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November 19, 2007

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Admit it, Hilzoy, you got the title of this post from me :-).

ha - i just finished off a longish post i was going to call "More Friedman Bashing." I'll save it for tomorrow though.

This may well be the worst thing he's ever written. Truly truly atrocious.

Are you kidding? That's brilliant! You keep Cheney around, and whenever you do anything, you ask his opinion, and then just go do the exact opposite. We'd have the best-run country in the world! The man is clearly an untapped resource in avoiding incorrect judgment.

Via Avedon at Sideshow, this weekend I already saw Madison Guy pointing out that the Constitution doesn't say that the Vice President has to step down at the end of his second term.

And presumably, Cheney's figured that staying Vice President is the safest way to avoid prosecution: plus, he's parlayed the role into a fourth arm of government...

Let's call it the Caligula* doctrine.
Oderint dum metuant (let'em hate [us] as long as they also fear [us]).

*especially fitting since the name is derived form the Roman "army boot".

Friedman's adenoidal style of writing is grating enough; add to it his one day stops in world capitols, with sermons on how to interpret and deal with emerging trends there, and it gets very tough to stay with.

His support for the invasion of Iraq remains his crowning acheievement though. Acknowledging that the target was the wrong one, but supporting the invasion anyway, just to teach everyone in the reason a lesson, was the worstprolonged stretch of NYT's opinon in my memory.

Dick Cheney. Beyond sick.

I have a grudging admiration for Friedman. As lazy and as foolish as he is, he at least knows who reads his columns. It's us.

If we could ignore him, he would eventually wither away. But we can't. So he won't.

Life goes on.

Friedman (I suspect, though I no longer read his columns) believes that negotiation with Iran is essentially a game of Chicken. Therefore, if you are faced with a 'nutty' Iranian, it is essential to have someone even more insane and/or indifferent to awful consequences on your side, so that the opposition will be forced to blink first from sheer sense.

The thought that possibly negotiations on such a significant matter should not be conducted as if by testosterone crazed adolescents does not seem to occur to him.

Time for the "Cheney for Shah" bumperstickers.
I love retro.

Oh, and ADAM, you are so right... make him Undersecretary of Overkill or some such.

See, but Friedman noticed the world is flat when Indians got computers.

He has really, really, really, deep insights about foreign people. Like Archie Bunker getting laid by a fine hippie.

Didn’t he become famous for the Chevy and the Humus Bush analysis?

Yglesias is right. Yesterday was the worst NYT op-ed day ever. I'm still wondering whether Maureen Dowd's contribution was ghostwritten by Ann Coulter. Something has gone horribly wrong with our pundit class (well, it's been horribly wrong for ages, but it's getting worse).

...chess pieces...
And right there you have the neocon worldview in a nutshell. They see the world as a game, little colored squares marked "us" and "them" with no real consequences other than wavy lines on a map moving back and forth. They imagine themselves to be big picture thinkers, a sure mark of small mindedness.

I've never met a self proclaimed "big picture thinker" who wasn't a dimwit hiding behind an overinflated ego. I've run into them in politics, engineering, and management, and they are all the same at root. What they fail to grasp is that the big picture is entirely composed of details, little pictures, elements interacting to produce the larger dynamic. Missing the big picture isn't about too much attention to detail, it's about too much attention to only one detail, missing out on all the other details. The solution to excessive focus on one detail is not ignoring all details, it's paying sufficient attention to all the other details, as well as how they interact with each other. Big picture thinkers convince themselves that they have a shortcut to truth by finding the One Key Element, as if that element can be isolated from its context and addressed independent of anything else. It's an ego flattering way to avoid thinking, because thinking is hard, and reason requires constant readjustment in the face of new facts. Friedman is the quintessential Big Thinker.

Friedman should audition with the Cirque du Soleil as a contortionist at the top of a very high, swaying poll, making his head disappear into a tight private place through a hogshead of real fire.

To tell you the truth, Friedman's column is a fairly realistic picture of the impossible task looming ahead of the next President. Let's put it this way, what the candidates are doing right now vis a vis Iraq is campaigning to be wrapped in chains and a straitjacket, locked in a steel casket encased in a cement made of Republican bile and worthless mortgage paper with a two-minute supply of oxygen, and dropped to the bottom of a swiftly moving, freezing river.

Since Cheney thought the trick up, set the trap, sold tickets to the crowd of death-lovers, and, as an added bonus, connected the hinge on the casket to a nuclear weapon, why shouldn't he receive an invite to proffer advice and consent from inside the trap?

OT, but for more fun in the area of dingbat parsing and reasoning, check out the Red State post this morning, entitled "Overplaying the Bigotry Card", by the cabal of self-dramatizing Directors.

"Like Archie Bunker getting laid by a fine hippie."

someotherdude, in deference to you I'm going to douse my keyboard in lighter fluid, strike a match, and go back to bed for the week.

Re RedState - my theory is that most of the Director/Erick posts are market tests for site traffic generation.

Remember that Colin Powell was SecState at the time, and must share a significant amount of the blame.

In the interests of intellectual diversity, I'm going to offer for consideration a distant defense of Mr. Friedman (besides, I'm uncomfortable with the personal nature of the attacks on him.)

