February 21, 2005


MJT’s new Tech Central Station column is up: Second Thoughts in Both Directions: Iraq has made morons out of a lot of people, as perhaps it should..

Posted by Mary Madigan at February 21, 2005 11:56 AM


Interesting article.Nothing new,but a good recapitulation of 'some'of the re-thinking that some have indulged in recently.I find the re-thinking of the 'left'to be particularly shallow however,in that it more closely resembles an un-expected annoyance to their theoretical constructs ,than in does a true reflection on how the world actually operates.
Jon Stewart worries(well,frets is more accurate),that he might implode if his world view is challenged.And well he might!But does it lead him to seriously question his overall outlook? Well,good golly,miss molly---------- NO.
As to the comparison of the Abu-Gharib mini-scandal to the Iraqi election,what need be said.One is a tawdry example of sheer human stupidity and maliciousness;one has the potential to be a defining moment in history.I am not really surprised but I am disappointed that MJT has seemingly seen fit to assign historical import and moral equivalence to these two dissimilar events.
One will be forgotten in a year or less;one might be remembered for decades,as a world event.
No basis at all for comparison or conclusions.

Posted by: dougf at February 21, 2005 12:38 PM

I too thought about that comment on Abu Ghraib. While I thought it was not a good thing, to describe it as torture in the sense of Torquemada and company is going way beyond what it actually was and when you compare it to what the "insurgents" (really terrorists) it was a walk in the park. War happens, bad things happen in war and in the scale of things happening in war this was not much.

What I find amazing is that so many people seem to act as if Iraq winding up as a good thing was unthinkable. We knew in 2003 that Saddam and his sons were unbelievably evil men. We knew back shortly after GW I that Saddam would do anything he wanted to hiis people to the extent of destroying the whole ecosystem that had provided them an existence for thousands of years (the Marsh Arabs).

Now all of a sudden after an election we are supposed to be shocked and amazed and disturbed to the core of our existence that GWB could actually have been right about Iraq all along. Where have you people been for the past 2 years? Haven't you been reading Chrenkoff in the WSJ and the military blogs to see what our men have been doing during this time? Have you really been so taken with the MSM that you believed all that they wrote? I am shocked that you are shocked at this.

Posted by: dick at February 21, 2005 01:03 PM

Thr abuses of Abu Gharib were wrong and hypocritical. Period. However, wearing the hairshirt and bashing out consciences into the concrete will not heal those wounded nor solve the issue. We as the American people should apologize for this behavior and make a true effort to do better the next time. Yes there will be a next time. At least with Abu Gharib, we have acknowledged our violence. We never did in Germany and Japan post WWII (at least openly).

Posted by: Rachel at February 21, 2005 01:54 PM

Seems as if the only thing that has happened in the last 2 years in Iraq to give MJT pause is the Abu-Ghraib incident. Utterly amazing.

What about the possible Balkanization or Lebanonization of Iraq? What about the fact that our troops are stretched too thin, and now both the reserves AND the active duty armed forces are unable to meet their recruitment quotas?

And what about what new CIA chief Porter Goss says here:

"Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists," CIA Director Porter J. Goss told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
"These jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced and focused on acts of urban terrorism," he said. "They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries."

I support what Bush and America is trying to do in Iraq. But though it hasn't been an unmitigated disaster, there is a lot that has gone wrong, and a lot that could go wrong.

Lets stop bashing one another, and using Iraq to score political points.

The jury is still out on just about everything important.

Posted by: markus rose at February 21, 2005 03:25 PM

My, my. Did you actually promise a Syrian friend that all Anglospherian soldiers behave as perfect saints in all places, at all times, under all possible circumstances? Are you certain you have an adequate supply of fairy dust?

Posted by: Marvin Thulenberg at February 21, 2005 04:09 PM


You're being obnoxious.

Posted by: Stephen at February 21, 2005 04:18 PM

I'm not clear why the elections are such great news. Sure, they're great photo ops for Bush. But news?

It could have gone that the terrorists disrupted the elections a whole lot. Zarqawi threatened to, and it turned out he mostly couldn't. Perhaps that was partly because we closed the highest-risk polling stations so he couldn't attack those. But we see that Zarqawi is not that strong, as we should have known all along. Most of the insurgency doesn't support him. If they did, they would have attacked polling stations.

Beyond that, what has happened that wasn't predictable? How does it in any way "prove Bush was right"?

Well, there's this that I didn't predict, besides the relative lack of violence. Discount the negligible number of sunni voters. That would leave the voting population in roughly a 60:20 ratio, shia to kurds. Call it 75% to 25%. The kurds got their 25% of the vote, and Sistani's coalition got 51%. I expected them to get more. Allawi's group got better than 14%. On the reasonable assumption that he got no kurdish votes, that comes out to maybe 18% of the shia vote. That's a fantastic result for him.

Allawi was the former Ba'ath leader who collected renegade Ba'ath secret police and tried for coups. He was the US pick. He not only got overruled repeatedly by Bremer, showing his utter helplessness, he also personally approved of the attacks on Najaf, Kut, Karbalah, and Fallujah. Why would any iraqi vote for him? And yet well over 10% did. The obvious conclusion is that a large minority of iraqis are secular, not particularly sunni or shia. And they had no high-profile candidate better than Allawi. In the old days presumably they were Ba'athist. The Ba'ath party was progressive, they wanted a modern scientific state. They didn't cater to religion until they got too weak not to. And now they're gone and the closest iraq has to a secular party is Allawi's.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 21, 2005 05:26 PM

Yes, my comment was obnoxious. Sorry. Being retired, I feel as if I have no one in particular I need to please besides my girlfriend.

Posted by: Marvin Thulenberg at February 21, 2005 05:35 PM

Good article.

A thought on the person who said 'Ultimately, in total defiance of my mother and grandmother's teachings, two wrongs have made a right and my moral compass is tired and busted."'

This is entirely the fault of Democrats in Washington who understood perfectly well that the Bush administration had to emphasize the violations of the embargo and play down their strategic goal (debated out in the open after all) in order to get international cooperation and (hopefully) UN approval.

They couldn't say "We're hoping to destablize all of the illegitimate governments in the region to create an opening for sanity" and still use a base in Egypt and one in Saudi Arabia after all.

And John Kerry knew that all along. It was John Kerry who was lying to us about the way diplomacy work, because he knew that much the public is naive enough to believe him.

International diplomacy is inherently dishonest. You can have democraticly open and responsive government OR you can have an international diplomatic consensis, but it's always been impossible to have both. And those assholes in the Democratic party knew that all along. They demanded both knowing that they were demanding the impossible because they just didn't mind sacrificing America's security for their own gain.

I do blame the Republicans for the breakdown in civility in Washington during the Clinton years... It's understandable that the Democrats don't give a damn for ANYTHING but every last vote these days and will sell anyone and anything out. The politics of personal distruction made people awfully angry.

But to understand is not to forgive. I can't vote for the Democrats anymore even if I prefer their domestic policies to the Republicans. They can sell the country out for a hoped for 1 or 2 percent of the vote, but I can't give my assent to our betrayal.

Posted by: Joshua Scholar at February 21, 2005 07:36 PM

I would ass with the Abu Graib issue that you can still look into that friends eyes and say the same thing. There is a distinct difference between Americans and a few Americans.

Americans will do as you say, we have in the past, we are now, and we will in the future. A single (or small group) of Americans can and will do bad things - even some really bad things. It wouldn't surprise me to see a few instnaces of some really terrible torture come out of Iraq. However, they make our news because the incidents are rare - the type of thing that happened in Abu Graib probably wouldn't be told over afternoon tea or coffee in many countries of the world because that is the norm and done as a whole.

Not that it was good, or not bad, just that to attribute that to "Americans" is not correct. What Americans have done is give lifes for thier freedom, rebuild schools, roads, power plants, give food, give water, give anything that is needed. That we have done both individually and as a whole. The torture has only happened as an individual and that type of failing will always be around no matter how good or honorable the rest are. Be angry at those people, not ashamed because of the few when the vast vast majority you should be proud of.

Posted by: strcpy at February 21, 2005 08:38 PM

At least with Abu Gharib, we have acknowledged our violence. We never did in Germany and Japan post WWII (at least openly).

Let's see, 16 million men an women in the armed forces, a four year war, 300,000 battle deaths, and everyone thought it was just a night of bingo? Of course we acknowledged the violence. We bombed the shit out of those countries. Everyone knew it. Refugees from the concentration camps were happy to see it.

Your oddball claim to superior moral understanding is silly and frankly rather shallow.

