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March 14, 2003

Michael Lind on “The Three Strategic Fallacies of the Bush Administration”:
The United States is now more isolated from its major allies and more internally divided over foreign policy than at any time since 1945. The strategy of the Bush administration—and not merely its style—is to blame.

The grand strategy of the Bush administration rests on three axioms: American global hegemony; preventive war; and the so-called “war on terror.” All three axioms are fallacies that inevitably produce counterproductive and misguided policies. What the great French diplomat Talleyrand said of Napoleon’s execution of the Duc d’Enghien applies with equal force to Bush’s grand strategy: “It is worse than a crime; it is a mistake.”

Read the whole piece. It’s short and to the point.

At the moment, really, the most rational possible reaction to the Bush administration’s national-security policy is to light one’s hair on fire and run down the street screaming about Jesus. However, with any luck, at least some of us will be alive two years from now, or six years from now, to take up the task of building a sane structure of domestic security and foreign affairs. At that time we’ll be glad for those people who’ve kept on saying sensible stuff in the interim. [03:47 PM]

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

Comments on Michael Lind:

Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2003, 04:17 PM:

At the moment, really, the most rational possible reaction to the Bush administration92s national-security policy is to light one92s hair on fire and run down the street screaming about Jesus. -- Patrick, I now have a visual of you running through your neighborhood that I never thought I'd ever enjoy. Bravo!

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2003, 04:49 PM:

". . . screaming about Jesus."

Problem: Conservative evangelicals may take it as a sign that the latest Great Awakening is rolling along just fine.

the talking dog ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2003, 05:12 PM:

Patrick, you have FINALLY given those of us whose hair is ALREADY on fire as we run screaming down Union Street (hoping our hair does not set the Gowanus Canal alight) some glimmer of HOPE. (Fortunately, I ALSO happen to have a flame-retardant tin-foil hat for such emergencies.)

You assert that the Bush Administration ACTUALLY HAS A GRAND STRATEGY-- albeit a bad one. That we are not simply watching these ideological Marxists (as in Marx Brothers) try to laugh, joke and bamboozle their way through a set of circumstances about which they are absolutely CLUELESS (other than to rely on their natural lack of interest in the world and personal mean-spiritedness, of course) is, strangely, a cause for optimism.

It implies that they have actually given thought to any of this-- and that somehow makes me feel better, than what I REALLY think is going on, which is that these guys COULDN'T GIVE A SHIT about anything other than what they think will allow them to hold power a little longer.

Things must really suck.

Rachel Heslin ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2003, 05:27 PM:

Actually, there has been a thematic consistency to the Bush Administration's actions in regard to foreign policy, especially in terms of attempting to promote American hegemony on a global level.

It reminds me of people who are so insecure about their ability to deal with life that they feel they need to micro-manage every last detail of everything, and heaven forbid something happens that they didn't have absolute control over.

Mr. President, Life is not about control. It's about communication and cooperation. We are the most powerful nation on the planet -- it's not only tacky to rub others' noses in it, but it increases the desire of others to take us down.

Grow up.

Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2003, 05:38 PM:

"Mr. President, Life is not about control." Rachel -- read my column about Jr's little control problems that seem to date from way back when. Long before the (p)residency began. (Not to be tacky to flog my blog in Patrick's blog, but it's too long a story to narrate here in the comments section.)

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2003, 05:46 PM:

So, it's not so much a problem of being clueless as differently clued.

Kinda in the way that wearers of tinfoil hats are differently clued. (No offense, Talking Dog.)

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2003, 06:07 PM:

Read the whole piece. It92s short and to the point.

Okay, I did. I think Mr. Lind is overly optimistic. He seems, almost, to believe that if these things are pointed out to them, the Bushies will fix the problems and life will be merry again. Well, um. Of course they think that the 'right' to wage pre-emptive wars on countries which may become a threat is a right only for the US. Many of them, especially the Idiot in Chief, grew up believing themselves to be uniquely priveledged and so, of course the US is. It's where they live, and they're running it, right?

