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June 16, 2009

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I wonder, is there a political faction in Japan demanding that the Japanese Prime Minister "do something more" about the situation in Iran, or "hop[ing] and pray[ing]" that Japan will bomb Iran or turn Iran into a glass parking lot? Or insisting that the situation in Iran is the result of the Japanese Prime Minister being a weak, feckless, appeasing liberal incapable of standing up to tyranny? How about in the U.K. and the British Prime Minister? France? Germany? Russia? China? India? Italy? That doesn't appear to be the case.

And yet, somehow, this is exactly the situation we have in the United States. Funny that.

If I am reading Andrew Sullivan correctly, he is okay with the US not making a move in support of the demonstrators at this point for exactly the reason that it would allow the Iranian authorities to claim that the demonstrators are U.S. puppets.

clap clap clappity clap

Similarly, two Iraq war champions that have supposedly found religion, George Packer and Andrew Sullivan, have been urging President Obama to do more - that is, to make hollow symbolic gestures and speak out in favor of the protesters.

To be fair, Sullivan doesn't seem to be doing this. Here's one example, and I don't think it's the only one.

“President Ahmadinejad would like nothing better than to see a very aggressive series of statements by the United States that would try to put the U.S. in the center of this,” Burns said. “And I think President Obama is avoiding that quite rightly.”

I'm relieved we don't have a president McCain. His heart is in the right place but his head is a blogger's, not a president's.

Joining what I take to be cleek's applause for this post.

In fact, Eric, Sullivan was happy with Obama's approach yesterday. I think you should read what he has actually written.

I do agree with you totally that clumsiness or stupidity is nowhere near the same as irrationality. The Iranian regime has never shown the slightest tendency toward irrationality.

Man, you are on fire. Great post.

I'm glad to hear that Sullivan has since moderated, but the post of his that I linked to includes his recommendation that Obama wear a green tie (every day) to show solidarity.

That post was also discussed in one of the Larison links in this post.

I'll update to reflect Sully's change of heart.

I get the feeling that the 'clumsiness' was intentional. I agree that not even trying to conceal the election fraud was a kind of crack-down. The Old Men were saying: 'we knew this fraud would be patent, and we did it anyway, because we are Supreme'. This showing-who's-boss may have been stupid, but I wouldn't call it 'irrational'. Crackdowns usually work, even in more open democracies than what Iran has. Sadly.

Obama is handling this one just right so far. It is Klein and Packer who are being irrational.

Sully doesn't get credit for a change of heart. Imagine if he weren't armchair president, we'd all be dead. There should be a 48 hour moratorium on pundits who know nothing just saying whatever the hell they want, i.e. the incontrovertible evidence of fraud (Andy's widely linked graph) being just a load of crap. But hey, that's the way the bloggos roll! Assimilatin' new information on the fly in our digital age! Also, Ezra should not get any credit for "should know better" points- because the fact is that the only thing that matters for useless punditry is that it kind of sound good in a free-floating and disconnected to actual reality way. Shorter me: I grow tired of armchair policy asshats that post first and ask questions later. The whole-cloth precocious freshman wheels-turning synthetic pseudo-wonkery makes me very very Baby Jesus crying sad.

"makes me very very Baby Jesus crying sad"

That will be stolen someday. Some might say it's irrational for me to announce my intentions like this in a blog comment, but it's my way of saying: 'I know this thievery will be patent, and I will do it anyway, because I am Supreme.'

Twitter that Pinko Punko - if that really is your blevins.

Also, jonny: That is a definite possibility, and one that should not be rejected out of hand. The same thought had crossed my mind.

Bottom line: they were happy when the Iranian population was apathetic due to a sense of hopelessness that anything would change. They want that back. They want to crush spirits.

Twitter that Pinko Punko - if that really is your blevins.

i feel like i've stumbled into the Clockwork Orange blog.

Yarbles! Great bolshy yarblockos to you. I'll meet you with chain or nozh or britva anytime, not having you aiming tolchocks at me reasonless. Well, it stands to reason I won't have it.

Excellent post, Eric. Thank you.

Why don't we cut him some slack?

On this issue, I am. Any intervention of any kind is likely to have bad blowback of some kind. I think that thus far he’s handling it as well as anyone could, and better than some. I have enough legitimate beefs with the big O, I’m not going to blame him for not doing something when sometimes doing nothing is the exact right thing to do. And no American president could possibly know right now with any certainty what statement or action would produce what result.

On the larger point of your post though – I’ve followed this in the blogosphere pretty closely and I certainly haven’t seen any push by neoconservatives to use this as an opportunity to start a war with Iran. None whatsoever. Certainly I’ve seen lots of criticism that Obama should say something to support the protesters (ala Reagan/Poland) but I’m torn on that so I’m happy to leave it to those who supposedly know more about it.

I hope Point manages to stop by, given vis previously-expressed concern on this very subject.

I'm curious, though, why both Point and Mr. Martin have expressed such surprise that Ezra Klein is entertaining the "fundamentally irrational" nonsense. Klein has dedicated himself to healthcare wonkery, and isn't necessarily the sharpest when it comes to foreign policy. After all, he swallowed the Iraq Adventure hook, line, and sinker at the time.

I dunno. Ezra seems so damned sensible. I guess it surprises me.

"On the larger point of your post though – I’ve followed this in the blogosphere pretty closely and I certainly haven’t seen any push by neoconservatives to use this as an opportunity to start a war with Iran."

Steve, what there have been (and I linked to some) are neocon arguments (and Israeli government arguments) that this proves you can't negotiate or engage with Iran. Further, that this proves that Iran is "viscious, lunatic" and dangerous, and thus can't be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.

So if we can't allow them to have a nuke, and we can't deter them through negotiation or engagement, what should we do?

See, they'll let you do the math.

Surface "sensibility" sells souls, Satan seems satisfied. Sad savior subsequently.

New post by George Packer:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/georgepacker/

It think it shows Eric's and his views are not particularly in conflict.

I admire George Packer. I think he really cares about the people he covers as a journalist, and in this case I think he may not have sufficiently explained what US engagement in the situation ought to look like.

Obama's most recent statements again show his ability to change the station. Packer recognizes this:

"Just when Obama seemed to have fallen a step behind events, he emerged from his silence to do what no politician in our time could have managed: emphasize American respect for Iranian sovereignty and yet, in measured terms, make it clear that the U.S. cannot be indifferent to the tragedy unfolding in Iran."

What is fascinating to me about the punditry is the level to which the Bush years seem to have left so many emotionally and intellectually stunted. Packer sees this too:

"It’s remarkable how difficult it’s been for writers of many different ideological persuasions to say that scenes like this ([clip of protesters being brutalized] via Andrew Sullivan, the number one source for Iran news these days) are shameful. The reason, of course, has everything to do with the wars of the Bush years, at home and abroad, which have left so many thoughtful people incapable of holding onto the most basic thought. But it’s a mistake to let your attitude toward historic events be shaped and deformed by the desire not to sound like a neo-con, or to sound like a neo-con reborn. Trust the evidence of your eyes."

