Saturday, August 27, 2005


A Defense of the Mainstream Media

The Mainstream media take a fair amount of heat from bloggers. As card-carrying members of the digital guerrilla media, it's our job to keep an eye on our wood-based brethren. But an article in this week's New Yorker reminds me how much we all depend on the mainstream media and why we all have a stake in its survival.

The article is a profile of Hugh Hewitt, a conservative who has a vision to transform the mainstream media into wholly partisan media (sorry no link):

"Lately, [conservatives] have been not only complaining more full-throatedly but also devising, with more energy than before, their own version of what jounalism ought to look like: faster, more opinionated, more multimedia, and less hung up on distancing itself from the practice of politics than the daily-newspaper and network-news versions."

Hewitt, who is a blogger, radio host, writer, and lawyer, has constructed this critique on a classically postmodern foundation: since we cannot be objective, the enterprise of journalism is built on a fiction. It is therefore more transparent to surrender to our partisan beliefs and use journalism to forward them. Any hope of remaining objective, Hewitt says, is "vanity."

Hewitt's diagnosis is right, but his prescription is disastrous. The postmodern critique, as a reaction against the pure-science approach of mid-century modernism, was an important one: it forced even hard scientists to recognize subjectivity as an undeniable element of all understanding. So when Hewitt describes journalism as a subjective enterprise, he's accurate. The reason the blogosphere has become so relevant so quickly is exactly because it serves as an antidote to mainstream media's (MSM) false sense of objectivity. It's a useful corrective.

But this is where Hewitt goes wrong, throwing baby and bathwater out the door. Underlying his assumption that the MSM is subjective is a parallel assumption: that it's liberal and its ends are to advance a liberal agenda:

"It's a seamless web. It has always been a seamless web. The Washington Post is an activism tool for liberals. The New York Times is an activism tool for 'way liberals. Polling is an activism tool. Every time the Post or the Times runs a poll, they are attempting to influence legislation. They are engaged in activism."

Hewitt is, of course, dead wrong. For many long decades, the intention of journalism has been to reveal the truth, not advance a political agenda. We know, thanks to the postmodern critique, that "truth" is a concept tinged with subjectivity. But we also know this applies to astrophysics, not just journalism. We don't abandon the discipline just because we've discovered that there's subjectivity to the method. Journalism may sometimes fail to acheive pure objectivity, but let's not confuse the result with the intent. The intent to tell the truth is absolutely critical.

Hewitt's intention has nothing to do with truth: he explicitly wants to advance conservative politics. He wants not to inform, but indoctrinate. To the problem of a press not sufficiently objective, Hewitt offers perfect subjectivity. We've seen this far too often from our leaders in the past five years--shifting rationales, corrupted data, misleading reports. According to this logic, since any report, rationale, or dataset may be inaccurate, how can we criticize our leaders for being wrong? (And certainly, we've heard a lot of this kind of apologia in recent months from righties.) So it is with the press--why worry about the "truth?" Let's just write about what we already believe--that's so much more transparent.

I will no doubt continue to carp about the Washington Post and New York Times here at Hog HQ. But I see not the slightest evidence that any of our national or most local press are engaged in anything but true journalism. They may not always achieve truth, but they're shooting for it. We can't live in a free society without that touchstone, and I certainly respect and appreciate their efforts.

So to, apparently, does Hewitt. As a strange coda to this article, Hewitt has spent the past week talking on his blog about why he agreed to do the article for a crazy liberal rag like the New Yorker. Hewitt's response:

"I have been asked by many why did I "chance" such a piece? Answer: Before I agreed I read everything Nicholas Lemann had produced for the magazine over the previous four years, and found all of them to berigourously fair and of course spectacularly well written."

His appraisals of the piece are congratulatory. He admires how well author Nicholas Lemann presented his side of the story. He essentially calls it a "fair" piece. In essence, it captures the truth of the matter. Does Hewitt imagine that such an article would be possible in the mediascape he envisions?

Friday, August 26, 2005


"It's not political."

The scrum surrounding the Pentagon's decision on base closures has led everyone from Don Rumsfeld to John Thune to claim that the process is "not political."

Statement made by a politician during a process that seems guided exclusively by back room maneuvering to reassure constituents that, despite appearances, the process is transparent and above board.

It is political.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

[Bizarro World]

Worse than Vietnam

Incidentally, for crazy talk, you can't do better than the Christian Coalition's blog. A choice excerpt:
"Today's left-wing -- including some anti-war retreads from the Vietnam era trying to reclaim their infamous glory -- as exemplified by the "Old Media's" favorite America-hater, Cindy Sheehan, mother of a son who was killed in Iraq -- are even worse than their counterparts during the Vietnam War."
And one more:

The results of the 2004 election has left us with one indisputable fact. An overwhelming majority of Americans oppose gay marriage. For all the fulminations of the left, we are left with a clear and convincing - and at least on a state by state basis, unanimous - verdict.