As for the war on terror thing. Not bloody likely they'll change it. As I pointed out right after 9/11/01 it gives them a golden opportunity to arrogate to themselves all sorts of lovely juicy powers and to quash that bothersome Bill of Rights thing. No way they're gonna give that up until you pry it from their cold dead hands.

On my worst days lately, I've begun to think Graydon is an optimist. Fortunately today is sunny enough to make me feel downright giddy.


Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2003, 06:31 PM:

The basic point of Lind's piece, in that Talleyrand quote, is terrific and I wish I could send it to every antiwar person I know. There was a good piece in the NY Times today about "liberal hawks" who, it's clear, are finding themselves hawkish not just because of the way they read the issues but also because they feel totally unwelcome intellectually and personally in the "antiwar movement", such as it is.

Much of the antiwar movement persists in seeing what the Bushies are doing as a crime, e.g., persist in dwelling on their personal motives: it's for oil, for greed, for political gain, to revenge (or supercede) their Daddies. Some of that may be true, some of it clearly isn't. It's beside the point. As that great Talleyrand quote catches it, it's much WORSE than that. They're making a MISTAKE. They're hubristically wrong, which is much worse than being venal. (But not flat-out stupid, which is how we persist in mischaracterizing Bush. He's not a moron. He's an anti-intellectual, which is different.) They're operating, especially Wolfowitz and Perle, from a deeply defective understanding of the way the Middle East is and the way humanity is.

That's worse than a crime, and it's better than a crime. It's worse because the consequences are likely to be vastly worse--but better because as Patrick says, those of us who bother to keep our eyes on the prize and who stay sane and rational will be in a position to join the clean-up crew (I hope) some years hence.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2003, 08:43 PM:

As I've observed before, Timothy, you seem to be engaged in arguing against a dimwitted variety of lifestyle peacenikery found primarily on college campuses.

As far as that goes, I welcome their agreement with my opposition to this war, but neither I nor anyone I know is running about making liberal internationalist hawks "feel unwelcome". Indeed, I have a lot of sympathy with them. The "antiwar movement," to the extent that I've had any contact with it, is mostly a big messy upwelling of Americans of all sorts, liberals, centrists, libertarians, secular people, religious people, all basically just saying This Is Nuts. Certainly some of us are "libertarian isolationists," and some of us are devoted to thwarting the hegemony of the Amerikkkan fascist insect (fight the Man!). And a lot of us are, you know, just middle-class people taking time off from the job to say This Is Nuts.

As I believe I've said before, it seems to me you tend to characterize "the antiwar movement" as if it consists entirely of the dingbats of ANSWER plus a few refugees from the last Phish concert. Well, if you use the population of small Northeastern college towns as your basis for generalization, I guess I can see it.

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2003, 09:25 PM:

Geez, Patrick, I'm not exactly the only person of good faith (I think I'm of good faith) whose main encounters with the antiwar movement(s?) have been largely or substantially conforming to the characterization I offer. More than a few people have gone to rallies and found to their dismay that ANSWER was running the show in whole or in part, especially early on in the struggle against the war. So it's not just my own little world we're talking about here. Reading through your own comment sections over time, I'd say fully half the antiwar voices are of the "It's all about oil or Bush's Daddy or the Illuminati" type; the other half are more complex, subtle folks whose characterizations I readily groove to and find intellectually amenable. I'd say those proportions hold in most online fora. I don't think my characterizations apply only to a small fringe element or a couple of students on my campus--but I freely concede they don't hold for all or even most of the people who oppose the war. I particularly concede that since *I* oppose the war. I just don't feel especially welcomed in the nature or tenor of my opposition within the rallies and 'movements' I've been to or examined.

Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2003, 09:53 PM:

No. If what Bush wants to do is criminal, that outweighs consideration of whether a war with Iraq appears to be "useful" or "non-useful."

I'm really beginning to hate high-flown rhetoric that urges us to judge criminal acts by the gain the author believes those acts may bring (or fail to bring) us.

This kind of rhetoric acts as an anesthetic spray designed to block our revulsion at actions we've already agreed are morally repugnant. We're over 150 years down the line from Talleyrand, with a significantly higher correlation between "crimes" and "mistakes."

