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November 11, 2008

Comments

This is not to say that Hilzoy's larger point is without merit (her's never are).

Ugh. "Her's"?!? Really?!?

*commits gramatically-induced hare-kari.

It's a very narrow kind of ignoring that I'm calling for, and I suppose I should have been far more thoughtful about how I expressed it, because by now I've been thoroughly clubbed over the head by progressives who want to keep the bastards down. I'm for that goal too, at least about most of the bastards that seem to come up on the Top 100 Bastards List.

What I was trying to think about is the one area where I respect George Lakoff's approach to "framing". I don't much care for Lakoff when it leads people to think that politics is just about getting the right sound-bite or mini-narrative in place and repeating as necessary until it becomes truth. But I do think there's something to the idea that constant engagement with the terms and concepts that your political opponents have to offer can lead you to accept their frame or problematic and thus reproduce it. I think for the last twelve years at least, and arguably far longer than that (1968 and 1948 would be two earlier dates to name), fractions of the American right have succeeded in getting their political opponents trapped inside "have you stopped beating your wife lately"-type problematics. I think that far-right blogs have become especially adept at doing this in the past eight years.

Many times, I don't think that progressives wanting to reply have had much of a choice but to accept that framing. I think it's right to suggest that the best way to burst out of it is mockery and derision if you're good at that, if you have an ear for it.

But I think we have a chance now to change the rhetorical channels. I also think at least some Obama supporters in the electorate are hoping for that not so much because they think it's a smart tactic, but it's because it's what they value culturally and socially. A lot of left activists like to mock civility as a value in and of itself, seeing it only as a means (and not a useful means), but I think there are at least some constituencies that want to feel some sense of discursive and social peace or amity. Sneer at that desire if you think it's about bourgeois comfort in the face of suffering, etc., but that strikes me as a circular-firing-squad move.

--------

There is another problem, though. I think it's hard to just keep hammering on neoconservatives in part because they're the evil right-wing version of a sentiment that has a liberal or left-wing echo: the American right and the American left both have their interventionists and their realists. There are huge moral and political differences, but this is why the focus has to stay on the specificity of the ideas as well as the bad or good-faith of those offering them. I wouldn't want to chase out liberal interventionists as part of some kind of ongoing project of political house-cleaning.

(By the way, I agree with you on the substance. Ignoring the radical wing of the GOP is precisely what got us 8 years of W and 6 years of neocon/Republican rule.)

Speaking of reconfiguring the GOP, Charles Bird looks extraordinarily sane, reasonable, and sensible, compared to his commenters here. Good luck with that reforming the party project, Charles!

David Brooks also comes off relatively sane.

But most amusing, as he often is, is the always alliterative Hugh Hewitt:

[...] The best rule of politics I have ever heard was the direction to unify our side and divide theirs. The latter is going to take care of itself in short order as the demands of the Democratic coalition cannot all be met, even in significant part. The task for the GOP and conservatives is to make sure the big tent is still standing and that everyone, even media elite pundits, are welcome there if they can agree on the one true test: Ronald Reagan was a great president.

That's a great test for getting into the tent.

And so the tests for being a 21st century Republican should be opposing the Soviet Union, shouting down hippies, being willing do engage in major tax increases, confusing movies and reality, wanting to abolish nuclear weapons, moving from not caring about abortion to being rhetorically anti-abortion, being genial while having no friends, trading arms for hostages, negotiating with Iran, hoping for an alien invasion to unite planet Earth, and sliding into Alzheimers.

It's a mixed bag, but you guys go for that!

tgirsch: fixed. Don't know how that happened.

It's a very narrow kind of ignoring that I'm calling for, and I suppose I should have been far more thoughtful about how I expressed it, because by now I've been thoroughly clubbed over the head by progressives who want to keep the bastards down. I'm for that goal too, at least about most of the bastards that seem to come up on the Top 100 Bastards List.

Tim: I thought about whether I was being unfair to your argument, but then I thought about which sane neocons there are, and what sane neocon arguments, and I couldn't really come up with any of either.

My favorite neocon is Frank Fukuyama - but he isn't really one anymore. And that's the point. I can't see dismissing only the spurious neocon arguments, and fringe neocon figures, because there really is no point of differentiation between those and some group of moderate, common sense neocons.

As for civility: there's a time and place for it. I myself tend toward the civil side (as does this site), but we need good cops and bad cops IMHO. But your point is not a bad one.

