Thursday, May 01, 2008

Fighting Fire With Fire

There is still something about this Jeremiah Wright thing that just isn’t, well, right. Despite his declaration of unilateral divorce from his former pastor for the sin of impolitic self-aggrandizing (grounds for separation in at least 35 states), Barack Obama is still being tied to the yoke of the inconveniently silly man in the right-wing media. "Too little, too late," they shout in unison, hoping to soak the last drop of sweat and blood from Obama’s brow.

The whole Wright episode is such a ridiculous distraction; one of those things that seem to happen every week in this campaign that no one would buy as realistic in a political novel. It started – as too many of these things do – with a nut-right talking point that blossomed into a full-blown "issue" when ABC News legitimized the "concerns" about Wright when it ran the now-infamous video of Wright yelling "god damn America" in god-knows-what context. This led to Obama’s exquisite speech about race on March 18th. Obama was in the process of (maybe) riding it out before Wright hit the redemption media circuit over the weekend (Barbara Walters must not have been interested -- Bill Moyers gets the "get"?), committing the sin of being himself and making it impossible for Obama to survive without a clean break. And so he did, but such a break would never be clean enough for the unclean right-wing, who are not about to let the still-likely Democratic nominee off the hook if they can help it.

All of this has been unfair to Obama. Everyone running for president has some clown they would rather not have hanging around in their past, their present or their future. If you can’t see them, it is because either the candidate is too boring (Chris Dodd comes to mind) or they keep their embarrassments well hidden inside corporate cocoons or loopy mega-churches where anyone trying to do oppo-research would be bored to tears, their original curiosity drowned in a sea of piety and self-pity. So, the right-wing echo machine – with the cowardly acquiescence of the MSM – has managed to make Wright and "issue" for Obama and Bill (who, despite the hysterical exaggerations about what he has said or meant, is just fine) an "issue" for Hillary Clinton. Who or what is (or should be) the albatross(es?) around the GOP’s neck?

First of all, forget about looking under the pews at whatever Baptist or Episcopal church John McCain attends every month or so when the cameras are rolling. The chance of finding anything of substance, much less interesting at a church in wherever Arizona McCain claims as his home turf is slim to none (but, believe it or not, somebody tried). McCain’s nut-bag religious baggage rests not in his personal church, but in the usual collection of pathetic, attention-seeking GOP hangers-on, like proud endorser John Hagee, who, among other things, calls the Catholic church "the great whore". Oh, what the hell. Who cares about these religious groups calling each other names? At least he didn’t call them a "bad whore". Now, that’s an insult in the religious world. No – although right-wing preachers say all the time that America is already "damned" for its hedonistic sins and Wright just suggested, perhaps, it should be "damned" for something or other, there is no point in trying to parse these differences and insist on equal treatment for the religious nuts on either side. That ship, unfortunately, has sailed.

But we all know there are people closely tied to the Republicans in general and John McCain in particular that say worse things than Jeremiah Wright ever thought. It is past time for a media frenzy to call on the Republicans denounce and disassociate themselves from their hotheaded good friends...on mainstream talk-radio.

Go through any list of the outrageous statements made through the years by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or any of the other ubiquitous national wing-nuts who have done the GOP’s dirty work since the Fairness Doctrine was eliminated by Reagan 20 years ago. John McCain has appeared on all of these shows many times and will benefit throughout the election period for their support, however grudging. When will he be called on to denounce and disassociate himself with their various outrageous statements through the years?

This also works locally. Pardon the disgusting imagery, but Scott Walker has crawled so far up Charlie Sykes’ ass he has actually gotten a paler shade of white over the past several years. Does he agree with Sykes that Al Sharpton is a pimp? Does he agree with his other radio whore, Mark Belling, that Latinos are "wetbacks"? Do all the local Republicans – pretty-boy Paul Ryan, the repulsive Jim Sensenbrenner, the grandstanding David Clarke – who have an open invitation to appear on all the major and minor local wing-nut shows any time they want to really subscribe to the extreme and laughable positions of the various hosts? If not, what are they doing granting legitimacy to the hosts and their nut-right views?

Somehow, I don’t think this is an idea that is likely to get any traction. But, if the pretended outrage over Wright’s comments will continue to haunt Obama’s campaign, it is only fair that the Republican nominee be held to the same standard – hoisted on the petard of the comments of his most ridiculous supporters. The only problem is that, when it comes to the many ridiculous supporters of Republicans, it’s hard to know where to start.

