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November 30, 2006

Go directly to hell. Do not pass Go. Do not pick up $200.
Posted by Patrick at 12:03 AM * 94 comments

In a just world, Richard Cohen would go to his grave with these words as his epitaph.

We are a good country, attempting to do a good thing. In a post-Sept. 11 world, I thought the prudent use of violence could be therapeutic.
Comments on Go directly to hell. Do not pass Go. Do not pick up $200.:
#1 ::: Lisa ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 12:52 AM:

From the looks of things, hell is already right here.

#2 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 12:54 AM:

I used to think that a fitting fate and punishment for George Bush would be to spend his remaining years mouldering on his ranch, venturing out only to deliver increasingly incoherent rubber chicken lectures to an increasingly paltry audiances of increasingly cranky true believers, and watching in helpless frustration as his "legacy" is analyzed, shredded, scoffed at, and dismissed.

Now, after seeing those videos, I think he should spend his remaining days on the streets of Baghdad.

Um, let's be realistic; remaining day.

#3 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 01:24 AM:

Don't think of it as violence. Think of it as healing your inner child by enabling the projection of a need for security via the forceful expression of the id vis-a-vis killing a bunch of people.

See? That's a good thing, isn't it?

#4 ::: JamesP ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 01:43 AM:

I wonder if he drew the idea from Frantz Fanon? You know, the healing violence of the oppressed, and so on. There seemed to be a great need, post 9/11, to recast America as international victim.Didn't work out terribly well in Algeria, mind.

#5 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 02:05 AM:

A prudent use of violence would have been a very good idea. Say, for instance, applying large bombs to a small house where OBL was. Or a good prosecuting attorney.

What we got was anything but.

#7 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 02:44 AM:

"Prudent use of violence could be therapeutic." For whom? When you smash a mouse with a baseball bat it might (if you're a particularly sick person) make you feel better, but it doesn't do a hell of a lot for the mouse.

#8 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 02:45 AM:

"Prudent use of violence could be therapeutic." For whom? When you smash a mouse with a baseball bat it might (if you're a particularly sick person) make you feel better, but it doesn't do a hell of a lot for the mouse.

#9 ::: jeffk ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 03:31 AM:

The problem I have is with his definition of "prudent". Yeah, after 9/11, I wanted to hit something (with, say, a bomb), and we went into Afghanistan and did that. That was, to my mind, both prudent and sufficient. For Cohen and others of his ilk, it was only a good start.

It was after that that things went to hell.

#10 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 03:32 AM:

re #2: No, Bush will be transfigured into an elder statesman, much like Nixon was. Dubya's important policy initiatives toward making many of America's downtrodden war profiteers into the luminous successes they are today will not soon be forgotten: A Thousand Points of Light, except this time with Willie Pete. It's not as flashy as "peace with China", but it will do in a pinch, I suppose.

#11 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 03:37 AM:

If he wanted therapeutic violence, he could have spend some nights playing ego shooters. Or joined a gang of football hooligans. Or watched slasher movies.

#12 ::: philS ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 03:42 AM:

In a just world, Richard Cohen would go to his grave with these words as his epitaph.

Isn't this sentiment just a little harsh? As I read it, Richard was explaining his opinion as it was back at the start of the Iraq war. He was far from being the only one who thought invading Iraq was a good idea at the time. At least he has the courage to admit in public that he got it wrong back then. That is more than can be said of many others who remain in the public eye.

#13 ::: Kit ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 05:14 AM:

I think it was always clear to the rest of the world that the main reason to invade Iraq was to take out some post-911 aggression. That's one of the reasons the UN told Bush not to.

#14 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 06:26 AM:

I think it was always clear to the rest of the world that the main reason to invade Iraq was to take out some post-911 aggression. That's one of the reasons the UN told Bush not to.

I thought that was the reason for going into Afghanistan. And two reasons I opposed the war - the first is that mindless violence helps no one whatever pretty claims were being made about the Taliban, and the second was that even if you guys wanted to get things out of your system, there was no good reason for us to join you in wasting money and our military. But I didn't see that you could do too much harm by such methods - the Taliban are not nice and Afghanistan couldn't be damaged too much more than it already was unless you resorted to WMDs or threw out the Geneva convention.

Then came the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, and I realised quite how badly I had overestimated the US and its self-awareness and benign side.

#15 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 07:08 AM:

Francis, I actually thought Afghanistan was a show of restraint, given the number of people I knew who were actively campaigning for a nuclear strike.

#16 ::: lalouve ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 07:21 AM:

Therapeutic violence? That's what computer games are for.

#17 ::: Catja (green_knight) ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 07:29 AM:

Christopher, that's exactly the kind of thing that scares the hell out of your _allies_, and I am fairly confident the US wasn't planning to drop a nuke on Britain. How it looks to the people who might actually live near the proposed targets, I leave to your imagination.

As for the idea that one would consciously choose to kill and maim other human beings, however little one likes them, because one might feel better afterwards: that does not sound like a healthy thought to me.

#18 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 07:54 AM:

Think of it as healing your inner child by enabling the projection of a need for security via the forceful expression of the id vis-a-vis killing a bunch of people.

The inner child?

The first thing I thought of when I read that, Christopher, was Bill Mumy in the Twilight Zone's episode It's A GOOD Life...

