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Saturday, July 31, 2004

Rally cap

The rally in Harrisburg was fine˝ about 20,000 people were there, far more than they’d expected, and we would have cheered if Kerry had simply stepped on stage and said, “I want to be your President” and then followed up with, “and when I am President, colorless green ideas will sleep furiously!”

As it happened, that’s pretty much the way things went.  Basically, we got to hear in person a version of the speech we’d heard on TV the night before.  This disappointed Janet, so I promised her that during the Q-and-A I would ask Kerry what he thought of Hardt and Negri’s new book, Multitude, and whether he didn’t believe that more traditional Marxist analyses like Braverman’s classic Labor and Monopoly Capital were still perfectly adequate to the challenges facing Bush’s successor.  I know, I know, it’s really a comment more than a question.  Alas, there was no Q-and-A.

And we learned that Kerry fought in Vietnam.  I had not been aware of this.

As Chris Robinson said in the comments to an earlier post, “I’m fast tiring of the ‘Vietnam as a noble testing ground’ revisionism going on throughout the party.” Of course, I understand why we’ve come to this weird pass.  Twenty years ago, Republicans and their friends in the media were going on about how the legacy of Vietnam would show up in electoral politics in the coming years, and they suggested that antiwar Democrats would not be “viable” as national candidates (being weak and soft and long-haired and tree-hugging and all).  Then after they floated their first frat-boy Vietnam-avoider as a national candidate in 1988, it was clear that rich guys who’d opted for the country-club Republican version of draft-dodging would be acceptable to the party.  Then, of course, they went after that draft-dodging, dope-smoking Clinton with a fury.  Then they gave us a rich guy who’d dodged his dodge, coupled with a far-right crony-capitalist who’d had other priorities during the war.  Then came 9/11, and suddenly these two sorry frauds became steel-jawed freedom fighters.  Who can forget the brave words spoken by our President on that day?  “If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come and get me!  I’ll be at home, waiting for the bastard!” Where Democrat girlie-men would have flitted hysterically around the country and then lied about it, President Bush spurned the over-cautious advice of the Secret Service, declaring coolly that he is the “Commander-in-Chief. Whose present command is: Take the President home!” It’s all true, you know.  I saw it on TV.

So there’s really no mystery why the Democrats have leapt into the breach on this one.  And in so doing, they’ve tried to remind Americans that there are plenty of Democratic veterans˝ and that this sorry-fraud administration’s policies on veterans’ affairs have been some sorry-fraud policies.  Nothing wrong with any of that.  Still.  Can we try to remind all these Democrats that Kerry’s outspoken opposition to the war was every bit as heroic as his pulling Jim Rassman out of the water?

The Kerry campaign itself can’t do this, for obvious reasons.  And last night, I remembered there’s a lot more they can’t do.  They can’t exactly level with us about how desperate our economic situation is: Mondale tried that tack in 1984, and Reagan blew him off as this weary, depressing old scold who was harshing everybody’s Morning-in-America buzz.  So there will be no dire warnings about what these deficits mean, or how drastically Bush has shifted the country’s tax code so as to reward inheritance and penalize wages˝ that’s not optimistic!  And there will be no mention of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo˝ that’s not upbeat!  It’s really, really not!  Especially when you look at the pictures!

I don’t think these constraints are entirely self-imposed, either.  I think Kerry would do just fine with progressive wonks, Deaniacs, civil liberties lawyers, antiwar vets, and liberal economists if he said any of the above, and I think he’d lose a couple million other people, some of whom might live in Ohio or Missouri.  Which reminds me: why the hell didn’t we abolish the Electoral College?  We’ve had three and half years now.  Did we forget or something?  Can we do it now, maybe on a weekend when nobody’s watching?

