Saturday, March 31, 2007

Absolutely surreal ...

Fresh from declaring the United States a torture state, Mark now seems to endorse the idea that Iran is more civilized than the United States in its treatment of prisoners. In so doing, he like the useful idiot whose commentary he endorses, is so eager to swallow the "And you are lynching negroes" defense of the Iranian regime that he is willing to accept the most tortured rationalizations at this point.

Frank Sales pretty much summarized my own reaction:
yeah, true. The Brits are allowed to write letters home, says the article, saying they are all right. I read one of those letters, and it made me ill to think of the coercion that went in to it. If you cannot tell the difference between the situation of these prisoners and those of the imprisoned terrorists, with respect to the basis of their detention, and their treatment, you are simply not a serious person.

Mark, you should have been blogging 40 years ago, you would have made a perfect companion to Jane Fonda visiting our POW's at the Hanoi Hilton. No problems here!

To which Mark responded here and here:
Frank Sales, the man who doesn't think waterboarding is torture, is all of a sudden concerned about coercion and is slinging around charges of *treason* and giving aid and comfort to the enemy?

You make me sick.

I pray for the safety of these men and women. But it is torture whores like you, Frank, that made an article like this possible. You're the one who has given aid and comfort to the enemy by helping to cheer for the US as it sank to the level--no, *below* the level of the enemy, as the article so cruelly and accurately has pointed out. I hope you can sleep at night. Get off my blog.

... Yes, yes, the Iranians are being very nice, parading the Brits about and showing the world how nice they treat people that they ****had no right nor reason to take hostage in the first place.

You mean like Maher Arar?

It's rather late for supporters of Administration to suddenly develop a conscience about kidnapping innocent people and torturing them.

... Which again pretty much brings us back to Mark's use of tu quoque argumentation at its finest. And since he apparently now regards most if not all news critical of Iran as a smokescreen to justify another immoral war, one wonders how long it will take him to start arguing if Iran does release these sailors that Iranian detention policies are morally superior and preferable to those of the United States. Maybe he can take a cue from Germany on this one.

As to Mark's claim that individuals like Frank Sales made articles like that which Mark endorsed possible, color me skeptical. The argument that the United States and its allies deserve what they get because of our policies has been a staple of anti-American rhetoric since at least the 1960s (as I think my quoting of Soviet-era propaganda helps to demonstrate) if not earlier. If he wants to talk about things that are appalling, how does essentially praying for the destruction of both Western civilization and radical Islam on the eve of what he believes in his paranoid delusions to be a major international conflict go? I don't think that he seriously believes that for a moment and was just going off emotion and/or rhetorical effect, but there you go. To say nothing of his exploiting this incident involving the UK and Iran so he can use it as a soapbox to rail against US detention policies?

Which brings me to his latest paranoid fear of a US military strike on Iran on the basis of a statement by the vice president of an obscure Russian think tank? If that is his standard for truth and he doesn't trust American sources, I'm not sure why he isn't more eager to trust other Russian information from considerably further up the food chain. Oh wait, that would involve support for something he has already decided from the onset to oppose, just as he remains a functional pacifist on all matters relating to Iran.

Again, I would throw down the gauntlet and ask him what Iran would specifically have to do for him to consider the military option a valid one on this issue? Since it remains logistically impossible at this point (not to mention completely contrary to the strategy of General Petraeus, to whom the Iraq war has been subcontracted to for all practical purposes), I think it is at best an abstract question to anyone with any serious knowledge of military affairs. If Mark wants to present evidence rather than poorly-sourced conspiracy theories to the contrary, I would like to hear it.

UPDATE: K of C captures my frustration with Mark's increasingly conspiracy-ladden worldview masterfully in a reply to another commenter:
The test for conspiracy theory nuttery is whether there could exist any evidence that would convince the proponent of the theory that he is incorrect.

If Americans were captured, it would be an obvious Bush plot. But he knew that, so he arranged to have Brits captured. But that's still too obvious, don't you think? What nationality would the captured sailors have to be before you wouldn't think Bush had a hand in it?

And what about the timing? You think because this situation "magically appears" *now* it has Bush's fingerprints all over it. Would it look less suspicious a month ago, or a month from now?

Is there anything that would convince you that Bush wasn't behind this?

Better pull your fillings out now. That's how they're controlling you.

UPDATE 2 (and by VJM): K of C's post reminds of the intellectual vapidity of the Truly Convinced and their waterproof theories, arguing that "of course, the fact they're Brits PROVES Bush was behind it all as he couldn't have taken Americans." But here is the definitive exchange on the point -- the poison-drink challenge from THE PRINCESS BRIDE. Imagine Shea's thought process IS Wallace Shawn's Vizzini:

Man in Black: The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right, and who is dead.
Vizzini: But it's so simple! All I have to do is divine from what I know of you. Are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet, or his enemy's? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I'm not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool; you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
Man in Black: You've made your decision then?
Vizzini: Not remotely. Because iocane comes from Australia, as everyone knows. And Australia is entirely peopled with criminals. And criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me. So I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.
Man in Black: Truly you have a dizzying intellect.
Vizzini: Wait 'til I get going... where was I?
Man in Black: Australia.
Vizzini: Yes, Australia, and you must have suspected I would have known the powder's origin, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
Man in Black: You're just stalling now.
Vizzini: You'd like to think that wouldn't you? You've beaten my giant, which means you're exceptionally strong. So, you could have put the poison in your own goblet, trusting on your strength to save you. So I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But, you've also bested my Spaniard which means you must have studied. And in studying, you must have learned that man is mortal so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
Man in Black: You're trying to trick me into giving away something — it won't work.
Vizzini: It has worked! You've given everything away! I know where the poison is!
Man in Black: Then make your choice.
Vizzini: I will. And I choose... [points beyond Wesley's shoulder] What in the world can that be?
Man in Black: [Turns to look while Vizzini switches the goblets] What? Where? I don't see anything.
Vizzini: Oh, well, I-I could have sworn I saw something. No matter. [Chuckles]
Man in Black: What's so funny?
Vizzini: I'll tell you in a minute, but first, let's drink. Me from my glass, and you from yours.
[They drink, Vizzini continues to chuckle]
Man in Black: You guessed wrong.
Vizzini: You only think I did, that's what's so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned. You fool. You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is "Never get involved in a land war in Asia." But only slightly less well known is this: "Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line." Ah ha ha ha! Ah ha ha ha! Ah ha ha ha!

Friday, March 30, 2007

The perils of a failure to retain a long attention span ...

Is pretty much my diagnosis of this analysis of foreign affairs. I would also note that since Mark now conflates neoconservatism with secular messianism and conflates anyone holding to a hawkish position on Iran with neoconservatism (i.e. the "End to Evil Crowd"), my assertion that he is for all practical purposes a functional pacifist on matters relating to Iran are looking as though they have more and more merit. If Mark wants to prove me wrong, he need only explain what exactly Iran would have to do for him to believe that matters had reached the point where he would consider it a proportional response to support military action against it. I'm not going to hold my breath waiting.

What Mark fails to recognize is that those of us who take a hawkish view of Iran do so because, to put it bluntly, the Iranian regime has a track record and history of wishing us ill. Take a look from no less august a source as the 9/11 Commission report:
In June 1996, an enormous truck bomb detonated in the Khobar Towers residential complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that housed U.S.Air Force personnel. Nineteen Americans were killed, and 372 were wounded.The operation was carried out principally, perhaps exclusively, by Saudi Hezbollah, an organization that had received support from the government of Iran.While the evidence of Iranian involvement is strong, there are also signs that al Qaeda played some role, as yet unknown.

... Turabi sought to persuade Shiites and Sunnis to put aside their divisions and join against the common enemy. In late 1991 or 1992, discussions in Sudan between al Qaeda and Iranian operatives led to an informal agreement to cooperate in providing support—even if only training—for actions carried out primarily against Israel and the United States. Not long afterward, senior al Qaeda operatives and trainers traveled to Iran to receive training in explosives. In the fall of 1993, another such delegation went to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon for further training in explosives as well as in intelligence and security. Bin Ladin reportedly showed particular interest in learning how to use truck bombs such as the one that had killed 241 U.S. Marines in Lebanon in 1983.The relationship between al Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that Sunni-Shia divisions did not necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist operations.As will be described in chapter 7, al Qaeda contacts with Iran continued in ensuing years.

... Intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al Qaeda figures after Bin Ladin’s return to Afghanistan. Khallad has said that Iran made a concerted effort to strengthen relations with al Qaeda after the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole , but was rebuffed because Bin Ladin did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia. Khallad and other detainees have described the willingness of Iranian officials to facilitate the travel of al Qaeda members through Iran, on their way to and from Afghanistan. For example, Iranian border inspectors would be told not to place telltale stamps in the passports of these travelers. Such arrangements were particularly beneficial to Saudi members of al Qaeda.

... Our knowledge of the international travels of the al Qaeda operatives selected for the 9/11 operation remains fragmentary. But we now have evidence suggesting that 8 to 10 of the 14 Saudi “muscle” operatives traveled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001.

