Meta Debating Iraq with Kurt Andersen, Part II

Posted on July 4, 2007. Filed under: Humor, Iraq, Jokes, Main Stream Media, News, Politics |

The Great Pseudo-Debate
Meta-Debating the Iraq War with Kurt Andersen, Part I

I want to be clear that I’m focusing on Andersen’s piece because I care about this issue and because I share many of the same frustrations as he does about Iraq. This issue definitely needs to be debated. In short, his piece was a catalyst for me to write mine.

So what is bothering Andersen? If I understand him correctly it’s that the debate the presidential candidates are having about Iraq is, in his words, fake. The fake debate is “all about the comparatively minor, near-term details of the American military withdrawal-cum-redeployment.” The real debate, in his mind, begin when we all acknowledge that we are stuck in Iraq for many years.

Leaving aside what I think about that, it’s worth pointing out that the candidates debate as they do because of the way the party politics works in this country. At this stage of the presidential campaign, candidates pander to the most extreme members of their party. For the Democrats, these are the folks who would like to raise our taxes to the moon and lead us to nirvana. Those who oppose them will be sent to a penal colony where they will be taught to love and share. For the Republicans, these are the folks who want to crucifix and a camera over everyone’s four-poster. They want to live in a nation of door-to-door bible salesmen (“I’d like to talk to you a little about the Lord. [insert uncomfortably long pause] Is this a good time?”) and appoint Jesus as Secretary of Defense. If the candidates decide to ignore these folks, they won’t get nominated.

During the last presidential campaign, the Democratic Party choose Kerry when the “base” really wanted Howard Dean. Heroically but hilariously they choose a man who could pull off the amazing stunt of telling everyone exactly what they wanted to hear. Whereas Dean was blunt about his opposition to the war, Kerry was “complicated.” He was able to please the far left by talking tough about Bush’s management of war without committing himself to ending the war. It seemed to satisfy everyone in the tent, and it almost worked. In the end though, Kerry tripped himself up in his own rhetorical calisthenics (“I was for the war before he was against it”).

So the far left of the party held their noses and nominated Kerry, even though they were wildly against his politics. He was rich. He was a suit. He was an aristocrat. They had to keep from laughing when they saw him, dressed in a blue sport jacket, chatting up Iowan farmers in a diner about the price of hogs or seeds or manure. They wanted Dean, and if they couldn’t have him they would have happily exhumed Che’s body instead. They had to muzzle themselves and ask others to restrain them during Kerry’s acceptance speech. It was a selfless sacrifice for the Party, of course. The idea was to pick a candidate who could potentially be palatable to enough swing voters to take the White House. They didn’t like Kerry’s politics, but they thought he could win. Instead, the Democrats lost the election, and got two big conservatives appointed to the Supreme Court.

In this election cycle, abortion is basically off the table–a decided negative for the Democrats. It was a great wedge issue for them. With that alone, they captured the politically active “suburban soccer mom” market. Now the fate of a federally protected right to an abortion is in the hands of the Supreme Court–and it will probably be overturned. After that, the issue goes back to the states, where it will remain a local issue for years to come. But the Democrats still have the War. And it’s not just the War–it’s all the little villains who can be trotted out. Dick Cheney will have a staring role. And they’ll be global warming talk a plenty. Those are their aces in the hole, so to speak. Aren’t you excited?

The Republican side was far simpler. In George W. Bush, the far right got someone who truly believed in what they stood for, who wasn’t pandering to them, and if they had to hold their noses about some of Bush’s big government spending plans like prescription drug coverage and overhauling Social Security (another “entitlement!”) or the fact that he was candy-ass on immigration, they were willing to split the difference. They love him on stem cells, even if no one understands what the fuss is all about (“You see these cells over here? Take ’em. These cells you may not touch. Why? Because they come from over here, that’s why!”)

