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February 24, 2003

Taking things seriously: The estimable Calpundit says “My sense from reading the anti-war left is that they don’t really take the danger of terrorism and unstable states seriously.”

Not to be too cranky about it, but “terrorism and unstable states” blew up a big chunk of my home town. Watching the ashes and personal debris of several thousand of your fellow citizens rain down on your neighborhood is not something you readily forget.

One of the more predictable rhetorical techniques in any argument about war or peace is the suggestion that those who oppose a particular war, or a particular plan for war, must be speaking from a pacifistic, hello-clouds hello-sky outlook. You’re either a hawk or a dove; it’s all about prior inclination. In antiwar circles, this expresses itself in the regrettably common and equally foolish notion that military people are all a bunch of General Jack D. Rippers dragging civilians to war. In fact many of the people I know who are most opposed to this war are former or current members of the military, and many of the antiwar civilians I know are, in temperament and outlook, martial as hell. We’re not pacifists, we’re far from opposed to every imaginable use of US power, and we’re clear on the danger presented by “terrorism and unstable states,” thank you very much. What we’re unhappy about is the overwhelming evidence that this war will make us less safe, not more; that it will diminish American power, not increase it; and that it will empower “terrorism and unstable states” to an unprecedented degree.

All the arguments have been hashed to death and surely Kevin Drum is aware of them. I don’t propose to re-hash them here. What I want to say is this: I may be right in my opposition to this war, and I may be wrong, but I certainly know that “terrorism and unstable states” pose a real threat. I saw “terrorism and unstable states” kill a bunch of my fellow citizens. Not a day has gone by in New York City since when I didn’t wonder whether today would be the day that “terrorism and unstable states” would kill me and my loved ones just as dead. The danger is real; the argument between people of good will is about how to effectively deal with it. Suggesting that people with my views are simply failing to recognize the existence of a threat is the kind of argument I would have thought beneath Kevin Drum. [06:24 PM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Taking things seriously::

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 07:32 PM:

"All the arguments have been hashed to death and surely Kevin Drum is aware of them. I don92t propose to re-hash them here."

Maybe it's just me, but I wish you would. I very possibly missed it, but I don't recall seeing you go into any of the anti/pro-war arguments in any detail here, beyond more or less simply making various understandable statements about lack of trust in the Bush Administration (something I more or less agree with you about), and some generalizations about the war obviously being a bad idea.

I'm left to sort of guess at what reasoning you precisely follow on the various specific arguments, and I'd much prefer to not do that. And I simply value the opportunity to be able to follow your reasoning, and perhaps find flaws in my own or be persuaded that I'm wrong in some particular or generality or another.

If you'd prefer to simply give a link to some prior statements that I may have missed, if I have, that would be welcome as a substitute.

Rachel Heslin ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 07:50 PM:

I hate when people insist that something complex is a single issue, and that there are only two sides of it. Me, I personally believe that attacking Iraq is not necessarily our most effective choice in dealing with The Situation, however that situation is defined.

At the same time, even if I did believe that Saddam were a clear and present danger which could only be neutralized by overwhelming force, I sure as heck wouldn't try to rally support by insults and bullying! Gee, let's place the UN in a situation where, if they do decide that what "we" want to do is in the best interests of the international community, they will look like they're merely caving in to American interests, thus destroying any remaining credibility it might have as an independent body.

Um, I kind of hijacked the "Yes, anti-war activists DO have brains" subject with my own hobby horse. Sorry about that.

{: )

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 07:58 PM:

Dear, is That Man suggesting that I'm a pacifist?

Parker ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 08:30 PM:

Thank you, Patrick. You're getting at something that's bothered me more and more over the past few weeks; that vague botherment coalesced into real anger when I read Jane Galt's infamous 2x4 post and the resulting jabber. Yes, she glibly and gleefully advocated violence; yes, her "I don't know nuthin bout no buildin materials" apologia reveals her to be either disingenuous or moronic, if not both -- but what infuriated me most about her comment was her misappropriation of 9/11, when she referred to New Yorkers as (I believe -- I refuse to re-read her blather for the exact quote) "those of us who know what war is like." We don't know. We don't. We've had one searing, transformative experience. Compare that to, say, London or Leningrad during WWII. Or Nicaragua in the 1980s. Or Rwanda in 1994. Or the Ivory Coast right now. We don't know shit.
Yet we know far, far more than most Americans. That's what struck me most in the days after 9/11, the infinite orders of magnitude between watching something on TV and seeing it -- smelling it, hearing it, feeling it -- unfold in front of you. It's not like I ever watched news from Bosnia or the Middle East or whatever "hot spot" had managed to make the news without some empathy, some attempt to understand what was happening to those faraway people. But until your own tangible, everyday world is affected, it's an abstraction. Breathing that stinking air (full of not only incinerated biphenylchloride- interofficememo- asbestos but also carbonized humans), watching people post those unbearably sad flyers (so many photos of weddings and christenings and graduations, so much 2D happiness) , waking up on 9/12 terrified by the sound of a jet (a military plane passing over the city) -- that's my tiny little vile nibble of war. It's enough. Enough to convice me that you do not inflict this kind of pain lightly or casually. You do not injure people to this extent without good reason. And, yes, I'm selfish enough that a "good reason" is my own safety and that of my loved ones. I've not heard or read any argument for attacking Iraq that makes me believe that I or anyone I care about will be safer as a consequence.
A friend who lives in Chicago told me that on 9/11 she sat down with her 10-year-0ld son to watch the coverage. The first time he saw that endlessly looped footage of the plane flying into the south tower, he said, "Cool!" My friend took a deep breath and explained that this wasn't a movie, it was real. It really happened. Long pause, then her son said, "But they got everybody out of the building, right?"
Bush seems to be operating at this level of engagement. Yeah, it's real but not really real. And that's what's really, really scary.

david ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 08:48 PM:

Just an answer from the Atrios comment section, cause I'm too slow and stupid to do it another way. I posted on the O'Reilly tough guys duping the reasonable left. You said it was over the line, because there is no betrayal of principle in conceding that the left has something to learn.

But there is. The left has no more to learn about foreign policy than the right; to my mind a lot less, sure, but let's call it equal for the sake of argument. This administration has proven itself totally inept in dealing with the violence that hit my and your city (and Jane Galt's too, but I guess she's so clever and reasonable she understood that violence better than us). This administration is the voice of the conservative foreign policy establishment. The really conservative foreign policy establishment. And Rumsfeld, Perle, Wolfowitz and the Res have shown themselves idiots -- miscalculating tactics, pissing away support, letting nuclear powers come close to dropping bombs, and even, in their very own showpiece for lefty weakness on foreign policy, creating a nightmarish mess in North Korea by alternately bullying and appeasing delusional Stalinists. To say, as do Tapped and Talking Points and I guess CalPundit, that there is some lefty tendency to avoid the hard issues of foreign policy, is masochistic. There may be cases -- there always are cases -- but there is no reason, other than the whining of armchair generals like Charles Krauthammer, to think the right is more serious or competent at the nuts and bolts of foreign policy. For christ's sake, the administration is trolling for votes on the security council to start a war that even Americans don't want. Why in hell should we have to listen to reasonable liberals tell us that the left has a problem (that the right presumably does not) after that?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 10:30 PM:

Gad, interlacing my comment section and Atrios's. (For onlookers, David above is responding to my comment in the thread attached to this post.)

I see the argument that "the left has no more to learn about foreign policy than the right," and I'm certainly as impatient as David is with the notion that "the Left" somehow has to hang its head in shame on national-security issues, particularly considering the truly mind-blowing fecklessness of this right-wing Administration. (Eric Alterman's now-famous questions should be tattooed on the foreheads of most "warbloggers.")

I don't agree that "this administration is the voice of the conservative foreign policy establishment"; in fact, one of the more ominous lietmotifs of the past two years has been the splat sound made by various actual members of the "conservative foreign policy establishment" as their brains explode when they try to make sense of this bunch of gangsters' ad-hoc improvisations. Teresa once worked for the "conservative foreign policy establishment" (and still has the letterhead to prove it); those people are not these people.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 10:36 PM:

There *is* no left in the US.

Y'all are very peculiar about this, but, really, even reading in the great big wodge of comment on the lack of utility of the distinction between left and right in modern politics, you *don't have a left*.

Which makes me think that the group being identified as 'left' has the same sort of problem as a union organizer who is being called an anarchist; it lets other parties to the discourse haul in a lot of pre-coded negative assumptions at very little cost, and be damned if they actually apply.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 11:00 PM:

Graydon, with all due respect -- and in your case that's a lot of respect -- baloney.

Rachel Heslin ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 12:07 AM:

Actually, it seems like what Graydon's saying sounds very similar to Emma's arguments that you previously linked to.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 12:32 AM:

Assuming there is an American Left, I certainly can't claim to speak for it, but this particular American leftist doesn't much care what pre-coded negative assumptions the word "left" hauls-in. It's about time we started reclaiming that word, along with "liberal".

And Rachel, I think Emma's arguments are more about what the Democratic Party is doing to itself than about whether there's really a Left.

Kevin Drum ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 12:39 AM:

Just wanted to let everyone know that no insult was intended. And I was critical of both left and right in my original post.

My "sense" was just that, and it's only based on what I read in blogs. I just haven't seen many liberals blogging about what we should do to reduce the danger of unstable states, that's all.

I realize that opposing the war is more urgent at the moment, but I still wish there were more people on both left and right talking about what we should do to make the world safer outside of war.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 12:57 AM:

Well, what do you think we should do? Understand, I sucked it in and supported the invasion of Afghanistan. Which left me with lots of confidence in this crew's abilities. Not.

Kevin Drum ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 01:36 AM:

This isn't much, but it's a start. I wrote it back in October:


Just as the most obvious additions to this, I would add a stronger commitment to multilateral institutions like the UN, considerably greater resources dedicated to fighting global poverty, disease, hunger, etc., and helping to create market economies in third world countries.

Rachel Heslin ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 02:27 AM:

Okay, now THAT'S a group of suggestions that I can get behind 100%. Deal with the problems, not the symptoms. I think it has been shown pretty conclusively that people who are healthy and well-fed and feel some sense of security are far less likely to succumb to extremist rhetoric than their starving, hopeless, scared counterparts.

Of course, this would require time, financial commitment, and faith in humanity as a whole.... I'm choosing not to complete this with a cynical comment because, well, I happen to believe in a more hopeful human future.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 03:04 AM:

From outside, looking in, there really is no recognizable left in American politics. There's scarcely an acknowledged centre until one looks at blogs and street protests and scattered small town newspapers.

That really does have an effect on American foreign policy, in as much as it makes everyone else in the West rather nervous.

Where *else* are 'left' and 'liberal' considered equivalent?

