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October 21, 2002

Christopher Hitchens has his moments, but like a lot of his readers I’ve become weary of being bludgeoned with the charge than anyone who doesn’t toe his line is a perfect example of just what’s wrong with the Left, and what a contrarian hero he, Christopher Hitchens, is for resigning from The Nation and bravely opposing terrorism and evil and stuff. Just as George Orwell would have done. I tell you, it’s a proud and lonely thing to be a heroic contrarian, I can barely keep up with my proud and lonely speaking engagements. Have I mentioned George Orwell yet?

Or, as Geoffrey Wheatcroft wrote in the Times of London about Hitchens and his friend Martin Amis (quoted in the New York Times by Alan Cowell):

Their cockiness and conceit were hard to take many years ago, and now they’re worse, what with their self-important pomposity, with their pub bore’s buttonholing manner and with their assumption that we are all as obsessed with them as they are with themselves.
So when I saw that “Hitch” (as we pundits call him) had a new peroration in the Washington Post, I suddenly realized I had an urgent appointment to read something else. Jeanne D’Arc, though, is made of sterner stuff. She read the whole thing and manages to both nail the execrable and find the nugget of truth:
I always have a problem reading Hitchens, although I don’t dismiss him as easily as most leftists do. And this essay is not just typical Hitchens, it’s Hitchens ratcheted up several levels beyond his day to day obnoxiousness. As always, his point is overwhelmed by ad hominem attacks, the refusal to comprehend any position but his own, lying about other people’s ideas, and his godawful self-congratulatory tone. Now that he’s left the Nation, and doesn’t see himself as communicating with the left at all anymore, the negatives have only gotten worse. The lies about the left have reached pathological levels. Ramsey Clark is the center of the anti-war movement in the United States? Leftists see Saddam Hussein as a victim and bin Laden as a “slightly misguided imperialist?” Has Hitchens left the planet entirely? Statements like that are either the ravings of a lunatic, or deliberate lies intended to court and pander to a new, right-wing audience.

But the reason I’ve never been able to dismiss Hitchens is that he often buries some point that has to be made—and that no one else on the left is making quite as forcefully (if at all)—deep in the crap. And that’s true here too: There’s a glimmer of sanity in Hitchens’ ravings. In his brief moment of lucidity, he argues that the left should not be supporting an oppressive status quo—whether in Iraq or any other country where human rights violations are routine—in the name of keeping the peace, and he’s absolutely right about that. Peace, as Dr. King reminded us, is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice. That doesn’t mean the left “supports” Saddam Hussein. It means that just saying “Of course we recognize that Saddam Hussein is an evil man but there’s nothing we can do” is not an answer that people who believe in the importance of human rights ought to wrap themselves comfortably in while they settle down for a long nap.

Later, Jeanne says everything that needs to be said about Hitchens’ support for the Administration’s war plans:
Hitchens doesn’t seem to realize that his laudable desire to get people out from under the yoke of Saddam (and after that the other tyrants in the region) is not in any way, shape or form Bush’s goal.
Or, to put it another way, just because you’re on their side doesn’t mean they’re on your side. [01:58 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Christopher Hitchens:

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2002, 05:20 PM:

Sorry, but Jeanne's "nailing of the execrable" is pretty execrable itself.

She writes: "The lies about the left have reached pathological levels. Ramsey Clark is the center of the anti-war movement in the United States?"

While what Hitchens actually wrote was: "In the United States, the main organizer of anti-war propaganda is Ramsey Clark, who perhaps understandably can't forgive himself for having been Lyndon Johnson's attorney general."

Jeanne: "Leftists see Saddam Hussein as a victim and bin Laden as a 'slightly misguided imperialist?'"

Hitchens: "Not only does the "peace" movement ignore the anti-Saddam civilian opposition, it sends missions to console the Ba'athists in their isolation, and speaks of the invader of Kuwait and Iran and the butcher of Kurdistan as if he were the victim and George W. Bush the aggressor."

She then goes on to ask whether Hitchens has left the planet entirely, suggesting that he's either a ranting lunatic or a liar. Gee, I'm glad she avoids those ad hominem attacks she was just criticizing Hitchens for.

Rather than dispute any of what he says on a factual basis, Jeanne tends to prefer her own brand of overblown hyperbole. I agree with her that the Left currently has few positive answers, but beyond that her criticism of Hitchens seems shrill and ill-supported, not on-the-mark.

Hitchens is one of the few commentators I can stand to read these days (Tom Friedman is another). He calls the far left on their moral duplicity, and for his lack of tribalism they've tossed him out of the clubhouse. I see him less as playing the martyr or licking his wounds rather than continuing to blast away.

Mark ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2002, 10:58 PM:

Ummm...I'm reading those quotes you provided from both sources, and I'm not seeing the inaccuracies in Jeanne's quoting. Perhaps the "main organizer of anti-war propaganda" in the US is different from being the "center of the anti-war movement" in the US, but I'm at a loss as for how. And how is characterizing Hitchen's line that the peace movement "the invader of Kuwait and Iran and the butcher of Kurdistan as if he were the victim" as saying that "Leftists see Saddam Hussein as a victim" unfair in the least?

Perhaps saying that Hitchens has left the planet completely is unfair and rhetorically overblown. But the quotes you cite do not damage Jeanne's underlying point, that Hitchens, like many other commentators (Dan Savage, anyone?) is conflating the moderate left (or even the not-particularly moderate left) and fringers like Ramsey Clark. If Hitchens wants to argue that the Left is wrong in its objections to invading Iraq, fine. It can be done, and done intelligently (see Volokh, Eugene and Lyman, Rob). But he should argue against the positions of those like Matt Yglesias, Ampersand, or the proprietor of this website. Not idiots like Ramsey Clark.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2002, 10:59 PM:

Derek, I'm a bit confused. Your quotes seem arranged as if you believed that Jeanne's characterisations of Hitchens's comments were inaccurate, but based on what you're presenting here, I don't see much wrong. I don't see a whole lot of difference between "center of the anti-war movement" and "main organizer of anti-war propaganda", and the Hitchens quote about Saddam clearly says that the "'peace' movement [...] speaks of [Saddam] as if he were the victim".

The only thing I see wrong is that Jeanne left the "anti-" off of "anti-imperialist", which you didn't mention.

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2002, 11:26 PM:

Avram wrote: "Your quotes seem arranged as if you believed that Jeanne's characterisations of Hitchens's comments were inaccurate, but based on what you're presenting here, I don't see much wrong."

I quoted Hitchens' exact words to contrast with what she calls "pathological lies". Conflations, you could argue, as Michael does. But do Hitchens' statements really constitute the ravings of a lunatic?

You could also make the argument that Hitchens is only harping on the most extreme elements, though who, in the public eye (despite the bloggers referenced above) is representative of a cohesive anti-war position? US Congressmen speaking from a rooftop in Baghdad? Al Gore?