... Also in October 2000, two future muscle hijackers, Mohand al Shehri and Hamza al Ghamdi, flew from Iran to Kuwait. In November, Ahmed al Ghamdi apparently flew to Beirut, traveling—perhaps by coincidence—on the same flight as a senior Hezbollah operative.Also in November, Salem al Hazmi apparently flew from Saudi Arabia to Beirut.

In mid-November, we believe, three of the future muscle hijackers,Wail al Shehri,Waleed al Shehri, and Ahmed al Nami, all of whom had obtained their U.S. visas in late October, traveled in a group from Saudi Arabia to Beirut and then onward to Iran. An associate of a senior Hezbollah operative was on the same flight that took the future hijackers to Iran. Hezbollah officials in Beirut and Iran were expecting the arrival of a group during the same time period. The travel of this group was important enough to merit the attention of senior figures in Hezbollah.

Later in November, two future muscle hijackers, Satam al Suqami and Majed Moqed, flew into Iran from Bahrain. In February 2001, Khalid al Mihdhar may have taken a flight from Syria to Iran, and then traveled further within Iran to a point near the Afghan border.

KSM and Binalshibh have confirmed that several of the 9/11 hijackers (at least eight, according to Binalshibh) transited Iran on their way to or from Afghanistan, taking advantage of the Iranian practice of not stamping Saudi passports.They deny any other reason for the hijackers’ travel to Iran.They also deny any relationship between the hijackers and Hezbollah.

In sum, there is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.There also is circumstantial evidence that senior Hezbollah operatives were closely tracking the travel of some of these future muscle hijackers into Iran in November 2000. However, we cannot rule out the possibility of a remarkable coincidence—that is, that Hezbollah was actually focusing on some other group of individuals traveling from Saudi Arabia during this same time frame, rather than the future hijackers.

It appears that this trend has continued to this day with horrid results for US troops in Iraq. Oh yeah, and there's Karbala. So while I would agree that this incident in of itself would not constitute cause for war, at some point this stuff starts adding up.

At any rate, as I have repeatedly noted, the US lacks the ability to logistically sustain a military offensive against Iran at this point even if the political will existed for us to do so. Outside of Mark's conspiracy-ladden world where a clique of millionnaires rule everything, it does not. At best, we can manage with a war of assassins. The administration is currently so weak that it is unable to get a political ally appointed as ambassador to Belgium because he donated money to an anti-Kerry 527 last election. An administration that is singularly unable to defend Alberto Gonzalez is not one that is going to be supervising the sacking Tehran any time soon outside all but the most paranoid fever swamps of the Daily Kos and the American Conservative. No doubt Ahmadinejad is happy for all the support they are willing to provide his regime.

Of course, when in doubt, Mark appears ready to adopt a position of extreme skepticism and conspiracy theories when it comes to justifying his functional pacifism on the question of Iran:
And I want to have more than the word of the Brits that their ship was in Iraqi waters. I'm sorry, but we've already seen that when our government is itching to go to war it will shape the facts to suit the agenda and persuade allies to do likewise. These seems like an awfully convenient incident for the War Party.

That doesn't mean I don't think Iran needs to let the prisoners go. I just remain skeptical that this is grounds for war.

And here again:
We know both the Administration and the UK gov's massaged information to stampede us into the last war. Why do we have any particular reason to assume they would not do it again? I'm not saying they did. I just would like something more than their word. Last war, I had Colin Powell's word. Turned out to be no good.

These comments at best reflect a complete disregard both for the realities of how foreign affairs are conducted and at worst an ever-increasing paranoia. What exactly does Mark think occurred here? That the UK deliberately had its ship captured (or at least deliberately violated Iranian territorial waters?) and crew held prisoner by one of the most odious regimes on the planet in order to drum up a pretext for war? To what possible end? He mentions "the War Party" (which I assume is a reference to the GOP) while ignoring that it was a British ship, does he think that the Republican Party has managed to influence the decisions of the British Ministry of Defense. All of these are at best extremely controversial inferences, especially given that there is no supporting evidence except Mark's ability to divine the true intentions of distant individuals in the corridors of power from far away. And not to worry, the black helicopters are now on "whisper mode" so he won't hear them coming until they're already gone ...

Mark appears to want some kind of neutral observer to guarantee the status of the British ship in Iraqi waters at the time of its capture. He apparently considers neither the US or UK government sufficiently credible to satisfy his current conspiratorial leanings (I guess he is open to the possibility that a regime that openly supports Holocaust denial is more credible), so I'm really not sure what he wants here. I strongly suspect that in his heart of hearts he would be willing to accept that the UK ship was seized by the Iranians, provided there be some kind of guarantee that no military response would ever be mounted against Iran. It is for this reason that I regard him as a functional pacifist on this issue.

The Sungenis comparison reminds me ...

... of how I would have reacted to this very odd post by Shea last month. And what would have been the result if I argue like he does.

In it, Shea wonders whether the end of the state of Israel would be such a bad thing for the Jews. After all, he muses, the loss of the Papal States were a boon to the Church (though how would that fit with his "Western Civ has gone to Hell" narrative for the whole century?? ... actually ... forget that ... I should realize who we're dealing with).

Now, Shea himself has often said that one doesn't ask questions randomly -- you ask the questions you think worth answering or grappling with. His precise soundbyte formulations include "some questions are asked to keep from finding out" and "taboo is such a useful word." George Will's formulation was "one does not call a conference called 'Whither Incest?' in order to reaffirm the prohibition." Every formulation expresses the same basic insight -- that merely asking a question betrays ... not an agenda, but certainly one's sense of the possible or discussable issues. For Shea, the end of Israel is one such issue.

Now this is nutty enough (the first response was, rightly, "the Jews tried not having a homeland for 1900 years. It didn't work out so well"). But then in the combox, Shea began fishing in some REALLY interesting waters, suggesting that the Jews could have a state in Montana. No. Really. (Well .... why not offer Montana to the Palestinians on that logic ... because it's not the Palestine they want? ... well, duh. Or offer Wyoming to the Tamil Tigers? Or Sardinia to the Kosovars? Or Siberia to the kulaks? Or Madagascar to the Jews? Or West Germany to the Sudeten Germans? Or Pakistan to the Muslims of Madras?)

But after all, with an abortion rate as high and birthrate as low as they are Israel, the Jews are kinda saying that they don't want the world to continue ... or something like that. Though it should be noted that the U.S. is worse in both respects, as Josiah documented ... so maybe this 'US is illegitimate' madness of his does have a certain method to it.

And if we argued like Shea does, this would get tied to some things he's said about the poor Palestinians, his friendships with certain people (exercising their evil mind rays over him, no doubt), and a few things picked up by skimming his book titles or ellipsed quotations from hostile sources. And voila ... Shea becomes "anti-Semitic loon" (sort of like "torture apologist" or "End to Evil crowd").

Since once one has categorised someone as "anti-Semitic loon" or "End to Evil crowd," there is no actual need to listen to what they may say, because the category then defines everything that we'd hear or listen to. And we'd freely use the category to label, sneer and dismiss anything he might say ("well, of course that's what anti-Semitic loons say" "majoring in minors about precisely how much anti-Semitism-lite we can get away with" ... and the whole rest of the litany.) We would of course, ignore whatever clarifications he may wish as "attempts to polish the apple and put on a tie." Evidence that Shea is not an anti-Semitic loon would not be acknowledged to exist, and we'd continue to call him that because it's an established fact.

Think about it.

In case I'm not clear, Torq and I agree that Shea actually does not have terribly well-thought out positions. In a perverse way, this is a good thing. What he writes about politics is pretty manifestly driven by emotional knee-jerking (hatred for the neocons/Ledeen/Bush/secular-messianists/us ... look at the end of this post, say, where he says the word of the Ahmedinejad regime is as reliable as Tony Blair's). So now he is saying all kinds of crank things (conspiracy of millionaires to kill off the lower classes, the US is a torture state, etc).

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Oh, the irony ...

I have recently been reading over Mark's disputes with Robert Sungenis and I can't help shake the distinct feeling that the way he feels when dealing with Sungenis's issues on Judaism is the same way that many of us feel about him when discussing first torture and now anything relating to the war on terrorism or current events.

I've noted in the past that one thing extremists do well is map out paths that non-extremists will be tempted to take in extreme circumstances. The theology of contempt for Jews that seethes in Sungenis' work is something that could well become popular if, for instance, a) the war goes against us and b) Israel becomes more broadly perceived by Americans as the reason for that. When you think you have a chance of winning, you stick with your allies. If you think you are losing, you start looking around for somebody to blame.

Obviously, that is an extreme circumstance. But extreme circumstances do happen. And when they do, Jews tend to get it in the neck.

What interests me about Bob's hodgepodge of anti-semitic raving is how quickly the theological and purely prudential and political get mixed up ... Does that mean however, that a Catholic is *forbidden* to see in Israel some prophetic importance? Not at all. So if a Catholic thinks there is something prophetically significant to the founding of Israel, he is not, as Sungenis maintains, ipso facto promoting a nefarious and pernicious heresy. He is holding an opinion within his rights as a Catholic.