(oh, and David, reclaiming the words is an entirely reasonable idea; the tactical difficulty is that the baggage is the result of an immense amount of relentless repetition, and it is essentially a negative sum game to try to counteract it by the necessary amount of dissenting repetition. Hammering on the other side's alleged core tropes of duty and responsibility and decency at least involves less immediate necessity of shovelling to get back to zero.)

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 04:01 AM:

I can easily get behind Kevin's to-do list of 5 Things, excepting the "Invade Iraq" one. It's not that I don't think the US couldn't do it and the other 4 items on the itinerary; it's just that I think it would be more of a mess than it's worth. Besides which, unpleasant as Saddam is, Iraq (sans US pointing guns at it) isn't getting the middle east's knickers in a knot the way the Israel/Palestine mess is.

On Item #4 of Kevin's list (democracy and Western values) you'll have an easier time of it if you sell it as something Islamic. To wit:

"Serious Islamic leaders (e.g. the King of Jordan, the Prime Minster of Malaysia, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia) believe that the Islamic world must recapture the glory days of 12-13th C Islam. That means finding tolerance and building great education institutions and places of learning. The King was passionate on the subject. It also means freedom of movement and speech within and among the Islamic nations."

That's from Bruce Sterling's reprint of Laurie Garrett's off-the-record report of the WEF meeting in Davos:


"Great education institutions and places of learning." Nice phrase. Can anyone, off the top of their heads, name one major university in the middle east? Famous for something other than student revolutionaries? A place where students in other countries might actually want to go? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

The US currently has a glut of people with doctorates. Not that I'm saying that we should bus everyone with PhD's to the middle east, but if the King of Jordan wants a flowering of culture a la the golden age of Islam, having scholars from around the world descend on his universities is hardly a bad plan.

Likewise with Afghanistan. Right now the US has stacks of people with PhDs with no jobs and with student loans outstanding. As I know from my sister's experience, the military will give doctors money to pay back their student loans in exchange for a term of service. Why not do the same with other PhDs to help build up university programs?

Get other countries to do it too, and get some prominent Islamic figure (such as the King of Jordan) to sell it as Islamic idea. Which it is; just unfortunately not this century's.


Drapetomaniac ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 05:40 AM:

So leftists a) don't really take the danger of terrorism and unstable states seriously, and b) people who take the danger seriously do things like suggest stronger commitment to multilateral institutions like the UN, considerably greater resources dedicated to fighting inequity and to support democratic movements?

Does anyone take this seriously?

I should also say that I have difficulty taking seriously arguments about West Asia from someone who can write "introducing democracy and 21st century western values."

The "introducing" makes me recoil on empiricist grounds. That word alone convinces me that the person does not know whereof he speaks.

The values would have to be specified in much greater detail for me to decide whether "Western" is the correct adjective, but in any case, on tactical grounds, I would suggest that people would be less suspicious of their claims to universalism if they were not described as Western.

My own blog is sprinkled with the footnotes to these comments.

Scott Martens ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 07:19 AM:

Let me rant for a moment. I would gladly post this on CalPundit, except he doesn't have comments.

The anti-war left doesn't take the risks of terrorism seriously?

My wife spends 8 hours a day, every working day, inside the singularly most lucrative political and military target in Europe and I check the news every couple of hours _praying_ that today is not the day someone decides to take a crack at it. Don't even _think_ of telling me that I don't take the risks of terrorism seriously.

I'm against this war in part _because_ it stands absolutely no chance of reducing the risk of terrorism to someone I love and who is in a very high risk category. I see every chance that this war will raise the risk to her. I find the arguments about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and support for terrorism inane in the extreme and only acceptable to people who have no conception of history and no contact whatsoever with people or politics in the middle east. I see a government of blind, dumb fools using war for political gain and doing so without provocation, breaking one of the few rules of international affairs that has actually served to keep peace. I see a panicked public who don't seem to know better falling for it and worse, I see people who do know better offering support for no apparent reason at all.

Saddam Hussein is a bad man, but tell me, is it better to be a woman in Baghdad or Riyadh? Are Arabs freer in Mosul or in Jenin? Which more likely to use nuclear weapons in support of an ugly cause, Pakistan or Iraq? Whatever ugliness is on Hussein soul - and by all evidence, it's quite a lot - why him, why his country and why now?

People won't take America seriously if it backs down now? That's a justification for war? We should put our lives, not to mention jobs, on the line for America's _ego_?

What should we do to stabilise the unstable states and stop the terrorists? Sign the ICC, cut foreign aid to Israel and raise the non-military foreign aid budget by a factor of ten. Open negociations for a peace treaty with North Korea (even Canada has diplomatic relations with them) and normalise relations with Iran. Subsidise drug research (actually you're already doing that) and tell the drug companies you won't protect them from competition in poor countries. America is the world's largest producer of food, so tell the world no one will ever starve if American food donations can reach them, no matter what kind of government they have. Make it plain that if someone is hungry in the world, it's because their government screwed up, not because America wasn't there for them. Make US aid and trade priviledges conditional on a UN report - not an American report - of their human rights situation and implimentation of multi-party constitutional democracy. Then, apply these same standards to you own government. Make every possible effort to show that America is an honest dealer, that it is fair and principled and doesn't play favourites.

That's just off the top of my head. All these measures, together, still would cost less than war in Iraq and would do far, far, far, FAR more to reduce the risk of terrorism to Americans.

Okay, I'm done ranting.

Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 08:22 AM:

There seem to be a lot of people who believe that for America to attack Iraq will lead to more terrorism, but it would be a good idea for a UN coalition to attack if Saddam won't give adequate proof that he doesn't have major weapons.

I can't believe that potential terrorists would think "The UN is the *legitimate* crusaders, and it's fine with us if it squelches an Arab government".

As for the argument that poverty leads to terrorism, Bin Laden was rich, and my impression is that his hijacking team wasn't on the ragged edge. It doesn't seem plausible to me that merely seeing other people's poverty is enough to motivate people to die to kill.

Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 08:36 AM:

A unilateral war against Iraq whose main apparent motivation is the US government's belief that it has the right to order other countries around and to control access to Middle East oil will do a lot to fuel anti-American feeling amongst people who didn't necessarily hate us before. A genuine UN-authorized coalition war in which many voices, including authorities people respect both inside and outside their own countries, are telling them that yes, this war is really necessary, and it's _not_ all just about American power and American access to cheap oil, but about a real threat to Saddam's neighbors, would do somewhat less to fuel that anti-American feeling.

People who used to respect the US are losing that respect. People who thought we were friends are now starting to believe we're the enemy. People who used to give at least some credence to our efforts to point out that suicide bombings targeting civilians are neither a useful nor a moral tactic, don't any more.

Arrogant unilateralism does not win friends, although it must be conceded that it does influence people.

Rand Race ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 09:24 AM:

Freedom brings with it both responsibility and danger. We must be willing to face the danger with courage and conviction, that is part of the responsibility. Alas, those who cry loudest that they love freedom are the first cowards to sacrifice that freedom for illusory safety. Note how Mr. Bush has taken to describing his job as "insuring the safety of the people" instead of what he is oathbound to do as president: insure the freedom of the people. And his supporters have the temerity to call me unamerican.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 11:23 AM:

This doesn't seem to me to be a left/right issue except inasmuch as a strong desire to swallow whatever argument to Bush administration puts forth is right wing.

As my political responses go, it just doesn't feel to me nearly as left wing as, for example, my opinion that my suburban neighborhood really ought to get sidewalks so that kids can walk to each other's houses.

Opposition to war seems, under the circumstances, just basic common sense. While I occasionally would like to consider myself a member of some avant garde, facing facts, I'm a 40ish suburban housewife with 2 kids whose last significant partisan political activity was in college 20 years ago. (Politicking about the nature of hard sf doesn't count here.)

But this issue has really got my attention: a war on Iraq is just a really bad idea. I could, with some reluctance, see the point of ousting the Taliban in Afghanistan. But not this.

I certainly do take the possibility of terrorism seriously. (I think it took me a good 2 months after 9/11 to stop checking the trajectory of every plane passing over our house headed for White Plains airport.) But taking terrorism seriously does not make me a fool. Yet somehow the Bush administration seems to think that it ought to.

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 12:10 PM:

Scott Martens wrote,

"Saddam Hussein is a bad man, but tell me, is it better to be a woman in Baghdad or Riyadh? Are Arabs freer in Mosul or in Jenin? Which more likely to use nuclear weapons in support of an ugly cause, Pakistan or Iraq? Whatever ugliness is on Hussein soul - and by all evidence, it's quite a lot - why him, why his country and why now?"

And there's another example of someone on "the left" doing what certain people complain that "the left" never does: acknowledge that Saddam Hussein is bad.

The question isn't, is he bad?; the question is, what are we, "the West," going to do about it? Which is why descriptions of his badness don't really advance the anti-war discussion, and why they are seldom found at anti-war demonstrations.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 12:17 PM:

There are many bad men in the world, and they are disproportionately represented among heads-of-state. The idea that we must go git 'im because he's bad is unbecoming of adults.

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 01:11 PM:

It goes back to the conversation about what left we're talking about. I think maybe you err, Patrick, in assuming that Calpundit means YOU. I think as a loose generalization about the US left, it's a reasonable one. I just received a message in my email box being circulated for signing by academics, already signed by a significant number of luminaries on the left, which articulates opposition to the war, but makes minimal mention of terrorism or weapons of mass destruction save a kind of boilerplate statement that 9/11 was a bad thing. It also acknowledges that Hussein's misrule is bad and disrespectful of human rights, but without any sense that this badness is something that the left will concern itself with in its own way. It's just an expression of concern, nothing more--and a prelude to changing the subject back to something more favored. "Yeah, that's bad, but SO IS THE UNITED STATES."

A signed statement can't be a lengthy monograph, but its contours do outline a discourse in which opposing the war and the US government are the only thing that matters, and that terrorism and authoritarianism are things which we regret but have no alternative programmatic vision of how to confront.

I think it's perfectly fair for you to say, "That's not my left". But I don't think it's unreasonable for Calpundit to say, "That's the left that I see". It's a fair enough representation.

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 01:25 PM:

Starting a war to implement a "regime change" is illegal according to international treaties and covenants which the United States has ratified and might be expected to be bound by.

UN resolutions regarding Iraq to date confirm that "the West," or more reasonably the world community including Islamic nations, are willing to deny the Saddam Hussein regime access to certain classes of weapons, but do not provide a remit for removing that individual or his party from power. On 1 March 2003 we will find out, or start to find out, whether or not that regime is willing to comply with the terms of those resolutions when explicitly found to be in violation of those terms by the authorities charged with discretion in evaluating compliance, namely the members and staff of UNMOVIC.