27 comments:

gnarlytrombone said...

there is no point in trying to parse these differences and insist on equal treatment for the religious nuts on either side

Yes. But. This isn't about religion; it's about race. The handwaving about Wright's "goddamn" rhetoric is just an expression of uneasiness over this angry black man who obviously has no cause for anger in our post-racial society. He must be a fanatic. Is his spiritual son as well?

We've heard this before. A fanatical, impudent preacher. Infernal brigandage without any cause or provocation that can be assigned. Senator, how could you possibly believe he's patriotic?

The reason Wright gets all the attention is because he, and by extension Hussein Obama, is threatening. Hagee isn't threatening. How can he be? He is part of the powers that be.

Seth Zlotocha said...

What's strange -- from the standpoint of intellectual honesty, not what flies for reasonable political commentary these days -- is that it's admitted by most on the right that Obama doesn't share Wright's sentiment; the outrage seems to be that Obama would associate himself with someone who harbors these views, in spite of the fact that the person also maintains a number of thoughtful and inclusive ideas, including those on gays/lesbians, those suffering from HIV/AIDS, opposition to Apartheid (before it was cool), etc.

It's the epitome of guilt by association. Why wouldn't we want a president who can constructively engage with -- and use that relationship to challenge -- black liberation theolgians like Wright and, simultaneously, do the same with white evangelicals like Rick Warren?

It's not just that we shouldn't expect our leaders to not have relationships -- even close ones -- with people who hold some positions outside the mainstream (which is significantly different than those, like white supremicists or the Taliban, who are entirely devoid of reason); we really shouldn't want a president who doesn't have the ability or willingness to work constructively with people whom they don't see eye-to-eye with on everything. Why should we want a president who lives in a bubble, professionally manufactured and scrubbed clean of any association that doesn't meet the 50% threshold in the polls?

Heck, engaging constructively and find commonality in spite of our differences is the main point of Obama's candidacy, which is why Wright crossed the line when he essentially called what Obama did in Philadelphia -- which was explain the importance and complexity of his relationship with Wright and the black community -- a political sham.

gnarlytrombone said...

the outrage seems to be that Obama would associate himself with someone who harbors these views

Not quite. The mantra is that Obama "sat in the pews for 20 years" and didn't shout out his disgust. This temporal distinction also conveniently absolves McCain, as Professor Esenberg is quick to point out when challenged on the double standard.

Seth Zlotocha said...

I guess I don't see the clear distinction between outrage over Obama associating himself with Wright and outrage over Obama sitting in the Pews at Trinity for 20 years. I suppose there's a small distinction when you toss in the point about Obama not publicly denounce his pastor's views before those views were a public issue, but that argument seems even more ridiculous than guilt by association.

gnarlytrombone said...

I didn't say the distinction was clear :)

Check out Esenberg's comment in this thread (ironically, it cuts off just as he's about to mount a McCain is an innocent babe in the woods defense):

"Show me that McCain attended Hagee's church for 20 years, identified as the person who brought him to Christ, praised him as a spiritual mentor and advisor, had him preside at his wedding and baptise his children, used one of his sermons (one that, in fact, appears to contain some of the noxious views in question)as the inspiration for and title of his campaign biography, and gave what little he donated to charity almost exclusively to Hagee's church.

Then we'll talk about McCain and Hagee. This isn't simple guilt by association.
[We don't] know that McCain even knew who he..." (my emphasis)

Seth Zlotocha said...

I'd say that is guilt by association. Rick is simply arguing that McCain's association with Hagee is less meaningful and significant than Obama's association with Wright.

gnarlytrombone said...

Funny, isn't it? Ceci n'est pas une endorsement

Seth Zlotocha said...

I'll add that Rick's point that the better you know someone the more likely you are to know about the points on which you disagree is true. But it's also true that the better you know someone the more likely you are to consider those points of disagreement -- even strong disagreement -- in the broader context of everything else you know about the person. In that sense, I'd say it's more understandable that a leader would associate on a very personal level with a person who holds, again, some noxious views, as opposed to simply cozying up to a person that holds some noxious views for purely political reasons.

Of course, another difference is that Obama has clearly denounced all of Wright's noxious statements, while -- as far as I can tell -- McCain has only rejected Hagee's (and Parsley's) anti-Catholicism and comments on Katrina. McCain hasn't said anything, however, about their views on wiping Islam from the face of the earth.

gnarlytrombone said...

about their views on wiping Islam from the face of the earth.

