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May 28, 2006

No, it really is a “substantive” disagreement
Posted by Patrick at 03:39 PM *

Kevin Drum is thinking about New Republic editor and onetime Iraq-adventure enthusiast Peter Beinart:

I read The Good Fight a couple of weeks ago, and Beinart is pretty clear that he now believes he was wrong about a whole host of things back in 2003. He was wrong about WMD, wrong about containment, wrong about the need for international legitimacy, etc. etc. If he had it to do over again, he wouldn’t have supported the war.

What’s more, his prescription for how liberals should approach foreign policy going forward is distinctly non-martial. He believes we need a sort of modern-day Marshall plan for the Middle East; a willingness to work with international institutions even if that sometimes restrains our actions; an acceptance that we should abide by the same restrictions that we demand of others; greater patience in foreign affairs; and a rededication to social justice both at home and abroad.

In other words, I think he could give the keynote address at YearlyKos and not really say much of anything the audience would disagree with. If Beinart really is the standard bearer for a new incarnation of liberal hawkishness, then we’re almost all liberal hawks now.

There’s a little more to it, of course, and Beinart remains critical of liberals who have gotten so disgusted with George Bush’s approach to terrorism that they’ve decided the whole war on terror is just a sham. Still, it’s an interesting transformation, and many of the differences that remain within liberal circles strike me as more rhetorical than substantive.

Atrios has some pungent remarks, including the observation that “these magical straw liberals who think terrorism isn’t an issue” are probably “hiding out in Beinart’s barn along with the rest of his straw monsters.”

But where Kevin Drum’s really wrong is in his claim that Beinart could address a hypothetical audience of left-leaning blog readers “and not really say much of anything the audience would disagree with.” Because the central thing being said by Beinart and people like Beinart, 24/7, is “Despite the fact that we were wrong about everything important for years, you should all still listen to us and treat us like the opinion leaders we’re entitled to be.”

Oddly enough, a lot of people don’t agree with this assessment of the value of Peter Beinart. Pace Kevin Drum, this isn’t merely a “rhetorical” disagreement. It’s about a real question of political power: whose opinion matters? A good word for this kind of disagreement is substantive.

Comments on No, it really is a "substantive" disagreement:
#1 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 05:16 PM:

Which is exactly why I stopped reading Kevin's blog about 18 months ago. He's the stereotype of the bleeding heart moderate, willing to forgive the nattering of imbeciles and work with them, just because they claim to have seen the light. Whatever. They were wrong then, will be wrong in the future so what does that make them now?

Sure, stopped clocks and all that. But the New Republic is a clock with no hour hand and it’s second hand runs backwards. Now that Captain 29% is deadweight, Beinart feels free to say, “gee, maybe I shouldn’t have supported him,” in the hopes of salvaging some credibility. And he’s counting on the Kevin Drums of the world to throw him a bone.

#2 ::: Scott Spiegelberg ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 07:59 PM:

I think people should not be punished for publically admitting that they were wrong. I do agree that such people should be in a probationary period of sceptical review, but I don't think they should be shunned. Shunning is reserved for those "experts" that still haven't admitted that they were wrong.

#3 ::: Dan Lewis ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 08:58 PM:

Beinart: "Sorry. Sorry. You see what I mean? I just get carried away. I'm really most awfully sorry. Sorry! Sorry, everyone."

Drum: "Please! Please! This is supposed to be a happy occasion! Let's not bicker and argue about who killed who."

(In this scene, Kevin Drum admires the huge... tracts of land in the political center)

#4 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 09:35 PM:

Ok, maybe no shunning, but could we at least call them bandwagon-jumpers, or perhaps "people for whom the train left a long time ago?"

I think Beinart aspires to be the new generation's Bob Shrum. Not a particularly good choice of role model, I'd say.

#5 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 09:44 PM:

Who said anything about shunning, Scott?

#6 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 10:05 PM:

It might be a good idea to listen to the people who were right, back in 2002 and 2003, not to the ones who were wrong.

Sure, welcome the returned lambs to the fold. But they don't get to wear the bell any more, okay?

#7 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 10:29 PM:

"Listen to people who were right?" You mean listen to antiwar hippies? What can you be thinking?

Clearly you don't understand the rules. Antiwar hippies are wrong, no matter how many times they're right. Well-connected professional pundits are right, no matter how many times they're wrong.

It doesn't matter whether you're right, it matters who you are.

#8 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 11:33 PM:

If Beinart really is the standard bearer for a new incarnation of liberal hawkishness, then we’re almost all liberal hawks now.

and you know, for a certain value of "we" that's a tragically accurate statement.

#9 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 01:50 AM:

Publishing is run the same way.

I was with you right up until this point. You know, you're kind of making a thing out of being rude. I'm a laid-back, easygoing kind of person (HA!), but it's really getting annoying. Whyn't you cut it out, huh?

#10 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 02:16 AM:

People like Beinart...if they want forgiveness, they need to apologize, admit that they were wrong and the anti-war left right, and work hard to repair the disaster they've participated in. Some things...I suppose it could be worse; my own nominally liberal democratic senator voted for torture--I don't think I'll ever forgive him that. But apologize, and then shut up and start working with us.

#11 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 04:39 AM:

Randolph: Hi there, long time no see! And once again, we find ourselves completely in agreement. Admitting that you made a mistake does not, in and of itself, push the Giant Reset Button; you have to actually do something toward making amends. An apology to the people he savaged would be a step in the right direction, but one we're unlikely to see.