Fortunately Packer, Obama and the writers on this site are not among this group.

Eric: Bottom line: they were happy when the Iranian population was apathetic due to a sense of hopelessness that anything would change. They want that back. They want to crush spirits.

Which was the miscalculation, since walked back by the far-from-irrational decision to announce Council-of-Guardians review and allow cool-out mobilization yesterday.

This piece by an expat I linked in a previous thread does a good job of explaining the voter psychology that made the overtness of the speedy count and implausible regional margins a miscalculation:

The disappointment felt by Mousavi supporters cannot be imagined. It is so much more acute than expected, exactly because so little was expected. If, as a homeless person on the side of the street, you ask people to give you a thousand dollars, clearly (as the British say) you're taking the piss, and you don't really expect anything to happen. But, if you ask for a single dollar from a person who clearly can afford it, yet they not only not just keep walking, but turn around instead and spit and insult you in your face, then all bets on politeness are off.

Here was Mir-Hossein Mousavi, a man who is as much a figurehead of the regime as any, and here were these people willing to go along with this insult of a 'choice' within a highly anti-democratic setup, and yet even the presidency of one of their own could not to be tolerated by the deeply conservative establishment. The Iranian people have been forced, yet again, to admit painfully that they clearly cannot call the theocratic rule over them anything other than an absolute dictatorship.

To have witnessed and tasted the feel of some 'openness' in the political atmosphere during the campaign weeks, to have participated in mass debates in the streets, in the squares, to have felt that their votes would really count and that they could force some 'change', to have held impromptu rallies and expressed themselves freely in hopes of persuading others, all of which sent them to euphorically high places, and THEN to have had their hopes crushed in a matter of hours after the closing of polling stations, and in such blatant, in your face, take it or stick it fashion ... that must be a huge disappointment to bear. No wonder then that street protests were so swift to come about.

I strongly encourage a reading of the whole thing, not least because it includes a small dollop of Iranian political history, which everyone who comments here could stand to know more of.

I’ve followed this in the blogosphere pretty closely and I certainly haven’t seen any push by neoconservatives to use this as an opportunity to start a war with Iran.

What did you make of von's "all options are on the table" from yesterday? It may not have been an outright call for war, but it sure as hell wasn't simply a call to "support the protesters" either.

That [the old men were obvious on purpose] is a definite possibility

I get the impression that opposition types in Iran are very sophisticated, well educated, and very engaged, and that the Old Men would know that. If you care about plausibility when stealing an election, you do it the way modern American pols do. Of course the 'rural' voters are the other audience for this, but I have to think it's a deliberate thumb in the eye for the opposition people, an insult, a provocation. Stupid, yes. Irrational? Maybe it looks irrational from the POV of a DC health care wonk, but - easy for *him*!

It’s remarkable how difficult it’s been for writers of many different ideological persuasions to say that scenes like this ([clip of protesters being brutalized] via Andrew Sullivan, the number one source for Iran news these days) are shameful. The reason, of course, has everything to do with the wars of the Bush years, at home and abroad, which have left so many thoughtful people incapable of holding onto the most basic thought.

Wow this is ignorant and offensive. I've got no trouble at all saying the Iranian regime's behavior is shameful, but I'm inclined to do so very quietly because folks like Packer will seize upon every such utterance to push for another pointless war.

Beyond that, I'm not as ignorant as most pundits: I understand that there are many regimes around the world that deny their citizens voting and civil rights. Many of those regimes are actively supported by the US. All of these abuses are bad, but until I see Packer and his ilk advocating a consistent policy whereby countries that engage in similar rights-violations face similar sanctions, I'm going to assume that they don't give a damn about Iranians and are only interested in stoking anti-Iranian sentiment for their own purposes.

But it’s a mistake to let your attitude toward historic events be shaped and deformed by the desire not to sound like a neo-con, or to sound like a neo-con reborn. Trust the evidence of your eyes."

Is it a mistake to let my attitude be shaped by the belief that Packer is a moral simpleton?

Building off what Turbo said, part of my beef with Packer and that whole attitude lies in some recent posts on "moderate regimes" vs. "extremist regimes."

Dictatorships we like (Saudis) are called moderates - and we never talk about regime change. The Iranians? Fringe extremists whose suffering population deserves our shock and awe.

Also, Packer is still wrong on Iraq.
http://tianews.blogspot.com/2007/08/was-blind-but-now.html

As a long standing advocate of American disengagement with political decisions in other countries, I agree with Eric. And I find the surprise expressed at the election-rigging by hard-liners, well, surprising. That some hard line clerics rigged the election (even more) in their favour should hardly make us think less of their rationality, but it should make us think less of their popular support. A regime confident in its popular support, or even popular acquiescence, would hardly have rigged the election in favor of a man such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who endangers Iran's security and impoverishes its citizens every time he opens his mouth. In short, if we in the West exercise a little common sense and keep our mouths shut, the Iranian theocracy may end up forced to revolve into an actual democracy.

Whoa.

If you know who Grand Ayatollah Montazeri is, and his history, this is pretty dramatic:

Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri has issued a statement supporting the peaceful demonstrations, claiming that "no one in their right mind" can believe the  results of the election. In his statement, he told the Iranian people:

1- A legitimate state must respect all points of view. It may not oppress all critical views. I fear that this lead to the lost of people’s faith in Islam.

2- Given the current circumstances, I expect the government to take all measures to restore people’s confidence. Otherwise, as I have already said, a government not respecting people’s vote has no religious or political legitimacy.

3- I invite everyone, specially the youth, to continue reclaiming their dues in calm, and not let those who want to associate this movement with chaos succeed.

4- I ask the police and army personals not to "sell their religion", and beware that receiving orders will not excuse them before god. Recognize the protesting youth as your children. Today censor and cutting telecommunication lines can not hide the truth.

I've been critical of commenters here calling the popular response a revolution, but this has distinct echoes of Archbishop Romero.

[...] On the larger point of your post though – I’ve followed this in the blogosphere pretty closely and I certainly haven’t seen any push by neoconservatives to use this as an opportunity to start a war with Iran. None whatsoever.
We have our very own Von over here jabbering on about how "Iran must be told that all options are on the table," i.e., war is on the table!