#19 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 08:27 AM:

I don't really disagree with you Catja. I'm just saying that given the mood of most of the people I knew during that time, their concept of "thereaputic violence" was "carpet-nuking" Afghanistan. When I pointed out to one particularly offensive person that the average person living in Afghanistan had no say as to whether or not the Taliban could harbor Al Queda, he responded with "well, that's regrettable."

That's it.

"Nuke 'em" was something I heard everywhere, even on friggin' talk shows. The only place I *didn't* hear it -- and this is the only credit I'll give to the Bush administration -- was that I never heard it from the President, the Vice President, or any of his top aides. It's hard to look back over the last six years and remember that unfiltered by the following debacle(s), but from what I recall the "thereaputic violence" Cohen is mewling about was *not* what people were screaming for. At the time -- and perhaps I was just unlucky in my associations back then -- but at the time, people weren't clamoring for *war* in order to feel better. They were clamoring for *annihilation*.

From that perspective, the invasion seemed not only restrained, but a rebuke -- "we're not going to do this the easy way. Grow up and quit whining. This isn't about you feeling better."

But of course on this end of it, it also appears that someone decided it would be a convenient way to get troops over next to Iraq...

#20 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 08:58 AM:

At my house, the prudent use of violence for therapeutic purposes involves breaking an old, chipped, mismatched piece of crockery or two, then breaking the pieces until they're too small to get a good grip on so they can be flung against the bricks again. By the time you get around to picking up the pieces and putting them in the trash, you're pretty much over it, and moving into the "Damn, I feel silly" stage. And it is a silly sort of thing to do, but at least no foreign countries get damaged that way, and the national debt/budget deficit are not impacted.

Hell for George Bush? Addresses a rubber-chicken banquet filled with cheering throngs, with a speech that lists his true accomplishments, as opposed to what he imagines they are. At every new item, the audience applauds and cheers: "I decided it would be a pretty fine idea to go ahead and invade Iraq so I could show my old man a thing or two, so Dick and the rest of the crowd faked up some intelligence and we went in, even though we had no clue how to handle things once Saddam was gone." Rose-petal showers that turn out to be burning embers descending on his head may be involved.

#21 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 09:02 AM:

There are two kinds of liberalism. One is the liberalism of hope, that sees liberty as the means by which human creativity can be unleashed, allowing us, severally and jointly, to make the world a better, more human, more humane and more livable place. The other is the liberalism of fear, that says that we need to give the monsters space lest they devour us, and ready, at a moment's notice, to constrict or erase all of our hard-won liberty because there are monsters at the gate (or under the bed) that need to be eradicated. No prizes for which category people like Cohen fit.

There was a fellow named Paine who tagged such as Cohen well: 'the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot'.

#22 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 09:05 AM:

Earl Cooley III:

No, Bush will be transfigured into an elder statesman, much like Nixon was.

I don't think so. Nixon had a clear advantage that Bush doesn't have: he was intelligent, and had incredible skills in reading the tenor of the electorate. (If memory serves, I think his code name when he was called in for campaign advice during the first Bush administration was "The Wizard." Mind you, that was before Perot came in and messed up the traditional Republican landscape.) Notice I didn't say smart: read the tape transcripts and you'll see over and over that he couldn't understand why he was in so much trouble over a failed burglary he didn't even do. Of course he was also racist and tended towards paranoia, two ticks that GWB doesn't seen to need dipping for, but I still think there was more raw material there to work with while attempting to mold an elder statesman.

#23 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 09:27 AM:

Cohen seems to have thought the use of violence would be theraputic for *Iraq*, not that it would make Americans feel better.

He's noticed that the war has turned out to be a disaster for both America and Iraq, though he seems to be focussing more on America. I don't know when he first realized the war was a bad idea, or at least that letting the Bush administration run the war was a bad idea.

He doesn't seem to have any fondness for torture, though
he may be tolerant of abusing people to get political control of their family members.
Translatation: he has nice things to say about Charles Rangel, and Rangel has supported a draft so that high-status parents might be less inclined to support war.

I don't think this rates going to hell.

NonObSF: There was a short story about everyone who'd ever killed being damned, and that included those who'd killed as soldiers. IIRC, it was mostly about the ghosts of soldiers from the US civil war.

#24 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 09:40 AM:

re: Dubya, Elder Statesman

Technical advances in the science of doctoring spin over the past three decades have made the sow's ear to silk purse conversion process much, much easier than ever before; of course, it costs more per basic unit of spin (spinon?) than it used to, but that's to be expected, even adjusted for inflation.

#25 ::: Vardibidian ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 09:46 AM:

Fragano Ledgister (#21): I don't think you are fair here to Judith Shklar's idea of the liberalism of fear. She says that (and I'm going to be unfair as well, by giving my synopsis) that the liberalism of fear is driven by a fear of tyranny, and that it therefore concentrates its resources on preventing, say, Abu Ghraib, or sexed-up intelligence reports, or warrantless wiretapping, rather than on creating oh, public schools. Except that she says that the liberalism of fear will drive people to create good public schools, out of fear that an uneducated populace will allow demagogues to erode liberty. Her liberalism of fear is long-sighted, far-reaching, and liberal.