And Michael, Hitchens isn't just knocking down perceived strawmen. He summarizes the essence of his arguments in passages such as the following:

"Actually, the best case for a regime change in Iraq is that it is the lesser evil: better on balance than the alternatives, which are to confront Saddam later and at a time of his choosing, trust him to make a full disclosure to inspectors or essentially leave him alone."

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2002, 01:10 AM:

Another alternative: Confront Saddam later at a time of our choosing, when the people running the show don't have global hegemony on their minds.

Neel Krishnaswami ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2002, 07:21 AM:

I read the new National Security Strategy, and there doesn't appear to be anything really scary in it. Nor, for that matter, did the editors of the Economist, so I'm pretty sure I'm not missing anything obvious. Moreover, the administration's behavior in Afghanistan -- a flat refusal to send peacekeepers more than 50 km from Kabul -- doesn't seem consistent with a plan to take over the world.

So I'm curious how you came to the conclusion you did. Could you elaborate on why do you think the Administration is after global hegemony?

Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2002, 08:09 AM:

Just a note on Derek's use of "shrill" with regard to Jeanne d'Arc. This isn't the commonly seen narrow use of the word meaning "a woman saying something that could be interpreted as anti-men" but the broad use meaning "a woman saying something I don't like".

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2002, 08:47 AM:

Jo, you want to come right out and call me a sexist, have the spine to actually do it.

I've used the word, and will use it again, with regard to comments by both males and females.

Jeanne says: "As always, his point is overwhelmed by ad hominem attacks..."

Then goes on to call him a liar (several times) and a lunatic. She starts off the next paragraph calling his writings "crap" and "ravings".

This isn't "a woman saying something I don't like", this is a *person* hypocritically slinging ad hominem slurs after accusing someone of doing just that.

Myke ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2002, 02:45 PM:

Sorry guys, I have to agree strongly with Derek here. And Jo, your remark about Derek's use of the word "shrill" was both irrelevant and out-of-line. Go ahead and throw that stone if you like. Your choice of weapon says a lot about you.

Avram, do you honestly think that the present administration's goal is "global hegemony"? Sheesh. Talk about hyperbole. Maybe I misunderstood what you meant.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2002, 02:56 PM:

You might want to look at some of the material Patrick linked to on October 2nd.

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2002, 03:16 PM:

For primary doc that Neel refers to:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html

For doc that heavily influenced it:

see

http://www.newamericancentury.org/defensenationalsecurity.htm

"Rebuilding America's Defense."

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2002, 03:19 PM:

Derek: This gets into nested levels of commentary, but I think it's clear enough.

You quoted Jeanne's dual statement that Hitchens thinks that "Leftists see Saddam Hussein as a victim and bin Laden as a 'slightly misguided [anti-]imperialist?'"

You then tried to undermine the first part of that sentence as unfair, despite the fact that Hitchens said, verbatim, that "the 'peace movement ... speaks of the invader of Kuwait and Iran and the butcher of Kurdistan as if he were the victim and George W. Bush the aggressor". I'm not sure why you think that Jeanne's statement is a mischaracterization, since the full quote makes it clear that Hitchens did say that the "'peace' movement is treating Hussein as a victim. But I find it even more interesting that you then moved on without addressing the second part of Jeanne's sentence.

Well, that second part is really interesting, since in fact Hitchens did say, precisely, "I can only hint at how much I despise a Left that thinks of Osama bin Laden as a slightly misguided anti-imperialist." Well, I despise such people, too. I imagine there must be as many as three or four of them somewhere in the world. If Hitchens sincerely believes that any significant portion of "the Left" holds that understanding of bin Laden's role in the world, then his perceptions are so deeply unrelated to consensus reality as to make his observations on "the Left" useless.

Mark ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2002, 04:46 PM:

I think first, that Kevin hits the nail on the head w/regard to Derek's comments on Jeanne's response to Hitchens (do we match the Weekly Standard parody yet?). That is exactly the point that I was trying to make earlier -- Derek's initial presentation of a quote from Jeanne followed by a quote from Hitchens seemed to imply that Jeanne was distorting what Hitchens had to say, which simply doesn't seem to be the case.

Now, Derek's arguments seem to have shifted slightly. His latest post argues not that Jeanne materially distorted Hitchens' argument, but that her use of ad hom attacks in the service of criticizing ad hom attacks is hypocritical and self-defeating. Of course, they're only ad hom attacks if they're not based on substance, right? So look at the substance of what Jeanne says. She says Hitchens is lying in his characterization of Ramsey Clark (and also in his characterization of the way the Left views Bin Laden). How is that false? Or to put it another way, is Hitchens right? I think the evidence of this weblog (not to mention stuff like Al Gore's speech at the Commonwealth Club) proves him wrong.

For that matter, how is it possible to rationally consider the positions of those on the entire Left, and then characterize the entire Left (without qualification) as "thinking of Osama Bin Laden as a slightly misguided anti-imperialist"? That doesn't quite seem rational and considered to me.

She also calls the essay crap. Well, if the stuff we've been arguing about is indicative of the level of thought in the essay, then it _is_ crap, or certainly not worthy of the Washington Post, at any rate. Derek: you made the point earlier that Hitchens makes a good substantive case for regime change based on the danger posed by Hussein. Fine; it's a reasonable argument held by reasonable people. I don't know that I entirely agree with it, but I can see exactly where it comes from and why it's a strong argument. But there is also room to _disagree_ with that argument while still being rational and reasonable. I think readers of Electrolite (or Unqualified Offerings or Ampersand or Body and Soul or Demosthenes, etcetcetc) can see that for themselves. The fact that Hitchens apparently can't see that (and in conflating reasonable opposition to the war with agreement with Ramsey Clark, I think he shows such a lack of sight) is why I agree with Jeanne rather than Derek.

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2002, 04:48 PM:

Sure, the Bush administration's goal is global hegemony. Nothing hyperbolic about it.

Wait, that understates it. The Bush administration thinks it already has global hegemony, if hegemony is properly understood to mean complete domination rather than absolute control. The Bush administration claims the right to unilaterally go in and spank any country it dislikes sufficiently ("sufficiently" to be defined by the Bush administration), regardless of what the UN or anybody else thinks about it. Sounds pretty hegemonistic to me.

That the US doesn't control what's happening 50 miles out of Kabul doesn't negate this. If it gets out of hand (see "sufficiently", above) we'll go in and wallop them again. We're the Bush administration. We stole the election, we walloped the Taliban, we're from Texas, we can do anything we want.

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2002, 05:04 PM:

Mark wrote: "Of course, they're only ad hom attacks if they're not based on substance, right?"

Um, in a word, no. If I call you a scumbag based on an accurate, substantive view of your position, it's still impugning your character in lieu of actually arguing the merits of your views.

And I'd disagree with the notion that the phrase "main organizer of anti-war propaganda" isn't qualitatively different from "the center of the anti-war movement in the United States". Clark is the founder of the International Action Center. I suppose you could argue that the IAC, ZMAG, and CommonDreams wrestle for that distinction, but I still wouldn't consider the designation a pathological lie.