As I said yesterday, there seems to be something about Jew and Judaism that affects some people (especially Rad Trads) like alcohol. Such people can't seem to think rationally or keep their balance. Here, more than most places, the guidance of the Church is especially necessary for those who would deem themselves Raised Up By God to speak to and about Jews on behalf of the Church.

... The itch to define dogma on behalf of the Church is a strong one, and there seems to be something about Jews, Judaism and even Jewish converts that constitutes a sort of trigger mechanism for not a few Rad Trads. Lately, particularly since the abortive publication of the quickly-retracted "Reflections on Covenant and Mission" document, not a few on the Right feel a terrible sense of fear about all things Jewish, because they lack confidence in the Church's Magisterium and so feel a strange compulsion to "defend the Faith" from alleged "Judaizing tendencies". The Reflections document did not *create* this odd paranoia about Jews among the Trad wing. It's an unfortunately common feature of Tradism (though, as guys like David Palm, Michael Forrest, Ben Douglass, and Jacob Michael show, it is no *necessary* part of Tradism).

The Reflections document (which carries abolutely no doctrinal weight) sparked such a panic among the Jew-obsessed on the Right because it tiptoed right up to saying, essentially, the Christians are saved by Jesus and Jews are saved by Judaism and not Jesus. It didn't *quite* say that, but it came so close that many Trads panicked. The worst of the panickers was Sungenis himself, who became convinced that God had raised him up for this very hour and then set about rooting out the Jewish Menace by means of plagiarism from Nazi sources, fraudulent quotes, and unbelievably specious arguments. Unfortunately, he managed to select for his special and focused hostility one Roy Schoeman and, in the course of blasting, slandering, calumnying and generally raging at him, has almost never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. For the gigantic irony is that Schoeman, a Jewish convert to the faith, is every bit as critical of the Reflections document as Sungenis. The difference is, Schoeman is capable of rational thought and has done rather a lot of it with respect to the relationship of Jews and Christians and the evangelization of the Jewish people.

... In response to this irresponsible and dishonest behavior, virtually all Sungenis' former associates have criticized him.

Recently, Sungenis posted a lengthy article in which, among other things, he attacked his critics with the suspicion that they have Jewish blood (or blinded by "Zionist sympathies" [that'd be me]), charged that Jews were trying to take over the world and the Church, claimed that critics were trying to kill him, claimed that God had been preparing him for his prophetic role against the Jews, and demanded that his readers choose between his critics and himself.

I am not trying to make a comparison between Sungenis's theological errors and those I believe that Mark himself has made regarding the interpretation of Magisterial documents (to say nothing of prudential matters), there are several orders of magnitude between the two of them. That said however, I find it extremely ironic that he is able to recognize the ridiculousness of this type of behavior from Sungenis while not realizing that he himself is in large part duplicating the exact same behavior in his ever-increasing cycles of irrationality.

Such as this one:
Every once in a while, I have to stop and simply take in again what this Administration has done to corrupt the our culture. I expect liberals to destroy our culture. I expect Christians to try to save it. Conservative Christians have been a bulwark against the culture of death all through the 80s and 90s, taking every brickbat the Left could throw at them as they continued to oppose the unspeakable evil of abortion. Now, somehow, this Administration has done more than anything else in our culture to see to it that the salt loses its savor. Somehow the GOP elders and talk radio heads have managed to persuade even most Christians not just to make excuses for America's transformation into a torture state, but to enthusiastically support it and laugh about it. The depressing popularity of Rudy Giuliani and the obvious agitprop from so many sectors on the Right which says, "Never mind about abortion! Salvation Through Leviathan By Any Means Necessary!" has been the single most salutary lesson in my life about the utterly fickle nature of politics and the grave danger of ever putting your trust in princes--or anyone else save Jesus.

As has been repeatedly noted, a rather large contingent of Giuliani's supporters are unaware of his stated position on abortion. Victor already covered Mark's "torture state" nuttiness, but let me just note that Mark regarding the administration as the greatest scourge of the United States in 20 years is quite a bit at odds with his prior assertion that he doesn't hate Bush and has only offered up the bare minimum of criticism. I would advise Mark to really get his crap together on this one, lest one reach the impression that he is just sort of flowing moment to moment on these types of declarations without any motivation other than raw emotion.

I like American Scene as well ...

Due in large part to the fact that Ross and Reihan are able to calmly and articulately address their critics in such a way that they are able to avoid demonizing them or mischaracterizing their arguments. Mark might want to take notice of such things when he writes:
Recently, they've come under fire from the Salvation Through Leviathan By Any Means Necessary crowd for their tendency to have a high regard for the Little Guy and to suggest that a GOP that becomes more Rockefellerized and ignores the lower middle class will fail. This apparently smacks of something called "crypto-Buchananism" according to Jonah Goldberg.

I like the grace with which both Ross and Reihan reply to this latest attempt by NR to place yet more conservative in the Outer Darkness of "paleoconservatism", a term which, like "Christianism" is used largely as a swear word rather than as something with any meaning. The hour seems to me to be pretty late for the End to Evil crowd to still be talking as though somebody died and made them the arbiters of Acceptable Conservative Thought.

First of all, paleoconservatism does have a meaning to it and it isn't used as nearly as much as a pejorative as is neoconservatism. Jonah's argument, which I would challenge Mark to actually rebut in any substantive fashion, was the following:
And since Ross and Reihan are finding a Strange New Respect for Buchananism (or whatever passes for "paleoconservatism" these days) I should say that I'm reminded of a point Ramesh made years ago in his article on Buchanan. “Conservatives tend to place a lot of emphasis, maybe too much, on the idea that ideas have consequences,” Ponnuru wrote. “They hoist their ideas up the flagpole and then see who salutes. Buchananism puts its idealized social base first, and lets it drive everything else.” This sounds quite a bit like what's going on with Lower-Middle-Reformism.

To which Reihan replied:
I think this pretty much explains what's going on here. "Lower-middle reformism" is a slippery concept. Jonah associates it with the "Middle American Radicalism" of Sam Francis, which is interesting and reflects what I understand to be his admirable preoccupation with the rich history of American conservatism.

And he's right to think that I project warm feelings onto the lower-middle-class, though my idealized lower-middle-class is not quite the same as Francis' MARs (angry white dudes, to put it crudely) ... As for Jonah's comment that Ross and I are "finding a Strange New Respect for Buchananism (or whatever passes for 'paleoconservatism' these days)," I can only say that I'm flattered to think that one of our more well-regarded public intellectuals has taken the time to characterize my own views. I think of myself as open-minded, perhaps to a fault, but I guess I don't often think of myself as a Buchananite. As most of you know, I'm far more likely to praise Christopher Jencks or Lawrence Katz than, I don't know, Pat Choate? This new interpretation of my thinking is so different from anything else I've ever heard (I've heard Lindian liberal nationalist, centrist neoliberal, empirical libertarian, compassionate conservative, and pint-sized reactionary, all with varying degrees of plausibility, but never Buchananite) as to be pretty thought-provoking.

The idea that this was any kind of attempt at excommunication from the conservative movement or some such thing completely misses the point of the issue and mischaracterizes the discussion at hand. Mark's claim that paleoconservatism "is used largely as a swear word rather than as something with any meaning" is in of itself extremely ironic given that he has used the term "neocon" to refer to everything from liberal hawks to pro-war libertarians to transhumanists to classical conservatives to whatever John Derbyshire considers himself these days. It is made even more ironic by the fact that the neoconservative movement was largely formed by individuals who accepted many of the New Deal-era social programs that were aimed at alleviating the problems of the lower middle class.

Noodle spine alert

The U.N. Security Council expresses "grave concern" about Iran kidnapping British sailors.

Well ... Katie bar the door. What's next -- "dangerous consequences"? Actually not even that. Not as long as Moscow and Peking wield vetoes, as the text of the story makes clear.
Speaking of hopeless causes, Sydney Carton tries to talk sense into the increasingly deranged Shea. Some gems:
What do you think Western Civilization IS? All I get from you is that you think pop culture, Britney Spears, homosexual activists, and abortion DEFINE Western Civilization. Do you have ANY idea of the value of your cultural heritage at ALL? Not if you think it's "pathological," I suppose. It's like you have no sense of history, and of the things that make the West great. And that's really, really disturbing.
Mark, you display your profound ignorance of foreign policy by confusing "realism" with the quest to transform the Islamist world via democracy and capitalism. "Realism" is the foreign policy school of power alliances: that states will act in their self interest. ... "Realism" would frown upon transforming the middle east, because "realists" would argue that we should ally with strong states in the region to contain our competitors. Thus, the "realism" school is often better known as the school that argues for finding dictators we can do business with. ...

I don't know how you could think that "realism" has anything to do with the more Wilsonian brand of politics that the Administration has pursued. They are diametrically opposed to each other. If you're really this confused about basic concepts of foreign policy schools, then no wonder you get so worked up over things that you don't understand.
And speaking of using features of a thing to DEFINE that thing, in the "America is illegitimate" front, we get this bit.
Somehow the GOP elders and talk radio heads have managed to persuade even most Christians not just to make excuses for America's transformation into a torture state, but to enthusiastically support it and laugh about it.
Is Shea so addicted to the sound of his own voice that even bothers to read what he writes? Does he realizes how batshit crazy that is?