Richard Cohen has plenty of fear, but it's fear of The Other, which isn't liberal at all.

All that said, whether that line should be Mr. Cohen's epitaph, it should certainly be his resignation letter.

Thanks,
-V.

#26 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 09:46 AM:

I've always hated that nauseating faint prurience of tone you get when men who've never had to deal with real violence talk about its use. They sound nothing like guys who have experience with the real thing.

#27 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 09:47 AM:

I find it hard to believe that Dubya would be considered an elder statesman.

That said, I never believed that Reagan would be as revered as he is.

Also, I never thought I would ever hear myself say "I didn't know how good we had it when Bush Sr. was president."

#28 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 10:10 AM:

Vardibidian #25: You're right, I wasn't being fair to Shklar. However, my conception of the liberalism of fear is more than anything else that it is based on a fear of the Other (as in the case of Cohen) and that it seeks space (and hence liberty) to allow the Other to back off. This all too easily produces the urge to destroy the monster before it comes out from under the bed (and we see this, for example, in Cohen's interesting attitude towards black Americans).

I'm working out my own understanding of what a liberal polity requires largely, but not entirely, on the basis of my own digestion of Mill, tempered (or savoured) by both Marx and Rousseau.

#29 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 10:12 AM:

TNH #26: It isn't just men. Consider the Blessed Ann Coulter.

#30 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 10:32 AM:

My head just exploded.

#31 ::: Vardibidian ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 10:36 AM:

Fragano Ledgister (#28): Well, my advice is to read Judith Shklar, who is wonderful, thoughtful and liberal. Mill tempered by Shklar seems like a good combination, not to knock Marx or Rouseau (or Rawls or Galbreath , but you have to stop reading sometime, if only to change stacks of unread books). As for the fear of the Other, well, I would say that nothing is going to drive the liberalism of fear more than having a lot of friends who are The Other (for varying definitions of Other) and realizing that the bastards in power are screwing the poor/black/queer/foreign/sick/athiest/Quaker saps again. Or, to quote Shklar from the actual essay "The Liberalism of Fear", "For this liberalism the basic units of political life are not discursive and reflecting persons, nor friends and enemies, nor patriotic soldier-citizens, nor energetic litigants, but the weak and the powerful."

Thanks,
-V.

#32 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 10:38 AM:

not to knock Marx

I certainly hope you have nothing against Groucho, Vardibidian.

#33 ::: DM SHERWOOD ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 10:38 AM:

For Christ sake get the poor bugger a Lifetime Subscription to a good Discipline House.

#34 ::: Vardibidian ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 10:48 AM:

Serge (#32): I wouldn't even knock Gummo.

Thanks,
-V.

#35 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 10:49 AM:

Vardibidian #31: Thanks for the tip. I'll try to get around to it as the piece sounds both good and important. You might, however, not want to see my current unread pile!

#36 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 10:52 AM:

Consider the Blessed Ann Coulter.

Do we have to, Fragano?

#37 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 11:01 AM:

Vardibidian... And if one leans towards the Three Stooges, does it make that person not a marxist but a moe-ist?

#38 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 11:11 AM:

Obviously Fragano is using "blessed" in the way I do during Lent. For example, if I whack my funny bone, I will say, "....GOD BLESS IT!"

#39 ::: Madison Guy ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 11:18 AM:

Pentagon seems to be taking his advice and continuing to apply the therapy, even as Iraq continues to go down the tubes. More troops here, more troops there, and pretty soon you're talking a real war. (Damn right the snark is intended.)

#40 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 11:34 AM:

I don't doubt that Bush will, in retirement, continue his role of semi-coherent figurehead, but I think it's an insult to Nixon to predict a rough equivalence to their post-debacle roles.

While it is true that they manifested a roughly equal disdain for the lives of the people they swore to protect and defend, Nixon was a superior human being in many ways:

1. Nixon didn't dodge his military service obligation.

2. Nixon was nothing if not tenacious; he overcame some very significant obstacles to become President. With the possible exception of some rudimentary twinges of conscience, W has never overcome anything. His entire life and career is predicated solely on an excellent choice of parents.

3. Nixon inherited his quagmire from Johnson. W built his from scratch.

4. I'm going to disagree slightly and respectfully with Mr. Durocher and argue that Nixon was pretty smart. My thinking is that Nixon's assessment of the inherent seriousness of the Watergate break-in was based on his knowledge of what previous administrations had gotten away with. (e.g. Using the FBI to conduct wiretaps was an unofficial Presidential prerogative.)

I'd argue that Nixon's ultimate downfall had as much to do with historical timing as his own shenanigans. Had Nixon beat Kennedy in 1960 and presided over an identical crime a decade earlier, I think it would probably have passed without notice. Nixon's bad fortune was to come to power at a time when the baby boom generation was coming into their own and rebelling against whatever happened to be handy. Watergate was simply the irritant around which the pearl coalesced.

Bush, on the other hand, is Rumplestiltskin's goateed evil twin. He's managed to spin the nigh-unanimous support and sympathy* of both the electorate and the world into a big steaming pile of s*** from which the country will probably never recover.

* France for God's sake.

#41 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 12:21 PM:

The current abuse is horrible.
What Cohen said about theraputic violence was horrible.