#12 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 06:00 AM:

I can think of many reasons to disagree with Mark York about publishing. But I suggest that the chief difference between pundits and publishers is that there is a feedback mechanism in publishing. If you, as a publisher, don't sell books, you fail. No customers, no money, no business. (And the vanity poublishers don't get their money by selling books.)

Pundits, on the other hand, seem to be the courtiers of a democracy, without even the basic raison d'etre of the courtesan.

#13 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 11:09 AM:

But you see, the Beinarts of the world believe that, because they were wrong and acknowledged their mistakes, they have grown wise from experience. Whereas, those of us who were right about Iraq all along have learned nothing, and we are therefore foolish.

#14 ::: Tad Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 11:31 AM:

is this a substantive rather than a rhetorical disagreement?

I don't think so. Or rather, I don't think those are the most illuminating terms to use.

There are first-order questions of policy (invade or don't invade, negotiate or don't negotiate, etc.). And then there are second-order questions about those first-order questions (*who* is advancing this view? what other views have they advanced? what is their win/loss record over time? etc.)

I think Drum is making a reasonable point that Beinart has come around to the lefty consensus on the first-order questions.

I think you are also making a reasonable point: that the fact that Beinart has taken so long to come around, and that he did so much damage before coming around, and that he refuses to acknowledge how badly he screwed up before, should always be held against him on the second-order questions.

"It’s about a real question of political power: whose opinion matters? A good word for this kind of disagreement is substantive".

Yeah, I agree that the question of whose opinion matters is a substantive one. I just don't think that Drum was denying what you are asserting.

Drum was denying that there was *first-order* disagreement about policies. That is consistent with agreeing that there is second-order disagreement (which is also substantive) about whose opinions on first-order issues are taken to matter.

And you can go back to hating on Drum for any number of other reasons, if you like. Oh, and hating on Beinart, who deserves it far more than Drum.

#15 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 11:35 AM:

The idea the audience at YearlyKos would agree or disagree as a bloc seems rather silly. Kossacks are partisans, not ideologues. They include a range of views that is as wide as, well, the Democratic Party. They certainly don't have a single stand on foreign policy, except for the obvious that the Bush administration has screwed it up so bad it will take Democrats to fix it.

#16 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 12:16 PM:

Tad: I think you are missing the issue. The issue isn't "hating" Drum or Beinart. The issue is Beinart's lazy assumption that because he is willing to admit that he was wrong about the war -- gosh, that's big of him, you know -- that all is forgiven, and he should be listened to and his views respected by the liberal/progressive community. He wants to be treated, as Patrick said, like a leader. Drum seems to have no trouble with this. Patrick, very rightly imo, feels that Beinart should go sit in the back of the room and listen to other people for a while, maybe do some grunt work, stuff envelopes, you know. He doesn't have to apologize and he isn't going to be "shunned" but his opinions are going to be back-burnered for a while, while the community hears from other people. This isn't a rhetorical issue. We need to hear from other people. Beinart was wrong about the war. I'm happy he recognizes his error but I see no reason to trust his political acumen.

#17 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 01:10 PM:

Mark A. York: Your assignment is to disprove my statement not issue dicatorial decrees.

Umm, assignment?

-----

Tad Brennan: And you can go back to hating on Drum for any number of other reasons, if you like. Oh, and hating on Beinart, who deserves it far more than Drum.

For me, the problem occurs when opinion leaders (e.g. Kevin Drum, whom I still read regularly) are willing to let published knuckleheads like Beinart slide, rather than letting them take their licks and suffer a reduction in credibility.

Basically, Beinart was wrong. OK. Now he realizes he was wrong. That's OK, too. So we should now afford him as much credibility as in the past, regardless of his (rather critical) mistake? Not OK. It's that kind of thinking that will replace Basra, Fallujah and Baghdad in the news with Qom, Bandar-e-Abbas and Teheran. It's that all-is-forgiven thing that's Drum's problem here.

Aside from this bit of mushiness, I still read Drum's blog, and look forward to the occasional catblogging, which is alas less frequent than in his Calpundit days.

#18 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 01:12 PM:

Lizzie - Oops. I somehow didn't see your comment. You said it far better than I.

#19 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 01:18 PM:

What I find interesting is what Beinart is saying on the Iran "crisis"; that's the litmus test, that'll show whether he has actually learned something.

The same goes for the question of withdrawal. If he's truly serious, he should now support immediate withdrawal.

Even if he passes those tests however, he still doesn't have the credibility to be a Democratic spokesperson, as basically he's been howling with the wolves until the pressure got too big and is now all faux-contrite. He can turn in any minute.

As for Kevin Drum, he has to be soft on Beinart, as he was quite a big war supporter back in the days as well, after getting snookered by Kenneth Pollack... To be fair to Kevin however, in his case I'm sure it was a honest mistake and not a calculated tactic to stay in favour with the Washington elites.

#20 ::: Tad Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 01:35 PM:

My final two lines (about hating) were a throw-away, and clearly caused more trouble than they were worth.

My main point was: the substantive/rhetorical distinction doesn't help here--doesn't help to see what Drum meant, or where and about what Drum and PNH are disagreeing.

What Drum meant was: Beinart is no longer disagreeing on *first-order* issues about how we should conduct our international policy.

