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August 10, 2006

Comments

One of those little preemptive notes that I hope is unnecessary: when I wrote (about Syria and Iran) that "I would hope we would have some interest in what they have to say in return", I didn't mean that I hoped we would have some interest in agreeing to, or with, whatever they said. That would depend on what it was, of course.

What I meant was that we would find what they said now to be of interest. What does it imply about their motives and/or their beliefs? Is there, or is there not, any room for some sort of agreement, possibly involving bringing in issues not directly related to Israel and Lebanon? And so on, and so forth.

"The point of diplomacy is not simply to reach agreements. It is to communicate with other countries. Especially in crises, it's important to make very clear to people, especially your adversaries, exactly what the consequences of their actions will be. You want to lay out very clearly what will happen if they do one thing, and what will happen if they do another. It is much better to do this directly than through intermediaries, for several reasons."

The problem is that you have to have something to say. Very clearly, what are the consequences of the actions of Syria and Iran if they say spark a proxy war with Israel?

Sebastian: if I were the US government, I would have put something together to say to them. Serious sanctions, for starters.

But then, I would also be in a much better position, since I wouldn't have invaded Iraq. Even if I'm wrong to think that this whole crisis might not have happened had we not been occupied in Iraq, leaving us unable to be our usual deterrent selves, we would have had more to work with. Not that we would have needed to, since if I ran the US, we would long since have forced Israel to stop, back before this had morphed from 'a response, which presumably ends' into 'a war, which someone has to win'. (I mean: for all that people belittle responding to things with a volley -- one volley -- of airstrikes or cruise missiles, they have this to be said for them: you get to stop before the question whether you're winning or losing gets to arise.

I mean, Seb: if we honestly have nothing to threaten Iran and Syria with, and also nothing to offer, then things are much worse than I think. I truly can't believe that that's true.

I think Sebastian has a money question, but I also think hilzoy left out of her argument that direct contact is also useful merely because it increases the amount of information that can be transmitted between the two parties. Diplomacy also involves a great deal of shading and attempts to convey a general sense of attitudes and so forth. All of this can be useful, and it's not like we've been showing any signs of omniscience lately.

The overall behavior of this administration has been so easy to analogize to kids on a playground that it's hard not to see them that way anymore -- "I don't care if Iran brought the ball today! I'm not talking to them, so there!"

I am not very fond of Mr Holbrooke who leaned on the weak Bosnian muslims and was chummy with Milosevic in Dayton. I also think that Iran, Iraq and Lebanon must be solved separately. Some linkages exist, but they are not at the root of the problems.

What about sending the Harvard MBA back for a refresher course in negotiation? The four rules are as applicable as ever:

1. Separate the people from the problem
2. Focus on interest not positions
3. Invent options for mutual gain
4. Insist on using objective criteria

While in Harvard, it might be helpful to talk to Chris Argyris about learning and problem solving, too.

"But then, I would also be in a much better position, since I wouldn't have invaded Iraq. Even if I'm wrong to think that this whole crisis might not have happened had we not been occupied in Iraq, leaving us unable to be our usual deterrent selves, we would have had more to work with."

What usual deterrent selves? Let's say Clinton got elected to an unconstitutional third term and fourth term. He never invaded Iraq and never got inspections in since 1998. His Middle East peace initiative still failed completely in 2000 (just like in our world). Iran is still trying to get nukes and is encouraged by the fact that Clinton never got the inspections to start up again in next door Iraq. In fact they use the certainty that Iraq is getting nukes without inspections as an excuse to further their program. Iran and Syria fund Hezbollah just like they have for decades. Hezbollah sparks the current war. We are still tied down in Afghanistan (which Clinton invaded after 9/11).

In this hypothetical universe, what can President Clinton credibly say about the consequences of starting a proxy war against Israel?

Back when DaveC asked us to name a single Democrat who was strong on national security

So what Republicans are strong on national security? I can think of, maybe, Chuck Hagel. Why is the onus on Democrats to produce signs of "strength" after three and a half years of the GOP-launched foreign policy abortion that is the Iraq War?

jaywalker: With you on this one. These are separate problems, and the West wants a single solution. I'm inclined to say that the mentality is Orientalizing. But isn't mutual gain out of the picture? Gain for Syria, Iran, Hezbollah? Is this acceptable? Is it realistic?

sebastian: is the question hypothetical or do you think it applies here? I don't believe this is can be called a proxy war. What is the evidence for this? What is the evidence that Hezbollah is not acting with some autonomy? (I am assuming that denying this is what is meant by calling it a proxy war: this assumption could be wrong.)

"What is the evidence that Hezbollah is not acting with some autonomy?"

Of course it is acting with 'some' autonomy. But 100% control of the proxy doesn't happen in proxy wars. If Syria and Iran wanted it to end, end it would. The Party of God doesn't have rocket-making facilities.

I'm with Christmas here. Republicans simply can't be taken seriously on national security, no more than they can be taken seriously on fiscal responsibility. Anyone who implies otherwise is simply being a useful idiot.

careful, Hilzoy. don't let Kevin Drum know you've chosen to engage in "substantive discussion of the fight against radical jihadism and what to do about it". you'll break his fragile eggshell fantasy world.

Republicans simply can't be taken seriously on national security, no more than they can be taken seriously on fiscal responsibility.

It must be nice to live in a world where things are that simple.

Why is the onus on Democrats to produce signs of "strength" after three and a half years of the GOP-launched foreign policy abortion that is the Iraq War?

because the GOP has a more effective political organization than the Dems.

Oh, and it looks like I wouldn't have had much to drink in my little game. Oh well.

Ara and jaywalker: they are separate problems that are, I think, beginning to -- I was going to say 'bleed together', in the watercolor sense, but that's probably not the best metaphor. But I think we should be working to keep them separate and more tractable.

Seb: I think that in the hypothetical universe you mention, Clinton goes for smart sanctions, and gets them. This ameliorates conditions for ordinary Iraqis, while keeping dual-use technologies away from Saddam, whose regime continues to be contained, and to crumble away.