Perhaps we can find his piece more palatable if we interpret his reference to Mr. Cheney as metaphorical. It certainly can't be literal. Intepreted this way, his proposal becomes a statement that Mr. Obama's diplomatic approach can be enhanced with a credible threat. Let's not forget that the Cuban missile crisis was to some extent due to Mr. Kruschev's belief (based on their meeting in Vienna) that Mr. Kennedy was soft. A similar problem might dog Mr. Obama.

Thought of in this way, Mr. Friedman's hypothesis can be accepted as basically sound but founded on entirely the wrong basis for the metaphor. Perhaps he should have used Tony Soprano as the basis of the metaphor.

A defense of metaphor would be a lot easier to accept if there were the slightest sign of metaphor in Friedman's essay, and personal criticism is entirely warranted when someone makes their personal experience and insight the justification for an ongoing series of profoundly wrong analyses and recommendations.

Jaden, what do we care about Mr. Friedman? We care about ideas, not people. Attack the ideas, not the man.

"Jaden, what do we care about Mr. Friedman? We care about ideas, not people. Attack the ideas, not the man."

Fair enough. Mr. Friedman's ideas are stupid.

Actually, Friedman and several other liberal hawks played a role in making the Iraq War seem like a good idea. They sold it to (some) liberals, or tried to. To the extent that pundits have any effect on political reality, Friedman matters more than most. This is a bad thing. Friedman needs to be seen as someone who might have been good once (I'm wondering if his first book seemed better than it was, but won't push this), but has long since passed his useful pundit expiration date.

Incidentally, Erasmussimo, was your 11:48 post supposed to be a defense of Friedman's idea? I think we all understood what he was saying--as Glenn Greenwald pointed out, he was saying similar things in 2002. He believes in the madman theory or the Tony Soprano theory of international relations . That's precisely the idea some of us think is nuts. It didn't even occur to me that someone thought Friedman was serious about keeping Cheney in office.

So do you think we should be making a credible threat to launch yet another war of aggression against an even larger Middle Eastern country?

Perhaps he should have used Tony Soprano as the basis of the metaphor.

I believe Mr. Soprano did make a cameo appearance in Friedman's essay.

We care about ideas, not people. Attack the ideas, not the man.

To the degree that ideas reveal aspects of inner thought and character, I'm not sure it's either possible or correct to separate the two.

Friedman's suggestion seems to be that our policy toward Iran should be:

"Let's talk, and if we're not happy with how the talks go, we'll blow you up".

This is his idea of balance. His choice of Tony Soprano as metaphor is apt, because this is, precisely, mafia logic.

In the context of the world we live in right now, today, I have no problem with folks calling Friedman crazy, or with calling him an irresponsible, self-aggrandazing jerk.

Look, I just did it myself.

Thanks -

When negotiating with murderous regimes like Iran’s or Syria’s, you want Tony Soprano by your side, not Big Bird.

Friedman, sigh. What a small-minded wimp! I'd rather have Pol Pot, Stalin or someone with true mettle. Cheney is just an understudy wannabe.

After all, that was the big mistake in Iraq -- remember Friedman's prescient words with Charlie Rose on 5/30/03. We went there to "burst bubbles," go "house to house" and tell the Iraqis "suck on this," and we needed to go with a "very big stick." But we were just not nasty enough about it -- time to really go apocalyptic on them.

I can see it now -- Friedman and Cheney leading the charge into Iran -- the stars on the American flag they carry replaced with skulls, and the red stripes oozing blood onto the white. We get what we want with violence and war.

Friedman and Cheney leading the charge into Iran

You won't see either guy leading any charge, anywhere. Most likely not their kids or grandkids, either.

Thanks -

Incidentally, Erasmussimo, was your 11:48 post supposed to be a defense of Friedman's idea?

Not of Mr. Friedman's idea per se, but rather a more reasoned version of it. Mr. Kennedy's handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis provides us with an ideal example of what I mean. Mr. Kennedy did not rely solely on diplomatic means; he implemented a naval blockade of Cuba. He had to kick butt to keep the military from turning it into a hot war, but he pulled it off. And in the end, he used diplomatic means to settle the dispute -- removing the American missiles in Turkey to secure the removal of the Soviet missiles in Cuba.

I don't think that we'll get anywhere asking Iran to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons -- there's no reason why they should do so. We need to provide them with some clear advantages for doing so. Threatening to attack Iran is idiotic -- we simply don't have the military resources to pull it off successfully. Economic sanctions are another matter; I believe they can work.

To the degree that ideas reveal aspects of inner thought and character, I'm not sure it's either possible or correct to separate the two.

Who gives a damn about the inner thoughts and character of Mr. Friedman? I certainly don't. This entire discussion would have been more illuminating had Mr. Friedman never been mentioned. I would have preferred that it simply quote the relevant text from his column and never mention his name. Then we could have concentrated on the issues rather than wasting our time on irrelevancies.

Thought of in this way, Mr. Friedman's hypothesis can be accepted as basically sound but founded on entirely the wrong basis for the metaphor.

The hypothesis is that of the modern day Clausewitz -- that "war is simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other mean."

That is the European philosophy that turned Europe into a charnel house during the 20th Century. It is the warmongering philosophy that describes Cheney. Friedman can un-mix his metaphors or otherwise correct his other literary sins in making his point, but the underlying sickness of his point of view does not change.