Daniel Pipes explained before the election results that:

[...] Therefore, while my heart goes out to the many Iranians who desperately want the vile Ahmadinejad out of power, my head tells me it's best that he remain in office. When Mohammed Khatami was president, his sweet words lulled many people into complacency, even as the nuclear weapons program developed on his watch. If the patterns remain unchanged, better to have a bellicose, apocalyptic, in-your-face Ahmadinejad who scares the world than a sweet-talking Mousavi who again lulls it to sleep, even as thousands of centrifuges whir away. And so, despite myself, I am rooting for Ahmadinejad.
Note that in the previous post that Pipes links to, he explains that:
[...] The most dangerous leaders in modern history are those (such as Hitler) equipped with a totalitarian ideology and a mystical belief in their own mission. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fulfills both these criteria, as revealed by his U.N. comments. That combined with his expected nuclear arsenal make him an adversary who must be stopped, and urgently.
Maybe you can argue that Pipes is saying that Ahmadinejad is just like Hitler, but we shouldn't go to war with him, but that seems to be a bit of a stretch.

To be sure, I don't see a lot of direct calls for going immediately to war with Iran. But there are plenty of calls for "pressure" and more sanctions, and declarations that negotiations shouldn't be pursued. If you'd like links for that sort of thing, there are plenty.

Yup -- 'moderate' = 'people/regimes the US likes'; 'extremist' = people/regimes it don't.

Humpty Dumpty political theory lives.

Also, Ezra appears to have responded on Twitter to your criticism, Eric (I tweeted a link to this post and tagged him, and assume by the timing that he took a gander):

"Didn't think this was necessary to say, but the fact that the Iranian regime seems less rational than I thought is not a reason to bomb it."

http://twitter.com/ezraklein/statuses/2195815426

"...folks like Packer will seize upon every such utterance to push for another pointless war."

This seems to bear absolutely no resemblance to the actual George Packer.

In the wake of Montazeri's statement, it is even more important for the US government to tread very softly. This is an internal struggle over the character and legitimacy of the Islamic Republic.

It’s remarkable how difficult it’s been for writers...to say that scenes like this..are shameful.

Worse than offensive, this is just backwards. The idea that writers shouldn't be intimidated to call something shameful by its name is, sure enough, a product of the Bush (and Reagan) years, but it was mostly a solution to a problem which didn't exist (ie, it was just a political bludgeon). I don't think the Reagan and W. Bush Administration's resolute stand against Stalin's show trials is anything to take very seriously. It's just another one of those strawman arguments, and one which Packer must have bought into.

Yes, Packer is a good reporter, and I'm sure he cares about the people upon whom he reports, but it must be borne in mind (you too, Hitchens): the mixing of compassion and romanticism tends to taint both. Some things just aren't about *you* at all, boys.

Okay, just popping in (for now) to state for the record that I don't think the election fraud is necessarily an irrational act, and that I agree with the consensus supporting Obama's response thus far.

I'll have more to say when I can spare the time.

"Didn't think this was necessary to say, but the fact that the Iranian regime seems less rational than I thought is not a reason to bomb it."

Except that there are many people for whom it is a reason, and they tend to have bigger megaphones than Ezra Klein. So maybe, just maybe, we shouldn't buy yet again into their characterization of a regime as dangerously unhinged.

(I dunno how many characters that was, but I don't have a Twitter feed anyway. Perhaps Mr. Martin or mattbastard can "tweet" Mr. Klein back about the tiny flaw in publicly declaring "Maybe the Iranian leadership is a pack of madmen, but we should still try to constructively engage them.")

mds: Done.

http://twitter.com/matttbastard/status/2196669032

(BTW, ObWingians on teh Twitter should hit me up. I OWN the 140. Or something.)

Montazeri's statement may not be such a big development, given his public criticisms of Ahmedinejad's politics and support of reformist efforts over the last several years.

So: less Archbishop Romero in February 1980 and more, oh, Al Gore in January 2006, but with the risk of house arrest.

This seems to bear absolutely no resemblance to the actual George Packer.

Well, George Packer does have a history of using precisely this sort of humanitarian concern to advocate for a pointless war that killed a million plus people. Maybe he's changed his morally atrocious behavior in that regard. Maybe he's no longer willing to be a useful idiot for the neocon right. If that's true, I guess it would be progress.

"Didn't think this was necessary to say, but the fact that the Iranian regime seems less rational than I thought is not a reason to bomb it."

I don't twitter, but basically two things:

1. First, Ezra said they were not rational, not just "less rational than he thought." According to him, they engaged in behavior that a rational regime wouldn't, and that those that thought they were rational have had their arguments "fundamentally weakened."

2. What mds said. Even if Ezra doesn't reach that conclusion, it is really the only logical conclusion. Let me see if I have the alternative down:

"The Iranian regime is irrational and unpredictable unlike any former nuke power, and they are close to acquiring nuke capabilities. However, we should seek to engage them diplomatically and (if need be) learn to live them having a nuke or breakout capacity through rational-theory based deterrence."

Riiiiight. That oughta work.

"This seems to bear absolutely no resemblance to the actual George Packer."

Packer was in favor of military intervention in Burma FWIW. Out of the kindness of his heart, obviously.

I look forward to future right-wing posts that start "even the liberal Ezra Klein...."

I'm going to defend Packer a bit more before I'm run out of here on a rail...

@turbulence, have you read any of Packer's work? Warmonger he is not. And he's an in-the-field journalist/analyst, not a stateside pundit. His "fault" may be to get in amongst his subject matter and care too much. Of course he was wrong about W's war. He made the flawed judgment that the chance for freedom for Iraqis was worth the chance that we would F it up. Who amongst us didn't ponder this? When you live or travel extensively in undemocratic countries and get to know the people you can lose track of abstract things like "there are no institutions to replace the Army when the regime falls". You think about their hopes and aspirations as human beings.

Eric makes a valid point in his link about lack of sound analysis by Packer of domestic politics with regard to Iraq. But why are we bashing him about Iraq? Isn't that, like, a completely different situation? Let's take Packer's voice for what it is; a profoundly eloquent voice concerned with the real people caught up in America's recent military adventures. Go read Assassin's Gate or even better his New Yorker work on Iraqi translators, or his play about same.

I've read Assassin's Gate (liked it) and have praised (and linked to) his pieces on Iraqi translators.

But, as I mentioned upthread, Packer supported military intervention in Burma recently. As well as other locales (Darfur, ie). So, even if his heart is in the right place, his advocacy is dangerous, irresponsible, and leads to lots of dead people.

I'm not about giving him his due when he's on the right side of an issue, but he really needs to check his militaristic impulses.

a profoundly eloquent voice concerned with the real people caught up in America's recent military adventures

That's a lovely euphemism, but I'm going to stick with "people killed or maimed as a result of a war of choice that he supported."

I remain convinced that the last thing anyone anywhere needs right now is more of George Packer's eloquent concern.

have you read any of Packer's work? Warmonger he is not.

I've read some of it. Not a tremendous amount.

