Towards A Good Samaritan World

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Iraqi blogger Zeyad, now a journalism intern at the New York Times, writes:

Another close friend of mine has been killed in Baghdad. We had lunch together in Baghdad just days before I left.

I can't concentrate on anything any more. I should not be here in New York running around a stupid neighbourhood, asking people about their 'issues'.

I now officially regret supporting this war back in 2003. The guilt is too much for me to handle.

So what about me? Do I regret supporting the war now? The problem with changing one's mind is that one needs to develop an alternative opinion. If my view in 2003 was that I very narrowly and tentatively supported the war because of the Golden Rule-- if I were an Iraqi, I'd want to be liberated, and also I rejected the notion that a guy like Saddam who kills his way to the top has a right to rule in any sense-- then what is the view that, retrospectively, I should have taken? Zeyad offers no alternative, nor any explanation. He's overwhelmed and is trying to escape the sense of guilt. Somehow that seems not to be good enough.

The "realist" alternative seems as unpersuasive and wicked as ever. The version of liberal internationalism that regards even a totalitarian regime as inviolably sovereign seems as rotten as ever. The vague notion that "peace" is the right way and we should always talk and negotiate is as muddle-headed as ever. Some kind of synthesis of the pro-war case and the anti-war arguments is needed.

Monday, October 30, 2006


Hmm. I wish this hostile commenter on my last post would name himself; I'd be interested in finding out who "Anonymous" is.

The Professor has been in denial for several years on Iraq, a denial
which origin is in his assumption
a priori of American goodness.Arrogance unnoticed by the
arrogant is egregious. Ash is so much his superior it ain't funny.

No, I have no a priori assumption of American goodness. America can do bad things to: like support Saddam in his war against Iran, and then leave him in power for thirty years, and then, near the end, exacerbate the plight of the Iraqi people through cruel sanctions. I'm not a professor, by the way.

Let's instruct as to why: the 450.000-650,000 innocents killed far outweigh, per time occupied,Saddam's killing of Iraqis when extrapolated in proportion to Saddam's rule. The US becomes even more culpable when its complicity in Saddam's attack on Iran is figured in.

Even Ash makes it clear he doesn't believe the figures that Anonymous confidently quotes. Oh yes, and Anonymous assumes that the Iraqis killed were all "innocents." Really? No insurgents or terrorists killed at all, eh? Since the killing has probably been done more by insurgents and terrorists and ethnic gangs, there is some complexity in distributing the blame. Perhaps America had some responsibility to stop it (though even this can be disputed I think) and certainly our actions created the conditions in which the killing could occur, but the primary blame must go to those who actually commit murder, not to those who fail to stop it.

What does seem to be the case is that the claim that the Iraq War saved net human lives is much more tenuous than it was two years ago. It is likely that the war has killed Iraqis at a faster rate than Saddam's regime and the sanctions combined. If the war culminates in a more humane regime, future lives saved (relative to the Saddamist alternative) may make up for lives lost; also, it may be that the Baathist regime had to end sometime, and its end would have resulted in ethnic breakdown and civil war in any case. But this is speculation. It seems that a price has been paid in Iraqi lives (and the lives of American soldiers, though far fewer of those) for... well, for increased freedom in the short run, in the long run for we don't know what.

Is it worth it? There are, of course, other things in the world that are valuable besides life. Something must be conceded to "Give me liberty or give me death." There's no doubt in my mind whatsoever that I would prefer to live, or die, in today's Iraq than the Iraq of four years ago. Were I living under the rule of Saddam (or Stalin, or Hitler) and I was offered a choice-- we can turn your country into a free country where you can speak your mind, but you'll have a 3% chance of dying in the process-- I would agree. I would agree if there were a 70% chance of my own death. This might sound quixotic to Americans, but not to Iraqis, who value freedom more because they lacked it for so long.

Further all polls taken of Iraqis reveal, since 2004, consistently,
dominant majority approval (now 64%) of attacks on US troops. The
professors claims of "democracy" turn in on themselves, as, democratically the majority of Iraqis want US troops dead.

It's true that the latest poll shows the majority of Iraqis approve of attacks on US forces, which is a bit odd in view of their other opinions. As the poll report observes:

Given four options, 37 percent take the position that they would like U.S.-led forces withdrawn 'within six months,' while another 34 percent opt for “gradually withdraw[ing] U.S.-led forces according to a one-year timeline.” Twenty percent favor a two-year timeline and just 9 percent favor 'only reduc[ing] U.S.-led forces as the security situation improves in Iraq.'... Support for attacks against U.S.-led forces has increased sharply to 61 percent (27% strongly, 34% somewhat). This represents a 14-point increase from January 2006, when only 47 percent of Iraqis supported attacks... Naturally the question arises: If only one in three Iraqis favors a U.S. withdrawal in the shortest possible time frame of six months, why then is support for attacks on U.S.-led forces as high as 61 percent?

Iraqis seem to take a somewhat cynical and Machiavellian view on this, understandably perhaps in view of their dark history: they think the US wants to stay and establish permanent bases, which they oppose, but they don't want an immediate withdrawal. They believe, quite wrongly, that the US would not withdraw if a democratic Iraqi government asked it to. Attacks on US forces make them more likely to leave eventually. (Of course, some Iraqis may approve of attacks on US forces simply because insurgents who are attacking US forces aren't attacking Iraqis, and are more likely to get killed.)

That's why I think we should ask the Iraqis to vote on whether they want us to stay. If these polls are any indication, they'll vote for us to leave, and would be impressed and surprised when we actually did so, perhaps looking on us more favorably as a result. They might also change their mind when faced with a real rather than an abstract choice.