Friedman exemplifies an attitude that has trivialized the decision about when to commit the nation to war.

while nonetheless being completely and utterly insane.

I don't think Friedman is insane. He is just a bit dimwitted. Look, he hasn't thought his suggestion through and I don't think he would do much better if he did bother to think it through. What he is doing here, at least in his own mind, is being cleverly contrarian. He wants to shake things up a bit. Make some sort of counterintuitive argument to get people thinking about how to create a tough but smart foreign policy. He doesn't feel the need to justify his argument with any serious analysis of real world situations or consequences. This sort of argument is just a way for him to prove his intelligence to himself and his audience.

I think many people approach intellectual discussion this way at one point in their lives. Most people grow out of it by the time they graduate college.

>>>What he is doing here, at least in his own mind, is being cleverly contrarian. He wants to shake things up a bit. >>>


There have to be few things in the world more stressful than coming up with a truly insightful opinion piece twice a week. But still.....

(Isn't 'graduate' an intransitive verb?)

I'm going to be contrary, and say this is a bit silly.

Now, everyone nowadays is always up for some Tom Friedman bashing, and who is going to embarrass themselves by disagreeing? It's not as if what he wrote is sensible enough to be worth defending outright.

But, on the other hand, Hilzoy's attack seems quite off-base to me, because Friedman isn't actually proposing Cheney stay on.

Duh. It's a metaphor. He's just arguing that Obama needs to use a stick as well as a carrot when negotiating with Iran.

This should hardly be worth pointing out, but when people are reacting in Pavlovian fashion, -- he said "Cheney," get the crosses and stakes! -- and ignoring that elementary point, it's apparently necessary.

That argument about balancing the approach to Iran can be be attacked, disagreed with, or ridiculed all you like, on its own, if you like. Or defended and agreed with, if you prefer.

But that's the argument he made. Going on as if he were seriously proposing keeping Cheney as Veep is just... silly.

It's playing to the cheap seats. It's not up to Hilzoy's usual standard, I'm afraid.

Generally speaking the blogosphere has a real weak spot in calling mainstream columnists names: no matter how much it's justified much of the time -- and it is, few columnists are still worth while after five years, if not less -- it's always going to an ever-popular cheap target, and it's only justified if there's a larger, non-repetitive point to be made. "Columnist X Is Dumb" isn't a larger, non-repetitive, point, even if it's one most everyone likes to enjoy chiming in on.

We learn nothing from it. When Hilzoy, or any blogger, is on their game, we learn something.

dmbeaster, I disagree with you about the Clausewitzian concept. You claim that it led to the catastrophic wars of the Twentieth Century -- I suspect that you are relying on "post hoc, ergo propter hoc". Indeed, almost every war of the Twentieth Century can be described as violating Clausewitzian thought. What possible policy advantage was to be gained in war by any of the actors in August 1914? Hitler's use of war was Clausewitzian, but it was in pursuit of an irrational policy goal (imperialism). Was the American war in Vietnam a rational extension of policy? (I think I can defend the Korean War on Clausewitzian terms.)

Remember, I am arguing against military options with respect to Iran, yet you seem to be rejecting my position. Are you flatly denying the role of any form of pressure in diplomatic relationships?

Who gives a damn about the inner thoughts and character of Mr. Friedman?

I do.

If you'd like to confine it a pure discussion of ideas, fine.

A foreign policy based on a doctrine of "Let's talk, but if I don't like what I hear I'm going to blow you up" is morally repugnant, counterproductive, and basically won't work.

To push this one step further, the primary reason it is counterproductive and won't work is that it's morally repugnant. My two cents.

Speaking purely for myself, if the same guy comes out with a few gems like this over a shortish period of time, I come to the conclusion that he's irresponsible and a jerk. Again, speaking purely for myself, that becomes a useful heuristic when evaluating things he says in the future.

If you prefer to sort all of that out from first principles every time a guy like Friedman opens his mouth, your time is yours to spend. Have at it.

Thanks -

Who gives a damn about the inner thoughts and character of Mr. Friedman? I certainly don't.

I do understand your point here and I don't entirely disagree. On the other hand, I do think there is something germane about the general inanity of Friedman and most of his colleagues that can only be gotten at with a type of personal analysis.

We have a problem. Most of our press punditry, even the part of it dedicated to political analysis, seems to be either hopelessly mired in trivia or prone to wrongheaded and simplistic analysis that consistently makes the world worse and not better. They are largely responsible for the frame in which the public thinks about policy issues (to the extent that they address those issues at all) and they continually demonstrate an incredible obtuseness to the real world effects of those policies.

Pushing back, offering some sort of counter-pressure in this ridiculous situation requires some understanding of what motivates them to churn this crap out day after day and week after week. Their motivations might not be the only factor but it is an important one.

Donald: "It didn't even occur to me that someone thought Friedman was serious about keeping Cheney in office."

Hilzoy:

[...] Dick Cheney is quite possibly the most disastrous Vice President in the history of the republic, and Tom Friedman thinks we should keep him on. Maybe next week we can expect him to recommend that the Democratic nominee make the disinterred corpse of Richard Nixon Attorney General, or Typhoid Mary the head of the Centers for Disease Control, or Pol Pot the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

[...]