Exactly. Rick et al want to pretend the Hagee endorsement is merely pro forma. But they refuse to engage with why Hagee endorsed McCain and why McCain accepted it and still accepts it.

McCain, who called Hagee and his ilk "agents of intolerance" (which presumes he "knows" these people, right?) doggedly sought the endorsement for more than a year.

Surely Rick doesn't think Hagee and his followers are so stupid as to not expect something in return for their support? That would be elitist.

Roland Melnick said...

I've never seen someone use so many words to concede a point, Mike. But as verbose as you are you failed to mention the mileage Hillary is getting out of this. Just the usual right-wing conspiracy and I-Wish-I-Could-Censor-Talk-Radio stuff.

This is sticking to Obama because his close tie to Rev. Wright is undeniable. His denunciations of Wright only came about when Obama realized it was politically necessary.

Personally, I don't know what is the nature of McCain's connection to Hagee, if any. So I have challenged someone, anyone, to tell me what it is. One poster on this blog directed me to this Media Matters article:

http://mediamatters.org/items/200803140013

but the only link it mentioned was that McCain and Hagee were at one rally together.

I agree with you when you say that most, if not all, politicians have fringe kooks desperately trying to associate themselves with that politician. There isn't enough time in the day for each candidate to repudiate every nutjob out there. The key difference here, which you are attempting to obfuscate, is that the Wright-Obama relationship is neither incidental nor accidental, but familial.

Rick Esenberg said...

Heck, engaging constructively and find commonality in spite of our differences is the main point of Obama's candidacy.."

The claim that this is the "point" of Obama's candidacy is precisely why Reverend Wright matters. While I understand that Obama claims to be post-ideological, I see nothing to support that other than his assertion that it is so. His record in the Senate doesn't suggest it and much of his campaign rhetoric is standard class warfare rhetoric about us and them. His economic program seems to involve an awful lot of things that we have tried in the past (windfall profit taxes, protectionism, higher taxes and top-down - rather than market based - solutions.)that we have found don't work. He has come awfully close to promising to appoint judges who rule based upon their own sense of justice and understanding of the circumstances of selected demographics. It sounds as if he is advocating that the the US essentially stand down internationally in either an abject Carterite way or a poll driven Clintonite fashion.

That he thought well of Wright and forged such a close relationship with him may not tell me that he shares all of Wright's views, but does suggest that what I suspect about his positions and those of the people that he will surround himself with is right.

Mike Plaisted actually suspects the same things about Obama. That's why he supports him. These are precisely the things that he wants. But for the somewhat larger group of voters who don't support this direction for the country, Obama's association with - and response to - Wright is a relevant data point.

That's why it resonates and has hurt Obama - not because, as Mike apparently likes to think, people are stupid.

gnarlytrombone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gnarlytrombone said...

such a close relationship...does suggest that what I suspect about his positions

Someone who argues that the Obama campaign is no more than "pretty words" should probably avoid petty psychobabble.

Seth Zlotocha said...

I know you're a busy guy, Rick, and I know I know it's easier to toss in words like "suggests," "sounds as if," "come awfully close," "seems to," etc., but it would help make your points part of a constructive dialogue if you provide citations, or at the very least specifics, on the policies you're critiquing.

does suggest that what I suspect about his positions and those of the people that he will surround himself with is right.

So you don't think that Obama agrees with these soundbites by Wright, which he has forcefully denounced on more than one occasion, but you're afraid he'll surround himself with people who do and thereby...what? Come to agree with these soundbites? Be forced to agree with these soundbites? Just like you're argument that Obama was framing himself as a "dangerous" and "totalitarian" messiah figure, you're not finishing the argument with anything tangible, just leaving it to the fertile imagination of your readers. After all, is there anyone you can point to in Obama's campaign, let alone his inner policy circle, who has a record of supporting these soundbites? (Here's a detailed look at Obama's policy shop, in case you're looking for a place to start.)

Seth Zlotocha said...

I also want to add that you seem to be confusing process with policies, Rick. Obama's promise is that he would move toward a post-partisan politics, not a post-ideological politics. Although, admittedly, even some on the left confuse the two when it comes to Obama, there are important differences. While post-ideological politics suggests something about the internal worldview of the candidate or party, post-partisan politics is more oriented toward the approach a candidate would employ in creating policy.