Iran is still trying to get nukes. It is not "emboldened" by Saddam's fate -- only fools would be -- and it is also not prompted to hurry up by people in the administration making noises about its being next, or by the 'axis of evil' speech. We cooperate with both Iran and Syria in the fight against al Qaeda, and with Iran on Afghanistan (9/11 still happened, since I will not question-beggingly assume that the fact that hypothetical Clinton responded the way he did to the millenium plot, rather than by ignoring the problem, actually prevents 9/11).

Moreover, since we do not invade Iraq, we neither strengthen Iran by removing one of its main adversaries, nor pin our troops down next door to it. We therefore have a lot more cards to play if Iran starts to do stuff we wish it wouldn't, like trying to develop nukes. Our freedom of action remains intact, Iran remains largely contained, as does Saddam.

Meanwhile, the Sunshine policy towards North Korea remains in effect, which means that the North Koreans are trying to reprocess uranium, but have not embarked on the much, much faster process of making a plutonium bomb, and Yongbyan is still under seal, and NK is still part of the NPT.

Personally, I prefer this alternate universe.

"Our usual deterrent selves" just means: in the ME, we have at times prevented people from doing some of the really bad things they might have done. Now that we are weakened and preoccupied, we can no longer play that role effectively. I do not think that it is an accident that it is at this very moment that the ME is going to hell in a handbasket. -- I don't mean to say that our being engaged in the ME, under normal circumstances, is a totally marvelous thing, or anything like that; just that we have managed to prevent some conflicts from flaring up in very bad ways.

I do find that being honest about things helps keep the world more comprehensible. :)

because the GOP has a more effective political organization than the Dems

Okay, let me rephrase that. Why is the onus on supporters of Democrats to "name a single Democrat who was strong on national security," forcing Hilzoy to hold up Clarke and Holbrooke as if they were some rare and endangered species of butterfly, when the Republican Party has spent the last several years pushing policies which are actively destructive to American security?

Cleek: I'm actually writing a post about Kevin Drum's thingo.

Andrew: had I written this: "Republicans simply can't be taken seriously on national security, no more than they can be taken seriously on fiscal responsibility."

-- I would have meant something like: 'Republican members of Congress or of the administration', or 'the Republican political leadership', not 'members of the Republican party'. Not being Frank, however, and not being able to read minds, I don't really know.

But if someone did say this about current members of Congress and the administration, then I think there would be some exceptions (Hagel leaps to mind, and probably Warner) (and I'm sure some people in the admin., albeit on the losing side of policy battles), but not all that many.

hilzoy,

I just find it amusing that in a thread in which you start by correctly noting how silly it is for you to have to hold up examples of Democrats who are good on national security, that people who can recognize the fallacy of that argument when aimed at them, cannot muster the awareness to consider the possibility the argument will be equally fallacious when pointed in the other direction.

I realize that I am in the minority here in not believing that we are currently existing at some critical moment of the republic, but still, this myopia never fails to amuse me.

I'm considering a drinking game where we get to drink every time Frank reads someone's mind. If Frank posted more comments, I'd consider it more seriously. This two comments a day thing is mighty unsatisfying.

I think that Holbrooke fails to realize that the current administration thinks that a region-wide conflict is a feature, not a bug.

Green Helmet's real identity uncovered.

Andrew: I just find it amusing that in a thread in which you start by correctly noting how silly it is for you to have to hold up examples of Democrats who are good on national security, that people who can recognize the fallacy of that argument when aimed at them, cannot muster the awareness to consider the possibility the argument will be equally fallacious when pointed in the other direction.

"Consider the possibility" in the abstract, sure, but the question isn't about whether Republicans -- by which I mean the GOP leadership and those currently having their way in the Bush Administration -- in the abstract could be good on foreign policy and the economy, it's whether they are in the real world. And they're not. Complete and colossal failures would be a more accurate descriptor, frankly, which somewhat undoes the implied symmetry you're trying to set up here.

Slarti: I'm not seeing any mind-reading by Frank in this thread. He's making opinionated claims about the external state of the world (assuming he's using "useful idiots" in its usual sense), which is completely different. Am I missing something here?

Andrew's point is of course a good one. Given the egregious examples of dualistic thinking & politicking that we've seen over the last 5 years, imitating it ourselves is not a great idea.

Saying, however, that Bush and his supporters can't be taken seriously on national security, would seem empirically very strong. Andrew?

Sebastian: Really? End it would? I'm not at all sure of this. I don't know what the evidence would be for believing it. The picture is unclear:

http://www.meib.org/articles/0202_l1.htm

I'm not arguing anything ridiculous like: Syria and Iran have no influence, just that it is not an open and shut case.

Syria, for example, certainly does not want an Israeli invasion, and yet Hezbollah seems to want to draw Israel in.

And I envision Bush thinking to himself, "See, this is why we have to invade Iran."

Anderson,

I would agree that the Bush administration should be held to a particularly high standard of proof, based on their experience to date. I can't think of any foreign policy successes, off the top of my head, which is pretty amazing. There had to be some, I should think, if only by the law of averages.

@Andrew:

Independents may break heavily Dem this year exactly because Frank's statement is more factual than comfortable for people who'd like to be able to vote Republican.

What Republicans are there whose national security and foreign policy expertise should be taken seriously?

I'll spot you Hagel and Lugar, although I could name several ways in which each have, by failing to exercise powers they possess, enabled this administration's incompetence and wholly political/ideological approach. In so doing, they put partisan considerations above policy.

hilzoy mentioned my name, so I can pretty much say or link to anything and not be off topic! I know that she regularly peruses the wingnut blogs that I like to read, and she may have happened across this post. It is one of Ace's better essays,
a speculative essay about diplomacy by the Clinton admin during the Serbia/Kosovo war; how sometimes it is best not to be completely honest in wartime, and perhaps best not to conduct all diplomacy publicly.

Slarti: I'm not seeing any mind-reading by Frank in this thread. He's making opinionated claims about the external state of the world (assuming he's using "useful idiots" in its usual sense), which is completely different. Am I missing something here?

Well, it's either mindreading or making a statement for which he has no evidence. If he'd only made these comments about Republicans currently in positions of responsibility in government, he could be said to have a point.

But as Frank has absolutely no credibility in these matters, I don't sweat it too much either way.

they put partisan considerations above policy.