Having said that, Drum could perfectly well turn around and agree with PNH on the *second-order* issue of Beinart's credibility.

Issues of credbility--of who gets listened to and whose opinions shape policy--are clearly and obviously momentous and substantive. PNH is 100% right about that. I'm just not sure (once again) that Drum was denying it, either as a general rule or in the case of Beinart. (In the context of Drum's post, "substantive" pretty clearly means "related to the substance of foreign policy". In the context of PNH's post, it bears a broader meaning. Both are perfectly legitimate. But the difference in scope is at the core of any apparent disagreement.)

My final throw-away line was not meant to say "ooh you're just bad old Drum-haters and Beinart-haters so shame on you." Far from it. I myself am deeply fed up with Beinart and his wing. And I get fed up with Drum's excessive mildness when the health of our Republic is in deep danger.

Instead, my point was just that my introduction of the first-order/second-order distinction was not trying to take any stand on whether B. or D. or PNH were good or bad or right or wrong. Just trying to shed some light on the debate.

If the issue that I'm missing is that the people who led us into this catastrophe should not be listened to again for a long time, then, believe me, it is a point I took long ago.

#21 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 01:58 PM:

Tad, no worries. I think you have named one of my triggers in this conversation, maybe one of Patrick's, too, though of course he will speak for himself: Drum's excessive mildness when the health of our Republic is in deep danger. I frankly don't understand why everyone with half a brain isn't yelling at the top of his and her lungs about the war, the deficit, and the assault on the Constitution.

#22 ::: Writerous ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 02:58 PM:

I frankly don't understand why everyone with half a brain isn't yelling at the top of his and her lungs about the war, the deficit, and the assault on the Constitution.

Because that would require at least half a brain. Or, that is, at least half a brain that isn't already medicated into numbness by trash TV and video games. The bread and circus of modern times.

#23 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 03:41 PM:

Drum's excessive mildness when the health of our Republic is in deep danger.

I think Drum is interested in winning the next election (2006 or 2008, take your pick), which he optimistically believes will be a healthy step away from "the war, the deficit, and the assault on the Constitution." He doesn't believe that kicking people who have come to oppose those things is conducive to winning that election.

Drum also thinks terror is a real issue, and to wave away (as Atrios does) the fact that some have come to believe terror either doesn't exist or is no danger, rather than a matter of "George Bush's approach," seems rather disingenuous to me.

#24 ::: Michael Falcon-Gates ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 04:10 PM:

DaveL, says, "...the fact that some have come to believe terror either doesn't exist or is no danger..."

Y'know, I was thinking about knocking down your straw man, here, but then I realized that no, terror is NOT a danger, not to the United States or to Western civilization as we know it. It's a danger to a goodly number of people, but Timothy McVeigh could come by and blow up a building every ten years and the Republic would handle it just fine.

The Republican response to terror, now... spying on our own people? Jailing people forever without trial or recourse of law? Calling for the deaths of anyone who utters so much as a peep of dissent? This is dangerous.

Terror is a bee sting. The Patriot Act is anaphylaxis.

#25 ::: Larry Kestenbaum ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 06:04 PM:

I think the first-order and second-order distinction is clearer than simply calling the disagreement "substantive".

What I may feel about Beinert's (or Drum's) credibility going forward is not terribly relevant in the real world. Fact is, they have vast audiences, and will continue to have vast audiences regardless of what kind of harsh judgement somebody like me could ever call down upon them.

When it comes to hiring national security advisors for a Democratic White House in 2009, I certainly hope that track records are taken into account. Until then, we need all the allies we can get. We need to think in the present rather than worry about past heresies.

My rule of political battles is: If you thoroughly like and trust everybody who's on your side -- that means you've lost.

#26 ::: MikeB ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 06:06 PM:

Tad: It's not "first-order" and "second-order". It's "lower-order" and "higher-order".

Whether or not Beinert agrees with me is irrelevant. It is the "higher-order" problem - the fact that Beinert is a windsock, a person who would rather appear wise than seek wisdom - that is important. This is the problem that Kevin Drum seems to be asking us to ignore.

Why should we insist that Beinert be discredited, dress him in sackcloth and ashes, and investigate and prosecute the people he was cheering on a few years ago? Because the alternative has been tried. We've seen this movie before. Those of you who were old enough in 1973 have seen it two or three times. Bush is not the first Republican president to break the law, but he is the first to do so in public, without an apology. Many of his partners in crime are veterans of the Nixon and Reagan administrations. Why are these folks still in a position to do harm? Because the Beinerts of the world won the day in 1974, and in 1994, and no fingers were pointed, and nobody was investigated, and nobody was to blame.

Winning the next election is important. But fixing the higher-order problem is even more important. Because these guys will be back.

#27 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 06:59 PM:

They'll not only be back ... but thirty years from now we'll be saying

" ***** is so awful, I wish we had _Bush_ back ... "

#28 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 07:16 PM:

Accepting Beinart as an ally,(albeit, a probational one) is a dubious proposition but a negotible one. What I have a problem with is handing the keys to the car over to the proby and expecting things not to go badly. And Beinart came into the argument with his hand reaching into our pockets, fishing for the keys.

he needs ot go back to Driver's Ed. Maybe Kevin, too.

#29 ::: MikeB ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 08:47 PM:
My rule of political battles is: If you thoroughly like and trust everybody who's on your side -- that means you've lost.

