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Sep 23, 2004 3:43 am

Some Recommendations ...

At Informed Comment, Juan Cole has an excellent post about"What Would It Be Like If America Were Iraq?".

Two of my favorite recent discoveries are Caleb McDaniel's Mode for Caleb and Bryan Watson's Siris. Caleb has two posts up that I like a lot. The first is about retaining that youthful sense of wonder in a used book store. We know there was a time when we had it. That was before we knew that Chicago is more prestigious than, say, Greenwood, or that Sinclair Lewis is just so passe. I remember my discovery of Joseph Conrad and my friend, Stewart's, discovery of Andre Gide. It was as if no one before us had read them. Caleb's other post is about our use of terminology in intellectual history. Should we talk about" climate of opinion" or"discourse"? The latter strikes me as hopelessly pretentious, but go see what Caleb thinks. Siris points, again, to Giornale Nuovo, where Mr. H implicitly raises both of Caleb's concerns. He wanders into a used book store in Sweden and picks up a book about Jacob Boehme. How do you talk about a mentality that is expressed in such prints? Must we recover a sense of innocent wonder in order to enter into and explore Boehme's vision? What" climate of opinion" gave it birth? Can we ever do justice to mystical traditions by approaching them as"discourse"?

Finally, as usual, Volokh has a number of interesting posts up: who's for banning the Bible? Well, no one, actually, but Republicans seem to think the threat will work wonders in Arkansas and West Virginia; Jimmy Swaggert has to be told by fellow evangelicals that murdering gay people isn't obligatory; and, according to Volokh, the person or persons who created and passed along the fraudulent Killian Memos violated no federal law in doing so. Had William Safire been taking his daily Volokh refresher, he'd have known better than to publish this in the New York Times. Is there a federal law against aging columnists giving false legal advice in the journal of record? Or, for that matter, is there a federal law against entering Niue in the CIA Fact Book? If the CIA thinks such a place exists, why shouldn't Dan Rather think the documents were legit? Thanks to David Adesnik at Oxblog for the tip.

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Stephen Thomas - 10/29/2004

The 60s lives forever in this weblog!

Before I comment, I'd like to respond to Mr. Luker's continued suggestion that, since I find value in Clayton Cramer's weblog, I probably should depart this one. Maybe this intolerance on your part is the reason that you're readership is 1/4 of Mr. Cramer's. Your testy, angry responses to every evidence of a different viewpoint is probably driving away readers in droves. (And you don't just do it to me.) It doesn't seem to occur to you that a reader might find something of value in both your work and in Mr. Cramer's.

The answer to Cole's stale repetition of the 60s "King of Hearts" rhetoric was given the other night in an interchange between Peggy Noonan and Alan Colmes. I'll get back to that in a moment. You've got to wonder why the weepy hippy rhetoric of Cole's article continues to enchant this weblog. While the writer seems to assume that he's drawn some picture of relevance, I can only see absolute innanity. Iraq isn't America. Not going to be either. The reason is that the U.S. is self-evidently a better run, better governed society. Iraq finds itself in its position vis-a-vis the U.S. because of its own failures.

Now, the exchange:

COLMES: "What's the president's exit strategy for Iraq?"
NOONAN: "To win."
COLMES" "That's not what I mean. What's his timetable for removing U.S. troops?"
NOONAN: "The idea is to win."

This continued for several minutes without any comprehension on Colmes' side. It is a wonderful demonstration of just how confused the left has become by its own rhetoric. I doubt that the writers of this weblog will be able to understand just how confused they are, and I suspect that it is hopeless to try to tell you, so I won't. I'll leave you to attempt to decipher the above interchange.

Stephen Thomas - 10/29/2004

Aha! Somebody almost understood.

I don't vote to elect a president because he represents a set of moral values. I vote for my self-interest. Winning is advancing my self-interest.

The job of the president, in my estimation, is to win for the U.S. The left has refused, since the Vietnam War, to acknowledge or accept that winning (at this moment) is an alternative for the U.S.