The UN Security Council is simply not going to approve a war for regime change: it's prevented from doing so by, among other things, the charter of the UN.

Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 02:33 PM:

Just to endorse what Graydon said upthread -- I know Americans can't see it, but it's perfectly true: by the standards of Canadian politics at least, the USA has no left wing.

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 03:13 PM:

I'm going to chop off the north pole of this magnet. See? This magnet now has no north pole!

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 04:08 PM:

Rachel Heslin said:
I think it has been shown pretty conclusively that people who are healthy and well-fed and feel some sense of security are far less likely to succumb to extremist rhetoric than their starving, hopeless, scared counterparts.

I disagree. As was pointed out, Bin Laden is loaded. I'm not sure why this belief has taken on the patina of a natural law. The closer I look, the less support for it I see. The starving and hopeless may well become revolutionaries, but terrorism is a different kettle of fish. (Quick acknowledgement: terrorism is often part of a revolution, and I'm basically opposed to revolutions, but the thing that drives the PLO to bomb busses and the Al Qaeda to ram planes into buildings has nothing to do with freeing the masses and overthrowing the status quo.)

I think of myself as pretty white bread. I've also been through my bit of trouble. I've been so poor I had no food in the house, I've lived in terror of being evicted -- most of this due to the fact that I was incapable of taking care of myself. I hung out with some whores and drug dealers and junkies one year, which was a fascinating experience. What I've seen is that people who have always had security, have never missed a meal, never worked for minimum wage, never worried about making ends meet are more likely to be unforgiving towards their fellow human beings. Extremism seems to appeal to the working poor and the middle classes, people who are making ends meet, but who are under constant stress to do so.

People who have been down and out are _less_ likely to find extremist rhetoric attractive, in my experience. They're cynical. They aren't interested in other people's ideas of how the universe is built, they're pretty sure they already know -- and that there's no place in it for them. They rely on each other, but are suspicious of outsiders.

All the religious extremists I've known have been working class or better. The truly poor weren't welcome in our church. They smelled bad, and they don't wash their hair.

Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 04:18 PM:

(*cough*) Yes, well, but magnets don't quite work as an analogy, Simon. If you chop the north pole off a magnet, not only is the new north pole weaker, but so is the original south pole. (And you also have a second little magnet in hand, with the original north pole and a new south pole.)

None of that seems to have happened in American politics.

Scott Martens ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 04:25 PM:

I disagree. As was pointed out, Bin Laden is loaded. I'm not sure why this belief has taken on the patina of a natural law.

Of course it's not natural law. However, people who are not poor and desperate don't generally put up with people who screw up their good thing! The IRA drew members from a broad spectrum of Northern Irish Catholic society. If those folks had been doing well, don't you think the Catholics would have scoured every household in the country looking for the bombers messing up their lives?

Yes, the 9/11 bombers were fom the best educated classes of Arab society, and if the rest of the Arab world had stable, happy lives do you think they would have any basis for support at all? If 9/11 had been committed by Canadians, don't you think Canada wouldn't have scoured the country looking for their supporters? Do you think it would have been out of friendship?

Doesn't it occur to people that the millions of Arabs who will never themselves kill anyone but who will cheer at the sight of American dead are a far bigger problem than the terrorists themselves? Do you think such people will change their minds because you shoot at them? Do you think hunting down individual terrorists or changing particular regimes will keep them from just making more terrorists? It hasn't been working well in Israel.

The British had decades to hunt down the IRA, and the IRA only went away when their public support began to fade, when people began to think of them not as liberators, or even as what the British deserve, but as a group of right bastards who were mucking with people's lives. The same is true of ETA, the Corsican separatists, even the old Red Army Fractions in Germany. They are gone because the people they need to support them - the ones who will turn their backs more than the ones who will actually help - don't like them anymore. Wealth, poverty and people's notions of justice have everything to do with that.

david ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 04:48 PM:

I got the same email Timothy Burke mentioned above, and I can't see what he's complaining about. People who believe that this war is morally wrong, will increase the chance of terrorist attack, and will inflate the sense of imperial right evident in Bush administration officials, are signing on to a statement against the war. But Burke wants a different statement, prefaced with an apology for not being hard enough on Saddam Hussein and evil? Fuck that nonsense. Tactically, that's a stupid move, conceding moral ground to your opponents. Historically, it's also crap: the left in the States has a pretty good record opposing state oppression, and not just that by client states of the U.S. Whatever you believe about that, in this case, it's surely Rumsfeld who needs to admit he's been coddling.

But Burke would have us believe that "It's just an expression of concern, nothing more--and a prelude to changing the subject back to something more favored. "Yeah, that's bad, but SO IS THE UNITED STATES." Bullshit. It's an argument that the Bush Administration hasn't made a case for war. And they haven't. The petition is right. What good would it do to print a petition against Saddam Hussein and send it to Iraq, anyway?

Again, same problem. Nobody on the left is allowed to make an argument, because "reasonable liberals" who are "really concerned about Saddam Hussein" (and fucking patronizing, too) keep asking leftists to denounce Noam Chomsky before clearing their throat. Just as Julian Bond is asked to denounce Louis Farrakhan before commenting on Florida. And just as ridiculous.

david ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 04:50 PM:

Sorry to get so irritated. It was the "boilerplate" in Burke's note that set me off. What sort of statement wouldn't be "boilerplate" for someone so eager to find the left hating America first?

Barry ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 04:58 PM:

"I think it's perfectly fair for you to say, "That's not my left". But I don't think it's unreasonable for Calpundit to say, "That's the left that I see". It's a fair enough representation. "

Well, it's not the left that I've seen and talked with and whose blogs I've read. If that's the left that Calpundit's seen, he should get out more. Perhaps he should get somebody to loan him access to Nexis, so that he could look up the descriptions of demonstrations against the Afghan war, and compare them with what happened in the past few weeks. Comparing the raw numbers should give him some perspective. And comparing the European changes ('we are all Americans now', candles in front of US embassies, a bunch of Iranians performing the incredibly b*llsy action of a pro-US demonstration in Tehran) with the ~1M Britons marching in London recently.

What I think happened to Calpundit is that he is having a (hopefully) temporary case of believing what the right says. His channeling of Kissinger on not 'backing down' and the recent 'Bell Curve' episode have led me to this conclusion.

I hope that it's temporary, and that we won't see him making 'I used to be an Evul Librul' speeches.


Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 05:07 PM:

Well, good luck moving the goalposts, David. I mean, what's your scenario here? Noam Chomsky and the usual suspects sign a petition which accurately says, "The Bush Administration hasn't made the case for war" and then we march in the streets and play tactical hardball and then by magic osmosis we wake up one day and the war is stopped, peace breaks out, George Bush goes back to Texas and Donald Rumsfeld writes a searching apologia for having coddled Hussein?

It is neither tactical nor ethical stupidity to be concerned with a response to terrorism and maintain that this concern must always be simultaneous with opposition to the war. It's a tactical necessity because how ELSE are you going to make a connection with an American public that is (rightfully) fearful for their lives, their futures, their safety, their freedoms? By convincing them that the boogeyman in the White House is a worse boogeyman than the guy in Baghdad? Good fucking luck on that one, just on the tactical front alone. I can't think of a quicker road to political irrelevance than that *tactic*.

But more to the point, I think there is nothing incompatible about saying that what we are *consistently* for is the defense of liberty, and that we regard plowing planes into buildings, authoritarian rule, restrictions on US civil liberties *and* an irresponsible, heedless rush to unilateral invasion as being serious violations of liberty and justice, ALL of them requiring some kind of consistent, comprehensive vision of redress. I am fundamentally opposed to the division of ethical labor that says George Bush is my problem and Saddam Hussein is somebody else's problem, or that 9/11 is everybody's fault but the men who actually flew the planes into the buildings.

I didn't apply that logic when the ANC appealed to all of us to see the South African struggle for freedom as a struggle which belonged to us all, and demanded something from us all. I didn't blather on about how history and circumstance exempted the National Party from ethical responsibility for apartheid. I also didn't give into the narcissism of saying that it was all Ronald Reagan's fault anyway even though there were plenty of ways in which the Reagan Administration bore tremendous fault for the sorry state of southern Africa in the 1980s.

It's not wrong to concede to your opponents when they actually have a REAL POINT. Just because a Republican says it, we don't have to scream and writhe as if we're vampires being exposed to garlic. The really smart tactical move is not to utterly refuse to cede ground to people you regard as eternal blood enemies but to retrieve ownership of issues that they have wrongfully monopolized, and in so doing, connect yourself more profoundly to a vastly wider and more complicatedly situated public that may not share every, or even most, of your pet orthodoxies--but which might be willing to oppose the war, if only opposing the war is not inevitably depicted by both right AND left as being inherently antagonistic or different from opposing terrorism.

Barry ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 05:09 PM:

To those from real, actual Not USAian Foreign countries - one reason for people being sensitive to the 'there's no left in the US' is that that was a Green/Nader theme ('there's no difference between the Democratic and Republican parties').

We are learning that there is a difference, and it makes us cranky, as pain and nausea so often do.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 05:12 PM:

I don't think it's entirely disjunct from wealth and poverty, though I don't think that's it.

I think it's the expectation of a better future that does it.

If there's no emotionally real possibility of things getting better, it's easier to break stuff, because you're not losing much by the breakage.

That applies to abstractions at least as easily as it does to material circumstances; rich moral absolutists throughout history have managed to live lives of unquiet desperation.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 05:19 PM:

I would have said that it was obvious to the meanest intelligence that there is a big difference bewtween the gang of thugs and theocrats and most folks in the US, never mind the folks in the US who get called 'left' and 'liberal'.

Much of what I'm reacting to is the peculiar strain of moral absolutism running through the argument, as though being in favour of any particular political issue is necessarily a moral, rather than a pragmatic, stance.

The *other* part of it was the eye-bugging sensation at Patrick being desribed as 'left'; Patrick is probably to the right of me, and I'm solidly to the right of the political centre where I live. It's a very peculiar sensation, to think that a great nation has marginalized its political centre out of existence.

Rachel Heslin ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 05:28 PM:

re: Timothy/David thread

A petition which states that the US hasn't made a good case for war would be strengthened by

(1) admitting that there is a problem (thus diffusing accusations of Ignoring/Denying The Danger or Being Fluffy Headed)

(2) providing alternatives to war as a means of solving the problem.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 05:30 PM:


I think it's the expectation of a better future that does it.

If there's no emotionally real possibility of things getting better, it's easier to break stuff, because you're not losing much by the breakage.