This is true, but it's more true in reverse: "supporting" Peter Beinert may make him like you, and may even make him trust you, but it isn't going to move him closer to your position. He will pat you on the head and keep writing what he always writes.

Beinert is not a politician. If he were, the calculus would be different: for them, "support" means "vote for" or "give money to", rather than "agree with". Ever since Hillary Clinton called my generation a bunch of lazy SOBs:

"They don't know what work is," she claimed. "They think work is a four-letter word."

... I've been convinced that I will never agree with her, fathead that she is, and I'm planning to work hard on behalf of a different Democrat. But if (God help us) the day arrives when Mrs. Clinton is all that stands between us and another Republican president, I will give money to her, and I will vote for her. Because she has power. Power that could be used to stop Republicans. And there's a remote chance that, in exchange for votes like mine, she will use that power.

Beinert deserves no such consideration. Why should I "support" him, impotent as he is? Because he knows enough to come in out of the rain?


#30 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 10:58 PM:

Kevin's also glossing over something else, too: It isn't just that Beinart was for the war, but that he regarded those of us opposed to us as dangerous fools, who would threatened the viability of serious diplomacy and the world's well-being if allowed to influence the course of policy. He supported, and so nearly as I can tell continues to support, efforts by one faction of the Democratic Party to exclude the rest of us from influencing the selection of candidates or the formulation of policy.

It's not enough to say "I was wrong on these points of facts." The thing we're looking for when it comes to apologies is for the institutionalized demonizing and marginalizing of the people who were right in both facts and methods.

#31 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 12:02 AM:

"I frankly don't understand why everyone with half a brain isn't yelling at the top of his and her lungs about the war, the deficit, and the assault on the Constitution."

I wore out my throat years ago (and got called "alarmist" for my trouble.) Part of the problem, politically, is no amount of yelling is going to change the minds of the public; they've heard too much already from the crazies. The public will, in mass, only jump when what they perceive a credible alternative to current politics. Sometimes the only way to win such an argument is to be quiet, and let the failings of the policies be seen, as indeed is happening. (I do not say this is a happy thing, or a "good" thing, whatever that is. I would prefer that there had been no war.) We wait our moment, both in the next elections, and in the longer history. I hope that more of the truly powerful who are not our enemies see this.

...perhaps Al Gore does.

#32 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 12:38 AM:

> Terror is a bee sting. The Patriot Act is anaphylaxis.

Now, see, this is why I keep coming here. That's a thing of beauty, that is.

FWIW, I like Kevin Drum, and always have, despite his inane early support of the war. And FWIW I agree that his point in the post in question was the first-order policy agreement and the mildly surprising fact that CW has come around to embrace reality again.

But trust the people who were right? Patrick's right -- we're just a bunch of misty-eyed hippies. My God, against war and for the Constitution and shit, what a bunch of mealy-mouthed ivory-towered soft-hearted appeasing wusses we are!

#33 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 12:49 AM:

Mmm. I think it's stretching things too far to paint Atrios as waving away terrorism as simply "George Bush's approach," and not a substantive issue (if I'm reading correctly what you were saying, DaveL; though if so, I believe there's one too many negatives in your sentence).

I don't think he denies that terrorism is a serious issue. My take on his position is, he believes that irrespective of how serious it is Bush's approach is emphatically NOT solving the problem of terrorism; it's exascerbating it.

#34 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 01:45 AM:

Writerous said: "Or, that is, at least half a brain that isn't already medicated into numbness by trash TV and video games. The bread and circus of modern times."

As opposed to talkies and novels, the bread and circus of earlier times? Or shakespeare's plays or minstrels, the bread and circus of even earlier times?

#35 ::: Anatoly ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 02:47 AM:

Michael Falcon-Gates:

Y'know, I was thinking about knocking down your straw man, here, [...]

The Republican response to terror, now... [...] Calling for the deaths of anyone who utters so much as a peep of dissent? This is dangerous.

A thing of beauty, that is. Michael Roberts has it right.

#36 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 02:53 AM:

Bread and circuses? I'm not sure what you'd count as the bread, but the Romans depended on imports from Egypt. And the US is importing rather a lot of nearly everything.

#37 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 08:41 AM:

LauraJMixon, I think Atrios believes terrorism is a serious issue, but he also (in my opinion) glosses over the existence of a fair-sized group, not all Democrats by any means, who believe that it isn't. He thinks referring to such people is a strawman.

To me, the question is not so much whether terror per se is an issue, but rather what causes terror is serving and what outcomes those causes are promoting. Michael Falcon-Gates, above, is half-right that the nation could theoretically absorb a large number of terror attacks without it being an existential threat to either the nation or its institutions. I'm worried about the relatively near future in which terror organizations might have access to nuclear or biological weapons. Even a nuke or two wouldn't necessarily be an existential threat to the US (though it might be to Israel), but that is hardly an argument that such weapons aren't a problem and an issue.

#38 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 09:14 AM:

DaveL: you're falling for the straw man of nuclear terrorism. Nuclear weapons are not only in short supply on the black market; they're physically large enough to make them hard to carry, they're fiddly, delicate, and require regular maintenance using hard-to-obtain supplies. (You can't just walk into a chemical supplier and ask for a polonium initiator or a can of tritium!) The smaller warheads have a shelf-life of less than three years before they stop working unless they're torn down and substantially rebuilt, and the larger warheads require something the size of an entire shipping container to deliver. If "terrorists" ever detonate a nuke on US soil or anywhere else, you can be 99.9% certain that they're a sock-puppet for a state-level secret intelligence service or military.