Posted by: chuck at February 21, 2005 11:22 PM

God love ya, MJT, you're one of the good guys.
Having done a stint many years ago at Amnesty, I learned there is no military incapable of atrocities. Which you acknowledged in your TCS article.
But I do agree with strcpy that most American soldiers don't travel that path. And I would add that sometimes those who do have been brutalised themselves. As you say, war is violence.

Posted by: Fish at February 22, 2005 02:19 AM

“My, my. Did you actually promise a Syrian friend that all Anglospherian soldiers behave as perfect saints in all places, at all times, under all possible circumstances? Are you certain you have an adequate supply of fairy dust?
Posted by Marvin Thulenberg at February 21, 2005 04:09 PM


You're being obnoxious.”

No, he is not. Thulenberg is merely a rational and balanced human being. Michael Totten’s feelings of guilt are senseless. Abu Ghraib is the exception, and the norm. Most Iraqis are treated quite well and respectful by the coalition troops. Me thinks that Totten needs to take a chill pill.

Totten's following sentence, for instance, is weird:

“How can I ever look my Syrian friend in the eye and make the same promise again, that American troops will always treat people decently and with respect?”

Always? What planet does Totten live on? It certainly isn’t Earth. He should have instead said “that American troops will usually treat people decently and with respect.” This promise would have been more prudent---and accurate.

Posted by: David Thomson at February 22, 2005 04:36 AM


Look at Thulenberg's wording. And yes, it would be naive to actually make such a promise.

Posted by: Stephen at February 22, 2005 07:08 AM

No, Bush wasn't right.

Posted by: clark at February 22, 2005 07:42 AM

The ability to change one’s mind and learn from experience is a sign of adaptablity and intelligence. Feeling like a moron when you realize you've made a mistake is sort of like growing pains.

The point of this article seems to be that intelligent people on the right and the left are learning something from Iraq.

Posted by: mary at February 22, 2005 08:37 AM

Chuck, don't be a shmuck. Just like every sucessful victory there will always be some abuse of power. Your arrogance is nothing short of rude and unacceptible. Just because we helped out nations in WWI and WWII does not give anyone (even you), the power to be an ass.

Posted by: Rachel at February 22, 2005 08:55 AM

strcopy, you are claiming that the torture was not policy. But the Taguba report pointed out that the torture was policy, and it was getting debated by the military command because it was not conducive to a well-run prison. On the one hand the interrogators were saying that their job was easier if the torture was extended from just during interrogation to all the time, using MPs in the off hours. And the prison administrators were saying that their job was to keep the prison working smoothly and calmly, and torturing prisoners made it harder to manage them. And then the particular people who took photos and sent them home and got caught with their own photographic evidence were given their orders by interrogators who had no authority to do so -- and those orders were obeyed because the command structure had broken down.

The particular sexual depravity that got photographed was not part of the torture that was authorised for MPs, though some of it has been documented at Gitmo etc also. It's what gives the story importance to americans -- using sex against fundamentalist muslims who find it particularly upsetting. At Gitmo there was no attempt to do that with prisoners who looked like they might enjoy it. But the less-sexually-lurid torture is endemic.

Still, we don't do it as bad as lots of middle eastern governments do, including israel, jordan, syria, egypt, turkey, saudi arabia, kuwait, and iran. Though when you torture somebody to death that's pretty bad.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 22, 2005 08:57 AM

""At least with Abu Gharib, we have acknowledged our violence. We never did in Germany and Japan post WWII (at least openly).""

"Let's see, 16 million men an women in the armed forces, a four year war, 300,000 battle deaths, and everyone thought it was just a night of bingo? Of course we acknowledged the violence. We bombed the shit out of those countries."

I think he's talking about the small-scale atrocities that we haven't acknowledged. I don't know a lot about that. There were various places we refused to take prisoners and shot people who tried to surrender, but that's only to be expected when the fighting gets really hard. There were maybe a few cases where we killed whole groups of POWs after they were fully surrendered, but again the ones I heard about were in china where we were killing japanese and likely at the chinese government's request. There had been a lot of atrocities there before we got into it. And there were various minor crimes committed by US troops. Get 16 million men under arms and you can expect none of them will be criminals. Theft from civilians, raping wives and daughters while the tied-up men watched, the usual. We'd have gladly hanged the perps if we could find them. By most accounts we did far less of it than the russians (who had a lot of east-of-caucasus troops toward the end whose idea of the rules of war came from Ghengis), and nothing like the nazis who had after all gone so far as to grab women of subject populations, sterilise them, and force them to be prostitutes for the troops.

Sure we did a few little things but we were emphatically the good guys by comparison.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 22, 2005 09:11 AM
J. Thomas – In another thread, you said
But then, did you ever have an acquaintance who liked to play "Let's you and him fight"? He'd go to a lot of trouble to pick fights for you with other people while he stood by and watched?

And after awhile he didn't seem like such a good friend?

Al qaeda and the neocons are implicitly conspiring together to do that for us.

Al qaeda hit us, and somehow we're fighting afghanistan and iraq and on the edge of fighting iran and syria -- and al qaeda is still egging us on and we aren't hitting them

I want the top neocons dead the same way I want the top al aqaeda dead. It will please me greatly if ten years from now we're sending teams into other countries to get US neocons hiding there the way the israelis went after nazis. It's likely not to happen, there's a strong chance the neocons will get clean away with lots of money to boot -- but if it happens that we do recognise their treachery and kill them it will be a good thing.

This sounds almost like crazy talk now. But give it 10 years and see how normal it sounds then.

I, and many others, asked you exactly what you meant by that. You didn’t answer.

When I read your comments, I have to wonder what your motivation is. Are you trying, in many unsubtle ways, to convince readers here that neo-cons are equivalent to terrorists (and torturers, etc.).

Who do you define as neo-cons? In an earlier comment, when discussing the ‘let’s you and him fight’ strategy, you said: “You guys don't even need to make an explicit deal. You both know what to do without discussing it. You don't have to admit you're on the same side, the side that wants to stir things up into open war.”

Who do you think are the neo-cons? Who do you want to see dead? Whose “treachery” are you hoping to expose. Who do you hope will be killed? Do you believe that killing neo-cons will be a good thing?

If you don't want to answer this in a public forum, feel free to email me, or post on my (less public :-) site.

Posted by: mary at February 22, 2005 09:25 AM


Way to much 'isness' in this whole discussion. It 'appears' that Iraq did well with Democracy. But, only the part of Iraq that has been pro-regieme change since the beginning. The Shiites are anti-Hussien, the Kurds are anti-Hussien, both groups supported democratic elections. It's not really all that surprising.

I think we can say that "Two out of the Three Major Factions appear to want and support democracy."

This doesn't mean that Iraq is going to be OK, it doesn't mean that Bush was right, that there won't be civil war or that other dictatorships will destablize.

Mr. Bush should get Kudos for pulling off an election in extremely difficult circumstances. He should get kudos for doing it, even though others recommended waiting. Good Job, Mr. President.

But, that seems to me, the extent of what we can really say about the situation.

Based on the information available, one might conclude that there are still a lot of pissed off Sunnis, which make up a large percentage of the Iraqi population. As far as I've been able to ascertain, they were noticably absent in the election and have yet to come to the table like a sane group of people. Until that happens, a lot may be 'still on the table'....


Posted by: Ratatosk at February 22, 2005 10:26 AM

I think MJT's article misses the point. There was no "right" or "wrong" in Bush's decision to invade Iraq. Bush decided to do what he thought was best in America's interest - and for the survival of the American system. He decided that taking out the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afganistan was in "our" best interests - he didn't really care if Afghani women now get to vote or not. And he doesn't really care if the Afgani's grow poppies or not. These are all side issues. And with Iraq - Bush took out Sadaam in what he felt was in the interest of the US. He felt that whatever replaced Sadaam's regime was less of a threat to the US. Bush doesn't care so much who is in charge, as long as they are less of a threat. His doctrine seems to be to continue removing greater threats in favor of lesser threats, at least in the short-term (and I'm sure he hopes for the long-term as well). There is a probability game that Bush is playing - his belief is that middle east democracies will present less of a threat to the US than countries run by dictators or theocracies. In Bush's SOTU address he made it clear that Syria and Iran are now targets for regime change. Was oil a reason for going after Iraq the first time? Of course, middle east oil is important to the world. It is in the interest of the US to not allow Sadaam to control middle east oil. Will Bush take out Iranian nuclear plants? Sure. If the US doesn't Israel will. Will Bush's policies prove to be "right?" Yes and no, some things will be better, some things worse. There will be good and bad, right and wrong. The one thing for sure is that things are different now. The Bush and Reagan strategy is to take a fork and spoon and actively mix things up, whereas Clinton and Carter (and the UN today) took more of an isolationist, status quo strategy. Obviously, Bush doesn't want to wait around for another 9/11 to happen before he takes action. I think Clinton and Carter would.