If this is bothering Andersen, I say just wait until the real campaign gets going.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Meta Debating Iraq With Kurt Andersen

Posted on July 2, 2007. Filed under: Iraq, Main Stream Media, Politics |


“The Great Pseudo-Debate,” by New York Magazine’s “Imperial City” columnist Kurt Andersen, is a good example of meta debating. In Andersen’s view, no one is having an intellectually honest debate about the future of U.S. involvement in Iraq because the Bush Administration won’t own up to its failures and the Democratic presidential candidates are pandering to unworkable options like total withdrawal. As for what got us into the war in the first place, Andersen believes that “It was our weakness for childlike, black-and-white explanation that got us into the Iraq debacle.” Nothing could be further from the truth. And I would argue we are having a very healthy debate on Iraq in the country, but Andersen doesn’t like what he’s hearing. Picture a man sitting in a room with the music on full-blast, but becase it’s so loud it’s almost inaudible. If I understand his article correctly, that’s a good discription of Andersen.

This nation has a history with Iraq that dates back long before George W. Bush became president. Our nation supported Iraq during it’s war with Iran. The first Bush Administration invaded Iraq when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The U.S. believed that Iraq had biological weapons because allegedly the U.S. sold them to Iraq. The United States also believed that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program. Israel bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981. For years after the first invasion of Iraq, the U.N. conducted inspections to make sure that Saddam Hussein did not retain any WMD. These inspections became a pathetic game of cat-and-mouse that made a joke of the whole thing. Iraq was placed under a strict set of economic sanctions which became a joke over the next many years, as evidenced by the giant U.N. scandal. On top of all that, I believe the U.S. congress passed a resolution making it explicit U.S. policy to undermine Hussein’s regime and to fund opposition groups outside Iraq to overthrow Saddam. Apparently none of this is particularly important to Andersen.

The future was clear. The sanctions were going to end because the apparatus used to enforce them was corrupt. The inspections were going to end because Saddam would not cooperate. The scene was set for an arms race between dictatorships in the Middle East: Iraq vs Iran. After 9/11, the reality dawned on many people that the U.S. needed a strategy that accounted for the need to prevent attacks not just on U.S. interests abroad, but also at home. The argument was made (based on half-baked intelligence) that Iraq had attempted to restart its nuclear program. If you believe George Tenet, then the problem was how the intelligence was used, not the intelligence itself. At any rate, the U.S. congress debated the question of whether to stick with the U.N. program of containing Iraq or to use military force. It voted to support Bush’s eventual use of military force. Sen. John Kerry voted for it. Sen. John Edwards voted for it. Sen. Hillary Clinton voted for it. Barak Obama didn’t have to vote at all. How any of this qualifies as “childlike” is beyond me.

There is currently no indigenous counter-weight to Iran in the Middle East. The U.S., with its troops in Iraq, is the only force preventing Iran’s domination of the region. If the U.S. has learned anything from the last many years it’s that “regime change” does not happen from within very often. Dictators have made a science out of staying in power.

The road to the second Iraq invasion was a long time in coming.

Meta Debating Iraq with Kurt Andersen, Part II

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Radio Open Source to Close

Posted on June 27, 2007. Filed under: Art, News, Open Source, Politics, Software, Technology |

I first started listening to Christopher Lydon when he hosted a show on NPR in Boston called “The Connection.” I was living in Massachusetts at the time. This was back in the late 90s, before the tech bubble burst. His show was so intelligent and informative that I became a regular listener. After I left New England, I was chagrined to find that his show was not nationally available. But he soon moved on to other things.

What made “The Connection” so great? I think it was Lydon’s openness to new ideas, the great range of his intellectual curiosity, and his ability to listen–not just to his guests–but to everyone. According to my recollection, at least half of each show was reserved for listeners to call in. Lydon demonstrated the power and the joy of listening–and this is still his greatest gift.