I agree with what Phil said in comment 12. It looks like Cohen is now trying to say he was wrong, and part of the reason his policy recommendations were bad is that his principles about theraputic violence were wrong. Is it ever possible for people to change their minds, recognize mistakes, choose to do better? Or do they need to be damned for having sinned?

I'd like to point out that the "sin" in question is not blowing up a city or beating prisoners, it was making a really stupid argument. That's reasonably common. The usual penalty is that a person is compelled to acknowledge the mistake. Cohen *already* acknowledged he was mistaken about the war, right there in the same column. He says it is an abuse of the public trust to continue it.

Personally, I want to make it easier for people who change their minds or find mistakes in their own work to tell people about it. If they need to defend against charges of flip-flopping, or dishonesty, they will be less inclined to come forward with the truth. If the world considers mistake+correction just as damning as mistake+persistent-follow-up-to-that-mistake or mistake+cover-up, we aren't likely to see many corrections.

#42 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 12:25 PM:

While we are discussing Presidents, I want to recommend folks take a look at Digbys current post about our present one, with thoughts regarding the next one. It had better not be Gingrich. I actually think there is little chance of that.

BTW, every time I type an apostrophe I get "Find." This happens every so often on ML, and then it goes away. (That is why there are no contractions in this post and no apostrphe in Digbys.) I do not know whay this happens; i.e. am I doing it?

#43 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 12:44 PM:

Choen has the same mind set that people who go to bars and pick a fight because they had a shitty week at work have.

And he has never read Herodotus. But then, I doubt the President even cracked his Cliff Notes version of Histories.

#44 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 01:48 PM:

Serge #36: Only to prove that a certain kind of false, ahem, machismo, is not limited to males.

TexAnne #38: Exactly!

#45 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 01:54 PM:

I have never read Herodotus either. Does it have any good car chases?

#46 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 02:17 PM:

Christopher, it's got chariot chases.

The quote I'm thinking of here is something along the lines of "Those who wish for war are insane. For in peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons."

#47 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 02:19 PM:

Christopher @ 45:

It has gold-hording giant ants, stoic barbarians, vengeful eunuchs, wealthy kings coming to grief, travelogues of many lands, and a description of the Persian post office (neither snow nor sleet nor giant ants shall keep these couriers . . .).

#48 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 02:22 PM:

Bruce Durocher once again says it better than I could: Nixon had a clear advantage that Bush doesn't have: he was intelligent, and had incredible skills in reading the tenor of the electorate.

Nixon's errors came mostly from being a stone neurotic with a huge inferiority complex. He actually did some very good things, things which would now be considered too dangerously liberal to propose. Bush 2.0, on the other hand, is propelled by a thoughtless sense of entitlement, and does damage because he believes that all his impulses are a result of divine inspiration.

#49 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 02:23 PM:

It also has vengeful barbarian queens, a Greek physician fondling the queen of Persia, and Great Big Battles.

#50 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 02:26 PM:

#'s 46, 47, 49...

Damn. I have got to read that book.

#51 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 02:37 PM:

Also, as Bruce Sterling mentioned in a speech, "women having public sex with goats."

The Histories is just begging to be turned into a hypertext, with maps and collapsible sections for the impatient reader. The main story is about the Persian invasion of Greece, but Herodotus gets into "oh, yeah, about that" mode, and goes off on incredible tangents. (Like a story about Babylonians circumnavigating Africa, but no one believes them because they claimed that past a certain point the sun rose in the north.)

#52 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 02:52 PM:

Stefan Jones #51: Not Babylonians, Phoenicians!!

#53 ::: Annie G. ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 03:01 PM:

The Histories is a total trip-- excellent storytelling, especially on those tangents. But in some cases bizarre, as Herodatus didn't always see fit to explain his assumptions. On that note, there is something that always bugged me after I read it (as a freshman in college, for my sins), and, since AKICIML, I'm posing the question to the group in the hope that some will remember and someone might be able to explain it to me.

In one such tangential episode, a community on the outskirts of a larger city is being attacked, and to stop the attack the run a rope from one of the bigger temples in the city to their community. The attackers immediately stop and Go Away. Does anyone remember this? Or know why that would work?

[/OT: Cohen should be whipped to death, if he thinks violence is so therapeutic.

#54 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 03:05 PM:

It has the King of Kings summoning up the mother of all armies, with a detailed list of the troops, including people with stone-tipped things, then flogging the waters of the Hellespont for daring to break his pontoon bridge.

You really, really need to read this book.
The Cartoon History of the World would have been a bland and unconvincing narrative without the colorful details obtained from the pages of Herodotus.

#55 ::: Annie G. ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 03:09 PM:

(sonuva...! I never did know how to spell Herodotus. Sorry for the typos, all.)

#56 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 03:10 PM:

Herodotus' basic research technique was to hang out with vets in bars and collect stories. If I recall correctly, he starts The Histories with an explanation that many of the veterans of the Persian War were getting old and he wanted their stories to be remembered. His charm, how he was able to get those stories, really comes through in the book. If I had a time machine, the very first thing I would do is head straight to a taverna and see how long I could keep him in drinks.

#57 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 03:10 PM:

Annie G., the community that tied itself to the temple was, by virtue of this act, symbolically seeking refuge in the temple itself. You did not attack people who had taken refuge in a temple compound because Bad Things would happen to you later on, since the gods ALWAYS got even, usually in a colorful and memorable manner people would talk about for years to come. Even if the leader of the attacking force didn't buy this, enough of his troops would have.