MJT seems to have gotten caught up in the emotion of the Iraqi elections. Freedom for the Iraqi people is great - but it wasn't why we went in. It makes for good PR and marketing the war. Bush will do what he thinks is in the interest of the US, including survival, period. I get tired of the the "the jury is still out" comments - you can say this about ANYTHING. Is the jury still out on whether the invention of the television was good or bad? I guess.

Nobody can predict the distant future. People like to think they can, but they can't. Iraq may turn into a terrible mess, or not. Feeling guilty about the past is a waste of time. And worrying about the future is a waste of time. Bush will continue to proactively change things in the middle east - and I guess everyone else will have to react one way or another - it's "good," no it's "bad," no, no, now it's "good," wait no, it's "bad." What it really is, is different, and only time will tell if it's good or bad or both in the long-term.

Posted by: Brian at February 22, 2005 12:36 PM

What it really is, is different, and only time will tell if it's good or bad or both in the long-term--Brian

Interesting analysis.You are right---- it is different.And since the status-quo was surely broken beyond hope of internally generated repair,different is none too shabby at this point.
I am fairly confident that the end results of the 'shake-em-up'technique will be very positive,but as you say,time will tell.

Posted by: dougf at February 22, 2005 01:27 PM

mary, J Thomas' "Let's you and him fight" argument assumes that Neocon are not Americans and don't make their decisions on the basis of what they think will be good for America... If I was asked to psychoanalize I'd say he's one of those people who say "Neocon" because he gets a worse response when he says "damn Jew".

Posted by: Joshua Scholar at February 22, 2005 01:35 PM

"If I was asked to psychoanalize I'd say he's one of those people who say "Neocon" because he gets a worse response when he says "damn Jew"."

Yup, that's right. I don't need to add anything more.

Posted by: David Thomson at February 22, 2005 06:26 PM

Brian's apparently a telepath to rival Professor X, knowing so absolutely what President Bush's real motives are.


Posted by: Achillea at February 22, 2005 07:58 PM

Joshua - I kind of analyzed the "neo-con" statement the same way.

Posted by: mary at February 22, 2005 08:37 PM

Once again, Michael and I come to the EXACT same conclusions. I sware to God, I've never met anyone so closely aligned with my own political beliefs. Even after all this time, it's still a little creepy.

When all is said and done, the ends will either justify or fail to justify the means. Was this war a good idea? Only time will tell. Like MJ said...it is still too soon to tell.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at February 22, 2005 09:01 PM

Whether or not anyone agrees with Brian F.'s analysis of exactly what motivated President Bush to act as he did (and gives every appearance to continue doing) I'll just weigh in with this:

It's the duty of the president to act in the interests of the United States. That is the "right" motivation for execution of U.S. power.

That he has chosen to implement democracy in distant lands ala post WW2 axis powers where the former paradigm was to pick from among various dictatorships for "our" side to support, in search of some sort of stability, is indeed a momentous change.

It remains to be seen if Afghanistan and Iraq, or Iran, Syria, and the other club of despots in the Muslim mideast/south central Asia will in the future, will be successful democracies. With the looming spectre of nuclear and other WMD armed Islamist terrorists our ability to sustain the old way of doing business was at an end anyway.

I think Bush has conducted business in our best interests. I believe that's exactly why he was reelected, too.

I also think that Michael has been a tad reflexive in adopting Abu Ghraib as some sort of standard by which to judge what we have undertaken to accomplish in Iraq. It was a crime leavened with the fog of war and poor leadership, and justice was being meted out long before the first photographs began making the rounds. It was understood to unacceptable by OUR population and OUR codes. I find it impossible to get excited about Abu Ghraib when the actions of suicide bombers and decapitating kidnappers are ignored as a matter of course by the most vociferous critics of Abu Ghraib.

It is not a pivot on which to pass ultimate judgement the aims or conduct of this effort.


There's nothing to apologize for concerning our actions to win World War II. Dresden, Hamburg, and Hiroshima wouldn't have happened had the Axis laid down arms.

If the enemy we faced then had had the ability, we would have our own version of the Hiroshima memorial in say San Francisco Bay, or even Manhattan. Rotterdam, Coventry, and Warsaw Ghetto ring some bells, don't they?

Wars between diametrically opposed philosophies end with victory, or they simply set the stage for the next chapter. We are done attempting to manage despots.

Posted by: TmjUtah at February 23, 2005 06:58 AM

I'm sick and tired of hearing about Abu Ghraib, which is quite easy to pin on a few rogue soldiers.

What about the outsourcing of torture? Anyone give a damn about that?


Posted by: markus rose at February 23, 2005 07:15 AM

I think it says more about how contemporary liberals view themselves than about our "debased political terminology" that anybody at The New York Times believes a neocon "revision" of American history would even be possible, or that it would differ in any substantive way from the way that history would be written by The New York Times itself.

The genius of neoconservatism is that it's exactly in step with the progressivist, middle-of-the-road, big state view of American history they teach in school: The Articles of Confederation resulted in a disaster that taught the founders the value of a strong central state; the Whiskey rebels were dangerous kooks, not unlike the Branch Davidians of our own time; "States' Rights" has always been a code word for slavery; President Woodrow Wilson was a man of vision but sadly was unable to achieve his goals for an international order; the America Firsters were even kookier and more marginal than the Whiskey rebels, and the best way to deal with one is to sock him in the jaw like in The Best Years of Our Lives; many well intentioned folks on the left underestimated the danger of the Soviet Union, but the anti-communist witch hunts of the fifties were a regrettable overreaction (the Left didn't become dangerous until the late sixties and early seventies, when it embraced separatist and militant views that undermined the politics of consensus that made this country great); real civil rights progress only came when the federal government asserted its power over the refractory states; September 11 shocked America out of its isolationism and freed President George W. Bush (an excellent man, but distressingly shortsighted in some matters) from his naive opposition to nation-building. And so on.

Leave aside how much of it you agree or disagree with. What would the neocons add to the official version of American history? That Winston Churchill should have been made King of the United States as well as Prime Minister of Great Britain? That we missed a great opportunity by not jumping into the Franco-Prussian War? That we should have intervened on Sylvania's side against Freedonia? The folks at The Times may have a narcissistic interest in highlighting small differences, but you can't misuse language forever. When liberals look at the neocons, they see themselves.

My Name Is Neo

Posted by: NeoDude at February 23, 2005 08:54 AM


Either I'm too stupid, or your too complex, but I can't figure you out. One day your posting way to my left and another day you're comfortably seated fart to my right. As one who prides his self on having no particular political or ideological allgiance, and has politically disparate views depending on the topic in question, I can understand having just a unique perspective on things. But like I said I cannot figure you out.

Posted by: Mike T. at February 23, 2005 10:43 AM

Hi, Nancy, I'm back.

About the neocons, I'm talking about the top guys, the ones who got the name publicised etc. Perle and his friends. The central thing I can say about them is that they are liars. Since they are liars I can't claim I know where their loyalties lie etc -- anything they say about such things could be a lie.

So it's them I'm concerned with, not the dupes who like some of the things they've said. It isn't an issue whether they're really working in israel's interest against US interest, or whether they really think they're acting in favor of the USA, or whether they think they can further their own interests at the expense of israel and the USA etc. I don't know what they really think. I only look at what they do.

Similarly, Mussolini likely thought he was acting in italy's best interest. "Better to live one day as a lion than a hundred years as a sheep." Mussolini wanted to flex italy's muscles and establish italy's rightful place in the world. He tried to use air power to bring civilisation to the benighted ethiopians. But before he was done italy could not even keep foreign armies out of italy. When italians hanged him from a lamppost it was no worse than he deserved.

If within the next ten years the US government or a US mob hangs Perle or Wolfowitz it will be somewhat better than they deserve. They have hurt the USA far worse than bin Ladin has. So far bin Ladin has made two successful attacks on the continental USA, destroyed 4 planes and destroyed or damaged 2 buildings, with about 3000 casualties. Add in a few embasssies and the attack on the USS Cole. Far, far less than the neocon attacks have done to us.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 23, 2005 10:53 AM

Who am I?

(but more to the point, I hate Imperialism and stupid wars)

Posted by: NeoDude at February 23, 2005 11:21 AM

I find it thrilling that right-wing social democrats are the new sweethearts of the Republicans. I hated it when youn activist were quoting Hayek and Kirk. I like Kristol and Bell, the new intellectual roots of the right.

I'm a Social Democrat of the left, so I think this means there is still hope for The Right...if they don't turn fascist first.