Anyway, Anonymous's claim that "democratically Iraqis want US troops dead" is certainly a misreading of this poll result. And the claim that "all polls since 2004" show this is as false as false can be, as another poll result underlines:

Majorities still approve of U.S. efforts to train Iraqi security forces and help with community development, though most feel the United States is doing a poor job.

Not the same as wanting US forces dead.

Similarly, majority of polls of Iraqis, even those grateful the US removed Saddam, say in so many words, sometimes exactly, (agreeing with Saddam supporters of course) "but you really had no right to do it, thank you and get out."

Anonymous offers no evidence for this. I think I've seen the polls which made him think this but this is not what they say. We already know Anonymous is not a reliable poll-reader... I don't think it's worth the effort to investigate myself whether there's any truth to this statement, we know well that there isn't.

"Systematic violence" the arrogant Finn asserts "picks off the bravest and the best." Well, apart from the majority of professional Iraqi women claiming they had MORE rights under Saddam than at present or in the new governments proposed governance...

We know Anonymous's quasi-poll reporting is not reliable, but anyway, what kind of rights are we talking about? Not freedom of conscience certainly. Which rights are most important?

1.the reality is, the "bravest" might have been in some instances Baathists;

I'm not going to try to understand the kind of mind that would call that courage. Too morbid an exercise. It's funny how the Iraq crisis has brought open sympathy with totalitarianism out of the woodwork.

government opposition (if you stayed out of anti-government activity, Saddam left you alone)

False. Wow, did this guy work for Saddam's propaganda ministry or what?

does not necessarily equate with either "bravest" (among them members of the Baathist Republican Guard)


or "best" (very subjective.)

There is no right or wrong. The John Kerry creed.

And "random violence", in anarchy especially, also distorts and corrupts behavior arguably more than systematic violence, Finn hopes you don't notice.

Too bad Anonymous doesn't explain this point further, because it's an interesting one. The reason I think that systematic violence on behalf of an unjust cause or regime is more poisonous than random violence is that it gives its wielder leverage. The Spanish Inquisition was, in a way, impressively moderate: in several centuries of operation it probably only killed a few thousand people. But since it systematically punished thought-crime against the Catholic Church, its thought- and conscience-destroying power, its deadening effect on Spanish intellectual and moral life, was far greater than if the violence had taken place in a single massacre, for example.

Quotes from the MSM shows the native Iraqi nostalgic for some ORDER, naturally, even Saddams former opponents, but Finn prefers anarchy-and Iraq is rated unstable in 16 of 18 provinces.

I "prefer"? Prefer to what? To Saddam's gulag-state, yes. And that's what the alternative would be.

As for Iran getting nukes,he assumes its wrong, but doesn't express belief it is wrong for Israel to possess nukes or suggest disarming Israel in this respect.

I don't exactly assume it's wrong for Iran to get nukes. It's wrong for the Iranian regime to oppress its people. On the nuclear issue, I think the nuclear oligopoly lacks a basis in justice and can't last. Americans assume that stopping nuclear proliferation benefits the whole world, and they're right, yet at the same time, why should these five powers have nuclear privileges (and Security Council vetoes) and no one else? The Iranian public opposes the Iranian regime, but they wouldn't mind having nuclear weapons; this is actually one way for the Iranian regime to get the public on its side and divide the Iranian public from the Americans whom they otherwise support. This is another reason that spreading democracy is desirable: if the world consisted entirely of democracies, we wouldn't have to worry much about nuclear proliferation, since democracies don't make war on each other. Of course it doesn't follow that spreading democracy is actually achievable (though it would probably be much easier in non-Arab regions; the Arab world has a unique democratic deficit).

Finally world terrorist ranks increase due to the Iraq war but Finny finds it "quite likely" that another "cause celebre" would have caused equal growth.

Sorry, Finn, it is quite UNLIKELY anything less than an invasion of an unthreatening Arab country on the part of Israeli-dominated America (see Mearsheimer and Walt)would have led to such an increase with ominous implications for the future.

The growth in the terrorist movement was already underway long before the Iraq War. It was fuelled by an impression of American weakness after a Hezbollah terrorist attack in 1983 triggered the US withdrawal from Lebanon. I actually think that the Iraq War was a brilliant counter-move to 9/11 precisely because it redressed two of Osama's three main grievances-- it allowed us to pull troops out of Saudi Arabia and end the sanctions on Iraq (the third, Israel's occupation of Palestine, is not under our control)-- yet at the same time it did not seem like a concession and did not cause moderate Muslims (who share Osama's grievances but don't embrace his methods) to say, "Wow, 9/11 achieved something after all!" At the same time, it injected an ideological rival to Islamism into the heart of the Middle East, and even if Islamists have nearly succeeded in strangling it in its cradle, they have done so only at the cost of murdering many thousands of their fellow Muslims, and thus ruining their reputation. (For those who don't know the name of Mearsheimer, he's the soulless dean of the "realist" school of foreign policy, which assumes that powers are-- or should be, it's not clear-- amoral vehicles of their own "self-interest," defined as probability of survival.)

One has already been hinted at by Richard Haas,who says the US has lost much of its influence in the Middle East as a result and is likely to lose MOST of it. And he, rather than the starry-eyed Finn, is in the corner of REALITY.

And what do we want influence for if we're not allowed to overturn the world's most bloodthirsty regimes? Anyway, with respect to influence in the Middle East I think the rise of Iran actually helps us. The "Arab street" has regarded us as their enemy for generations because they want to ethnically cleanse the Israelis from the Middle East, and we oppose that. But Arabs don't want to be dominated by Iran, and the rise of Iranian power will make some of them look for alignment with the US and the West.