I think it's hard to just keep hammering on neoconservatives...

I think it's imperative.

...because they're the evil right-wing version of a sentiment that has a liberal or left-wing echo: the American right and the American left both have their interventionists and their realists.

To the extent that left-leaning interventionists continue to advocate preventitive wars of choice for "security" reasons, or for the purpose of regime change followed by elaborate social engineering, then I will try to expose the folly of their counsel as if they were neocons. With passion and a sense of urgency.

If not, then not.

To be clear, if a neocon comes to his/her senses ala Fukuyama, my arms open wide. If not, not.

I don't care about the identity of neocons, but their ideas. Ditto liberal interventionists.

@Tim Burke: I don't think it was ignoring neocons that got us eight years of W and an administration filled with them. It was our failure to fully prosecute them for their crimes during the Reagan and Bush I administrations that allowed them to come back as "legitimate" policy advocates.

I agree with the gist of this post. The interventionist right needs to be watched and hindered. The problem I see is that liberals are lousy at kicking someone when they are down, and that's really what needs to happen here. The election loss has to be hung around the neck of the neocons, not Bush.

Come next election things will be very much better in Iraq and Afghanistan. The disasters of 2004 and 2005 will be memories, as will the fountain of lies that lead to the Iraq war. People will warn against the influence of the neocons, pointing to the Iraq War as a caution, and the neocons will simply say "it's worked out pretty well." And it will have, because nine years after the invasion the ethnic cleansing will be complete, the population will have wearied of the death squads and terrorists enough to embrace the strongman du jour, and the US will be so desperate to disentangle itself that we'll provide some sort of sheen of democratic legitimacy to Saddam Lite.

Gary, very on-topic for the post and left off of your list of the Reagan trademarks that must be admired for admission to the big tent:

massive secret wars.

Central America: The terrorist war against the Nicaraguan government and civilians who supported it, the dirty war against Hondurans who posed any political opposition to the military government there, the covert use of hundreds of U.S. troops in combat in El Salvador ("advisers", my ass), the deployment of CIA assassins and saboteurs throughout Central America.

Afghanistan and Pakistan: Billions of dollars to jihadists, Afghan druglords, and the worst elements of the Pakistan military and intelligence

These wars' most enthusiastic advocates are the very same neocons whose lies and delusions have killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of U.S. troops. For absolutely nothing worth a single one of those deaths.

It is tempting to focus on the neo-cons and other extremists, but let's not forget that anywhere between 30-70% of the US population were so uninformed, uneducated, stupid, bloodthirsty, fatuous (pick any, some, or all of the above) to believe their lies and support a war of aggression that cost 100s of thousands of lives. Without them the neo-cons et al would have zero power. So while taking on the neo-cons is fine with me, I think the real challenge is to change the hearts and minds of those who went along for the ride.

E-Mart:

Thanks. Now if you could just fix my completely pooch-screwed spelling of "harakiri," which I was too lazy to look up earlier, we'd be square. :)

[I kid, of course -- by all means, leave my ignorance there for posterity, as I enjoy the irony of making an obvious mistake while in the process of chiding someone else for their obvious mistake...]

Excellent addition, Nell, and you're entirely right that I shouldn't have omitted that.

@novakant: 20% of the U.S. population are just plain ignorant, superstitious, bigoted, and bloodthirsty. We can do a certain amount, but I'm pretty sure it gets irreducible once you're at or try to move much below 20%. Sad but true.

The hope for the country is to work with the other 80%, and build as much of a firewall as possible against fascist tendencies. I think we've moved in the right direction in that department over the last few years.

The question I have about the neoconservative project is how it will survive in an emerging multi-polar world.

Not whether it will survive, but how -- in what forms, based on what doctrines, with what effects.

One impetus, perhaps the most compelling one, behind the arguments made by the PNAC crowd over the last 20 years has been the fall of the Soviet Union as a significant rival to the US. This was presented as a unique historical opportunity -- we were the last man standing, and we should seize the moment to press our advantage on every front.

Specifically, we should seize the moment and take all necessary steps to prevent the emergence of any military, economic, or political rival, friendly or not.

For freedom, of course.

With the economic rise of China and India, the resurgence of Russia as a player in Europe and southern Asia, and the emergence of regional powers like Iran, Venezuela, etc., it may be that that window has closed.