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2002, 06:35 PM:

Might not the name "Noam Chomsky" be a better candidate for a rhetorical position like "the center of the anti-war movement in the United States"? Criminy, I hadn't heard a word about Ramsey Clark in a couple of years until he came up in the course of this discussion. I'd almost forgotten the old boy was still around.

Mark ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2002, 07:23 PM:

First: as to ad hominem, it's an interesting question in this instance. See, I've always thought of the difference between ad hom and personal attacks being that ad hom was a personal attack w/no logic or substance behind it beyond the rhetoric. In this particular case, I'm sort of curious as to where the substance should come from; as far as I can tell, it's not like there's much to say about the remarks in question other than they don't seem to be rational (which at this point doesn't seem to be in dispute here). Does Jeanne go over the top? A little. Does she have a point that's not buried by her (slightly) ad hominem rhetoric? Certainly. Does what Hitchens is saying make any sense? I'm not seeing any.

As to Ramsey Clark: how exactly is calling someone the main organizer of "anti-war propaganda" different from saying they're at the center of the anti-war movement?

Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2002, 10:27 PM:

I've noticed how the term ad hominem is overused lately. It doesn't just mean "anything mean you say about someone." It's an argument appealing to emotion or prejudice rather than reason.

If I say something that you know (and know I know)is untrue, then calling me a liar is not ad hominem, particularly if you then present evidence against my statement and for my prior knowledge.

It would be ad hominem if I say something you don't want said, and you say "shut up you pagan pinko faggot!" This is to make the other listeners hate me and thus discount my words. (In this case, not a strategy likely to work here.)

An ad hominem argument is basically of the form "why should you listen to someone who [insert irrelevant trait calculated to be odious to the listeners/readers]." It needn't be in that form of words, as long as that's the intent, and there's the rub: you have to make conclusions about someone's intent before judging many of these arguments to be ad hominem.

I'm not taking a position on whether Jeanne or Hitchins is making such arguments. I'm just saying let's not throw terms around too carelessly, or we'll never communicate on substance, and the Onion Scene from Three Sisters will seem all too apt an analogy.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 12:44 AM:

Christopher: I was reaching for the text box to post a very similar thing.

It's a subtle distinction, but an important one.

"Why should we listen to Mortimer when he suggests X? Mortimer is insane" is an ad hominem, because it attempts to discredit the course of action solely because of its source. "Anyone who advocates X is insane" is not ad hominem, because it is a statement directed at the course of action.

This second approach not part of a logical argument, in and of itself, but it could be:

  1. It is insane to vigourously pursue contradictory courses of action.
  2. X and Y are contradictory courses of action.
  3. Everyone supports Y.
  4. Therefore, anyone who advocates X is insane.

Myke ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 07:56 AM:

Simon,

I think the Bush administration's line of thinking is more along the lines of: "If we sit on our hands and do nothing, then we allow the likes of Al Qaeda to plan, develop and eventually carry out more attacks just like 9/11. If we allow despotic regimes to develop weapons of mass destruction in peace, then they will eventually be turned against us. Just because the rest of the world is taking an ill-informed and apologist stance, doesn't mean that we have to. We can't let France, China and Russia dictate our foreign policy to us. We are *threatened* here, and we have to do what we have to do to defend ourselves."

Remember, the herd is often wrong. One of the great things about living in America is that we don't *have* to do what everyone else wants to do. I think a lot of this anti-Bush sentiment is a kind of global groupthink. Just because we're in the minority, doesn't mean we're WRONG.

The Bush administration's goal isn't power, Simon. America has plenty of that already. The present administration's goal is self-defense. And one of the people it is attempting to defend is Simon Shoedecker.

Let me give you an historical anecdote (and yes, I know anecdotes prove nothing, but I think this one is salient). You all know that when Hitler first occupied the demilitarized Rhineland, and then the industrial Ruhr, the League of Nations did *nothing*. Hitler occupied the Ruhr with a *single* brigade, France had *10* only a few miles away (you can read about this in Shirer's "Rise and Fall"). If France had acted when it had the chance, with a PRE-EMPTIVE strike, the 40's might have been a very different decade.

Btw, try to table comments like your "Texas" remark. They're irrelevant and detract from the strength of your overall argument.

I'd also like to point out that according to Bush's *still* high approval ratings, he's seems to be enjoying the popular support of the majority of the population he supposedly "stole" the election from.

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 08:38 AM:

"Ad hominem" translates literally as "against the person", as opposed to their actual argument.

It is meant to detract from the merits of the argument itself by instead focusing on the person making the arguments.

For example, parsing someone's post for a word you think demonstrates sexism (like "shrill"), and casually implying such.

Or...calling someone a raving lunatic or a pathological liar instead of rationally contradicting his statements or dealing with the merits of his core arguments. You think Hitchens is vastly exaggerating the sympathy for Hussein and bin Laden? You think he's propping up straw men as exemplars of the Left? Can you say so without spewing out a stream of insults?

Neel Krishnaswami ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 08:47 AM:

John: thanks for posting the link to the new NSS. That's indeed the document I was thinking of. It's also useful to compare it to the Clinton administration's 1996 national security strategy.

Avram, Simon: It was after reading the links that Patrick posted on Oct 2, that I went off and decided to read the primary sources. As a result, I no longer consider the claim that official US policy is global hegemony credible. The sole significant shift in stance between 1996 and 2002 is that the administration has now explicitly stated that it's willing to preemptively attack rogue states that are trying to acquire WMD, if need be.

Shifting back on topic, has anyone read Hitchen's The Missionary Position? Is it worth reading, or is it just a piece of reflexive contrarianism?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 09:16 AM:

I've been too busy to read my comments section for the last couple of days. So, briefly:

(1) Christopher Hatton's piece on the term "ad hominem", above, has the subject dead to rights.

(2) I don't agree with much of Myke Cole's comment above, but he's right about the "Texas" remark.

(3) Jo Walton wasn't the only person to find the term "shrill" grating. I take Derek at his word that he didn't mean ill by it, but it is indeed an adjective commonly deployed to take down women for speaking up. (Also see "strident.") Call me "PC" if you like. I'm actually not much for mealy-mouthed language of any sort, and my impatience for some careful locutions has landed me in arguments with many fellow liberals. But "shrill", applied to an outspoken woman, is at best a lazy cliche, a piece of boilerplate from the same world in which all Republicans are "rock-ribbed."

(4) Some increasingly unpleasant personal comments have been posted to this thread. They're going to stop now. If there's a line, it's possible that Jo's original comment was slightly over it, for the minor sin of mindreading. (It can't really be established that Derek James meant "shrill" in a prejudical way.) But James's belligerent response -- "Jo, you want to come right out and call me a sexist, have the spine to actually do it" -- was further over that same line. And Myke Cole's gratuitous and entirely disproportionate slam at Jo -- "Go ahead and throw that stone if you like. Your choice of weapon says a lot about you" -- is well past the line and deep into the bleachers.