With the election over and the returns in, (and having lost overwhelmingly), liberals are returning to what they consider more friendly terrain - the courtroom.... This makes perfect sense however, as liberalism's victories rarely come at the ballot box, but rather through the hyper-activism of the judiciary.

It's funny because it's so true: except for that lucky streak we had from 1932-1980, liberals almost never win. But at least they got about overwhelming opposition to gay marriage correct.

[Bizarro World]

Pat's Blind Faith

It's not so much that Pat Robertson called for Hugo Chavez's assassination. It's not even so much that he called for it even while clinging to the tattered cloth he tries to wear. It's that, when confronted with his own comments, Robertson lied. (It actually ought to matter that a preacher man is calling for blood and lawbreaking, but I'm not naive enough to imagine it's so. The religious right's culture of life has always feasted on the blood of the sinner, be he political opponent or criminal. Only those capable of slightly subtle theology will see the contradiction, and they do not support Robertson's brand of Leviticus logic.)

This is the nature of fundamentalist faithful, and it's what makes them so dangerous. Having chosen blind faith--and chosen it as an act of moral superiority--no one in Robertson's flock (including Pat himself) can repudiate him. The nature of the faith is that it does not repudiate: it's sole raison d'etre is its own survival in the face of uncomfortable facts. This blindness is celebrated as a virtue and nurtured as the act of true divinity.

So then, despite a videotape record of his call for assassination, Robertson denied it:
"Wait a minute, I didn't say 'assassination.' I said our special forces should 'take him out,' and 'take him out' can be a number of things, including kidnapping."
At some point, liberals are going to have to find the courage to call this what it is and confront it. It's neither democracy nor religion, and it's a cancer on America. Maybe Robertson's flock won't hold him to a higher standard (or any), but liberals can.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Inadvertent Purge?


Josh Marshall has a point: how will Hill and Joe manage the Roberts nomination? They have a liberal base to worry about.
Grooming Politicians for Christ


In the blue and gold elegance of the House speaker's private dining room, Jeremy Bouma bowed his head before eight young men and women who hope to one day lead the nation. He prayed that they might find wisdom in the Bible — and govern by its word.

"Holy Father, we thank you for providing us with guidance," said Bouma, who works for an influential televangelist. "Thank you, Lord, for these students. Build them up as your warriors and your ambassadors on Capitol Hill."
The LA Times has yet another report on the evangelical plan to turn our pretty little country from one ruled by law to one ruled by the Old Testament. With each new report (Jeff Sharlett's Harper's piece was an early report that shocked liberals--but now even the title has been appropriated) , the language of the subject becomes more overtly theocratic.
That puts them at the vanguard of a bold effort by evangelical conservatives to mold a new generation of leaders who will answer not to voters, but to God.

"We help them understand God's purpose for society," said Bouma, who coordinates the program, known as the Statesmanship Institute, for the Rev. D. James Kennedy.
At this point, analysis is mostly moot. It is fundamentalism of the most elemental strain, distinct from Islamic fundamentalists only in method (so far, the movement is political, not violent), not intention. Arguing it or pointing out the absurdities is a useless venture. What these folks offer is an affront to democracy (which they acknowledge) as well as religion (which they've blinded themselves to).

And mostly, reading through the article is like sifting through the minds of crazy people. So extreme are these people that they've deviated not only from the word and the spirit of the faith, but the faith itself: "As Kennedy put it: 'If we leave it to man to decide what's good and evil, there will be chaos.'" (A key feature of the protestant reformation was the belief that man can determine what's good and evil--he did not need the intercession of a pope or priest. But this Presbyterian minister will have you believe that to the closet of the divine, only he has the keys.)

I'd regard this as a grim specter of what's to come, but the fanatics the Times describes speak for a tiny (albeit motivated) minority of Americans who will be properly appalled when these theocrats start filtering up toward the light of power. Worse for the GOP, this cohort will not be willing to work within a coalition of non-fanatics, nor even with ineffectual believers (Our candidates tick off the right policy positions, but it turns out, once they're in office, they're willing to compromise an awful lot ... Now, religious conservatives are saying they want the real thing.")

This is a deep and dangerous faultline running underneath the GOP's base. Signposts say "Rough Road Ahead."

Also commenting: Susie Madrak, Echidne, Pandagon.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Bush Visits the Gem State


President Bush was in tiny Valley County, Idaho today, visiting a new resort for the ultrarich -- beneficiaries of his tax cuts, donors to his campaigns -- which happens to be just a few miles from my mother's home (the latter structure being a three-room A-frame built with a slightly thriftier budget in mind). I mention this mainly because it's interesting to me.