So will the neoconservatives scale back their ambition, or will they persist in calling for American hegemony at any cost?

If it had actually been a project we, as a nation, were truly interested in, twenty years ago was the time to do it.

But what happens now?

Thanks -

But what happens now?

they pursue it anyway, after all, what has it cost them, exactly?

"they pursue it anyway, after all, what has it cost them, exactly?"

Indeed, it's a career, if not a way of life, for the primary pushers: positions at think tanks and universities, invitations to symposia, opportunities to write op-eds, appear on tv, be hired as advisors to politicians.

It's not a bad life. Especially when your party or politician is in power, and you get to have a shiny official position. But even out of power, it's a meal ticket, and that's setting aside that some of these folks really are True Believers.

Lest we forget, After the Pat Buchanan fiasco at the Republican Convention there was a sense that the Christianists had been pretty much minimalized.

Without constant scrutiny, however, they developed into a pretty powerful group.

Without the same constant scrutiny, the neo-conservative movement, with all it entails, will come back to haunt us in the future.

Their blood-thirstyness must be continually exposed (and I am not just referring to foreign intervention) for what it really is, a corporatists power-grab, which is also what the Christianist movement became.

Too many people were suckered into both movements thinking there was some noble cause behind them, when there really wasn't.

Empirical grounding was never in question. What was no longer important was honest statement of intent and means, because publicizing them would have made their achievement and employment unpalatable.

The best example for this is Iraq, where there was no Plan B because Plan A was to pretend to have elections and install a strongman. Wouldn't have played well with the Coalition of the Willing, and more importantly would have burst the domestic Iraq bubble.

I'm not sure this is related but I see a reflection in Cheney's insistence on having Fox News on hotel TVs. From this angle, this wasn't a retreat from reality; it was an attempt to monitor messaging to the base, which was the most important media battleground for making sure propaganda was actually making out to people who could make use of it.

No wonder Hume is leaving. Not fun any more.

I am surprised that Gary and Nell have left off their lists what I consider to be the most damaging political conviction that Reagan bequeathed to the Republican Party :

It's OK to believe untruths if they make you feel good about yourself.

Untruths such as:
Deficits don't matter if we pretend they don't.
Mercenary death squads in Central America are "the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers" if we choose to view them in that light.
Government is never a good solution to any problem.
Tax cuts are always in order; the Laffer curve shows that tax rate cuts actually increase government tax revenues.
Tax cuts for the wealthy will trickle down.
Any regulation of business is always unwarranted and counterproductive.
Scientific evidence that is politically inconvenient can safely be ignored or suppressed.

Republicans cling to all these fictions that they learned at Reagan's knee. The key problem is not any single lie; it's the conviction that the real world doesn't matter, but received ideological dogma does.

Because he was so successful at getting so many Americans to enthusiastically embrace untruths, I rank Reagan among the worst US Presidents.

Well, Joel, that's a fine list, and point, too. I wasn't actually remotely trying to be comprehensive; I just threw out a couple of thoughts as they occurred.

The whole idea that Reagan is, and should be, the holy touchstone of 21st century conservative seems more religious to me than anything else. The actual Reagan, even setting aside all ideological disagreements, doesn't bear much relationship to the Golden Ideal Reagan these folks believe in, and that's what was more on my mind: he's the guy who raised taxes, was fine with abortion until late in his career when he did nothing about it anyway, wanted to abolish nuclear weapons, and so on: my list was more of the ways the actual Reagan has nothing to do with what these ideologue conservatives actually believe in, than it was a list of What Were The Wrong Things Reagan believed in or perpetuated.

Well, Joel, that's a fine list, and point, too. I wasn't actually remotely trying to be comprehensive; I just threw out a couple of thoughts as they occurred.

The whole idea that Reagan is, and should be, the holy touchstone of 21st century conservative seems more religious to me than anything else. The actual Reagan, even setting aside all ideological disagreements, doesn't bear much relationship to the Golden Ideal Reagan these folks believe in, and that's what was more on my mind: he's the guy who raised taxes, was fine with abortion until late in his career when he did nothing about it anyway, wanted to abolish nuclear weapons, and so on: my list was more of the ways the actual Reagan has nothing to do with what these ideologue conservatives actually believe in, than it was a list of What Were The Wrong Things Reagan believed in or perpetuated.