As you note, in terms of personal ideology, Obama is a fairly standard liberal Democrat, though I'd argue his economic policies are more market-focused that the left-wing of the Dem Party (as evidenced by his refusal to accept the need for a mandate on health insurance and the heat he's taken for it). It's partisanship, however, where Obama has pledged the real change. In sharp contrast to both Clinton's triangulation and Bush's unilateralism, Obama promises to move toward an inclusive and open approach to policymaking. The most obvious evidence of his commitment to this comes from his days in the IL legislature, but he's also demonstrated it as a US Senator in places like his questioning of Gen. Petraeus last month and as a candidate in places like the Philadelphia speech where he chose explanation and critical understanding rather than excuses and evasion.

I'm sure you don't buy that Obama is any more post-partisan than he is post-ideological -- and I'm not going to bother trying beyond this to convince you otherwise -- but the point is that generalizations about Obama's policy positions don't present a refutation of the main point of Obama's campaign that I mentioned in my initial comment. They're just not the same thing.

patrick said...

Seth:

I'll agree with your original point about the need for an American president who can bring people from diverse backgrounds together. This is in part why I think renouncing Wright was a very stupid thing to do. Ive also read the Washington Post piece you linked to regarding the "bang-up" job he did in the Illinois State legislature. To be honest, the post piece seemed rather puffy to me, and I'm not sure that leading the efforts to reform the death penalty really demonstrates leaderhips considering the problems with the Illinois judicial system. But I'll give him that one.

But if you want a candidate who has a long and clear record of being able to move beyond partisanship towards "inclusion" and "critical thinking", why don't you instead support McCain? While we might argue about the merits of his point of view, don't we have to say here is a guy who tries to get things done despite the heavy political price to be paid? Immigration reform, Gang of 14, remember? I don't need a masters degree in "post this-or-that" to say here is a guy who could step across the aisle to get things done.

To me, the most important issue is national security because it is an area where the president will a concrete role to play. Obama boasts on his website that he thought the war was "rash". So what? We are at war. I'll give the nod to the commander in chief who begins his Iraq policy by saying "I'll consult our generals", not I'll begin to pull our troops and visit some heads of state. What person wants to isolate al Qaeda? I thought the idea was to destroy them. How do you promote stability in a conflict prone part of the globe by looking for a "new compact" (whatever that means) while you're shipping home the military power that makes Iraqi's feel secure and more likely to compromise as it keeps Iran and Syria in check? Can you take a strong position with the leader of Iran when you're afraid to go on the Fox network because they might be mean to you? Obama states he'd take parts of this problem to the UN. Is that supposed to make me more confident? To me, Obama's Iraq policy seems to ignore conditions on the ground and hope for the best.

McCain was right about the surge even if we determined that the only point of it was to create political progress between Iraqi's (which was never its sole purpose). On the local and provincal levels there is remarkable cooperation between factions, and we should not be shocked that national politics is tougher. If the other purpose of the surge was to cripple the terrorists and make them suffer--then it has been very successful.

Seth Zlotocha said...

Patrick,

I actually think McCain is a pretty decent person (except for that temper). But, as a politician, he's not the "maverick" or independent thinker the media has made him out to be. All you need to do is look at his 2000 campaign vs. his 2008 campaign to see that. In 2000, I do think he was pretty close to the independent thinker the media loves, but, in 2008, he's shown himself to be little more than an opportunist. His policy reversals on points like Bush's tax cuts, the religious right, the existence of permanent bases in Iraq, and his utterly poor judgement on entering Iraq and -- even after we were there -- how long it would take to get out don't demonstrate any kind of true leadership, let alone independent leadership.

As for your other points...

I'll give the nod to the commander in chief who begins his Iraq policy by saying "I'll consult our generals"

It's an utter myth that all Bush and McCain are doing is following the advice of the generals in Iraq. Heck, Bush just fired Gen. Fallon for his opposition to Bush's policies in Iran and his support for troop withdrawals in Iraq. The fact is that the president sets the mission, while the military commanders are there to provide advice on tactics and methods for realizing mission success. Obama has never said he would ignore commanders on the ground -- in fact, he's said the opposite -- but he's also not about to abdicate the duties of commander-in-chief to establish the overall military mission for the country, and you're kidding yourself if you think McCain would do it any differently.

What person wants to isolate al Qaeda? I thought the idea was to destroy them.

This highlights a fundamental difference. I -- and I'd say Obama and most Dems -- don't view al Queda as some static or traditional military force that can be destroyed or even, as you put it later, crippled. The terrorism that the US is facing is multifaceted and fundamentally ideological, and that's why disruption and isolation -- which is something the US achieved for a brief moment after the initial successes in Afghanistan, but squandered with the invasion of Iraq -- are the only reasonable goals in the war on terrorism.