I have one final criticism of Timothy Garton Ash. Ash is human, humane, and humanitarian. He values freedom, he opposes tyranny and genocide with all his heart, he never slides into visceral anti-Americanism however wayward he believes America is at any given time. He is reasonable, and he is committed to (in Czech dissident-turned-president Vaclav Havel's phrase) "living in truth." Two thing that sets Ash apart from much of the anti-war crowd: (1) he mentions how bad the Saddam regime was (which most anti-war-niks want you to forget) and (2) he admits that Iraqis greeted the fall of the Saddam regime with "initial rejoicing." The latter is an especially precious concession. That Iraqis basically "welcomed the US as liberators" is part of the historical record, shown on millions of TV screens. One of the most amazing and sinister aspects of the Iraq War since then is that journalists and pundits have perpetrated a weird conspiracy to suppress this. One often hears Rumsfeld and Cheney ridiculed for having supposedly predicted that Iraqis would "welcome our troops with open arms" or something like that. And we all know that that's exactly what Iraqis did; we were all glued to our televisions at that time. But journalists trust that we'll have forgotten, that we'll dismiss it, that we won't believe the evidence of our own eyes/memories against the constant drumbeat of grim criticism and sarcasm and contempt... and they've turned out to be mostly right! This has been one of the most frightening aspects of the post-war period, the most reminiscent of the most chilling truth-distortions of the Soviet Union and other totalitarian states.

Ash will have none of it: even in the midst of a damning critique of the war he insists on setting the record straight on that point.

Yet Ash fails to call out and repudiate the almost open pro-totalitarian voices like Anonymous which have become more respectable since the Iraq War. It is like criticizing the British Empire when Hitler and Stalin were on the rise. In the long run, the non-human, -humane, -humanitarian voices who have managed to render themselves respectable under the anti-war banner are a far greater danger to our future than is the feeble, fading, quixotic figure of George W. Bush.


Timothy Garton Ash is a member of the humane, generous-minded left. Famously, he wandered around Western Europe in 1989 enthusiastically reporting on the "velvet revolutions" that took place there. He is a British EU-phile who has sometimes written to promote a sort of pan-European nationalism.

Now he is voicing what is attempting to be a new conventional wisdom:

'They died in vain." Four words that are unbearable for the mother of a dead soldier and shaming for the politicians who sent them to their deaths. So our leaders say "they did not die in vain". But who now believes them?

The rhetorical question is a rather bullying tactic. Its subtext is "You can argue with me if you like, but for your own sake, please don't; you will be a fool at best and dishonest at worst. Really it's time to stop arguing about this and move on; you know you've lost, make the best of it." And I almost want to listen to that subtext, to be quiet in order to avoid being disdained. I can feel myself being turned into an isolated, bitter minority, erstwhile champion of a cause no one respects anymore.

But no! The anti-war side has not won the argument well enough for that. In fact, they haven't won it at all. In fact, they rarely even deign to offer any arguments: they merely point to the latest carnage as if the conclusions to be drawn from it were self-evident. Let me respond to the rhetorical question with a rhetorical question: What are the relevant measures, the data points, the indicators which would provide the basis for the judgment that the overthrow of what was probably the single most murderous dictatorship in the contemporary world was a mistake? On what basis could one justify such a view?

Unusually, Ash recognizes the successes of the war:

Yes, our troops removed a very nasty tyranny, to widespread initial rejoicing among the people of Iraq. For some Iraqis - especially Kurds and Shia - some things about their lives have got better. People who were in prison or in exile are now at home. Millions of Iraqis turned out to vote for political parties of their choice, despite intimidation. They have incomparably more free media than before and less reason to fear repression from the central state. A few have prospered. In places, the occupying powers have done major reconstruction work.

Uh, yeah. Pretty impressive achievements I'd say. Though of course some are left out. Iraqis have a democratic constitution. They have an elected government. And the "initial" rejoicing implies that the rejoicing was temporary, which is true of course (that's the nature of rejoicing-- you do it briefly, to celebrate something new; then you go back to normal life) but also that it was followed by regret, which is not true. The polls do not support the claim that Iraqis want to turn back the clock.

So what does Ash weigh against these notable successes?

[T]hat's about all one can say on the plus side; the minus list is so much longer... [T]he dimensions of our failure over more than 40 months of occupation are breathtaking. It starts with the most basic services. Despite the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars, US government witnesses told the Senate foreign relations committee earlier this year that the performance of the Iraqi electricity, water, sewage and oil sectors is still below pre-invasion levels. The economy is worse in many respects than it was before.

The "in many respects" is revealing. No doubt; and the economy is also better "in many respects" than before the war. In particular, the most widely followed indicator of economic performance, GDP per capita, rose 50% in the first year, then mostly stalled, but is still much higher than before the war. About electricity, generators have sprouted up all over the country-- an interestingly libertarian alternative to the state-sponsored electricity monopolies that are the rule elsewhere.

Instead of going in fear of Saddam's secret police and torturers, people go in fear of gangs, militias, criminals and fanatics.

Which is worse? Maybe it's a close call. But I don't really think so. Systematic violence is more destructive of freedom than random violence, because systematic violence distorts and corrupts behavior. Random violence makes life far more uncertain; systematic violence picks off the best and bravest and makes everyone else hunker down and live a lie.

As one Iraqi recently commented: under Saddam we had a state, a bad state, but to have no state is even worse.