#58 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 03:13 PM:

Also, Herodotus was found of collecting stories about the prophecies of the Oracle at Delphi. Many intersting accounts of the, um, equivocal format of these prophecies ornnament his pages along with accounts of what happened when people took them the wrong way.

#59 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 03:18 PM:

As I recall, giving the Oracle a nice tripod was always appropriate.

I think we should revive tripod-giving for the holidays.

#60 ::: Annie G. ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 03:21 PM:

fidelio at #57: thanks for the explanation; that makes a lot of sense (especially in the context of all thos gruesome Greek myths of Godly retribution)!

Now returning you to your regularly scheduled topic....

#61 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 03:32 PM:

Scott H.:

3. Nixon inherited his quagmire from Johnson. W built his from scratch.

I'm not going to stand here and try to persuade anyone that Johnson was anything near a perfect President. That being said, Johnson didn't quite build it from scratch: if you read the oral histories collected in Merle Miller's Lyndon (and I know that Miller's work on Truman is suspect, but I believe the Johnson book is considered pretty clean) you'll see that Johnson had a thing about "finishing John's job," which included Vietnam, Cuba, and the Space Program. (The other motivation seems to have been not being seen as "the first President to loose a war.) I once ran into the lovely phrase "a tontine of blame," and Vietnam fits that category to me.

4. I'm going to disagree slightly and respectfully with Mr. Durocher and argue that Nixon was pretty smart. My thinking is that Nixon's assessment of the inherent seriousness of the Watergate break-in was based on his knowledge of what previous administrations had gotten away with.

Yes, but if you read the transcripts you'll see that Nixon kept the same opinion of the seriousness of the problem all the way through, without reassessing that part of things. An intelligent man could see the dangers in the Houston Plan becoming public, but setting up "the Plumbers?" An intelligent man could see the value of having tapes for writing his autobiography, but keeping them after illegal items were discussed? And the existence of the recordings was revealed? Especially after one was partially erased in a manner that required multiple passes through the tape deck? Nominating Haynsworth and Carswell to the Supreme Court? Backing Haldeman and Ehrlichman because they might be able to blackmail him after Dean explained how they (and probably Dean) would probably have to serve long prison sentences?

Nixon was intelligent enough to see the need for Legal Aid services, and setting up the EPA to avoid even more drastic regulations, but in the day to day stuff--not smart (or "savvy" if you'd prefer) at all. And GWB, by all accounts, is neither smart nor intelligent.

JESR:

Nixon's errors came mostly from being a stone neurotic with a huge inferiority complex.

I'm not a shrink, so can't speak to Nixon's mental states terribly well, but his repeated references on the tapes to how "the Jews," "the intellectuals" and so on were against him makes me think that something other than neurosis was a key element. Of course, anyone who ends a message to his Mom with the line "Your loving dog, Richard" is going to get tagged for an inferiority complex anyway...

#62 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 03:50 PM:

Have I mentioned lately how much I love the comment threads here?

#63 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 04:01 PM:

#61:

Of course, anyone who ends a message to his Mom with the line "Your loving dog, Richard" is going to get tagged for an inferiority complex anyway...

Or maybe he was a dyslexic megalomaniac?

#64 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 04:28 PM:

Bruce Durocher, again:

I'm not a shrink, so can't speak to Nixon's mental states terribly well, but his repeated references on the tapes to how "the Jews," "the intellectuals" and so on were against him makes me think that something other than neurosis was a key element.

Has it really been that long without a new Nixon psychohistory?

He was a bigot, no doubt, and a number of other bad things, but he was also, according to people close to him, a frightened little man who had to be utterly correct at all times or, well, lose his shit is the lay term.

#65 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 05:30 PM:

Bruce Durocher #61

That being said, Johnson didn't quite build it from scratch: if you read the oral histories collected in Merle Miller's Lyndon (and I know that Miller's work on Truman is suspect, but I believe the Johnson book is considered pretty clean) you'll see that Johnson had a thing about "finishing John's job," which included Vietnam, Cuba, and the Space Program.

Yes, absolutely, I don't disagree at all. I didn't mean to imply that Johnson built his quagmire from scratch (though I can see how you might read my post #40 that way); my only point was that though Nixon is rightly held to account for his handling of the Viet Nam war, he was in a difficult position not of his own making.

In particular, it seemed like a lot of Nixon's thinking about the VN war centered on the importance of not letting the U.S. look weak in the eyes of the world in general and the USSR in particular. Hindsight being 20/20 I think Nixon's policies as implemented were both ineffective and pointlessly bloody, but to a certain extent, I can sympathize with the line of reasoning that led him to them.

Me, #40: I'm going to disagree slightly and respectfully with Mr. Durocher and argue that Nixon was pretty smart. My thinking is that Nixon's assessment of the inherent seriousness of the Watergate break-in was based on his knowledge of what previous administrations had gotten away with.