(My parents, for what it's worth, hid out in Boise during his visit.)

There was, however, a surreal exchange that I'll excerpt here in toto.

Q What else are you going to do? Are you going to be bike today?

THE PRESIDENT: I may bike today. I've been on the phone all morning. I spent a little time with the CIA man this morning, catching up on the events of the world. And as I said, I talked to Condi a couple of times. Tonight I'm going to be dining with the Governor and the delegation from Idaho, spend a little quality time with the First Lady here in this beautiful part of the world. I may go for a bike ride.

Q Any fishing?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know yet. I haven't made up my mind yet. I'm kind of hanging loose, as they say. (Laughter.)

All right, I've got to go. Thank you.

This was the last of the press briefing, most of which was consumed with questions about Iraq. On those issues, Bush answered with admirable lack of substance. But perhaps the real truth was to be found in these comments. Let's break it down:

I may bike today. Bush has a lot on his plate. Of the many serious activities he's considering while vacationing on his vacation are biking, "quality time" with Laura, and dining. But wait, what about presiding?

Not to worry: I spent a little time with the CIA man this morning, catching up on the events of the world. Well, as long as he spent a few minutes with the CIA man. (I'm guessing--though you never know--that he wasn't an agent assigned to cover Bush's vacationing team. But maybe it was just an agent he was bullshitting with while waiting for press to set up their cameras.)

I'm kind of hanging loose. That one speaks for itself, doesn't it? Tell the boys in Iraq not to worry--the Prez is spending a little time with the CIA man and hanging loose. All is well in hand.



If there's one thing that irritates conservatives, it's being told that their self-indulgence is unseemly. All the worse when someone points out that it supports despots and tyranny, as owning SUV's do. This, observed by Fareed Zakaria and commented on by Andy Sullivan (sounding more and more like a liberal):
My only solace is thinking of how many of these SUV owners are pouring money away to keep their mobile homes on the road. Pity that same money goes to finance Islamist terror. And please don't give me all this guff about how I don't have a car (hey, I'm not indirectly donating to al Qaeda), having to take kids here, there and everywhere, with all their stuff and the dogs and suburbs and soccer practices and on and on. All of this took place before SUVs; kids were just packed into back seats and trunks were stuffed full if necessary. Parents coped. Kids thrived. If all else failed, people could even have less stuff. . . . We are in a war. As far as I'm concerned, those people driving SUVs are aiding and abetting the enemy, and helping to finance the terrorists that want to kill us all.
Within minutes, the emails were coming in:
The car seat laws are much stricter now. And the car seats are much bigger. And the kids are required by law to sit in them until they are much older. There is no way you could fit even one of today's car seats in my mother's old Ford Maverick. I wouldn't want to try. Kids are much safer in today's cars, with today's car seats, than they were when I was a kid.
Whenever cornered, conservatives play the family card. Hey, I wouldn't support the despots of Iran, but I have the safety of my children to consider. I got news: hiding your own self-indulgence behind your kids is poor form. Get a Jetta wagon.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Dirty Thirty


Say it with me now: 36%.

Among all Americans, 36% approve of the way Bush is handling his job as president and 58% disapprove. When it comes to Bush's handling of the economy, 33% approve and 62% disapprove. Among Americans registered to vote, 38% approve of the way Bush is handling his job as president and 56% disapprove, and 36% approve of the way Bush is handling the economy and 60% disapprove.
A month ago, ARG had him at 42%--maybe a little lower than the mean, so possibly the results won't show up in other polls. Still, things are not looking good when you drop into the thirties.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Forget Florida: What About Ohio?

[GOP Corruption]

Paul Krugman follows up last week's column with some clean up in tomorrow's Times. According to studies done following the Constitutional Crisis, Gore would have won a full recount, but probably would have lost if he'd won his own legal appeals for a partial recount. In other words, tie goes to the Governor's brother. Fair enough.

What's more interesting is that Krugman refuses to touch on Ohio 2004, which is deftly covered in the August Harper's. Apparently, he's so used to being decried as shrill, even the good doctor won't go there. But Krugman's readers should.

The online version includes only excerpts (three teaser paragraphs), but you can still find the print copy on newsstands. It's a pretty damning article. It describes the carpet-bombing of techniques Ohio's governing GOP lackeys employed to steal the election: rigged machines (including hard evidence), rigged polling places (pretty good circumstantial evidence), and rigged procedures (hard evidence, including, well-documented public records).