But I wasn't remotely clear about that.

@john miller:

You can't really make analogies between the Christianists/religious right and the neoconservatives. They're very different networks, with completely different social bases, that operate in completely different arenas.

In very broad strokes, neocons are part of the foreign policy elite, with very little in the way of a social base, that operate through academia, major media, think tanks, and conferences. Christianists have a relatively enormous mass base. Their network operates primarily through their churches, the seminaries that produce pastors, and their own separate wholly owned media (TV, radio). Only at the very top do they intersect with political elites from other tendencies; the Council on National Policy is the primary vehicle for their collaboration with non-religious-right pols.

Marginalizing the neocons, if it can be done at all, which I have come to doubt, is a task in the hands of the rest of the foreign policy elite and the owners of the mass media. Which is why it's unlikely to happen.

Marginalizing the most politically dangerous of the Christianists can be achieved by peeling off enough of the population on broader issues to put them on the losing end of elections in all but a narrow band of states. This requires that the next administration deliver on some economic goods.

Oh yes, I forgot. Because intent and means could not be revealed (lest the revelation prevent the outcome), policy could no longer be debated, and Congress felt it should just rubber-stamp what came out of secret executive branch deliberations.

If you honestly feel the world has changed such that there is no way to discuss publicly your policies and intents, there's no way a legislature can even appear to be functioning. This sure sounds like the most charitable explanation for 2002-2008.

This is the lasting legacy of Bushism.

Joel, you've put your finger on something essential about the Reagan phenomenon. But the mass belief in untruths also happened because the American people were primed, longing to believe beautiful things about themselves after a prolonged bout of unpleasant truths (1965-1975).

Elites liberal and conservative, and the mass media, cooperated in the late seventies in revising the immediate past (Viet Nam a noble cause, antiwar Americans devil spawn who spit on returning vets).

That coincided with an enormous growth in grassroots right-wing organization and political mobilization, which fed on the backlash. That backlash had begun in 1970 under Nixon, but was delayed a bit when Watergate extended the run of unpalatable but undeniable truths.

I'm profoundly distrustful of our national tendency to buy the pretty story about ourselves, to refuse to face what we're really doing in the world. I'm waiting to see how much truth Barack Obama thinks we can handle...

It's helpful when criticizing a movement to accurately describe it.

Dick Cheney was/is not really a "neoconservative." He was allied with neoconservatives in a common goal of deposing the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Donald Rumsfeld is also not a "neoconservative." In fact, Rumsfeld's lack of neoconservatism, exemplified by his desire to light footprint Iraq, get out and not engage in serious nation-building, is exactly what put the execution of the invasion of Iraq at odds with its ambition ... the latter championed by Rumsfeld's deputy Wolfowitz, who IS a neoconservative.

I find it sad/amusing/confounding how the term - describing a bunch of liberal academics who came to believe that America could reject ruthless realpolitik and that the projection of power could do good in the world - has become synonymous with "evil" with those opposed to Iraq.

Nevermind the fact that the rest of the foreign policy establishment, from Brookings to the WaPo editorial board to the latter days of the Clinton Administration to Congress, had either attacked Iraq in some form or another or advocated/supported the invasion itself. Because to those paying attention for the past decade+, Iraq was a festering foreign policy problem that was deteriorating via the manipulation and collapse of sanctions.

At least you didn't make the category error I see most often, where folks lump every conservative aspect they don't like into the term, including religious fundamentalism.

just to add to the concern, the neocons have a knack for attaching themselves to neophytes who need a easy-to-understand foreign policy approach.

Bush for instance knew very little and had thought little about it. in the abstract, neocon simplicity (like the revolutionary marxism-leninism with which it shares intellectual DNA) is easy to understand. we're good. they're evil. be strong. etc.

Looking ahead, the reason i still fear sarah palin is that it would neocon heaven. she's the new body they would infest, Being JOhn Malkovich-style.

Also, it's no accident that much of the less-informed nationalist wings of the christian right have become neoconnish. they are largely ignorant, so neocon views give them a simple frame through which to view complex problems. it also gives the neocons a reliable "base."

there's an old old billmon post on this (how the neocons weaseled into the christian right and found a base). it's from his old site circa 2003 -- i think josh marshall linked to it too (though this is all before i had a blog -- so that's why I want to say fall of 2003 or so)

To quote another conservative: That is not dead which can eternal lie
The output of lies will not diminish in the least (with emphasis on stabs-in-the-back, I guess) and the stars will be right again far too soon for Them to come back to power. Smashing the abominable idol (RR) will not suffice to get rid of the cult (or even just the Coulter).