Disjoining the Left: Cultural Contradictions of Anticapitalism

In his foreword to the first paperback edition of The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (1978), sociologist Daniel Bell announced that he was "a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics, and a conservative in culture." People "might find this statement puzzling," Bell went on, "assuming that if a person is radical in one realm, he is radical in all others; and, conversely, if he is a conservative in one realm, that he must be conservative in the others as well. Such an assumption misreads, both sociologically and morally, the nature of these different realms."

Posted by: NeoDude at February 23, 2005 11:36 AM

I just had to add these:

Bell's affirmation that one can be a conservative in matters of culture without being a conservative tout court has not won anything like universal acceptance. As Jonathan Arac observes, his sundering of the economic, political, and cultural realms was apparently "so scandalous that [Bell's] critics in the debate do not even comment on it."2 This scandal has not blown [End Page 29] over in the two decades since. Louis Althusser, whom Arac mentions as a forerunner of Bell's case for relative autonomy, might seem representative of a newer and antitotalizing common sense. But for all our Althusser-influenced talk of split subjects and multiple subject positions, where political identities are concerned, the cultural Left has been quick to enforce a high standard of consistency. Consider, for example, the pervasive idea that the true pedagogical mission of the humanities is the production of activists. As a moral ideal, the activist embodies a transparent unity of thought and action, public self and private self, culture and politics. The activist has nothing to hide; she or he can stand in the interpellating eye of God without turning or trembling. The heritage most visibly at work here is not Althusserian but Puritan.
The same might be said of the assumption that one's political identity can be faithfully read off from apparently apolitical signs, say from one's epistemology--an assumption that goes back much further than the particular epistemologies associated with Nietzsche and Jacques Derrida. Like trial-by-epistemology and the quietly totalizing goal of activism, various sins of which the cultural Left is regularly accused probably have less to do with French poststructuralism than with the humanistic holier-than-thou tradition of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Matthew Arnold, and T. S. Eliot. It is this tradition, assembled and put to progressive use in Raymond Williams's Culture and Society, that makes Bell's insistence on the relative autonomy of economics, politics, and culture seem so scandalous--scandalous even within Bell's own argument. For this tradition, disjunction and fragmentation name what is wrong with industrial society, and the unifying power of culture is the sole remedy adequate to this diagnosis. Thus cultural politics becomes the definitive politics. Although Bell plays off against Eliot's famous self-description as "classical in literature, royalist in politics, anglo-catholic in religion," Eliot's notion of culture as a unified sensibility or "whole way of life" is also Bell's, as it is largely that of the New York intellectuals in general.3 Culture, Bell writes, must "provide a viable coherence to the meaning of existence. . . . For this reason, tradition becomes essential."4 Bell also argues that over the past fifty years, "the culture has taken the initiative in promoting change, and the economy has been geared to meeting these [End Page 30] new wants."5 But if culture is a coherence that transcends apparent fragmentation, and if it has come to pervade and command the supposedly distinct realm of economics, then Bell does not seem to be respecting his own disjunction of realms.

I guess they are "postmodern conservatives" after all.

Posted by: NeoDude at February 23, 2005 11:39 AM

Jay Thomas,

Well you've just proven to me that you have zero credibility in your judgement of people. Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle may agree in ideology on many a thing, but they differ significantly in their motivations and methods. A man like Wolfowitz is more akin to the likes of Kissinger and should therefore be criticized every bit as vehemently.

Perle is a true and through Patriot as well as an internationalist who loves is country and sees only one path for the betterment of his nation and the lives of people the world over. In so many senses he is the embodiment of the same ideals as those espoused in 18th century France, and by early 20th century Liberals. You should read his book, he is a very articulate and well thought out man; you may not agree with his politics and his worldview, but that doesn't mean he deserves death. In that same sense I suppose you would also consider me a NeoCon for Mr. Perle and I share many of the same views. Do I therefore deserve death? I took action to support those views, I voted for Bush twice. Am I equally as guilty?

You, like so many other new age leftists and liberals, use a broad brush when you paint people as NeoCons and that says one thing about you; you're narrow minded. The fact that you would kill such people makes you reactionary and hysterical as well. It would serve you well to stop throwing your shoes and shouting, sit down in your seat, and listen to what the man has to say for one goddamn minute, because it makes a whole hell of a lot of sense.

I've honestly never known a group of people so afraid of diversity of thought as I have in the American Left today. Maybe that is why all leftist ideology always intrinsically leads to totalitarianism.


I got it, but why label oneself at all then. Why not simply decide that people like you, me and William Kristol are no more than independent thinkers? The minute you stick a label to yourself, or someone else, you immediately begin to place limitations on who and what they are and who and what they can be. For the same reasons I hate being called a Conservative or a liberal, and especially a Socialist or a NeoCon. In regards to your opinion of William Kristol and Daniel Bell, it is the same reason why I find people like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh so utterly boring, even though I agree with a lot of their beliefs. They are one dimensional and completely uninteresting. People like George Orwell and Christopher Hitchens on the other hand are dynamic and complex and very independent and therefore while I severely disagree with them on some issues I appreciate their work greatly and am very willing to lend an ear to their arguments that oppose mine. Enough to even consider committing the cardinal sin of ideological and political belief; changing my mind.

Posted by: Mike T. at February 23, 2005 01:42 PM

Mike, I don't class you with Perle. You've given every evidence that you believe what you say, and if you've done nothing worse than vote for one of two bad candidates for president then you're in a lot of company.

I tend to think that Mussolini was a Patriot who wanted what was best for his country and the world. He didn't do a very good job of improving things. I expect it's the same with Perle although there's always some chance that all those broken eggs will somehow turn into an omelette or something. Grant says the ends justify the means. Maybe we'll get results that a large minority of people will claim as justification.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 23, 2005 02:08 PM

knock, knock.

Follow the white rabbit, Neo.

Posted by: Joshua Schlar at February 23, 2005 02:12 PM

Incidentally, Mike, in the same post that you explained how you hate to be called liberal or conservative etc, you called me liberal and reactionary. I want to point out that I am not to the right or the left. I'm out in front.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 23, 2005 02:19 PM

I voted for GWB in 2000 because I was sick of my government not being willing to do as it said and to seek proper retribution for dead Americans. I voted for GWB in 2004 because as you put it I had no better choice. I think Richard Perle fulfilled his purpose on the Defense Policy Board in defining what he thought would change the status quo that led to our darkest day. He might have been right and might have been wrong, but I don't think there was deciet there.

Paul Wolfowitz on the other hand used his position so very close the the president to manipulate him in order test out his theories. I also think that this took place in regards to the very pragmatic Don Rumsfeld who by no means is a sheep, but was able to be convinced that the, at the time, theoretical sequence of events that Wolfowitz was postulating in regards to Iraq was the most practical way to go.

Truthfully I'm pissed off. That's because I put faith in my government that they knew something I didn't and therefore we had to believe them. I was not however in favor of the hasty way we went about things attempting to use the energy still there from 9/11 to take care of a problem that should have been dealt with two administrations ago. GWB didn't get a mandate from me, he got a reprieve. I think we were suckered by a small group of individuals into taking hasty action for no better reason than to prove or disprove a theory. I don't think that group includes Richard Perle in the insidious way that you do.

I'm all for taking out Tyrants, however I would rather do so in a way that allows the tyrannicized population to take him out. Not the worlds superhero. That was quite possible in Iraq and should have been pursued.

Posted by: Mike T. at February 23, 2005 02:38 PM

I wasn't intending to label you one of them, I was comparing you to them, and describing your opinions. If you took as me labeling you then I apologize, I can see how it came off that way.

Posted by: Mike T. at February 23, 2005 02:41 PM

MJT did a fine job, but his angst at Abu Ghraib is overrated -- I'm pretty sure he needs to remember it is unrealistic to expect better foreign prisons, than domestic prisons. And I hear that in most federal prisons the inmates get raped.
Outrage misplaced.

Gen. Karpinski was FIRED in Jan, 2004 -- before the photos. Why no mention of the actual, expected accountability for the breakdown?

UNREAL PERFECTION is a stupid standard. If Michael, or anybody arguing for war, has the expectation that only the guilty will be killed in a war -- that is so unrealistic as to be stupid. Abu is part of what should be "expected". Not tolerated, and subject to normal correction, and normal military CYA denial, etc., but NOT a "paradigm shift".

The whole torture interrogation is not yet resolved, though -- nor the status of the death squad Islamofascists.

If you act with a military, there will be some violence against innocents. Remember how Clinton avoided any Abu like abuses in Rwanda -- merely accept inaction.

Some on the Left are even starting to admit that anti-War protesters in the 60s were, de facto, allies of North Vietnam. That would be a good admission.

When will the Left give up on the UN because of the "neo-genocide" of Darfur?

Posted by: Tom Grey at February 23, 2005 03:44 PM

Mike T.,

Those labels were made by Kristol and Bell, if you don't like the labels take it up with them.