The result is that Bush won by slightly more than 2% of the vote, or 119,000 of 5.5 million cast. Is it verifiable that the dirty tricks employed by Ohio officials made the difference? Of course it can't be. But the vast body of evidence documented by Mark Crispin Miller is enough to cause Americans to demand accountability. George W. Bush won two elections, and neither one appears to have been legal. Why don't Americans give a shit?

Oh, the name of Miller's article? "None Dare Call it Stolen." Including, apparently, even GOP bete noir Paul Krugman.

Iraq Talk


On Meet the Press today, Senator Russ Feingold voiced what seems to be a gathering meme among lefties: the middle course.
[T]he president has presented us with a false choice. It's either stay the course and cut and run. What I'm suggesting is we can have a middle course, a course that allows us for success in Iraq and allows us to return to the larger issue, which is the fight against terrorism all around the world. Let me add also that it helps the Iraqi people feel ownership of this process. It helps the authorities interact, the Iraqis be more credible, because it doesn't look like it's an American dominated operation. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, it helps really take away the ability of these terrorists, al-Zarqawi and others, who say, "Hey, come to Iraq. It's a permanent American occupation." That's how they're recruiting people--and many experts, including military experts, have said that's a good way to get away from that.
David Gregory still played the war/anti-war dichotomy, but I wonder if average Americans have moved beyond that talk, even if the press hasn't. The question is no longer whether but how. And so far, Bush's proposal for how we get out of Iraq looks about as well-reasoned as his proposal for getting in. The notion of hawks as "serious" may be a firm fixture in the minds of the press, but more and more, former hawkish citizens are seeing the flaw in that reasoning.

(Bonus content: Feingold demurred at the question of whether he'd run in 2008, but not very convincingly. I argued that he should have run in 2004, and with the Bayhs, Bidens, and Clintons circling the stage now, it's all the more critical to have candidates like Russ--and there ain't many.)

Trent Lott followed Feingold and didn't provide the administration much cover. Each statement of support was followed by a waffle. Example: "We're trying to help them train their people, but I do think that they need to know--and in fact, they do know--that we cannot do this for them forever. "

Then Lott dropped this little bombshell:
But I--but the short answer to your question--I think that he felt like we were going to have to deal with the problem [Saddam Hussein] before some of the diplomatic efforts occurred. . . .
Whoops--I guess it wasn't exactly a last resort, after all.



Frank Rich does a nice job of detailing why Cindy Sheehan may be Bush's Waterloo. Proof that we can't handle the truth--even the Poor Man calls Rich "shrill." Oh, for shame.

Iraqi Constitution


Question: shouldn't drafting the Iraqi constitution be an Iraqi affair? Isn't Iraq a sovereign nation? Apparently not:

Kurdish politicians negotiating a draft constitution criticized the U.S. ambassador to Iraq on Saturday, accusing him of pushing them to accept too great a role for Islamic law in his drive to complete the charter on time.

I think if I were on the Constitutional Committee, I'd give the US a nice Bronx--err, Baghdad--cheer and tell them that the constitution will be ready when it's ready, not when the President thinks he needs to goose poll numbers.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Behind the Misty Scrim


I'd like to draw your attention to a passage from the lead editorial in yesterday's Oregonian, my hometown paper:

Two years later, though, the U.S. death toll is nearing 1,900. The misty scrim that obscured our view of the war -- wishful thinking, distortions, outright lies -- is rapidly dissolving. Americans increasingly see the war as it is, and know it's going badly. Little wonder that when a gold-star mother parks herself inconsolably in Crawford, Texas, asking hard questions and spurning glib answers, she strikes a nerve.

I've highlighted the bit that particularly attracted my eye. Here we are 28 months into an ill-conceived war, and the Oregonian appears to be using Cindy Sheehan as cover to mention the lies upon which the war was justified. And now the editors are sufficiently emboldened to actually call the administration's justifications "lies."

Yet there was never a misty scrim* obscuring our view. Like other transparent fabrics, Bush's rationales concealed nothing. While it was impossible to know the full extent of US intelligence at the time, some of what they offered were clearly lies: the 2003 State of the Union (which they did cop to, redfaced, eventually), the bogus aluminum tubes, and the mushroom clouds, to name just a few.

What's interesting isn't that the Oregonian is finally identifying the administration's pre-war rhetoric as lies; rather, it's the timing. Whether because of Cindy Sheehan or the majority of Americans who now think Bush lied, The Oregonian has found it's courage. (All right, I don't have LexisNexis, but I don't recall seeing a lot of "lying" language. You'll correct me if I'm wrong.)

It was shocking to think that a President might mislead a country to justify an invasion. Yet that's the role of the press. If a President does lie to the country and our independent media don't call him on it, who will? The mainstream press takes a lot of crap now about covering things like the "runaway bride," the Michael Jackson trial, et. al. It's clear that in an ever more competitive--and unsubsidized--market, the media have to give the people what they want. I can overlook some pandering.