"As one Iraqi commented." Does that Iraqi represent the majority point of view? No. Any argument that the war was bad because it made Iraqis worse off needs a strong foundation in polling evidence. That evidence just isn't there. That means that claims of this kind should always be made in a speculative voice.

An intervention that was intended to make the world safer for democracy has made the world more dangerous for all democracies.

That's a big claim! What's the evidence?

The United States' own recently released National Intelligence Estimate confirmed that Iraq has become a "cause celebre" for terrorists. It has infuriated Muslims in our own countries, including the London bombers of July 7.

Not sufficient. No doubt Iraq is a cause celebre for terrorists, but it's quite likely that if Iraq hadn't taken place, they'd have some other cause celebre. That Islamic terrorists hate us is nothing new: remember 9/11? (What IS new is that fighting terror is a cause celebre for Iraqi democrats.) As for the London bombs, well, Turkey, Indonesia, and France didn't participate in the war, and they've all experienced Muslim violence, too. And again, remember 9/11. It was intended to be the signal that launched a global jihad against the West. How do we know it wouldn't have succeeded in stoking anger against the West, without the Iraq War? More fundamentally, what's your baseline? How much terror did you expect to occur after 9/11? More or less than what actually did occur? (I expected more.) Which needs explaining-- continuing terror, or the relatively small amount of it?

It has turned a militant, Islamist Iran into a regional winner, increasing the likelihood that it will try to develop nuclear weapons.

This is a funny argument. Niall Ferguson has argued that regime change was the right policy, but it should have been directed against Iran, not Iraq. At least I can understand that argument. But Ash opposes war with Iran; he even hopes that the one benefit of the Iraq War will be to teach the West that "we accept that this 'war' against terrorism, like the cold war, will never be won by military means." Iran was trying to develop nuclear weapons before the Iraq War; we know Iran's drive for nukes is not a result of Iraq. That the Iraq War makes us less likely, in the short run, to overthrow Iran's regime, and thus stop them from getting nukes, I'll concede. But if we shouldn't invade Iran, then how would we stop them from getting nukes, with or without the Iraq War? Ash's allusion to the Cold War makes the point nicely: in the Cold War, we didn't stop the Soviets from getting nuclear weapons.

It has made the United States more unpopular around the world than at any time since reliable polling began and dramatically decreased the United States' capacity to get its way.

I'm less concerned with the United States' "capacity to get its way" than with whether or not we use that capacity for good or bad ends. In the 1990s, we had a lot of (apparent) power, and what did we do with it? Implemented sanctions against Saddam which left him in power but killed maybe hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. If we have less power now, but we use more of it to help people, that's an improvement in my book. Anyway, what is "our way?" These are certainly better times for the world at large than the 1990s were. Democracy is more widespread; the economies of the developing world are booming; wars in Congo, Algeria, Yugoslavia, Mexico-Chiapas, and Chechnya have died down. We support freedom, democracy, peace, economic growth. We should want this to happen. Should we care whether it is happening because "the United States... is getting its way" or because someone else is getting their way? I don't see why.

Oh yes, and there's the cost. The Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has estimated that the total, eventual costs of the Iraq war, "including the budgetary, social and macroeconomic costs, are likely to exceed $2 trillion" - that's $2,000,000,000,000. That would be $2,000 a head for each of the world's poorest billion people, who live (and die) on less than $1 a day.

Yes, but we can't just give that money to them, now can we? We've tried that, year after year, decade after decade, in dozens of countries. There's room for disagreement about the results, but certainly much of that money gets lost along the way, whether in paying bureaucrats or by creating perverse incentives. And ultimately, the worst-off people tend to live under evil governments, and there's not much you can do for them-- except remove the governments! Which now, thanks to Iraq, we know how to do, sort of.

It's not too soon to suggest that the American-British invasion and occupation of Iraq has proved to be the greatest strategic blunder of our time.

Well, yes it is. Or rather, it's not that it's too soon, it's that the evidence is much too ambiguous, and the counter-factual-- what would the world be like if Saddam Hussein were still in power?-- too unknown, indeed unknowable. The anti-war camp is trying to frame a new conventional wisdom. It is much too early for that, and the signs don't really point in the direction that the proponents of this conventional wisdom are trying to force us all to think.

One of the problems with the whole anti-war side in this war is that from the beginning, it has consisted of far too many quite different worldviews that tried to make common cause on this one issue. Many of these people could have made good arguments, but they tended to avoid it, for the sake of coalitional unity. The result of this was that cogently argued cases against the war were a rarity; far more often there were hollow slogans, superciliousness, arguments made against straw-men, efforts to create a pseudo-consensus. At the end of the day, the result is that the anti-war voices have failed to articulate a coherent counter-narrative. We're asked to believe, vaguely, "If we hadn't invaded Iraq, everything would be fine." Fine how? What is fine? Does it mean "like before?" Or what? Bush has become pretty muddle-headed and lost the plot of late, but from April 2003 right down to the present day he has never failed to meet the low standard of being more right than most of his critics.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Historian John B. Judis writes a very interesting account of the evolution of John McCain's foreign policy philosophy over at TNR. Judis praises McCain's centrism:

McCain is also another rarity in Washington: a centrist by conviction rather than by design. His political philosophy places him closer to Theodore Roosevelt than to his other idols, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan: more noblesse oblige than libertarian populism or business conservatism. He says he favors "a minimum of government regulation in our lives," but what really matters is whether a policy or business practice is in the national interest. If it isn't, he'll use the power of the government to change it. Goldwater would not have voted for a bill tightening controls over the tobacco industry, and Reagan would have balked at curbing pollution. McCain has backed both. Liberals have recently chided him for wooing his party's evangelical base, but these have been nominal efforts. McCain pronounced himself in favor of teaching creationism as a theory; but he also devotes a chapter of his latest book to the genius of Charles Darwin. He gave a commencement speech at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University; but, in a subtle rebuke to Christian conservatives, he spoke entirely about foreign policy. Earlier this year, he voted to block a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