Excuse me for a second: I have to reattach my jaw and put my eyeballs back in their sockets.

The Bush administration has had its foreign policy completely hamstrung, in a number of areas, by an ongoing feud between its hawks, Cheney chief among them, and its more moderate figures, like Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice. As far as I can tell, our MBA President, rather than acting to settle this feud and keep his subordinates in line, just let it fester, with disastrous results. (Think North Korea.) In the case of Iran, in particular, this has been a catastrophe. Iran cooperated with us after 9/11, but when we named them a member of the Axis of Evil, and even more when people like, oh, Dick Cheney started making noises about Iran being the next country on our list of targets, that cooperation, quite naturally, vanished.

[...]

And who was one of the main people responsible for torpedoing those negotiations? Dick "We don't negotiate with tyrants, we defeat them" Cheney, that's who. He has tried to block every diplomatic initiative we might have taken, just as he did with North Korea. He and the rest of the hawks in the White House are responsible for the fact that we now find ourselves confronted with an Iran seeking nuclear weapons, and virtually no leverage to use against them.

This is the guy Tom Friedman thinks Barack Obama needs on his team, to help him negotiate with Iran.

Even taking out the long quotes, don't you think that's more than a few words on the subject?

We care about ideas, not people. Attack the ideas, not the man.

But it's not just ideas, it's also people. And not in a way that has to do with Friedman's inner character.

The power elite treats Tom Friedman's ideas as serious because Tom Friedman writes them. He is "serious" in part because of the ideas he's espoused, but also because of who he is, the personal contacts he's made, his institutional ties, his wealthy wife, and so forth.

Any careful reader of all of Friedman's blather on flatworld globalization--with its sweaty recounting of conversations with all of his contacts in the world of global business--knows that personal contacts are at the very heart of the "ideas."

In short, the person matters here. And, indeed, it always matters among the U.S. nomenklatura. Or, one might even say, in politics in general.

But that's the argument he made. Going on as if he were seriously proposing keeping Cheney as Veep is just... silly.

The thing is, I don't really believe you're right. I think this is Friedman's attempt at being cunningly contrarian: it's a Unity Ticket, but (in his insular/inbred mindset) with teeth. The fact that it's mind-bogglingly stupid should mitigate against it being serious... but it's Friedman, and that's reason enough to doubt.

I agree wholeheartedly with the sad truth that homo sapiens is less than entirely rational and will often give an idea more weight than it deserves merely because a pundit supports it. Economists have demonstrated that this sheeplike behavior does have a rational basis in that it doesn't require as much effort in learning all the facts. So, yes, the pundits can sway people in the wrong direction.

But it still doesn't any good to attack the pundit. Remember, attacking the pundit directly merely pits your reputation against his -- an approach that you are guaranteed to lose because the pundit already enjoys greater respect than you. You can't diminish his reputation by calling him names; when an unknown person attacks a respected person, the only result is that people hold the unknown person in less respect. You can only diminish the reputation of the pundit by showing that he's wrong.

Thus, attacking the man is a waste of time and attacking the idea is the better approach.

"I think this is Friedman's attempt at being cunningly contrarian: it's a Unity Ticket, but (in his insular/inbred mindset) with teeth. The fact that it's mind-bogglingly stupid should mitigate against it being serious... but it's Friedman, and that's reason enough to doubt."

I have the greatest respect for you, Anarch, but one has to willfully disbelieve Friedman, and believe he's Secretly Plotting an Impossible Thing, for that to be true, and I don't see remotely sufficient reason to believe that.

Friedman writes:

[...] No, I personally am not a Dick Cheney fan, and I know it is absurd to even suggest, but now that I have your attention, here’s what’s on my mind: After Iraq and Pakistan, the most vexing foreign policy issue that will face [blah blah blah]
For pete's sake, Friedman's style has always, since he started his column, been metaphoric. He reduces, for better or worse -- and, yes, what everyone often rightfully makes fun of him for in recen years is that it's most often for worse -- complex issues to simple metaphors. That's why he was hired: to be a popularizer.

We all agree that in recent years he's gone over the edge, off the deep end, passed his sell-by date, and other -- oh, sh*t, I'm writing in metaphors, just like him!

Anyway, if you don't believe he's writing here about his belief that for diplomacy to work with Iran, there have to be sticks involved, but that he's actually writing about his crypto-desire to see the Constitution overturned, and have Dick Cheney actually re-elected as Veep, well, logical argument probably won't be useful in arguing the unlikeliness of that.

Personally, I think anyone who believes that has lost touch with reality, but that's why argument won't do any good.

Meanwhile, I know nothing I say will prevent a long thread of people making themselves feel good about themselves by coming up with new insults for Friedman, so enjoy, everyone! There will be a real point to having said those things! Boy, Tom Friedman sure is dumb! Threads where we can all repeat that thought sure are deep!

(Publius at least had some useful things to say about Iranian policy. This thread? Not so much, unless people find yet another thread -- this makes, what, the 27th at ObWi alone? -- where people all agree that Tom Friedman Is Stupid to be edifying the 28th time around.)

I did see that, Gary (hilzoy's post), but I thought she was being metaphorical--it really didn't occur to me that she thought Friedman seriously thought Cheney should stay on. But maybe I'm misreading hilzoy's reading of Friedman's level of idiocy.