Meanwhile, your nation loses more people to highway accidents in any four week period than it has lost to terrorist incidents between 1945 and 2006.

Your nation probably lost more people to Hurricane Katrina than it has lost to terrorist incidents. But I see no sign of the War on Bad Weather (or should I say, Global Warming?) being a major election issue.

This isn't to say that terrorism should be ignored, but basically it's a policing problem and it's amenable to policing solutions, and if your government's foreign policy apparatus wasn't in the habit of whacking on hornet's nests with a blunt stick it would be containable without all this nonsense about suspending your constitutional rights and implementing a Heimatsicherheitpolizei and internal passports to keep you all safe (except when duly spirited away in the night and mist).

Alas, the whacking-on-hornets-nests shtick tends to go with being (a) a hegemonic imperial power and (b) xenophobic (or at least xeno-bloody-ignorant) to boot. But a good start on dealing with the terrorism would be to realize that about 90% of it is reactive, and to stop doing those things that cause the violent response. This isn't rocket science; but unfortunately the US electoral/constitutional system isn't set up with foreign relations in mind, so every four to eight years a new bunch of ignoramuses get a chance to reinvent Diplomatic Cock-Up 1.0.

Sigh. (I'll shut up now, I think that's enough cynicism for one afternoon.)

#39 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 09:22 AM:

For those who supported the war and now change their minds, I am forgiving, but only if they apologize to the 2460+ of our children who are dead, the 12000+ who have been wounded severely enough to not return to active duty, the many more who have been wounded and have returned to duty and those that will carry this war with them for the rest of their lives. It’s their forgiveness they need to ask. I’m easy, they’re hard, and I feel their losses keenly.

Anybody who doesn’t think that terrorism isn’t a problem hasn’t grasped that this spate of terrorism is different than the IRA, Bloody Thursday, Red Brigade, Weathermen style of terrorist. Those who think we should sell our rights wholesale for protection are the worst traitors to freedom I can think of. What the heck are we fighting for if it isn’t those rights, our way of life and governance? How can we fight for extending democracy and freedom if we so willing relinquish our freedoms? At best that makes us (as a country) hypocrites.

Saying that every decade our society can absorb a Timothy McVeigh is an argument for acceptable losses that I can’t agree with. As someone who was faced with the prospect of ordering young boys and girls in uniform to die, I could accept that charge, but was never comfortable with it (fortunately I was never put in that position). But combat is not normal life.

Iraq had nothing to do with defeating the Pan-Islamists, of which Al Qada was the standard bearer but is now a small part of. This experiment on installing Democracy to initiate a “domino effect” was and is wishful thinking on the part of our current political leadership. I am a registered Democrat, I agree with the war in Afghanistan and really wish we would have finished it instead of bungling it handing the Taliban a chance to regroup and Al Qada the continuance of a haven. Iraq was the personal grudge of the Bush Family, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld.

#40 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 09:48 AM:

I've quoted this before: The Dread Pirate Bin Laden.

It argues that the general solution to terrorist organizations already exists and has a long history in law: treat them as pirates.

However serious terrorism is, Bush's handling of the problem has been worse than useless. Nor does the argument "There haven't been any al Qaeda attacks on American soil since 9/11 -- it must be working!" impress me. It was eight years between al Qaeda's first attack on the World Trade Center and the second.

#41 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 10:37 AM:

Charlie Stross: wonderful rant. (Correct, too, IMO.)

#42 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 10:50 AM:

James Macdonald, thanks for that link. It's very interesting.

#43 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 11:33 AM:

The Dread Pirate Bin Laden.

nice stuff there. If there were encouragement for a solution, that is the best I've seen so far. Though he doesn't go into Bush's actions, the model of terrorists as pirates makes it pretty clear that Dubya is only making things worse.

#44 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 12:54 PM:

They'll not only be back ... but thirty years from now we'll be saying " ***** is so awful, I wish we had _Bush_ back ... "

Only behind closed doors, with the water running. Because if things get so bad that Dubya looks good, saying something like that will be sufficient to get you shipped to Gitmo.

#45 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 01:01 PM:

I wish I had more time today to respond to Charlie's excellent riposte, but I'll try to make a few short points in the few minutes I have; maybe more later.

I agree completely that any nuclear weapons in terrorist hands in the near future (pace stuff stolen in the former USSR) is likely to originated with a state sponsor, either a sock puppet or a nuclear Walmart (as NK sometimes has been for other weapons). I don't think that makes it any less of a threat; there is no reliable technology (pace Tom Clancy) for determining where a particular chunk of uranium or plutonium originated. There may be at some point: research is certainly being done. Biological WMDs don't need a state sponsor. Think, for example, of Aum Shinrikyo.

Loss of life to automobiles or hurricanes is perceived by most people as qualitatively different from losses to terrorism or war. We could obviously prevent every loss of life from either with (in)appropriately draconian bans on automobiles or building near the coastline. Clearly a similar evaluation is going on by those who think Bush's policies go too far for too little return.

In my opinion the idea that dealing with terrorists is a police-like problem is too optimistic. When terror is state-sponsored (as in fact many old-days pirates were) it has to be countered by other states, as piracy often was.