Nell, I'm right there with you about partisanship taking a front seat over doing the right thing. Unfortunately, I see no evidence whatsoever that the Democratic Party is any more likely to avoid this than the Republicans. It is a bipartisan disease, if you will.

There shoulda been a smiley-face at the end of the above; it's probably too late now.

making a statement for which he has no evidence

Please provide some counter-evidence.

In fact they use the certainty that Iraq is getting nukes without inspections as an excuse to further their program. Iran and Syria fund Hezbollah just like they have for decades. Hezbollah sparks the current war. We are still tied down in Afghanistan (which Clinton invaded after 9/11).
Those two points seem to be rather large assumptions to me. The former belongs in the realm of wild hypothesis, and the latter strikes me as a little silly. I always felt the strong case could be made that Afghanistan, given a fraction of the funding and manpower that we poured into Iraq, could've been a legitimate success. We (as a nation, and via our elected officials) didn't have the attention span to stick with it. Adventuring in Iraq sounded like much more fun.

Admittedly, the question of 'What would Clinton have done' is an interesting one. It's almost impossible to say. But you're making (IMO, at least) a few too many assumptions, and suggesting that he would have done exactly as Bush has up 'til the moment od decision for the Iraqi invasion.

ara,

Syria, for example, certainly does not want an Israeli invasion, and yet Hezbollah seems to want to draw Israel in.

Unless Syria wants Israel to destabilize Lebanon so then Syria would have a justification to reoccupy...........

Andrew: about Bush admin. successes: the one good thing I keep holding on to is their really working the Sudanese north/south civil war, and getting a treaty.

Please provide some counter-evidence.

Please prove to me that I'm not queen of the space unicorns.

Andrew,
dubious as it may be in the category of successes, but the Bush administration has got over 100 states to sign Article 98 exceptions about handing over US citizens and military personnel to the jurisdiction of the ICC.

Slarti- You aren't making any sense here as usual. The Republicans in government were put there by the Republicans out of government, and the actions of the Republicans in govenment is the only important evidence we have to judge all your credibility on matters fiscal and military.

As far as my credibility goes I'm willing to concede the point. Christmas was certainly making a better case anyway.

StanLS: People pay little attention to how close Damascus is to the Lebanese border. The border with Lebanon is large and indefensible. The historical worry was that the Israelis could just topple Damascus, if they occupied Lebanon. I honestly think the Syrian government is more worried about that stick than they are the carrot of occupying Lebanon.

As the Republicans currently in positions of responsibility in the government control both the executive and legislative branches, and comprises the party's leadership, the burden of evidence is on those who claim there are Republicans who can be trusted to put the nation's security above politics to name them.

And, no, I don't think Democrats are immune to this disease, but there's no example in the post-1945 history of my party like this one, where the whole party has supported an administration's complete, consistent substitution of politics for policy.

Please prove to me that I'm not queen of the space unicorns.

That's easy enough, I'm the queen of space unicorns, so you can't be; plus: there can be only one.

"Sebastian: Really? End it would? I'm not at all sure of this. I don't know what the evidence would be for believing it. The picture is unclear:"

Where would Hezbollah get the rockets without Iran and Syria?

I just finished watching an interview on MSNBC with Kenneth Timmerman, neo-conservative of NewsMax, who specializes (very special) in Iranian affairs. He was interviewed via remote from France by Tucker Carlson.

It was very odd. Carlson, who usually interrupts his "guests" often, instead agreed with everything Timmerman said about Iran's malign intentions ... though sometimes I can't tell when Carlson is being ironic.

....which include, according to the headlines at the bottom of the screen encapsulating the interview: "Iran Planning To End The World" and "Iran Plans Catastrophic Attack on August 22"

Now, look, I know what Timmerman is up to and Carlson is a horrid little man. And do I need to point out my lack of admiration for the Iranian regime?

But, if the war talk now includes Iran wanting to END THE WORLD, am I expected to be really, really frightened or really really really frightened? And when the 2008 elections roll around, will Iran be plotting to END THE UNIVERSE? And what sort of new weapon are they developing anyway?

By the way, I think drinking is much too serious a subject to make a game out of it. What we need is a drinking war.

Slart, cute but nonresponsive.

Unlike your reign over the space unicorns, there is a way to prove Frank's statement: contradict it with some names.

jaywalker,

I suppose that's something. Beggars, as they say, can't be chooser. ;)

Nell,

Provide counterevidence of what? That Democrats are as willing as Republicans to place party before doing what's right? If I really need to prove to you that the Democratic Party is made up of human beings like the rest of us, I cannot imagine any evidence that would convince you otherwise. Still, perhaps you'll recall how the Democrats felt about going to war in 1999 in Kosovo, under conditions far less justified than those in Iraq in 2003. I wonder what changed between 1999 and 2003 that caused those beliefs to flip?

Really, do you honestly think that Democratic politicians are uniquely pure, or that Republicans are uniquely evil? They're all people, all equally capable of rationalizing their positions in order to support what they had planned to support all along.

"In fact they use the certainty that Iraq is getting nukes without inspections as an excuse to further their program. Iran and Syria fund Hezbollah just like they have for decades. Hezbollah sparks the current war. We are still tied down in Afghanistan (which Clinton invaded after 9/11)."

"Those two points seem to be rather large assumptions to me. The former belongs in the realm of wild hypothesis, and the latter strikes me as a little silly."

How is the former in the realm of wild hypothesis. Iran would certainly talk about Iraq as if the nuclear program were established because no inspectors would have been present since 1998. Even if you want to assume that there was in fact no such Iraqi program, the lack of inspections and lack of international will to force inspections (both clearly established) would provide the necessary rhetorical opening for Iran. They would mention things like "Saddam invaded us once before already and that was before he got nukes. We can't wait until he has them to start working on our own." What is so wild about that?

BTW I don't think "strong on defense" can be inferred just from the couple of things hilzoy has selected about Wes Clarke. By that measure, Colin Powell is strong on defense. Norman Schwarzkopf is strong on defense. Does "strong on defense" require generals or retired generals? I don't think so.

I don't think defense is the issue, anyway; I think policy is the issue. Forethought is the issue. Rigorous thinking is the issue. Defense is just the hammer. Everything else is deciding where to hit, or whether to hit at all.