The press must also take unpopular stands and report what they find--not what the President's press office feeds them. It's great to see The Oregonian finally holding Bush to account for his lies and incompetence. But it's hardly a bold position, given the protection a grieving mother has afforded. The reason amateurs set up shop on blogspot is because they want to say the things the press doesn't appear to have the courage to report. Let's hope this editorial is a prelude to a new, critical local paper.

scrim: (n) A transparent fabric used as a drop in the theater to create special effects of lights or atmosphere

Friday, August 19, 2005

Gas +39%


According to AAA, the average price for a gallon of gas is now two bucks sixty. That's up 73 cents since last year, or 39%. There is no place in the country with gas under two bucks a gallon. If it rises by another 39%, next August 19, it will be $3.61. Next August is, incidentally, two and a half months before the midterm elections.

What do you bet Republicans hope this is the end of the run on gas prices?

Should We Stay or Should We Go?


Good: Cindy Sheehan has brought attention to the Iraq debacle. Thanks to a bold, grieving mother, Americans are finally starting to have the courage to cite the obvious: the war, based on lies, has gone abysmally badly.

Bad: The two lines of thinking are now dichotomized into "war" and "anti-war"camps.

One mighty fine lesson in all of this is that not only is war hell, but it's a hell of a blunt tool for achieving political aims. After long periods of peace rich, old men eventually begin to think that a little selective warfare overseas is a good idea for king-making, and now we have a handy refutation. Yet that nevertheless doesn't change the fact that the war the rich, old (arrogant and very stupid) men proposed has been engaged. It ain't as easy as war or no war.

If we pull out now, even slowly, as Kevin suggests, we doom Iraq to civil war. Fortunately, pulling out and staying aren't the only two options. Unfortunately, the third option won't happen under Bush. It bears mentioning even so.

Iraq's future depends on extremely strong control. This can't happen from within the country without installing another Saddam, and the US can't do it, either (even if we had the manpower, our efforts would fuel the resistance). The only solution is an outside coalition of countries--the UN is probably the best candidate--who will have the long-term commitment and who will not by their very presence feed the resistance.

A multinational force would have to mainly keep the peace and allow the democracy in Iraq to function on a local level. A constitution, a body of law and the structures to support it, shouldn't be rushed just to achieve a paper democracy. They need to be carefully considered to support the country through future instability. A multinational force could funtion as a the national government and as the police, working very slowly with the developing country to move toward full independence. This would allow the necessary supporting elements of a democracy to function for some years before Iraq lost its training wheels: a free press, an education system, infrastructure, health care, and a growing economy.

And what about the tripartite population? Although I'm slow in coming to this conclusion, Iraq is probably best left in its current, hybrid form. The three main populations could actually contribute to long-term stability in a functioning democracy. As one good example, following Indian independence, the country war partitioned into a Muslim and non-Muslim state. The homogenous Muslim state (Pakistan) has been wracked by corruption and never managed a functioning democracy. The multi-ethnic Indian state, despite enormous difficulties, has been a functioning democracy for all but about five years of its nearly 60 in existence. Diversity is good for democracies.

As long as the US mainly has its own interests in mind (as it surely does now), it will have no interest in doing the long-term work needed to build a successful democracy. So staying in the current mode isn't a successful scenario. Pulling out will doom the country to civil war and ensure that the chaos is replaced by another strongman. Also not a successful scenario.

Let's abandon the practice of feeling like we have to choose one or the other of those shitty solutions.

Expanded, Sorted Blogroll

Angry Bear
Brad DeLong
Max Sawicky

Dispatch from the Trenches
Nathan Newman

Political Science (Professoriat)
Crooked Timber
Dan Drezner
Mark Kleiman

Law Blogs

Blog 702

Political Strategists/Analysts

Daily Kos Borg
Liberal Oasis
Moderate Voice
Politics and Technology
Talking Points Memo

Video (we don't call 'em vloggers) Bloggers

Crooks and Liars
Trey Jackson (A righty with ocassionally interesting clips)

Middle East/Foreign Policy

Abu Aardvark
Juan Cole
Steve Gilliard
Laura Rozen

Good Prose

Michael Berube
Body and Soul
David Corn
Kevin Drum
Ezra Klein
Susie Madrak
David Neiwart

Good Lefties

Eric Alterman
American Street
Ethel, the Early-Warning Frog
Left Coaster
Pacific Views
The Sideshow
Skippy the Bush Kangaroo
Talent Show
Tom Tomorrow
Oliver Willis
Anne Zook

Good Righties
John Cole
Tom Maguire
Andrew Sullivan
Michael J. Totten

Good Times

Tom Burka
Jesus' General
The Poor Man

Thursday, August 18, 2005

[Iraq Invasion]

On the Invasion of Iraq

Originally written September 26, 2002

The drumbeats of war are getting louder, the Bush Administration’s asking to be granted even more control, and everyone seems to accept that an invasion of Iraq is both inevitable and probably a good idea. I dissent. Herewith, for the few who care, an argument against invasion.