It's similar to the wars on guns or drugs. You can pour all of the resources in the world into limiting the number of drugs and guns that get into the hands of abusers and criminals or you can toss all the abusers and criminals you can find behind bars, but there isn't going to be a significant or sustained movement in a positive direction until you address the fundamental reasons people seek out drugs or guns.

That's, in many ways, the same battle we're facing against al Qaeda, and as long as the US presence in Iraq is fueling the justification for more terrorism -- which it is (and check out the link off the word "existence" above; even McCain felt this way back in '05: "I think one of our big problems has been the fact that many Iraqis resent American military presence") -- no amount of military success on the ground is going to make an once of real and sustained difference.

Can you take a strong position with the leader of Iran when you're afraid to go on the Fox network because they might be mean to you?

This is a curious point, Patrick, given that the GOP line is that it's being tough by not engaging Iran in significant diplomacy. But the truth is that campaigns make decisions based upon what is best for the candidacy of their candidate; any decision not to appear on a show isn't made out of fear, but rather the perceived benefits vs. the possible costs. The same is true of diplomacy. It isn't about being tough or being scared; this isn't the wild west. Instead, it's about what you perceive to be the possible benefits vs. the possible costs. Obama has, and I agree, determined that the possible benefits from high level engagement with nations like Iran outweigh any possible costs. And, as I'm sure you know, Obama just appeared on Fox and came off very well.

In the end, though, I appreciate your willingness to engage on the issues, Patrick. I wish others on the right would feel the same about moving past guilt-by-association stories like Wright and Ayers along with ridiculousness like the flag pin and "Barack HUSSEIN Obama," but I'm not optimistic. After all, as long as McCain himself is putting out eye-rolling "preferred candidate of Hamas" comments, it's a pretty clear sign to the surrogates that anything goes.

William Tyroler said...

Without meaning to join a discussion about whether the attacks on Obama are fair or the defenses compelling, I thought it'd be interesting to see how his electability might be affected. Seems that, at least for now, that the electorate isn't buying a guilt-by-association defense, if the most recent polling data is any indicator: McCain now has a 6-point lead over Obama, "the largest lead McCain has had over either candidate since Gallup began tracking general election preferences in early March."

It's still early, of course, but

there are some ominous signs. ... 36 percent of Democrats say they would be disinclined to vote for Obama because of his longtime relationship with his former pastor. ...

One reason is that Obama now has taken two diametrically opposed stands on the minister whose church he attended for 20 years, who married him and his wife and baptized their children, whose sermon inspired the title of his 2006 book, "The Audacity of Hope." On March 18, his response was: No, I cannot renounce my pastor. On April 29, his response was: Yes, I can.

Another and more important reason is that Obama's long association with a minister who says that the federal government manufactured the AIDS virus to kill black people, who likens American soldiers to terrorists, who celebrates Louis Farrakhan as a great man -- that long association tends to undermine the central theme of Obama's candidacy. Obama has presented himself since his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech as a leader who can unite America across political and racial divides. He presented himself to American voters, most of whom, I believe, think it would be a very good thing if we elected a black president. (I personally feel that way.) "In the blue states," Obama told the convention in Boston and the nation watching on TV, "we worship an awesome God." Now it turns out that the God worshipped in the Rev. Wright's church was "awesome" in ways we didn't expect.

This lengthy snippet suggests that many if not most of the points made by Obama defenders above have been discounted by potential voters. Whether these arguments in defense of Obama are "correct" is beside the point which is, rather, that they seemingly haven't gained much if any traction with the electorate -- with the important qualifier, with 6+ months to go.

William Tyroler said...

,,, should've added: I don't mean to suggest this rejection of Obama association with Wright is massive, just that it's being made by a relatively significant number. Obviously, Obama retains a large base of support. But the rejection is nonetheless significant enough so that Obama presently trails McCain by 6 points in what by all indications will otherwise be a landslide Democrat vote.

gnarlytrombone said...

Barone is an enormous, mendacious, disembodied anus ("likens American soldiers to terrorists"...what a grotty plonker).

But he's definitely on to something.

gnarlytrombone said...

Or not.

patrick said...

Seth:

Perhaps my reading skills are in decline, but Obama's website states he will immediately begin removing one or two combat brigades from Iraq every month. How much more clear could he be?

