Thursday, September 18, 2003


(Un)FAIR: Unbalanced

Now the Wacky Lefties are pulling out the long knives, too. Check out this bit of sophistry from the inaptly-named "FAIR" You'll note that the title of the article says that Clark called the decision to attack Iraq the "right call," but even a quick read of the article reveals that that's not what he said AT ALL. They write:

"Though he had been critical of Pentagon tactics, Clark was exuberant about the results of "a lean plan, using only about a third of the ground combat power of the Gulf War. If the alternative to attacking in March with the equivalent of four divisions was to wait until late April to attack with five, they certainly made the right call."

Uh, how dumb/dishonest do you have to be to misconstrue this claim in that way? "If the choice was between A and B, then A was the right call" doesn't even come close to meaning "A was the right call." Looks like somebody at FAIR needs a little work on the reading comprehension skillz...

I noticed several years ago that, although I often agree with the political positions of FAIR, they can't be trusted. Intellectual dishonesty in an organization that specifically claims to be a media watchdog is, needless to say, particularly loathsome.

No time for a detailed analysis of their screed at this time. Gotta watch the hurricane.
Getting All (Four-)Starry-Eyed About Clark

Hey! It's pretty obvious that a lot of us are getting all starry-eyed about Clark--but we really can't let that happen just yet. Given what we know about him so far, he seems like a dream candidate to a lot of us, Democrat and Republican alike. But we simply don't know enough about him yet. Becoming passionately committed to a person or a cause is perfectly reasonable--AFTER you have a sufficient amount of evidence to judge that the person or cause is worthy of such commitment. If, however, you allow yourself to develop a strong emotional attachment BEFORE you have enough evidence to make such commitment rational, you're just setting yourself up to be a partisan hack (of the kind that Emerson is warning us about below [Mon Sep 15, 12:00:20 PM]). Once you become committed to a candidate, you are inclined to downplay evidence of his wrongdoing, exaggerate his virtues, and so forth.
But, anyway, listen up fellow budding Clarkophiles!


I'm convinced enough that Clark is The Man that I made a small donation to the draft movement, but I'm trying remain objective and get some more evidence about the guy, especially the Pristina airport business. But there's no denying that he looks good so far.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

David Frum, Sophist

With startling alacrity the attack dogs on the Right have begun stretching and spinning and nipping and tucking the facts about Wesley Clark. Exhibit A: David Frum in the National Review Online.
One hates to pick nits--or pick on nitwits--but I can’t resist noting that his piece is titled “Wesley Who?” The suggestion, I suppose, is that Clark is unknown. (The suggestion, of course, is snide; the Right is nothing these days if not snide. It’s what passes for humor at the country club, I suppose) Why this is supposed to count as a dialectical coup, I’m not sure. Perhaps we can anticipate future Frumian screeds titled “Oh Yeah?” “I Know You Are, What Am I?” and “Says Who?” Lacking any criticisms, one guesses, he couldn’t resist getting in a kind of schoolyard dig. Perhaps he should have title the piece: “Sure, Your Guy is Better Than Our Guy In Every Identifiable Way, But We’re Still Going to Win, Nya, Nya, Nay.”

Frum starts off with what could be a classic of Right-wing sophistry, if it didn’t face such stiff competition:
“Democrats think they can inoculate themselves from the charge of being weak on national security by hiring a general to express their weakness for them. It’s an old antiwar fantasy. Back in the 1930s, the U.S. Communist Party recruited a former Marine Corps general, Smedley Butler, to give speeches on the eve of World War II denouncing military preparedness as a capitalist racket. The idea was that by persuading an individual man of valor to propound shameful views , those views would somehow become less shameful. It didn’t work then. I doubt it will work now.”

Note the deft comparison of Democrats to Communists, and the subtle invocation of WWII, with its suggestion that anyone who questions current levels of defense spending is an appeaser…and quite possible a Nazi… A montage of classic Right-wing rhetorical themes. It seems to have not crossed Frum’s mind that politics might be serious business requiring something like serious discussion. But, then, if that HAD crossed his mind, I suppose he wouldn’t be writing for The National Review

His next effort is a beauty as well. Wesley Clark, he writes, “sums up the illusions and errors of the 1990s” since:
“Clark was the general who led the U.S. into a purely humanitarian war in Kosovo – at exactly the moment that the Clinton administration was disregarding the gathering threat to the United States from Middle Eastern terrorism.”