Anyway, Friedmans Tony Soprano theory is idiotic. If he really meant Cheney should stay on, he's literally insane, but I doubt he thinks that.

Dick Cheney has been, without a doubt, the worst, most distructive, VP in the history of the Republic. He is at the center of each and every wrong decsion this administration has made. For Friedman to suggest that he remain in office is INSANE! There is no question. For people here to be defending him is beyond that.

Obama would have to be insane to want "Dick Cheney standing over his right shoulder," pondering just where to place the knife.

Gary, if Hilzoy believed Friedman was actually recommending that Cheney continue as VP, wouldn't she have made some mention of how impractical that would be to achieve? Instead she wrote about all the problems Cheney caused as VP, which seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable way to criticize the point Friedman was making. The problems caused by the real Cheney are problems that Hilzoy believes would be caused by Friedman's metaphorical Cheney as well.

He reduces, for better or worse -- and, yes, what everyone often rightfully makes fun of him for in recen years is that it's most often for worse -- complex issues to simple metaphors.

I think we all understand that Friedman is not suggesting that Obama literally nominate Cheney as his running mate.

I think we all understand that Friedman's piece was intended to make the point that the threat of force is a necessary component of our negotiations with Iran.

And, I think we all understand that Friedman's gig is to boil complex issues down to a reasonable facsimile that can be grasped in the 10 minutes it takes to read a Times Op-Ed.

My beef with Friedman substantively is that the foreign policy positions he supports have, consistently, been bad for this nation.

My beef with Friedman other than substantively is that he presents what are essentially aggressive, imperial foreign policy positions with no apparent regard or consideration for their consequences.

The latter, in particular, I call "irresponsibility".

He earns the title "jerk" from me, now and forever, for his "Suck. On. This." soliloquy. Not the topic of this thread, for sure, but germane nonetheless. At least, I find it so.

Thanks -

Yep. Didn't believe F. was serious. Did believe that this idea, as metaphor, shows just how unserious F. is. Because a decent metaphor should make your point, not undermine it by making you think: wait, this is completely and hopelessly wrong. Cheney was a disaster for Iran policy, and he was one precisely because he was so hawkish. Moreover, if you wanted a nightmarish hawk, it would be better to have one who wasn't a skilled enough bureaucratic infighter to actually do damage: someone who would *only* be a threatening presence. That is not Dick Cheney.

"My beef with Friedman substantively is that the foreign policy positions he supports have, consistently, been bad for this nation."

And I have no beef with anyone who wants to argue that.

Hilzoy: "Moreover, if you wanted a nightmarish hawk, it would be better to have one who wasn't a skilled enough bureaucratic infighter to actually do damage: someone who would *only* be a threatening presence. That is not Dick Cheney."

Sure, but since Friedman wasn't arguing for a literal Cheney, it's an irrelevant point. We're all agreed that Cheney is a horrific Veep.

If you'd like to discuss what American policy towards Iranian should be, that could be an interesting post, although it seems like it's been quite a long while since anyone has had any useful new insights, and thus anything interesting, to offer.

But what seems to be of primary interest to people is an opportunity to again post that they think Friedman is a jerk. Which is fine, but extremely uninteresting after the first time.

But what seems to be of primary interest to people is an opportunity to again post that they think Friedman is a jerk.

We knew Friedman was a jerk. What's new information is that he is a (long list of modifiers I'm not allowed to use on OW) loon. This is worth noting. And now no Friedman-related post will be required when he declares himself to be a bust of Napoleon.

It's uninteresting to you, Gary. What makes it interesting to the rest of us is that somehow Friedman still has a job and may well be taken seriously by some. I see him cited respectfully in letters to the NYT--I like to think they're picking a handful of Friedman-lovers out of cubic feet of mail from Friedman-bashers, but have no way of knowing.

Hell, why stop there? He can bring back Alberto Gonzales and Rumsfeld, too. Grover Norquist can run HHS, since while it's nice to provide health care to the sick and indigent, it'd be so much more effective to have someone in the background mumbling "or we could let the bastards drop dead."

Erasmussino:

Remember, I am arguing against military options with respect to Iran, yet you seem to be rejecting my position. Are you flatly denying the role of any form of pressure in diplomatic relationships?

I was riffing off your point that we attack his idea rather than just his clumsy metaphor. So I attacked his idea as you suggest -- there was no intention to attack your ideas on the subject, and I saw that you also critiqued his idea.

My point is that threats of war are not properly thought of as diplomacy by another means -- hence the reference to Clausewitz. They are last resort activities undertaken to protect a nation from violent attacks against it. Threats of war destabilize diplomacy as the only proper response to such threats is to take the threat seriously and act on the assumption that the threat will be carried out at some point (or else cave in to the pressure).

The number of conflict situations in which threats of war are a proper backstop to diplomacy are rather limited. The Friedmans and the Cheneys of the world have worked to dilute that standard. So yes, I am stating that "pressure" defined as threats of war are frequently not properly on the table as a diplomatic option.

It is worth noting that the Cold War involved lots of threats of war precisely because the West was faced with an expansionist power intent on using force if it could get away with it. But that is hardly the norm, and others have already noted the lunacy of comparing the threat created by Iran or other countries with the that presented by the USSR or Maoist China.

The Axis of Evil speech was a mistake from the moment it was uttered.