Let me see if I understand you: Packer has a history of advocating military invasions of countries where many experts are convinced that such invasions would cause tremendous suffering. Ergo he is not a warmonger. Is that right? Is your point that Packer can't be a warmonger because he doesn't want bad things to happen to the people of the countries he thinks we should invade?

And he's an in-the-field journalist/analyst, not a stateside pundit. His "fault" may be to get in amongst his subject matter and care too much. Of course he was wrong about W's war. He made the flawed judgment that the chance for freedom for Iraqis was worth the chance that we would F it up.

There's no reason to believe that anyone could have deposed the Iraqi regime without triggering a conflict that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. This isn't a question of Fing it up: there was no feasible way to "remake" Iraq without the massive death toll.

Who amongst us didn't ponder this? When you live or travel extensively in undemocratic countries and get to know the people you can lose track of abstract things like "there are no institutions to replace the Army when the regime falls". You think about their hopes and aspirations as human beings.

Do you think this is a defense of Packer? If you really want to claim that he has so little emotional maturity that after being blinded by the prospect of achieving outcome X, he loses all ability to consider X's feasibility or costs, then you're far more critical of him than I am. Do you really think that Packer is too dumb to understand that you can't do a cost-benefit analysis without considering, well, costs?

Also, I don't understand how much Packer associated with representative Iraqis. Did he really live in Iraq for years and years? Or did he mostly associate with Iraqi exiles? Because spending time with exile communities is a good way to have no idea what Iraqis living in Iraq think. Many media people were seduced by Iraqi exiles who had a lot more to gain and a lot less to lose by a war: was Packer one of them?

Eric makes a valid point in his link about lack of sound analysis by Packer of domestic politics with regard to Iraq. But why are we bashing him about Iraq?

Because the war he advocated for killed a million plus human beings and he hasn't suffered any consequences.

Isn't that, like, a completely different situation?

Judging from Packer's ideas about Burma, I don't see much reason to believe that Packer's poor judgment has improved. Whether his poor judgment stems from moral idiocy as I assumed or from shocking emotional immaturity as you suggest doesn't really matter much.

Let's take Packer's voice for what it is; a profoundly eloquent voice concerned with the real people caught up in America's recent military adventures.

Indeed, he was so concerned that he advocated for a war that killed a million people. I'm sure the victims of that war are grateful for his concern.

rweaver: When you live or travel extensively in undemocratic countries and get to know the people you can lose track of abstract things like "there are no institutions to replace the Army when the regime falls". You think about their hopes and aspirations as human beings.

1- That's not an abstract thing for anyone who really has a concrete understanding of the people and society in which he's moving.

Have you seen the film Control Room? Early in the invasion, one of the al-Jazeera workers predicts exactly what will happen when the government collapses: "People will run to the mosque." (as the only source of stability, creating and intensifying sectarian divides).

2- Even if that were a mitigating human explanation for clouded judgement and naivete in advance of the war, the noble intentions do not retrospectively justify that lack of judgment. Packer explicitly claimed that his did so.

He's an "humanitarian" interventionist, straight out. And he's a political pundit, not just a reporter.

That should read:

"I'm not above giving him his due when he's on the right side of an issue, but he really needs to check his militaristic impulses."

Echoing what others have said about Packer: I think he's interesting and thoughtful, but he has a tendency to be very, very badly wrong about what "ideals" involve, and how we should act on them. As Nell said, worrying about how to depose a dictator without making things much worse for the people under him is not an abstract concern. Not at all.

Test? Goddamn TypePad.

OK, I have a few minutes here, so:

First, as I said at 3:27, I do not believe Iran is behaving irrationally (so I disagree with Ezra). I also do not believe it follows that if the regime behaves irrationally in one instance, or even shows a tendency for irrationality, it requires some form of military response or otherwise irrational counter-response* (so it seems I disagree with Packer).

All that said, I don't think either Ezra Klein nor George Packer nor any other such person who draws these sorts of conclusions deserves anything approaching the level of invective Eric uses here.

This case in particular: While on consideration, I do not agree with Ezra's conclusion that Iran's actions were irrational, I cannot deny that the notion was thought provoking.

To condemn his post on the grounds that right-wingers would use it to their advantage is to declare that some ideas to be beyond consideration on such a basis is something I find more offensive as a free thinking person. This is the sentiment of "People have to watch what they say", pure and simple.

If you think someone is wrong factually, point it out; if you think they have ulterior motives, by all means condemn them.

But if an idea is considered and put forth in good faith -- which I believe is what Ezra did -- it is irrational, illiberal, and wrong to hold them to how dishonest pundits will interpret them. To anyone who claims to respect the free exchange of ideas, this is your burden.

I, for one, am proud to do what I can to carry my part.

*FWIW, look at North Korea...

Turb: "Also, I don't understand how much Packer associated with representative Iraqis. Did he really live in Iraq for years and years? Or did he mostly associate with Iraqi exiles?"

The latter--specifically Kanan Makiya, who features prominently in The Assassin's Gate.[1]

rweaver: I have read Packer, including TAG, which, to me, was a rankly dishonest mea culpa that deliberately mischaracterized the run up to the war in the attempt to undeservedly absolve Packer of responsibility for his useful idiocy at the time, eg, 'The Liberal Quandary Over Iraq'.[2] According to Packer, we (ie, the anti-war movement) didn't exist, a lie Packer brazenly rehashes in TAG.

Atrios sums things up nicely[3]:

"Okay, I'm having an angry day as I got sucked into reading a bunch of liberal hawk horseshit from back in the day. Aside from the arguments they were making, what's infuriating is the endless preening. So often they would put themselves at the center of the narrative, as if anyone does or should give a rat's ass about their intellectual journey, or deep internal struggle, or whatever the fnck. As if any of that mattered.

"And now a lot of people are dead, have holes in their heads, can't move, don't have legs, are suicidal, etc... because a bunch of self-important narcissists got off on the idea that they played a central role in creating history, or some such crap."

In other words, fnck George Packer and the rest of his sickeningly self-satisfied ilk.

links (in case Typepad is still arbitrarily stripping HTML):

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/23/world/africa/23iht-profile.5007631.html?pagewanted=all

2. http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/08/magazine/the-liberal-quandary-over-iraq.html?pagewanted=all

3. http://www.eschatonblog.com/2007/08/dead.html

"the level of invective Eric uses here"

What invective was that?

"If you think someone is wrong factually, point it out"

I did just that!

"To condemn his post on the grounds that right-wingers would use it to their advantage is to declare that some ideas to be beyond consideration on such a basis is something I find more offensive as a free thinking person"

But that's not what I said. It's not that we can't consider the possiblity that the Iranian regime is irrational. I'm simply saying that we should be careful and thoughtful in that consideration because it's a loaded term. Locked and loaded.