Not in my experience. The people who see no possibility of things getting better are precisely the ones I'm talking about as being too cynical to be interested in apocalyptic visions, and who don't expect to be able to rely on anyone -- not even their own frail selves. It's the ones who have an expectation that things will get better, but who believe that they are being cheated out of that expectation, that are the most likely to be swayed by extremist philosophies. For them, the universe is out of whack, their expectations are not being met, and for some people that generates great anger. The fury of a home owner whose property taxes have gone up 10% is one of the most terrifying things I have ever seen. A druggie who's just had his stash ripped off by somebody he'd lent a spare bed to is nothing in comparison. They shrug, they go on. Shit happens.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 05:48 PM:

Scott Martens said:

However, people who are not poor and desperate don't generally put up with people who screw up their good thing!

This is why terrorists often try to convince people that the true enemy is not the guy with the bomb but the guy being bombed.

Doesn't it occur to people that the millions of Arabs who will never themselves kill anyone but who will cheer at the sight of American dead are a far bigger problem than the terrorists themselves? Do you think such people will change their minds because you shoot at them? Do you think hunting down individual terrorists or changing particular regimes will keep them from just making more terrorists? It hasn't been working well in Israel.

Um, that wasn't addressed to me, was it? Because if it was, I largely agree with you, and it has a lot to do with why I am opposed to war with Iraq. I see the war as a brilliant way to get even those Arabs who are largely sympathetic to the US to hate us. Smooth move, George.

On the other hand, I don't think that the cause of terrorism is simply extreme poverty. In fact, I'm not sure it's poverty per se. I suspect that one of the most grinding and soul-killing facts about modern life is the gap between the rich and the poor, between the middle class and the rich, between the poor and the middle class. Sometimes I'm startled at the things I do, like throw out used manila folders. I remember a time when I all but wept to own a half dozen of them -- they were my dearest dream. I stole them from trash cans, when I could. It was years after I got a job where I felt that I could afford to buy an _entire box_ of 100. These days, I rarely think of them, and I have vast numbers of unused ones.

david ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 06:31 PM:

OK, here's another (longish, sorry) go, without the snappishness I hope. Addressed to Timothy Burke, whose website I enjoyed reading last night (and whose dissertation I enjoyed reading too, ha ha!) even if I think the talk of the political irrelevance of the left is a bit much when Lileks and Sullivan are regular references.

I haven't moved any goalposts. Nor do I live in some fantasy world where Donald Rumsfeld will weep at the advent of world peace if I protest often enough with Noam Chomsky. I just think that the tendency to accuse the left of political irrelevance, and the argument that the left doesn't care enough about 9/11, or Saddam Hussein, is the sort of cheap propaganda that keeps Andrew Sullivan typing.

You say: It is neither tactical nor ethical stupidity to be concerned with a response to terrorism and maintain that this concern must always be simultaneous with opposition to the war.

Nobody disagrees with this statement except, maybe, a couple of lunatics. The people who sign that petition you are complaining about think that war against Iraq is not a good response to terrorism. They make a pretty good case.
Or, to put it another way, just because Chomsky and other luminaries of the left signed doesn't make it wrong.

You say: I am fundamentally opposed to the division of ethical labor that says George Bush is my problem and Saddam Hussein is somebody else's problem, or that 9/11 is everybody's fault but the men who actually flew the planes into the buildings.

Well, me too. It's insane to think the people who flew the planes into the World Trade Center aren't at fault. NOBODY THINKS THAT! When you put things this way, you buy into Bill O'Reilly's world, and you should be called on it. Really, I don't mean to be snappish here. I can imagine being irritated by someone on the left. But this caricature is unfair, and it puts a burden on anyone protesting the war that is unnecessary. Nobody thinks Saddam Hussein isn't a problem except for a few kooks at ANSWER, either. But we're a lot more likely to stop a unjust and stupid war by protesting against Bush, for any number of reasons that speak well of the U.S. (and other) democratic political processes. That doesn't mean that petition signers think Saddam Hussein is somebody else's problem. It means they are doing what they can when they can. Yes indeed, because they, and not the administration, are the hard-headed pragmatic realists after all.

You say: I also didn't give into the narcissism of saying that it was all Ronald Reagan's fault anyway even though there were plenty of ways in which the Reagan Administration bore tremendous fault for the sorry state of southern Africa in the 1980s.

This is what got me going in the first place. This is the caricature. That narcissistic left, so unwilling to face up to despotisms in South Africa. Well, I hate Mugabe too. So do others on the left. And there were precious few idiots who thought Reagan was responsible for all the evil in the world, and a lot more idiots who thought he defended freedom and democracy everywhere. I don't think it's all Reagan's fault, but I do think he was a bastard, and if he were starting this war I'd be looking for ways to tell people that he shouldn't.

You say: connect yourself more profoundly to a vastly wider and more complicatedly situated public that may not share every, or even most, of your pet orthodoxies--but which might be willing to oppose the war, if only opposing the war is not inevitably depicted by both right AND left as being inherently antagonistic or different from opposing terrorism.

What exactly do you know about my pet orthodoxies? You're assuming a great deal. But anyway, I stand by my original point. Your call for the protestors, and for the petition writers, to write something more than what you call boilerplate sure seems to bolster the case for war. What do you want them to say? "He's evil and has to go but not now with this President, or may with this president in a little bit and he's evil." Focus helps in a movement like this, and the focus is understandably on the war at hand. Not everything a Republican says is false, sure; but look at those poll numbers, and look at the streets. Are you so sure that the left is so attached to its pet orthodoxies that it isn't connecting with the masses?

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 07:48 PM:

The "you" in this case is (mostly) an imperial "you", as in "All you non-present people that I am vaguely disagreeing with who are not necessarily the people I am actually disagreeing with in this particular place".

I had this same problem with a person I had been talking with for years in the post-9/11 climate. He kept telling me, "You're nuts. None of what you say applies to liberals. Who is saying all these things you oppose?" And I had this weird sense of cognitive dissonance, because for a month after 9/11, my email box was flooded with messages from academic listservs written by people constitutionally unable to talk about terrorism as a problem, or some forms of fundamentalist Islam as a genuinely reactionary and repressive phenomenon in the world, or to see that whatever sins of commission and omission you could lay on the doorstep of the US, the US was also an important guarantor and symbol of freedom within and outside its borders. I heard the same things from some colleagues at conference in the next six months, and at meetings of students and faculty. It was really difficult for me. My long-time conversant kept saying: who is saying this in print? I could say, "Well, Chomsky, a few other folks, but there's way more people out there than the ones in print. It's real." And basically he replied, "You're hallucinating, exaggerating or lying, and I don't care much which".

It's the same reaction Todd Gitlin got when he published his piece in the NY Times. Traitor! Liar! Conservative! And I conclude that we are up against some kind of very deep, serious perception problem. Because people I respect and admire and whose intellect is prodigious don't see what I see and hear what I hear. And people I respect--Hitchens, Gitlin, Rauch--(and some I don't) hear what I hear and see what I see. It may be--almost certainly is--that I magnify the voices closest to me, and exaggerate their import and commonality. Another case of searching for my keys under the lights.

But I don't think it's irrelevant, and I don't think it's imagined. This is not a new debate for progressives. Stuart Hall had a lot to say about similar issues dividing the British left during the Thatcherite period, that the left didn't believe it needed to try and accept or adopt even the least teeny tiniest bit of the moral and political logics of Thatcherism, that Thatcher's appeal was completely phony, unimportant and a consequence of the collusion of power. I think this is a similar kind of divide. I think that the question of war and the question of terrorism are simultaneous, and the response of the left must always be--even in short petitions--to name BOTH of them as paramount. For both tactical and ethical reasons.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 08:09 PM:

There is nothing the United States can do that will begin to make itself safe from terrorism.

It is, quite literally, impossible to be safe from terrorism in an industrial culture; having aircraft means people can crash them into buildings, having gears means there are wrenches to be thrown into them, and having cheap steel means there's a lot of explosives around somewhere.

There is no safety; there is only a choice of states of risk.

It's not a question of going forth and hammering on the heathen until they submit and accept the necessity of industrial culture; it's not a question of killing all the people who hate the US enough to crash planes into buildings, and it's for fair and certain not a question of making sure no one has the technical ability to do anything bad.

It's a question of what return you get for the risk.

The present American administration is proposing to risk lasting hatred, increased terrorist activity, the release of biological weapons, and the increased probability of the eventual nuclear destruction of Israel in return for...

what, exactly?

Loss of personal freedoms for American citizens; an explicit policy that the rule of law does not apply to those who are not American citizens; a pile of corpses; a permanent loss of moral standing for the United States in the world; control of the Iraqi oil fields.

This is a strange equation of values.

Fifty billion dollars, fifty thousand millions, might do many things; to the thinking of some, perhaps fifty cents a barrel is a good price for oil, and the best use of that money, howsoever the end is accomplished.

I cannot imagine any sensible view which says that such expenditure will purchase any increase in safety, any enhancement of stability, or any growth of peace.

Rachel Heslin ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 08:11 PM:

BTW, I just wanted to thank everyone who's been participating in these discussions. There have been some beautifully articulated arguments that have helped me understand my own sometimes amorphous feelings of dread, and I hope you don't mind that I've co-opted a few of them, as they inspired me to actually write my reps (real letters, not just email.)

Fingers crossed....

Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 09:54 PM:

There's been some interesting things said in the "causes of terrorism" thread of the discussion, that I'll have to think about a little more.

The one factor that nobody's mentioned yet, which is probably important, is the fact that, independent of wealth or poverty, most of the governments in the Middle East are wildly corrupt and brutally repressive. The combination of those two factors tends, I think, to push dissent into more extreme and violent forms

A question that's been thrown out by a couple of rabid right-wingers (of the Den Bestian school of thought that holds that there's something inherently wrong with Islamic culture) is "Where are all the sane and moderate Arab dissidents?" The answer is "In prison or dead, thanks to the current regimes." Moderate, peaceful democratic activists in Egypt are arrested, run through kangaroo courts, and jailed for long periods of time for little more than publicly criticizing the government. This has been going on for years, to the point where hardly anyone bothers to be a moderate, peaceful democratic activist any more, as there's no future in it.

The only people who criticize the government and stay out of prison are the violent religious wing nuts. Which means that, when young middle-class Egyptians look around and find themselves dissatisfied with the current state of affairs, whacko Islamic fundamentalism looks a whole lot more attractive than it otherwise might, if Egypt had a functioning political opposition with a halfway sane platform.

Add in the fact that the governments doing the repressing are getting US foreign aid to do so, and the further fact that the state-run media spend huge amounts of time pushing the line that the international Zionist conspiracy, not rampant political corruption, is responsible for the sorry state of the economy, and, well, you've got an explosive situation.

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2003, 11:59 PM:

Graydon, you kind of prove my point. At the very least, it strikes me as tactical political suicide to get up and say, "Terrorism? Can't do much about it. Necessary fact of modern life. Terribly unfortunate."