Nobody views al-Qaeda as a static military force, but the idea of addressing the "root" causes of terrorism is no strategy to me. Here in America, we've been examining the root causes of drug use, poverty, gun violence, and just about every other thing since the beginning of time. I think we know the root causes of these social problems, yet despite this understanding and billions and billions we've spent these problems are still problems. Don't we likewise understand the causes of terrorism? Unlike the Iraqi people, the terrorists have nothing to lose--their end is to destroy, not create. Furthermore, didn't we spend several years trying to understand the root causes of the Nazis?

Seth Zlotocha said...

Perhaps my reading skills are in decline, but Obama's website states he will immediately begin removing one or two combat brigades from Iraq every month. How much more clear could he be?

Did I say he wasn't clear on that? I'm really not sure what you mean here.

Nobody views al-Qaeda as a static military force,

You do when you say a goal is to destroy or cripple it.

the idea of addressing the "root" causes of terrorism is no strategy to me.

It sure sounds like a strategy to me. The rest of your paragraph, however, switches into "examining" and trying to "understand" terrorism, which certainly isn't a part of any active strategy, but that's different than "addressing," which is how you started off the paragraph. Part of an active strategy that addresses the causes of terrorism involves getting US troops out of Iraq as soon as possible; as intelligence reports and even McCain have acknowledged, our presence there is fueling terrorism, not diminishing it. Another part of the strategy is diplomatically engaging powerful countries in the region, especially those who we haven't in the past like Iran. What doesn't sound like a reasonable strategy to me is thinking that there's such thing as a military victory in Iraq, or that there could ever come a time -- even in 100 years -- where our troops could have bases in Iraq w/o violence erupting from them.

patrick said...

Seth:

My point about immediate withdrawl was that framing his policy in absolute terms like that suggests that he will be insensitive to conditions on the ground and the recommendations of the commanders in the field.

I don't understand why a non-static terrorist force can't be destroyed? Right now the terrorists are sending their best and bravest to die in Iraq. And they are dying. Furthermore, no reasonable estimation of the situation on the ground could suggest that we could face a military defeat in Iraq. Despite the barbaric tatics of the terrorists, they don't have the military capacity to drive us out. The only victory we can give them is the same we gave them in Somalia (sp?) during the Clinton term.

The point of the paragraph which I must have written poorly was to suggest--by anaolgy--that seeking the root causes of a thing and then trying to address those causes has not often eliminated problems of this nature.

In fact, our greatest successes in foriegn policy seem to come where we have committed troops to long-term missions. I'm sure you'll note that US bases in Korea, Germany, and (under the UN) in Bosnia have created security and stability needed for peace to take hold. People, and Factions, cannot compromise unless they are able to predict what conditions in the future hold. The increasing willingness or the Iraqi people to cooperate with US troops indicates they have no love for the terrorists and it would be foolish to leave when we have begun to build a strong relationship in local communities and provinces. And, according to documents I've read, the terrorists seem to think they are losing.

I'm not really sure on what grounds we could engage Iran or Syria. The leaders of those "states" command totalitatian police states and use their hatred of America to help control their suffering populations. We are a superior society with numerous checks and balances--an open society. By nature they are untrustworthy. While a stable and productive Iraq is in our interest--and in that of the Iraqi people--the same cannot be said of the Iranian Theocrats. We could buy them off--as we have tried several times to do with North Korea--but this is a transient solution which often produces worse long-term conditions. I imagine they do understand, however, the punative capabilities of a US combat brigade. My point is that while we talk in terms of national interests, the interests of the Iranians and Syrians are the interests of their delusional leaders.

Obama also mentions a security compact. Whle I'm sure the details of what he would try to sell are impressive, I'm not sure when these compacts have worked in the region before. On this issue my frame of reference is the cold war and M.A.D--a "peaceful" stalemate based upon the premise of consequences for war. The other premise I have to work with is the understanding that inferior nations--like Iran and Syria--cannot openly commence hostilities with superior powers. Were we to punish the Iranians the next time we found their troops in Iraq, I imagine they would get the message (after all, their entire economy is predicated on a single oil refinery). Finally, since the problem in Iraq is al-qaeda, how would we engage them in negotiations? Their only interest is destruction.

Seth Zlotocha said...

My point about immediate withdrawl was that framing his policy in absolute terms like that suggests that he will be insensitive to conditions on the ground and the recommendations of the commanders in the field.