America could reject ruthless realpolitik and that the projection of power could do good in the world

Am I the only one who sees a contradiction here? What is the projection of power except ruthless realpolitik?

It's helpful when criticizing a movement to accurately describe it.

Dick Cheney was/is not really a "neoconservative." He was allied with neoconservatives in a common goal of deposing the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Donald Rumsfeld is also not a "neoconservative."

Um, it's helpful when seeking to correct me to...actually correct me. If you read this post, you will notice that I never actually claim that either Rummy or Cheney are or were neocons.

Both, however, surrounded themselves with a coterie of neocons.

I find it sad/amusing/confounding how the term - describing a bunch of liberal academics who came to believe that America could reject ruthless realpolitik and that the projection of power could do good in the world - has become synonymous with "evil" with those opposed to Iraq.

Bill, there's a lot more to neoconservatism than the belief that "projection of power could do good in the world." And yes, I do believe that wanting to start a series of unprovoked wars to "help" the target countries approaches evil.

Maybe you think that's "good"?

Of the three main parts of the current GOP policy coalition--neoconservatism in foreign policy, Christianism in social policy, and supply side orthodoxy in economic policy--neoconservatism is actually least tied to the GOP as such.

As Tim Burke points out above, neoconservatives share much in common with liberal interventionists of the "decent left"/Euston sort (indeed, in some cases, like Chris Hitchens, the line between the neocons and the decents is non-existent).

Nell is also correct in pointing to the institutional base of neoconservatism in the foreign policy elite, which is essentially bipartisan in nature. This is in marked contrast to the Norquist crowd and the Christianists, both of whom have explicitly partisan political bases.

(I certainly don't want to oversell the progressivism of the Democratic Party on either the social or especially the economic front, but you'll find few members of the Christian right or supplysiders even among Blue Dog Democrats.)

And many neoconservatives, especially of the older generation, started their political lives in the Democratic Party (Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz) or even the sectarian left (Josh Muravchik). Their ties to the Republican Party, that really only go back to the Reagan ascendancy, have always been ties of convenience. Look at the political behavior of Marshal "National Greatness" Wittman, who seems to constantly flit back and forth between the two major parties.

The larger point here is that we need fear not only that the neoconservatives will remain influential in the GOP (they will), but that they will spend the next four to eight years trying to increase their influence within the Democratic Party, too. This was, incidentally, part of PNAC's 1990s strategy as well. PNAC successfully pressured the Clinton administration to make "regime change in Iraq" official U.S. policy and to funnel cash to Ahmed Chalabi as part of this effort.

So watching the neocons is a matter of being vigilant not only about what the opposition says, but also about what Democrats say and do on foreign policy.

Finally, getting rid of the neocons is not enough. I know I'm not alone in feeling that the folly of neoconservatism does not make Kissingerian realism--which remains the most viable alternative in foreign policy elite circles--particularly attractive.

So the more difficult task is to proactively imagine a real alternative to these two rather poisonous ways of approaching the world.

"If you read this post, you will notice that I never actually claim that either Rummy or Cheney are or were neocons."

I stand corrected. I took this line as an implication:

"Neoconservative thought is not dead - nor its political viability extinguished - simply because Cheney will be out of office come January."

But you indeed could have been referring to Cheney's indulgence of them, so my apologies.

Regarding this:

"Bill, there's a lot more to neoconservatism than the belief that "projection of power could do good in the world." And yes, I do believe that wanting to start a series of unprovoked wars to "help" the target countries approaches evil."

While I find a good deal of neoconservatism overly ambitious and sanguine about the prospects for intervention, I find the rhetoric of "evil" overwrought - the consequence of folks against Iraq II marinating in a mounting anger for 8 years.

First, I don't get the "series" of unprovoked wars. There are two that we're in to date. One was clearly, by most estimations, not unprovoked (Afghanistan).

And the second is portrayed as wholly unprovoked by a lot of people who seem to have hit the snooze button on foreign policy during most of the 90s.