So I’m expecting another three months of “what if” and “hope is on the way” and “we can do better” and flags and tales of heroism in the Mekong Delta.  It’s annoying, I know, and for some of us it’s worse than annoying.  The curious thing is, of course, that amidst this happy, can-do, patriotic pep rally, progressives know we’re really playing defense˝ just trying to stop the most radical-right regime this country has ever known.  But “Elect Kerry to Stop the Bleeding, Then Work To Rebuild the Progressive Base for the Next Twenty Years” actually sucks as a bumper sticker.  “A Stronger America” will have to do for now.

I still want to ask Kerry about Labor and Monopoly Capital, but I promise I’ll wait until next year.

P.S.  While Janet, Jamie and I watched the proceedings with binoculars from a couple hundred yards away, Nick and his friends stood fifty feet from the stage and wound up shaking hands with Teresa Heinz Kerry and Elizabeth Edwards.  Ordinarily I wouldn’t care about such things, but just last week, Nick and his friends drove to Wilkes-Barre to see Ted Leo play in a tiny club, and they wound up meeting Ted Leo himself, taking pictures with him, and helping him load out.  How cool is that?  What a bunch of lousy teenage bums, driving all around the state making friends with alt-rockers and high-fiving the candidates’ wives.  Lousy rotten kids.  When I was your age I was working double shifts at the landfill, separating the medical waste from the toxic waste for fifty cents an hour.  But you’ll hear more about that when I accept the VP nomination in 2020.

And oh yes, that new posting policy.  I have to go into serious book-writing overdrive this month, so for August I won’t be doing daily updates˝ just two-three posts a week or so.  Just so you know.

Posted by Michael on 07/31 at 06:22 AM
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Friday, July 30, 2004

Born in the west wing

When Kerry got to that line-- preceded by the ham-fisted “now, I’m not one to read into things, but guess which wing” and a goofy smile, there was much wincing in my house.  Janet actually left the room and began to pace in the hallway, fearing that this would be one of the worst presidential-nomination acceptance speeches since Ulysses S. Grant stumbled to the podium in 1868 and said, “sure [hiccup], what the hell.”

Really, with all the bloggers covering this campaign, can’t someone provide this guy with better warmup material? 

And those gestures!  I turned to Nick and said, “it’s like he took a correspondence course from Gesture School but didn’t quite understand the illustrations.” Out of sync, distracting, nervous-- and what was with the subtle swaying back and forth?

So after half an hour of truly wonderful setups from Alexandra and Vanessa, from Jim Rassmann, and most of all from Max Cleland, we were having ourselves an uneasy five or six minutes, to say the least.  And then:

As President, I will restore trust and credibility to the White House.

The first zinger of the night!  And what’s Bush gonna do, run on the Onion headline, “Bush 2004 Campaign Pledges To Restore Honor And Dignity To White House”?

And then:

I will be a commander-in-chief who will never mislead us into war. I will have a vice president who will not conduct secret meetings with polluters to rewrite our environmental laws. I will have a Secretary of Defense who will listen to the best advice of our military leaders. And I will appoint an Attorney General who actually upholds the Constitution of the United States.

Much cheering.  And also:

And it is time for those who talk about family values to start valuing families.  You don’t value families by kicking kids out of after school programs and taking cops off our streets, so that Enron can get another tax break. . . .  You don’t value families if you force them to take up a collection to buy body armor for a son or daughter in the service, if you deny veterans health care, or if you tell middle class families to wait for a tax cut, so that the wealthiest among us can get even more.

We like it when people mention Enron.  Nice bit about the body armor, too.

And we were thoroughly surprised to hear the Saudi royal family called out by name-- well, Kerry lost any chance at their support right there, I guess.  And he picked up the red/blue thing from Obama, a few hints of economic populism from Edwards, and an unexpectedly effective “all-in-the-same-boat” closing.  All in all, pretty good stuff-- and a terrific recovery from those first five or six minutes.  (Whew.)