And bipartisanship:

McCain's idiosyncratic approach to party politics also makes him an outlier. His commitment to bipartisanship is real--he worked with Russ Feingold on campaign finance reform, Ted Kennedy on immigration reform, and Joe Lieberman on global warming--as is his relish for battling his own party's leaders. Last month, when Bush and his congressional allies were using a bill flouting the Geneva Conventions to paint Democrats as soft on terrorism, McCain, along with John Warner and Lindsey Graham, blocked the measure and insisted on a compromise. True, the compromise was flawed. Still, it undermined the administration's efforts to exploit the war on terrorism for political purposes.

But this is unexpected:

McCain has one other attribute that separates him from many of his peers in Washington: He is willing to change his mind.

Case in point: foreign policy.

Nowhere has McCain's willingness to question his own previous assumptions been more dramatic than on foreign policy. When he first arrived in Washington, he was essentially a realist, arguing that U.S. military power should only be used to protect vital national interests. Since the late '90s, however, he has joined forces with neoconservatives to support a crusade aimed at overthrowing hostile and undemocratic regimes--by force, if necessary--and installing in their place democratic, pro-American governments. Unlike many Republicans, he enthusiastically backed Bill Clinton's intervention in Kosovo. Moreover, he was pushing for Saddam Hussein's forcible overthrow years before September 11--at a time when George W. Bush was still warning against the arrogant use of American might.

Judis then explores McCain's intellectual history in more depth:

McCain comes from a long line of military men... By his own admission, he was brash, sometimes insubordinate--a maverick within a profession grounded in hierarchy. He longed to prove himself by going to war. Having absorbed his father and grandfather's stories about World War II, he had no doubt that the United States would triumph. "I believed that militarily we could prevail in whatever conflict we were involved in," he told me.

McCain also acquired from his father a particular view of American power. The elder McCain admired the British Empire and conceived of the United States playing an analogous role in world affairs...

McCain's faith in this approach would be tested in Vietnam. He began bombing runs over North Vietnam in mid-1967, at a time when the Johnson administration was restricting the targets American pilots could hit. McCain soon became disillusioned with this strategy. He and his fellow pilots regarded their civilian leaders as "complete idiots" who "didn't have the least notion of what it took to win the war." In October 1967, McCain was shot down over Hanoi. He was imprisoned and tortured for five and a half years, and he emerged thoroughly chastened in his views on war and American might.

A note on changing one's mind: It takes courage, and it is also in some cases a result of courage. A hypocrite has little reason to change his mind: not bothering to live by his beliefs, he has no occasion to discover that his beliefs are mistaken. An honest man who lives by his beliefs may discover through experience that he is, in some respects, mistaken; the same honesty will enable, will compel him to admit this when he discovers it. Back to Judis:

The McCain who arrived in Washington in 1983, after winning a House seat from Arizona, was still a hawk, but a very cautious one. He had abandoned the gung-ho idealism of the early cold war for a more tempered realism. And the U.S. defeat in Vietnam was still very much on his mind.

McCain's first application of his newfound realism came in September 1983, when he had to vote on a bill to extend the U.S. military presence in Lebanon. A year earlier, in the wake of Israel's invasion of Lebanon, the Reagan administration had sent Marines to Beirut to help oversee the evacuation of the Palestine Liberation Organization. But the Marines had lingered in Lebanon to aid the new government, which was fighting local militias as well as Syrian forces. Republican and Democratic leaders lined up in favor of extending the U.S. stay there... McCain called for a gradual U.S. withdrawal from Lebanon... McCain's concerns, of course, proved prescient--a month later, suicide bombers blew up Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 Americans and forcing a U.S. withdrawal [writes Judis]...

Now wait a minute. That withdrawal from Lebanon was a fateful moment, when we showed the rising Islamist movement that terrorism paid off. When "Ron Ran" from Lebanon, he sowed trouble for his successors. Judis should at least acknowledge the case that the retreat from Lebanon was part of the path to 9/11. Anyway, McCain was still a semi-dove in 1990, and Judis digs up a great quote:

[McCain] was initially skeptical of the need to use U.S. ground forces [in Gulf War I]. "I think that we have got to make use of the advantages that we have, and that is through the air," he told Judy Woodruff in early August. Later that month, he warned in a Los Angeles Times interview, "If you get involved in a major ground war in the Saudi desert, I think support will erode significantly. Nor should it be supported. We cannot even contemplate, in my view, trading American blood for Iraqi blood."

Obviously he's come a long way since then. Why? Three main reasons. First,

the senator's outlook had begun to shift in the early '90s, when he started o take an interest in democracy promotion and human rights.


Haunted by the American defeat in Vietnam, McCain had been reluctant to see troops deployed abroad. But his brother Joe says that the American victory in the first Gulf war restored the senator's confidence in U.S. power, allowing him to again contemplate military interventions.


And then there was the shock of Srebrenica, where Serb forces murdered thousands of Bosnians in July 1995. Its full impact on his worldview may not have been immediate, but, today, McCain recalls the massacre as a key moment in his evolution on foreign policy. "My reluctance was eradicated by Srebrenica," he says. "I was belatedly aware of the terrible things going on there and that the only way we were going to solve it was militarily."