I believe that Bush's administration lacks competence to provide for my welfare. But ahead of that, I believe it is systematically destroying the laws of my country. I'm not going to judge their actions, first, by whether their crimes appear to be brilliant or stupid, but by the fact that they appear to be crimes.

Secondarily, I might judge them by my perception that they're not "good thieves" stealing for their families out of the desperation of poverty, but rich, selfish thieves (who also can't distinguish between murder and self-defense).

Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2003, 09:54 PM:

Patrick and Timothy both slipped in ahead of my last response.

P.Drysdale ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2003, 09:55 PM:

Thanks for highlighting Lind's article. It really goes to the heart of the matter.

Don't light your hair. This is typical Bush. The rational response is to make him answer for his stealthy, overreaching policies in 2004. economy It seems to me that the only rational response is to keep the fundamental issue alive

Chris Andersen ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2003, 10:04 PM:

I'm to young to have participated in previous anti-war activities. This is the first war which I could say I am sufficiently against that I will get up and try and do something about it.

Having said that, my experience with the anti-war movement is that it is NOT dominated by life-long activists and pacifists who look down anyone who thinks there are legitimate reasons to go to war. There are certainly people like that at the rallies and they certainly have an over-representative membership in the organization. But there are a lot of people at the rallies who are there simply because they don't like this war or the way it is being pushed.

I think, if pressed, they would find much of Mr. Lind's argument to match their own feelings about Mr. Bush's little war. Most of them just don't have the background or the vocabulary to describe the problems as well as Mr. Lind does.

My impression is that the anti-war movement is much bigger then the fringe elements who have protested every military action since the beginning of time. It's gotten way beyond them by now and is very open to all comers. Including those who may agree with the idea of using military force to remove Saddam.

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2003, 12:17 PM:

I'm reasonably comfortable identifying as a "liberal internationalist hawk," and perhaps I'm not following clearly on what the "This" in "This Is Nuts" is intended to refer to, but if it's the war, then I'm unclear how my highly tentative, rather frightened and pessimistic, support for war -- which has nothing to do with any support for the Administration, per se, since I don't have any -- can be reconciled with being not made to "feel unwelcome" by people who tell me that what I think is "nuts."

I may be entirely misunderstanding, in which case I'd be delighted to be politely corrected.

Regardless, I can point to an extremely long list of leftist (which I am) anti-war (which I'm not quite, in this case, though I'm not exactly full of gung-ho confidence, either) bloggers, who most definitely make me "feel unwelcome."

(Note: I am certainly not saying that a blogger makes me feel unwelcome by being either left-wing or anti-war, since many folks of either or both flavors manage to be quite fair-minded and polite to people with somewhat differing views such as a somewhat lefty, somewhat pro-this-war person such as myself.)

I don't think Timothy Burke is arguing just against dimwitted people on campus. I see him as arguing against plenty of people I read online. At risk of being challenged to point them out -- which I'm not going to do, because I have no desire to make this about personalities, and I don't care if anyone wants to call me a coward for that -- a number of them are on Patrick's blogroll, which makes this clearly a difference of perception.

Wait, I can surely point to an awful lot -- though of course, not all -- posters to "Stand Down." Some are highly respectable. Many are... not. (In my subjective view, of course, and regarding only their arguments, not their personhood.)

(Just as, of course, there are endless flaming idiot pro-war bloggers who are lunatics about people on the left or who are anti-war, and who certainly make them "feel unwelcome" -- and who certainly make me feel "unwelcome," too.)

Incidentally, I'm not familiar with all the blogs on Patrick's blogroll, but of the ones that I am, I see two, maybe three, bloggers that are pro-war. (Specifically, Matthew Yglesias and Bruce Rolston; there are one or two others I'm unsure about.) I'm not sure what to make of that, other than to hope that the observation isn't offensive.

Robert West ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2003, 02:14 PM:

Timothy - I wonder if part of the problem is related to the emotional nature of large-scale protest movements? It has been my experience that one of the distinguishing differences between mass political discussion and small-scale political discussion is that, in mass discussions, positions often polarize and harden much more quickly than in small-scale discussions, where it is easier to find and maintain compromise positions. Perhaps those of us who occupy positions which are neither strictly anti-war nor strictly pro-war feel unwelcome in both camps because of this dynamic.