As for Clausewitz and the 20th century, I would agree that very few were as good at practicing the principles of Clausewitz as the master, but they still thought of war in the same casual manner as Clausewitz. Clausewitz actually had a number of very cogent thoughts about war and strategy -- he was better off sticking to that subject rather than the larger subject of the proper role of war in a nation's arsenal of diplomatic tricks. The line I quoted is famous for exemplifying an attitude of the time, but it is not that representative of his overall thoughts.

All this talk about the literal Friedman and the metaphorical Friedman, make me think I’m back on the God thread.

I guess Friedman is a prophet.

dmbeaster, I am in general agreement with you about the role of threats of war, but I suspect that I'm a tad less resistant to using threats of war. For example, I think that the Chinese have gone a little too far with their threats against Taiwan (lobbing missiles around is a little too strong for my taste), but at the same time I think that China is well-advised to make it clear to the Taiwanese that an outright declaration of independence will be met with a declaration of war. (This assumes the rectitude of China's determination to retain sovereignty over Taiwan).

Looking at it the from the other direction, I think it obvious that the American diplomat blundered when she told Mr. Hussein prior to his invasion of Kuwait that the US had no vital interest in Kuwait. A clear statement that an invasion of Kuwait would trigger a war would have saved everybody much suffering.

Veiled references to war are also diplomatically useful, I think. The French foreign minister recently touched off a brouhaha by making such a veiled reference to Iran, but I think it would have been useful had his reference been more veiled. It is vital that Iran understand the seriousness of Western concerns regarding its nuclear program. Again, I think that the problem can be handled with economic sanctions, and I certainly oppose any resort to military power or a direct reference to its application -- but a reference to "serious consequences" is good enough.

I also think that there is some utility in the "good cop, bad cop" routine here, as in France stating "Iran, I don't think I can restrain this raving maniac (referring to USA) if you don't show us some more cooperation on this issue." But from the American POV, playing raving maniac is not a role to be relished. The fact that we have played that role so convincingly for the last six years doesn't mean that we should continue to do so.

Yeah, those Mullahs are soooo naive; they will never be fooled by tha ol' good cop-bad cop.

The hundreds of years of historical knowledge Iran/Persia has acquired will blind them of the brilliant "good cop-bad cop" routine which helped Mel Gibson and Eddie Murphy in a whole lota jams.

The Mullah’s are irrational, just cause they were called part of the Axis-of-Evil by an American President, who is a Fundamentalist (Evangelical, if you’re in denial) who speaks to God and was just bitch-slapped by his allies in Saudi Arabia with a 9-11. That would never figure into the Mullah’s strategy. No Sir-ee. Why would the Persians panic when a terrible terrorist attack was perpetrated in the strongest Empire on earth, and that Empire refuses to hold the people who did it, responsible…in fact, said Empire seems to be blaming everyone EXCEPT the nation most likely responsible.

Yeah, the Mullah’s are craaaaazy.

Threats of war destabilize diplomacy as the only proper response to such threats is to take the threat seriously and act on the assumption that the threat will be carried out at some point (or else cave in to the pressure).

Thank you. Perfectly stated.

The one thing I would add is that threats of war also greatly limit the options of the one doing the threatening. If the other party calls your bluff, your choices are:

1. Go to war
2. Back down, thus losing credibility

If your actual goal was not to go to war, but to effect some change in the other party's behavior, you just lost.

What if we take Friedman's advice, and Iran replies with, "Thanks, but no thanks". What then?

Friedman devotes not one word of his OpEd to a consideration of the risks that might be created by Obama "dialing up his inner Cheney". Not a word about what a war with Iran would cost, in any of the many kinds of coin in which the bill would come due. Not a word about how war with Iran might affect our current involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran's neighbors.

We'll just quietly pound a baseball bat into our palm, and the Iranians will see sense and do what we want them to do.

Genius! Why didn't anyone else think of that?

Basically, Friedman is pulling a pipe dream out of his butt and telling us it's the solution to all our problems. There's no analysis, no consideration of consequences or alternatives. In a word, no thought. It's an idea that popped into his head on the way into the office, in between dropping his kid off at school and picking up his dry cleaning.

I've never read Friedman's early stuff. Lots of folks I respect think highly of it, and I'm sure it's good work. Stuff like this, though, sounds like an undergraduate dorm room conversation. It's childish and naive. IMO, it's hack work, and contributes nothing to actually understanding or solving the very many problems we face.

I don't think Friedman's insane. I just think he's lazy, and full of himself, and irresponsible in proposing big ideas for the rest of the world without any consideration of their consequences. In my book, that adds up to "jerk", but YMMV.

Thanks -

I suspect that I'm a tad less resistant to using threats of war

Iran has been declared a charter member of the "Axis of Evil" by the President.

We have declared the Iranian Republican Guard a terrorist organization, and declared Iran to be a sponsor of terror.

We are engaged in a military occupation of two of Iran's neighboring states. If I'm not mistaken, one or more carrier groups is positioned offshore of Iran now.

A sizeable number of American policy makers and elected officials have expressed, openly, a desire to go to war with Iran.

Maybe I'm missing something, but I'd say the "threat of war" is most likely palpable in Iran these days.