There is not a shred of evidence that America is "a torture state" (which is not at all the same thing as "a state whose military uses torture"). The use of an adjective before "state" means its essential defining feature (vis "communist state," "democratic state," "garrison state," etc.). To call a state where the ACLU even exists a "torture state" is completely-removed-from-reality fantasizing.

Further his historical innocence/ignorance shows in the term "transformed." There is no standard by which American military and law-enforcement practices include "torture" now but not in the past (which isn't a moral argument for or against either of course). Whatever else might be said, Bush isn't overseeing any "transformation" of America.*

Keep in mind that when St. Paul acknowledged Caesar's legitimacy in wielding the sword, "Caesar" meant Nero. There is no rational standard for legitimacy or being a "torture state" that Nero's Rome meets but Bush's America doesn't. But put up or shut up. If Shea actually thinks that America is a "torture state" (my bet is that he doesn't, it was just a set of words that sounded good and righteous), he should have the balls to renounce his citizenship, refuse to pay taxes, etc. Act as if he believes the American Caesar is illegitimate. He won't. Because it's just righteous-sounding half-understood words to emphasize how "beyond ideology" he is.
* Prediction of more proof that Shea is really only a posturer. This is an argument I have made repeatedly, and his response will be as it always has been -- mockery to the effect of "we had slavery in the past, so we should have it now" or "give me that old-time Inquisition, it's good enough for me." Betraying of course that his skimming gives him no clue what the argument is -- a historical one about the context of present actions and so what we can say about history, not a moral one about what those actions should be. (We see another similar example of leaping from claim to claim here. Does this guy sound like Comerford?)

A Lack of History

Mark gives us a fairly solid encapsulation of his view of the war on terrorism.

And not surprisingly, it is one of moral equivalence between Islamic extremists and the West:
f it comes to that, I also think that much of Islamic culture is also extremely sick and depraved and that normal people do well to look on that with horror and revulsion too. As I've made clear many times, I think the essence of our clash of civilizations is between those who want to remake the world in the image of Foaming Bronze Age fanaticism and those who want to indulge in the secular messianism fantasy of a humanity that will be saved by some amalgam of Self-Esteem, Technology, pagan spirituality (including the worship of Pleasure and her consort Pride, {expressed by countries as Nationalism), militarism, money, and Machiavelli. Neither of these visions has the least room at all for the Church, except insofar as Christianity is useful. At present, Christianity is still quite useful here in the West. And the West retains enough of the Christian heritage and enough real believers in Christ that the secular messianic spirit of antichrist that animates the dreams of our Manufacturers of Culture cannot do to the Church all it would like to do--yet. Indeed, I have hope that the Church will continue for long years yet in the more hospitable world of the West. But I will not be surprised if another Diocletian arises in my lifetime. I will not even be surprised if it happens as the result of some Muslim outrage against the West. Our elites are itching to crush Christianity on the excuse that one Abrahamic religion is the same as another. And voices of reason from the Church are easy to paint as treason when a city has been destroyed.

I am confident in Christ Jesus that the Church will weather the storm as these two pathological civilizations destroy each other. But it will still be agonizing and it will still probably kill millions. Deliver us from evil, O Lord.

There is probably a lot that can be said in response to it, and one thing that I will say for D'Souza is that at least he was willing to take a side in the current struggle. I do not think that Mark's view of basically writing off the West is shared at all by Pope Benedict - if it were, he not be so urgently trying to persuade Europe not to sign its own suicide pact.

Now Mark, as I understand his position, believes that the West will never be sufficiently morally superior in his mind to overcome radical Islam until we become some perfect image of righteousness. I do not believe that this going to occur short of the eschaton and I think that arguments that America was completely pure in past conflicts is more idealized history than anything else. During World War 2, for instance, the United States maintained a great deal of institutionalized racism throughout much of its territory. The argument that this did not make an Allied victory far more preferable to a Nazi one is IMO quite morally obtuse. As long as there is sin, we are always going to have societies that fall quite short of our idealized norm. That doesn't mean that Catholic social teaching on say government is an entirely worthless endeavor. If there is nothing left but a slow descent into depravity and oblivion, we would all be fools to remain politically active. But one of the benefits of being a Catholic, at least for me, is that it frees one of the benefits of this kind of despairing historicism. Is our situation now really all that worse than it was when St. Augustine was writing and the barbarians were literally at the gates? Somehow I doubt it.

One of my major criticisms of Mark is that it never occurs to him that the type of mentality that he encounters in Seattle on a regular basis was not always the consensus of the elites and there is absolutely no guarantee that it will not reverse itself. Indeed, I would argue that if one were truly this despairing about the future that the logical alternative would be to completely abandon the organized pro-life as a doomed venture from the onset. The same goes with any serious concern about torture or the Iraq war. To make the argument that the current views of society's elites are going to be etched in stone forever and ever is worst form of historical narcissism, which is one of the reasons why it is so prevalent among progressives.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

How to Win A War of Assassins

First of all, let me weigh in on the issue at hand before moving to Victor's defense against Mark's latest anathema sit. I think that there are a lot of ways that one can respond to Iran short of a full-scale military invasion. Indeed, I would describe much of our current situation regarding Iran as being basically akin to a kind of War of Assassins as they were laid by Frank Herbert in Dune. The difference is that the Iranians have been playing this for quite some time, whereas the United States is just starting under the outstanding leadership of General Petraeus. As anyone who has read Dune or seen its various film adaptations should be aware that wars of assassins are as much about outhinking one's opponent as it is about out-fighting them.

That said, I think that there are definite alternatives to a full-scale military conflict with Iran. Given the amount of hysteria that currently occupies much of the anti-war movement that now holds the reins of power in Congress concerning the prospect of any US military conflict with Iran, I'm pretty certain that the Revolutionary Guards could conduct a nationally televised disembowlment of the British sailors in question and the anti-war movement would still oppose any military option regarding the Iranian regime. This has basically been their view concerning Iraq, where they are quite content to abandon the country to an enemy that really does saw off the heads of its victims in televised broadcasts. In light of these constraints, it is not surprising that Petraeus has persuaded the administration to pursue a war of assassins in a manner that is already bearing fruit.

This isn't intended as a permanent solution to our problems with Iran (unlike the fictional noble houses of Dune, Iran is a revolutionary rather than dynastic in nature), but pursuing these types of policies internationally would help to contain the regime until such time when more robust military action becomes both politically and logistically viable. Unfortunately, that would require both strong international leadership and the ability to shift public opinion, both of which have been in exceedingly short supply of late in the Bush administration. Support for anti-regime elements could occur within this context, but I wouldn't expect them to actually overthrow the regime. The Abadgaran movement that is currently in power in Tehran basically cut its teeth by wiping out the organized reformist movement in the country as a social and political force and I don't think it's at all likely that a combination of communists and Arab, Kurdish, and Baluch separatists are likely to succeed where they failed. But as a holding action, it could work and should be contemplated as such.

Moving back into Mark Shea's latest commentary, I find it absolutely fascinating that he managed to shift the discussion over the Iranian seizure of British sailors to his preferred white whale of the Bush administration and torture. His commentary is pedantic it almost defies description:
I will also be outraged at the Administration for destroying our ability to bring the community of nations together to help these guys, since everybody will say, "So what? The Americans do it too."

Judging from his commentary on the subject since then, it seems to me that the majority of his outrage isn't directed against the Iranians. However, does he really think that the Iranians (or at least the ones with the guns) give a damn what the "community of nations" think of their activities? Thanks in no small part in our contemporary setting to individuals like himself who have adopted a functionally pacifistic position on how to deal with Iran, they are essentially free to do as they please without fear of facing any serious reprisal for their activities other than strong words. This has been the Iranian regime's MO since 1979, long before Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib came around. This is yet another example where Mark's view of torture combined with his Bush Derangement Syndrome are becoming for him what Andrew Sullivan's obsession with "Christianism" is for him. In both cases, it does violence to his position because it attempts to connect the writers' preferred white whales, however tenuously, to the situation at hand.

If Mark wants to seriously argue that any shift in US behavior would have caused the Iranians to behave in a different manner than they are right now with these British sailors, I would like to hear it. I don't think he can, because the United States is not omnipotent and there are plenty of independent actors out there who are quite capable of deciding to torture or abuse prisoners without the examples of Abu Ghraib or 24. I realize that it may strike him as amazing that some wicked thoughts on this matter do not emerge from the mind of Dick Cheney, but there you go.

I also find Mark's utter repulsion at the fact that various people, Michael Ledeen among them, find the Iranian regime's actions to be sufficiently repugnant that they might merit some sort of military reprisal simply astounding. As I said, he has for all practical purposes become a functional pacifist on the issue of Iran. If he wants to disprove me, I would pose the following challenge to him of what Iran would have to do for him to approve of some kind of military action against it. I suspect he finds this too horrible a possibility to even seriously contemplate, but there you go. In light of this functional pacifism to any serious action against Iran, I think it is fair to ask how he thinks the British sailors are going to be released if diplomacy fails. And if he believes "bringing the community of nations together" is going to result in anything other than reassuring words, I suspect that he is in for a rude surprise.