Unlike your reign over the space unicorns, there is a way to prove Frank's statement: contradict it with some names.

It's not up to me to prove Frank's statement, it's up to Frank to prove Frank's statement. Really, hasn't this sort of thing been hashed and rehashed over and over and OVER on the Internet over the years?

By the way, I think drinking is much too serious a subject to make a game out of it. What we need is a drinking war.

John T, your comment was already a fine one before this sentence, which makes it one for the ages.

the answer 'Wes Clark' seemed to do the trick. (Nothing like giving your adult life to the service of your country, being seriously wounded in battle

That answer would have done the trick prior to 2004, Hilzoy, but today?

I mean, exactly how seriously was "both sides"Clark wounded? I mean, we know for a fact that the military handed out Purple Hearts for skinned knees and and mosquito bites in Vietnam, right? And can we be absolutely certain that Clark didn't just smack himself upside the head with a 2x4, with an eye to concocting a nice narrative for his future in politics?

Snark aside, the notion that "giving your adult life to the service of your country" and "being seriously wounded in battle" should entitle someone to respect from both sides of the partisan divide is hopelessly quaint.

And if may pre-empt Andrew, that ugly little twist in our political discourse is not a product of "both sides," but of one.

The whole proof-by-contradiction notion had be holding a big question mark over my head, too, but again: this is not my job.

Slarti- You haven't provided the least bit of evidence to doubt my statement. Which I have to admit surprises me, since I was thinking of it as more of a general truth than a iron law of American politics.

Back in the day the founding fathers thought foreign policy was a matter of the utmost importance and required good judgement to have any hope of a felicitous end. These days the whole Republican party is full of people who aren't even embarrassed that they pretended invading Iraq was a good idea.

Andrew see above and please tell me why you think ongoing ethnic cleansing in a war on Europe's doorstep doesn't justify a war that costs no American casualties and increases American diplomatic power, while ousting a fully contained dictator causing 20,000+ American casualties and badly damaging America's image in the world was essential for serious defenders of America.

Sebastian: Iran would certainly talk about Iraq as if the nuclear program were established because no inspectors would have been present since 1998.

Just because that's the fantasy the Bush administration picked when they wanted an excuse to invade Iraq, does not mean that any other government (not even Iran's) would pick it. It wasn't convincing to anyone except very loyal Republicans who trusted that Bush wasn't lying even when they had direct evidence that he was.

If the US could not convince the rest of the world that Iraq might have nuclear weapons, even with the CIA to help them fudge the evidence, I don't think you can count on Iran even trying to do so.

Sebastian: Iran would certainly talk about Iraq as if the nuclear program were established because no inspectors would have been present since 1998.

Just because that's the fantasy the Bush administration picked when they wanted an excuse to invade Iraq, does not mean that any other government (not even Iran's) would pick it. It wasn't convincing to anyone except very loyal Republicans who trusted that Bush wasn't lying even when they had direct evidence that he was.

If the US could not convince the rest of the world that Iraq might have nuclear weapons, even with the CIA to help them fudge the evidence, I don't think you can count on Iran even trying to do so.

Clinton goes for smart sanctions, and gets them. This ameliorates conditions for ordinary Iraqis, while keeping dual-use technologies away from Saddam, whose regime continues to be contained, and to crumble away.

Iran is still trying to get nukes. It is not "emboldened" by Saddam's fate -- only fools would be -- and it is also not prompted to hurry up by people in the administration making noises about its being next, or by the 'axis of evil' speech. We cooperate with both Iran and Syria in the fight against al Qaeda, and with Iran on Afghanistan (9/11 still happened, since I will not question-beggingly assume that the fact that hypothetical Clinton responded the way he did to the millenium plot, rather than by ignoring the problem, actually prevents 9/11).

Moreover, since we do not invade Iraq, we neither strengthen Iran by removing one of its main adversaries, nor pin our troops down next door to it. We therefore have a lot more cards to play if Iran starts to do stuff we wish it wouldn't, like trying to develop nukes. Our freedom of action remains intact, Iran remains largely contained, as does Saddam.

Meanwhile, the Sunshine policy towards North Korea remains in effect, which means that the North Koreans are trying to reprocess uranium, but have not embarked on the much, much faster process of making a plutonium bomb, and Yongbyan is still under seal, and NK is still part of the NPT.

Clinton had trouble getting useful smart sanctions to work throughout his second term. The drum-beat to end all sanctions in Iraq was going to strong by 1998. I don't think there is a chance under any US administration for sanctions to have continued all the way to 2006. Clinton also very specifically did not get inspections going again in Iraq.

That relates directly to Iran. With no inspections for 8 years, they could easily claim that they 'needed' nuclear weapons as a counter to the nuclear weapons that Saddam (who had fought with them before) would soon have. This justification would exist even if Saddam had no nuclear program, because the inspections to show he had no nuclear program would not have taken place for almost a decade.

As for cooperating with Iran and Syria on Al Qaeda, I would be surprised if that could possibly be fruitful. To the extent that the Sunni/Shia split is relevant, it still exists. To the extent that it is not relevant, it is not relevant.

As for more cards to play, what cards to play do you see us having under this hypothetical? Clinton had immense trouble keeping up sanctions against Iraq--which had invaded 2 neighbors and had a shockingly well developed nuclear program in the 1980s--a program that had successfully snowed UN inspectors at the time. With that history, he still couldn't keep inspections going and he still had immense trouble over sanctions. By 1998, Saddam was already a regional hero for surviving US pressure for so long.

Could Clinton credibly threaten to invade Iran in such a case? No. Could he get sanctions against Iran? They were crumbling against Iraq even before Bush took power, and even in early 2002 (right after 9/11) most of the major powers wanted to end them--without ever having inspections. We can barely get the UN to notice North Korea now. Iran in a no-invasion-of-Iraq world? I don't think so.

And the Korean thing is just odd. The nukes Korea claims to have couldn't have been made between the Axis of Evil speech and the declaration. North Korea was threatening to unseal the reactor in mid-2000 and Clinton had very little left to offer at that point. In order for any technical timeline to make sense, they had to have been building nukes at the time.

You haven't provided the least bit of evidence to doubt my statement.