However:  it was not a home run.  Nor was it a touchdown, a three-pointer, a shorthanded goal, a try, or a perfect 10.  Kerry did not get a hole in one, he did not google a six, and he did not do that thing in curling where someone does something good in curling.  In fact, the speech wasn’t anything like a sporting event, so I don’t know what all these other commentators are talking about.  I think they should get out more and see some actual sports.

I don’t know what Matt Yglesias is talking about either.  Usually this kid’s very bright, but maybe he isn’t familiar with this here genre yet.  You don’t lay out the ten-point plan for salvaging Iraq in an acceptance speech.  You don’t explain the details of what will have to be an exceptionally complex fiscal policy (for the reasons Brad DeLong described a few days ago) in an acceptance speech.  You just try, usually in pretty general terms, to convince people to trust you, to see you as President, and-- in some cases-- to care enough to get out and work for you.

Well, he did the job in this house:  we’re off to Harrisburg to help welcome the Kerry-Edwards team to Pennsylvania.  I’ll be back tonight with a report from the rally (to make up for the fact that I was too damn stupid to apply for press credentials and try to get to the convention) and a new posting policy for August.

Posted by Michael on 07/30 at 07:47 AM
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Thursday, July 29, 2004

What the DNC is really all about

Yes, yes, unity.  Blah, blah, optimism.  Yadda yadda, hope.  Never mind all that-- the real objective of the Democratic National Convention is to make wingnuts’ heads explode.  This is not a trivial matter-- every wingnut whose head explodes between now and November is a wingnut who won’t be casting a vote.

The good people at townhall.com and worldnetdaily.com (sorry, no links to these-- we don’t want to be opening any mystic portals to Ben Shapiro or Suzanne Fields on this blog) are absolutely furious that the Democrats have given them so little to be furious about, which, they note, just shows you how devious Democrats are!  (Yep, they got that right-- we were hoping for paralyzing paroxysms of right-wing rage at having nothing to rage about, followed by the distinctive sounds of wingnut-skulls-a-poppin’.) They’re also furious at USA Today for spiking Ann Coulter’s column on Monday, when, of course, they should be thanking that branch of the SCLM for sparing them the embarrassment of having the ravings of an incoherent, dessicated harridan represent them in the hotels and airports of the nation.  Here are the first few grafs of Coulter’s convention coverage, along with the editorial remarks (and remember, humaneventsonline.com-- sorry, no link-- ran this in the belief that it justifies the right’s complaints about the media):

Here at the Spawn of Satan convention in Boston, conservatives are deploying a series of covert signals to identify one another, much like gay men do. My allies are the ones wearing crosses or American flags. The people sporting shirts emblazoned with the “F-word” are my opponents. Also, as always, the pretty girls and cops are on my side, most of them barely able to conceal their eye-rolling.

USA Today: EYE-ROLLING? AT WHAT?

Democrats are constantly suing and slandering police as violent, fascist racists—with the exception of Boston’s police, who’ll be lauded as national heroes right up until the Democrats pack up and leave town on Friday, whereupon they’ll revert to their natural state of being fascist, racist pigs.

USA Today: WHAT DEMOCRATS SUE THE POLICE? BUT THEY WON’T ACTUALLY REVERT TO BEING FASCIST PIGS, DON’T YOU MEAN THE DEMS WILL THINK THEY HAVE REVERTED TO BEING FASCIST PIGS?

A speaker at the Democratic National Convention this year, Al Sharpton, accused white police officers of raping and defacing Tawana Brawley in 1987, lunatic charges that eventually led to a defamation lawsuit against Sharpton and even more eventually, to Sharpton paying a jury award to the defamed plaintiff Steve Pagones. So it’s a real mystery why cops wouldn’t like Democrats.

USA Today: IS THAT LAST SENTENCE SARCASTIC? IF SO, YOU SURE LOST ME.