As an afterthought on David's comments, I think one place where I really do feel quite confident that I'm *not* hallucinating is the inability of a significant segment of the activist left to be engaged by and involved in a critique of nationalist misrule in Africa. It's not just Mugabe: this runs pretty deep. Back before 1993, if we weren't talking about US clientelism in the Cold War or apartheid, which everyone could harrumph sufficiently about, we weren't talking about anything. I still have a lot of difficulty getting many of my Africanist colleagues to regard Mugabe's authoritarianism as a moral or political problem that calls for any kind of response at all, even just plain old strident criticism. Try mobilizing some of the networks that were heavily involved in the anti-apartheid struggle on the question of Zimbabwe and you'll get a taste of this. It was the same with Nigeria under Abacha and Babangida. It took an immense amount of jawboning to make an issue out of Carol Moseley-Braun's nauseating complicity with Abacha, and there were a lot of anxious liberals trying to shush up anyone stirring up that pot. More tactical thinking, I guess.

If I'm not hallucinating in that instance, I don't think I am more generally.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 12:52 AM:

Timothy: But you know, I think Graydon's right. I hate the pernicious meme floating about American society that things can and must be made safe. And not just relatively safe, completely 100% safe. That's what the current jackals in Washington are pushing on to allow them to trample our civil liberties. It's one of the things strangling our space program. Americans seem to think it's both possible and reasonable and it just isn't. Without risk and danger you go nowhere new and do nothing worth doing.

Here's something I keep thinking about: thousands of men and women have died to obtain America's freedoms and to protect those freedoms from those who would abridge them. And we're giving them up as fast as we can because we think it'll help us be safe. How patriotic is that? How respectful is that of the sacrifice of our country men and women?

Hmmph. I seem to have gone off on a tangent. I guess my point is that telling people you can make them safe is lying to children. Very bad practice. Distrust anyone who promises to make you safe. What's in it for him?


Rachel Heslin ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 01:18 AM:

Wasn't it Benjamin Franklin who said that those who are willing to give up liberty (freedom) for security (safety) deserve neither -- ?

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 02:23 AM:

I call attention to the latest from the estimable Michael Walzer. He addresses the right and wrong way to argue against this war. I find his solution, alas, unlikely, and I partially base that on how few people are arguing for it on the base he lays out, which I agree is necessary.

Incidentally, is anyone prepared to suggest that William Shawcross is a right-wing Bush supporter? Or Paul Berman?

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 03:10 AM:

Timothy, I didn't say it was impossible to do something about terrorism; I said it was impossible to make the United States safe from terrorism.

Behavour calculated to make anywhere safe is of necessity destructive; you're trying to do something impossible, and if you're trying to do that, either you're operating from a badly mis-folded reality map, you're malicious, or you're prefering the moral to the practical, which is not widely observed to have good results whenever it is known to have been tried.

The way to defeat terror is trust, and complexity of communications, and creativity; the rigid, absolutist world views necessary to think blowing people up is politically useful are, at seventh and last, much, much more fragile than an engaged, egalitarian, literate, argumentative, representatively governed culture.

None of those things are free; none of those things are easy, at least not easy all of the time.

It is precisely those things which the Bush administration is, on the basis of their advanced policies and public conduct, *against*.

They're quite happy to trade everyone else into a reduced choice space if it protects the choice space they presently personally enjoy; this would be of itself contemptible as treatment of their countrymen, their fellow citizens of a great republic, but it is made more so for the extensiveness of the historical examples of the consequences of attempting to enact such absolutes, 'people like us always win' being as rigid an absolute as any advanced among inquistorial theocracies or fearful despotisms.

Supporting economic models with force is how nations and empires begin to die; the policies of safety, so called, do that if all they do is limit change.

If instead the fear of terrorism is used to strangle biotech in its cradle, to deny research money to improvements in process chemistry, to prevent public debate on environmental risk management, to disorder half the earth with fire and the sword, depressing markets and uplifting the unscrupulous to profit among ruins unregarded by any law, these things are not slow things in the lives of nations.

It might be that the thugs and the theocrats would be pleased to see the children of their children's children live in a reviled and a backward place, scattered with monuments and out of the forefront of human culture, learning, or ability, so long as there is no teaching of evolution and no trammeling of foreign feet on the sacred soil of the homeland, or perhaps they are indeed such fools as to believe themselves or their works immune of history, being once and forever victory-blessed; I do not know.

What I do know is that safety does not arise from the use of weapons, that fear cannot be slain by force of arms, and that peace is not accomplished by acts of subjugation.

I could wish that these things were more widely known, and believed, and acted upon than they are over the width of the earth, instead of there being made many scheduled preparations to prove them true again.

Yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 03:35 AM:

Timothy - no, you are not hallucinating. I read a lot of left blogs (like Stand Down, about which Patrick always has good things to say) and essays and have listserv arguments - what you are gingerly complaining about is precisely where the "right" (and liberals who are fed up with the left) can hammer the left and do: the unwillingness to criticize 3rd world totalitarian regimes. Or any regime that started as a groovy revolutionary Marxist thing and morphed (as they all do) into a horrorshow.

The left has a long history of refusing to listen to victims of these regimes, just as the left now doesn't want to listen to the many Iraqis who think a US-led war that ousts Saddam will be less painful than leaving him in power. Not to mention the student reformers in Iran, who hope deposing Saddam will start a domino effect. The left didn't listen to Vietnamese, Cambodian, Soviet, Chinese dissidents either, as soon as they refused to toe the Western left's party line.

I don't think the Iraq war will inflame hatred and increase terrorism. The rantings against the unholy West have been going on for years (Rushdie's fatwa being the tip of the iceberg), the difference is now we are actually listening.

It's not conclusive that Saddam funds Al Qeda, but he does fund other terrorist groups, and he is closer to nukes than anyone else and he is belligerent and one of the worst dictators on the planet. And if he gets nukes he can blackmail the world for oil. Cumulatively, lots of good reasons to depose him.

Lydia is right - most political terrorists are middle class. Osama is the Arab version of the Symbionese Liberation Army, only with lots more cash and state support.

BTW, Timothy, 19 countries in a coalition and repeated UN debates isn't "unilateralism," and a solid year of debate and 19 UN resolutions in 10 years is not a "headless rush." If you're going to drop stale cliches into your argument, how much credibility are you going to have?

The UN came up with those resolutions, which are of type VII, which means militarily enforceable. The US is saying "are you going to enforce them or not?" i.e. can the US - or any other country - trust the UN to do what it says?

"A genuine UN-authorized coalition war in which many voices, including authorities people respect both inside and outside their own countries, are telling them that yes, this war is really necessary, and it's _not_ all just about American power and American access to cheap oil, but about a real threat to Saddam's neighbors, would do somewhat less to fuel that anti-American feeling."

We already have that. France and Germany choose not to be part of it, not because they are noble, but because they have their own histories and agendas no more pure than ours. It IS all about the oil - for France.

Gary, you are always a breath of fresh air. Thanks for the link to Walzer and Gittlin - I don't agree with their conclusions but they are at least sane adults. And sneered at by most of the antiwar left (for example, Stand Down). This reminds me of the late 60s when the SDS got more totalitarian and sycophantic to groovy 3rd world revolutionaries, and were vainly chastised by elder statesmen of their movement like Paul Goodman. The anti-semitism is bad deja-vu also. (Gary, I noticed that link on your site about increased anti-semitism in England.)

Yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 05:12 AM:

Noam Chomsky on Vaclav Havel:

Now, I'm not accusing anyone who posts at Electrolite of taking Chomsky seriously, but a lot of people still do, and would gleefully agree with everything he says about Havel, because, you know, Havel is just too bourgious, I mean, he sold out to da Man.

This kind of stuff is very common, and you can protest all you want that it doesn't represent the left, but the fact remains that it is NOT a fringe element, and if you want the left to look more like you, you have your work cut out for you. Supporting the folks at Dissent would be a good start.

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 08:35 AM:

I'm not sure what the point of the reference to Chomsky is, but actually reading the sources leads one to discover that (a) Chomsky himself believes that very few people agree with him; and (ii) the remarks cited by Matt Welch are criticisms aimed at the "Left" and "Liberals" in the USA.

This is hardly a basis on which support for Chomsky's ideas can be imputed to the group Patrick & and others in the larger context of the American left or liberals. Quite the reverse: Chomsky's remarks on those groups, as exemplified by his remarks on Havel, indicate how far removed from the mainstream he is.

I don't have to protest that Chomsky's remarks don't represent the left, Chomsky does it for me. This is not a good faith effort at engagement in discussion, it's flinging shit in hopes that some of it will stick.

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 08:41 AM:

Fair enough on the unilateralism and heedless rush points, Yehudit. Except that this is where not just the facts, but the perceptions matter--the perceptions *are* facts. I just love Portugal too, but the multilateralism which makes a political difference, which creates a sense of global consensus and undercuts the argument that this is just the US doing this, necessarily involves France, Germany, Russia, China and a solid majority of Arab states. One might complain that this is another kind of moving of the goalposts, and a grossly unfair standard for action. I agree. Sucks to be someone who wants to attack Iraq, but here we are talking pragmatically about how the United States can credibly project itself as acting with the world rather than against it.

On the larger issues, some of you who recoil and say, "Who on the left is saying THAT?" I might ask, "And who on the right is saying that what they're doing is going to make Americans 100% safe when it is all said and done?" Nobody that I can see: in fact, I'm more concerned at times about their rhetorical projection of an endlessly unsafe, never-normal-again state of being. The thing is not to box yourself into a false binary, e.g., that because there is no absolutely successful way to defeat terrorism and produce total safety, terrorism is something about which nothing can be done. There's no reason to concede that kind of action to the American right, precisely because a meaningful program of action against terrorism is not predominantly a military mission. I don't think it is so hard to ask, "Is there anything legitimate that we can do that might make us (and the world) safER" and to privilege our answer to that question right alongside stopping the war on Iraq--in fact, to *rescue* the "war on terror" from the "war on civil liberties" AND "the war on Saddam Hussein".

I think the pattern that Patrick sketches out for himself, uneasy support for US military operations in Afghanistan, strong opposition to the war in Iraq, is a really good and resonant pattern in terms of sketching out a larger blueprint for legitimate and illegitimate responses to terrorism--both as a matter of tactical politics and philosophical coherence.

david ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 08:52 AM:

Good morning.

Timothy: The lefties I've worked with are deep in it with the MDC, and they are active elsewhere in Africa. I'm sure you've had problems with mobilization, and I wish you hadn't, but my problem isn't with the incidental. You are not hallucinating, but you are generalizing in a way I think counterproductive. In this particular case, I just don't see any way to charge that the left is being soft on terrorism by opposing the war without saying x, y, or z, and not in making that charge serve the purposes of people with whom you probably don't agree.