As for the controversy over Victor's remarks, I am going to choose to go with "smear" rather than "lie" here. Given Mark's apparent inability to actually read rather than "skim" our arguments here, I take it as a given that he reads the least charitable interpretation into our work, so his conflating of murder with execution is (at least for me) completely unsurprising. The issue was raised by an individual that I regard as basically a agent-in-waiting of the Democratic Party whose sole purpose in these discussions appears to me to shill for his particular side and to justify his allegiance to the DNC on the grounds that there is an equal level of dissent among Catholic Republicans. Seeing how he regularly accuses us and anyone of a contrary viewpoint of shilling for the Republican Party (including Catholic Answers), I see no reason why what's good for the goose isn't good for the gander here. Whatever else might be said for his flaws, at least he has the intellectual honesty to recognize that Jimmy Akin, Dave Armstrong, and others who have taken Mark to task his treatment of torture have a serious disagreement of opinion with him, something that Mark has never seriously acknowledged to my knowledge. At any rate, Mark is sufficiently affected by the Bush Derangement Syndrome and the torture debates combined with his love of triangulation that he now readily adopts this formulation alongside fairly nutty conspiracy theories about the inner workings of American democracy fairly reminiscient of those of Lyndon Larouche.

At the core of the matter is Victor's use of the term "execute." As any basic student of moral theology should know, just as there is a difference between murder and self-defense that results in the death of another, so too is there a difference between murder and the state exercising the power of the sword to execute individuals known to be serving members of a hostile organization such as Qods Force that are actively supporting the Iraqi insurgency. To deny that there is a distinction between murder and execution makes any kind of justice system in which capital punishment practiced complicit in murder, which, while Mark or his resident Democratic shill might believe that (though Mark does not, when last I checked), St. Paul did not. I fail to see a practical difference between what Victor is proposing and a state reinstituting the death penalty in response to a major spike crime. Making comparisons between the inhabitants of Lidice and the members of Qods Force that Victor was referring to is nothing short of insulting and repugnant.

For what it's worth ...

I agree with this comboxer at Lie Central that the Iranians probably won't torture the British sailors. Not because they're above it, but because it simply wouldn't serve their interests. The Iranians can get everything they want from the mere fact of detaining them. No need to complicate things.

If memory serves, the Iranians didn't torture the US Embassy hostages, unless kidnapping itself and/or interrogation itself constitute torture (and they do not). I can say for certain that when one of the US hostages had a life-threatening ailment (Queen was his name, I think ... too lazy too look it up), Ayatollah Khomeini personally ordered him released because the Iranians didn't want even to have to explain a death on their hands.

That said ... anyone who thinks there is any country that would have been willing and able to pressure the Iranians to turn over the British sailors will now not do so over Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, rendition, etc., is simply a fantasist. Most of the regimes in questions do these things themselves, so they cannot have serious moral objection to the practices itself. Meaning that whatever outrage they claim or public statements they make is really other-motivated (whether that other motivation be good or bad). Citation of these things, particularly by NGOs or inidividuals, is quite possible, but don't mistake an excuse for a reason.

Yawn ...

Another day ... another Shea lie.

I remember the good old days when Shea would make up his own misquotations. But now he's relying on others. Note that his post doesn't link to my words (that'd be too confusing), but to a citation from Morning's Minion. And he puts ellipses in the precise place MM did and picks up the quote in the exact same place. I'll guess on that basis that Shea never even bothered to read what I wrote, instead taking MM's word. Which was that I had said (these links are what are called "citations"; they enable the reader to check the claims being made for truth):
I see Victor the Impaler of the Foggy Bottoms is now arguing that "if any harm is done to the British sailors, we will execute Iranian nationals held prisoner in Iraq or in Guantanamo... send one of ours to hospital, we send one of yours to the morgue."
Predictably, in between historically ignorant fantasies of Russia and China being outraged over US "torture" and of France, Russia and North Korea being perfectly willing to harm their own commercial interests in Iran had Abu Ghraib never existed, Shea works himself up into a self-righteous lather to say that I ...
prefer to murder prisoners in cold blood if it suits their Machiavellian needs ... [and that] those in my combox and elsewhere in St. Blog's who will either try to tell me this is okay (Hey! It worked for the Nazis at Lidice!), or else find themselves baffled over what the exact, precise, technical meaning of "murder" and "prisoner" is.
Anybody interested in what I actually said (i.e., not Shea or MM) can read it here will of course notice that the ellipsis was very strategic and precisely placed. The literate will realize that the two liars left out a rather important qualifier. One that makes what I called for objectively not murdering prisoners in cold blood. (Those who don't realize that are persons whom I don't give a shit about.)

I don't know what MM thinks about the death penalty, but I know that Shea at least realizes that the death penalty can be just and so is not "murder." This is a chemically-pure example of Shea passing over what he perfectly well understands in any other context -- you see it when he writes about the death penalty that he knows that even it shouldn't be used in a given case or a certain society, it isn't murder -- if ignoring what he knows gives him another excuse to lie about me.


UPDATE: Well, he has finally read the exact quote, thanks to Disputations. Not that this affects anything (that would require that the two actually think facts matter more than their desire to lie about me and self-righteously preen and posture). Both of them sarcastically underplay the importance of the distinction between "murder" and "execute" -- even though it is not a small one. And they both know it (which is why I'm comfortable calling them both liars over this ... they are deliberately ignoring something they know). The only other referent is "cold-blooded," which in the context of homicide merely means premeditated, calculated and with full knowledge ... so all executions, even right ones, are cold-blooded, making it a classification that doesn't classify.

UPDATE 2: If the entire population of Lidice were to be red-handed illegal combatants or terrorists, then Shea's invocation of it would be something other than what it is: the laziest of sub-moronic pseudo-intellectual lies out there -- "the Nazis did [something the speaker constructs as parallel]." Yawn. I call Godwin on this insufferable human (maybe) toothache.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Iraq and De-Baathification

A hopeful sign from Iraq ... the Shiite prime minister and Kurdish president say they will introduce a bill to end the ban on former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from government jobs.

It was a tremendous mistake for the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority, probably its worst, to simply dissolve the Baath Party and declare de-Baathification as a goal of the new regime. It made it appear as if a large segment of Iraqi society, the party that had ruled Iraq and been a principal vehicle for social advancement for 35 years, had no future in a post-Saddam Iraq. So, from their POV, why not take up arms or nonviolently back those who pull the triggers? There were obviously many other factors in a large insurgency coming about, but this was one among others. Let's hope this isn't too late.

The problem, a universal one actually, is that you can't build a society from Year Zero. (Well ... the Khmer Rouge tried ... I don't recommend it.) Any viable Iraqi society will have to be built on what currently exists (there is simply no alternative absent time machines), and therefore it must somehow come to terms with the fact that too much blood is on too many people's hands, both from the Saddam era and from the last couple years of civil war, to insist on perfect moral purity. Sure, a ban on Baath Party members holding authority might be just (and at the very top levels, it'd be necessary). But that doesn't make it wise.

I say this not to make a moral equivalence between the Tikriti clan and the Kurds of Halabjah, but to note that at some point, a society has to temper justice with forgiveness, and sometimes, especially in the case of a regime sufficiently odious to have incriminated a large segment of the populace, the latter is more important. After all, all governments everywhere tend to attract the talented and highly-motivated, a group which all societies need. At some point, the trains DO have to run on time.

A few years ago, I saw a movie called AREN'T WE WONDERFUL, as part of a series of post-war films from West Germany. The 1958 movie followed two men through about 35-40 years of German history, starting just before WW1. It was quite strong-acted and pungently comic, but I didn't care for how the film ended, in a bit of soapboxing about all the ex-Nazis who now had prominent roles, in the government or business or military, in the new Federal Republic. Well ... the German Democratic Republic had as its founding myth that it was the social successor of all "progressive" and anti-Nazi forces in Germany. Did it do better, either in economic terms or freedom terms (there's another excellent German movie about the latter playing right now)?

I am convinced that one reason, among others, that the CPA first imposed a strict de-Baathification is fear of this sort of "Nazis in command" discourse, one that even a segment of the West German populace of 1958 was not immune to. After all "former Saddam party member now mayor of Al-Whatever" would make an excellent news headline in the morality play view of foreign policy (particularly since the MSM is structurally and ideologically opposed to the war and its success). AREN'T WE WONDERFUL, in fact, ends with one of the two men becoming a journalist and exposing the other's party membership during the Third Reich.

Hannah Arendt's phrase "the banality of evil" is remembered as a condemnation of Eichmann the Obedient Functionary. But it should be remembered as well for its flip side -- that in another environment, an Eichmann COULD be an effective manager, overseeing steel or wheat production as efficiently as he did death production.