Apparently, the liberals at USA Today just didn’t get the humor in Coulter’s idea of mangling the syntax in the second graf and then using the ha-ha double-or-triple-twist punch line of the third to undermine the ha-ha mangled-syntax punch line of the second.  But Ann’s Fans get it:  Democrats only pretend to like cops but really think they’re violent fascist pigs and then sue them and then have to pay them money, so it’s a mystery why cops don’t like Democrats!  Spawn of Satan!  Humorless Spawn of Satan! 

Whew.  But I’m not here to talk about poor, pickled Ann.  I’m here to talk about what happens to a hapless nationally-syndicated wingnut who writes about the Democratic National Convention and doesn’t have the good fortune to be screened by a competent editor.

I don’t usually devote my precious time and energy to Cal Thomas, but I couldn’t avoid him today:  his scary pasty face-- and his column-- were in my hometown paper.  And here’s what he’s saying about what he calls the Democrats’ “convention cover-up”:

The Democratic National Convention, designed for television with so many flat-screen TVs in use that it looks like Circuit City on steroids,

Good one!  Damn those Democrats and those flat-screen TVs and the rampant steroid use against which the President has spoken so eloquently.

is trying to steal Ronald Reagan’s optimism.

Um, no.  Ronald Reagan does not actually own the rights to optimism.  Even Ronald Reagan’s estate does not own the rights to optimism.  What we’re trying to steal is Reagan’s “mojo” by travelling back in time to 1980 and . . . but of course I don’t want to give away the details.

The “no Bush bashing” and the ban on talk about “gay marriage” messages went out early and are being (almost) enforced. There are references to President Bush’s “dishonesty” and laments about the federal deficit, which never seemed to bother big-spending Democrats when they controlled the checkbook.

Oops!  It’s blue-pencil time.  WHICH DEMOCRATS SPENT BIG?  THE ONES WHO WERE SUING THE POLICE? IS THAT LAST SENTENCE SARCASTIC?  BUT DIDN’T THE DEMOCRATS LEAVE US WITH A SERIES OF BALANCED BUDGETS THAT THE REPUBLICANS THEN USED AS THE PRETEXT FOR TAX CUTS THAT HAVE NOW TURNED A PROJECTED $5.8 TRILLION SURPLUS INTO A PROJECTED $5 TRILLION DEFICIT?

See, Cal didn’t pay much attention to the budget numbers in the last few years of the Clinton Administration.  He was distracted by a young woman.  Which brings us to matters of public morality:

Former President Bill Clinton, who wowed the delegates and caused most of the big media to swoon, was at his best (worst?) as he spun his new rich-guy image and non-military service.  Clinton wants to sell the idea that draft dodging and enlisting are morally equivalent.

Blue pencil again.  DID CLINTON SAY THIS?  AND SHOULD YOU REALLY BE TALKING ABOUT SERVICE RECORDS WITH BUSH AND CHENEY AT THE TOP OF ONE TICKET AND KERRY AT THE TOP OF THE OTHER?

But this is tricky stuff, this draft dodging and enlisting, and Democrats should probably say something between now and November to clarify this moral murk.  After all, draft dodging and enlisting are not morally equivalent!  And we don’t want any of that nasty postmodern relativism around here.  So let’s try to sketch out the relevant moral positions involved:

Serving country in armed forces:  good.
Not fighting in war you oppose:  also good.
Fighting in war you oppose:  complex.
Serving country in armed forces and then fighting to end war you oppose:  doubleplus good.
Not fighting in war you support:  deeply hypocritical.
Not fighting in war you support and then blaming black people for not letting you serve (known to ethicists as “the DeLay conundrum"):  hypocrisy so deep it cannot be plumbed by known moral instruments.
Having “other priorities” during war you support:  vacuous.
Enlisting in National Guard:  good.
Using one’s father’s connections to jump the line waiting to enlist in National Guard, in order to avoid service in Vietnam:  bad, but widely practiced and considered merely venial in some cultures.
Using one’s father’s connections etc. and then not fulfilling obligations to National Guard after all:  unambiguously bad.
Using one’s father’s connections etc., not fulfilling obligations etc., then serving as commander-in-chief, waging war under false pretenses, and extending reservists’ terms of service in war while cutting veterans’ benefits:  kind of like being on Tom DeLay’s moral level, only worse.