This is what's a bit frustrating to me about how Iraq has been reframed:

1. we had a "terrorist" state that had threatened the world oil supply, spurring
2. the US to go to war with them during Gulf War I
3. that never complied with the basic terms of the cease fire at the end of that war
4. violated UN resolutions for 12 years (culiminating with 1441)
5. kicked up brutality against the Kurds and Southern Shia at the close of that war
6. scammed the UN Oil for Food program and starved its own people via corrupt UN officials and our sanctions
7. was attacked under orders from two different US Presidents prior to George W Bush
8. attempted the assassination of a former US President
9. harbored terrorists like Abu Nidal (until maybe killing him)
10. and regularly shot SAMs at United States military personnel who patrolled neverending no-fly zones to protect the Kurds and southern Shia.

I would describe some of this as provocation.

Clinton appointee Kenneth Pollack wrote a 500-page book on justification for invasion of Iraq prior to neocon ascendance; Fareed Zakaria (bright guy, not a neocon) hesitantly endorsed the invasion before commenting on its poor execution; the WaPo editorial board gingerly endorsed; the Dem Congress somehow signed off on the deal after being hypnotized by the neocons magic voodoo; I could go on and on, etc., etc., etc.

I'm not going to say that Iraq could not have been done differently. It's even possible that it might never have gone down at all, though I'd argue that a President Al Gore in 2002 very well might have looked at ending the Hussein regime as a viable priority.

But to blame this war on some Rasputin-like coterie of advisors who somehow snookered the majority of our serving politicians (of both parties) and large swaths of the foreign policy establishment, all who meekly went along, strikes me as revisionism after Iraq has proved itself more difficult than many imagined.

And please don't take my above comment as something that implies that opposition to the war is wrong, or denies that a lot of intelligent people came to the conclusion that Iraq was not worth the risk. But it is relevant to note how the war has been reframed after no WMD was found and an insurgency kicked.

George W Bush, the neocons, and W's water carriers were not the only folks who thought Iraq was a priority after 9/11:

http://www.npr.org/programs/atc/transcripts/2002/nov/021110.inskeep.html

First, I don't get the "series" of unprovoked wars. There are two that we're in to date.

Then you should read more neoconservatives. Read (or read about) Frum and Perle's "An End to Evil" and/or Norman Podhoretz's "World War IV" essay. In those works, leading neoconservative thinkers advocate explicity for wars in Syria and Iran, and implicity for wars in several other nations in the region. Other neocons like Ledeen, Kristol, Rubin, Wurmser, etc. have similarly advocated for military conflict with Iran and Syria (and in the case of Ledeen, Pakistan too!).

I don't think it's a question of semantics to consider Iraq, Iran and Syria a series.

But to blame this war on some Rasputin-like coterie of advisors who somehow snookered the majority of our serving politicians (of both parties) and large swaths of the foreign policy establishment, all who meekly went along, strikes me as revisionism after Iraq has proved itself more difficult than many imagined.

Again, Bill, did I say this? Quite the contrary, my comments upthread clearly indicate that I apportion blame to liberal interventionists and consider their wrongheaded policies to be, well, wrongheaded.

And the second is portrayed as wholly unprovoked by a lot of people who seem to have hit the snooze button on foreign policy during most of the 90s.

It is unprovoked in the sense that it redefined US foreign policy doctrine from self defense and preemptive war to preventitive war.

Despite your list of Iraqi provocations, the total does not justify war under preexisting US doctrine (and one of the provocations wasn't even a provocation: "was attacked under orders from two different US Presidents prior to George W Bush").

"It is unprovoked in the sense that it redefined US foreign policy doctrine from self defense and preemptive war to preventitive war."

I think the difference between Iraq and other rogue regimes that are named when folks remark on inconsistency of the policy, say, Iran and Syria, is that Saddam Hussein opted to go to war with us the first time around and never complied with the basic terms that ended that war. Combined with refutation of WMD inspectors, continued shooting at American planes and the political environment after 9-11, considering military action to topple that regime looks a lot more reasonable than much of the postgame analysis makes it out to be, IMO.

We had a terrorist state that had gone to a direct, full-scale shooting war with us once, and never complied with its obligations to disarm. I thought Clinton should have broadened the scope of Desert Fox when Bush was still in Texas and Wolfowitz was collecting a check at a think tank.

Hence, if you lengthen your memory, it's not really quite as strong a violation of US doctrine as many think it is, and America's war doctrine hasn't strictly been one of self-defense our preemption in most of our history anyway.