This led directly to McCain the "uberhawk," who co-sponsored the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, who welcomed Ahmed Chalabi, who said on Fox News that leaving Saddam Hussein in power after Gulf War I was a mistake-- before 9/11-- who ran on a platform of "rogue-state rollback" in 2000, who expected Iraqis to welcome Americans as liberators, who expected the Iraq War to liberalize the Middle East. This is where he loses John B. Judis:

In short, McCain's record on Iraq does not inspire confidence. He was wrong about Chalabi, he was wrong about Iraq's ties to Al Qaeda and WMD, he was wrong about the reaction of Iraqis to the invasion, and he was wrong about the effects on the wider Muslim world. As McCain prepares to run for president, it's worth asking: Does he understand that he made mistakes? Does he draw any lessons from these mistakes?

The fact-checkers at TNR are asleep on the job. Judis's claims here are stated as if they were fact, when really they range from the controversial to the untenable. Iraqis did welcome the Americans as liberators. We all saw this on TV, and it shows up in the polls. In the wider Muslim world, the Iraq War has helped to trigger Libya's stand-down from its former anti-Western militancy, and the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon; there have also been elections in Palestine; in short, the liberalization of the Middle East has begun. That Judis is peddling the canard that Iraqis didn't welcome us as liberators doesn't mean he's a liar, it just shows that he is not willing to assimilate new facts:

McCain wasn't willing to concede that there was any flaw in the basic strategy of taking over and attempting to transform an Arab country highly sensitive to Western domination. I told McCain I thought that he failed to appreciate the power of nationalism, either in Vietnam or Iraq.

Judis seems to think that the power of nationalism is such that Iraqis would prefer to be governed by any Iraqi, even Saddam, than to be liberated/occupied by Americans. This is an empirical claim, and it is a false one. Sometimes people prefer at least an interlude of foreign rule to a particularly vicious fellow-national.

Hegel thought that history proceeds through thesis and antithesis to a new synthesis which then becomes the new thesis. The Iraq War (which underlined the lessons of Kosovo) was the antithesis to the aloof and somewhat amoral foreign policy of the Bush I/early Clinton years, which achieved international peace by writing a blank check to sovereignty, and treated American life as, in effect, infinitely more valuable than foreign life. There is no going back: we know now that we can overthrow murderous, genocidal states; and so we incur a new responsibility for those who still live under them. We need a new synthesis, less cynical than the Clinton formula, but which recognizes the limitations of our power, and the limitations of liberal democracy as a political ideology, that the Iraq War is exposing. McCain's habit of learning suggests that he is a good man to lead us to it.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


The phrase "stick and carrot" refers to two ways of motivating a donkey to move forward: beat him with a stick, or offer him a carrot. A too-clever-by-half interpretation of the phrase is that the donkey has a stick propped in its saddle which dangles a carrot permanently in front of its nose. As the donkey follows the carrot, unbeknownst to him, he is also moving the carrot forward. Maximum incentive effect, minimum cost in carrots.

With this in mind, it's not surprising that Republicans' chances of winning the November elections have dropped from 56% to 44% according to As long as Republicans seemed tougher on the border than Democrats, but didn't actually build the fence, they could lure a lot of nativist Donkeys (i.e., nativists who prefer the Democrats on other issues) to support them, hoping for a fence. If you actually build the fence-- if you feed nativist Donkeys the carrot-- then they have no more reason to vote for you. (It's the same reason that overturning Roe v. Wade would be a huge Republican victory but would also hurt their election chances.)

So it's not at all inconsistent to say that the fence bill might even have been popular, as Mickey Kaus and the far right insist (though the polls don't really support it), and it will also be their electoral downfall.

How great would it be if the passage of a fence bill was followed almost immediately by a loss of both the House and Senate to the Democrats! What scalps immigration supporters would be able to claim! What's even more beautiful is that the Republican majority in the Senate now looks to be in serious jeopardy-- just after they signed the fence bill! The timing is exquisite. One month from now, the following narrative may be plausible:

"Republicans' chances began to recover in the late summer and early fall of 2006, driven by lower gas prices, the foiling of a terror plot that refocused voters' attention on the national security issue, the defeat of popular Senator Joe Lieberman in a Connecticut primary that signalled a takeover of the party by its 'netroots' left wing, and a strong economy with the Dow Jones stockmarket index reaching new highs. But the passage of an unpopular border fence bill, combined with a sex scandal, led to the swift deterioration of the Republicans' position, and the Republicans lost a House majority that they had held for 12 years, and a commanding lead in the Senate."

Here's hoping.

UPDATE: Mickey Kaus thinks that President Bush may "pocket veto" the border fence, after signalling-- but perhaps with Clinton-like equivocations?-- that he would sign it.

InstaPundit writes stupidly, "MICKEY KAUS WONDERS if Bush will pocket-veto the border fence bill. He will, if he wants a Democratic majority in Congress." PoliPundit, too, opines that a Bush pocket veto would lead to "real suppression of the base."

Why? Certainly "the base," or at least the nativist sub-section of it, would be angry at Bush. But Bush is not up for re-election. And they have no reason to be angry at the REST of Republican elected officialdom, which has just (disgracefully) taken their side. Not only would staying home fail to punish Bush (much) it would actually (on this issue at least) play into his hands. As one PoliPundit commenter says:

Suppression of the base means a Democratic House. A Democratic House means Bush gets his amnesty bill and his open borders dreams. I’ll be voting Republican just to spite him.

Exactly! A pocket veto of the bill would give the nativists MORE reason to vote Republican, in order to push through the same bills that Bush vetoed, again. By contrast, if the Republicans got thrown out of office, it's hardly likely that a Democrat-led Congress would revive them (especially since the fence bill would be part of the narrative about the reasons for Republican defeat).