As Bob notes, Yehudit pretty much makes my point. Look how quickly we slide from Stand Down is doesn't take on 3rd world dictatorships to the U.S. is not acting unilaterally and the adults are in charge and Walzer and Gitlin are wrong but at least they are sane because they do some ritual left bashing before making their point. I don't think a more forceful denunciation of Saddam Hussein (but hey, why not? I think he's evil!) is going to convince Yehudit that I'm right about the war.

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 11:49 AM:

Timothy, with considerable respect, the answer to your question, "On the larger issues, some of you who recoil and say, `Who on the left is saying THAT?' I might ask, `And who on the right is saying that what they're doing is going to make Americans 100% safe when it is all said and done?' Nobody that I can see..." is a class of folks on the Right exemplified by the columnists and editors at newsmax.com who come up with headlines like Gingrich: Reagan Cold War Strategy Could Defeat Terrorism and President George W. Bush, Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, and Michael Fjetland, a sometime "terrorism expert" for Fox TV in Houston, TX.

I submit that the thread of belief in the ability to put an end to terrorism is at least as strong as the objectionalbe and often clueless threads of belief you're exposed to because you are a member of an academic community. Clearly there are people active in the national discourse of the US who take a permanent end to terrorism as a goal which can be achieved.

(Fessing up: I've only included references to those who claim that terrorism can be "defeated" by military action and increased domestic police powers. Googling for `defeat terrorism' also turns up references to any number of people who think that they can nice terrorism out of existence. They're wrong, too, but I'm guessing that you (Timothy) don't need Google to find them.)

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 12:26 PM:

Sylvia Li - All the characteristics of magnets are appropriate to my analogy. Left and right are indeed less distinct from each other in US politics than in European. But both sides still exist, and they'll continue to exist no matter where they stand. (And "chopping off the pole" is not an account of something that happened in US politics, it's the analogy of changing from European to US standards.)

Timothy Burke - did you keep any of those e-mails from leftists whom you found unable to blame Islamicism for anything and unable to credit the U.S. for anything? I'd be curious to read them. I wonder if I would see them as saying what you see them as saying. If they merely don't address certain matters, instead of actively avoiding them - in a mostly like-minded audience, it's not customary to continually wave around disavowals that most readers see as understood - or if they are taking a "yes, but" attitude (as in "9/11 was terrible, but we should ask ourselves what we did to provoke it" - a dangerous question, but not at all the same as "blaming everyone but the terrorists"), then I would not characterize them as you do.

And lastly, how many leftists would it take to disagree with these purported attitudes before it stops being reasonable to characterize the left by it?

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 01:04 PM:

Graydon, when I try to think what's politically to the right of you, the first answer that comes to mind is "East Anglia".

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 01:07 PM:


I think I kept a few. I should dig back and see. I do think that a great many of them we would interpret differently, and a few, markedly more unusual, we might agree upon. It's the ones we would interpret differently that are the crux of this whole discussion.

I think on September 25th 2001 or so (or February 2003), not talking about fundamentalist Islam, al-Qaeda, or emphasizing the immorality of the 9/11 attacks, isn't just a "whoops, forgot to mention something important": that is a silence which can and often does rise to the level of an evasion. That's how I saw it and still see it, but I recognize that one could reasonably see it otherwise, as an incidental silence.

A lot of this comes down to priorities. I still stick by something I wrote in October 2001, that if the first thing one has to say about September 11th is "What did we do to provoke this attack? How are we at fault? What can we do differently?" then one's priorities are out of whack in a way that has very large troubling implications. It doesn't matter if on page 10 of a response there's a single question that says, "Well, of course it was a bad thing to blow up those planes" if the first 9 pages are "The US was asking for it and we have to do a lot of things differently and we're imperialists and we're greedy for oil and we're globalizing and..." I don't think the "of course" alters the overall tenor or balance of the discourse.

Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 01:10 PM:

Simon -

Ah, but the problem with the magnet analogy is that -- when viewed from outside a US perspective, especially from Canada, which is the subject under discussion -- chopping off the north pole seems to have made the south pole stronger, more excessively "south-pole-ish," so to speak, not weaker, while the north pole that remains seems to have lost much of its north-pole quality.

I think you may be on to something with the north-south thing, though. The home base of the American right wing does seem to be more in the southern states. Could it be it the climate? the water?

Sylvia (who is, for now, not a resident of the true north strong and free, but hangs out in central Jersey instead.)

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 01:11 PM:

Let me add that "yes!" and "what you said" are an inadequate response to your last comment.

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 02:21 PM:

"In this particular case, I just don't see any way to charge that the left is being soft on terrorism by opposing the war without saying x, y, or z, and not in making that charge serve the purposes of people with whom you probably don't agree."

And that's precisely what's wrong with part of the left: the idea that self-criticism mustn't be made in public (or at all), that "solidarity" is more important than truth, and that truth is best not looked at or spoken, but must be done only by halves. That's not Chomsky; that's a popular notion in many circles, on many blogs, and served up, piping hot, for this comment thread.

The same logic would suggest that it is right and proper for sensible rightists to not reflect in public on the foolishness of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Pat Buchanan, Name-Your-Choice, because it is right and proper for them to be concerned as to who might make use of that and what use might be made. Anyone want to sign on for that?

This is all part of what one gets when one signs on to view politics and policy primarily through a prism and as a team cheerleader, rather than to get at what makes the most sense and is the best analysis, and let the chips fall where they may, to then be picked up and used to build tools with.

It's sufficient to argue that Timothy Burke, say, is not, one thinks, describing one's self or acquaintances; to argue that what he describes is not real or important, just as real and important as the many other loci of political/policy perspective, is to deny a chunk of reality. It stops analysis from moving on.

Quentin ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 02:28 PM:

Just a quick note on the thread I've read so far:How dare you people stoop to using high-falutin',intelligent conversation to make your points!Y'all aint some kinda' SUBVERSIVE element present in our glorious,unquestioning society,are ye?

aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 02:42 PM:

Reading through the comments I see that the conversation has meandered significantly from the issues raised in Patrick's original post, and i'd like to see if I can induce a brief return to them.

It seems to me both that Kevin Drum has a point and that making that point has little constructive value.

The reasons why I think Kevin has a point can be demonstrated by a short discussion of reaction to the announcement of an upgrade in terror-alert status to 'code orange' and the contemporaneous flurry of news reports about administration suspicions that there was some sort of imminent attack being planned. As far as I could determine, responses to that fell within one of four categories:

  • Absolute belief that the administration was correct and that a terrorist attack was imminent;
  • Belief that the administration was completely making it up and trying to scare people for its own nefarious purposes;
  • Uncertainty if the administration was reporting actual intelligence or trying to scare people;
  • Belief that the administration was both reporting actual intelligence and trying to scare people for reasons of its own.

It seems to me that Kevin's criticism is directed at the people whose response fell into category 2: belief that there was no threat and that the administration was making it up for sinister political purposes. I certainly would not characterize that as the response of the entire left; but I have many friends who did respond in that fashion. And, to the extent that Kevin's criticism was a criticism of people whose instinctive reaction was that the administration had to be lying and there couldn't actually be a serious threat, I think it's a well-placed criticism.

That said, I question the utility of making that criticism - or, perhaps more precisely, I question the impact; I believe the effect of that criticism is to stifle debate. It will do this in two ways: one, because of its breadth it alienates people like Patrick who are not the intended targets but believe themselves to be; two, because in the minds of Kevin's readers, it creates an association between a political position with which Kevin disagrees (opposition to the war) and a political position which most Americans find ridiculous (a belief that there is no terrorist threat). Even if it's a legitimate criticism of some subset of the left, phrasing it in such a way as to associate "the left" with it cannot not have a disparaging effect.


Graydon, I understand the gist of the comment that there is no left in the United States; certainly there is no politically effective left. But, because i live in one of the most left-wing college towns in the nation, I am forced to disagree with your assessment; there is a left in the United States that is small, disorganized, and utterly marginalized, but which is just as radical as the French Trotskyites or the outermost fringe of the German Greens. They just don't get any attention and are next to impossible for someone who doesn't live on their doorstep to see. (On the other hand, you are absolutely correct that there is no such thing as safety; this is a point computer security experts have been trying to make for years, with little success).

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 03:53 PM:

You left out a fifth category of response -

  • belief that this American administration has no way to tell if it's getting good intel or not, so its terror alerts are driven mostly by the the ways in which the competing mis-folded reality maps within it intersect into strange and terrible origami shapes.

I don't think it matters which moral universe you're trying to live in, if you think the universe itself is moral; the effort to compel indifferent reality to conform to the pattern of your prefered story will eventually horribly misfold your reality map.

This is the common element among all these complaints, left, right, or other; that the people involved are using a reality map which is forcibly caused to conform to some moral ordering, rather than the world as it is observed to be.

Since everyone must do this -- there is no other way for a human being to construct a reality map -- there is the option of attempting to sufficently socially marginalize everyone else's reality map, so that yours -- or the one to which you least object -- is accepted as the basis for policy.

This has the terrible flaw, irrespective of moral arguments, of having no error checking. The highest ideals and the basest venality have that flaw in common, should any moral concern become the basis for public policy.

It works much better to base public policy on things which can be agreed without reference to the inside of anyone's head.

If, of course, everyone in the society is willing to accept that this may mean that they shall not get what they want, in whole or in part; once an organized group prefers the destruction of the society to not getting what they want, that society is doomed.

Either it shall be destroyed as the group gets what they want, or the effort of destroying that group will destroy it. (Both the English and American civil wars are excellent examples of this process.)

It is this process which is well under way in the United States today, giving the citizens of that Republic a choice of destructions for themselves as well as for others.

Any argument of the form 'the left is morally deficent' or 'the right is morally suspect' which ignores these things is, at root, futile; the house is on fire, and however much someone might prefer that it not be, or to live in a world where choices were simple, or where the use of force had no utility at all, or, first and foremost, where dear things in the valued present were certain to extend untrammeled into any occuring future, it remains that the unforseen future shall arrive, and that no certainty attends upon it concerning what we love.

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 04:01 PM:

The same logic would suggest that it is right and proper for sensible rightists to not reflect in public on the foolishness of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Pat Buchanan, Name-Your-Choice, because it is right and proper for them to be concerned as to who might make use of that and what use might be made. Anyone want to sign on for that?

Good point. I don't mind saying, as a right leaner, I was extremely encouraged by the number of conservatives who were willing to deplore Trent Lott and how much it helped to finally get the guy out. I also spend a lot of time (when I'm not here) sparring with jackasses at various conservative and Catholic blogs who think the Buchananite faction is being unfairly criticized by us neo-cons who are a "wholly owned subsidiary" of the Zionist entity, blah blah blah.