There are similar examples from history of an approach that tries to rebuild an unjust society without starting from scratch. Post-apartheid South Africa set up the Truth and Reconciliation Committee precisely to give the country's past a full hearing and provide some sense of justice, but without the mass purges or revenge pogroms that strict justice might require. White South Africans, and no doubt because of apartheid's unfairnesses and inequalities, were the existing country's best and brightest, and they had to be convinced that they had a future there. Post-apartheid South Africa, unless it were to go for revolutionary smashing would have to play the hand it had been (unjustly) dealt by apartheid South Africa. Again, history never starts afresh (see a joke about Maoist China here ... another example of that approach working SO well). As any Burkean could tell you, revolution can be the enemy of reform.

"We can dick around with them"

That's what Iran thinks. And it has the 15 British sailors held hostage to prove it. It's unclear whether this is intended to affect the UN votes on sanctions related to its nuclear program or is intended to provide hostages to exchange for Revolutionary Guards being held in Iraq for working with Shi'ite militias there. If the former, it was a really futile move; if the latter, a very smart one -- no doubt the advocates of surrender, both of liberal and paleocon variety, have the "moral equivalence" essay-writing templates at Code Red. And I'm also certain that the Torture Pharisees, being guided purely by moral principles as purely as they are, will expend identical interest investigating, posturing and frothing over the treatment of legitimate soldiers by a Holocaust-denying Islamist terror regime as they already have the treatment of terrorists and illegal combatants by their own legitimate government.

But why shouldn't Iran think that, that they can dick around with the West? After all, they've been sending Revolutionary Guards into Iraq and providing terrorists there with increasingly deadly weapons, basically with impunity for some time now (no doubt They were provided for peaceful purposes too, just like their nuclear program). Yeah ... the nuclear program ... that's been going on, with the UN ratcheting up the pressure from "mother, may I criticize you" to a stern chiding all the way to a harsh warning. And Tehran (rightly from their POV) laughs in its face.

It's not as though hostage-taking, specifically, has never worked for the Iranians. Practically the first act of the Islamic Revolution was to invade the U.S. (no hyperbole -- an embassy is sovereign territory under every international convention) and hold diplomats hostage for more than a year. Not only that, but this act was participated in by Iran's current president (according to plausibly sourced reports; here's a respectable partial dissent).

And that 1979 invasion of the US went essentially unpunished. The worst consequence Iran may have suffered was the (very) slight US tilt toward Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war (though the facts about the Saddam regime put a very firm ceiling on that for the US; less so for the humanitarian conscience-wielders in Paris and Brussels, not to speak of Moscow). A few choppers, a reel of satellite photographs and the veto of any UN condemnation of Saddam. Big whoop. The Iranian regime learned -- it can take hostages without serious consequence, and mess with the Great Satan and his little henchmen with impunity. (Do the moral equivalancers and "incentivizers" and appeasement-artists even remember things like how Iran's embassy in London was seized by Iraq-backed Sunni terrorists during its own invasion of the US and do they remember Britain's reaction thereto?) Their acolytes in Lebanon certainly learned the lesson, even the point of executing two US soldiers -- hanging one on tape; shooting another on a plane and dumping his body on the tarmac. How many Americans would even know those two men I'm referring to? There's no better proof of how deludedly self-forgetful we are with regard to the Islam that people with two brain cells think the Islamists hate us for any reason related to Dubya or Israel or the taping of Saddam's execution. The slightest familiarity with even contemporary history removes any excuse for believing such widely-held flatulence.

I think that cost-free 1979 Iranian invasion of the US was the biggest factor in emboldening the current wave of Islamism against the West. Not the causus belli from their POV, not at all. Rather, that because of what we did then (or didn't do), we gave them reason to have contempt for us. They hate us (that's a given, for reasons of their own); and we have given them no reason to fear us. Which is the worst of all worlds, since the mix of hatred and lack of fear produces contempt. The ignorant like to abuse Machiavelli, usually unread, but Chapter 17 of The Prince deals with this point very nicely:

Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with.

In this case, one must be dispensed with since the Islamists will never love us. And since men love according to their own will but fear according to the will of others, we can only give them reason to fear us. Or not.

Friday, March 23, 2007

This was too good to keep in a combox

For those who think I'm too mean in calling The Big Liar that, Kathleen reminds us that it is one of his favorite rhetorical tropes to call others stupid. Latest example here:

"Faithful Conservative Catholics[TM] and Bible-Believing Evangelicals[TM] who cheerlead for the Right come hell or high water and endorse the crazy "Salvation through Leviathan by Any Means Necessary" ethos aren't simply sinning: they're stupid."

There's the continual inconvenient contrary fact ... oh, let's call it a lie, albeit one that does make sense to tiny totalitarian minds that think that everything is about One Thing ... that those of us who back "Leviathan" don't think it has jack-all to do with Salvation.

But being called stupid by someone with such a dearth of basic ABCs fact knowledge ("Dole was rammed down our throats by a few rich men"), so little grasp of what ideas mean or don't mean and do or do not fit together, so literacy-challenged from all that "just skimming," so completely cavalier and careless about accurately citing the views of others ... 'tis to laugh.

Even laughing aside ... I actually got a big guffaw about that "pop quiz" list of 10 things (which I'm guessing is some kind of attempt at rebuttal to this).

Here's another game we can play with the same list. And I suspect it even has the same answer.

Nine of the quotes** are actual quotations from real persons. One is the hostile paraphrase of a lying fantasist. Can you a) circle the lie and b) explain why it is a lie?

** Note ... this is The Big Liar's actual word in his own post. He's even selling his own fantasy paraphrases of others as "quotes." And mixing them in with real quotes. Lie #760347982710

For the factually challenged and ignorant...

Here is a short account of the 1996 Republican presidential nomination fight.

Here's what happened. Several candidates that a few rich men would have liked to run (Colin Powell, e.g.) did not run. Even the future Vice Glorious Leader, head of the cabal of rich men who pretend to give a shit about abortion every four years to dupe pro-lifers out of their votes. But what happened was not that Bob Dole was just kind of there ... but he won a series of primaries, ones where poor people were allowed to vote no less. Other men won a few primaries -- Steve Forbes won several (what ... didn't the few rich men like him? ... he was even somewhat pro-choice and ran on flat taxes at the time, i.e., perfectly willing to screw Christians in the name of Salvation Through Empire, Leviathan and Mammon); Pat Buchanan even won New Hampshire and a couple of others (why did the few rich men allow him to run ... obviously he's complicit then in the rigging of the system to provide only unacceptable alternatives).

But see ... what happens in primaries is that people vote, they get counted, and whoever has the most votes wins. That was Dole, I think, though maybe the Neocon Brain Cocktail has obscured my memory on this point.

It's amazing what you can learn about the obscure facts of ancient history lost in the mists of time when you trouble yourself to read obscure, inaccessible books in dead languages like Wikipedia before dribbling off at the mouth.

Monday, March 19, 2007

If you think that the whole of American democracy is a lie, Mark ...

... At least have the guts to come right out and say so.

Here is the latest:
I'm remembering the strange sensation I had in both '96 and '00, when men were anointed by a mysterious process and presented to the party faithful as a fait accompli, despite the fact that nobody seemed to want him (Dole) and nobody seemed to have heard of him (Bush) until the party moguls announced that all the political winds were blowing that way. One got the distinct impression that "voting" was a sort of rubber stamp ratifying what a small group of wealthy men had decided was fore-ordained.

I'd love to be wrong. But it looks pretty much like the same thing is happening again.

I am going to keep hammering on this conspiracy of millionnaires notion that Mark seems to seriously believe because, while not spiritually tainted the way that say, Robert Sungenis's stuff is, it is as much of a kook notion as anything that came out of the John Birch Society. If he seriously believed that American democracy is over and we are now ruled by a clique of millionnaires determined to kill off a sizeable number of the lower classes (this was basically the sentiment when he first broached the notion), one would think that you would be trying to do something more about it than just blogging away in frustration. Now granted, he holds out the possibility that he might be wrong here, but if he understood for a moment the full implications of what he is claiming he might want to sit back and think through the consequences of such a situation before just casually airing notions like this.

In answer to his questions, I didn't follow the 1996 election very well but if memory serves there was a fairly heated GOP primary fight before Dole ended up on top. Mark apparently doesn't remember the extremely nasty primary fight between Bush and McCain in 2000, which is odd because he blogged about it on Friday. The idea that Bush or Dole just magically appeared and won the presidential nominations is simply counter-factual by anyone who was paying attention at the time. Now to be fair, a lot of people weren't, and there is no shame in that. And some people still aren't if they are going to label Deroy Murdock a neocon when in fact he is a conservative libertarian.

UPDATE: He does it again.

In a funny way, stuff like this and Barack Obama viral ad gives me a certain amount of empathy for the Dem rank and file who, like us conservative types, feel a certain amount of bafflement at how their political masters (who are also basically a small number of rich guys) can just herd them around like cattle and say, "Now you will vote for Hillary, Now you will vote for Pelosi" and deliver such a disastrously low return on their investment. As the party elders on our side of the aisle condition the herd to vote for Rudy, I will think from time to time of the frustration that many Dems must likewise be feeling as Hillary is rammed down their throats and Pelosi stabs them in the back on the one issue that put her where she is.