I like labels because the give a discription...and they are a gage to whether the person knows what's he talking about.

If someone tells me they are a libertarian but begins to justify socialized medicine, he have better have a way to justify his stance.

labels also tells me someone's foundation, intellectually,...If someone tells me they are a Christian but aprove of certain immoral acts, well, I would want to see how that label corresponds to reality.

Posted by: NeoDude at February 23, 2005 04:24 PM

Mike T. - I'm in agreement with you about independent thinking. The Republicans/conservatives believe "this" and Democrats/liberals believe "that" which we hear every day is nonsense to me - I'll make up my own mind for each issue. Like you I get bored with far-Right/far-Left people such as Rush, Franken, etc. - they just read the same scripts over and over and never really question any of their stances - they behave like they are adhering to political mythologies instead of analysis and thought. I voted for Bush for similar reasons as you - to continue to break the status quo and do something, and to move away from the far-Left (Kerry/Kennedy/Pelosi). And I agree with you assessment of Perle, Wolfowitz, and the execution of the Iraq war.

I've started reading Christopher Hitchen's "Why Orwell Matters" and have been enjoying it. Thanks for the suggestion.

Posted by: Brian at February 23, 2005 06:22 PM

Neodude - (webmaster for reason online mag?):

"I like labels because the give a discription...and they are a gage to whether the person knows what's he talking about."

Does that mean you are incapable of evaluating arguments on their own merits?

"If someone tells me they are a libertarian but begins to justify socialized medicine, he have better have a way to justify his stance."

If someone doesn't tell you up front whether they are a libertarian or not - or anything else for that matter - where does that leave you and your capacities for reasoning about whether his/her arguments re socialized medicine have merit or not?

"labels also tells me someone's foundation, intellectually,...If someone tells me they are a Christian but aprove of certain immoral acts, well, I would want to see how that label corresponds to reality."

So you look for opportunities to make ad hominem attacks in order to discredit them rather than discredit them based on the substance of their arguments?

Are you the same neodude who spent almost an entire thread doing just that? (i.e. the "Judeo-Christian thing?)

And are you actually the same Neodude who writes for "Reason"?

Posted by: Caroline at February 23, 2005 06:38 PM

I think you guys are being a bit niave, conserning labels.

Orwell displayed his socialist label without shame. And justified many of his stances according to that world view. Many respected him for that, even ideological enemies respected his stances. He never went around complaining about labels.

American. Is that "only" a label? It seems like a pretty imporatant label. Marraige? Father? Ba'athist? French? Zionist? Western? Gay? Homosexual? Judeo-Christian? Existentialist? Al-Queda? All labels that mean something.

Posted by: NeoDude at February 23, 2005 06:58 PM

What is up with all the Reason stuff? I posted some lines.

Posted by: NeoDude at February 23, 2005 07:07 PM

"What is up with all the Reason stuff? I posted some lines."

Neodude, you posted some lines that were quoted directly from a post elsewhere by Tom Cavanaugh; the post was titled "My name is Neo". You didn't attribute it but you provided a link that could be interpreted as a signature. While you've left it ambiguous it would be likely that various of your readers would assume you are him and that you quoted yourself and linked to yourself and named yourself. It's weak evidence but we went to war with iraq on evidence that was weaker, and we might be about to go to war with syria on weaker evidence.

But rather than simply jump to the conclusion Caroline asked you to say yes or no. It seems like a reasonable question to me, and to my way of thinking your three reasonable answers would be 'yes' 'no' or 'none of your business'.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 23, 2005 08:20 PM

J Thomas - When I asked what you meant by 'I want the neocons dead' I was hoping you'd say that you wrote it through a lunatic fog of tequila and peyote, consumed in a misguided homage to Hunter Thompson. I hoped you’d say that you picked the wrong week to start mainlining Red Bull. These would have been reasonable explanations.

Rereading your comments, I see that they’re consistent with the ‘hang the neocons’ theme. The undercurrent of every comment is your belief that the US is and always has been a bottomless pit of evil, equivalent to Hitler, Mussolini, bin Laden, Idi Amin, etc. combined. That, more than anti-Capitalism or Conservatism, seems to be your philosophy

If within the next ten years the US government or a US mob hangs Perle or Wolfowitz it will be somewhat better than they deserve

You do know that if a US mob were to hang Perle or Wolfowitz, it would be against our laws and everything we stand for. But you despise those things anyway.

I find your hatred for our country and our laws abhorrent. With my temporary caretaking responsibilities at Michael’s blog, I can ban people. But I am somewhat obsessed with the first amendment (still a card-carrying member of the ACLU). It is interesting (but depressing) to observe how people like you think.

Posted by: mary at February 23, 2005 08:20 PM

"Gen. Karpinski was FIRED in Jan, 2004 -- before the photos. Why no mention of the actual, expected accountability for the breakdown?"

Karpinski was fired for failing to run a tight ship. Her reservists were overwhelmed, they had low morale, they had prison riots because they didn't treat the prisoners well enough or consistently enough or competently enough, they had escapes that did not result in any changes to prevent further escapes, etc.

But Karpinski was not responsible for the torture. Karpinski had been denied authority over the wing where it occurred, that belonged to the intelligence guys. Karpinski had not been notified what went on in that wing and was not authorised to stop it if she thought she ought to.

It was considered Karpinski's responsibility that her MPs accepted orders from intelligence guys and civilian contractors who weren't in their chain of command, while they were working in the wing she wasn't responsible for.

I think Karpinski would have been in better shape if she had much earlier written a report claiming that her people could not carry out their duties adequately without more resources etc. But then, she may have filed such a report and it actually did do her as much good as it could (which wasn't much).

The army has been taking the Abu Graig scandal as far up Karpinski's chain of command as it can reasonably go. The whole reason for the scandal was that soldiers obeyed orders from outside their own CoC and took photos and videos of their illegal activities and then spread them around. There has so far been no discussion about doing anything about the other chain of command, the one the orders came from. When the scandal first broke there were reports that the civilian contractors were actually above the law -- what they did in iraq wasn't covered by US law and it wasn't covered by UCMJ and they were immune to iraqi law. It was a contractor who was filmed raping an arab boy.

There had been a number of reports of similar tihngs from afghanistan and iraq, but this was the one that had photos and videos. And the immediate result was an order that soldiers would not be allowed cameras or camera-cellphones etc on base. An uncharitable observer might figure that it was considered much more important to prevent further photographed scandals than to do anything about US torture. But I wouldn't be that uncharitable, my first thought was that when soldiers can easily and quickly take photos of any military secret they like and immediately send it home or anywhere else in the form of packets that can be picked up by third parties, it's a serious security issue that has implications far beyond the odd sex scandal.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 23, 2005 08:49 PM

Mary, you are reading things into my comments that I did not say and do not believe.

I certainly don't think the USA is a bottomless pit of evil. In terms of ideals etc we are somewhat better than most, and over the years we've been mostly pretty good at not taking our ideals into fanaticism.

And I agree that it would be against US law for a mob to hang Wolfowitz etc just as it was against italian law for vigilantes to hang Mussolini. I hope that the parallel doesn't get too close. I'd far rather the US government charge them for their crimes and give them fair trials and speedy executions.


Posted by: J Thomas at February 23, 2005 08:55 PM

J Thomas – I suppose that when you consider the US govt. to Mussolini and al Qaeda and when you state the US ‘client states’ are worse than the Islamofascists, that’s your way of saying we’re better than most.

I can’t help but notice that the people who you want to see dead have something in common. What are your feelings about Israel?

Posted by: mary at February 23, 2005 10:41 PM

No, Bush wasn't right.

Clark, IMO the only post in this discussion down to the point has been yours. But the success of Iraq's election seems to have tear-blinded this discussion and I suspect hardly anybody actually read your clarkstooksbury blog.

Chief puppeteer Karl Rove masterfully twisted the Jeffersonian concept of "freedom for the oppressed" - never meant to apply to the world at large - in the same way he uses the minority card to promote nominations of anti-abortion judges. Self respecting left leaning bloggers should know better than to step in this PC trap providing the world with the picture of back-paddling bleeding heart liberals.

As Justin Raimondo points out the Jacobine roots of the megalomaniac GWB agenda ("Radical Son", TAC) there are reasons to weep - others than have your naive promises been proven wrong - when a couple of dudes are setting the town on fire.

Also Patrick Buchanan makes a convincing case for foreign policy restraint. America “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy,” said John Quincy Adams, “She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” Under the tutelage of Jacobins who call themselves idealists, Bush has repudiated this wise core doctrine of U.S. foreign policy to embrace Wilsonian interventionism in the internal affairs of every autocratic regime on earth.
Maybe he is one of the few real liberals left.