OK, that should clear things up.

Now, back to Cal and his unedited, “rough cut” expos╚ of the convention cover-up.  What made him write such horribly self-undermining things about budgets and draft dodgers?  The person of Bill Clinton, that’s what.  And that’s why we need Clinton on the campaign trail this fall:  as this week’s convention demonstrates, a publicly visible Bill Clinton, talking pleasantly and self-deprecatingly about his tax cut and John Kerry’s courage, will cause roughly 3.6 million wingnuts’ heads to explode by November 2 (margin of error plus or minus 3 percent).  In Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Florida, that could make all the difference.

Kerry-Edwards:  for a stronger America.
Clinton-Obama:  for wingnut-skulls-a-poppin’.

Posted by Michael on 07/29 at 07:13 AM
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Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Life as other people know it

Jeanne d’Arc brings my attention (and yours) to this Barbara Ehrenreich op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times, and to this remarkable, profoundly moving reply by Rivka over at Respectful of Otters.  (And don’t forget to read the extensive and often provocative comments that follow both posts.) I’m fascinated and gratified, for obvious reasons, by the fact that this discussion of abortion˝ and the standards of honesty and complexity established by Jeanne and Rivka˝ foregrounds the question of fetuses with disabilities; it’s a question to which I devoted the second chapter of Life As We Know It, but it’s fresh on my mind because I just finished copyediting the page proofs of an essay that will appear this fall in a book titled Genetics, Disability, and Deafness, edited by John Vickrey Van Cleve and published by Gallaudet University Press.

I won’t rehearse (again) all the deliberation that went into my family’s decisions about prenatal screening, disability, and abortion back in 1991 when Janet was pregnant with Jamie, but I’ll excerpt two brief passages from this essay, which tries to establish “democratic deliberation” as the metastandard for determining what’s often called “the ethics of selective abortion” with regard to fetuses with disabilities.

[Advances in genomics] present a challenge especially to people like me, who have thus far combined political support for reproductive rights, a defense of technologies of prenatal screening, a critique of cost-benefit analyses of human worth, a stringent skepticism about the workings of our privatized and deeply inegalitarian insurance and health care system, and, last but not least, a defense of a aggressive social welfare state that provides needs-based benefits to children and adults with disabilities.  I believe that the fetus does not have a moral status equivalent to that of a child unless and until it is viable outside the womb, and I support the right of prospective parents to terminate pregnancies even for reasons that I would regard as trivial or wrongheaded.  Rayna Rapp’s wonderful book, Testing Women, Testing the Fetus is replete with accounts of such parents, including the one who told Rapp that “having a ‘tard, that’s a bummer for life” or the one who insisted that if the baby “can’t grow up to have a shot at becoming the president, we don’t want him"˝ in regard to a fetus with Klinefelter’s syndrome, on the basis of whose diagnosis the parents terminated the pregnancy.  [ASIDE:  some of you may not realize just how thoroughly wrongheaded this particular decision is.  Check the comments to Rivka’s post, one of which was submitted by a man with Klinefelter’s syndrome.] I remain unpersuaded that there are transcendent moral virtues to be advanced by compelling such parents to bear children with disabilities.  For that reason I have insisted that it is more consistent with the principles of democracy for people like me to persuade prospective parents and genetics counselors not to think of amniocentesis as part of a search-and-destroy mission, and to persuade them that many people with disabilities, even those disabilities detectable in utero (like Down syndrome), are capable of living lives that not only bring joy and wonder to those around them but are fulfilling and fascinating to the people living them as well.  But I will not argue that some forms of childbirth should be made mandatory, nor will I demand that prospective parents be barred from obtaining genetic information about the fetus if they desire such information. . . .