Obviously one can argue whether Bush's approach to terror is the right one, but his approach's wrongness doesn't necessarily mean other "whack 'em with a stick" approaches can't possibly work.

(And with that, lunch hour ended and the meeting began again.)

#46 ::: Avery ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 01:04 PM:

The Dread Pirate article reminds me of a movie review I read some time back. The movie was The Dancer Upstairs, a fictionalized version of fight against Shining Path in Peru. What is interesting is the reviewer compares the results of two groups - one dealing with terrorists in a military fashion, the other using police investigative tactics. Zompist.com and scroll down to 19 May 2003: Where to Find Guerrillas. Guess who wins.

#47 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 01:15 PM:

Greg, the problem with The Dread Pirate Bin Laden is that if you applied this tests laid out in this argument to Umkhonto we Sizwe circa 1975 you'd have ended up hanging Nelson Mandela. Ditto if you applied it to the PLO circa 1982 in Lebanon, or the Provisional IRA in the 70s and 80s and 90s (cross border bases in Ireland, anyone?).

It basically doesn't provide for non-state actors with aspirations towards legitimacy trying to effect change in a state they've been expelled from.

It also makes certain assumptions about the nature of state-dom that are culturally biased towards the western model of national identity and that fit very badly in other parts of the world.

If a diagnosis of "terrorism" can't tell the difference between the French Resistance in 1940-44 -- who, you'll remember, were referred to as terrorists by the Nazis, and treated accordingly -- and Al Qaida, then it's not splitting hairs finely enough for my liking.

#48 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 01:49 PM:

Why are visions of bounty hunters with letters of marque from their governments dancing in my head?

#49 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 01:49 PM:

Charlie, it is, I think, just possible to argue that the French Resistance had a similar status to Privateers rather than Pirates (which is an issue the Dread Pirate article seems a bit fuzzy on). There was a French government, co-beligerent with the other un-occupied enemies of Nazi Germany.

But it's certainly true that nobody was walking about Paris with a pistol in their pocket and a Letter of Marque in their wallet.

There's still a problem for your other examples, while the article never seems to attempt to consider the post-WW2 development of the concept of lawful combatants less formally organised than armies.

I think it is possible to make a distinction between an essentially Iraqi organisation which, as well as fighting in Iraq, makes attacks in the UK or the USA, and one which makes attacks in uninvolved countries. Not recognising that there are neutral countries is, I think, a sign of stepping over a boundary.

(OK, so unrestricted submarine warfare looks to be a step over that boundary too, but I'm thinking more of a place that isn't a battleground.)

#50 ::: dave ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 02:19 PM:

> Greg, the problem with The Dread Pirate Bin Laden
> is that if you applied this tests laid out in this
> argument to Umkhonto we Sizwe circa 1975 you'd
> have ended up hanging Nelson Mandela. Ditto if you
> applied it to the PLO circa 1982 in Lebanon, or
> the Provisional IRA in the 70s and 80s and 90s
> (cross border bases in Ireland, anyone?).

Charlie, I can't speak for the other two examples you gave, but I grew up in Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, and the Provisional IRA seemed to spend much of their efforts in the Republic selling drugs, robbing banks and kidnapping foreign businessmen. 'Pirates' seems like a very accurate description of them. And they had strong ties to Libya/Islamic terrorists and the Columbian drug cartels too.

#51 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 02:25 PM:

Anyone else here heard of Robert Pape's theories about the motivations of suicide terrorists? I haven't read his book (Dying to Win), but here's an interview with him in The American Conservative.

Pape assembled a huge database of information on suicide terrorists since 1980, and then searched through it looking for common factors. He found that in 95% of cases, the terrorism was a response to foreign occupation by a democratic state with a differing religion.

if Pape is right, then the Bush administration/PNAC strategy of keeping US bases in the Middle East is the worst way of fighting terrorism. (Or at least suicide terrorism; I don't know how well Pape's model applies to the non-suicidal kind.)

#52 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 03:05 PM:

In Kevin Drum's original post linked above, he mentions he'll have a full interview with Beinart shortly. It's up at the TNR site (free reg. req.). Here's a pertinent exchange:

KD: The obvious question, then, is with a track record like that why should anyone listen to you now?

PB: Anything one writes deserves to be judged by itself. The Democratic Party nominated someone in 2004 who had been flat wrong in his opposition to the Gulf War in 1991, I think most people would acknowledge that. Many people who were very prominent figures in the Democratic foreign policy debate and the Democratic Party in general--most of the people who were there at that time in 1991 were wrong about that. The vast majority of the party was wrong, and yet it still seems to me that we have things to learn from people like Sam Nunn or John Kerry. If you were to go from the Gulf War through Kosovo and Iraq, you would find that a large number of people in every facet of the liberal Democratic universe were wrong, on at least one of those wars. Very, very few people were right about all three of them. The people who were--and I think Al Gore is in this category--deserve a significant amount of credit, but the truth of the matter is, if you were looking for an untainted record, you would find very few people.
#53 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 03:34 PM:

Dave: you're quite right about the IRA. And yet, look who's nattering around the assembly rooms in Stormont this month.

Playing devil's advocate: any movement that operates in pursuit of goals that lie outwith the law attracts outlaws, mercenaries, and common criminals. But to insist that such people define the movement is to rule out any hope of a negotiated settlement.