Nobody's perfect. Jo's original post did, after all, partake of the minor sin of presuming to know what Derek James meant by "shrill." But, Myke, while you're a nice guy and you were a promising student at this year's Viable Paradise, you're a fair bit away from having earned the right to impugn Jo Walton's overall character based on a single weblog comment.

I'm not deleting any posts this time. I've occasionally done so in the past and I will do so in the future. My judgements are liable to be personal, ornery, and even downright arbitrary. Those who find such a policy unsuitable are invited to peruse the online world's many alternative forums--or start one of their own.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 09:35 AM:

I should have said, I'm not deleting any posts from this thread. Reading further into the mailbox where Electrolite posts have stacked up over the last couple of days, I find someone has, in this thread, seen fit to share their view that another poster is a "pussy."

That post isn't there any more. And this comment section won't be here much longer if we get much more of that sort of thing.

I'm very nearly a free-speech absolutist--in the public sphere. This isn't the public sphere; it's an act of hospitality.

Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 11:56 AM:

Thanks, Patrick.

I'd like to point out that one example of "tossing terms around carelessly" was my use of the word 'cowboy' some time back. Mea Culpa. I too can learn.

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 12:15 PM:

I will second Chris's thanks. It is easy to forget sometimes how much of a true act of hospitality this weblog is, considering the normal work load that Patrick and Teresa have in their day to day duties.

It is much appreciated.

Myke ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 12:31 PM:

I understand and appreciate your patience. I will be more careful in the future.

I come from a town where a decent politician was forced to resign for using the word "nigardly". When people use single words to lambaste someone, I guess I get touchy.

I will atone by facing all the King's Peace trilogy books I come across, including the ones on my own bookshelf.

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 01:07 PM:

Patrick...I both appreciate this venue and respect your prerogative to moderate as you see fit. Quite a number of bright minds circulate and comment here, and I've enjoyed taking part. I also appreciate you giving me the benefit of the doubt in this particular exchange.

However, I respectfully disagree that Jo's comment was "the minor sin of mindreading" or the slight crossing of a line. It was a blatant, rather snide insinuation that I objected to Jeanne's comments on the basis of her gender. I found the comment, not slightly objectionable, but repugnant. Your comments suggest that my response, pointedly calling her on it, was a greater offense than her original comment.

I'm personally not going to tolerate that sort of vitriole when it's aimed at me. I don't consider your chiding of me (or Myke) to be warranted. You say:

"But, Myke, while you're a nice guy and you were a promising student at this year's Viable Paradise, you're a fair bit away from having earned the right to impugn Jo Walton's overall character based on a single weblog comment."

And yet, has Jo (based on what exactly?) "earned the right" to impugne my character on the basis of a single word?

I generally enjoy the high-level, articulate discussions. However, if you'd rather I didn't comment here in the future, I'll respectfully defer and leave Electrolite be.

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 02:03 PM:

Myke -

You paraphrase the Bush administration as saying:

If we sit on our hands and do nothing, then we allow the likes of Al Qaeda to plan, develop and eventually carry out more attacks just like 9/11.

Unfortunately what doesn't follow is how doing something about Iraq will have any serious effect on Al Qaeda, or their likes. This is where various attempts to depict Saddam as Osama's masterlord come in - and go out, because nobody believes them.

Just because the rest of the world is taking an ill-informed and apologist stance, doesn't mean that we have to.

Uh, who is apologizing for Iraq, exactly?

We can't let France, China and Russia dictate our foreign policy to us. We are *threatened* here, and we have to do what we have to do to defend ourselves.

Unfortunately, history suggests to me that those who go belligerently unilateralist are only likely to get themselves into worse trouble. Smart countries engaged on major international projects line up allies. And the Bush administration is smart enough to be trying just that, rather than merely pouting as this depiction suggests. Smart countries also, when their allies are reluctant, try to figure out what they're doing wrong, and this the Bush administration shows no signs of.

You then go on to say in your own voice:

One of the great things about living in America is that we don't *have* to do what everyone else wants to do.

I'm going to print that one out in really big type, in four languages, onto a t-shirt, and wear it the next time I visit Europe.

Just because we're in the minority, doesn't mean we're WRONG.

It doesn't mean we're right, either. It does suggest - to me, at least - that we should try to figure out what's worrying our allies and large numbers of our own citizens, rather than dismissing them as apologists for Iraq.

The Bush administration's goal isn't power, Simon. America has plenty of that already.

Having lots of power doesn't prevent people from wanting more, any more than having lots of money prevents the wealthy from wanting more. A well-established psychological phenomenon. And the goal suggested wasn't "power" but "global hegemony" - a specific kind of power.

Nor do I think the administration is satisfied with its power - and for good reason. Here you are, you're George W. Bush, you're the Chief Executive of the only superpower on the planet, you're sitting there in the Oval Office, do you feel powerful? You couldn't prevent Al Qaeda from dastardly attacks on your Heimatland, you aren't sure you can stop them from doing it again, you can't stop Saddam Hussein from thumbing his nose at you, you can't even stop your own citizens from ridiculing you. You're probably feeling pretty damn powerless and frustrated.

The question becomes, what are you going to do about it?

The present administration's goal is self-defense. And one of the people it is attempting to defend is Simon Shoedecker.

I appreciate it, I really do, but I wish they'd come up with a method of self-defense that was less likely to make things worse.

This is where it seems to me that you and Derek James are missing the boat. You're so convinced either that the Bush plan is the only right plan (Derek) or to defer to whatever they say (you), that neither of you can conceive of any opposing course other than apologetics for Iraq.

If France had acted when it had the chance, with a PRE-EMPTIVE strike, the 40's might have been a very different decade.

There's a good point in that story, but it's that we need to be very cautious and keep our hands on the trigger when watching Iraq - which we are already, Bush plan or no Bush plan. It might even mean that Saddam has to go. But if Hitler weant, it might not have done much good if his successor was Goering. I've seen no indication that the US has any idea of what to do with a post-Saddam Iraq.

Other than that, though, the situations aren't parallel. "Pre-emptive strike" is not a good description of what France was considering doing. What they had in mind was to re-occupy the Rhineland (note the re - they'd been occupying it from 1918 until, IIRC, 1930). The occupation would have been intended as a peaceful deployment of troops, not a shooting action - though they would have shot back had the Germans fired at them. That would have made any battle reactive, not pre-emptive. (In fact, Hitler said later that if the French had deployed, he would have turned tail and run.) Any such French action would have had no intention whatever of occupying Berlin or deposing Hitler or his government. That was not on the table, and would not have been a feasible course of action. (What would have happened to Hitler politically after a Rhineland occupation? One could only hope for the best, just as we hoped for the best after defeating Saddam in the Gulf War.) Lastly, the Versailles treaty spelled out very clearly France's right to take this action, much more clearly than the US has any unilateral right to attack Iraq.