[Then there’s a discussion of “the Gattaca scenario” and the President’s Council on Bioethics 2003 report, Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry and a couple of other things, and then the essay concludes:]

I draw from these recent debates two political paradoxes.  The first is this:  many of the people who supported the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 were, like White House counsel C. Boyden Gray, diehard antistatist conservatives, deeply opposed to gender-equity initiatives and race-based affirmative action and civil rights laws generally.  The reason that the ADA enjoyed such bipartisan support, however, was that its conservative and libertarian advocates championed it as a law that would free people with disabilities from dependence on the state.  For them, the purpose of this public law was to return individuals with disabilities to the realm of the private.  The second paradox is this: as our failure to pass genetic antidiscrimination laws indicates, there is no realm of the private.  Disability is always and everywhere a public issue, a matter for public policy.  I want to suggest, then, that one way to think about disability, democracy, and genetics is to imagine that the public is not public enough and the private is not private enough.  Those of us who support reproductive rights and a woman’s right to prenatal testing and therapeutic but not reproductive cloning and the egalitarian provisions of the welfare state need to make the argument that intimate decisions about childbearing and care for people with disabilities be protected from state coercion yet supported by the stateÝs apparatus of social welfare; at the same time we need to make the argument that the stateÝs apparatus of social welfare should seek to enhance the independence of people with disabilities from the state, but in order to do so must recognize the very real dependencies associated with some disabilities, and must expand and enhance the roles of state-funded dependency workers.  These are matters to be determined by democratic deliberation, a deliberation that must include the voices of people with disabilities and dependency workers.

Posted by Michael on 07/27 at 04:57 AM
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The longer answer

In the comments section of this site, a reader recently asked if I’ve revisited my (sometimes stringent) criticisms of intellectuals who opposed the war in Afghanistan in 2001.  I gave him a short (300-word) answer in comments, and I said that “I would now follow up with a really angry essay in which I say that however much credibility the left lost because of Chomsky’s claims that we’d engaged in ‘silent genocide’ in Afghanistan, we lost far, far more because of the liberal hawks’ march to Baghdad-- oops, I mean the liberal hawks’ enthusiasm for having other people march to Baghdad.” But I inexplicably neglected to mention that I’ve since published an essay like that, in the most recent issue of the American Quarterly.  The essay, “The Loyalties of American Studies,” is available online for those of you with access to Project MUSE, but for everyone else, the relevant excerpt reads as follows.  (The context has to do with anti-imperialism in American studies, and represents my attempt to state more fairly and carefully my disagreements with intellectuals to my left.)

In the years since September 11, as the Cold War has been superseded by a much vaguer and more nebulous war on “terror,” it has become surprisingly difficult to specify the contours of U.S. anti-imperialism. Opposition to the Bush-Ashcroft domestic agenda with regard to civil liberties, from the USA-Patriot Act to Guantanamo, seems to be nearly universal among liberal, progressive, and leftist scholars in all fields. With regard to American affairs abroad, however, there is no similarly near-universal agreement about what constitutes legitimate or productive opposition to U.S. neoimperialism. To put this another way, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have paradoxically confused the terms of anti-imperialism in the United States. On the one hand, the Bush administration has conducted itself arrogantly and appallingly in world affairs, not least in war, but, on the other hand, not every one of Bush’s opponents abroad deserves the support (even the “critical” support) of U.S. anti-imperialists.

