I came here for an argument

Opinions from the extreme center left. E-mail at LMaggitti@AOL.com.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Read this sobering post by Arthur Silber on the road to war with Iran.

My own take on all of this is marginally (but only marginally, and not meaningfully) different from Arthur's. While I think that it's certainly quite possible that, as with Iraq five years ago, the adminstration has already decided to go to war with Iran, come hell or high water, I think that a slightly more likely possibility is that they really do believe that the current policy of escalation will cause Iran to back down. However, when Iran doesn't back down (and they won't), all the signs are that either we will start bombing Iran, or Israel will with our support.

Moreover, even in the unlikely event that Bush is bluffing, unintentional escalation to the point of full scale warfare is a very high possibility.

Congress? The signs are not good, I'm afraid. My biggest hope is that, if the bombing doesn't start soon, congress will grow a spine and adopt some or all of Arthur's suggestions. I'm not exactly holding my breath.

As for the consequences, I think that Arthur is, if anything, not pessimistic enough.

Addendum: here is an even scarier post from Bradford Plumer suggesting that the decision has been made, and it's happening soon.

Glenn Greenwald, one of my new favorite bogs (the blog, of course, isn’t new; my embarrassingly recent appreciation of it is) provides a useful counterpoint to a recent David Brooks column. Shorter Brooks: the Iraq fiasco hasn’t caused the American public and their elected leaders to question the cause of empire. Glenn disagrees.

I want to agree with Glenn’s optimism, and I do to some extent. Let’s break this down to two separate issues – the electorate and current Democratic politicians.

Greenwald doesn’t have much to say with regard to the politicians. His main point seems to be that the viewpoint of the politicians does not equal the viewpoint of the public. That is certainly a valid point as far as it goes. But unfortunately I think that Brooks is mostly right regarding the attitudes of our current politicians, despite a few encouraging signs to the contrary. Greenwald’s only substantive disagreement consists of two links, one to Obama’s encouraging Iraq plan, and one to comments from Edwards on Iraq. Unfortunately, and significantly, neither of these statements addresses Iran, and neither reflects anything like a fundamental reassessment of America’s place in the world (though I have more hope in this regard from Obama than from Edwards). Sadly, I think that Ross Douthat mostly gets it right in this post, where he lists some additional evidence in support of that portion of the Brooks’ column that talks about the elite consensus.

One hope on this issue is that enough of our politicians will pull back from the brink for the simple reason that they believe, correctly IMO, that an attack on Iran, or staying in Iraq, is going to on balance hurt, rather than advance, American power. In other words, they may do the right thing for the wrong reason.

A second hope is that they will do the same for reasons of electoral politics. There’s no question that, as Greenwald documents, the opinions of the electorate have shifted a lot, and done so much faster than the conventional wisdom in Washington D.C. I have two related concerns, though. The first is whether this represents a real change in the way that Americans view our role in the world, or just a reflection of the fact that the American public hates to lose and wants our victories on the cheap. I strongly expect that the latter is true, though at least that’s a start, something perhaps to build on.

The second concern is more troubling. Obviously poll data in this area is volatile and subject to quick change. I’m very worried that another major terrorist attack (or “terrorist attack,” if you know what I mean) could very quickly change the public opinion dynamic in a very harmful way.

But, there is some hope in the long run. As Douthat says at the end of his post, some of the younger pundits seem to be more willing to question the prevailing consensus (he doesn’t necessarily see this fact as an unmitigated positive fact, whereas obviously I do):

But what about the next elite? Here's the one reason to think there may be an "Iraq Syndrome" after all: The Iraq War has, I think, made questioning the neoconservative/neoliberal consensus far more common among young, wet-behind-the-ears wannabe pundits than anyone would have expected four years ago. Maybe this is a temporary thing, maybe it's just the narrow circles I move in. But when I look around the world of D.C. journalism, and the wider blogosphere, at the under-30 writers I respect, there seems to be a lot more sympathy for either libertarianism or paleoconservatism (or both together) among young conservatives, and McGovernish sentiments among young liberals, than there is for foreign-policy centrism of the kind that everyone from Boot to Ignatius subscribes to.

This may be too little, too late, and I think that many of these younger pundits don’t go far enough, but it is, at least, a ray of hope.

After some delay, I think I’m ready to start posting here. I sort of got distracted by a wasteful little flame war in comments at IOZ.

Before going further, I want to comment on that briefly. I don’t hold any real animosity towards those guys, despite the fact that they were real assholes to me. They are, after all, right on the big question, even though I (increasingly) disagree with their ideas about how to get to where we need to be. In fact, I think that the flames directed at me had a positive effect – it helped clarify my thinking, and ended a journey down a blind alley.