Bruce Durocher, #61: Yes, but if you read the transcripts you'll see that Nixon kept the same opinion of the seriousness of the problem all the way through, without reassessing that part of things. An intelligent man could see the dangers in the Houston Plan becoming public, but setting up "the Plumbers?" An intelligent man could see the value of having tapes for writing his autobiography, but keeping them after illegal items were discussed? And the existence of the recordings was revealed? Especially after one was partially erased in a manner that required multiple passes through the tape deck? Nominating Haynsworth and Carswell to the Supreme Court? Backing Haldeman and Ehrlichman because they might be able to blackmail him after Dean explained how they (and probably Dean) would probably have to serve long prison sentences?

Again, I don't disagree with you that these were, in hindsight, bad decisions. Probably Nixon himself wouldn't have disagreed if you got a couple drinks in him.

But I think that they were sound decisions given the information available to Nixon at the time. I think it's easy for modern audiences to overlook just how unprecedented the whole Watergate affair was.

Inarguably, Nixon's predecessors enjoyed more prerogatives than his successors. J. Edgar Hoover had been serving as bug-meister to every president since Roosevelt, dispatching agents to wiretap not only political enemies but personal enemies and girlfriends as well. Kennedy's mistresses were common knowledge among the press corps, but no one chose to report on them. The rules of the game changed under Nixon. You can't really fault him for not being psychic.

IMHO, his initial--and, arguably, even mid-stage--assessments of the risks the Watergate affair presented to his presidency were pretty reasonable given the precedents and the information that was then available. I'd further argue that Nixon did eventually reevaluate the seriousness of the situation, and did so correctly. For instance, at one point he personally edited thousands of pages of subpoenaed tape transcripts during the course of a single busy night. Presumably he did the work himself because he didn't want there to be any possibility of someone rolling over on him under pressure from a grand jury.

I suspect he was slow to realize just how much trouble he was in not because of any lack of processing power, but rather because 1) his decisions were colored by a career's worth of political experience under the old rules of presidential politics and 2) he had 10-15 layers of yes men between him and the raw data that suggested the times, they [we]re a-changin.

I'm perfectly willing to fault Nixon for ethical bankruptcy, alcoholism ("Searchlight is on the Lawn"), and any number of personality disorders. But I would respectfully submit that his decisions were good ones given the information available to him at the time. If nothing else, the man was wicked smart.

And GWB, by all accounts, is neither smart nor intelligent.

Again, I completely agree. GWB isn't smart enough to manage a mid-sized supermarket, much less international affairs.

Heh. Who ever thought we'd miss Nixon?

#66 ::: Martyn Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 05:33 PM:

#57 - fidelio - the gods ALWAYS get even.

Now there's an interesting thought.

#67 ::: Anna in Portland (was Cairo) ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 05:55 PM:

In a just world, Richard Cohen would go to his grave with these words as his epitaph.

Isn't this sentiment just a little harsh? As I read it, Richard was explaining his opinion as it was back at the start of the Iraq war. He was far from being the only one who thought invading Iraq was a good idea at the time.

Saying violence (against other people who have nothing to do with the reason you need therapy) is therapeutic (for YOU) is pretty much the most incredibly awful idea I can think of. I don't know what is worse - the narcissism or the bloodthirstiness.

Really, I do not understand how people are allowed to keep cushy opinion writing jobs when they not only condone murder per se but mass murder.

It's a type of national incitement. I think incitement on the individual level is actually a crime.

Regarding Herodotus, my kids had to learn this in first grade (in sonorous classical Arabic) "As Herodotus said long ago, Egypt is the gift of the Nile". Every time I see the name I can hear that sentence in my head.

#68 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 07:04 PM:

The next sentence in Richard Cohen's article is

The United States had the power to change things for the better
He meant that the violence would be therapeutic for the societies we were to attack.

I can see that Cohen's article is a mea culpa and at the same time I can agree with Patrick that his words would make a good epitaph. Cohen admits he supported the war in Vietnam before he realized it was wrong, and he supported the war in Iraq before he realized it was wrong. That's not a very good track record. If Cohen wants to convince us that he is really serious about his apology, carving the words on his own tombstone would be a good start. Maybe he could keep it by his desk as a reminder.

#69 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2006, 09:13 PM:

#66 Martyn Taylor

For those whom the Gods would destroy, they first raise up. (or make proud, depends on your translation of Plato, I think it was).

#70 ::: Tehanu ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2006, 06:30 AM:

Ah, the Trickster! We were channel surfing one day back in (probably) the late 1980s and there he was, speaking to the Foreign Affairs Council or some such thing about the Russians. Even though we thought his conclusions were wrong, we couldn't help admiring the brains and the depth of knowledge he had, and the logic of the argument he made. I almost miss the old bastard. Compared to Chimpy, he looks like Einstein.

#71 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2006, 09:30 AM:

Tehanu #70: Compared to W, Reagan looks like Einstein.

#72 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2006, 09:55 AM:

Fragano #71: Compared to W, Reagan looks like Einstein.

That raises an interesting point. Reagan struck me as fairly sharp before he got shot but he never really bounced back from the assassination attempt. Towards the end of his second term, I think it was an open secret that he was in early stage Alzheimer's. Nonetheless, history (particularly red-state history) views his presidency in a favorable light.

I suspect that it was toward the end of the Reagan era that the dark lords of the RNC realized that it wasn't necessary or even desirable to have a president capable of thinking for himself.