From the War of 1812 to the Tropoliti War to Korea to Iraq, wars have always fought to protect our perceived interests, and more rarely in direct defense (a la WWII) and never in discrete preemption, that I can recall, offhand.

re: neocons agitating to go to Iran and syria, etc: I think you overstate the aggressiveness of some you list (Ledeen is a notable exception, he really is that aggressive). Wolfowitz, for example, was a proponent of a Middle Eastern domino theory of democracy stemming from Iraq. This did not hinge on further invasions and mirrored the one he predicted in Europe.

Admittedly, others have advocated more military action, but reality has constrained such ambition.

PS - (re: "and one of the provocations wasn't even a provocation: "was attacked under orders from two different US Presidents prior to George W Bush""

Now my turn to call the linguistic specificity police - I listed off a bunch of reasons that illustrated ongoing conflict with Iraq prior to W's decision to invade, summed by the line "I would describe some of this as provocation.") :-)

Saddam Hussein opted to go to war with us the first time around and never complied with the basic terms that ended that war

Did he opt to go to war with us? I thought he invaded Kuwait, and then we opted to go to war with him.

Combined with refutation of WMD inspectors

Inspectors were in Iraq going anywhere they wanted until Bush pulled them out.

...continued shooting at American planes and the political environment after 9-11, considering military action to topple that regime looks a lot more reasonable than much of the postgame analysis makes it out to be, IMO

Shooting at our planes? So, his shooting at our planes flying over his country is a good reason to invade his country? That's a stretch and a half.

And it's precisely because of 9/11 that invading Iraq (a country with no ties to al-Qaeda or similar terrorist groups) was such a mistake.

So the plan was to: Invade another Muslim nation with tons of oil and no ties to al-Qaeda. This gave bin Laden an enormous propaganda boost, while sapping precious and limited resources from the Afghan arena.

9/11 is not a good justification for invading Iraq, it's an excellent reason NOT to.

We had a terrorist state...

No we didn't. Saddam gave money to some Palestinian groups that had zero to do with us. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan had much closer ties to al-Qaeda.

Hence, if you lengthen your memory, it's not really quite as strong a violation of US doctrine as many think it is, and America's war doctrine hasn't strictly been one of self-defense or preemption in most of our history anyway.

From the War of 1812 to the Tropoliti War to Korea to Iraq, wars have always fought to protect our perceived interests, and more rarely in direct defense (a la WWII) and never in discrete preemption, that I can recall, offhand.

It was a complete deviation.

Korea was a UN action, in response to aggression from North Korea. That's makes it different.

Tripoli was in response to incessant attacks on our shipping vessels and enslavement of our citizens.

There were some imperial wars fought by us, for sure, but the doctrine underlying those wars has been rejected - at least in theory.

Bush might have revived that in practice, but that makes it significant and worth pointing out.

Now my turn to call the linguistic specificity police

You win here ;)

re: neocons agitating to go to Iran and syria, etc: I think you overstate the aggressiveness of some you list (Ledeen is a notable exception, he really is that aggressive). Wolfowitz, for example, was a proponent of a Middle Eastern domino theory of democracy stemming from Iraq. This did not hinge on further invasions and mirrored the one he predicted in Europe.

But I didn't list Wolfowitz. Those that I listed have specifically and expressly called for such military action.

"So the more difficult task is to proactively imagine a real alternative to these two rather poisonous ways of approaching the world."

While doing that, it's not always clear that there are altogether non-ugly approaches to a still rather ugly world. Amelioration and avoidance of obviously really bad policies is one thing; avoidance of all morally dubious policies is more difficult, if not impossible.

Sometimes in foreign policy there seem to be only choices between least bad alternatives: do we let these people die, or engage in a dangerous and morally dubious military action to attempt to prevent or limit it? Do we deal with this murderer, or let a dreadful thing happen? Do we give this amnesty, and let off evil people, or do we let a war go on longer? Do we refrain from military activity, or let a genocide continue? Do we respect sovereignty, or human rights? Do we turn a human rights abuser or terrorist into a spy for us, or do we stay hands off, and ignorant? And so on.

we had a "terrorist" state that had threatened the world oil supply"

That was the claim at the time--that having seized Kuwait, Saddam's troops were massing on the Saudi Arabian border--but it was bogus.