A better parallel for your case would have been Israel in 1967, which launched a pre-emptive military strike against Arab countries. But see how the Arabs had actually lined up troops for an invasion, how they outnumbered Israel, how Israeli ports had been blockaded, how Nasser had issued much specifically bellicose rhetoric. None have any equivalent to the US today. (And don't point to 9/11 - Iraq didn't attack us.)

Yet, Israel was still severely criticized for taking pre-emptive action, to the point where it became one reason why they let the Arabs attack first in 1973 - a truly dastardly attack on the holiest of days, but that still got Israel no sympathy. Why? Because Israel's legitimate interests of self-defense came off as an arrogant drive for regional hegemony.

If Bush wants to take the US down Israel's road to being strong but unsafe, an international pariah that drives its goals of peace and safety further away with every reach it makes towards them, he should go right ahead.

Btw, try to table comments like your "Texas" remark. They're irrelevant and detract from the strength of your overall argument.

That was intended as, like, sarcasm - but it had a serious point. There's a caricature view of American behavior prevalent in Europe, as silly as American views of the French as beret-wearing shruggers, or of Italians as all Mafia. But Americans can recognize that caricature: it's identical to the domestic caricature of Texas cowboys. That's what many Europeans think Americans all are: Texas cowboys. Please, can Americans try to prove them wrong?

I'd also like to point out that according to Bush's *still* high approval ratings, he's seems to be enjoying the popular support of the majority of the population he supposedly "stole" the election from.

Bush is in fact the President, regardless of whether he stole the election or not. Popular support does not retroactively legitimize what happened then. According to the polls I've seen, Bush enjoys high support in his determination to fight international terrorism, but this drops dramatically when the topic changes to a pre-emptive military strike on Iraq.

As for me, my slogan in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 was "I support our unelected, lousy President" - see, it's possible to hold both views at once. My support is much more guarded now, but I hold with the majority in those polls I've seen. Fight terrorism. It does not follow that we need to attack Iraq.

Nick Denton ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 06:56 PM:

Hitchens doesn't realize that George Bush may have different war aims, according to Patrick. "[J]ust because you're on their side doesn't mean they're on your side. So what? Wars are fought by coalitions. The US is getting Russia to support the war for oil and debt repayment. If you think the Middle East would be better off without the Saddam regime, does it really matter whether Bush has an ulterior motive. Ulterior motives should be used, and exploited.

Neel Krishnaswami ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 08:02 PM:

Nick pretty much describes my view. I'd take Tony Blair's war over Bush's war, but I'll take Bush's war over no war at all. (Qualification for precision's sake: I don't mean to imply that he necessarily shares it, just that he describes it well.)

Myke ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 10:19 PM:

Simon,

Your words are in quotes:

"Unfortunately what doesn't follow is how doing something about Iraq will have any serious effect on Al Qaeda, or their likes. This is where various attempts to depict Saddam as Osama's masterlord come in - and go out, because nobody believes them."

Here I'm with you. I don't believe that Saddam is Osama's overlord in any way. In fact, I have read that Osama has been highly critical of Saddam's regime for it's softer interpretation of Koran. However, this *is* the same Saddam who writes $10,000 checks to the families of Palestinian homicide bombers. Doesn't that give you pause to believe he might be funding or harboring other terrorist cells?

"Uh, who is apologizing for Iraq, exactly?"

You got me there. "Apologist" was definitely the wrong word to use.

"Unfortunately, history suggests to me that those who go belligerently unilateralist are only likely to get themselves into worse trouble. Smart countries engaged on major international projects line up allies. And the Bush administration is smart enough to be trying just that, rather than merely pouting as this depiction suggests."

Just so. But, as the congressional resolution proves, we *are* willing to go it alone if we have to. Let's face it, Saddam isn't going to set off a suitcase nuke in Moscow or Paris. He's going to do it right in sunny ol' Washington, D.C. Most likely under a mile from my house.

"Smart countries also, when their allies are reluctant, try to figure out what they're doing wrong, and this the Bush administration shows no signs of."

Here's where I get off the bus. We have a VERY good idea why our allies (and I'm starting to doubt that is the best term to use) are reluctant, and that's why we're still determined to move ahead.

"I'm going to print that one out in really big type, in four languages, onto a t-shirt, and wear it the next time I visit Europe."

Tell you what, give me a mailing address, tell me how much the T-shirt will cost to make, and I'll mail you a check.

"It does suggest - to me, at least - that we should try to figure out what's worrying our allies and large numbers of our own citizens, rather than dismissing them as apologists for Iraq."

But we KNOW what's worrying them. France is worrying our oil concessions, and China is worrying about bolstering the status of the US. Please don't tell me that you think these oh-so-wonderful countries actually care what happens to the people of Iraq?

"And the goal suggested wasn't "power" but "global hegemony" - a specific kind of power."

This statement really blows me over. I just can't understand why you think this? Help me to understand. I read the links you referred me to and it doesn't help. Wanting to sustain combat overmatch is NOT the same as seeking world domination.

"Here you are, you're George W. Bush, you're the Chief Executive of the only superpower on the planet, you're sitting there in the Oval Office, do you feel powerful? You couldn't prevent Al Qaeda from dastardly attacks on your Heimatland, you aren't sure you can stop them from doing it again, you can't stop Saddam Hussein from thumbing his nose at you, you can't even stop your own citizens from ridiculing you. You're probably feeling pretty damn powerless and frustrated."

The insinuation here is that Bush is pursuing this war out of simple immaturity. Simon that's ridiculous. He's no intellectual, but he's also not a 4-year old. A willingness to forge ahead in the face of criticism is sometimes mere obstinacy, but it is also sometimes real courage.

"The question becomes, what are you going to do about it?"

I'm going to vote Republican and support the invasion of Iraq. What are you going to do?

"If Bush wants to take the US down Israel's road to being strong but unsafe, an international pariah that drives its goals of peace and safety further away with every reach it makes towards them, he should go right ahead."

Israel's pariah status is a product of a modern resurgence of antisemitism and the incredible left-wing obsession with the underdog. Israel is an island of democracy in a veritable sea of despotic, oppressive tyranny. I should only hope that the US could have the courage, convinction, tenacity and downright cojones to stand firm to what is true and right to a fraction of the extent that Israel has.

The recent revelation with Korea has shown us what we knew all along. Evil despots LIE. If you want to hide something the size of a washing machine in a country as large as Iraq, you can do it even if we send an army of weapons inspectors. We have already shown Saddam that he can flout the authority of the UN time and time again without real reprecussions. Now we're supposed to believe he's serious just because we rattled a saber or two? Sure he's serious, he's serious just like the Koreans were serious. Come on Simon. You tell me just ONE way we can be sure this guy is disarming other than an invasion.

Are you honestly willing to risk us being wrong? Help me to agree with you. Give me a better alternative that will let me believe that I am doing everything I can with my vote to keep my wife alive and safe.

"That was intended as, like, sarcasm - but it had a serious point."

I could honestly care less. It didn't really bother me. I'm just trying to help you out.