NeoDude, you don't impress anybody around here with throwing around heady quotes without naming your sources. Besides I like this quote from the same author (Bruce Higgins) better: Religion has been the source of more misery on this earth (along with greed) than anything else. So much for the unholy alliance of neocon greed with Christian righteousness.

Disclaimer: As for the awkward language and the errors of orthography and grammar – I am just a stupid foreign ignoramus.

Posted by: Hans Wall at February 23, 2005 11:20 PM

I am just a stupid, foreign ,ignoramus--Hans Wall

Please don't be so hard on yourself.We all have our little flaws.I fear that stupidity might be an incurable condition,and foreign cannot be corrected without serious activity,but one need not remain an ignoramous.
Best wishes for a partial recovery.

Posted by: dougf at February 24, 2005 05:22 AM


I don't agree with you, but dougf is right, don't deprecate yourself because you made an intelligent contribution even though it was incorrect. : )

In regards to your assessment of Pat Buchanan it's really sort of scary. Not because of his view on the argument you presented, but because the man harbors some fairly animus feelings towards Jews and has yet to truly show his hand when it comes to his politics. If you would be willing to characterize him as a "liberal" what does that say about you?

Posted by: Mike T. at February 24, 2005 05:54 AM

Brian: I've started reading Christopher Hitchen's "Why Orwell Matters" and have been enjoying it. Thanks for the suggestion.

You have no idea how happy that makes me. Simply because understanding Orwell through the eyes of a true modern day independent thinker is such a fulfilling experience; and has helped me grow in myself in ways I didn't think I could. I can only hope you have the same experience. Enjoy!

Posted by: Mike T. at February 24, 2005 06:02 AM

Dougf, thanx for the flowers, but you sound pretty condescending to me or maybe I am mistaken.

Mike, you don't really want to warm up the old Tom and Eli stories. I think you can do better than this boring PC stuff. Besides Buchanan's argument against the neocon Jacobins truly befits a liberal - even if this hurts!

Posted by: Hans Wall at February 24, 2005 07:20 AM

Dougf, thanx for the flowers, but you sound pretty condescending to me or maybe I am mistaken.

Mike, you don't really want to warm up the old Tom and Eli stories. I think you can do better than this boring PC stuff. Besides Buchanan's argument against the neocon Jacobins truly befits a liberal - even if this hurts!

Posted by: Hans Wall at February 24, 2005 07:23 AM

Hans, Hans, Hans; tsk tsk tsk. You've swallowed the hook of Pat's anti-semitic drivel even deeper than I thought. While my own tendencies lean more in line with his isolationist views, I have been shown that it is in the best interests of America to embrace Globalism, and ensure our dominant position on the world stage.

If we do not, someone else will, and it is we who will be at their mercy. That is simply unacceptable. The hypocrisy, corruption and irrelavance of the League of Nations, oh wait I'm sorry, United Nations proves exactly why we cannot allow our future to lay in the hands of foreign nations.

I suspect you despise Israel and see yourself as an enlightened Atheist. Well Enlightened One, let me share a few things with you. Despite what you might think, Jeffersonian concepts were meant to apply to everyone, Jack Kennedy saw that and took it upon himself to begin to take steps to spread the right of self-determination to as many people as he could. The world exists in its present situation today because after his death men like Nixon and Kissinger walked away from that obligation and instead supported the oppressors of men in an effort to stave off the greater evil. GWB is simply trying to right those wrongs the best way he sees how and doing so in the only universal language that motivates men to change; at the end of a gun.

On a side note, you have grossly mischaracterized me as Politically Correct. I believe that political correctness is a social disease that perpetuates itself and allows for the permission of ludicrous acts and policies against other men. What I do believe in is 'mutual human respect' and 'realism'; concepts I suggest you think more deeply about.

Posted by: Mike T. at February 24, 2005 09:05 AM

Mike, let's just put a few things straight before your assumptions lead us too far astray from this so far pleasant exchange of intellectual niceties.

First, I simply refuse too take the argument ad personam Patrick Buchanan any further. It is simply that IMHO his isolationism is needed to rescue liberalism from wide-eyed idealists who got infected by this rampant messianic "spread of democracy" virus. In this sense I consider his argument a valid option for liberal thought. I graciously concede Pat's not really a liberal.

Second, I don't despise Israel as simply as that. To be honest the whole issue strikes me of being a bit sophomorish. My POV is that states have interests, not friends and to understand and analyze those interests may even satisfy somebody's Faustean impetus.

Third, where you got this "enlightened atheist" crap from? Certainly not from my posts.

And now please gimme a break - contrary to popular belief my Mexican friends consider it unpolite to show up late for lunch. I'll be back later.

Posted by: Hans Wall at February 24, 2005 12:17 PM

"I have been shown that it is in the best interests of America to embrace Globalism, and ensure our dominant position on the world stage."

Mike, I'm afraid we're stuck in a reductio ad absurdum here. We can show that given our agreed assumptions one of them has to be false. The problem is to decide which one.

"If we do not, someone else will, and it is we who will be at their mercy. That is simply unacceptable. "

It isn't necessarily so that someone else would be dominant, in the short run. Maybe no on else is capable of it in the short run. Eventually someone would, though. If we were to stay strong and yet not dominant, we could watch how well they do and intervene if we don't like it. But it seems to be part of global dominance that you can't really be strong enough to dominate the world unless you keep everybody else weak. The more you can suck out their strength to make yourself stronger the easier it gets. So it would be hard for us to stop someone else from taking over the world, without taking over the world ourselves. I guess you're right about that, we have to do it or somebody else will. It will have to be us sucking out the strength from everybody else to make ourselves stronger, to make sure we don't get a rival.

I tend to think that's not particularly acceptable either, but it's better than sitting back and watching somebody else do it.

But wait, I said that maybe nobody else is really in position to do it yet. What if we aren't in a position where we can do it? What if we've reached the end of our rope? We sucked away our own strength for 50 years stopping the USSR, are we still strong enough to rule the world? What if we try and fail, then we're even worse off. If we don't try to stop the next empire they'll rule us. But if we try to rule everybody else and don't quite make it, they'll all despise us and the next empire will treat us as a big danger.

If we aren't strong enough to take the crown ourselves, who is? China isn't nearly there yet and they're the only other choice I can see.

If we actually aren't strong enough to take over the world at this point, where are we? It's unacceptable to let china do it -- but maybe we have no choice. Maybe we have to accept it.

I can sure see wanting to gamble, though. Maybe there's a chance we can pull it off. If we can just control the oil we'll have the world by the balls. But it isn't enough to stop other people from getting it, we have to be able to deliver oil to our clients. If we can deliver and we can stop anybody else from delivering then we rule. If we can stop anybody else from delivering but somebody can stop us from delivering too, then we don't rule.

It looks hard. The french found it unacceptable for anybody else to rule the world but they couldn't stop it. I read that by the time the napoleonic wars the average height of frenchmen had dropped several inches -- permanently -- because so many of the taller men had been killed in the wars. It isn't enough to have an indomitable will to conquer, you need to also get the breaks.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 24, 2005 12:54 PM

Ah yes, democracy is a virus. We can't have people making their decisions for themselves because they might not agree with you. Your misconception of the promoters of democracy as "wide-eyed idealists" is telltale. They are pragmatic realists who know that the only way to defeat tyranny and evil is through giving power to the people. It's amazing how people with individual liberties and freedoms will use those freedoms to justify why others shouldn't have them.

Israel's interests are to exist in peace. Now there are the Zionists who think that they have a right to displace the decendants of the original semitic peoples because they are no longer Jewish, but they don't represent Israel as a whole, and therefore it is unfair for people like Pat Buchanon to characterize it in that manner. Also quite a bit hypocritical of him considering he garners a good bit of his support from Evangelical Christians who are some of the most zealous Zionists to date.

I decided you might consider yourself and Enlightened Athiest because of your reference of Bruce Higgins's quote. As if you know better than us ignorant minions who continue to bow and moan to a non-existent deity.

Either way, I'm sorry you don't like the U.S. being on top; being the wealthiest, strongest, most culturally pervasive nation to ever exist. However, it was inevitable to happen. We are the sons and daughters of the world, whose ancestors told the administrators of their broken states and systems to piss off and came here. We have been culturally infused by the best of all nations and benefited significantly. It is now our duty to go back to the worst of those places and fix what is broken so that the people who live there can enjoy life as much as we are. It is a long, difficult and arduous process, and doesn't always go well. However it is better than the alternatives.

Anyhow I hope you enjoyed your lunch, I had sushi and it was terrific.