Now IOZ and I (mostly) agree on what I, at least, consider the central issue: that the vast majority of citizens and politicians of the United States have a distorted and actively harmful (to put it mildly) view of American’s role in the world (I’ll say “American Exceptionalism" as a kind of shorthand, but of course it’s much more than that) that has led to a series of horrific interventions in other nations, as well as a serious inroads in our civil liberties at home. We also agree that this mindset has become institutionalized in many harmful ways, and that both political parties are deeply implicated in it. We share, ultimately, a belief in the wisdom regarding foreign affairs articulated by George Washington in his farewell address.

We disagree about some of the details of that picture, but, more fundamentally, we disagree about what to do about it. While IOZ can be maddenly vague about what he thinks we should do about it, he is very clear that (1) he believes that there is no hope at all for the problem to be addressed within the context of the current major parties, and (2) any effort to do so is morally compromised, conferring upon the actor doing so responsibility for the negative actions of his or her chosen party (well, actually the actions of both parties, since he sees no meaningful distinction between the two).

I feel differently, for a number of reasons. I may talk about those reasons a bit later, but, for reasons which should soon become apparent, those reasons are not likely to be the focus of what I do on this blog.

Anyway, to get back to the IOZ dispute. I was accused of not “getting it’ on more than one occasion. That criticism was, I think, unfair, or at least unfair as it was articulated. I understood where they were coming from. What I didn’t get was that they had no interest in debating about whether it made sense to try to work within the current parties. Now, lest you think that I’m accusing them of being “close minded” or “unwilling to look at the evidence,” I most certainly am not. The fact is, that, while all of us should be willing to question even core beliefs when the contrary evidence is strong enough, there are only so many hours in the day, and there are certain subjects where we have given a lot of thought already to the evidence and arguments on the other side, and have no interest in revisiting the issue on a daily basis. I know that I don’t feel the need to, for example, debate the corrosive neocon world view; I’ve examined the arguments and the evidence, thank you, and I reject their world view as (1) inconsistent with reality, and (2) monstrously destructive to the point of insanity. Similarly, the advisability of trying to work within the current parties is one of those areas for the IOZ crew. And that’s fine, though IMO it makes them pretty irrelevant and useless when it comes to actually doing something to change the way the United States looks at the world. In any event, as I said in my penultimate comment in that thread, I was wasting their time and mine by commenting there.

This dispute actually increased my faith in trying to deal with this issue through the current system, while still recognizing what a long way there is to go, and acknowledging just how bad both parties currently are on these issues. But it also clarified my thinking about what I want to do with this blog. I’m not going to spend much time trying to articulate why we need to work through the present parties, warts and all. Not that I don’t think that I have some pretty compelling reasons for doing so; I think I do. But, given my limited resources, I’d rather spend them constructively, which means (1) trying to convince people who still think in terms of American exceptionalism why we should adopt a radically more narrow view of our role in the world, and (2) how we should go about bringing that eventuality about. It doesn’t make sense for me to spend my time futilely banging my head against the wall and trying to convince the IOZ crew to change their tactics; ultimately, they aren’t the problem, and really there just aren’t that many of them.

With that out of the way, hopefully I’ll post something a little more substantive later today, a riff on this Glenn Greenwald post.

Addendum: re-reading some earlier IOZ threads, I am still a bit mystified as to why things went so far south so fast in that linked thread; previously there seemed to be quite a bit more willingness to at least debate the issue of the wisdom of working within the current Democratic party. In retrospect, the turning point seems to have been my Nader comment. I suppose that that particular argument has so many negative connotations in some people's minds that it poisoned the rest of the debate.

But really this is neither here nor there - the bottom line remains the same. Engaging in arcane disputes on IOZ's blog isn't a productive use of my time.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Sometimes I almost have more respect for the hawks than so called "moderates." Hawks at least have a vision of the truth to which they are faithful. A monsterous and loathsome vision, of course, but at least a vision.

Then you have someone like Richard Cohen. This post by Chris Floyd (via A Tiny Revolution) is a perfect eviscerate of Cohen and his ilk.

Reading that post brought to mind this recent Megan McCardle post. Shorter Megan McCardle: "just because I was wrong and the antiwar folks were right is no reason for me to listen to them in the future." Her post has been torn apart in various venues, but what really stood out for me was the following comment by Meg a later comment thread "the Iraq war has given me new information about how badly things can go wrong."

Words fail me. This didn't occur to you before the war? Study any history at all between business courses Megan? That puts me in mind of another passage, though I'm not the first to see the analogy:

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy - they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made ...

And really that's the essence of it (well, actually, that's the charitable way to look at it). We raped a country and killed tens or hundreds of thousands of people because one third of our nation didn't stop to think that wars, you know, kill people, and are more than a little unpredictable, and another one third knew this and didn't care. Jesus. History will not judge us kindly. Of course, in this case there isn't anyone lese to clean up the mess, and, depending upon just how much further this madness goes, we may not have the option of retreating into our affluence. That judgment of history may be coming to bite us all too soon.