"That's what many Europeans think Americans all are: Texas cowboys"

Then many Europeans are stupid. I'm not interested in making my national policy dance to the whims of the least common denominator of any country. A lot of foolish Americans think that all French are snooty snobs. I dismiss such useless stereotypes, and if I can't rely on my counterparts overseas to do the same, then to heck with them.

"Fight terrorism. It does not follow that we need to attack Iraq"

Ok. I am open to alternatives. Convince me here. Give me a solution. Tell me some way I can be sure that my wife is safe. Last time I checked, terrorist states are every bit as much a part of the problem as the terrorists themselves. If we back off and let this guy have a free hand, we send a message to the every rogue state in the world that the US is a paper tiger, and worse, that the UN is nothing more than the League of Nations was in the late 30's.


Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 10:59 PM:

Myke -

Doesn't that give you pause to believe he might be funding or harboring other terrorist cells?

Yes, but not enough to convict him to a sentence of being wiped off the face of the earth forthwith.

We have a VERY good idea why our allies (and I'm starting to doubt that is the best term to use) are reluctant

So tell me, what is it?

Let's face it, Saddam isn't going to set off a suitcase nuke in Moscow or Paris. He's going to do it right in sunny ol' Washington, D.C. Most likely under a mile from my house.

Are you suggesting that Russia and France are reluctant to support an attack because Saddam won't hurt them? I guess you really do think, as you suggest elsewhere, that Europeans are stupid.

The actual problem, Myke, is the horrible consequences likely to ensue should we succeed. These seem invisible to you.

And the goal suggested wasn't "power" but "global hegemony" - a specific kind of power." This statement really blows me over. I just can't understand why you think this? Help me to understand. I read the links you referred me to and it doesn't help.

I don't recall referring you to any links, but it seems to me that declaring one's right to institute "regime change" (i.e. overthrowing the government) of any country in the world that displeases one sufficiently, to demonstrate the power and determination actually to do this, and to announce that one will go ahead and do it regardless of what any other countries or world organizations think - this is as perfect a definition of asserting global hegemony as could be imagined.

The insinuation here is that Bush is pursuing this war out of simple immaturity. Simon that's ridiculous. He's no intellectual, but he's also not a 4-year old.

I deny any such insinuation. I do not think my description was of a 4-year-old. I said that Bush has damn good reasons to feel powerless and frustrated, and I believe it.

"The question becomes, what are you going to do about it?" I'm going to vote Republican and support the invasion of Iraq. What are you going to do?

I didn't mean you, Myke, but "you" the rhetorical George W. Bush of the previous paragraph.

Israel's pariah status is a product of a modern resurgence of antisemitism and the incredible left-wing obsession with the underdog.

And it is completely pure of any stain of responsibility for its own actions, of course.

You know, in most contexts I'm a lone defender of Israel. You make me ashamed.

Israel is an island of democracy in a veritable sea of despotic, oppressive tyranny.

That and 50 cents will get it a cup of coffee.

I should only hope that the US could have the courage, convinction, tenacity and downright cojones to stand firm to what is true and right to a fraction of the extent that Israel has.

And I wish the US every bit as much luck as Israel has had with it.

I'm not going to quote your whole denunciation of Saddam, but your basic point is that none of this is news. In that case, it was a horrible crime to let Saddam go after the Gulf War, and an even more horrible crime to do nothing in the interim. Where were the Republicans when they had eight glorious years of opportunity to berate the Clinton administration for doing nothing about this horrible threat? (Complaining about Clinton's willie instead, of course.)

Forgive me for being skeptical of the claim that Saddam is suddenly a terrible threat. It ill-comports with a claim that he's been a terrible threat all along.

Are you honestly willing to risk us being wrong? Help me to agree with you. Give me a better alternative that will let me believe that I am doing everything I can with my vote to keep my wife alive and safe.

If you really think that destroying Saddam will keep your wife safe from terrorist threats, or even make her safer than she is now, you are sadly mistaken. I weep for you, and even more for your wife.

Ok. I am open to alternatives. Convince me here. Give me a solution.

I don't have to give you a solution. Derek fooled me into doing so elsewhere, but it turned out his only motive was to try to convince me that I agreed with Bush. I'm not going to spoon-feed you a dozen links. I have other things to do. You want other solutions, read some intelligent liberal commentary. There's plenty of it out there. (And right-wingers sneering at Jim McDermott and quoting him selectively doesn't count.)

If we back off and let this guy have a free hand, we send a message to the every rogue state in the world that the US is a paper tiger

That may be true now, but only because we've backed ourselves into a corner with our apocalyptic rhetoric.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 11:27 PM:

Myke: Let's face it, Saddam isn't going to set off a suitcase nuke in Moscow or Paris. He's going to do it right in sunny ol' Washington, D.C. Most likely under a mile from my house.

Prefacing a false statement with "Let's face it" doesn't make it true.

First, there's no evidence that Saddam has the capability to create a suitcase nuke now. It's entirely possible that we can keep that capability from him without invading, since (as far as we can tell) we've been successfully doing it for over a decade.

Second, even if Saddam managed to get a nuke, we don't know that he'd use it on Washington DC. I think Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are much liklier targets. In either case he'd very quickly end up as supreme ruler of a large sheet of radioactive glass, and he knows it, so I suspect that what he'd actually do with a nuke is use it to push around non-nuclear neighbors, like Iran, Kuwait, and the Saudis. Nuclear capability makes him part of a club of nations whose general rule seems to be something like You might be able to push the little guys around, but don't fuck with us!

myke ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2002, 10:38 AM:

This thread is already getting massive, but I do want to respond to this:

"The actual problem, Myke, is the horrible consequences likely to ensue should we succeed. These seem invisible to you."

They are not invisible to me. I know what the consequences would be and I agree that they are definitely worth avoiding. I think the Bush administration (proven by its present course of action) and its supporters are also aware of these consequences. It's just that I believe that the consequences of *inaction* are *far* worse. I don't *want* a war, Simon. Nobody does. War is a terrible thing, I am not missing the gravity of that choice. I firmly believe that if we do not act, the results will be far worse than if we do.

Oh, and scrolling up I see it was Avram who supplied the links, not you. Sorry for the mistake.

Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2002, 11:08 AM:

You tell me just ONE way we can be sure this guy is disarming other than an invasion.

OK, how about: aggressive UN inspection teams. Five teams, each with its own transportation and a small contingent of troops, splashed all over with the UN flag, with no Americans (since the term 'credibly impartial' is going to mean something different to the Iraqis than it does to us), and the authority to go anywhere at any time to look at anything, without warning or notice.

Problems with that: getting the UN to agree; getting Saddam to agree to allow it (otherwise it's just an invasion by the UN); making sure the groups can move fast enough. There are probably lots of others, all less severe IMO than the problems with a unilateral invasion by the US.

Saddam might even agree to aggressive inspections if the alternative were an invasion. That's the only possible positive outcome of the current chest-pounding.