Oh, I certainly am not questioning your belief, Frank. Just noting that it's not exactly inspiring belief over here. Or over on the other side of Andrew's screen, by all appearances.

Slarti, I think people are asking you to supply some Republican names that can be taken seriously in the national security field. I think there are some--they just don't seem to have any influence, thanks to their fellow Republicans.

On another subject--I'm no fan of Holbrooke either. During the Carter Administration he was in favor of supporting Indonesia rather than making a fuss over the occupation of East Timor. Since Indonesia killed around 1/4 of the Timorese population during Carter's term, it's a little hard to think highly of Richard Holbrooke.

But hey, Holbrooke certainly makes some good points about the current situation. In the pre-Bush era, one might not like or respect the people in power, but at least you could assume they weren't idiots. One can't make that assumption anymore.

Frank,

I wasn't aware that we now went to war for the purposes of avoiding casualties now, and I'm fascinated by the idea that could somehow be predicted in advance. Certainly if you have that ability to see into the future, I hope it's being put to good use.

I was always under the impression we went to war because it was in our national interest to do so. Increasing our prestige (a questionable result of the Kosovo war in any case) hardly seems a worthwhile reason to launch a war.

Further, where were all these conscientious Democrats back in 2002 when the question wasa debated? Perhaps you'll show me where I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure the AUMF received a pretty good show of support from Democrats. Indeed, didn't the Democratic nominee for President vote for it, or did I imagine that?

There are doubtless a few principled politicians out there. But not enough you'd need to take off your shoes and socks to count them.

Slarti: If he'd only made these comments about Republicans currently in positions of responsibility in government, he could be said to have a point.

Well yes, which is what most of us said subsequently. Smack him around for overgeneralizing all you want; mind-reading's a different offense.

Andrew: Really, do you honestly think that Democratic politicians are uniquely pure, or that Republicans are uniquely evil? They're all people, all equally capable of rationalizing their positions in order to support what they had planned to support all along.

Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

And again: gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

Of course both sides are equivalent in the abstract, considered as tabula rasa upon which they, their Creator or their destiny will scrawl their tale. That's not the point. It's more of that bullshit relativism I was talking about here and it's crippling the discourse because it's disconnecting the conversation from reality.

Yes, of course, there are Democrats who are self-serving. [*cough*Lieberman*cough* but there are others.] Yes, of course, there are Republicans who are noble and pure and blah-di-blah-di-blah. So what? The question isn't whether There Exists A Righteous/Unrighteous Man -- this ain't Sodom, thank God -- it's whether (in the case of Democrats) there are serious politicos who are serious on the issues or (in the case of Republicans) whether those noble and pure folk have any decision-making power whatsoever. [And the answers, incidentally are "Yes" and "Not that I can see".] Right now, you're essentially arguing that we can't distinguish between 1 and 9 because neither of them's 0 and neither of them's 10; the latter, while true and invariably the core of these "Pox On Both Your Houses" arguments, simply doesn't have the kind of force needed to get the conclusions you're (implicitly) drawing.

Anarch,

Actually, I'm arguing that they're both at about a 2. Republicans may even be a 1, what with them holding all the reins of power. But the only advantage I see to Democrats is that by getting them into power in Congress, they eliminate that monopoly of power. I have no confidence that things would be any better under a government that was dominated by Democrats.

sebastian: state-sponsorship or not, no middle eastern paramilitary has ever foundered for lack of weapons. they will buy and smuggle them. how could the Syrian border be protected from small arms smuggling?

this is not to say that hundreds of millions per year doesn't help and Iranian commandos training Hezbollah fighters doesn't help, just that shutting down Damascus and Tehran won't make Hezbollah disappear.

"it's whether (in the case of Democrats) there are serious politicos who are serious on the issues or (in the case of Republicans) whether those noble and pure folk have any decision-making power whatsoever."

I'm pretty sure the question in both case ought to be whether serious politicos who are serious on the issue of defense have serious decision-making power in their respective parties. If the trend toward a Democratic Party resurgence follows the line of Lamont, I suspect that the answer for Democrats would have to be 'no'.

By the way, I think drinking is much too serious a subject to make a game out of it. What we need is a drinking war.

The scene is late 2007...

"This is Anderson Cooper, reporting live from Tel Aviv. As we all know, the Great Binging War began shortly after the 2006 elections when Iran lobbed an unprovoked Mai Tai at defenseless civilians in Haifa. Israel responded in kind with a Gin & Tonic of its own, followed up by a direct aerial Screwdriver on Tehran. Iran retailiated against U.S. troops in Iraq with crudely made Budweisers and an even more crudely made Meister Braus.

President Bush, himself recovering from a self-inflicted Tequila shot, declared that Tehran's agression 'Beyond the legal limit of 0.09' and ordered cross-border Long Island Iced Teas. This devastated the Iranians, but nevertheless responded with indiscriminate Tequila Sunrises across the middle east. France, Germany and Great Britain, realizing things were spiraling out of control, recommended that everyone sit down at AA, but they were denounced as loser-defeatist teetotaler appeasers by the American right-wing, and their exhortations were to no avail.

Emboldened by the failure of European prohibition, President Bush ordered full scale carpet-Bacardi 151s across Iran and Syria. Japan, fresh from re-arming following a shift right-ward in the early fall of 2006, supported the U.S. effort with warm Sake Bomblets of its own.

Japan's rearmament had formented a Russia-China alliance to guard against Japanese cirrhosis. Japan's assistance to the U.S. prompted the infamous Stolichnaya maneuver, after a Tsingtao feint by the Chinese, which resulted in Japan's quitting cold turkey.

Ultimately, in order to weaken and undermine the Sino-Russian alliance, Bush ordered simultaneous special forces Shirley Temples and Virgin Daquiris inside Russian and Chinese territory, sowing confusion.

Which brings us to lasts weeks surprise announcement by the Israeli government that it has decided to end this conflict by deploying the nuclear option: Wild Turkey."

I have no confidence that things would be any better under a government that was dominated by Democrats.

Errrr... why not? Fiscally speaking alone, the Republicans aren't within light years of the Democrats or, well, sanity; and the last few times the Democrats had the power of the purse (either Congressionally or Presidentially) they acquitted themselves pretty damn well. Not mention the clusterf*** that is the Bush Administration's Iraq policy, which I'd find hard for any (realistic) administration to worsen, even a different Republican one.