What would you recommend in the way of "dialing it up"? I see exactly one stone left unturned, which is an explicit ultimatum stating that an Iranian nuclear capability will result in an immediate declaration of war from the US and an attack on Iranian territory.

Wanna put that on the table?

Thanks -

What strikes me is that for TF 'negotiation' is a process by which two parties talk about their differences and the physically stronger of the two parties uses the threat of violence to humiliate the weaker party into doing their bidding.

That's negotiation. Listening and respect have nothing to do with it.

But what seems to be of primary interest to people is an opportunity to again post that they think Friedman is a jerk. Which is fine, but extremely uninteresting after the first time.

If it doesn't interest you why do you so persistently comment about it? Or, isn't it ironic for a promiscuous commenter like yourself to be discouraging other commenters from expressing themselves?

I agree that explicit threats of war are idiotic when you're not willing to carry them out. And there's no question in my mind that we will do much better if we sit down with the Iranians and negotiate with them. The point I want to emphasize is that we need to provide them with meaningful incentives to abandon their nuclear weapons program. They would be idiots to give up such a geopolitically important program without strong incentives. The first thing we have to do is give them absolute, rock-solid guarantees of future access to all the fuel they need for power reactors. Beyond that, we need to create conditions under which the pursuit and eventual possession of a nuclear weapon will lead to conditions less desirable to them. This will be difficult; we have already acquiesced to the Pakistani and Indian nuclear weapons programs, and Mr. Bush was ready to throw the whole NPT regime into the trash in order to gain some short-term benefits with India (fortunately, India proved even more idiotic and turned down the treaty). So it will be difficult to convince the Iranians that we are serious about proliferation. Our best bet is a set of economic sanctions, but even that seems unlikely to work, because the Russians and the Chinese are not at alarmed by an Iranian bomb (indeed, it is to China's benefit for Iran to possess a bomb).

All in all, I don't see that the US has any good options. In the end, my best guess is that the Iranians will move forward, build their bomb, and the entire NPT regime will collapse. How long can it be before Liechtenstein gets the bomb?

I suspect a lot of people around the world think it's funny that a country with thousands of nuclear weapons which won't even rule out using them first has the gall to lecture others about proliferation. This is even more the case when we have a record of making war on numerous other countries, directly or via proxy. I'm not happy about Iran possibly acquiring a bomb, but there's really something darkly comic about American arrogance. Yeah, the US has few good options regarding Iran. The rest of the world often has few good options regarding the US. Life sucks.

I think it makes a nice counterpoint with Kagan and O'Hanlon's delusional op-ed piece about the possibility and mechanisms for U.S. military intervention in Pakistan with the acquiescence and collusion of Pakinstan's military.
<http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/18/opinion/18kagan.html?pagewanted=print>

Liechtenstein may take some time. It's about the only country on Earth that has no military (if the bodyguard of his highness doesn't count) ;-)
If the bomb is dropped I demand that Cheney is tied to it (Bush may lend him the appropriate hat) ;-)

we need to create conditions under which the pursuit and eventual possession of a nuclear weapon will lead to conditions less desirable to them. This will be difficult

Agreed on both counts. To add one more item to your very good list of difficulties:

Folks here, including but not limited to Cheney, are calling for war with Iran for reasons far beyond their nuclear program.

In that context, why would they ever, in million years, give up a weapon of any kind?

Thanks -

You make an excellent point, russell. The worst possible use of belligerent talk is when it is done outside of any diplomatic discussions. The Bush Administration has, once again, completely bungled the attempt to bring Iran to the table. They had a real opportunity with the Iranian initiative in 2003, and they threw it away. Now they're just digging the hole deeper.

I disagree with you about the Clausewitzian concept. You claim that it led to the catastrophic wars of the Twentieth Century -- I suspect that you are relying on "post hoc, ergo propter hoc". Posted by: Erasmussimo | November 19, 2007 at 01:38 PM

You've misunderstood something somewhere. WWI and WWII are the children of Clausewitz. I recommend you read the first chapter of John Keegan's A History of Warfare.

I've read Keegan and he's referring to the Western concept of total war. I'm referring to something entirely different: the notion that war should be thought of as a political act.

Damn. Hilzoy in comments hit on a point that was my reaction #1:

(1) DC is the last person you want as a moderating voice within your government. The man is a parasite and an infighter. He will act to cripple his internal opponents. He will not accept his limitations or his role within the government.

I don't think it is right to even flatter Dick Cheney with the suggestion that he would be fit to be VP again. Which is why I disagree with people saying that Hilzoy ought to lighten up, Friedman wasn't speaking seriously.

Dick Cheney is not the kind of person you want in any organization (besides the organization of your enemies), and it is irresponsible -- in a time of so much misinformation -- to paint heroic pictures of him.

When you use a person as an exemplar, you have to use the totality of their character as exemplar or else you'll start creating some silly and embarrassing misrepresentations. I think we ought not start disseminating misrepresentations about the difference between good government and bad government. Dick Cheney ought to be remembered as the most power hungry VP since Aaron Burr tried to declare himself king, not as the Tony Soprano of our Iranian policy.

That's precisely the problem with people saying things like "So-and-so [murderous thug] was a good leader" and then defending themselves by saying that they were talking about his oratory skills alone. Why is this considered offensive? I've always thought the answer had something to do with the irresponsibility of not taking as much as you can into account when proposing an exemplar.