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2002, 12:19 PM:

Firmly believe what you firmly like, Mike. You're liable to get your way, and then we'll find out. But here's what I firmly believe, from a previous post:

If you really think that destroying Saddam will keep your wife safe from terrorist threats, or even make her safer than she is now, you are sadly mistaken. I weep for you, and even more for your wife.

I don't know how old you are, but did you think that the fall of the Soviet Union would make the world safer than it had been?

Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2002, 01:20 PM:

I'm sorry. I didn't mean to mindread. I'm just hair-triggered on "shrill" at the moment having been suffering from reviews saying I'm "never shrill" and grinding my teeth on the implications of anyone needing to say that and what it means. It's like Orwell's "jackboots are boots you put on to oppress people", it's a word that's bad for discourse, as you say, at best a lazy cliche.

But this doesn't mean I should leap on individual instances of it with hobnailed boots. Maybe Mr. James would have used the word just the same if he'd been talking about a man, and I certainly didn't give him the benefit of the doubt there.

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2002, 01:48 PM:

Jo...fair enough.

I never considered the word gender-specific before, though I certainly have a new perspective on its connotations.

I suppose I'm also particularly sensitive to presumptions of bigotry or sexism (the all-Texans-are-rednecks insinuations around here probably heightened this as well). If my reaction came across as too harsh, I apologize as well.

No hard feelings.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2002, 03:29 PM:

Derek James may be right that I was a little too hard on him, but it seems to be water under the bridge. I will say that I'm as tired as he is of what he calls "all-Texans-are-rednecks insinuations," and all their cousins. My experience is that political and social views are a lot more heterogenous in most parts of the US than our stereotypes imply.

Heck, it was only yesterday that I was griping about the use of "Texas" as a symbol of a kind of dream of frontier simplemindedness, since (1) frontier societies don't in fact tend to be simpleminded and (2) Texas is about as much of a frontier society as Nassau County, Long Island.

It does kind of seem to me as if this particular iteration of the Endless Iraq Argument is devolving into a fairly routine slanging match between sensibilities -- the party of Let's Be Fair versus the party of Kill 'Em All. I'm probably missing some nuances (MEGO, I confess), but what I'm not seeing is very much examination of these basic questions:

Is invading Iraq and replacing its government actually going to make us safer? Is it actually going to reduce the strength and destructive potential of stateless terrorist groups in the Islamic world?

Are we sure we want to volunteer to be the Global Imperial Cops? How well do the police get paid in your town? Compare and contrast: how well-paid are the local bankers?

Even assuming the answers to questions 1, 2, and 3 are all "yes", why should we believe anything this particular Administration has claimed, when their constant prevarications, internal catfights, and sheer incoherence on the subject has been the despair of even their supporters? What record of competence and success leads us to believe these guys can be trusted with a burnt-out match?

Myke Cole may be reassured to know that, like him, I oppose the nuking of any portion of Washington, DC. Indeed, should military action against Iraq (or the Bolshoi Ballet, or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) be necessary to forestall the nuking of Washington, DC, I will happily raise the Stars and Stripes and cheer that military action, with forceful cries of "Fight dirty!" should those be required. Which is to say: I am not a pacifist, nor do my doubts about the proposed Bush Raj mean I am opposed to the projection of American military power into the world.

But is this how to do it? Will this yield the claimed results? And do these people have the moral and intellectual substance to lead such an effort? Signs point to No.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2002, 03:51 PM:

Aside to Nick Denton, who says "If you think the Middle East would be better off without the Saddam regime, does it really matter whether Bush has an ulterior motive. Ulterior motives should be used, and exploited."

Leave aside the notion that what we're arguing about is something as simple as pushing the Make Saddam Vanish button, and Nick has a good point, and one I frequently make when arguing against political sectarianism and for broad-based, goal-oriented coalitions.

What I think Jeanne D'Arc is getting at, and certainly what I was getting at, is that George W. Bush is quite determinedly opposed to far too many of the core values that Hitchens stills claims to champion. I'm for coalitions, but there's making use of someone else's ulterior motives, and then there's volunteering to be their tool. D'Arc is suggesting that contrarian Hitchens looks pretty funny with Dick Cheney's hand up his ass. I tend to agree.

I'm not normally a strong partisan; I'm too heterodox on too many issues be a reliable standard-issue liberal. (A piece I keep thinking about writing is "Ten True Things Liberals Know" b/w "Ten True Things Conservatives Know." Perhaps "Ten True Things Libertarians Know" should be in there as well.) But while I'm normally willing to assume that political figures on the "other side" are opponents, not enemies, and that most Americans are more similar than different in their notion of what a decent society would look like, I find I can't believe the same about this Administration. Indeed, I believe this Administration is, on balance, a criminal enterprise--and that one of its many victims, on the road to supreme power, has been American conservatism.

Neel Krishnaswami ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2002, 04:24 PM:

Patrick: thanks for zooming back onto these questions. You write: Is invading Iraq and replacing its government actually going to make us safer? Is it actually going to reduce the strength and destructive potential of stateless terrorist groups in the Islamic world?

I believe the answer to both of these questions is yes. I think that calling these terrorist groups "stateless" is a a term that hides as much as it reveals.

The basic problem we in the US have is that all of these terrorist organizations embrace the murder of Americans as pretty much an unnuanced Good Thing. We support Israel, the "international financiers" of anti-Semitic mythology are all based from the US, etc etc. Now, there are plenty of terrorist groups in the world, and many of them hate the US. So why, we should ask, do Islamic terror groups bombing the US and terror groups like the LTTE not? The answer is exactly state support. In the Middle East, it's pretty much standard practice for governments to try and conduct war-by-proxy by funding, training and supporting terrorist groups. Mostly, these terrorist groups are supported for internal or local reasons -- Syria wants to keep control in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia wants to export jihad to keep the home front quiet, Pakistan wants the Kashmir, and so on.

The LTTE -- likely the most dangerous non-Islamic terror group in the world -- gets its money through a combination of extorting the Tamil diaspora and selling heroin. This is unreliable, slow and chancy. Islamic Jihad gets its money from a line item in the Iranian government's budget. That's fast, reliable, and consistent. With that kind of security, these groups can afford to plan over the long term and indulge the most apocalyptic bits of their worldview. So I think the US needs to convince the states of the Middle East that openly sponsoring terrorist organizations will create much more blowback from the United States than they want to cope with. Then, I think, Islamic terrorism will die down to the levels Spain sees with ETA, or the UK with the IRA. And the only way the US can create that perception is by going to war, and toppling enough governments that the others get deterred.

Now, war is a deadly, dangerous, and cruel business, and innocent people will die as a result of any American invasion. So a utilitarian argument implies that it is incumbent upon the US to pick targets in which invasion has the best chance of actually doing some good. Iraq, which is by a fair margin the most repressive regime in the Middle East, and which is under a punitive sanctions regime, is the best choice for an invasion, because the potential net improvement in the average citizen's welfare is the largest. It's at least plausible that the number of innocents oppressed by Hussein is greater than the number that would die during a US invasion, leading to a net improvement in human welfare. (The most likely other target would be Saudi Arabia, since it bears the most proximate responsibility for the spred of Islamist terror. But I think that most Europeans would be even more opposed to that, than to an invasion of Iraq, noting exceptions like Charlie Stross.)