So unless the nativists are strategic idiots (which is possible), Bush could actually INCREASE the chances of the Republicans regaining Congress by pocket vetoing the bill, and allowing Republicans to run against him on this issue. But the bills would probably come up again, and pass this time, if the Republicans did win.

On the other hand, if Bush signs the bill, the Republicans are more likely to get the electoral drubbing they deserve.

It's a conundrum. My best-case scenario is for Bush to pocket-veto the bill, and then for the Republicans to lose. But if Bush's veto would probably lead to a Republican victory, the choices are: (a) Bush signs fence bill but Republicans get punished, or (b) Bush vetoes bill but Republicans get re-elected and bill becomes law anyway. Of those options, I prefer (a). And yet how can I actually be in favor of Bush signing the bill?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Fascist website VDare objects to the practice of "anathematization":

This weird attempt to ban discussion of an historical event has been noticed here before. But it is significant and worth thinking about.

The Anglo-Saxon tradition of political discourse needs free speech. The concept that some issue can be declared taboo and excluded from public consciousness by anathematization, not uncommon in other cultures, is an alien import. It must be rejected with scorn.

Following this logic, we also should not anathematize Hitler or contemporary neo-Nazism, nor Stalinism, nor suicide terrorism, ethnic cleansing and genocide, etc. Late in the last century, intellectuals like Nietzsche attacked and undermined the humane anathematizations of certain practices and attitudes which had underpinned the spectacular moral, economic, political, artistic, scientific, etc., progress of the 19th century. They helped to put humanity on a slippery slope to the world wars and totalitarian revolutions of the first half of the 20th century. Of course the deservedly-anathematized will always object. But anathematization has its place.

The anathematization of the idea of mass deportation is a task of the utmost moral urgency. At the risk of sounding pompous or grandiloquent, it is the duty of every American patriot.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I wouldn't say that I trust historians more than others generally on current events. In fact, I probably trust academic historians less than most, since most academic departments are held hostage by post-Marxist, leftist cliques. But studying history may induce a bit of perspective. There's an impressive clarity and sanity in this passage from Victor Davis Hanson on Iraq:

My rule of thumb is that almost every current, know-it-all critic, whether a Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Chris Matthews (“we are all neo-cons now”), Francis Fukuyama, etc., at one time or another voiced support for removing Saddam and bringing war to Iraq.

One constant in their various escape hatches is that a particular lapse, a certain mistake alone explains their abandonment of earlier zeal—too few troops, disbanding the Iraqi army, not trisecting the country, the tenure of Donald Rumsfeld, etc.

In contrast, the simple truth is too bitter to confess: their support follows the pulse of the battlefield. When the statue fell and approval for the war hovered near 80%, few wanted to be on the wrong side of history. But fast forward three years plus: after well over 2,000 battle deaths, and chaos in Iraq, most not only don’t wish to be associated with the stasis, but contort to assure that they never supported the war in the beginning (hard to do with footprints on the internet), or were supposedly betrayed by the incompetence of others.

I admit to being somewhat jaded: 80% of most people have no ideology or widely-held views, but simply reflect perceptions of failure or success. Those who praised Lincoln to the skies when Sherman reached Savannah in December 1864, just months earlier had hated him during the awful prior summer. Those who later sang Churchill’s praises after El Alamein and Normandy Beach surely did not earlier after the string of disasters at Dunkirk, Singapore, and Tobruk. Those who wrote in praise of massive B-17 raids deep into Germany in early 1945, escorted by hundreds of lethal P-51 Mustangs, had written off daylight unescorted bombing in 1942 as an aerial holocaust. The point, again, is that in the middle of a war, savvy is apparently defined as changing positions and views to keep pace with the upside-downside battlefield, rather than looking at the long-term conduct of the war.

My own views remain the same. While I didn’t support removing Saddam prior to September 11, I am glad we did afterwards. While there were plenty of errors committed—no American should ever have appeared on Iraqi television; Tommy Franks should not have abruptly abandoned the theater; instant ad-hoc solutions were preferable to long-term utopian efforts at perfection—none of these lapses were as serious as those in the past in the hedgerows, in the skies above Germany in 1942, on Iwo Jima, or during the days before the Bulge, and none cannot be corrected and learned from.

Iraq is 7,000 miles away, in the heart of the ancient caliphate, surrounded by a hostile Sunni Saudi Arabia, Shiite Iran, and treacherous Jordan and Syria. The war was conducted through three national elections, and became the focus of a hostile global media — much of it predisposed to be critical of the US government and military.

Nevertheless, that we now have a consensual government fighting for its life against terrorists is nothing short of remarkable. Everything and everyone now hinge on the outcome.

The safety of millions of brave Iraqi reformers, the prestige of the United States and its military, the policy of fostering democratic reform in the Middle East, the end to the nexus between failed autocracies and scapegoating the West through terrorists; success of the Bush Administration; the effectiveness of the Democratic opposition; the divide between Europe and America; the attitude toward the United States of the Middle East autocracies; the reputation of the Islamic terrorists — all that will be adjudicated by the verdict in Iraq. Rarely have so many ideologies, so much politics, so many reputations been predicated on just a few thousand American combat soldiers and their Iraq allies.

I also confess, at this point I have a very reductionist, very Jacksonian view now of Americans in Iraq: America went in for the right purposes, conducted itself with honor and humanity, was still good when it was not perfect; and can leave something far better than what it found—if it will make the necessary adjustments, as in all of its past wars, and persevere. 130,000 took us at our word and are in harm’s way as a result. So I don’t care much to refight the argument over who was smart and who stupid—only how best to support out troops and ensure they win at the least possible cost.