I'm all in favour of de-escallation: split the politically motivated party off from the the bandits, give the political types enough of what they want to shut down the armed struggle, then arrest the lawless left-overs who don't get the message. I'm not at all sure that designating any group as "an enemy of all humankind" is a good way to go about this, especially as the folks who get to pin the tail on the donkey are quite possibly responsible for having torched off the insurrection in the first place (see Avram's note, for example).

For any complex problem, there is almost always at least one solution that is attractive, simple, and liable to make things worse.

#54 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 03:42 PM:

Very, very few people were right about all three of them.

I was right about all three.

#55 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 04:07 PM:

"I was right about all three."

Yeah, me too. Kuwait, yes. Bosnia/Kosovo yes. Iraq, no. Do we get extra credit for saying yes to Afghanistan?

Trouble is, we don't have the sort of megaphone the Beinarts of the world respect. We're just internet people.

#56 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 04:13 PM:

If Beinart has any questions about the next war, he can save himself a world of embarrassment by calling me on the phone first.

#57 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 04:19 PM:

You should shoot him an email and let him know.

#58 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 04:21 PM:

Harry, Harry, Harry. Six superfluous words at the end of that sentence. (KIDDING)

#59 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 04:37 PM:

Charlie, I was more refering to this little tidbit:

After a series of draconian laws passed by George I of England effectively banished pirates from the Atlantic, the Mediterranean corsairs emerged as pre-eminent maritime mercenaries in the employ of any European state wishing to harass another. This situation proved disastrous. The corsairs refused to curtail their activities after each war's conclusion, and the states realized that they had created an uncontrollable force

And thinking, "hey, didn't we give Bin Laden stinger missiles when he was our "privateer" fighting to Soviets in Afghanistan back in the heady days of Reagan?"

To me, the key to the end of piracy, according to that article, was when the states acknowledged that they used pirates as their sock-puppets.

I wonder if there will ever come a day when we realize that having the CIA fund stateless organizations to fight our dirty wars while we keep our hands "clean" just gets us a dirty war and dirty hands. The rise in teh use of corporate military units is not especially promising. If anything, it would seem to indicate we are on the upward slope of the bell curve, heading towards more stateless warriors, rather than the downward side.

#61 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 04:45 PM:

I was right on all three too; and they weren't even very hard calls, either. For example, Iraq I calculus: A very bad idea to allow a country to think it can take over extra chunks of the middle eastern oil fields. Extra bad when the country has a serious nuclear arms program, and likely the engineering ability to pull it off. Military history and comparisons suggested that it wouldn't be very hard to kick Iraq out of Kuwait, as long as we weren't stupid and didn't try to occupy Iraq itself. It was a nice bonus that Saddam was an evil asshole and that Kuwait, while not exactly a perfect democracy (treatment of guest workers, anyone?) was a fairly decent country by ME standards, but not very relevant to my analysis.

Iraq II: Chemical weapons and nerve gas aren't 'weapons of mass distruction', you idiots, they are terror weapons and battlefield denial weapons, and you can cook some of them in your kitchen and the rest in a basic laboratory. Anthrax isn't notably better. Why is anyone taking these morons on TV seriously? The only real WMD are nukes, and they require far too much industrial capacity to be hidden from the inspectors. As if a country that had been under sanctions for a decade was likely to be able to manage it, anyway. Jesus, my country is filled with dunces, and they vote.

#62 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 04:53 PM:

Greg, I'm with you on that aspect of the affair.

Trouble is, using sock-puppet militias to disguise your actions offers the illusion of deniable power, power without accountability. Which is both addictive and corrupting. It took the European great powers close to half a century to kick the habit, didn't it? That's not a comforting thought right now, especially as maintaining the threat serves other political purposes.

#63 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 05:02 PM:

close to half a century to kick the piracy habit, damnit.

(Brain fade.)

#64 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 05:24 PM:

Charlie, I read "piracy" in your first post. as for the addiction, I get there's a benefit, just like there was a benefit to using privateers. But I think once the cost became more clear, people changed their behaviour. I'm not sure, but I think we might just be getting a glimpse of the cost of what we've been doing.

#65 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 05:46 PM:

Hmm, sock-puppet militias? Mujahadeen against the Soviets, Sandinistas and then the Contras, Castro, Marcos, say half the dictators of South America… waiter, check please.

#66 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 11:04 PM:

Biological WMDs don't need a state sponsor. Think, for example, of Aum Shinrikyo.

AS used Serin, a hard to make, non WMD poison that has a shelf life on par with a nice piece of salmon. The only reason it killed anyone was because it was released underground durring rush hour, and then, it only killed 12.

In my opinion the idea that dealing with terrorists is a police-like problem is too optimistic. When terror is state-sponsored (as in fact many old-days pirates were) it has to be countered by other states, as piracy often was.

DaveL, you are undermining your own argument. Piracy was virtually wiped out in the West Indies by the British simply by advancing a policing policy. Sure, some pirates were state-sponsored but they were few and had careers that lasted rarely more than a few years at best before their own governments hanged them. Sponsored pirates, like sponsored terrorists are politically useful pawns and not all that common. It’s the freelancers that are the problem.

Freelance terrorism, like freelance piracy could be controlled (but never wiped out since it will always appeal as a tactic to the desperate) with a sensible policy that incorporated cooperation with foreign governments and a concentrated effort to go after the handful of figureheads, like Zarqawi and Bin Laden.