The writers of this blog are confusing (1) moral issues, and (b) long-term outcomes with winning.

Winning militarily and achieving the goals of the U.S. through force is an option, although one clearly hated by the writers of this board. Of course, the future may reverse or temper that victory. Where you have gone wrong is in thinking that the job of the president is anything but to win now, to use whatever resources he has to further the self-interest of the U.S.

Moral issues and long-term outcomes are almost always nearly impossible to predict. I might buy a house and later discover that I loathe the place and my neighbors, but my job as a buyer is to drive the hardest bargain I can drive. All of this speculation about future outcomes is hopelessly confusing the writers who post to this board. The job of the president is to press the self-interest of the U.S. now, and I expect him to win.

You attempts to explain how this victory might unravel in the future are just plain irrelevant to the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. No policy can guarantee the future.

Stephen Thomas - 10/29/2004

President Bush has clearly defined his concept of "winning" in Iraq. He has re-stated the Marshall Plan, and re-directed it to include Iraq. He proposes to:

1. End the rule of warlords and dictators
2. Set in place the opportunity for representative democracy
3. Hold elections
4. Offer financial aid and reconstruction assistance to those who accept the offer of representative democracy and elections

So, somebody has defined "winning." And, it has worked in some places (Western Europe and Japan) and failed in others (Vietnam). Why are the writers of this blog so invested in hoping that the U.S. will fail?

Stephen Thomas - 10/29/2004

It's been apparent for some time, Ralph, that you can't keep up with me.

When do you plan to entertain a thought born after 1963?

Stephen Thomas - 10/29/2004

It's just become a bad habit.

This habit is part and parcel of the racial and sexual quota system. It all derives from that.

White, hetero men are not allowed to prosecute their self interest under the quota system. They are allowed to disguise their self interest under the pretense of championing the "oppressed." Mr. Luker is a master of this convoluted dance.

Mr. Luker hopes that the U.S. fails because doing so enhances his reputation within the academy. The habit is so engrained that it almost seems to him like a matter of choice.

White, hetero men who proclaim their own self-interest are, of course, "racist, sexist and homophobic" by definition. White, hetero men who assume the stance of the self-sacrificing martyr for the cause or "blacks, women and gays" can prosecute their self-interest in a perverse game of self-abnegation.

This is your cue, Mr. Luker, for fuming and swearing and threatening to ban me from the board, as is your wont when you are out-smarted and exposed. I expect your best performance.

Maarja Krusten - 9/26/2004

Why dismiss questions about Iraq as "hoping the U.S. fails?" Some questions focus on whether we should have gone in in the first place, not on whether we should strive to win there. Many people have serious concerns about the diversion of resources to Iraq from Afghanistan and the war on terror, to say nothing of the rising deficit. I assume we all agree that we want to win the war on terror, not to lose ground or encourage more recruits to join the terrorists.

We don't all agree that diverting to Iraq makes winning the war on terror more probable. Many argue that the security situation in Afghanistan might be better, and chances for a longlived democracy stronger there, had the Administration not turned away and focused on Iraq so quickly after the initial fall of the Taliban. We'll have to see who is right in the longterm but flinging a blanket accusation of wanting the U.S. to lose at all those who raise questions makes no sense to me.

Maarja Krusten - 9/26/2004

Thanks for the link to the interesting piece by Juan Cole, I didn't wander over to Cliopatria until today and missed it earlier.

As to what constitutes winning in Iraq, Michael Hirsh provides his view in today's (09/26/04) Washington Post at, well worth reading.

W. Caleb McDaniel - 9/23/2004

I still think it's a false trilemma. Let's say I opposed the application of UN sanctions and believed they caused millions of needless deaths. (Even say I further believed that the sanctions regime was hamstrung by U.S. administrations which both drew the reins too tightly and then refused to be patient with the inspections needed to enforce the sanctions). Let's say I opposed the invasion of Iraq as a false alternative to the broken sanctions regime, and that I believe it has caused and continues to cause needless deaths. Now let's say I believe that if U.S. troops withdraw, there will be more needless deaths because of a reckless and destabilizing occupation. Why should any of this make me want to celebrate?