Posted by: Mike T. at February 24, 2005 01:27 PM

J. Thomas,

You're very right and you ask some good questions. I would actually prefer to go the Teddy Roosevelt approach of "walking softly and carring a big stick". The problem is that other people have big sticks to and they use them a lot. I don't think it would ever be possible for any one single state to rule the planet. The one weapon more powerful than even a thermonuclear device is trade. Through trade you can dominate the global market to your favor. Unfortunately this, which I believe is conceptualized as "Soft" power, leaves you vulnerable as we found on September 11th. So what do you do?

I think the whole thing is like a game of Twister. Only in this case the dots change colors so you are constantly having reposition yourself for things to remain stable. The way to effect your ability to remain stable is to change the color of the dots which are located favorably for you. We do it, the Soviets did it, and China does it too. The nation which remains stable the longest and is most successful in managing it's "dots" wins the game. However ultimately every player has to fall, its just a matter of when. But what do I know, I'm only 25, have never been anywhere else but to Mexico, and I'm not even formally educated beyond High School.

(By the way, that would be why I'm having a hard time with the latin so if you wouldn't mind, please refrain.)

I figure this, I don't know much. And I've found on many occasions throughout my short life that I've been wrong about some things. For that same reason I am thankful for having those in my country who don't share my same views, and vote differently than I. I do know one truth though and every other believe I have is based in it. It is that very man woman and child on this earth deserves freedom, liberty and happiness unless they preclude themselves by taking action to impugn the freedom, liberty and happiness of others.

Posted by: Mike T. at February 24, 2005 01:53 PM

Mike, I had no idea you didn't have an extensive formal education. Looking back the only thing that implies you might be young is your idealism -- a lot of people lose that as they get older, not that they should but (perhaps from experiencing repeated betrayals) they do often lose it.

"Reductio ad absurdum" is a method for proving things in mathematics. The words mean "reduce to absurdity". It goes like this: Say you're trying to prove something. You assume the opposite and start seeing what conclusions you can get from that. At some point you find that starting from the opposite assumption you can prove that 0=1. That can't be true, so (unless you made a logic mistake somewhere) the assumption you used to get there has to be wrong too. Or any way some assumption you used has to be wrong.

You can use that method to argue ethics and such but it requires a lot of care. If you start out assuming that a true communist society will give everybody what they need, but then when you follow it up the logic requires that you set up censorship to hide the people who starve then maybe the starting assumption wasn't right. This sort of thing doesn't work as well as it does in math because it's easier to argue about the intermediate logical implications. Maybe the assumption doesn't really imply that conclusion.

In your last post you said a couple of things that I'd like to take in different directions than you did.

"Unfortunately this, which I believe is conceptualized as "Soft" power, leaves you vulnerable as we found on September 11th. So what do you do?"

Suppose that your society is set up in a way that lets small numbers of terrorists slip in and do extremely bad things, and this has been demonstrated to the world by a small number of terrorists who slipped in and did something very bad.

If your response is to try to defeat the people who supported that particular bunch of terrorists, you're missing the point. Sure that might be worth doing. But when we're vulnerable to anybody in the world who can get a small number of terrorists into our country, it isn't enough to kill all the arabs or all the muslims. We'll still be vulnerable to anybody in the world who has a grudge against us.

"If we do not, someone else will, and it is we who will be at their mercy. That is simply unacceptable."

It's unacceptable to us. Will it be acceptable to the rest of the world to be at our mercy? My point here is this: If we're going to make enemies it's stupid for us to be vulnerable to terrorism. Otherwise we're likely to get the french government sending in terrorists who pretend to be muslims (or who're really french muslims). Or the greek government. Or the colombians. Or private groups. American libertarians if we get little groups of libertarians who don't mind killing people to prove a point. Either we try not to make any enemies or we harden our defenses. Going out and making enemies without fully securing all our nuclear plants (think Three Mile Island, Chernobyl) and our chemical plants (think Bhopal) etc is just insane. And the Bush administration has asked for very little money to do that.

"[E]very man woman and child on this earth deserves freedom, liberty and happiness unless they preclude themselves by taking action to impugn the freedom, liberty and happiness of others."

I agree with this fully. Here's a sideways view of it. "No slave was ever freed unless he free himself." I thought I saw that attributed to Abraham Lincoln but when I did a web search all I found was a poem by somebody I'd never heard of.


We can't force people to be democratic and we can't keep them democratic. Unless they're willing to do what it takes for themselves the best they can get is the trappings, for as long as we enforce those trappings.

It isn't that other people don't understand democracy or aren't capable of it. It's that democracy is not the ground state, it isn't the default. The default is somebody with a small loyal army, and they keep everybody else in line and extort stuff, and that army is no bigger than it takes because the bigger it is the smaller the shares. To get democracy it takes people who're willing to put their lives on the line against the little armies, for democracy and not to get their own cut. And whenever they relax too long the criminals come back and start dividing up the loot.

One good thing we're doing in iraq, I think by accident, is we're trying to make everything come out our way. That gives the iraqis a chance somebody to oppose while they build their democracy. It gives them a better chance than they'd have if we were actually trying to help them build a democracy. I don't know whether it will work. It was a close thing in the early days in the USA and we might be losing our own democracy now.

We all deserve liberty and we don't get it until we go out and take it. The liberty that other people give you is only privilege.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 24, 2005 03:44 PM

Mike, mmmh Sushi -reminds me of the best Sushi I ever had at a San Diego eatery called Sushi Ota. Cheap interior but great food!
I also found this Haiku by Yosa Buson:

At the over-matured sushi,
The Master
Is full of regret.

I want to apologize for being snappy at you for the enlightened atheist remark and for my delayed answer: local lunch etiquette requires patience and lots of spare time.

Now back to business:

All this talk of freedom and democracy makes me a bit jittery. But I'll try my best to explain my position. Freedom and democracy represent a fairly complicated and (country-) specific set of social standards and procedures. That's why we use such expressions like Western style democracy or First Amendment Rights.

But this is just the beginning. Try to remember the Algeria in December 1991.

The militant Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) had just won more than 50% in the in first stage of national legislative elections. Faced with the real possibility of a sweeping FIS victory, the government canceled the second stage of elections in January 1992. This action, coupled with political uncertainty and economic turmoil, led to a violent reaction on the part of the Islamists and in the end more than 100,000 Algerians died. (globalsecurity.org)

Bush the elder did well when he choose not to promote democracy and to stay out of this mess.

You would possibly be surprised to hear that in the unlikely event of free and democratic elections in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan and possibly some more countries UBL could count on a comfortable mandate.

And last but not least I like to remind all ye friends of democracy that the infamous mass murderer AH was indeed democratically elected by a mental case population.

Freedom and democracy obviously need some framework IOT function properly. According to traditional thinking this framework consists of Human Rights, respect fore International Law, maybe also a minimum of educational standards and economical success. Some people feel this framework needs to be complemented/ replaced by faith based values.

That is precisely the point when the wide-eyed Jacobins start taking over.

Last point for tonight: Like it or not, US superiority is rapidly fading while facing an increasing multipolar world (see pinr.org for a starter) and GWB seems to have been instrumental in this.

Posted by: Hans Wall at February 24, 2005 10:35 PM

J. Thomas: We can't force people to be democratic and we can't keep them democratic

This is true, but we can give them the opportunity. I was listening to NPR on the way home from work last night and a Russian Journalist was commenting on Putin's recent moves against democratic practices. She said that while it was a regression, and that it wasn't good for the system or the media, that her gov't would and could only be as democratic as the people would allow. Putin could make the political moves he did because the people allowed for it. This is extremely true. Her next point was that if in the near or far future the people of Russia decide they want their freedoms back, it will be up to them to fight for them. This is also true.

Hans Wall: want to apologize for being snappy at you for the enlightened atheist

No big thing, sorry if I offended you. Now of course Freedom and Democracy need a framework of values and principle to function properly, however that can only be left up to the people. I realize very clearly the situation in those middle eastern countries, and also was it existed in Algeria. However I don't think repressing those people and subverting their will is the way to go. If Iraq wants to go the way of Iran, the best thing we can do is let them if it is their choice. These people need to exercise their free will, and live and die by the consequences of their actions. To prevent that otherwise is to violate their Human Rights.

US superiority is rapidly fading while facing an increasing multipolar world

Of course it is, and I think it was inevitable with or without GWB. The world was broken and in a state of depression following WWII. Only the absolute victors (U.S., U.S.S.R.) were in any shape to be Superpowers. We exhausted the Soviets, and in the course of it exhausted ourselves too. It's only a matter of time before once great powers regain thier former strength. New powers will arise as well (i.e. China, India). In truth I don't think what GWB is doing is the "wrong" path. I do also however think that their are other things we could do that would serve us better. Such as instead of spending over $80 bn. a year on wars, we could invest that much into our infrastructure, and the development of a viable alternative fuel source. That more than any military action would serve to take the wind out of the sails of terrorist states. F*** with their bottom line, and you f*** with their ability to export terror.