#67 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2006, 02:41 AM:

The definition of WMDs to include nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons is, I think, a largely political choice. The USA had to counter a perceived threat of the Soviet use of chemical weapons in a Third World War, yet didn't want to use chemical weapons itself.

I know the RAF trained to keep airbases operating after a chemical attack, and it was a NATO-wide training requirement. The USA was saying that they'd see such an attack as reason to use nuclear weapons. One hopes this would have been in some proportion--"tactical" warheads against airbases rather than launching the ICBMs--but it could easily have gone out of control.

Biological weapons are inherently able to go out of control, and classing them with nuclear I can accept. But using one as justification for use of the other still seems a dangerous policy. It's as if you executed Tim McVeigh by putting him in a government building in the middle of some city and setting it on fire.

#68 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2006, 02:43 AM:

Re Nukes: I, at this point, am far less worried about nukes in cargo containers than I was. More than that I shan't say.

Re Aum Shunrikyo and Sarin is the best argument for not worrying about chem (I'll address Bio in a moment) I can think of. The Tokyo subway was about as perfect a place for a Sarin attack as one could want (enclosed, no sunlight, no weather, no wind) and the casualties; as a percentage of people present, were negligible.

Bio is even worse. Smallpox can be treated after you are exposed. With all the anthrax the US Postal Service was exposed to there were what, three deaths and a couple of dozen people who contracted it?

All in all, terrorism is a pain in the ass, but it's an existential threat. Tearing up the Constitution to protect us from something which (all on one horrific moment) killed 1/10th the number of people we lose in car crashea in a year, and cost less than Katrina, that's a real threat.

#69 ::: lalouve ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2006, 04:46 AM:

Having grown up in Europe in the age of terrorism (60s, 70s, 80s) I think that the common denominator of successful fights against terrorists is the removal of their support groups. When people living in the area begin to perceive terrorists as not only disrupting but destroying their lives, they cease to support them. No group of terrorists can, in the long run, survive in a hostile environment where the ordinary people are willing to turn them in.

#70 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2006, 05:37 AM:

Dave Bell: The USA had to counter a perceived threat of the Soviet use of chemical weapons in a Third World War, yet didn't want to use chemical weapons itself.

As they say: sadly, no. During the Cold War, the US had thousands of tons of chemical munitions in Europe and Japan. They're now largely destroyed.

The WMD category was in part a political cover for a planned NATO first use of nuclear weapons. The USSR repeatedly pledged no first use, but then they didn't think they needed to - using conventional and chemical weapons, they were confident they could defeat a NATO offensive with a large armoured counterattack to the Rhine. Talking about WMD meant that NATO could pledge "no first use of WMD" in the certain knowledge that the USSR would use chemicals first anyway, giving them cover for chemical and/or tactical nuclear retaliation.

#71 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2006, 10:24 AM:

All in all, terrorism is a pain in the ass, but it's an existential threat. Tearing up the Constitution ..., that's a real threat

Sorry to interrupt, but I have a quick vocabulary question: I've been hearing the phrase "existential threat" quite a bit lately. I thought an existential threat was something that threatens your existence. In other words, terrorism is a material threat, but not an existential threat, because it can never threaten the existence of the United States as we know it. But threats to the constitution are existential, because they can change the nature of the U.S. to something we no longer recognize as "us."

If that's not what "existential threat" means, then what does it mean?

#72 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2006, 10:38 AM:

an existential threat is a threat made by an existentialist, for example when a danish father tells you to behave or he will make you gloomy by talking about morality for a few hours he is making an existential threat.

#73 ::: Naomi Libicki ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2006, 10:42 AM:

HP:

You are, I believe,correct in every particular, except in your failure to read the invisible "not" in Terry's comment.

#74 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2006, 11:29 AM:

Thanks, Naomi. I had been hearing the term thrown around haphazardly by people whose prose I trust far less than Terry's, which is consistently clear and insightful. So when I read that sentence from him I was genuinely flummoxed.

Bryan, when I was a little kid my Dad would get drunk and bellicose and read Eliot's The Wasteland to me. What kind of threat is that?

#75 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2006, 11:30 AM:

bryan, or when someone tells you they're going to manacle you to a chair and make you watch No Exit over and over.

I'd talk.

#76 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2006, 09:46 PM:

I wonder if there will ever come a day when we realize that having the CIA fund stateless organizations to fight our dirty wars while we keep our hands "clean" just gets us a dirty war and dirty hands.

Not soon, it seems; it seems that a diplomat who protested the funding of Somali warlords for "antiterrorism" got transferred involuntarily late last week. Today's Newsweek suggests that the Somalis are uniting behind Islamists because the warlords, who were already disliked, are now seen as stooges of foreigners.

#77 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2006, 12:15 AM:

There was an extremely ugly display in Boston Wedneday of three people across the street from the Omni Parker House hotel. One held a sign reading "USA and Israel are the real terrorists." A second held a sign saying "PROTESTING AGAIN JCRC ZIONIST anti-Arab, racist HATEGROUP meeting in OMNI PARKER HOUSE." A third was standing partially behind two bedsheet signs on rods and holding a rolled sign, top sheet read "DEFENSE SUDAN FROM USA ZIONIST UN ATTACK TAKEOVER GET OUT! STAY OUT! FREE PALESTINE-IRAQ AFGHANISTAN hands off IRAN" The lower bedsheet has some sort of diagram or it and FREE PALESTINE at teh bottom

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