Without Reagan, there could have been no W.

#73 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2006, 10:28 AM:

Whether he's a complete tool of the puppetmasters or just thoroughly unreliable, Bush may not be quite the "stay the course" monomaniac he appears to be. See this piece in today's San Francisco Chron.

#74 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2006, 03:43 PM:

Bruce Durocher (#61): "tontine of blame"

This may be from Lois McMaster Bujold's Cetaganda:

"I am not a proponent of the hero-theory of disaster," Miles said diplomatically. "General Yenaro had the misfortune to be the last of five successive ghem-generals who lost the Barrayaran War, and thus the sole inheritor of a, as it were, tontine of blame."
Miles, for all his faults, seems to have done a better job at dealing with the "son of a Great Man" problem than GWB....

#75 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2006, 04:49 PM:

I think people tend to overestimate how much impact the president has on a lot of his own legacy.

Bush isn't a very good president, but he also drew some lousy cards--9/11 and Katrina being the obvious ones, but also the ongoing spread of nuclear weapons (North Korea and Iran didn't start their programs when Bush came to office) and increase in reach of Al Qaida, the continuing apparently hopeless situation in Palestine/Israel, increasing oil prices driven largely by increased demand over time from China, the growing consensus that something is going to have to be done about global warming, the recession early in his first term, the increasingly leaky and failing blockade of Iraq before the war, the horribly flawed intelligence about Iraq (which appears to have been heavily influenced by refugees with an agenda), etc.

If Bush had gotten a quiet 8 years, he might not have come off as a lot worse a president that Bill Clinton. And if Clinton had gotten these years, while I expect he'd have done better with them than Bush, he would look like a *very* different president.

Similar things apply to Johnson, Carter, Nixon, etc. Some of their legacies were the result of their own choices, but many were things over which they had no control. Sometimes, you're Herbert Hoover, and no choice you can make will save you from being blamed for the disaster.

#76 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2006, 05:08 PM:

I don't think 9/11 was a lousy card for Dubya, albatross. Back when the WTC went down, I remember thinking that this was the greatest thing that could happen to this guy who was a lame duck a few months from becoming the Prez.

#77 ::: Lorax ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2006, 09:24 PM:

albatross @75:

I disagree that, from a standpoint of how he will be remembered, 9/11 was a "lousy card" for Bush. I have nothing but contempt for the man, but I don't believe even he rejoiced in the news of the tragedy; I do, however, think he immediately turned to figure out how to exploit it to forward an agenda he had previously formulated, rather than how to respond to the actual events of the day.

Remember the first few days after 9/11? The flag flying at half-mast over the Kremlin, the "We are all Americans" statements? A good president -- hell, even a mediocre president -- could have done a lot with that. We could have taken out bin Laden and the Taliban, with the support of the rest of the world, instead of doing a half-assed job of it while concentrating on Bush's real goals of laying the groundwork for an invasion of Iraq and getting rid of those pesky civil liberties here at home.

A tragedy on a President's watch doesn't necessarily mean the President will be blamed, or regarded poorly; the more usual response is for the public to give him a lot of slack and for almost any response to get him lauded to the skies as a "leader". Pearl Harbor didn't ruin Roosevelt's legacy, after all.

As Serge says, one of my thoughts shortly after 9/11 was that Bush now had a shot at a second term. It's hard to imagine in what manner an event that spikes a President's approval ratings to 90% overnight constitutes a "lousy card" for the man.

#78 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2006, 09:38 PM:

Another thing about Nixon having inherited the Vietnam War from LBJ... Would Nixon have refused to go to war if the whole mess hadn't started yet?

Meanwhile, I doubt that Gore would have started the Iraq War, even with a Republican Congress to push him.

#79 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2006, 09:59 PM:

Scott H at #72:

I suspect that it was toward the end of the Reagan era that the dark lords of the RNC realized that it wasn't necessary or even desirable to have a president capable of thinking for himself.

What brought down Nixon was the question "What did the President know, and when did he know it?"

The Dark Lords have recognized this pesky problem; since then, they've been careful to give us Republican presidents who could plausible claim not to know anything at all about the policies of their administrations.

#80 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2006, 11:12 PM:

Scott #71:

That's an excellent point.

#81 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2006, 11:16 PM:

Did Reagan pave the way for Dubya? Or can we thank Dan Quayle for that? On the other hand, I am beginning to think that Dubya makes Dan look brilliant.

#82 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2006, 12:26 AM:

Stefan Jones: I think we should revive tripod-giving for the holidays.

Hmmm, a friend of mine has a cat who's missing her right rear leg. Would that count?

#83 ::: Dan S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2006, 01:53 AM:

" I think we should revive tripod-giving for the holidays."

No, no, they'll just conquer and enslave mankind again . . .

#84 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2006, 04:14 AM:

albatross @75: agreed that the hurricane Katrina would have been a lousy card for any president, but you have to acknowledge that it was Bush's own actions that made it disasterous. If he hadn't dismantled the effective FEMA organization that Clinton had gotten built up over the preceding two terms, then perhaps there wouldn't STILL be a waiting list for emergency housing trailers, among other things.