In this case, my beef was with some shallow thinking on the part of Ezra's, around a topic that he should have taken more seriously.

BTW, this commercial [1] (from United Against Nuclear Iran [2]) has been running all day on CNN.

Would seem that the hawks, liberal or otherwise, are indeed attempting to boldly seize (and shape) the narrative.

1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfcuJveran4

2. http://unitedagainstnucleariran.com/

The problem with Packer is that he thinks he's smarter than everybody else - that is rarely the case and tends to cloud judgement.

Eric Martin @1:22 PM:

I'll update to reflect Sully's change of heart.

Was there an update?

[Mr. Sullivan noticed this post, btw]

YES YES YES! Andrew Sullivan is NOT advocating an overt entry by teh US into the current Iranian mess. Obama's response is exactly right and appropriate. Ahmi and Khamen are haivng to deal wioth the people directly now. They can not point to the US as an intruder in this situation. It is entirely of their own doing. Thank god that neither McCain, Palin or Romney are in office!

Didn't think that this was necessary to say, but Ezra Klein trafficking in the very phrases trademarked by neocon Iran-obsessives (irrational) means he doesn't get to use the
"intuitively obvious" hedge of "didn't think this was necessary to say" that he was sorry to have elided the "do not bomb" Iran part while playing into the neoconventional wisdom. Pundits that can seem very reasonable I am afraid may just be honey-tongued sociopaths that know what words to string together.

Walking back, I don't think Ezra is a sociopath any more than your average dude that talks a good game about the weekend's sports happenings because of a desire for socialization, but perhaps not out of a desire for actual understanding or attachment. A simulacrum of understanding is what we are getting with our generalist pundits.

Wow, am I in a foul mood today!

Your argument amounts to little more than a silly semantic quibble. OK, the Iranian regime is rational, but so was Hitler's... all too rational in fact, which is precisely the point, isn't it? What the Iranian regime is displaying is an all too rational ability to act in a ruthless, single-minded manner devoid of the moral conscience which sets limits on human behaviour. Can you or anyone else say for certain where the regime's moral limits are as you watch it brutalize its own people? No. And that's the point, isn't it, not it's rationality per se.

"Maybe he's changed his morally atrocious behavior in that regard."

Maybe I should judge you by one qualified opinion at one point in time, and pay no attention to any of the other thousands of comments you've written before or since.

Or maybe not.

"Packer was in favor of military intervention in Burma FWIW."

Cite, please, Eric?

Here is a long Packer piece on his trip to Burma in August of 2008. Can you point to me where there's anything resembling advocating American military intervention in Burma?

Maybe I should judge you by one qualified opinion at one point in time, and pay no attention to any of the other thousands of comments you've written before or since.

Gary, apparently Packer has demonstrated the same poor judgment by advocating pointless wars in Burma and Darfur. I'd say that advocating for three different pointless wars that are very likely to make the lives of the people you're ostensibly trying to help worse constitutes a pattern. It is is more than a single opinion uttered at only one point in time. It is a pattern of writing that stretches over years.

I've noticed you've often rushed to defend writers from suffering negative consequences for writing one stupid thing. I do not see how that principle is relevant here. Perhaps you can explain.

And yes, if I consistently wrote such ridiculous comments for years and years, you would be perfectly justified in thinking my judgment unsound.

Cite, please, Eric?

Here you go.

"Packer has a history of advocating military invasions of countries where many experts are convinced that such invasions would cause tremendous suffering."

I think that's about as fair a summary of Packer's work over the years -- and I've read most all of his blog posts and longer pieces for many years now -- as it would be to describe Turbulence as "Turbulence has a history of calling American troops baby-killers and mafia tools, and of displaying no nuance whatever in how he stacks the decks of his rhetoric; he believes no one should join the U.S. military, or ever say a positive word about Israel; that's all there is to say about Turbulence's politics and insights."

In other words, I could defend individual claims along these lines, but I would think I was reducing you to a ludicrous caricature based on an immensely simplified willful selectivity of which of your many comments I choose to talk about.

Engaging in the reductionism of a thoughtful man like Packer to "he's for military interventions" is just stupid; it's the sort of shorthand people actually unfamiliar with more than a handful of statements from some one tend to engage in. The picture you end up with is wrong.

If somebody has been wrong on what turned out to be the biggest and bloodiest US foreign policy disaster since Vietnam, has a hard time fully admitting his mistake and indeed continues to make the same mistakes, I don't give a flying f about how "thoughtful" they might be in general.

"What invective was that?"
"But that's not what I did."

For the most part, I'd be happy to take Eric's 5:49 clarification at face value --were it not for that first question.

Reading the initial post again, this is what jumped out at me:

"And really, Ezra should know better. The people that have "long argued for the fundamental rationality of the Iranian regime" have done so in the context of rebutting the argument that we must launch (yet another) war to prevent Iran from some day obtaining nuclear weapon-building capability because the regime is so irrational that it is undeterrable... Ezra's argument, weak as it is, will be used for one purpose, and one purpose alone: selling war."

But then I suppose I could just be quibbling at this point -- what counts as invective, etc. -- so I'm just going to say:

Thank you Eric, for your response.

Eric didn't link to a post by Sullivan, he linked to a post by John Cole mocking Sullivan for "greening" his blog's color scheme and suggesting that we all wear green. Silly, maybe, but not even remotely "warbloggerish."

Sullivan has not had a "change of heart." He's been consistent that Obama should not take sides in the election. He does advocate that Obama express support for the protesters (the green tie, also silly) and their right to dissent--and indeed, that's what Obama has done, quite explicitly.

Where's that update?

Reading my last response, I realize I may have come off as being sarcastic -- I'd like to say, got the record, it's not.

Just muddled.

The update is there. The green tie would be taking sides - at least, that's how Sullivan intended it. How else would Obama's sartorial choice be interpreted?

For the record, I discussed Packer and Sullivan without clearly delineating which was for speaking out and which was for hollow symbolism.

Either way, I don't have an axe to grind with Sullivan or Packer. Or Ezra Klein for that matter. The more they talk sense on this subject, the better the discourse.

Please. Prove me wrong.

"Can you or anyone else say for certain where the regime's moral limits are as you watch it brutalize its own people? No. And that's the point, isn't it, not it's rationality per se."

No, a rational regime would not nuke Israel - and in the process kill millions of Palestinians and render Jerusalem radioactive if not non-existent - and in the process guarantee its own demise. In a major way.

Thus, neocons are constantly arguing that, unlike the USSR or China, Iran is "irrational" - and thus cannot be deterred by the MAD doctrine.

What Ezra wrote helps that interpretation, and, more importantly, what Ezra wrote was poorly reasoned.