Unfortunately I had the choice of last year of voting to move backward (i.e. John Kerry & co.) or continue trying to move forward (GWB & co.). Not terribly good choices all things considered. I have a feeling that if we can mop up the rest of our messes in the next 4 years, that in 2008 we will be able to elect a progressive centrist who will choose to be socially progressive, while aggressively protecting our interests abroad.

Having said that, the world needs to understand that America today is a product of their attitudes for the past 20 years. During no time since I've lived on this earth, has the U.S. been able to do right in the eyes of the internat'l community. Either we are crazy cowboys jeapordizing global stability, or we are fat lazy impotent cowards who are mere shadows of our former selves. I've heard it all, but never much good. A people can only percieve such attitudes for so long before they decide to disregard the people who have them. We haven't been respected, so we don't respect anymore. Until that changes we will continue to hold the international community in disdain. You also said their needs to be a respect for International Law, but International Law doesn't respect or enforce itself. What good is a law if it isn't enforced? And how legitimate is a law which is dictated by despotic regimes and terror sponsoring states?

Posted by: Mike T. at February 25, 2005 06:25 AM

"Freedom and democracy obviously need some framework IOT function properly. According to traditional thinking this framework consists of Human Rights, respect fore International Law, maybe also a minimum of educational standards and economical success. Some people feel this framework needs to be complemented/ replaced by faith based values."

I disagree with this framework. I say that what democracy needs to function is that every significant group that can revolt believes they're better off under democracy than they would be by revolting.

It helps when the population is mostly homogeneous, so there isn't a permanent underclass that is kept down by the democracy. Or failing that, it helps if the permanent underclass knows that any revolt will be ruthlessly put down by the well-armed majority.

It helps when it's hard for an individual or small group to put together an effective private army. It helps when each group with a private army realises that the the other private armies and the government troops will oppose them if they try to take over. It helps when the generals running the government troops are disorganised and incompetent. It helps when the generals know that public opinion would be strongly against their taking over. It helps if they know the army itself would strongly oppose their taking over.

It helps if whoever is on top in the legislature etc goes easy on their opponents.

It helps a whole lot if there's prosperity that's spread out, so most people feel like they have a lot to lose from violence. That's the part I agree with. The rest is unimportant. The central thing is that people think they're better off with democracy than with a revolt.

"Like it or not, US superiority is rapidly fading while facing an increasing multipolar world (see pinr.org for a starter) and GWB seems to have been instrumental in this."

Suppose that Bush saw that we were fading regardless, and made a last-ditch effort to take over before it was too late. That would spend our strength faster, but it would seem to have a chance to consolidate a victory quick.

I wouldn't put the whole decline on Bush's policies. He isn't someone I'd trust to decide whether to try something like that or to carry it out, but he's the one we have. If he can actually pull off a world empire then the little mismanagement things will be trivial compared to the spoils of war. But if he loses then we're in deep kimchi.

I don't rate his chances very high, but if it was me I'd have accepted a graceful decline and I doubt the rest of the american public would have gone along. When the USSR collapsed we thought we were the only superpower and we owned the world. We're not going to believe that we're on the way down too, not unless it becomes completely undeniable.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 25, 2005 06:36 AM

If Iraq wants to go the way of Iran, the best thing we can do is let them if it is their choice.

Mike, I am afraid this is not going to happen - Juan Cole's commentary The Downside of Democracy , LA Times 02/24 does share my misgivings.

The world needs to understand that America today is a product of their attitudes for the past 20 years.

You really have to divorce the social attitude level from a political discussion. I think I repeat myself:
States have interest not friends But if you must delve into these murky waters of emotions consider that the world at large still cherishes International Law and Human Rights the US has championed and help to protect for the last 200 years.

As for your sneaky attempt on the Kurds' War for Oil thread to have Doug gang up on me you'll get an appropriate response there.

Suppose that Bush saw that we were fading regardless, and made a last-ditch effort to take over before it was too late.

Hey J Thomas, you've got some interesting blog going yourself ( The Radical Center) - it reminds me of the fire side chatting after round-up work with my Texan cowboy friends.

I think that you have to look beyond the military side of the issue. Consider the dramatic decline of US publications in international Science journals or the dismal math results of high school kids in PISA testing. On the economical front the staggering amount of US treasuries held by China, Japan and probably Saudi Arabia already influence decisions on trade. All GWB's fault? Probably not entirely but unilateral policies, Iraq and the folly of cutting taxes in times of war were not precisely helpful either.

Posted by: Hans Wall at February 25, 2005 11:33 AM

You really have to divorce the social attitude level from a political discussion

Sorry Hans, no can do. The reason being is that the social attitude has everything to do with the politics of the situation. Especially with a man like GWB. He feels and reacts in much the same way as many Americans do, and that only serves to chide the Internat'l Community even more, especially the Euros.

As for your sneaky attempt on the Kurds' War for Oil thread to have Doug gang up on me you'll get an appropriate response there

I haven't looked there yet, but you made some pretty snide retorts to what were actually only well intentioned comments. Dougf deserved the opportunity to respond to you. Especially since I've been debating him for awhile here, and you only the past few days. Regardless I wasn't being sneaky, should I have emailed you for permission first? Kind of like passing the "Global Test"?

Posted by: Mike T. at February 25, 2005 01:48 PM

The reason being is that the social attitude has everything to do with the politics of the situation. Especially with a man like GWB. He feels and reacts in much the same way as many Americans do, and that only serves to chide the Internat'l Community even more, especially the Euros.

Mike, you give a fairly accurate description of a populist government. IMO there is much more rational decision making in politics than meets the eye and also GWB is no stranger to it - contrary to popular belief. You are naturally right in so far as psychology is part of politics.

As to the Europeans I think we still love America for its role in liberating them from the Nazi yoke. One of the reasons for the present - hopefully temporary - estrangement is IMO an increasingly secular Europe vs. a Christian Coalition dominated agenda of US politics. You see, we learned our lesson 1618-48 and that's why religion is the third rail in European politics. There is very little understanding for GWB’s faith driven agenda to spread democracy.

Posted by: Hans Wall at February 25, 2005 03:09 PM

Hans, the thing about military power is that once it gets used, in the short run it trumps everything else.

If the nazis had had more military might, if they could have taken the whole caucasus (mostly guaranteeing their oil supply) and also pushed the russians back past the areas where russians could reasonably industrialise, if the nazis had had an extra ten million crack troops and the economy to supply them, then in the short run that would have been all that mattered. Europeans who believed that other things were more important could go on believing it provided they kept their mouths shut and obeyed.

Similarly, as long as the USA operates by main military force nobody else has much to say about it until we run out of steam. So military matters are very important in the short run.

I remember some years ago, not real long after the USSR collapsed, some important pundit predicted that we'd have a multipolar world where the USA would be by far the most prominent. They explained that of the three main strengths -- economic power, diplomatic leadership, and military might -- only the USA had all three. Other nations might have some strength in one or two but the USA was the only one that was unparalleled at anything. But now we have only the third. "When the only tool you have is a Hummer, every problem looks like roadkill." Or something like that.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 26, 2005 01:56 AM

J Thomas, I have been checking out your blog and found the Systemantics by John Gall both hilarious and instructive. Do you think that his verdict A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work; you have to start over, beginning with a working simple system can be applied to the intent to establish democracy in Iraq from scratch? The RTI disaster seems to fit the description, does it?

They explained that of the three main strengths -- economic power, diplomatic leadership, and military might -- only the USA had all three. Other nations might have some strength in one or two but the USA was the only one that was unparalleled at anything. But now we have only the third.

It’s a pity that Harry G. Summers Jr. isn’t around anymore – he died in 2000. He wrote brilliant (and readable) analysis on Vietnam and the ‘91 Gulf War. His point was that all three – economic power, diplomacy and military strategy need to be coordinated for success. If you look at the lack of body armor, non-participation of GE and FR troops and the inability to secure the cities of Iraq you always find that lack of coordination.

I am sure Harry would have been a valuable advisor to his old classmate Collin Powell. But then again, nobody listened to Collin - with known results.

Posted by: Hans Wall at February 26, 2005 05:14 PM

Yes, that certainly applies to democracy creation.

I figured what could help would be to start with local democracies. Each one could do local security and they wouldn't be collaborating with the USA, they'd just be doing their own security for themselves. Then they'd start coordinating with each other. If they built up into regions that didn't want to work together then you'd have your partition by default.

Garner started that way, and the RTI people appeared to be trying for that. But Bremer stopped it cold, he appointed local governments and apparently he tried to arrest some of the previously elected local governments that he didn't like. It's hard to evolve a system bottom-up while the top-down guys are taking it apart.

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