I had similar hopes for “Radio Open Source,” Lydon’s current project. The idea behind OS was to allow listeners to contribute to the development of show topics using the Internet. The web site also encouraged listeners to comment on shows. “Radio Open Source” took the format of “The Connection” to the next level of user participation. In that sense, “Radio Open Source” had far more potential than “The Connection.”

The shows I downloaded were as interesting as they were informative. Unfortunately, “Radio Open Source” is shutting down. I hope it gets new funding and it returns this fall. Until then I will pick up the mantle, raise my escutcheon against the fray, unsheath my rapier, carry the standard, beat the bongos…well, let’s not get carried away.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

More Wikileaks…

Posted on June 26, 2007. Filed under: Humor, Jokes, News, Politics |

Since nothing much has been happening over at Wikileaks, I thought that they might want to check out “The Family Jewels,” the fabulous treasure trove of documents that the CIA released this week. I checked them out. According to my understanding, there have been a lot of people who have waited years to get their hands on them.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Big Trouble Ahead for Fatah

Posted on June 26, 2007. Filed under: Foreign Policy, News, Politics |

If Hamas is locked out of governing, I predict they will become more radical. If a Palestinian State is created, they will attempt to undermine it with suicide bombings–not in Israel–but in Palestine. It will be tragic, but Hamas is not going to lie down and roll over so easily. A hint of what is to come can be inferred from the words of Ismail Haniyeh, the former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, as reported here and from Al-Qaeda.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Magnum @ 60: Paolo Pellegrin at CVZ

Posted on June 23, 2007. Filed under: Art, News, Night Life, Photography, Politics |

Paolo Pellegrin’s photographs of last summer’s war in Lebanon went on display last night at the CVZ Contemporary in New York City. Pellegrin is a member of the elite photography collective Magnum, which is sponsoring a month-long series of exhibitions celebrating its sixtieth anniversary.

Seeing the work in person is an experience (and I’d recommend taking the elevator over tramping up the five steep flights of stairs). It’s harder to dismiss. On the web, we can give photos a second or two of attention and then click–it’s gone forever. In person, a lasting impression remains in one’s memory. My impression was that I was looking at the work of a great photographer with a lot of guts. I tried to to put myself in his shoes, although I don’t think that’s what photojournalists intend their work to do. If it’s fair to generalize, then presumably they want their subjects to be the focus of attention, not themselves. But I can’t help it. I’m compelled to do both. If I am to look at photographs, then I will do so with the awareness that I’m viewing the world through the eyes of another person.

Photographs like Pellegrin’s can lead writers and viewers into areas where language ceases to make sense. For example, Pellegrin’s work is not merely a set of documents–they are works of art. But in what sense can they be said to be beautiful? Body parts? Grief-stricken people? Powerless victims caught in global war between politicians?

This could meander off into a rant about the cruelty of using air power in areas heavily populated with civilians. Large numbers of civilians are always killed in these campaigns. In WWII, my understanding is that very often large numbers of civilian deaths were part of the strategy. Punish the nation. Break their will to fight. Destroy their ability to make munitions. In the case of Lebanon, it seems that Hezbollah made its home among civilians perhaps in order to use them as human shields. I don’t know. It didn’t work.

My wife asked me if I thought that the exhibition would create anti Israel feelings, and I said that it was unlikely to change anyone’s views. People who are anti Israel have whole host of reasons for it already. Anyone who has looked into the matter has seen the photos of body parts and corpses left over when a bus explodes carrying unarmed Israelis. Not so curiously, the burnt body parts of both groups look the same. But there was one photo that may have showed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, smiling amid the ruins of southern Lebanon–and his gaze seemed demonic. If it was him, what on earth was he smiling about?

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Grow Up Christopher Hitchens

Posted on June 18, 2007. Filed under: Books, Foreign Policy, Open Source, Politics |

Christopher Hitchens is a skillful debater and I think he can sell books. When I listened to him speak on Open Source, an online radio show hosted by Christopher Lydon, I could not help by being impressed that he actually got on the radio to debate this pointless topic.

Now, I want to admit right away that I have not read his new book.