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2003, 03:57 PM:

Add Mark Kleiman as favoring military action, it occurs to me. I continue to have the greatest respect for those protesting the war out of their conscience, by the way, as I said, again, here.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2003, 04:54 PM:

Of course, the "this" in my phrase "this is nuts" referred to the upcoming war, not to "liberal internationalist hawks." Despite Gary Farber's suggestion to the contrary.

The rest of it is bait I'm declining to take.

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2003, 11:25 PM:

Lind writes:
If Hamas and Hezbollah are treated as America92s enemies, even though their quarrel is not with the United States, why aren92t the Irish Republican Army (IRA), Basque terrorists in Spain, Chechen terrorists in Russia and Tamil terrorists in Sri Lanka part of America92s 93war on terror,94 too?

I'm sorry, I find the answer to this obvious. Hamas and Hezbollah are state-sponsored terrorists (thank you, Iran and Syria) if I'm not mistaken. Also, the 'war on terror' I've always taken to be the media's take. I thought Bush was very specific in stating this was about going after states that sponsor terror. Iraq. Iran. Afghanistan.

Now, I don't mind saying, I had misgivings about Iraq last year—thinking, why the hell don't we start with Hamas and Hezbollah, then strangle Syria and then maybe think about Iraq. But William Safire's satisfied me as far as Iraq's support for Al Qaeda.

I also remain unconvinced that our current unpopularity with our allies exceeds what it was when Johnson was expanding the US involvement in Vietnam or when Reagan was setting up the Pershings in Europe.

(Okay, having hereby betrayed my pro-war sentiments, I would simply volunteer that unlike many war-bloggers I do not impugn the patriotism of people on the other side of this issue. I also fully backed the Clinton Admin's involvement in the Balkans (which he thankfully did without waiting around for the UN).

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2003, 11:49 PM:

I think Robert has part of it: rallies are a notoriously poor place to evaluate the full span of someone's reasoning. Fair enough. But I also think that Gary's right in saying that at least some of what I find myself arguing against is not a fringe or marginal sentiment, but one of the predominant strains among antiwar thinkers--what I have come to think of as the "isolationist left", for whom all exertions of American or Western power are unseemly and undesirable. I think Patrick is simply wrong to contend that this strain is a fringe element or that I'm tilting at figments of my own imagination.

It's terribly important to me that we not merely oppose the war but oppose it for what seem to me to be the right reasons.

It's important for pragmatic reasons: because it is only by that path that I see even the vaguest hope of making common cause with a majority of Americans to build a consensus that this particular war led by these particular people is a bad idea.

It's important for philosophical reasons: because we ought to recognize what parts of the complaint about Iraq are legitimate and call upon us, Americans and the world, to act. I'd like to look forward to a 21st Century in which the commitment to human rights enshrined in the United Nations Charter is more than something that United Nations diplomats cynically raise a toast to now and again, more than an occasion for Amnesty International to write some letters about. It's now clear that getting to that point where justice and freedom belong to the whole planet is going to take more than just goodwill and a lot of hand-wringing.

The problem for me is that I don't think that's really what Bush and his people are after--or if they are, they're hopelessly incompetent in their pursuit of that desirable goal, and we have to go back to scratch and try again with a different team of people, building rather than demolishing alliances.

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2003, 03:21 AM:

"The rest of it is bait I'm declining to take." The rest of it is sincere attempt to communicate and be corrected and told where I am wrong, and to engage in real communication.

As you know, I've never had the slightest problem being honestly told where I'm wrong or misjudging or fucking up. Same as it ever was. I screw up, but I'm honestly out there willing to make errors and screw up in hopes of learning, and not minding, but, indeed, politely seeking, correction and learning.

So: liberal internationalist hawks who are tentively pro-war are welcome although there belief in this war is "nuts." The upcoming war is "nuts," but people who believe in it are welcome. By having their beliefs called "nuts."

I'll work this out, probably after I've had more sleep.

Mwanwhile, I wish us all well, and the best. and that we may all grant each other good faith and a willingness to listen to each other in good faith.