And I'm not sure denying us oil is grounds for war (though I know US policy has dictated otherwise for decades). I presume that our sanctions against other countries are an act of war by this logic?

And yes, Iraq has ignored UN resolutions, but so has Israel.

dear bill

This is reframing we can all believe in

1. A terrorist state threating oil supplies. Nope. First of all Kuwait was slant drilling into Iraq so the invasion wasn't unprovoked, and the US told tham to go ahead. I don't know what terrorism you are referring to in 1990 - don't recall any except for the attack on the Cole which we thought was OK at the time - except we shot down an Iranian A300 in response - doesn't this make US terrorists ?

2. The US went to war to get back control of the Kuwait feudalists and their Oil for themselves. And because they were embarrased for enabling the invasion.

3. Which we thought was ok for 12 years

4. see 3

5. they surpressed an armed uprising within there nation state - see Lincoln versus Jefferson Davis for a previous example

6. This was of course completely predictable and the scam was not confined to Saddam but was participated in by many non-iraqi's including the current vice president

7. really only one in the context of your arguement. attacks for failing to comply with surrender conditions of the Gulf war can't include the gulf war itself

8. unproven

9. lots of countries - including US - harbor terrorists

10. this was phony war stuff - nobody expected them to hit anything

your post is reminiscient of the nonsense in Pollacks book - incendiary tales taken out of proportion. The bottom line is that Saddam posed zero threat to the US. The invasion was not a threat response it was a colonial exercise

I'm not sure denying us oil is grounds for war

Well, if it is, we sure owe Hideki Tojo an apology . . .

I would describe some of this as provocation.

It's back. Some of us might have thought it was a dead letter at this point, but the zombie lives.

Not you personally, Bill, just this whole stupid, endless argument. Here it is, back again.

I'm not going to say that Iraq could not have been done differently.

Ya think?

And please don't take my above comment as something that implies that opposition to the war is wrong

Well that's a relief.

This is never going to end. 10, 25, and 50 years from now folks will be arguing about whether it was right, wrong, justified, not justified, whatever, to invade Iraq.

Will any mind, anywhere be changed?
Will any new or useful light be shed?
Will anyone responsible for any of it ever be called to account, in any meaningful way?

The leadup to the Iraqi invasion was, plain and simple, the closest thing I've ever seen to deliberate, ginned-up, propaganda-driven militaristic fascist hysteria in my lifetime. In this country, at least.

I'm too young to remember McCarthy, so I'll have to settle for the winter of 2002-2003.

Saddam Hussein was a violent, cunning SOB. The woods are thick with them. He was also no threat to the US. On the contrary, he and his entire nation lived daily with our boot on their necks.

To give it the most charitable possible reading, we invaded Iraq because we thought doing so would freak the middle east the f*ck out and make them straighten up and fly right.

Personally, I think that's a damned shitty reason to go to war, because all war actually does is break stuff. As always, YMMV.

What neoconservatives of all stripes and pedigrees have in common is the idea that we should not be shy about using military force to make the world a better place, according to our lights. That's a fairly generous statement of it, but I'm happy to give them their best shot.

Take a thoughtful walk down the memory lane of our national history, especially post WWII, and let me know if you think that idea holds up very well.

Thanks -

I would love to see both the Congress and our new president preface every new policy with why the old policy\premise was wrong. Not only do we need new policies, but we must remind folks why the old ones weren't good.

"I presume that our sanctions against other countries are an act of war by this logic?"

Japan pretty much thought so.

"Well, if it is, we sure owe Hideki Tojo an apology . . ."

There was that whole being late with the notice error, though. Also, since they did declare, if a bit accidentally late, it's not clear that we owe them any apology at all.

I'm sure that Tojo's granddaughter would be happy to hear it.

@Russell @16h10: Thank you.

Not to forget that war was not a crime at the time but a sovereign right of the state. It could be unjust but as long as it was conducted according to the rules it was not unlawful. Only after WW2 an official excuse was necessary for coveting thy neighbour's resources.

Not to forget that war was not a crime at the time but a sovereign right of the state. It would be difficult to forget something that is not true: Germany, Italy, and Japan were all initial signatories of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, by which they abandoned that right. It is on this basis that Roosevelt justified his policy of 1940: Germany was in breach of its treaty obligations to the United States; the war crimes tribunals also rest on the Pact, which the State Department considers still in force.

thank you for this

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