Perhaps you'll say that at least Saddam isn't causing needless deaths anymore. But as long as other needless deaths are being caused, why should this give me solace? The suggestion that it should rests again on the false dilemma that the only alternative to Saddam's status quo was the sanctions-invasion-occupation cocktail that this and previous administrations mixed.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/23/2004

Mr. Thomas, Who said anything about the United States losing? You really are embarrassing yourself. Your reputation might improve if you didn't post this drivel.

Oscar Chamberlain - 9/23/2004

What makes Bush's goals--as you state them--inherently white, hetero, or male?

Ralph E. Luker - 9/23/2004

Mr. Thomas, You have now used one of your three attack lines. The other two have to do with hippies and feminist/gay/symps. Go think of something new.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/23/2004

When did you stop beating your wife?

Richard Henry Morgan - 9/23/2004

Actually, a trilemma (like Fries') was offered, the third horn (?) ignored. Would deaths go down if the US now withdrew?

W. Caleb McDaniel - 9/23/2004

(And thanks for the kind words about Mode for Caleb, Ralph!)

W. Caleb McDaniel - 9/23/2004

There's a false dilemma here. Yes, UN sanctions caused many civilian Iraqi deaths. Yes, the invasion of Iraq has caused and continues to cause many civilian Iraqi deaths. But war is not the only alternative to ill-devised sanctions, just as ill-devised sanctions are not the only alternative to war. There is no contradiction in opposing both the UN sanctions as they were and the occupation as it is.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/23/2004

I am shameless, David. You have applause and awards? I accept.

David Lion Salmanson - 9/23/2004

What constitutes winning?

Ralph E. Luker - 9/23/2004

Of course, Clayton Cramer gives you no opportunity to applaud his Right thinking on his blog. He has no reader comments. So, you come over here and do your applauding. "I thank Stephen Thomas and the academy for this honor ..."

Richard Henry Morgan - 9/23/2004

What would it be like if America were Iraq? Let's play out the 'multiply by 11' scenario.

Before the invasion of the US, critics of UN sanctions claimed they had caused over 11 million US deaths. Since the death rate of Iraqis is considerably lower now, you would think they would be celebrating -- yet they are strangely silent. Perhaps they believe the death rate in the US would be lower (just how isn't obvious) if foreign troops left now?

The US is currently trying to rebuild relations with the more than 22 nations it invaded in a little over a decade -- invasions that cost the lives of over 4 million USA citizens, and a similar number of citizens from the invaded countries. Americans are still digging up, and identifying, the more than 3 million US citizens killed by their own government. Resettlement into the marshlands of Louisiana is proceeding apace, over 3 million Americans having been driven from their homeland in order to make it safe for French oil exploration.

During the course of sanctions, the US government had managed to skim (with UN help) over $110 billion. The search for this treasure continues, though it is suspected that much of it is funding the terrorism aimed at the current US government, in an effort to reduce the country to a religious dictatorship. In fact, the UN itself got into the act, pocketing over $15 billion in "commissions". In fact, it's looking increasingly like the UN was working hand-in-glove with companies supplying inferior goods to the US during the sanctions period.

The search for WMD's has failed to turn up so far -- apart from a dozen sarin shells. The quick exit of high-placed people and materiel over the Canadian border, just prior to invasion stokes suspicions, though Canada (which shared a dictatorial ideology with the the US) has returned to the US (and the custody of the invaders) the researchers and developers of WMD's. Still missing is the more than 22 tons of biological growth medium the US had prior to invasion. Sure, parts and plans for a dozen enrichment centrifuges were found, and more than 150 undeclared biological laboratories, but as yet no WMD's. And true, about 400 illegal missiles were found, but as yet, no WMD's.

Jonathan Dresner - 9/23/2004

I like Cole's piece: I use that sort of rescaled equivalency myself in class sometimes. I do wish his comments about Christian Militias and roving armed bands didn't ring so true, though.