I would be very interested for somebody to see if they can get him to explain who exactly these elites he continues to reference are. The answer, if nothing else, should prove to be an illuminating one.

And here in reference to Human Events's decision to print an editorial by Deroy Murdock that supported Giuliani:
This editorial is part of a meme that is being spread by a party that is fixing to anoint Rudy. It's what they do. That's how we got Dole and that's how we got Bush. A few oligarchs decide. We are presented with a done deal.

Now here again, I am willing to grant him a rhetorical flourish on some of this stuff, but the more this meme keeps popping up the more we keeping heading closer and closer into the "conspiracy of the elites" stuff that so typifies Larouche-esque thought. I'm not even going to get into his continued and increasingly absurd fear that the US is gearing up to invade Iran (with what troops, for God's sake) or his view that there is some kind of establishment candidate in a Republican primary that has no declared candidate, which is precisely why it is so contentious.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Hang on here ...

In a post alternating between criticizing Cheney and raising the question of whether or not we can believe KSM's own confession of his deeds (and don't just raise hypotheticals here Mark, tell us whether or not you believe what he says), Mark makes this claim:
...threatening to murder a man's children is a legitimate tool of war that does not lower us to the level of Bin Laden...

I have a lot of problems with this statement. There is a huge moral difference between threatening to do harm to suspect's associates or family and actually doing so. Variations of the former are a tried and true method that are routinely used by police interrogators on a regular basis: threatening a perpetrator that if he doesn't confess or give up information that some type of harm will come to either an associate or an individual he cares about who is unconnected to the crime. Often this is accompanied by a bluff that there is some kind of evidence connecting the unconnected individual to the crime. While threatening murder rather than some kind of legal penalty like arrest or prison certainly raises the ante, I think that the claim that it puts on the same moral level as Osama bin Laden who has either directly or through his acolytes murdered thousands of men, women, and children on three continents strikes me as more than a little out of proportion. I would also be very interested to see whether or not Mark plans to take this to the next logical step and argue that using this means is no longer licit in police interrogation sessions.

My guess would be no because I don't think that he has thought it through that far, but if he going to argue that this is covered by the mental torment section of Gaudium et Spes I think that shows to demonstrate even further why I think his interpretation of that encyclical is so far off-base.

Well, look at it this way ...

In response to the following comments in the combox, primarily by Kathleen:
I guess my larger point is that in terms of real politics, "to believe that Giuliani will keep the pro-life base happy" one is required only to believe that he will appoint justices like scalia, and Giuliani has all but said he would do this.

but if the "pro-life base" petulantly insists on holding out for some candy rainbow scenario wherein a president outlaws abortion with the stroke of a pen, or if the "pro life base" petulantly insists on just having the right type of guy in the white house (like bush 41, who was pro life and appointed ridiculous judges) then the 'pro-life base" is childish and unrealistic and doesn't deserve to be kept happy.

I agree with this for the most part, but for the reasons stated by myself and Josiah previously we do not believe this to be the case regarding Giuliani. Part of my own reason for this is that we are not dealing with a relatively blank slate here or even an individual who was mildly pro-choice. Giuliani was vocally pro-choice (and socially liberal on other issues) and he deliberately stressed that both during his time in office and afterwards when asked about his views on these issues. To me, that establishes a track record and that is one of the criteria that I judge a politician on when considering whether or not to vote for him. You will note that I have been more than willing to accept Mitt Romney's shift in his views. Giuliani simply hasn't been persuasive in this regard given his past track record, and as such I think I'm justified to retain my skepticism.

Kathleen continues:
i don't get why anyone disbelieves him (well, I do get it, they like to borrow trouble and feel aggrieved, but anyway...). Giuliani would not be a national candidate if he were not mayor of NY, and he would not have been mayor of NY if he hadn't given a sop to the ultra ultra liberal base there. It's 15 years later, and I don't care what he said to get elected mayor of NY, frankly.

in any case Giuliani could think abortion is the greatest thing since sliced bread but Roe is terrible law, given that he is a (smart) lawyer. whether someone likes the reasoning behind Roe and whether he likes abortion are 2 different questions. people don't seem to be understanding that.

Giuliani may think that Roe is bad law (most serious law people, even a lot of liberals, seem to), but whether or not he would want judges who would overturn it is another matter. As far as Giuliani not being a national candidate if he wasn't mayor of NYC and having to adopt his positions as a matter of political necessity, the same could be said for Mitt Romney. Yet conservatives have accepted him as one of their own whether or not he wins the primary, and I think that might tell you something about the two.

She concludes with:
I think the arguments that Giuliani can turn a blue state into a red state or that Giuliani is the only one who can beat Hillary clinton are facetious. the fact is this: people liked what they saw of the man on 9/11 and people have heard how effective he was as mayor in NY. frankly I think his 9/11 performance counts for more, and I think that alone could take him to the top.

not to mention that Giuliani arguably has a better, more visceral understanding than any other national candidate of the effects of terrorism. when he said 9/11 was beyond his worst nightmare, he wasn't kidding. someone like that is going to act in the face of a threat, not turn away from it and pretend it isn't real.

Actually, a lot of Giuliani supporters are pitching in conservative media and on conservative forums those two arguments. Didn't John Podhoretz basically write an entire book outlining the argument that Giuliani was the only candidate that could beat Hillary? As I said (and I think the polling data to date supports this), Giuliani is a strong candidate and a strong leader, which is why I think that many conservatives are drawn to him, especially given the political impotency that currently characterizes the Bush administration. However, they are quite unfamiliar with his views on other topics and at some point he (like his counterpart Obama on the Democratic side who has received similar adulatory praise on the basis of single speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention) is going to have to talk about them if he wants to become the GOP presidential nominee IMO.

As far as Giuliani having a better understanding of terrorism, I would in my partisanship for McCain dispute this. Of the GOP candidates, only McCain and Gingrich have offered substantive constructive criticism of the current administration's conduct of the war on terrorism, particularly regarding what I view as the disastrous policies pursued by Secretary Rumsfeld and others in Iraq. McCain's views on Iraq have basically been adopted by the Bush administration (and Giuliani, IIRC) as its own concerning the surge, which he has been advocating at least as far back as 2004-2005 and which is now producing practical real-world results on the ground in terms of reducing violence in Baghdad and having sufficient troops to fight al-Qaeda and Sadr. One of the reasons that I support McCain is that he ascertained what I see as a more correct strategy for Iraq and fought for it alongside Joe Lieberman long before it was popular with the White House.

My partisanship aside, I think that all of the current GOP candidates with the exception of Hagel would be acceptable for the purposes of the war on terrorism. Certainly they have all supported the Iraq war at a time when the short-term and politically expedient thing to do would be to come out against it, which speaks well of them. I hope this makes at least some sense to you.

As for Victor's thoughts:
Here's the other difference between Ronald Reagan and Giuliani -- electoral-strategery-wise. Reagan expanded the GOP *without alienating the then-existing base* and/or *without sacrificing a chunk of it to gain a larger chunk elsewhere.* The Reagan Democrats came to him.

Still, the comparison with Reagan is intriguing in the following way. Reagan was a divorced man with a partly-estranged family who, as governor of California, had signed both the nation's most-liberal abortion law and loosest no-fault divorce law. By 1980, he said he had come around on abortion. But there was still little reason beyond rhetoric that "the Religious Right" should have trusted him. Particularly since he was running against an evangelical.

I bolded the part that I think is most significant. And as far as Reagan having a turn around on abortion in 1980, this is basically what Mitt Romney argues has happened to him. If Giuliani made a sincere pitch to that regard, I think that he would be accepted by a lot of supporters as sincere for a variety of reasons ranging from pragmatism to a pious political myth. Thus far, he has made no indication of doing so and the idea that he is even open to the idea certainly isn't the message that his pundit supporters have been sending.

I think we discussed D'Souza awhile back here ...

So let me take the opportunity to link to one of the best reviews that I've seen to date of The Enemy at Home. I think it manages to address all of salient points without lapsing into hyperbole and demonization.

Degrees of Wishful Thinking

There has been some discussion in the comboxes as to whether or not the GOP is engaging in wishful thinking regarding the nomination of Giuliani. I would just like to posit two points on this and then see what everybody else thinks.

What I and others regard as wishful thinking on the part of many of Giuliani's pundit supporters is basically the claim that his social liberalism, far from being a liability, will in fact serve as an asset that will help him to win big in places like New York state, California, and other parts of the coasts where the GOP does horribly nationally. I think that this is pure fiction myself and suspect that this is what it will translate to electorally if this is what anyone is seriously banking on. Some of Giuliani's most enthusiastic backers are making claims that this will enable him to create a new electoral majority, a la Ronald Reagan, that will allow the GOP to win in perpetuity. The general subtext to these kinds of claims is that while Giuliani will probably lose at least some support among social conservatives (those unwilling to vote for him because he is a strong leader and acceptable on the war) that this support will be offset by some kind of an influx of independent socially liberal professionals.