My biggest worry is that the Iraq War has weakened, and/or will (continue to) weaken, the "generalized credible threat of American power," as I argued one year ago. This depends on our military's capabilities. Are we overstretched?

If the military can handle it-- and if they can, everything I read about them says that want to and their determination remains unshaken-- then certainly we're engaged in a noble cause. If anything, in the last year I've become more swayed by the human issue, wanting to fight the villains who are ruining the peace in a country that deserves better, relative to the grand strategic issue of how to use American power for good. Maybe I can't justify that rationally, it's just how I feel.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Once again, Nick Schulz recklessly alienates Tech Central's readership by publishing my views on immigration: "Build It and They'll Still Come" (my title was "Fortress America" but theirs is perfectly appropriate). I hate writing on this subject, I really do. At a time like this, I would rather just not think about it. But as they say, if good people remain silent... Well, I can't remember the quote. Anyway, I'm actually pro-wall, in a way:

Meanwhile, for immigration advocates like me, it could be worse. Last May, Peggy Noonan wrote, in a call for tighter borders, that "no one believes in the wisdom of government, but they do believe it has a certain brute power." Of all the unwise, brutal measures advocated by immigration restrictionists, a border fence is the only one that is not an existential threat to our heritage of freedom. Tamper-proof biometric ID cards are right out of a futuristic dystopian novel. And while most Americans prefer to go after illegal immigrants' employers, thanks to the laws of supply and demand, the effect of this policy would be to drive immigrant workers a bit further into the legal underground, thus lowering their wages, boosting the pay-offs for employers willing to accept the increased risk of hiring them, and inducing a creeping criminalization of entrepreneurship in America. And I am at a loss to identify the morally relevant differences between mass deportation (which is sometimes whispered about) and things that usually happen in places like Yugoslavia and Sudan. A border fence is the Berlin Wall, but it's not a police state, or the gulag, or ethnic cleansing.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Republicans' 2006 election chances are sinking because of the recent Foley scandal (sexy IMs to Congressional pages). That should affect no one but Foley. The reason Republicans deserve to lose this election is the recent border fence. Funny, the mix of justice and injustice in life.

"Daniel Dennett was wrong." An interesting post at the blog Conscious Robots. (Denies free will.) Conclusion:

The next step to defeating the tyranny of the selfish replicators isn't, as Dawkins suggests, to start being nice to each other. It's to start being nice to ourselves. To feel good all the time. By getting direct control over our neural pathways so that our conscious minds can achieve their programmed purpose: to maximise the pleasure and minimise the pain.

Fascinating. This kind of thinking, in a nutshell, is why I think places where belief in Darwinism is most widespread behave in such un-Darwinian fashion, i.e., why there are such low birthrates in Europe.


In response to my last post on free will, Nato writes:

As a matter of fact, the kind of compatibilist view of free will covers the general, day-to-day moral usage, since we generally want to know what people will do, ceteris paribus, to assign moral qualities to that person. Put another way, what we learn about a person from their actions depends on external factors that would tend to coerce that behavior.

When I differentiate moral analysis from strategic analysis in a reply, he says:

Knee-jerk assignment of moral content is first order, "natural" strategic analysis.

The more I think about it, the more it seems that moral and strategic analysis are at odds with each other, almost opposite ways of thinking. Moral analysis asks: "What is right?" Strategic analysis asks: "How can I turn this situation to my advantage?" In both cases, I am interested in the character of others, but for quite different reasons. In moral analysis, I feel indignant, or I admire. In strategic analysis, these feelings are luxuries I can't afford: I can't let my disdain for an unscrupulous trader blind me to an advantageous deal; I must resist the urge to make an alliance with a player that I admire for his principles, but who I foresee is doomed.

More fundamentally, it is the hallmark and the proof of ethical thinking that it sometimes calls for self-sacrifice, even the ultimate sacrifice of giving one's life. By contrast, in strategic analysis, at least as conceived as an extension of evolutionary survival-maximization, self-sacrifice is precisely what will never be done. (I'll put the issue of self-sacrifice for the sake of one's kin-- the "selfish gene"-- to one side for the moment.)

Now, it's true that moral analysis sometimes is also good strategic thinking. If I despise unscrupulous traders, it may help me to avoid being cheated by them. I suppose this is what Nato means when he calls "assignment of moral content" "`natural' strategic thinking." Ethics has sociobiological foundations: "conscience" evolves because it helps us to survive, by giving us instinctive aversions to people whose traits are not conducive to the development of cooperative relationships.

I don't buy it. For one thing, I dislike explanations that involves our "subconscious" or "instinct" or "socialization" playing tricks on us and making us think we think things for reasons other than the real reasons. I question whether there are really any grounds epistemically sound enough from which to launch a skeptical attack on introspection.

Even if our consciences are playing tricks on us, however; even if there is no real right and wrong, just sociobiologically-derived instincts that seem to us like transcendent ideals, surely the distinction between moral and strategic analysis still holds. Moral analysis serves sub-conscious forces impelling us towards patterns of behavior which benefit the species, i.e. our "selfish genes", which enter our thoughts as "moral principles" and emotions like indignation or admiration. At the level of deep programming, perhaps, it is strategic analysis, but not at the conscious level. Strategic analysis occurs at the conscious level, and we adopt more narrow ends-- "selfish individual" ends-- and then judge people's characters and likely courses of action so as to advance our own goals, and it is best if we prevent moral analysis from getting in the way.