Reasons for Invasion
On the side of war, Bush and his boys have offered essentially four reasons to invade. They argue that: 1) Saddam Hussein’s a bad man, 2) Saddam’s repressed his own people, 3) Saddam’s got weapons of mass destruction (WMD), 4) Saddam’s a terrorist and/or terrorist supporter.

Corollary threats have been mentioned, although they haven’t been identified in formal resolutions, either to the UN or congress. They include the sense that Iraq contributes to instability in the Middle East and that any restructuring of that region must begin with Iraq. In his words,
In one place, in one regime, we find all these dangers in their most lethal and aggressive forms [that is, again, in his own words ’plotting further destruction and building new bases for their war against civilization’] —exactly the kind of aggressive threat the United Nations was born to confront.”

That’s pretty much it. Bush has hedged his bets by demanding “action” from the UN—mainly in the form of following through on its pre-existing resolutions against Iraq, though even this may not be enough, for “the purposes of the United States should not be doubted.” The language he submitted to Congress for action against Iraq was so broad it has failed to garner wide support in the Senate. Then, on September 19th, the Administration issued the official US policy for National Security which included the imperialistic assertion of the right of pre-emption giving itself the power to defend:

“. . .the United States, the American people, and our interests at home and abroad by identifying and destroying the threat before it reaches our borders. While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country.” [Italics added.]

Essentially, the Administration has identified Iraq as a target and gone about convincing everyone that it is dangerous, or failing that, convincing them to just let the Administration handle it anyway.

Strategic Refutation
On the points Bush has provided, we can grant every single one without drawing the same conclusion that invasion is the best way to address them. Rather, one should assert that unilateral invasion would result in catastrophe. While Bush’s case to the UN was as close to surgical in its precision as he’s ever dared go, it left a lot of assumptions hanging in the air. If these assumptions turn out to be faulty, cue the catastrophes. Among the assumptions I question:

Hussein can be killed. We can crush Iraq. We can turn Baghdad into Dresden. But that’s a different thing from killing Hussein. Implicit in the invasion is the assumption that the Iraqi people will join US forces and “liberate Iraq” the way they liberated Afghanistan. Because, without that support, the invading forces will be looking for a specific man. This means house-to-house warfare and a likelihood of success far lower than the likelihood of locating Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Will the Iraqis support the invading forces? Not a shred of evidence has been offered to support this. Instead, we have a society twice oppressed—first by their leader, and second by unwanted US intervention which has left the country impoverished for the past dozen years. Even if the invasion is wildly successful and Iraqis join the liberation effort, there’s no guarantee that we’ll get Saddam. If he sneaks out the back door like bin Laden, many will regard the whole operation as a failure. (And, to hide it, like they hid the failure of finding bin Laden, does that mean talk of war with Iran is next?)

Invading Iraq will stabilize the Middle East. In the outcomes Bush identified in his speech to the UN, “regime change” would bring “reforms throughout the Muslim world.” Actually, it’s the UN action that will bring the reforms throughout the Muslim world, but failing that, it’s the US who “will make that stand” (all quotes Bush’s).

Never mind the details, what about the prediction? Invading Afghanistan was a far less controversial move—the Taliban had only been recognized by two other governments (needless to say, they were our allies, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia). Yet that invasion sparked violence in South Asia and Israel, and has subsequently been used to justify aggressive action against “terrorists” by Russia. In fact, there is almost no scenario one can imagine in which an invasion of Iraq does anything but further destabilize the region.

Iraq, which Bush declares is in possession of WDM, will not use them during a US invasion. Err, okay.

World opinion is irrelevant. Admittedly, this is a more subtle threat than Bush should be expected to understand. Invading Iraq without a world mandate (Tony Blair alone does not count) would essentially turn the US into a rogue nation. While world opinion would not translate into any kind of overt action, it is clear that continued US “interventions” are dependent on soft support, at a minimum. Wave bye-bye to all that, particularly in Muslim countries.

Legal Refutation
This argument is only relevant in the absence of world support—which is, fortunately, the current situation. George W. Bush has very clearly made the argument that the US should move away from international cooperation and adopt a strategy of pre-emption and unilateralism.