My reaction #2 might be more interesting to some:

(2) This whole "tough on Iran" talk is somewhat moot. If there is a positive action to be taken, then let us take it and not grandstand. If there is not, grandstanding is not helping. And, in particular, a Cold War is just the wrong analogy because containment would be just the wrong strategy here. If we "contain" Iran the way we contained the Soviets -- by engaging in proxy wars with them -- we would only push the enemies of our proxies straight into Iranian hands, strengthening their position. There is a lot to suggest that this happened in Vietnam, where we pushed opposition to the Diem government into Communist hands. By pinching them, we will make them go out and find allies. We will induce them to swallow their differences and strengthen their connections to fight a common enemy: this will help the Iranian position. Believe me, the mullahs would love to think (and they would love the world to think) they are in some kind of Cold War with the United States.

Gary: I don't think I quite made my point. Let me try to rephrase.

For pete's sake, Friedman's style has always, since he started his column, been metaphoric. He reduces, for better or worse -- and, yes, what everyone often rightfully makes fun of him for in recen years is that it's most often for worse -- complex issues to simple metaphors.

While this is certainly true I think the situation's slightly worse than that. Friedman strikes me, from what I've seen and read -- although I certainly respect the fact that you've read far more Friedman than I, and therefore your take is probably more accurate than mine -- as someone who's dwelt in his own facile metaphors for so long that he's started to believe his own bullshit. He's not just mistaking the map for the country, he's mistaking a Bangalore cab driver's off-hand description of the map for the country. [woohoo! metaphors r0x!] As such, my read on the column is that it's in the "Ha Ha Only Serious" vein: not just an exaggeration or contrarianism for the sake of being contrary, but something genuinely indicative of the way he perceives the world.

To put it another way: while I don't think he's actually suggesting Obama nominate Cheney as his running mate per se, were Obama to do so Friedman would IMO laud him for his bold and daring, nay visionary, approach to politics. Ha Ha, Only Serious. If you want to call this "wilful disbelief" of Friedman, well, so be it; I've been wrong about such things before. The error, though, would be in the specific divination of his intent: I've learned over the years not to take our pundit class at face value.

but that he's actually writing about his crypto-desire to see the Constitution overturned, and have Dick Cheney actually re-elected as Veep,

Wait, what? The Twenty-Second Amendment restricts the number of terms that can be served by a President. AFAIK there's no comparable restriction on the Vice-President, unless you're taking the "Cheney Administration" a touch too literally.

"While this is certainly true I think the situation's slightly worse than that. Friedman strikes me, from what I've seen and read -- although I certainly respect the fact that you've read far more Friedman than I, and therefore your take is probably more accurate than mine -- as someone who's dwelt in his own facile metaphors for so long that he's started to believe his own bullshit."

Oh, I agree completely. (Although I must quickly caveat that I've not read Friedman the whole time the Select business was in force, which is to say, his work of the past year or two.)

But believing your own bullshit is always a danger for opinionators and simplifiers -- we see it all over the blogosphere, where people particularly love to fall in love with their own coinages, and as a result wind up incomprehensible outside their own echo chamber -- and absolutely it's clear that Friedman long ago fell in love with his own voice, and the applause it was getting him.

"To put it another way: while I don't think he's actually suggesting Obama nominate Cheney as his running mate per se, were Obama to do so Friedman would IMO laud him for his bold and daring, nay visionary, approach to politics. Ha Ha, Only Serious."

I understand why you think that, and if you weren't intending to be absolutely factual, I'd take your point, probably let it go, but if you meant it to be absolutely literally true, we'd have to agree to disagree, as I do think that it would be unlikely.

"Wait, what? The Twenty-Second Amendment restricts the number of terms that can be served by a President."

Twelth Amendment:

[...] But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.
If you prefer, there are some who argue that there are two outs, but I'm unconfident of their analysis, myself. (It doesn't help my confidence that Shafer blatantly distorts what the Twelth Amendment says when he describes, but doesn't quote, it.)

Gary, how is the Twelfth Amendment relevant to the possibility of Dick Cheney being elected to a third term as Vice-President? He is, as far as I know, "eligible to the office of President" - unlike Bill Clinton, who is the subject of Shafer's article.

"Gary, how is the Twelfth Amendment relevant to...?"

The explanation is simple: technically speaking, neuron-devouring nanites invaded my brain, momentarily creating connections that should not have existed, leading to the condition known as a "brain infarction," thus causing me to spew an irrelevant point and making me completely "wrong," as some people who choose to focus on petty details might call it.

But in the Big Picture of things, I'm sure you can see how it merely demonstrates the higher truth of my overall position.

The reason that Iran won't take cheney's bombastic routine is that his schtick is a re-run of the reagan years.

During the reagan era, in public, the US made lots of threatening noises to Iran, while behind the scenes was busy making deals with Iran. You may have remembered the weapons-for-hostages deals as well as Iran-Contra.

When 911 happened, the Iranians bent over backwards helping the US hunt down AQ, yet the US was publically condemning them. So Teheran could only conclude that it was deja-vu all over again. Reappointing such large numbers of prominant Iran-Contra figures to the current regime in Washington merely proved to the Iranians that the US will only talk tough - and do nothing else.

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