I've no doubt you'd find a Democratic government aggravating, not to mention disagree with their chosen expenditures and policies; how this gets you to "I have no confidence that things would be any better under a government that was dominated by Democrats," I have no idea.

[And that's not snark, btw, though I know it comes across as such. I genuinely don't see how you can hold the two parties equivalent in craptacularity. They're just... it's not even close.]

I've said for a while that we need to negotiate directly with Iran, and the needs grows greater as time passes. As for Syria, Condi hasn't gone to Damascus, but it's unclear the level of communication we are having with Syria. At minimum, there should be some amount of backchannel talking.

Andrew:

I can't think of any foreign policy successes, off the top of my head, which is pretty amazing. There had to be some, I should think, if only by the law of averages.

Does Libya count?

If the trend toward a Democratic Party resurgence follows the line of Lamont, I suspect that the answer for Democrats would have to be 'no'.

Why do you think Ned Lamont is not a serious politico who is serious on the issue of defense with serious decision-making power?

[I have a suspicion which I'll turn into a lengthier post when I've the time, and no, Slarti, it's not mind-reading ;)]

"sebastian: state-sponsorship or not, no middle eastern paramilitary has ever foundered for lack of weapons. they will buy and smuggle them. how could the Syrian border be protected from small arms smuggling?

this is not to say that hundreds of millions per year doesn't help and Iranian commandos training Hezbollah fighters doesn't help, just that shutting down Damascus and Tehran won't make Hezbollah disappear."

It doesn't need to disappear for the war to end. It needs to cease being a threat. Small arms can't hit Haifa without going through border checkpoints.

"Really, do you believe honestly think that Democratic politicians are uniquely pure, or that Republicans are uniquely evil?"

Who cares what Nell thinks?* And, who cares what you think, Andrew*? And who cares what I think?*

The unique nature of our political times is not that one is pure and one is evil, but instead that a superstructure of rhetoric, deliberately (just as deliberate as a North Korean broadcast over the DMV) constructed by the Republican Party from before the time of the 1994 Gingrich revolution, but particularly afterwards, and deliberately transmitted to the population by Limbaugh, FOX, etc, has, in fact, convinced a disappointingly large number of people that, in fact, Democratic politicians who don't agree with the Republican Party are evil.

The word "EVIL" is the word used. That Nell, or you, or I, realize that they all put their pants on one leg at a time is irrelevant in the rhetorical world created by today's Republican Party. Democratic politicians are only "pure" by virtue of the fact that they can't seem to come up with anything better or worse than "evil" for their political opponents, so that they can win something.

Maybe Nell just has a complex after all these years of Luntz/Gingrich rhetorical manipulation transmitted through a media created to transmit that very "news".

Maybe the posting rules at Obsidian Wings don't account for the world at large and the fact (a palpable thing) that Nell has about had it with being called an evil traitor/appeaser who helps Al Qaeda "types". Maybe she's just a little pissed off that this rhetoric, deliberately, carefully crafted, each word weighed for its impact
on the electorate, is coming out of the mouth of an individual who darkens the towels of the White House, the laundering of which Nell herself is paying for.

Maybe some of this "complex" might seep into comments at Obsidian Wings. Maybe she forgets to wipe her feet before she comes into the Obsidian out of the rhetorical storm raging outside. I know I feel goddamned evil after all these years of being told I am.

It does make me feel a little better that you, Andrew, are a nice, smart guy who hasn't bought the rhetoric.

*Hey, I care.

*Hey, I care.

*You wouldn't believe how much I care.


"Still, perhaps you'll recall how the Democrats felt about going to war in 1999 in Kosovo,"

Moderately mixed, though more in favor than not. Pretty much a matter of individual conscience, and judged on the merits, and not a matter of this-has-something-to-do-with-fighting-terrorism, or we-must-support-the-president-or-we-are-traitors.

"...under conditions far less justified than those in Iraq in 2003."

Opinions differ on that. In the former case, it was to stop an ongoing near-genocide, and a completely unjustified ongoing vicious aggression.

In the latter, it was because "9/11 changed everything."

I'd say that the former was very justified, and the latter, particularly in retrospect, not so much. I grant that I gave it far more of the benefit of the doubt at the time, of course. But we're arguing today, so if you're still claiming it was more justified than bombing Serbia, I'd argue that you are entirely wrong.

"I wonder what changed between 1999 and 2003 that caused those beliefs to flip?"

What beliefs to flip? The argument that because one military response is justified, so is any military response, obviously doesn't hold.

"Really, do you honestly think that Democratic politicians are uniquely pure, or that Republicans are uniquely evil?"

No, but I think the last few crops of Republicans elected to Congress are generally people with few morals and few visible ethics, and they are playing in a uniquely corrupt Republican system, constructed by the Republican establishment since 1994, that is unique in our history in its dishonesty, and willingness to cast aside all rules for the sake of power, control, and their goals.

I can't see any way that past Democratic leadership in Congress has in any way approached the sort of systematic abuse that the Republican system, and most individuals in it in Congress, have engaged in.

And I think that's the key thing that so many moderates of good will, such as you, and yes, Joe Lieberman, may, to varying degrees, still not have fully grasped. Bipartisanship in the days of Eisenhower or Nixon or Ford or even Reagan was generally a very good thing. Bipartisanship in a system where such gestures and efforts are used only to further mug the Democrats, and make law unilaterally behind the closed doors of effectively Republican-only conference committees, is simply to lie back and think of England.

Not recognizing that historic change is problematic.

moderates of good will, such as you

Hey, I'll take lots of abuse, but I think calling me a moderate goes beyond the pale.

Sheesh.

Andrew: like Anarch, I am fine with there being reasonable Republicans in existence -- you leap to mind -- and also with the idea that you (and probably I) would, in all likelihood, have big differences with some hypothetical Democratic administration. But this administration has messed everything up. The deficit; Iraq, Afghanistan, N. Korea and the rest of foreign policy; the rule of law; energy policy; civil liberties -- I mean, what are the odds that one and the same guy would absolutely wreck our fiscal position, wreak havoc on our national interests, do very bad things to our military preparedness, not do anything serious about homeland security after 9/11, claim the power to disregard the law at will, and say that he could detain US citizens indefinitely without charges, trial, or access to counsel (and persuade his entire party to go along with him)? I mean: that's quite a track record for just one guy, and I could easily have gone on without leaving the realm of genuine disasters.