To say this is to provoke serious debate among anti-imperialists on the American left, and perhaps among many American studies scholars as well—which is, of course, what I mean to do. Even among American progressives who, with varying degrees of reluctance or enthusiasm, supported U.S.-led wars in Kosovo and Afghanistan (many of whom, like myself, are willing to concede that both wars were badly conducted on moral and/or tactical grounds and therefore more easily justified in theory than in practice), there is no support for the neoconservative and explicitly imperialist Project for the New American Century (PNAC). (PNAC, formed in 1997 and chaired by second-generation neoconservative intellectual William Kristol, is dedicated to the proposition “that American leadership is good both for America and for the world; that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle; and that too few political leaders today are making the case for global leadership.") Rather, such progressives disagree with intellectuals to their left about what constitutes an “imperialist” war. My own grounds for supporting a military rather than a police/intelligence response in Afghanistan were that the attacks of September 11 demonstrated that Al Qaeda and the Taliban, as its ally and state sponsor, had attained a level of global reach that made it imperative that the Taliban be overthrown and its terror training camps destroyed. (Since then, the Al Qaeda attacks in Bali in 2002 and in Madrid in 2004 have demonstrated that the removal of the Taliban was, by itself, not a sufficient means of opposing the spread of Al Qaeda’s global reach and that exclusively military responses to terrorism are ineffective and possibly counterproductive.  As to the oft-rehearsed argument that the attacks of September 11 constituted “blowback” for American policies in the Middle East or during the Cold War with regard to the United States’ support for the Afghan mujahideen two decades ago, some populations around the globe have good reason to consider the United States their enemy on the basis of past and present U.S. policy, and some of them would find ready sympathizers within the United States, also for good reason. But, by any standard I can credit, Al Qaeda is not one of them.) I acknowledge that for some critics the overthrow of the Taliban was another exercise in American imperialism and therefore indefensible. Additionally, many critics of the war in Afghanistan have argued that the Taliban have not in fact been routed and are regrouping. But it appears to me that the cogency of the second argument undermines the credibility of the first. What the United States can plausibly be charged with in Afghanistan is not imperialism, but a long-standing pattern of criminal negligence: far from propping up a client state of the empire in Afghanistan, we have, by turning to invade Iraq in 2003, allowed Afghanistan to drift back into state failure—precisely the condition that made possible the emergence of the Taliban in the mid-1990s and the partial Talibanization of Pakistan before 2001 as well. A similar charge of criminal negligence can be made with regard to our more recent conduct in Liberia, whose pleas for U.S. intervention after the fall of Charles Taylor confounded both the Bush regime, bent on invading Iraq, and hard-left anti-imperialists, bent on construing all such interventions as illegitimate.

I am well aware that there are those critics for whom no use of U.S. power can be considered legitimate so long as the U.S. is a global hegemon. Such critics insist there is no way to remain loyal to the anti-imperialist traditions of American studies while supporting a military operation in Afghanistan that killed some thousands of innocent civilians and extended the United States’ global reach more deeply into Central Asia (entwining us further with unsavory regimes in Pakistan and Uzbekistan in the name of promoting “freedom"). But serious anti-imperialists must, I think, draw a clear line between a legitimate struggle against Al Qaeda and an illegitimate project of remaking the Arab world by force. Those of us who supported the overthrow of the Taliban did not thereby commit ourselves to the idea that the U.S. can act wherever, whenever, and however it wishes; nor did we commit ourselves to a course of action in which the primary response to Al Qaeda is always and everywhere a military response. On the contrary, after the Taliban were overthrown, the best course of action for the U.S. would have been to pursue international police and intelligence action against Al Qaeda; war in Iraq constituted one of the worst possible courses of action. This position is not inconsistent with condemning the U.S. bombing of the wedding party in Kakrak in July 2002—an atrocity even if (again, if) unintended—and not inconsistent with arguing that the Bush/Cheney program in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban has proceeded as if it were designed to produce a resurgence of Al Qaeda in that part of the world, and a resurgence of the Taliban itself in Afghanistan. On the contrary, it is merely to say that the fight against Al Qaeda is a legitimate fight, pursued by the Bush administration in a dangerously incompetent and counterproductive manner.