#85 ::: Dan S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2006, 10:13 AM:

I was googling around for more on the liberalism of fear, which brought me to a year-oldish Corey Robin article from the Nation on The Fear of Liberals, containing this quote from [various descriptions deleted], Christopher Hitchens, thinking about 9/11:

On that day I shared the general register of feeling, from disgust to rage, but was also aware of something that would not quite disclose itself. It only became fully evident quite late that evening. And to my surprise (and pleasure), it was exhilaration.... here was a direct, unmistakable confrontation between everything I loved and everything I hated. On one side, the ethics of the multicultural, the secular, the skeptical, and the cosmopolitan.... On the other, the arid monochrome of dull and vicious theocratic fascism. I am prepared for this war to go on for a very long time.I will never become tired of waging it, because it is a fight over essentials. And because it is so interesting.
Putting aside questions of whether Hitchens' Hell involves a flask that magically empties just as he raises it to his lips, this is really just a more sophisticated version of Cohen's babble, and the sort of thing that seems to have motivated many liberal hawks . .

Hell is going to be a very long dinner party, I think.

#86 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2006, 10:28 AM:

Dan S. at 85: Hitchens says; I am prepared for this war to go on for a very long time.I will never become tired of waging it... This from a man who is not and never will be doing any actual fighting!

The dead of all nations thank Mr. Hitchens for his support.

#87 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2006, 03:33 PM:

I would like a recommendation on which of the many, many offerings Amazon has of Herodotus' The Histories I should purchase. I would prefer a hardback edition or at least a trade p/b size and with some kind of notes or commentaries to help understand the historical context. Thank you.

#88 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2006, 03:44 PM:

Dawno: I went with the Penguin edition. Someday I'll get around to reading it, too.

#89 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2006, 03:51 PM:

Hey, Dawno... Long time no see.

#90 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2006, 05:26 PM:

Thank you TexAnne. Hi, Serge! I rarely think of anything worthy of this company to contribute, so I lurk. It was such a pleasure meeting and talking with you at LACon. Belated thanks to Patrick and Teresa for providing the opportunity.

Now, I shall duck back under my security blankie.

#91 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2006, 07:26 PM:

9/11 gave Bush a boost in popularity and a huge amount of political capital, but also probably made some variant of the global war on terror inevitable. How has that turned out so far?

Invading Afghanistan was a requirement of retaining any power for the rest of his first term, let alone getting re-elected. After the initial attack (and the follow-on anthrax attacks), any further attack was going to be blamed on Bush. Failure to come up with some vigorous strategy to prevent future 9/11 attacks was going to lead the president down the path of Carter's reaction to the Iran hostage crisis, with one term in office and little respect while there.

The available strategies weren't too appealing, because fundamentally, the attacks weren't mounted by some single villian. Dropping a big bomb on Osama or hauling him into a US court wouldn't have much effect. Bush and company responded to 9/11, as far as I can tell, by first asking everyone related to the war on terror for their wishlists (the Patriot act is chock full of stuff that the FBI was wishing for long before 9/11), and by second looking for a plausible story about our global strategy. That story came in two forms: the neocons' idea of addressing the root causes of terrorism by imposing democracy on the Arab Muslim world, and the older conservatives' idea that we ought to clobber anyone who looks much like a threat. The imposing democracy idea is so obviously nuts that it still baffles me that anyone thought it would work. Eliminating threats might make sense, but it gives countries like North Korea and Iran strong incentives to push hard to get nukes, and it gives us lots of opportunities to do screw-ups like invading Iraq to stop their apparently nonexistent nuclear program. And over time, it also encourages everyone who thinks they may be a target to look for ways to defend themselves, even if those aren't nukes.

President Gore would have had to come up with a strategy and a story, too. Would he have invaded Iraq? I'm not sure, but I don't think we can rule it out. Would he have signed the Patriot act, and had strong incentives to push for stuff like fishing-expedition wiretaps and torture and detention of unlawful combattants? Almost certainly. Would we have ended up with similarly goofy post 9/11 airport security? Absolutely. And if we weren't in Iraq, we'd definitely be doing something big, and likely something that had at least as much theater as real security benefit in it.

#92 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2006, 08:04 PM:

Now, I shall duck back under my security blankie.

Don't take so long before coming out again, Dawno.

#93 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2006, 09:42 PM:

I suspect that President Gore would have paid more attention to The Hart-Rudman Report ; maybe not in time to forestall 9/11 but, one hopes, in time to avoid some of the deadly political theater which has followed (or perhaps "been excused by" is the better phrasing) that tragedy.

And... every time I hear Ronald Reagan mentioned, since the last election, I shudder. The bit of myth building which holds him primarily responsible for the end of the cold war (including the myth that it's properly over) was damaging enough before the foreign adventures of GWB, but now it's acting to obscure the role Soviet expansionism in western Asia had in exacerbating economic and political problems at home. It took very little actual outlay on our part to keep Soviet wealth and manpower hemoraging out through Afganistan; one might suggest that very little more (from any source, or sources) would make Iraq and Afganistan just as damaging to the US.

#94 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2006, 11:06 PM:

It's not that I idolize Gore, but I don't think he'd have taken us to war in Iraq. That war was based on lies and nothing but lies. Gore is too honorable to do something like that, even under pressure from a Republican Congress. On the other hand, he might have made sure that the job got done in Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden might have been caught since resources would not have diverted toward a war in Iraq.

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