I'm not a regular Limbaugh listener, but I know he loves to make hay of other conservatives when he disagrees with them or get behind a bill or issue he disagrees with.

(for what that's worth...)

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 04:26 PM:

I believe that Graydon's fifth category could be taken as part of Aphrael's second category by persons in the first category. If you follow me. Perhaps that is the cause of the problem.

Timothy Burke wrote, "I still stick by something I wrote in October 2001, that if the first thing one has to say about September 11th is "What did we do to provoke this attack? How are we at fault? What can we do differently?" then one's priorities are out of whack in a way that has very large troubling implications."

You do not say how certain you are that these were the first things that those people said. But I can say this: that by October 2001, everybody I was talking to about 9/11 had already been devoting much thought to the matter for about three weeks, and were well into discussing second- and third-order ramifications of the subject.

I can also say this: that by October I was already reading complaints from liberals that any attempt to understand the terrorists' motives would generate accusations of "terrorist-symphatizer" from conservatives, whose only permissible explanation of the act was that the terrorists were Evil, end of story.

How widespread that claimed conservative attitude may be, I do not know: I did not see much of it. But I certainly saw the complaints. What I have seen is your earlier comment castigating those who hold "that 9/11 is everybody's fault but the men who actually flew the planes into the buildings." Does anyone - even Noam Chomsky - actually say that? You are otherwise quite sober and reflective: can you not see that sarcasms like that are part of the problem you're trying to address?

I do not think it necessarily follows that one's priorities are out of whack if an early, or even the first, reaction to a human misbehavior, even one as heinous as 9/11, is to seek to understand why it was done. That is often the best way to prevent it from happening again. Is not attempting to divine the motives of A---f H----r [name censored from fear of Godwin] an international pastime? Are these people all out of whack? Are they reprieved because 58 years have passed? Is the film Max immoral?

Certainly the terrorists were trying to tell us something VERY LOUDLY; surely it would be wise of the U.S. to attempt to figure out what that something is, so that we may better combat it, instead of flailing around ineffectually at whatever handy target presents itself, which is what we appear actually to be doing.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 04:58 PM:

Timothy Burke wrote, "I still stick by something I wrote in October 2001, that if the first thing one has to say about September 11th is "What did we do to provoke this attack? How are we at fault? What can we do differently?" then one's priorities are out of whack in a way that has very large troubling implications."

There was certainly a Stockholm-Syndrome-like-thing going on during period. People I know and like were entertaining thoughts like that before the last of the victims in the WTC rubble, a mile away, were finished dying. I found such sentiments very disturbing.

However, unwillingness to concede anything to the Bush administration's hard sell machine seems to me closer to closing the door on the door-to-door salesman's foot or hanging up on a telemarketer.

The longer the spiel goes on, the less I care about disarming Saddam Hussien and the more I care about disarming George W. Bush.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 05:00 PM:

It seems to me that the fundamental failing of the "Left" is not a refusal to critique itself, but rather its tendency to allow itself to factionalize to the point where it is ineffective, being too involved in Nicean warfare. I don't understand why the right does not seem to have this tendency, as they certainly have the same breadth of opinion. Still and all, when it comes down to simple issues, they tend to all pull together in the same direction, whereas the left often seems to be going off in all directions at once.

Self-criticism is good for the soul. It's good for a movement. But only if there _is_ movement. When I decided to go to the February 15th march, here, I scanned the list of sponsors for pro-PLO or anti-Israeli organizations. Had I found one, I don't know what I would have done. Failing to find anyone completely offensive, I went -- even though I have lots and lots of political differences with most of the sponsoring groups. I don't think I'm a pacifist, my dislike for WAMM goes back to the 80s, and I'm utterly uncertain what the hell peace in the Middle East has to do with freeing Leonard Peltier.

The newspaper reported the estimated numbers, and showed a pretty picture of thousands of marchers with brilliantly colored signs, with the explanation that it was a call for a stop to the war in Iraq. The intricate and opposing philosophies that caused 7500 people out into the bitter cold with a brisk wind in Minneapolis to walk a mile and a half weren't discussed. I wonder how many people stayed away because of a small political difference.

There's a time and a place to split hairs, and there's a time and a place to just suck up your gut and do the solidarity thing, even if it makes you gag. The march was a call for a stop to the war in Iraq, and it was making its point with numbers. There were signs I loved (Who would Jesus bomb?) and signs I hated (Sanctions kill). I think that we made the point that we all agreed on, and that we didn't discredit each other, even though there were many different reasons why people were against the war.

Demonstrations and signs are not a good place for nuanced messages. If ANSWER is the one doing the organization for marches in your area, maybe that really sucks, but is there anybody else? Letters and blogs and the like are a much better place for more carefully nuanced messages. Someone who marches in an ANSWER organized event doesn't necessarily believe everything ANSWER says, just as someone who has a sign supporting the war isn't pledging absolute fealty to George the Lesser.

How does the right do it? I'm serious. With all its disparate elements, some of them seriously at odds with each other, how does it manage to stay on message and keep their own Nicean struggles from becoming the only thing that people talk about? Why don't they factionalize and collapse under the weight of their own differences. I thought it was the _left_ that was supposed to be into solidarity.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 05:30 PM:

I suspect that the cohesion of the American right is a function of a relatively narrow set of funding sources, on the one hand, and an even narrower set of media policy sources.

Note that the Canadian right, which does not have that narrowness of funding sources, isn't cohesive. (And that the National Post has the editorial policies it does because Conrad Black personally detests Jean Chretien.)

Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 06:05 PM:

Timothy Burke wrote, "I still stick by something I wrote in October 2001, that if the first thing one has to say about September 11th is "What did we do to provoke this attack? How are we at fault? What can we do differently?" then one's priorities are out of whack in a way that has very large troubling implications."

The problem is that this attitude is all too easily extended to those for whom "How are we at fault?" was the second thing they had to say, or the fifth, or the twenty-ninth...

While I agree that those questions weren't the first things to leap to mind on September 11th, they are questions that need to be asked sometime. There's nothing unpatriotic in noting that our Middle East policy has not exactly been a shining example of our deep committment to human rights and freedoms, lo these past five decades or so. Indeed, it's counterproductive not to ask "What could we do differently?" at some point in this process.

But there's a small and shrill group of people for whom any attempt to reflect on our role in creating the monstrous clusterfuck that is the modern Middle East is something to be derided as "America-hating." Which gets tiresome rather quickly, and leads me to be leery of any statement like that quoted above.

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 07:37 PM:

Be leery of it when the person saying it warrants your suspicion. I agree that at some point, American culpability for the human architecture of the Middle East is an important question. So, for that matter, is an intimate and even empathetic understanding of why people might hijack planes and kill thousands. Certainly a historically rich and informed sense of the origins and genealogy of Wa'habism is crucial. And so on. All important, all needing to be discussed.

None of which requires setting aside a simultaneous and powerful recognition that it is wrong to hijack planes and kill thousands, and that no investigation of the whys and wherefores should ever table or defer that judgement. I think there is a crucially difficult two-step involved here that both right and left (broadly speaking! I am not referring to you if YOU don't think you're encompassed by this) avoid. We have a responsibility to empathetically understand how social actors see their actions and their world from the inside out and a responsibility to judge what they do according to some larger, if not necessarily fixed and absolute, ethical metric. I simply feel that after 9/11, even to today, the simultaneity of those responsibilities is rarely expressed or felt. At least some of the left feels it must understand the Middle East, but only judge the US government; the right feels it must judge Iraq or bin Laden or the Taliban and understand...well, you got me there, I'm not sure what they think they need to try and understand.

This is straying somewhat from Kevin Drum's original comments, except to say that I think arguing against war in Iraq requires (both as a tactical and philosophical requirement) that the case FOR war be taken seriously. I am not alone in thinking so, and perhaps much of the "left", whatever the hell it is and wherever it is, thinks so too. At least that's Michael Walzer's claim in the New York Review of Books. I think maybe I disagree with Walzer about how common arguing "the wrong way" against the war really is. He thinks it's rare. I wouldn't say it's common, but I wouldn't say it's like finding a four-leaf clover, either.

david ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 07:43 PM:

To Gary Farber:

I did not not say solidarity is more important than truth. I said it was an unfair test to demand that the opposition to war mouth some sort of non-boilerplate test of decrying terrorism before it opposes the war, because to that is to concede to the war mongers that opposing the war in some way impedes efforts to reduce terrorism.

Accusations like yours are the sort that cut off conversations. That was exactly my point. And really, do you think the left needs more navel gazing? That there isn't enough critique of Answer? How much is enough?

david ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 07:44 PM:

Whoops, meant to hit preview. Sorry for the fuck ups.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 07:51 PM:

By what metric is is wrong to fly planes into people into buildings and kill thousands, yet not wrong to fly planes and drop bombs which kill thousands?

If the first is absolutely wrong, so is the second. If the second is not absolutely wrong, neither is the first.

There isn't any way out of that which doesn't involve, somewhere, the assumption that Americans are somehow different from everyone else when these calculations are performed.

"it was wrong for them, it is wrong for us" isn't an anti-war slogan I've seen, but it seems to me one that is plausibly true.

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 08:03 PM:

If someone breaks into my house, shoots me in the arm, kills my children and threatens to kill me, and then is inattentive long enough for me to grab a baseball bat and kill him, am I no different than he? We've both killed. Only the most hardcore pacifist would say so, and I at least respect someone who holds that consistently to a belief (assuming they can hold to in practice as well). But I respectfully and strongly disagree. I'm different in that case than the man who broke into my house and killed my family, and my act is not the same as his.

Is a soldier in war as culpable when he fires a shot across a field and kills his enemy as Jeffrey Dahmer was when he killed people? It seems to me that there is a huge difference between the two acts.

You get the point, I'm sure. Most of us recognize that there are ethical differences between acts of violence, sometimes major, sometimes minor. The more real-world and large-scale the stage, the harder those differences can be to discern and describe. But I do think there is a measurable, serious difference between flying planes into a building full of civilians and dropping bombs as part of an attempt to cripple a military infrastructure. There is a difference between terrorism and war. There is a difference between the US government and US society, whatever its flaws, and al-Qaeda.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 08:20 PM:

Certainly there is a difference between the US and al-Qaeda.

However, consider the Sudanese pharmacutical factory, or the cruise missile strike on the Taliban camp which nearly killed bin Laden.

In what moral way were those different acts than flying planes into buildings?

I can't see it.

(I, personally, feel that the distinction between 'targetting civilians' and 'targetting infrastructure' is vaccuous; the civilians need the infrastructure to live.

It is *different* than a deliberately genocidal policy, but it's hardly "avoiding civilian casualties".)

Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2003, 09:48 PM:

If someone breaks into your house, kills your children, and runs away, he is a murderer.

If you use that as an excuse to go across town and kill the children of some other person who might possibly be that murderer's second cousin, or might only happen to have the same surname, or maybe just looked at you funny last week, then you are a murderer too.

There is no issue of self-defense, here. Your children are dead. Do you call the cops and help them track down the guy who did it, or do you go on a Rambo-like rampage?

The US is starting a war. You have a moral duty not to allow yourselves to think that the innocent civilians who will die as a result of the war don't matter. They are every bit as innocent of attacking you, as the people who died in the WTC were innocent of attacking Al Qa'eda.

Iain J Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2003, 06:33 AM:

> > Graydon, when I try to think what's politically to the right of you, the first answer that comes to mind is "East Anglia".

As a resident of East Anglia, I'm afraid I find this statement utterly baffling. Any chance of a glossed version?

Dan ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2003, 06:39 AM:

I'm a Brit, not a Yank. I'm also a soldier, not a civilian. I'm a socialist and was a Blair supporter. No longer.

I wasn't in New York on 9/11 but I saw every single minute live on my TV, as it happened, second by horrific second. I felt then, and I still feel now, fury at the people who made me and the world watch mass-murder. If ever a man was made for the hour, it was Rudi, or so it seemed over here. If ever the UK really felt the true meaning of "special relationship" it was then; even if other Brits hadn't been murdered in the twin towers, no-one could watch that scene and not feel part of it. That could have been any tower-block, in any city, in any country. With not a little shame, many people must have thought, "thank god it wasn't us".

I fully understood and supported the Afghanistan operation to find and capture Bin Laden. This guy had to be stopped. But then it started going off-key. Where did Iraq come into it? Why are all these people being held incommunicado in Diego Garcia and Guantanamo, without legal representation or even official acknowledgement that they're there? What links with Al Qaida? If you've got all this evidence of WMD, why can't we see it and why can't anyone else find them?

More importantly, if George Bush is telling the truth when he says he'll attack Iraq even if the UN doesn't agree with him, that really takes the biscuit. Stealing the votes of Californians is one thing and for America to put right; stealing the Presidency is another, but still for America to solve; but usurping the role of the UN and investing yourself with the mantle of "Unquestioned and Unquestionable Leader of the World Whether You Like It Or Not" is something else. And thankfully more and more American are waking up to this.

"My country right or wrong." is one step away from "I was just following orders", "You had to do as you were told" and the next stop is concentration camps, followed by torture and disappearances. It didn't end in 1945; Chile, Nicaragua, Argentina, all had their own version of the death camps. Are yours already in the making?

This is not an anti-American rant, this is anti-Bush. Let's be clear about one thing. This war isn't about religion, nationality, race, politics or morality. It's about Oil and influence. That is what drives George Bush.

aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2003, 10:37 AM:

Dan --- "stealing the votes of Californians?" I suspect that perhaps you have your US states confused; California's electoral votes went for Gore, by a fairly large margin. Perhaps you mean Floridians?

Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2003, 04:43 PM:

The people I know weren't thinking "this was our fault" in September 2001. We were thinking "How can we stop this from happening again?" The possible solutions (many of them clearly either immoral or impractical) ranged from "find out why they hate us, and change it" (which works only if there are specific wrongs to be righted--if they hate us for being multicultural, polyglot, feminist, etc. they're fucking well going to have to learn to live with our existence) to "nuke them all" (not possible, not when "they" are scattered around the world, and have allies with nukes of their own). But it wasn't about atonement--anyone in New York who hadn't suffered enough could go downtown and help with the rescue and aftermath. It was about trying to find a way to feel safe again.

Also, anyone whose position is that they'd support an anti-war petition if only it started by condemning the Iraqi government is encouraged to write and circulate one. That way you can be sure it says what you agree with. If that isn't a palatable option, maybe it's not the lack of condemnation of Saddam Hussein that bothers you. I don't object to people being pro-this-war and saying so--I disagree, but you're allowed to disagree with me--but I do object to people claiming that they object to the forms when they're actually opposed to the substance.

Steve Trout ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2003, 06:16 PM:

I wish Bush would accept Saddam's challenge of a one-on-one debate. They could both go heeled, and when the argument gets hot enough draw and fire. Either way we'd win.

Barry ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2003, 09:33 PM:

Nah, one would probably live (hmm, give each a nuclear bullet, with a 100-meter blast radius?)

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2003, 03:07 PM:

I mostly agree with Vicki, with the one reservation that even if people hate us for multiculturalism and tolerance it's worth our while to try to find ways for them to not hate those aspects of our culture.

On the other hand, Timothy Burke's comments have been useful to me in posting remarks elsewhere opposing regime-change war in Iraq: I am now more careful to state that I oppose the Saddam Hussein regime and its apparatus and support the disarmament of Iraq by means short of invasion and military occupation. No results on this yet, but if an intelligent person like Mr Burke says it's a problem then I believe that it is reasonable to accommodate my writing to the reality of what surely is a widespread perception issue.

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2003, 08:49 PM:

Cool beans!

Though got any ideas on the Hussein problem? I ask not sarcastically but utterly seriously. One place that some of the more rational pro-war types score a point is that the sanctions-and-no-fly zone approach is really just death by slow cuts and not especially preferable to war. So here's the trick: does the left, broadly speaking, have any systematic ideas about how to approach a Saddam Hussein, assuming we concede he presents an authentic issue? I confess I find myself falling back into a historian's fatalism. Which doesn't satisfy me in the least. It would be nice to have a systematic vision that did not fall back on default forms of pacifism and bargain-basement 60s rhetoric about American imperialism when it gets down to talking about what we can actually do. On the other hand, there's a reason why nonviolent protest worked against the British Empire in India and was plainly a pointless way to fight Nazi Germany: you have to fight with weapons that work, which is partly a function of the nature of your opponent. The US government of the moment, whatever we think of it, cannot completely ignore or shun democratic pressures. Saddam Hussein can.

But I think it is important progress if the left can say consistently, "All evil in the world does not begin and end with the United States or the West, and our politics call us equally to injustice everywhere."

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2003, 10:23 PM:

I say that (not, of course, in those words) a lot. The reason some of us on the left focus on wrong done by the US is that a) we have a right to have a say in how this country is run, and b) we truly believe this country is supposed to be the "good guys," and we want to make/keep it that way.

It's not that evil done by Americans is worse, it's just more saddening. (Sort of like you wouldn't like it if anybody mugged an old lady on your block, but if it was your best friend's son, that would bother you somewhat more.)

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2003, 11:00 PM:

Which problem of Iraq?

The ethic fragmentation, the nasty dictator, the prediliction of an important ally to commit genocidal acts upon portions of its population,
the potential for the WMD's that Iraq may possess to escape to the possession of people with nothing to lose?

The simplest solution would be to find a way to address all of those that actually benefits the people who live there; guarunteeing their borders, promising to shoot anyone who exhibits warlordism or dictatorial predilictions, ensuring that oil companies will abide by reasonable contracts, and providing a great deal of educational resources would be a good start, with the idea being to ensure local access to trade and a reasonable level of security and build up national infrastructure from there.

Civil society starts with local prosperity and works up; it would take a generation to have a solid national government, but the state of the northern no fly zone is kinda encouraging if one considers such a plan.

The war -- if there needed to be a war -- to oust Saddam would depend on making offers to do those things convincingly; not something that the people of Iraq could possibly believe from this American administration, which is where I start to very much like Josh Marshal's take that it's

more aptly described as which of the really bad alternatives is best to choose given the jam the administration has backed us into.

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2003, 08:55 PM:

Sylvia Li says: "If you use that as an excuse to go across town and kill the children of some other person who might possibly be that murderer's second cousin, or might only happen to have the same surname, or maybe just looked at you funny last week, then you are a murderer too."

"There is no issue of self-defense, here. Your children are dead. Do you call the cops and help them track down the guy who did it, or do you go on a Rambo-like rampage?"

a) This analogy fails because there is no comparable structure to a democratic polity's domestic consensus of law enforcement with supranational law enforcement that provides for an international force to, according to law, kick down the door of a criminal country and arrest the regime. Well, there is somewhat, but Sylvia Li is objecting to that route being followed, because it is "a Rambo-like rampage." Reversing this analogy, it would appear that if your local police find a murdered family in a house, they must not go across town to where the murderer lives, kick in the door, and arrest him, because "there is no issue of self-defense" involved in that, and it would be a Rambo-like rampage.

(Incidentally, in the movies, Rambo is, you know, the good guy. I realize this runs across a stereotype because it's Sylvester Stallone, but Rambo is actually a character desperate to find peace, who is forced against his will to fight, and does good -- so presumably Sylvia Li is saying using that as praise.)

Which international police force does Sylvia Li suggest should the world call to deal with Saddam Hussein, and what should they do? That's beyond "self-defense," that is?

b) If "self-defense" is all that is right and proper, presumably the North should never have invaded the South in the Civil War, the US should never have sent troops to fight in WWI, and the US should never have invaded Europe in WWII, nor defended South Korea and invaded North Korea. No direct "self-defense" in any of that, is there? Could Sylvia explain whether or not this is what she means?

Lastly, more or less stating that the US is planning, as a strategy, to go kill children -- well, again, lots of children died in the wars I mention above. Does that means we should have engaged in pacificism? Is it useful to discussion to reduce understanding of current events to "you're child-murderers!" Perhaps so, but what about stopping the child-murderer across town?

I'd rather discuss Michael Walzer's work on just war, and whether this war meets the test, which would present more relevant issues to chew over.

Has everyone read what Leon Weiseltier has said about this being a liberal's war? And E. J. Dionne on patriotic liberalism?

aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2003, 11:41 AM:

Gary, I had not previously read Weiseltier's comments about this being a liberal's war, although I have for some time been of the opinion that the administration has shown a touch of political genius by attempting to sell this war as a Wilsonian project.

Where I find myself objecting to the war, in essence, is on procedural grounds. I agree that the United Nations should enforce its resolutions; I also believe that for the United States to do so on its own undermines the authority of the UN in exactly the same way that lynching undermines the authority of the local police.

I take particular issue with the notion that it is a legitimate use of United States power to eject tyrants from the government of other countries. I disagree with that notion in part because of the practical reality that the United States often has difficulty determining who is, and who is not, a tyrant, and in part because the modern history of states attempting to do this sort of thing is in no way edifying. But my primary objection is that for one state to arrogate to itself this kind of authority will inevitably cause a counter-reaction from other states which misinterpret it, or which become terrified that they are the next target; it is an undertaking which, in the medium term, is guaranteed to have destabilizing effects on the international scene.

As far as I can tell, Weiseltier doesn't address that issue.