Gary, I think Packer has demonstrated very poor judgment when it comes to advocating for the use of military force. So far as I can tell, you haven't disagreed with me on this point. You have not claimed that Packer did not advocate military force in cases where many experts believed such force would be disastrous. Nor have you argued that Packer's advocacy was a good idea: I don't see you claiming that the Iraq war or invasions of Burma or Darfur were/are good ideas. If I've misconstrued your comments in this regard, please explain.

Now, this lack of judgment is obviously not the totality of Packer's work. But it is, you know, important when we're talking about Packer's credibility in foreign affairs. I don't really care about whether Packer is a thoughtful writer or a decent human being; that doesn't seem relevant to me. What is relevant is his policy judgment. Lots of thoughtful writers who are wonderful people have appalling judgment when it comes to foreign policy; I don't see why I need to explain this, but apparently I do.

But, as I mentioned upthread, Packer supported military intervention in Burma recently. As well as other locales (Darfur, ie). So, even if his heart is in the right place, his advocacy is dangerous, irresponsible, and leads to lots of dead people.

Am I missing something? Have we intervened militarily in Burma or Darfur?

I think you have a decent point, but it wouldn't be diluted by turning down the rhetorical heat just a little. The regimes in Burma and Sudan are horrible. Not bad, horrible. They torture, brutalize, and murder their own people, ruthlessly oppress dissent, and prevent their polities from achieving any meaningful social, economic, or political progress to line their own pockets. Like you, I happen to think that intervening would create more suffering than it would prevent, but it's hardly a morally indefensible position to disagree with that stance. Military interventions have, in the past, worked to improve humanitarian conditions on the ground - see, e.g., Clinton's intervention in the Balkans (which, incidentally, did not draw too much criticism from liberals as "irresponsible warmongering"). Situations must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

As for Sullivan, he tends to post with his heart rather than his head, and to bloviate from time to time. He is the first to acknowledge this, and when his readers call him on a post that's pompous, self-righteous, or ill-considered, he's the first to acknowledge it. I for one don't have a problem with that. Cool, rational, well-considered analysis is not what he does, at least not on his blog, and that's fine. There should be a place in the blogosphere for advocating for political ideals. I find Sullivan much better than most at that, since he freely acknowledges nuance and dissent in a way that many ideological bloggers on both the right and left don't.

"Gary, apparently Packer has demonstrated the same poor judgment by advocating pointless wars in Burma and Darfur."

I don't find "apparently" a convincing word when used in trying to convince me you are more familiar with a writer than I am.

And I've read, as I've said, most of his work, and it's just not full of pieces advocating wars in Burma or Darfur.

I really hate people's life work being tarred by people whose grand knowledge of their work consists of a few out of context quotes.

I just cited Packer's most recent long piece on Burma. Read it and tell me if he sounds like the crazed militarist you want to make him out to be.

On a completely unrelated note, I've noticed that a number of comments (including one by Eric) have been throwing Packer's call for intervention in Darfur with other such calls.

I'll admit, I don't read Packer regularly, so I'll just ask first: Was this a recent article (after the genocide had essentially run its course)?

If not -- and this is an open question -- does this mean that military intervention of any kind involving US forces* would not have been justified in the midst of Sudan's ethnic cleansing? Would this be the case even if it could slow or halt the genocide, or is the assumption that such an effect would be impossible to pull off?

I ask this with all respect, out of a genuine curiosity as to your views.

*I would mention a no-fly zone, for example. But I can understand if the view is that its a needless distinction from larger military interventions, given the possibility of escalation -- a mistaken one, I believe, but understandable.

"reductionism of a thoughtful man like Packer to "he's for military interventions" is just stupid"

"The picture you end up with is wrong."

I haven't read much of him --I probably read whatever he wrote in the NYT and the New Yorker, but most of my opinions of him are based on what others have said. But if he was for the Iraq War and was condescending to the antiwar movement, then "thoughtful" is not a word I would use for him when it comes to the subject of military intervention. Maybe he's thoughtful in other circumstances and on other subjects.

I don't find "apparently" a convincing word when used in trying to convince me you are more familiar with a writer than I am.

I'm sure that you're more familiar with Packer's work than I am. I have no idea why this is relevant. I have, and had, zero interest in convincing you that I know more than you about Packer's work since I don't believe that I do.

And I've read, as I've said, most of his work, and it's just not full of pieces advocating wars in Burma or Darfur.

Can you quote the bit where I claimed that all or most or a significant fraction of Packer's writing consists of advocacy for pointless wars? Because I don't think I wrote that.

Again, one can be a brilliant writer who writes some profoundly stupid things. I'm sure that Packer's advocacy of stupid wars constitutes less than 5% of his published words...I just don't see why that is relevant to the claim that he has repeatedly advocated for this sort of ill-thought military adventurism.

I just cited Packer's most recent long piece on Burma. Read it and tell me if he sounds like the crazed militarist you want to make him out to be.

No. I've already given you a cite to a piece that Packer wrote where he advocated for insane military action in Burma. The fact that he wrote other pieces about Burma where he doesn't advocate such action does not negate the fact that he advocated for such action in the first place.

Again, I neither know nor care about whether, in his heart of hearts, Packer is a crazed militarist. What I do know though is that he has consistently advocated ill-thought out military adventurism. The fact that he has not done this in every single piece he has written is neither here nor there.

"No, a rational regime would not nuke Israel - and in the process kill millions of Palestinians and render Jerusalem radioactive if not non-existent - and in the process guarantee its own demise. In a major way."

Again, you are confusing rationality with morality. They are infinitely rational and infinitely amoral at the same time, as is usual with totalitarian regimes. One can easily conceive of a rational calculation whereby the Iranian regime does exactly that which you claim they would not do. In fact the argument has already been postulated by one of their more moderate clerics (can't remmber which one) who has famously argued that it would be OK for Iran to nuke Israel because one strike would destroy that whole country, whereas Israel could not destroy all of Iran. Now how's that for rational!

"In fact the argument has already been postulated by one of their more moderate clerics (can't remmber which one) who has famously argued that it would be OK for Iran to nuke Israel because one strike would destroy that whole country, whereas Israel could not destroy all of Iran. Now how's that for rational!"

No, you are wrong about the quote. He was not saying "it would be OK for Iran to nuke Israel." His was a point about defensive capacity - he was bluffing Israel back. He was saying that if attacked, it would end up OK for the reasons given.

Big, big difference.

"Again, you are confusing rationality with morality."

No, at the root of rationality is self-preservation. The rational regime would not countenance its total annihilation for a fleeting and tainted act of aggression. What would the rational gain be exactly?

On the other hand, it would irrational to choose to end one's existence.

"No, at the root of rationality is self-preservation. The rational regime would not countenance its total annihilation for a fleeting and tainted act of aggression. What would the rational gain be exactly?

On the other hand, it would irrational to choose to end one's existence."