The war in Iraq, by contrast, represents a decisive and perhaps irreversible step in U.S. foreign policy: over that threshold, we are explicitly engaged in a preemptive, imperialist, and potentially neocolonialist enterprise, even if, like Paul Wolfowitz or Robert Kaplan, one sincerely believes that we are doing it for the good of the planet. To oppose the neoconservative program, as many liberals did, by suggesting that Iraq was a distraction from Al Qaeda and Afghanistan was to miss the point. For Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and the PNAC crew, it was the other way around: for them, after September 11, Afghanistan was a distraction from the redrawing of the Middle East beginning with Iraq. Indeed, for PNAC, Al Qaeda itself was not even so much a pretext as a distraction. I want to stress this point, not least because it indicates which war was an imperialist war. Iraq was the priority from the very start, as is made clear by the 1998 PNAC letter to President Clinton calling for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein; for PNAC, Afghanistan was and is a sideshow.

Posted by Michael on 07/27 at 04:42 AM
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Saturday, July 24, 2004

Now, where would he have gotten that idea?

Atrios has a fine, angry post on Richard Cohen’s mea culpa in yesterday’s Washington Post.  Curiously, his very next post is on how the film Shattered Glass turns out to be “a complete apologia for TNR.”

OK, so let’s connect these seemingly unrelated points.  How could a nice, sensible Washington liberal like Cohen get the idea that we had to take out Saddam because of the anthrax attacks?

Cohen says:

Anthrax played a role in my decision to support the Bush administration’s desire to take out Saddam Hussein. I linked him to anthrax, which I linked to Sept. 11. I was not going to stand by and simply wait for another attack—more attacks. I was going to go to the source, Hussein, and get him before he could get us. As time went on, I became more and more questioning, but I had a hard time backing down from my initial whoop and holler for war.

Who might have frightened him so badly that he was willing to support a war-- not on the grounds that its brutal, fascist dictator should be removed for horrific violations of human rights, but on the grounds that its brutal, fascist dictator had hit us with anthrax, or maybe had the capacity to, or maybe just had the desire to?

Why, The New Republic, that’s who. 

Now, let’s give Atrios credit (not that he needs it from this humble blog!) for noting that Richard Cohen was editorializing for war in Iraq as early as November 30, 2001.  But let’s also remember that the doughty editors of TNR had led the charge to Baghdad a month earlier, in their ludicrous October 29 editorial calling us to “weaponize our courage” and take out that anthrax-producing Saddam.  (Weaponize!  get it?  like anthrax!  Saddam has weaponized his anthrax, and so shall we weaponize our courage!)

This isn’t hindsight on my part, folks-- I thought that editorial was ludicrous the day I read it, and I said so in this essay, which I wrote in January 2002.  (Here’s the relevant clip from that essay if you don’t want to read the whole 4000-word thing:  “In his bunker in Baghdad, a shaken Saddam Hussein looks up from his copy of TNR: ‘Nothing would please me more than to fight American armed forces in the daughter of the mother of all battles-- but I cannot face the fearsome senior editors of this weekly magazine.’")

So if there’s any apologizing to be done on the part of people who ginned up that there anthrax hysteria, I’d start with Stephen Glass’s former employers, myself.

Kudos to Cohen for making exactly half this point in his column:

My point is that we were panicked. Yet that panic never gets mentioned. Last month the New Republic published a “special issue” in which a bevy of very good writers wondered whether they had been wrong to support the war in Iraq. Most of them admitted to having erred about this or that detail or in failing to appreciate how badly George Bush would administer the war and the occupation. But none confessed to being seized by the zeitgeist. I read the magazine cover to cover and unless I somehow missed it, the word anthrax never appeared. Imagine! Not once! Not a single one of these writers admitted to panicking over anthrax.

To finish the point Cohen didn’t quite make, go back and look for the word “anthrax” in TNR from, say, September to December 2001.  Don’t worry-- you’ll find it!  But you can’t look online-- for some reason, the magazine’s archives don’t go back that far.  Ask a friendly public librarian for help.

Posted by Michael on 07/24 at 04:12 AM
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