I agree that making a strict promise on the details of withdrawal, particularly withdrawal that wouldn't start for nine months, is a silly campaign tool; it's akin to Doyle's pledge to cut 10,000 state jobs. I wish Obama (and Clinton, for that matter) didn't do it, but that doesn't change the fact that phased withdrawal, in some fashion, is the correct overall strategy, and ultimately I see Obama ignoring the details of a campaign proposal before ignoring suggestions from commanders on the ground come Jan. 09 regarding how to best implement phased withdrawal. And I'm sure there are plenty of things that all the candidates are saying right now, McCain included, that they won't actually implement (or even propose) exactly as they said it on the campaign trail.

I don't understand why a non-static terrorist force can't be destroyed?

When you're confronting an ideology, it's not going to be destroyed by purely military means, or in a "let's sign a peace treaty" sense. Much of it is about winning -- or at least not infuriating -- the hearts and minds of the future generations. Most terrorists aren't born terrorists; they're recruited, and that recruitment is made easier when the US does things like the invasion of Iraq, backs repressive regimes like the one in Saudi Arabia, tortures prisoners, refers to confrontations in wild west or holy war terms, etc. Of course, this is only part of what needs to be done. Obama's strategy for taking on al Qaeda goes well beyond what he wants to do in Iraq; in fact, one of the main reasons he wants out of Iraq -- in addition to the fact that it's fueling violence -- is so that we can free up troops and resources for other parts of the world, such as Afghanistan.

Furthermore, no reasonable estimation of the situation on the ground could suggest that we could face a military defeat in Iraq.

I know we can't be defeated militarily in Iraq. The problem is I don't see any way for us to be victorious militarily in Iraq.

In fact, our greatest successes in foriegn policy seem to come where we have committed troops to long-term missions.

Iraq isn't South Korea, Germany, or Japan. Maintaining troops in Iraq would be closest to maintaining troops in Saudi Arabia, and that has fueled much violence (and Saudi Arabia is a repressive totalitarian government, not a democracy like we insist on leaving for Iraq). After all, there's a reason McCain doesn't mention Saudi Arabia when he's listing off the countries he's envisioning when discussing permanent bases. And don't you find it the least bit curious that less than three years ago McCain himself rejected the notion of permanent bases b/c the US presence in Iraq was actually part of what was causing the violence?

The increasing willingness or the Iraqi people to cooperate with US troops indicates they have no love for the terrorists and it would be foolish to leave when we have begun to build a strong relationship in local communities and provinces. And, according to documents I've read, the terrorists seem to think they are losing.

That's the same type of stuff the right was saying in the run-up to the last election -- four years ago. "Last throes," "just around the corner," "one year away," etc. At what point does it end (the war and the rhetoric)?

I'm not really sure on what grounds we could engage Iran or Syria.

Offering membership in the WTO and other economic incentives for halting their nuclear programs and support for terrorism are a decent place to start.

While a stable and productive Iraq is in our interest--and in that of the Iraqi people--the same cannot be said of the Iranian Theocrats.

That's not true at all. Of course Iran has an interest in Iraqi stability; they just want it to be stability that's favorable to them, similar to how we want it to be stability that's favorable to us. But as long as we're framing ourself as an enemy of Iran and we're hunkered down in Iraq, of course Iran is going to gladly accept and even fuel instability there.

Whle I'm sure the details of what he would try to sell are impressive, I'm not sure when these compacts have worked in the region before.

A security compact is crucial. The US had close to that after Sept. 11 when we invaded Afghanistan. Most of the Arab world was in support of that mission, and it went quite well (though it seems to be unraveling due to lack of attention these days). And afterwards al Qaeda was on the ropes, partly because of what we did militarily in Afghanistan, but in even larger part because overall sentiment in the Middle East supported what the US did. That changed with Iraq, and US policies again became a widespread terrorist recruitment tool.

Finally, since the problem in Iraq is al-qaeda, how would we engage them in negotiations?

I never said that US should negotiate with al Qaeda, and the problems in Iraq go much beyond the faction that associates with al Qaeda. Iraq is suffering from extreme civil strife; some call it a civil war, some don't. The point is that al Qaeda is there because we are there, but there's much more going on that just that. And al Qaeda would love nothing more than for us to remain hunkered down in the Iraq quagmire for 100 years since it knows it's only distracting and depleting us financially, militarily, and in terms of national morale.

patrick said...