That is your rational calculation, but you can't prove that that would be theirs. The fact is morality is the basis of action, not rationality per se. Or, more precisely, reason is always subservient to moral ideology. Morality tells you what is OK and not OK to do, rationality is then the means to implement it.

Was Hitler irrational for gassing the Jews? No, given his moral ideology it was an all too rational course of action.

Self-preservation can lead to action which is rational yet morally repugnent... like brutalizing your own people to impose an outcome in an election the regime can't stomach.

Again, it is not the rationality of the regime that we fear, it is its morality.

I would like someone to show me an example of a suicidal regime -- that is, a governing body that intentionally caused its own demise.

It has never happened.

Hitler in the bunker doesn't count. When he invaded Russia he was taking a gamble, but he wasn't trying to destroy Germany or the Reich.

The idea that Iran's leadership is some exception to human nature is fundamentally flawed.

"That is your rational calculation, but you can't prove that that would be theirs."

Well, if we're talking about whether they are rational or not, and the irrational course would be self-annihilation in almost all circumstances, then it's not about whether or not it is "my" ratioanl calculation. If they consider irrational acts to be irrational, then they are not rational.

The real question is: are they irrational enough, and do they have such a twisted sense of morality, that they would nuke Israel. But they would have to be both (absent extenuating circumstances, such as an imminent existential threat from Israel or another power).

"Again, it is not the rationality of the regime that we fear, it is its morality."

I disagree. We can live with immoral and rational because deterrence would work. As with, say, the USSR, China and Pakistan (all of them - though to a lesser extent Paksitan - with acts of remarkable moral failing). We can't live with irrational and nuclear armed because then detrrence wouldn't work.

No. I've already given you a cite to a piece that Packer wrote where he advocated for insane military action in Burma. The fact that he wrote other pieces about Burma where he doesn't advocate such action does not negate the fact that he advocated for such action in the first place.
First of all, he doesn't quite advocate such actions in that blog post. Second, there you go: you're not interested in fairly appraising the guy, you're looking for quotes you can use to distort his beliefs when you get into conversation about him. That's the only conclusion I can come to when you choose to ignore his long thoughtful consideration of a subject, and instead insist we should look to a passing short blog post on the subject instead, even though the former obviously represents his considered views, and the latter obviously does not. And not only don't you want to weigh the two, you don't even want to read something that could get in the way of your caricature.

"What I do know though is that he has consistently advocated ill-thought out military adventurism."

Either that isn't true, or you and I define the word "consistently" differently. I've read his work, and he in no way consistently advocates military adventurism. You're just lying about that (I'll do you credit of believing you've talked yourself into believing it's fair to caricature someone like this, and fair not to look more closely, once you've decided someone Is Evil). But I've concluded you're not actually interested in the truth of the matter; you're interested in finding clubs. Have fun with that.

DJ: "...but most of my opinions of him are based on what others have said."

Something many on both the left and right seem to have this practice in common: let's not actually familiarize ourselves with the body of someone's work; let's instead talk up a handful of inflammatory out of context quotes, and treat someone as if that was the sum total of their life's considered thinking.

I don't recommend that approach.

"In fact the argument has already been postulated by one of their more moderate clerics (can't remmber which one)"

Now that's convincing.

"DJ: "...but most of my opinions of him are based on what others have said."

Something many on both the left and right seem to have this practice in common: let's not actually familiarize ourselves with the body of someone's work; let's instead talk up a handful of inflammatory out of context quotes, and treat someone as if that was the sum total of their life's considered thinking.

I don't recommend that approach.--Gary


I'm not interested in your lectures about what both the left and the right do, nor am I interested in summarizing Packer's life work, as was clearly implied in what I wrote. Don't talk to me about someone's lifetime output when you ignore the thrust of one single paragraph that I typed. I stuck to the simple topic of military intervention --I'm a little more interested in whether it is true that Packer was condescending to the antiwar movement in the period leading up to the Iraq invasion or is my impression wrong?

BTW, I tried finding what hilzoy wrote on "The Assassin's Gate", and found this--

link

Scroll down a bit and you'll find hilzoy complaining about its incredibly condescending beginning about liberals. I found this by googling "throw the book" , along with "Packer".


I would have completely predicted Ezra to say exactly what he said. He is a freaking windsockpuppet. He knows which way the wisdom is blowing.

I do not want to go off on Packer, but there is a tension between the liberal interventionist approach and disengagement. It was something that led up to the support for the Iran invasion, and I think people should be very very skeptical of it and the argument over Packer's views tends to obscure the topic, which I took to be more of the main point of the post

Insofar as some people are using this as 1)a club to hit Obama with 2)a cover for some sort of full throated intervention in Iran, they deserve to be called out, but the problem presented by Packer is much more subtle, I think, in that there is a large streak of 'let's do something/anything'. A blanket accusation, but I think that Americans have a hard time letting things be and tend to look for some resolution now, which is separate from the 2 points mentioned above. That trait of letting things develop and seeing what happens was one that americans had by dint of a very lacking long term memory, but was more something that occurred because of an absence of attention and interest rather than of a conscious effort to develop it.

Was Hitler irrational for gassing the Jews? No, given his moral ideology it was an all too rational course of action.
Was Hitler irrational for gassing the Jews? No, given his moral ideology it was an all too rational course of action.

Your argument isn't rational Oleg. Your fear of Iran isn't rational. Is that because of your moral sense?

It wasn't the holocaust that destroyed Hitler's Germany, whereas Iran attacking Israel with *any* kinds of weapons would probably provoke a total, even nuclear, response. With all your sophistry, you haven't made an even remotely convincing (at least to me) argument for your out-sized fear of Iran.
Your argument isn't rational Oleg. Your fear of Iran isn't rational. Is that because of your moral sense?

It wasn't the holocaust that destroyed Hitler's Germany, whereas Iran attacking Israel with *any* kinds of weapons would probably provoke a total, even nuclear, response. With all your sophistry, you haven't made an even remotely convincing (at least to me) argument for your out-sized fear of Iran.

Gary, every once in a while you seem to get very emotional and lose all perspective. I think this is one of those times. Your behavior in these times used to really confuse me but now I find it kind of amusing. Alas, I don't think further engagement on this point would be productive.

Nevertheless, I do thank you for making some hilarious points. I especially like the bit about how I absolutely have to ignore what Packer wrote in his blog posts unless he wrote the same thing in long form articles. Presumably, you would insist that Wagner was not an anti-semite because his book Art and Revolution included no mention of his hatred of Jews. After all, unless a writer makes a point in all of his works, he doesn't really believe it. Priceless!

Word Gary Farber

Let us reflect on how we got here, when the opening subject was "What have we learned?" Really Eric was being reasonably fair to Packer, just disagreeing, but some seem to want to mount an intellectual pogrom against this man.