Even assuming the answers to questions 1, 2, and 3 are all "yes", why should we believe anything this particular Administration has claimed, when their constant prevarications, internal catfights, and sheer incoherence on the subject has been the despair of even their supporters? What record of competence and success leads us to believe these guys can be trusted with a burnt-out match?

You'll note that I think that our safety will come from the various tyrannies in the Middle East choosing to change their own policies as a result of seeing the American willingness to use power, not from the skillful diplomacy of the Bush Administration. This is a case when power may allow us to succeed despite bad leadership. The (in)competence of the Bush administration makes me fear for their ability to reform Iraq properly in the aftermath of a war, not for their ability to actually conduct it. It's not a good alternative, but it's a least-bad alternative, IMO. As The New Republic noted, it would be a lot easier to be enthusiastic about Tony Blair's war than about George W.'s, but unfortunately that's not the choice being offered us.

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2002, 05:13 PM:

Yes...back on topic is nice.

Patrick has basic questions he sees being overlooked, and I have one as well:

What is the international stance on nonproliferation?

Because, to me, this is intimately tied to the question of using the threat of force (backed by its use if need be) against Iraq to get them to comply with UN resolutions to end their quest for nuclear weapons.

I admit being dismayed at the Bush administration's attempts to wed Iraq and Al Qaeda, when the connection seems feeble. To me, this issue has to do with nonproliferation.

We just had a rogue country like North Korea admit to having nuclear weapons, and the largely undisputed evidence demonstrates that supposedly "responsible" nuclear states, Russia and China (as well as Pakistan), helped them. And yet, where is the international outrage at UN Security Council members peddling nuclear secrets to despots like the North Korean regime?

Do we (and the "we" here is the international community) want to live in a world where the number of nuclear powers expands unfettered?

This should be the central issue with regard to Iraq. Not whether they're tied to terrorist. Not whether the risk they pose is "imminent" or not.

But because the scourge of nuclear weaponry is something that we've all decided that we no longer want to allow to spread, especially to aggressive tyrants, but essentially to any new nation.

This is the context in which I wish the justification of force would be framed. Unfortunately, it's currently not.

Neel Krishnaswami ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2002, 07:43 PM:

Derek, I don't think that nonproliferation is the central issue, largely because it's almost always a fait accompli. As soon as someone gets the bomb, guess what? We are successfully deterred. You can witness that fascinating process at work in North Korea right this second, as the Bush administration tries to tell us that the fact that Pyongyang could nuke Seoul is deterring us, without actually saying out loud that we're being successfully deterred. Osirak is the exception, not the rule. We must expect what happened in Pakistan, and what has just happend in N. Korea, to be the normal case, unfortunately.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2002, 08:43 PM:

Neel: As The New Republic noted, it would be a lot easier to be enthusiastic about Tony Blair's war than about George W.'s, but unfortunately that's not the choice being offered us.

Why isn't it? I mean, this is supposedly a democratic republic, right? How the hell is the electorate in the position of choosing among the government's choices, rather than being the ones calling the shots? (This is a rhetirical question; I pretty much know the answer.)

Neel Krishnaswami ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2002, 09:17 PM:

How the hell is the electorate in the position of choosing among the government's choices, rather than being the ones calling the shots? (This is a rhetorical question; I pretty much know the answer.)

It's still a good question: out of the enormous set of possible policy positions, why do only a few get serious attention from the legislature? It probably has something fascinating to do with the finite resources Congress has for debate and the structure of policy preferences among the voters in each district, but that's way beyond my ability to analyze. All I know is that however it works out there are only a few alternatives ever considered in practice.

The apparent policy dynamic in the Senate was for either Bush's policy plus assorted tweaks to mollify conservative Democrats, or no action whatsoever. That was an easy, if depressing, choice for me.

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2002, 12:00 AM:

Neel says: "As soon as someone gets the bomb, guess what? We are successfully deterred."

Doesn't this conclusion then place a greater impetus on prevention? I'm afraid I don't understand your logic.

Does anyone here actually want to live in a world where the number of nuclear powers has doubled in ten years? Shouldn't the international community be working in the opposite direction, even if countries have to be bullied into compliance?

Your answer, if I'm reading you right, is to throw up your hands and say there's really nothing we can do about the spread of nukes. Sanctions have failed miserably, time and again. Is this not justification enough for the threat and possible use of force against Iraq?

Neel Krishnaswami ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2002, 09:14 AM:

Hi Derek, the reason I don't think nonproliferation is a good rationale is because none of the other great powers give a damn. Russia, Germany, and China happily sell nuclear technology to all comers, and while they do that we cannot do anything substantial to reduce proliferation -- it's like trying to bail water from a sinking ship while failing to patch the leak.


Invading Iraq could serve as a deterrent for countries that get WMD from attacking Americans. It won't do jack to help our allies, though. Maybe in 2005, when Iran has the bomb and can target Rome or Berlin with its IRBMs, we'll see a change in the political climate. Then again, maybe we won't.

A great site to look up stuff about ballistic missile and nuclear weapons is the Federation of American Scientists WMD page.

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2002, 11:11 AM:

Neel says: "Hi Derek, the reason I don't think nonproliferation is a good rationale is because none of the other great powers give a damn."

I still don't see how it follows that since others don't give a damn, we shouldn't either.

I'm personally appalled that since the revelation that North Korea has nuclear weapons, and that Russia and China both helped them to acquire them, I haven't seen a single word of criticism directed at either of them. Maybe I'm not reading widely enough. However, I have seen plenty of ink spilt on America's posture toward North Korea. We're the ones that signed a non-nuclear deal with them back in 1994. We're not the ones peddling nuclear secrets to them.

What's wrong with this picture?

Jon Ruby ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 05:31 PM:


The fundemental problem with the Left's denunciation of Christopher Hitchen's is that it is too little and too late.

Mr. Hitchen's has a fine record of opposition to fascism in its Islamic form. This is praiseworthy. Unfortunately, his relations with facism in its American and British forms are somewhat different.

You really do not need to wade very deeply into the swamps of anti-Clintonism to be in company with people any decent person would avoid. And you really do not need to wade very deeply into the swamps of anti-zionism to find David Irving sticking to your fur - let alone appearing at your house for dinner.

Hitchens did all these things years ago. The Left steadfastly refused to notice or to realize what these act presaged for his future career. Whose fault is that?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2003, 05:50 PM:

Wait a minute, now the Left is bad for failing to oppose Christopher Hitchens early enough, or with sufficient fervor? Yes! A new moral failing of the Left: Insufficiently Premature Anti-Hitchensism!

Alternately, perhaps the idea that "the Left" has been rigorously refusing to criticize C. Hitchens until forced to by the press of recent events is, er, very silly indeed.