"As for Syria, Condi hasn't gone to Damascus, but it's unclear the level of communication we are having with Syria."

As of yesterday, an Assistant Secretary of State was reported to have spoken to the Syrian Foreign Minister in Damascus, and said the FM wasn't "moderately helpful."

It appears that that was deemed by our leadership to be All That Can And Should Be Done For Now.

[Gary looks for a link to back up what he's read]

Ok, see here:<

Several State Department officials have privately objected to the administration’s emphasis on Israel and have said that Washington is not talking to Syria to try to resolve the crisis. Damascus has long been a supporter of Hezbollah, and previous conflicts between the group and Israel have been resolved through shuttle diplomacy with Syria.

Two weeks ago, Ms. Rice instructed Stephen A. Seche, the chargé d’affaires at the United States Embassy in Damascus, to approach Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem in Damascus. The two met, but Mr. Moallem “gave no indication that they would be moderately constructive,” a senior administration official said, and there have been no overtures since.

hilzoy,

First, I'd like to be clear that I am so not a Republican. I just stick up for them here on occasion because, well, someone has to do it.

Second, while I'm confident the particulars would be different under a wholly Democratic regime, I think we'd find ourselves in similar straits pretty quickly. It's the arrogance of power, controlling the whole machine.

Further, while I suspect there's an argument to be made that Republicans have made some big negative strides in moving us in a bad direction, I have the feeling the Democrats will have little compunction using similar methods once they gain power.

Ugh:

"The war ended with a truce negotiated by Kofi Annan, who ordered shots of Jaegermeister and Red Bull for the warring parties. A lengthy period of calm followed, interrupted only by the occasional dry heaves of small arms.

Andrew: sorry on the R thing. I know that, but somehow forgot. Abject apologies.

About the equivalence: part of the reason I don't agree is that I don't think that any recent President has done anything remotely as bad. While I think that our side has had a better record on fiscal responsibility for several decades, it always used to be true that there were lines of fiscal insanity that neither party would cross. Neither party has approached the foreign policy looniness of this administration, nor, frankly, can I imagine many administrations doing something so utterly unforgiveable as going to war without bothering to plan for the occupation.

I think that for a long time, there were certain unspoken limits to what people would do, partly because they didn't know whether they could get away with it, but also partly because people on both sides actually did care about the country.

This didn't make them angels, of course; and the fact that I'm arguing that no recent President other than Bush crossed all those lines means that staying within the lines didn't make anyone a particularly good President; they just kept certain sorts of real disaster at bay.

But that's part of why I do see this administration as qualitatively different from others I have vehemently disagreed with. -- I have lived most of my life not being alarmed for my country. I am alarmed at Bush in a way I never was by previous Republican presidents, even Nixon.

"Hey, I'll take lots of abuse, but I think calling me a moderate goes beyond the pale."

Ok, "libertarians of good will." "People who think for themselves of good will."

"E-list bloggers of good will."

I'm open to other suggested appellations.

"But this administration has messed everything up."

And I'm unaware of any Democratic administration that has ever, even remotely, even approached, even approached approaching, eliminating policy evaluation and construction, in favor of pure politics in constructing a substitute for policy, the way this Administration has, as per the testimony of former cabinet officers, such as former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, and former EPA Administrator Christie Whitman, and non-cabinet officers, such as domestic policy/faith-based programs advisor John Diulio, all absolutely staunch Republicans.

All politicians and Presidents are political, but none remotely the way this one has been. Again, it's been a systematic difference.

hilzoy,

Perhaps you're right. I will continue to reserve judgement, simply because we've got Bush for two more years whether he's the worst or simply mediocre. I am more concerned about what comes after President Bush; as I said before, regardless of who started it, I suspect that his successor will continue to try to pull more power to the executive.

"E-list bloggers of good will."

Now you're getting truly nasty.

"I think we'd find ourselves in similar straits pretty quickly. It's the arrogance of power, controlling the whole machine."

So what comparable forms of problematic behavior to that of the Republican Congress of the past decade would you cite from the Democratic majority Congress of 1984-1994? I'd be very interested to see some specific examples, so we can actually compare.

Because, frankly, I think you are positing an equivalence that is pretty much non-existent. Stuff like the Congressional bank scandal (which was completely bipartisan), or Jim Wright's book deal (which was matched by Newt Gingrich's dealings) was the most trivial sort of petty corruption, not rising remotely to 1/100th of an Abramoff (it affected no legislation or policy), for instance. Neither did Democratic arrogance approach holding open votes for hours to get them to go the way your party wants, or excluding the other party entirely from conference negotations and rewriting bills entirely in said conferences, nor calling in the police to committee meetings to demand that the opposition be arrested, or....

Slarti, I think people are asking you to supply some Republican names that can be taken seriously in the national security field.

Hello - not that it's relevant - I already did.

I think there are some--they just don't seem to have any influence, thanks to their fellow Republicans.

I know there are some, too. As I noted. As for the "thanks to their fellow Republicans", I'm wondering how Wes Clark fared in the primaries?

Probably Republicans are to blame for that, those sneaky bastards.

See, Andrew's raised a decent point, and it pretty much got ignored. Elected Republicans are stupid, yes indeedy. George Bush is a giant, giant, underachieving doofus. And so of course, the Democrats had to match him with their own giant underachieving doofus. Look at the collection of non-rocketscientists with an R by their names, then look at the collection of guys with D by their names and there's not much to distinguish them from one another, aside from those R's and D's. Sure, the D's might, in aggregate, be slightly less screwed up than the R's; slightly less screwed-up isn't what I'd call good resume material.

Gary,

I have the feeling the Democrats will have little compunction using similar methods once they gain power.

For someone who likes to parse comments so carefully, I find it difficult to believe you missed what I said earlier, but I repeat it above just in case.