What have we learned, indeed? This character assassination and message distortion is the Bush-sickness that is still hanging around.

Word Gary Farber.

Let us reflect on how we got here, when the subject is "What Have We Learned"? Really Eric Martin was being reasonably fair to Packer, just disagreeing, but some want to mount an intellectual pogrom against this man.

What have we learned, indeed? This character assassination and message distortion is the Bush-sickness that is still hanging around.

"Really Eric was being reasonably fair to Packer, just disagreeing, but some seem to want to mount an intellectual pogrom against this man."

Oh lord. No, we just want some of these prowar liberals to show much more humility than they have so far. I have read some of Packer, but details didn't stick in my head. I just looked at some portions of "The Assassin's Gate" using Amazon's search inside the book feature and you can find him being condescending to the antiwar movement on pages 80-something. He's not vicious about it, but he thinks antiwar people were really naive for not realizing that Iraqis might have been willing to risk some bombs to be liberated from Saddam.

Funny thing is, that rather obvious thought occurred to me at the time (it was unavoidable), but also realized that we had no way of knowing whether the final death toll would be measured in the thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands. (The last, as it happens, and it might even be higher).
I remember reading antiwar groups estimating (wrongly) that the death toll of the invasion phase could be in the hundreds of thousands--they were assuming Saddam might have his forces fight Stalingrad-style. Instead they melted away and we had the Stalingrads spread out over years. Nobody could be certain how the war would go--there were lots of horrific possibilities (especially if you actually believed Saddam might have had some WMD's stashed away) and though one could imagine a clean little war was one way it might go, there was no guarantee and many thought that highly unlikely. Packer was apparently picturing a nice clean little war and yet he thinks the antiwar movement was full of terribly naive people because they didn't realize, as he did, that war might not be as bad as living under Saddam.

I don't know what an intellectual pogrom is--I just want the guy to be reminded of his foolishness about Iraq on very frequent occasions. Preferably every day.

some seem to want to mount an intellectual pogrom against this man

No call for a pogrom here, but the simple fact of the matter is that in 2002 I happened to be right in predicting that a.) the Iraq war would lead to a long and bloody civil war and that b.) on top of that the Bush administration would screw things up royally. Back then I had little knowledge of Iraq and the Middle East and wasn't even all that interested in politics - I simply looked at a few basic facts and came to a conclusion that seemed very obvious to me.

Many middle east experts and a few brave journalists came to the same conclusion. The fact that the Packers, Beinarts, Pollacks, Cohens and Aaranovitchs of this world came to a different conclusion makes me distrust their judgement and I really don't care how much handwringing and "thoughfulness" was involved on their part. Why on earth should I listen to them?

The fact that these people still occupy the top posts in journalism, while the few brave souls who opposed the war are for the most part still marginalized just makes me angry.

Why on earth should I listen to them?

Yes, exactly. I have no interest in smearing George Packer, or subjecting him to a "pogrom," or hurling "invective" at him. I merely join Donald Johnson, novakant, and others on this thread in insisting that Packer has proven himself someone whose opinion on the question of US military policy is of no interest, because he has proven himself to be spectacularly wrong when it mattered the most.

That's all. No hard feelings against the guy--I just don't give a sh!t what he thinks. And like novakant, I dearly wish the people who were right where Packer was wrong got a fraction of the respect, and the exposure, and the impassioned defenders, that he enjoys.

Uncle Kvetch: What did you make of von's "all options are on the table" from yesterday?

As you say, it’s hardly an outright call for war. And the bottom line is that all options are not on the table. From that perspective it’s an idle threat – a bluff. We simply don’t have the conventional capability at this point for any kind of land war. Conventional bombing? Our intelligence services are so discredited at this point that no one in charge is going to believe them if they claim to know what sites to hit. Naval blockade? Bills were submitted in both the House and Senate last year (by Democrats, not Neocons) for just that (H.R. 362, S.Res. 580). Fortunately, someone realized that was an act of war and maybe not such a good idea. It’s possible we could enforce a blockade but the price would be extremely high, both in terms of casualties (those diesel subs and mines are a b*tch) and the world economy (Strait of Hormuz). Anyone envision a nuclear first strike? So all options are not on the table, and to say otherwise is to bluff. I suppose that bluffing is an aspect of diplomacy…

We simply don’t have the conventional capability at this point for any kind of land war.

Nor should we be even thinking about any kind of land war, at this stage. How about we, instead, see how events unfurl a bit. A good long bit, preferably.

Cool, Unk Kevtch and novakant will keep the enemies list; I'll stick with hilzoy's "thoughtful and insightful" and just read what he writes.

Eric:

Fair enough. But I think you're obligated to make a few of your assumptions more transparent.

Three simple questions:

1. Assuming perfect success for the Obama engagement policy, what will the middle east look like in a few years? What do you want it to look like? What's the best outcome for key actors? Who will be disadvantaged?

2. By what criteria will you judge the success or failure of Obama's policies?

3. What circumstances and/or events (if any) will justify US military action in Iran?

Dan,

1. Success would involve safeguards on Iran's ability to weaponize uranium, with a domestic nuclear program being an acceptable outcome with those limits. Relations between the US and Syria and Iran would be normalized to a greater extent, serious progress on the Israeli/Palestinian issue (with Iran, if not playing a mildly constructive role, at least not playing spoiler) and a general ratcheting down of tensions and defusing of the takfirist threat. US forces almost entirely out of Iraq (but for a very small contingent, if any).

Importantly: No new wars.

FWIW, I regret posting my comment above in response to Oleg. It was late, I was tired, and I didn't listen to that quiet voice telling me to close the browser and go to bed. My comment was redundant. His comment speaks volumes by itself.

What would I want it to look like? That's kind of open ended (I mean, can I say paradise on earth?). Within reason, I think progress on human rights and democratic freedoms within the context of al-Qaeda's waning influence, coupled with relative peace and serious progress on Israel/Palestine.

Who will be disadvantaged? Well, the Israeli right that doesn't want to compromise at all in any way or form. Al-Qaeda and the extremists that feed off of conflict and tension. The American militarist set that want to use Iraq as a regional military hub (though that obviously remains an open question). Hopefully, the despots and autocrats whose populations gain more of a voice.

2. The realization of some or all of the elements set forth above, though most importantly: no new wars.

3. The US would be justified to take military action against Iran if Iran attacked another sovereign nation in such a way that necessitated such a response (meaning that non-military approaches would not be suitable to rectify the situation).

Thanks Eric - unlike traditional journalists, bloggers don't mind exposing their assumptions and biases. It's one reason why traditional journalism is losing creditability.

As for #3, just Iran or any of its non-state agents as well?

Just to clarify, are you saying that any military conflict in the region would signal a failure for Obama's policies?

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Whatnot


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