Humans inherited religion a long time ago and it’s pointless to pretend that we can get away from it. Our best bet is to respect others whose beliefs are different from our own. It’s not clear to me what Hitchens envisions as a replacement for our human need to believe in something, but I sure hope it’s not reason or philosophy. If you want some recent evidence of the stupidity of reason, look no further than Iraq, where the U.S. invaded on the basis of “intelligence” and “evidence” of WMD. It’s almost as if Hitchens still has not accepted the fact that the world we live in (and I exclude no corner of globe) is fundamentally (although not exclusively) irrational and uncivilized. When Hitchens says that he hopes humans “grow out of religion,” I just have to smile. The world is stuck with your religion (whatever it is); it’s stuck with mine; it’s stuck with Dick’s religion and Jane’s religion; it’s stuck with religions with one God; it’s stuck with religions with hundreds of Gods. There’s nothing to grow out of. This is it.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )

Smart Ass

Posted on June 11, 2007. Filed under: Humor, News, Politics |

I read with relief that Norman Finklestein was denied tenure at DePaul University recently. The Jerusalem Post quoted his reaction from the Chicago Sun-Times:

“They can deny me tenure, deny me the right to teach. But they will never stop me from saying what I believe.”

Bravo. And if, by chance, anyone does attempt to deny Professor Finklestein his right to free speech, he might contact Alan Dershowitz, a prominent law professor in Cambridge, Mass.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

One Last Question for Peter Pace…

Posted on June 9, 2007. Filed under: Humor, Jokes, Politics |

It’s too bad that General Pace will retire before he clarifies a point which has been in my mind ever since he made his remark about gay sex. Here is his remark, as quoted in the Washington Blade:

“I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts,” he said. “I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way.”

Fair enough. But what if the homosexual acts occur between three or more people? What if the acts occur between….

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Democratic Strategy and the Iraq War

Posted on June 6, 2007. Filed under: Politics |

The Democratic congressional victory in 2006 demonstrated, according to many pundits, that the Iraq war was unpopular. They have extrapolated from this assertion that the public wants the war to end. And so, they have introduced legislation to restrict funding for the Iraq war–a sort of half-a-loaf approach to ending funding for the war altogether.

Their zeal can be taken too far. I’d like to find out how people respond to the question “Where would you rather fight Al Qaeda? In the United States or in Iraq?” or “Where would you rather the war on terror be faught: here or there?” Anyone want to guess what the answer would be? How about unanimous for over there.

The Democratic candidates will backpedal on their current opposition to the war as soon as any good news emerges from Iraq. There’s still a lot of time left. More Al Qaeda leaders could be captured or killed. And it’s almost inconceivable that General Petraeus will not report some good news. Public opinion could change overnight.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

« Previous Entries
  • Quotes of the Day

    "Writing editorials is like wetting your pants in a blue serge suit. It feels good, but nobody really notices."

    --Jack Germond

    "Famous men and women, by the act of putting themselves on display, whether as politicians, actors, writers, painters, musicians, restaurateurs, or whatever, invite public appraisal. They are all, impressively or pathetically, acting on the presumption that their ideas, their fantasies, their music, their bodies are more original than those of, say, a plumber or a certified public accountant. They are all exercising the impulse, as Mencken put it, ‘to flap their wings in public.’ This is so obvious to the critic–and, I believe, to the ordinary reader or spectator–that it seems hardly worth saying. But resentment of the practice of criticism itself is strong among professional artists (and all Presidents of the United States). There is a psychological type among them that hates critics on principle as parasites or failed performers. This is very natural but surely very childish and, in any country claiming to be civilized, actually anti-social. The existence of critics, good, bad, or indifferent, is a firm clause in the social contract between the governors and the governed in any nation that is not a dictatorship. Public figures should accept with good grace the public response to their invitations to be admired and resist the temptation to retort, except in the face of flagrant malice."

    --Alistair Cooke

Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...