In order to do this, the Bush Administration has tried to create some kind of legal claim for its unilateralist agenda. It started by retrofitting its policy with a couple of minimum criteria. The context of 9/11 gave them the first: terrorism. What actions qualify as “terrorism” are not defined; it seems that a simple US designation is adequate. Second, there must be the threat of harm—and this one is easy to meet because not just to the US or its citizens qualifies as a threat, but even “our interests.” This is a wholly bogus extension of the premise of “imminent attack,” which according to international law is a justification for pre-emptive strike.

But in the case of Iraq, there wasn’t until yesterday evening [September 25] a shred of evidence that any of Iraq’s activities—tyrannical though they might be—could be considered to present a threat to the US or its interests. They might be called terrorism, but so far, Hussein had only employed them against his own people. No one has ever made the connection between Iraq and global terrorism. Fortunately for the Bush team, however, one of those “detainees” in Cuba came forward last night with “clear testimony” that there’s a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Not that this is verifiable in any way, as those “detainees” haven’t been afforded their constitutional rights.

(There’s a fascinating article in the September Harper’s that traces the thread of unilateralist thought within the Bush Administration back to Bush I through the writings and policy statements of Cheney, Powell, and Wolfowitz. As it happens, the Nation Security Strategy announced by the President last week didn’t arise from 9/11—quite the opposite. The 9/11 attacks finally enabled a policy that had been in development for at least ten years. Well, suffice it to say that it also poses some issues regarding international law.)

So it is that you make your case, then create the evidence. It seems to work in American opinion polls, but it doesn’t represent legal practice.

Moral Refutation
No one has mentioned that attacking a sovereign nation—however corrupt the leader—leads to many deaths. Dubya has mentioned frequently his compassion for the Iraqi people. He cites it as one of his principal motives for wishing to attack—“Liberty for the Iraqi people is a great moral cause and a great strategic goal.” One even imagines that he’s sincere.

But there’s a contradiction here. The very premise of invading Iraq is the threat it poses to innocents. History has shown that Americans aren’t in the business of ensuring the liberty of foreign citizens until the safety of its own are at risk. No, Bush wishes to attack Iraq to protect American lives. In prioritizing invasion above non-militaristic approaches, he’s made a clear distinction: American lives are more important than Iraqi lives. Most US citizens would agree with him, but the rub is that Americans aren’t at risk. For the Iraqis it’s damned by the hand of Hussein or damned by the hand of Bush—does anyone think they find Bush’s platitudes just compensation for their lives?

This point is the one that has been well-made by a number of folks, so I’ll go into it only briefly. Sixty percent of Iraq is comprised of Shi’ites who have never held power in the country. Kurds comprise another 19%, and have, of course, never held power. The ruling Baath Party represents a Sunni minority of just 17% of the population. Hussein’s regime gained and maintains control through intense violence, which has left the country seething. If the warlords of Afghanistan are proving more difficult to manage than the American military predicted, how will the US or even the UN manage a post-Hussein Iraq? It is guaranteed to be a mess.

Unintended Consequences
Bush’s most obvious quality is his single-mindedness, his aggressive dismissal of complexity. Probably it is what appeals most to people now, his unequivocal pursuit of baddies. But also, it is what led to all of the fires that erupted after the invasion of Afghanistan: the inflammations in Israel, South Asia, and the pervasive suspicion of the US that increased dramatically in the Middle East and Europe. And that was following a war no one disputed.

If the US invades Iraq—either with or without world support—there will arise situations we don’t currently envision. An example is Pooty-Poot and his delight over the Bush doctrine: if invading “terrorist” aggressors is both moral and sound geopolitics, this whole pre-emption deal might be just what the doctor ordered in Georgia. That is a known by-product, but many others will emerge. Obvious other issues, such as the place Baghdad holds in the Muslim world, the Israeli conflict, tensions in Saudi Arabia, the Musharraf government’s stability, effects on terrorist support—all these Bush has ignored.

How to Deal With Iraq
Finally, the issue of Iraq remains. Hearing these protests, the Bush Administration has asked what a better solution is. (There are some questions here—why did the Iraq issue arise at this moment and what’s the urgency?; is Saddam Hussein substantively worse than, say, Kim Jong Il?; what is the formal policy on other baddie regimes [after Iraq, is it N. Korea, then Iran, then . . . ]?; what about the war on terror?; what about the thin-and-wide strategy of too many fronts?; what about creating a perpetual wartime drain on the economy?; and so on and so on.) But let’s leave them aside for now. Let’s agree that Iraq is a legitimate problem.

So, even if we accept that Iraq is actively developing WDM, we have to ask two other questions first: 1) do these weapons represent an immediate risk to the globe? and 2) if so, is it more of a risk than the one non-affiliated terrorists like al-Qaeda pose? There is great doubt about the first question. Unlike many more erratic dictators, Hussein’s threats are relatively predictable, and to this point always nationalistic and regional. Unlike more overtly terroristic regimes in the region, Hussein has attempted to build a greater Iraqi state, and until the war with Bush Sr., was an American ally. And despite attempts to demonize Hussein, not a single shred of credible evidence links him to world terrorism.