Well, maybe. What I think is a lot more likely is the scenario that Josiah sketched out in which a lot of the GOP base bolts when confronted with the choice of a Giuliani candidacy and what that means on the issues. Moreover, as I think Josiah correctly analyzes the problem as follows:
I don't know whether the GOP needs pro-life voters. They'e needed them in just about every election for the past 30 years. There's this meme going around that Giuliani is more electable than the other candidates, but I don't really buy it. If independant voters were mainly social liberals who were extremely hawksih, there might be something to this. But they're not. Just the opposite - independants (especially in the midwestern swing states) tend to be socially conservative but have soured on the Iraq war. Why a pro-abortion, pro-gun controll, pro-illegal immigration, pro-gay and pro-war candidate is supposed to be "electable" is beyond me, and I suspect that if Rudy does win the nomination, those people who are expecting Republican wins in California and New York are in for a rude awakening on election night.

My guess is that Giuliani's people don't see it that way. Certainly, many of his pundit supporters don't. A lot of them seem to sincerely believe that enough social conservatives will vote for Giuliani because of his leadership and the war that he really doesn't need to moderate his positions. My own assumption is that this is why they want to delay having Giuliani talk in detail about his social views for as long as possible.

Kathleen asks:
how is it wishful thinking to suppose that the GOP nominee would act to keep its base happy, insofar as they wish to remain identified with the pro-life movement? you yourself said if they abandon that they risk becoming a "politcal non-entity". if you buy your own arguments, then, you'll see it's realistic thinking, not wishful thinking.

My answer would be that I think it is wishful thinking to believe that Giuliani will keep the pro-life base happy when you take into consideration his own views and the basic arguments that his campaign and their pundit supporters are currently making. These consist of a combination of claims that enough social conservatives will vote for him regardless of his positions on issues they care about because his leadership and the war for the dissenters to be electorally irrelevant. Some of his supporters have visions of carving out a new electoral majority, but there is a fine line between a vision and a hallucination. I guess we'll find out who wins there when the primaries are actually held.

One unrelated point that I would make is that there is a recurring mantra out there that only Giuliani can beat Hillary Clinton. I don't think that this true, especially given that whoever is the GOP nominee will be running unencumbered by the baggage of the increasingly impotent Bush administration (as this latest scandal over the firing of attorneys illustrates in all the detail of a slow-motion train wreck) whereas Clinton will have to deal with all of the baggage of her husband's own eight years in office from a candidate who is actually willing to fight back against her. That said, I don't think that the GOP should nominate any candidate solely because they can beat Hillary Clinton. That was exactly the kind of mentality that led the Democrats to nominate John Kerry last time around - he was the guy that all the polls said could beat Bush. I would just as soon not see the GOP repeat our opponents' mistake.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Yet Another Category Mistake

Is the short way that I view this. While Mark may regard Ron Suskind as a credible source for terrorism information (after all, he writes bad things about the Bush administration), I have serious doubts about the veracity of his information based on the fact that his characterization of Abu Zubaydah differs so dramatically from every other piece of publicly available material on the man. Suskind characterizes this as just another area where the Bush administration lied to the press, but the simple fact is that serious terrorism experts, including the former Democratic and anti-administration ones, don't hold his view. The same goes for numerous foreign governments. Now maybe Suskind knows something that all of us don't, but there is a fine line between a revelation and a conspiracy theory.

Moreover, I think even Suskind would acknowledge that he wasn't party to all of the interrogation techniques that were used against KSM. We really don't know what was done to him or what the results of the interrogation were. We can reasonably discern from his statements that whatever the techniques that were used that they have not broken his belief in the fundamentally correct nature of his cause. His confession was essentially a boast and inferring anything from it as far as the torture debate is concerned strikes me as quite unsound. Now if Mark wants to talk about Rashid Rauf or Abdul Hakim Murad, both of whom we know a good deal more about what was done to them, that would be quite a different story.

One other point is that while Mark covers himself by stating that torture is morally wrong (which has always been his position), making an issue of torture's effectiveness while in the context of a morality argument of this nature strikes me as unwise. While the idea that torture is never effective has always struck me as more of a myth than anything else (the same thing with the idea that it is always effective), whether or not it is effective from a utilitarian standpoint has nothing to do with whether or not it is immoral. As Mark himself noted during his latest attempt to argue that Michael Ledeen is responsible for the death of a bookseller in Baghdad (rather than, say, the terrorists who built and detonated the bomb that killed him), you can't do evil so that good can result. The same advice might also be applied to his maybe Judaism would be better if we got rid of Israel thoughts from a few weeks back. Then again, he and Buchanan seem too preoccupied at the moment from trying to protect Iran (whom General Petraeus says is training and arming Iraqi insurgents) from the increasingly impotent Bush administration. This leaves them in a functionally pacifistic position, but I will address that later today.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Chutzpah ...

I know, I know, I'm trying to stay away from blogging about Mark during Lent, but I just had to note this one:
Given that you psychically declare me to be a paleocon ideologue even when I specifically tell you I'm not, I'd say, "Don't be so thin-skinned."

With all due respect, I think that claiming that Mark is a paleocon (and I would say creeping paleocon because I don't think that he fully understands the implications of many of his positions or those of his new-found allies) is more or less a statement of fact at this point. With the exception of a burning obsession about illegal immigration, he's pretty much there at this point. Or to put it another way, I would challenge Mark to name one area other illegal immigration where he disagrees with paleoconservativism as a substantive matter.

And as far as the comment about psychic determinations of one's true positions, it seems to me that Mark might want to keep in mind that what's good for the goose being good for the gander.

Giuliani Continued ...

First of all, I appreciate all of the reader comments and responses to my remarks concerning Guiliani. Before I comment briefly on them, there is something that I want to address:
Read the Coalition for Fog lately? Or Linda Chavez' pleas for legal torture? Or, in my comboxes, Tom McKenna's recent attempts to dissent from Nostra Aetate and suggest that Vatican II is in error to say that Jews are not rejected by God and the old covenant has not been revoked. Heard Bill O'Reilly's breezy dismissals of the notion that the Church should have anything to say about the treatment of aliens? How about the guffaws directed at the notion that the state has an obligation to care for the common good in the matter of health care or housing (That's socialism!).

There is most certainly dissent on the Right when it comes to inconvenient Church teaching.

If Mark has a serious argument to make that Victor and I are publicly dissenting from Catholic teaching, I would be very interested to here it. More to the point, I would be very interested in just how exactly he fits us into that category and not the numerous Catholic apologists such as Dave Armstrong or Jimmy Akin. We have repeatedly stated that our views on torture are essentially the same as their own (and I would challenge Mark to demonstrate otherwise) and if Mark is going to make claims of this nature, I think that the onus is on him to put up or shut up. Bearing a false witness is still a sin, when last I checked.

That said, let me just address a couple of specific points that were raised in the comments.

Use of the government by social conservatives - I have a lot of respect for Cal Thomas, but I think that this is a red herring. Bush's much-cited faith-based initiatives have generated very little of permanent substance, near as I can determine. In nearly every case where social conservatives have sought to seriously enlist the power of the state, it was almost always a defensive measure. Arguing that we need to rely simply on cultural changes to win the culture wars for us seems to me to be something of a category mistake: of course we need a cultural shift in order to win the culture wars, but to argue that in order to do so that we should basically cede an incredibly substantive piece of ground to the enemy at such a crucial moment strikes me as exceedingly unwise. It is precisely for this reason, I would argue, that social conservatives should be extremely wary of any lack of enthusiasm with the current politics lead them either to make bad political alliances (i.e. Giuliani) or take part in the kind of political disengagement that some seem to favor. It was referenced in the comments that the number of abortions in the United States has been declining over time and while this true, does anyone believe that this would have occurred in the absence of a large and politically active pro-life movement?

Giuliani being functionally pro-life - I read the arguments and remain extremely skeptical of this view. At best, it would seem that Giuliani might, might be practically neutral on the abortion issue based on what I continue to regard as extremely ambiguous statements. And while I am not trying to be uncharitable to Giuliani supporters, I think that a number of similarly ambiguous statements have been made by a number of Democratic candidates over the years but have not been accepted as credible by social conservatives. Like I have stated previously, I think that a lot of the reasons that conservatives have cited to embrace Giuliani would not have been accepted for a moment were it being argued in favor of McCain, Lieberman, Romney or a host of other candidates. When you consider the fact that a lot of these candidates actually agree with both social conservatives and conservatives in general on more issues than does Giuliani, I hope that you can see why this eagerness to embrace Giuliani resembles a kind of cult of personality to me.

One other thought that I might put forth is that one of the reasons why the 2008 election cycle has started so early is because George Bush is so weakened domestically. I think that a lot of this is his own fault, though not for the reasons that a lot of his critics, Mark among them, are likely to recognize. As a result, a lot of conservatives are currently looking for an alternate leader, hence the reason the horserace has started so early. As can be seen from the current situation with Attorney General Gonzalez, the Democrats have pretty much achieved their objective of reducing the administration to a position of political impotency. If success is achieved in Baghdad, it will be because of the succes of General Petraeus on the battlefield rather than because of the administration's ability to maintain domestic support for the war. At best, I suspect that all that it can do is prevent the Democrats from completely defunding the war. Time will tell if that is enough.