Look, you want to believe the Republicans are the worst evil since Alf, more power to you. I can't bring myself to care overmuch, because I find the idea the Democrats won't learn from what the Republicans have done to be laughable.

The only difference I see between the Republicans and the Democrats is how they'd like to abuse the power of government. The Republicans are worse now because they're in power. I hope you're right about the Democrats, but I'm not holding my breath.

hilzoy - the Terrorist Threat Open Thread needs a tag closed. I tried to do it myself because I didn't believe you when you said the commenters powers had been diminished, but apparently you're right.

Slarti: I think that Clark's not doing well was due mostly to two things: first, he handled his campaign badly, and second, he had positioned himself very well to respond to the expected Dean victory in Iowa. (He sat out Iowa, and spent the interval moving up the polls in NH, and doing a whole bunch of things whose common features were: (a) they were very good ideas, and (b) they made for extremely sharp contrasts with Dean. He introduced a really great tax proposal, for instance.) As it was, he was 3rd, behind Kerry and Dean.

Moreover, I always thought that the basic and largely unforeseen dynamic in the Democratic primaries was: Democrats desperately wanted someone who could win, and they (fatally) identified "having actually won in Iowa" with "being able to win". After Iowa and NH, the air went out of everyone else's campaign very, very quickly. If Democrats had been less eager to fall in line behind a "winner", and to have some sort of genuine fight after NH, it might, I think, have been different.

As it was, I recall watching the post-NH primaries thinking: Kerry? a winner? Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!! -- But then, he used to be my Senator.

He wouldn't have been a bad President, and compared to George W.. Bush he, like most of humanity, would have been a veritable titan. But he was far from the best in the field, imho, and I really don't think that Democrats chose him because they actually liked him best. They chose him because, as I said, they identified 'having won Iowa' with 'being able to win.'

Who cares what I think? I barely care what I think. But I care a lot about what voters think, and they think Republicans can't be trusted with national security:

Three of the last four Washington Post polls have found that a plurality of Americans trust Democrats rather than Republicans to handle the "campaign against terrorism." Four consecutive Post polls -- and seven of the last eight -- have found that a plurality trust Democrats more when it comes to handling "the situation in Iraq." The lone exception found the parties tied.

Yet the Post, like other news organizations, has routinely touted terrorism and other national security issues as political advantages for the GOP, both through its own assertions and through casual acceptance of Republican claims.

Which I consider evidence for Frank's assertion.

Ugh: thanks; I fixed it.

Nell,

You consider the results of an opinion poll probative?

Which I consider evidence for Frank's assertion.

A poll. Evidence.

Ok, Nell, you can have this one. If you think this sort of thing can be determined by poll, we're arguing in orthogonal directions.

So all Slarti and Andrew have is ~ "Democrats would be just as bad" even though the evidence all points in the opposite direction? Wow.

No, Frank. If you're reading that, you might as well stop reading anything I say. As if you ever started.

I've been thinking about the next election, and the more I think about it, the more I think I'm going to vote against everyone who I'm not convinced is doing a bang-up job. Which might mean voting for a whole bunch of other losers, but so be it.

"George Bush is a giant, giant, underachieving doofus. And so of course, the Democrats had to match him with their own giant underachieving doofus."

That's, however, a 100% speculative, hypothetical assertion, on the latter, that you are asking us to take purely on faith. I hope you realize that.

Andrew:

I have the feeling the Democrats will have little compunction using similar methods once they gain power.

For someone who likes to parse comments so carefully, I find it difficult to believe you missed what I said earlier, but I repeat it above just in case.

Sure, but my point is what rational reason is there to believe this assertion about the future, absent evidence from past behavior, or, indeed, evidence of any sort?

Simple belief that if we split the parties down the middle, they must be equally bad, is insufficient; there has to be some good reason to believe that, beyond pure assumption and lack of any facts.

Sometimes the truth does not, in fact, lie in the middle. Sometimes the truth is 90% one side, 10% on the other.

"Look, you want to believe the Republicans are the worst evil since Alf, more power to you."

No, I don't. I really don't. This is why it took years and years and years to convince me, far longer than it should have. I gave the benefit of the doubt far far longer than I should have.

"I can't bring myself to care overmuch, because I find the idea the Democrats won't learn from what the Republicans have done to be laughable."

I think there will be some of that, but a) who will be to blame for having established the precedents?; and b) what factual basis and evidence do you have for asserting that the Democrats will be just as bad, beyond pure hypothesis without evidence?

That's, however, a 100% speculative, hypothetical assertion, on the latter, that you are asking us to take purely on faith. I hope you realize that.

Did I miss Kerry's spectacular, productive career as a Senator? Or his stellar performance in college? Do tell.

Gary,

I cannot prove a counterfactual...that's kind of why they're called counterfactuals. I hope you're right, and the Democrats can be trusted with power more than the Republicans can. But you have no more evidence for that contention, it will have to await the next time the Democrats hold both the White House and Congress.

And, really, Gary, as far as your point that it would be the Republicans that started it...isn't that a little juvenile? Does the fact the Democrats started all the foolishness with the judiciary somehow get the Republicans off the hook for the dumb games they've played? I certainly don't think so.

Nonetheless, let's assume that I stipulate that the Republicans are, in fact, the worst thing to come down the pike since new Coke. Now what?

Andrew- No you have to wait for the Democrats to control both houses of Congress, the Presidency and to have appointed 7 of 9 Supreme Court Justices. Or look back at the last time that happened, for your equal temptation scenario. (i.e. not in the next 50 years or so.)

So does a silly hypothetical balance out the horrible abuses of the Republican party?

Frank,

I have no idea what you're talking about...and I'm beginning to fear you don't either.

What on Earth makes you think I am in any way attempting to 'balance' the abuses of the Bush administration?

As Schumpeter said, the greatest thing about democracy is that it allows for the peaceful removal of (incompetent, unpleasant) incumbents (think Bush, Liebermann) - when it works.

While I belief that Bushian incompetence records will not be matched for a long, long time, I agree that Democrats can create messes too (think NAFTA opposition, inner city corruption or FDR's Supreme Court bench packing attempts).

Checks and balances. Simple as that. Congress needs more spine. Currently, I see only the Democrats are willing to oppose the president. McCain et al. is all talk, no walk.

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