(Ironically enough, Hussein is also one of the least religious of the Arab dictators. While it is Iraqis are clearly oppressed, they do not suffer under the types of repression found in, say, Saudi Arabia—a close American ally. Until sanctions-related poverty struck the home capital, Baghdad was among the most cosmopolitan of the Arab cities. Even today, Hussein is more likely to wear a western suit than the military fatigues in which he is most commonly depicted.)

As to the second question, there is also great doubt. In the scenarios Bush describes, there are only vague references to the horrors that might ensue. Even with stores of WDM, Iraq lacks ICBMs and in a worst case scenario would only attack its neighbors. One might ask the question about why he would do this. While barely managing to keep the US outside his borders for the past ten years, Hussein knows that deploying WDM would definitely ensure invasion. It seems far more likely that he wishes to secure WDM to prevent an American invasion. This is, of course, a threat to the US’s express wish to hold unilateral control over the world.

So finally, the question: what should we do with the existing threat of Saddam Hussein? Inspections. Bush has tried to make a lot of hay about how the inspections ended in order to demonstrate their faults. But the fact is that the inspections were quite successful in locating not only existing stores of WDM, but the avenues through which they were being developed. Bush has stirred the pot enough at this point that the world will gladly line up behind hardline inspections. Any thought of invasion prior to this effort is absurd.

Furthermore, this is an opportunity for the United States to take a genuine leadership role in crafting policy for dealing with international conflict. Paying lip service to democracy on the one hand while on the other supporting dictators and reserving the right to act unilaterally, undemocratically, and forcefully naturally lead to a less stabilized world. That the US has a huge advantage in the world right now makes it the natural leader. It has two choices—leading toward a system of international law or playing the old game of might is right. Whatever course we choose, the world will follow. Thus it is that following the UN’s lead in Iraq is absolutely critical to setting the tone in international politics.

Final Notes
I think we have ample evidence to suspect Bush’s motives. As with all his other policies, he’s developed this one in a vacuum, constantly seeking to hide evidence, obscure motives, and change the discussion when any serious scrutiny is applied. While a pre-election wag-the-dog scenario might be a portion of this strategy, my suspicion is there’s something more fundamental here.

The definition for “tyranny” is variable. Cambridge describes it as “government by a ruler or small group of people who have unlimited power over the people in their country or state and use it unfairly and cruelly.” American Heritage’s first definition is simply “A government in which a single ruler is vested with absolute power.” Webster’s is more detailed, describing “a country governed by an absolute ruler; hence, arbitrary or despotic exercise of power; exercise of power over subjects and others with a rigor not authorized by law or justice, or not requisite for the purposes of government.”

All of these definitions cut very close to the direction George W. Bush has taken his administration. In my view, it is only the health of the democratic system—such as it remains—that has prevented him from taking full tyrannical power. Time and again his administration has demonstrated the definitional requisites. John Ashcroft would like to hold people indefinitely, without representation and without charge; he would then like to try them privately, by the government. He would like to monitor library records, church attendance, and even private homes in a dragnet strategy to locate “criminals” (who then enter indefinite, unrepresented confinement). The President has asserted he has the power to declare war without Congressional approval, that he may act unilaterally and at his own discretion to declare unprovoked war on those states he regards “threatening.” Over and over the Administration demonstrates it seeks absolute power—power it may use unfairly and arbitrarily, and certainly “with a rigor not authorized by law or justice.”

It is axiomatic that tyranny emerges in the service of defeating tyranny. President Bush, exercising what he imagines is “moral clarity,” asks to be the sole and final arbiter over the actions of citizens of this nation and the actions of governments of foreign states. Reasonable people and optimists imagine his motivation is democratic, that he wishes freedom and liberty for all people. It may be. But we should not create law based on the assumed motivations of our leaders, and we should never allow power to collect in the hands of a single man.

The invasion of Iraq would the most obvious abuse of democratic power in a newly-emerging global democracy. Furthermore, it would distract a nation from the sweeping power the President and his administration are seeking at home. Bush has already used circumstances to justify cynical political moves—after his abysmal tax cut passed and the economy started tanking, Bush bragged he’d hit the trifecta: war (Afghanistan), national emergency (terrorism) and recession bailed him out. The Administration’s desire to invade Iraq is no less cynical, and the upside is far, far greater. On balance, the reasons to invade Iraq are few and debatable, the gains small, and the cost huge; the reasons to refrain many and indisputable, the gains large, and the cost nothing. It’s not even close.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Picture dump.