Friday, January 19, 2007

So, where am I coming from? In terms of Domestic policy, still center left. In terms of Bush, still ... not a fan, only more so. In terms of the central issue of our age, the war on Terra and associated domestic issues ... well, I've moved a considerable direction towards what may fairly be called an isolationist position. More particularly, and with credit to IOZ, I've become a fan of our first president's views on the subject as expressed in his farewell address.

I am not entirely comfortable with some of my ideological fellow travelers, but that will be a subject for another post. But just to give you an idea, let me link to a thread on IOZ' blog where I talk through some of my thinking. It includes a somewhat intemperate comment from me towards the end.

Okay, that's it for the introductory posts, the next one should be a little meatier.

Okay, here I go.

I stopped doing this after only two weeks, despite recieving a couple of mentions and some favorable comments from semi-prominent bloggers (yikes, re-reading my blog, I see I had either links or e-mails from Drum, Drezner, and Yglesias - couldn't have asked for a nicer start), because I realized just how much time it would take to do it right. I mean, it's easy to just type out unsupported opinions, or link to stuff you like, but publishing anything of value requires thought and (gulp) research.

Well ... I have a bit more free time now, and find myself spending lots of time commenting on other blogs, so I figured why the heck not. I have a few posts kind of mapped out in my head; let's see how it goes.

Only downside, some of my opinions have gotten a tad ... radical. But I'll try to keep the anger down and blog responsibly. We'll see how that goes as well.

Edit - re-reading my prior posts. A few of them I'm kind of happy with ... most of them not so much. I'm tempted to remove the evidence, but I suppose the contrast might be amusing.

Testing, testing, is this thing on?

I'm considering starting this thing again. Almost four years have passed, and there have been many changes, both life changes and in my politics.

Saturday, April 26, 2003

Atrios says that John Lott's done; "Put a Fork in Him," and links to a Tim Lambert post with lots (ahem) of damaging information. But the best evidence that Atrios is right may be this: even Instapundit seems to be abandoning ship.

I haven't said anything about Rick Santorum's asinine remarks, primarily because just about everyone in the blogosphere, liberals and libertarian leaning conservatives alike, has been all over him, and there isn't much left to say.

One of the few bloggers to rise to Santorum's defense was Clayton Cramer, but several other bloggers have criticized his homophobic defense of Santorum, including Matthew Yseglias and Instapundit. But the most devastating critique of Cramer was by the folks at Agenda Bender (via Atrios). Impossible to summarize or pick out a quote; read the whole thing. I do think they are a little tough on Reynolds, though.

The award for the most succinct summary of Santorum's views goes to Elton Beard:

Shorter Senator Rick Santorum:
I'm not against gay sex, I'm against all sex unless it's blessed by a priest, or is with a priest.

Update: TNR online has a smart piece on "Why Santorum is a Bigger Problem Than Lott" Bigger problem for the Republicans, that is.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Another post on books, especially since my first post had at least one interested reader. The books I recommended in my last post were a bit ... well, eclectic. In the future, I plan to focus on a specific theme when I post about books. Today's theme: religion in fiction.

First, a preface. I was raised Catholic, and am now agnostic. However, I don't have the level of hostility towards religion that some nonbelievers have. On the one hand, I find religious fundamentalism alien and often disturbing. On the other hand, I think its foolish to dismiss the reality and, often, value, of the religious experience, whatever doubts I may have regarding the existence of God. I have no background in literary criticism, so buyer beware. Anyway, here we go:

Robertson Davies, The Cunning Man - Religion is a pretty consistent theme with Davies. He is a bit tough to pin down; his idea of religion is rather unconventional. He respects it in much the same way he respects myth - not so much a truth in a mundane factual sense, but truth in a deeper spiritual sense. Kind of like how the best fiction can contain more truth than nonfiction. Is big on the inspirational power of religion - inspiring art, for example, or devotion. I realize I haven't said much about the book. In terms of plot, it deals with the mysterious death of a priest. On a deeper level, its about faith, sainthood (a popular topic with Davies), and a lot more. Read it.

Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, and Graham Greene, The End of the Affair - lots of similarities between these; the authors are both Englishmen who converted to Catholicism; the books are similar both thematically and even to a certain extent in terms of the plots. Many of you may be familiar with each of these, from reading the books or from movies/television; I won't say much more, so as not to ruin either for those who haven't been exposed to them. Both deal with, among other things, what it means to be Catholic in England.

Melvin Jules Bukiet, After - holocaust survivors, after the war. And its a comedy, albeit a black one. Explores the problem of faith after the holocaust. Highly recomended.

Another thing that all these writers have in common, except for Greene. They are funny. Humor and religion. They go together better than you might think.