Seth: I agree that the promises of people on the campaign trail are often discouraging pandering. But it is dangerous to pander to the radical anti-war left that will turn on him if his withdrawl isn't immediate--as he says. Some campaign promises are more dangerous than others.

Likewise, I understand how difficult it is to defeat an idiology--like racism here in America--but you seem to ignore the work we are doing right now to win the hearts and minds. I think there is real promise here and real progress. A large portion of the al-qaeda fighters are drawn into Iraq from outside the country. They don't want us to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. We should stay to continue our efforts in this regard until the Iraqi government asks us to leave.

The claim that Iraq is not North Korea is a good one but only points out that neither of us can predict the future. The terrorists have come to Iraq to confront us there. There is nothing to suggest they would lay down their arms and go back to whatever place they crawled from if we left Iraq. The most likely scenario is that they would rush to confront a waek Iraqi state.

A sovriegn state can allow whatever bases they wish on their soil. Do you think it is right for us to determine our national interests bases on what terrorists might think? I'm sure you would say we must base those decisions on our national interest. Lets remember, the terrorists attacked us long before we entered Iraq, and it is best that their smartest and most skilled die in Iraq, not New York or Paris or London.

I also have a hard time buying your point about Iran, Syria, and the WTO or other incentives. We have tried these things before. Did they work?

As far as comparing the Afganistan coalition to some sort of security compact--I don't see any similarity. Arn't these completely different things. But I'm glad you'll note that military power and the fear of standing in the path of united national will on our part can put the terrorists "one the ropes."

Look, Seth, you're a real smart guy with a better grasp of these issues than I have in many senses. Perhaps there are some areas we'll have to agree to disagree on, but I'll happily read your comments anytime. Despite how it may appear, I try to always assume that I might be the one with the closed mind. It is nice to exchange these ideas with someone who won't stoop to calling me a wing-nut, changing the question, or blaming things on Bush. You've got my ear. Thanks.

Seth Zlotocha said...

But it is dangerous to pander to the radical anti-war left that will turn on him if his withdrawl isn't immediate--as he says.

I can't imagine you're too worried about any electoral backlash against Obama, let alone one that would come from the left.

We should stay to continue our efforts in this regard until the Iraqi government asks us to leave.

I guess we'll need to agree to disagree on that.

The terrorists have come to Iraq to confront us there. There is nothing to suggest they would lay down their arms and go back to whatever place they crawled from if we left Iraq. The most likely scenario is that they would rush to confront a waek Iraqi state.

Again, al Qaeda is just a portion of what's going on in Iraq, and a number of experts from the region and here in the US argue (convincingly, I'd say) it's a small portion. This is a primarily civil conflict, and while the US started it, and it's become clear over the past five years that we don't have the ability to solve it militarily and, in fact, our continued military presence has made it worse.

Do you think it is right for us to determine our national interests bases on what terrorists might think?

Of course not. My point about the permanent bases was precisely that they would be bad for our national interest. The '05 McCain, at least, agreed with me.

I also have a hard time buying your point about Iran, Syria, and the WTO or other incentives. We have tried these things before. Did they work?

The Bush administration started to make moves toward limited, bilateral, conditional diplomacy recently (what Obama has proposed is comprehensive, direct, unconditional diplomacy); but, unfortunately, when combined with the outspoken talk by some in the White House about regime change in Iran, even those limited diplomatic overtures -- as Chuck Hagel has pointed out -- have been met with skepticism and, as a result, have been effectively stalled since last fall.

As far as comparing the Afganistan coalition to some sort of security compact--I don't see any similarity. Arn't these completely different things.

I'm not talking about the coalition that fought in Afghanistan. I'm talking about the cooperation that the US had from the nations in the region for what was going on in Afghanistan. The US needs that same cooperation for Iraq, including from countries like Iran. Which leads me to...

But I'm glad you'll note that military power and the fear of standing in the path of united national will on our part can put the terrorists "one the ropes."

That's not entirely what I said. What I said is that the larger reason al Qaeda was on the ropes after Afghanistan is that sentiment on the whole in the Middle East was accepting of what the US did in Afghanistan (and deeply troubled by what al Qaeda did on Sept. 11), which made it very difficult for al Qaeda to recruit during that time as its existing forces were being killed and captured by the US in Afghanistan. Getting out of Iraq, and making moves in the future with regional cooperation similar to what we had in Afghanistan, will help us get back to that.

You've got my ear. Thanks.

Thanks to you, as well. And, for the record, you're not a wing-nut.