponte.

jesurgislac, I need to finish my post. I can access the site I linked, but the link won't. Here's the URL and an excerpt.

http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/ledeen200407091114.asp

"Instead of trying to find out who my colleagues and I really are and what we did in Iraq, Krugman created a fantasy world in which unqualified people got great jobs because they were children of celebrated or powerful Washington insiders. (I won't dwell on the fact that Krugman also quoted my father out of context; those interested can verify this for themselves.) Times readers are entitled to the real story, however. People were hired based on professional experience and abilities, not cronyism. The Pentagon had a website up for many months to recruit volunteers for both Iraq and Afghanistan. In my case, I have an MBA, spent a year in post-Communist Eastern Europe at a newly privatized publishing house, and have worked at an economic consulting firm and a venture-capital group."

Certainly there was looting. It would have taken a million troops to prevent all the looting. It would have also require shooting the very citizens we're trying to help. I wonder what we'd be defending today if our troops would have mowed down a few hundred Iraqis that momentarily escaped their dignity. Some brought them back, remember?

And the CPA hiring situation was never as bad as you imply. I feel even more confident now that I know your sourse was probably Krugman.

Actually, what Ledeen doesn't tell you is that a great deal of GOP truebelievers were hired when they submitted their applications through the Heritage Foundation. And then their are the GOP heavy hitters liek Tom Foley.

Certainly there was looting. It would have taken a million troops to prevent all the looting.

In a city of six million people, in a country of twenty-seven million? No, it wouldn't.

What it would have taken was a committment of resources, including experienced troops, ready from minute one. It would have taken planning, it would have meant taking responsibility, it would have meant a lot of things that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were - from their own actions and testimony to Congress - just not about to admit were going to be needed, and needed immediately. The need was obvious, and experts warned them it was going to be necessary, and Rumsfeld did nothing - and then joked about the disaster that followed.

Some brought them back, remember?

How do you "bring back" the lives lost because hospitals were looted, Blogbuds?

And the CPA hiring situation was never as bad as you imply.

AFAIR, I've never said anything about the CPA hiring on this thread. Hilzoy commented on their dubious hiring practices: if you think one CPA hiree saying she was NOT hired because of who her father was outweighs all the other evidence (considerable) that all was not well, you're wrong:

An audit, reportedly critical, of the coalition’s handling of Iraqi revenues is not going to be delivered until mid-July – after the coalition has ceased to exist.

Christian Aid believes this situation is in flagrant breach of the UN Security Council resolution that gave control of Iraq’s oil revenues and other Iraqi funds to the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).

‘For the entire year that the CPA has been in power in Iraq, it has been impossible to tell with any accuracy what the CPA has been doing with Iraq’s money,’ said Helen Collinson, head of policy at Christian Aid. (cite)

Krugman has made valid points about the CPA's hiring standards, such as:

Still, given Mr. Bremer's economic focus, you might at least have expected his top aide for private-sector development to be an expert on privatization and liberalization in such countries as Russia or Argentina. But the job initially went to Thomas Foley, a Connecticut businessman and Republican fund-raiser with no obviously relevant expertise. In March, Michael Fleischer, a New Jersey businessman, took over. Yes, he's Ari Fleischer's brother. Mr. Fleischer told The Chicago Tribune that part of his job was educating Iraqi businessmen: "The only paradigm they know is cronyism. We are teaching them that there is an alternative system with built-in checks and built-in review." (cite)

jesurgislac, Uncle! You're absolutely right. We don't have enough troops to battle terrorists and looters. Hear that LA, Detroit, Florida. Vote for John Kerry and he and the French will eliminate global looting.

Wanna know how I look right now. Picture W - Thursday night. You guys are absolutely exasperating.

Wow you want more troops in Iraq and you are voting for Kerry. Huh.

Blogbudsman: You're absolutely right.

Of course I am. ;-) Thank you.

Sebastian: Wow you want more troops in Iraq and you are voting for Kerry. Huh.

I can't say - and clearly neither can Kerry - what the situation in Iraq will be when President Kerry takes command on January 20, 2005. It would be foolish to make definite plans for a volatile situation so far in advance.

However, as General Shinseki pointed out to Donald Rumsfeld and US Congress (in February 2003) for the successful occupation of Iraq, far more troops were needed than were available. That's no secret: it's been public information since before March 2003 that Bush was bulling ahead with the invasion of Iraq without the necessary manpower. I want Kerry in as President because Bush allowed good advice to be ignored, and I don't believe Kerry would have been as incompetent as Bush.

And you're rewarding Bush's incompetence why, again?

jesurgislac - " It would be foolish to make definite plans for a volatile situation so far in advance."

Wow, hold back Hilzoy! Jers wasn't making a moral statement here, so this failure to develop detailed planning isn't necessarily a sign of Kerry's complete incompetence. I wonder if Kerry is going to keep a stable of Republican staffers who can help him develop this future detailed plan, given they've had valuable experience evaluating scenarios. Have they come up with exactly how Iraqis and the terrorists are going to react to Kerry's election - increase attacks, looting? Will the police force go into hiding? Refugees? But we're all comfortable with it. Aren't you?

Blogs - serious question. Do you think that Kerry ought to be committing himself to a definite plan for Iraq well over three months before he can do thing one about it?

- increase attacks, looting? Will the police force go into hiding? Refugees? But we're all comfortable with it.

Evidently you are comfortable with looting, increased attacks, refugees, and a police force that keeps melting away, because that's the result of Bush's "planning", and Bush is the candidate you support.

So, what makes you comfortable with the disastrous situation you have described?

Heh. Bremer weighs in, joins the growing ranks of the shrill.

Praktike: shrill link fixed (I hope).

Also link to a description of the situation that Blogbudsman says he's "comfortable" with...

"So, what makes you comfortable with the disastrous situation you have described?"

I'm not. I thought you were. What did I miss?

I'm not. I thought you were. What did I miss?

You're supporting the Bush administration, whose failures have led to the disastrous situation you describe. You want Bush to have a second term so that the disastrous situation in Iraq can continue - or get worse, since Bush self-evidently has no plans to improve the situation.

Why wouldn't I think you're quite comfortable with the situation in Iraq as is? You're planning to support the administration that created the situation and reward them with four more years to continue it.

Have they come up with exactly how Iraqis and the terrorists are going to react to Kerry's election - increase attacks, looting?

I'm sorry, I think I missed the part where you demonstrated that Kerry's election would actually cause an increase in attacks and looting. Surely an implication so vital to your argument should be the centerpiece of your remarks?

[To clarify, you need to show that Kerry's election would correlate, ideally causally, with an increase in attacks and looting above and beyond the general trend, now established for about six months, of increased looting and attacks in Iraq. Which six months, it should go without saying but probably doesn't, can hardly be blamed on Kerry or the Democrats.]

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