Comments on this post would be highly welcome.

Eugene Volokh writes:

HUGH HEWITT SHOW: About to do the debate about whether adult, consensual incest should be illegal on the Hugh Hewitt Show; my opponent will be John Mark Reynolds at Biola University. I was on the show with him once in the past, about the Dini matter, and much enjoyed it.

Strange topic - I can understand why people might want to make consensual incest illegal in the nation as a whole, or even at the state level, but to legislate whether it should be legal on a specific television show seems odd. And, ahem, what exactly did Eugene enjoy doing on the show in the past?

Groan. Now you see why I don't attempt to leaven this blog with humor more often.

This is a profoundly depressing post from Daniel Drezner regarding the situation in Afghanistan. Daniel is no alarmist, and tends to be somewhat optimistic about our prospects for success in the middle east. If you read the post you'll see why his normally optimistic viewpoint is absent. I'm not going to quote from it; you really need to read the whole thing to get the full impact.

It does seem to me that this represents to a large extent a failure on the part of the Bush administration. Now it can be argued that (1) even with all of the problems, Afghanistan is a better place than it was, and (2) that many of the problems there are beyond our control. Both points are true; the first point, though, sets the bar pretty low, and the flip side of the second point is that some of the problems are not beyond our control. Evident in Afghanistan is the Bush administration's hostility to nation building; recent news in Iraq is indicative of the same hostility.

I've said before that I have fewer doubts than many antiwar types do regarding whether the Bush administration is sincere about democracy. The question, it seems to me, isn't whether Bush believes in democracy - its whether he believes enough in democracy to take risks to bring it about, and to take on the costs and responsibilities of fostering it. The evidence to date, in my opinion, suggests that he, and his administration, do not.

Good new - one of my favorite bloggers, Tacitus, is back. I put him on my blogroll, hoping he'd be back, and my faith has been rewarded. I disagree with Tacitus more often than I agree with him, but I love his site, becuase of his reasonableness, the thoughfulness of his posts, the generally high quality of his comment section, and his humility. Regarding the latter quality, consider the following list of the topics he plans to blog about upon his return:

War predictions I got wrong.
What the "Islamic" opposition to US occupation of Iraq means.
Why the WMD casus belli is coming back to bite us.
And whatever else catches my eye.

First topic is what he got wrong. Gotta respect that.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

More bad news from Iraq; according to the Washington Post, U.S. Planners Surprised by Strength of Iraqi Shiites:

As Iraqi Shiite demands for a dominant role in Iraq's future mount, Bush administration officials say they underestimated the Shiites' organizational strength and are unprepared to prevent the rise of an anti-American, Islamic fundamentalist government in the country.

There's more. I'm trying to avoid letting news like like get me overly pessimistic about the future in IraqI find this issue particularly disturbing: first, we are hearing a lot of bad news regarding the power of the Mullahs right now; its not just one or two isolated reports. Secondly, the fact that we apparently didn't anticipate the strength of the fundementalist is particularly disturbing, as it suggest that we don't have a plan to deal with the problem. More on this later.

Update: So much for "more later." Josh Marshall covered pretty much the same ground that I was going to cover. Check out his post, and the links, if you haven't already. Nothing to add to it.
Another Update:Edited to remove an annoying Glennism.

I haven't seen much comment on this article from yesterday's New York Times:

Acknowledging that Democratic opposition and a revolt among moderate Republicans had forced them to lower their ambitions, Bush administration officials said today that they were considering scaling back President Bush's proposal to eliminate the tax that individual investors pay on stock dividends.

Its good news, I suppose. The problem is that Bush's latest plan would delay, rather than reduce, the tax cuts:

The officials said they were considering cutting the proposed break on dividends by half, to a 50 percent reduction in the tax, instead of the 100 percent cut Mr. Bush favors. But the officials said they would press Congress to phase in the tax's total elimination over the next decade.

Emphasis added. This is almost the worst of all worlds - the long term impact on the deficit would be almost as great, yet there would be even less of a short term stimulus. Of course the best options would be no tax cut, or perhaps a small short term cut. But neither of those options are on the table.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Check out God Only Knows: Rogue deity must decide which side he is on in Reasononline. Its a bit facile, but an amusing take on the variety of petitions that God must be receiving these days.

Rumsfield denies plans for permanent bases. From the New York Times:

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld denied today that the United States had plans for establishing permanent military bases in a postwar Iraq, and said such an impression could damage the administration's efforts to pacify and rebuild the nation.

Well, he is certainly right about that last point. I'm skeptical of Rumsfield's claim, but I commented on the reports that the U.S. planned to establish such bases, so I thought I would point out Rumsfield's response. Reading the rest of the article, he doesn't dismiss the possibility of such bases, just says we have no plans for them currently.