This is another masterpiece of deception. First, note the sneaky attempt to make this seem like a criticism of Clark. But Clark is not even being accused of any failing or error here--he’s just supposed (somehow, inexplicably) to “sum up” the “illusions and errors” of the 1990’s. Translation: “I didn’t like Bill Clinton, and I don’t like Wesley Clark neither.” (By this point one starts to think thoughts like: David Frum sums up the illusions and errors of the National Review…its petulance, its mendacity, its intellectual irresponsibility…)
Second, note that Frum is careful to indcit Clark for leading a purely humanitarian war. Since the Bush administration has fallen back on claiming that part of their justification for Gulf War Episode II was humanitarian, they have to be careful to say that humanitarian considerations can justify war, though they can't be the only justification. This is a barbaric (and, technically speaking, false) position, but that's a different story for a different time.

And as for Clinton “disregarding” terrorism, that simply isn’t true. Perhaps he didn't do enough—that isn’t clear—but he did at least try to take out bin Laden, which is far more than W and company did, despite the warnings about him they got from the allegedly negligent Clinton and company. And, incidentally, one might recall the Republican outrage and opposition that resulted from Clinton’s attacks on al Qaeda. If it hadn't been for Republican opposition, my guess is that Clinton would have done much more than he did.

But my favorite part of this whole loathsome mess is this:
“Clark has criticized the supposed and alleged errors of U.S. planning in Iraq – notwithstanding that his campaign in Kosovo was based on an unending series of errors,” This is one for the books. Literally. It’s a perfect, textbook example of an ad hominem fallacy (a specific, particularly bone-headed version known as ‘tu quoque’ meaning roughly ‘you too’). Even if Frum were right about the Kosovo campaign (I suppose I don’t need to point out that he probably isn’t) this would in no way invalidate Clark’s cogent criticisms of the Iraq campaign. Perhaps someone could inform Mr. Frum that no number of errors, real or imagined, in an unrelated war thousands of miles away can rectify the mistakes in Iraq. Alluding to or inventing errors elsewhere won’t make the current debacle any less of one.

You would think that Frum would be over even his estimable error quota by this point, but there’s more:
“Beyond that, though, Clark epitomizes the great Democratic miscalculation of 2004. The miscalculation is that they can win the election by running against President Bush on national security – and that their anti-security agenda will be enhanced by finding a man in striped pants to promote it.”

Their “anti-security agenda?” Does he write his mother with that keyboard? I wonder why he didn’t just call it “their pro-terrorist agenda?” And does he really think it will be that hard to win against George “the ‘W’ is for AWOL” Bush on security? If Clark gets the nomination, military service will become an actual issue in the campaign (as it should have in the election of 200), and the American public, now somehow still generally ignorant of Bush’s shameful record, will finally learn that the commander in chief is a deserter. And then the tape of Bush strutting around on the flight deck of the Abraham Lincoln will start to look a damn sight more ridiculous than Michael Dukakis ever looked in that tank.
O.k., re: my last post re: the Pristina airport question, check out Counterspin for some interesting info.
Now that Wesley Clark is in the race, we have to sit down and figure out exactly what happened at the Pristina airport. Needless to say, the mindless Lefties will continue to whine and pule, and the psycho Right will make up whatever line they think will be most damaging...but those among us who can keep our wits about us while talking politics have to try to figure out whether Clark's actions were reasonable or unreasonable. If they were unreasonable this is--for obvious reasons--significant evidence against his fitness to serve as President. If they were reasonable, this is yet more evidence of his fitness to serve, though in that case the evidence will merely cohere with the preponderance of evidence we already have about him, so it will be somewhat less significant. Needless to say, however, we have to approach the question objectively and try to determine the facts of the matter. The widely-available reports are too sketchy to provide sufficient information. I'm reading Waging Modern War right now, so soon enough I'll know Clark's side of the story, though, of course, that is of somewhat limited value.

What we can't do, of course, is simply assume that his actions were reasonable because we are enamored of him. Though neither can we listen to the partisans on the political extremes who have already made up their minds on political grounds. The American Right, as we now know, will say virtually anything to discredit anyone who has the temerity to challenge their birthright to rule. And they'll repeat their anti-nation-building mantra even in the face of their Iraq adventure. And the far Left will gnash their teeth and rend their garments at any use of military force, no matter how humane, even when their position forces them to defend the likes of Slobodan Milosevic. To them I say:

"When, however, someone who delights in annoying and vexing peace loving folk receives at last a right good beating, the beating is certainly a bad thing, but everyone approves of it and considers it good in itself even if nothing further results from it; nay, even he who gets the beating must acknowledge, in his reason, that justice has been done to him, because he sees the connection between well-being and well-doing, which reason inevitably holds before him, here put into practice" (Kant, Critique of Practical Reason)


Wesley Clark is gonna run!

Check out:

Monday, September 15, 2003

"A man must consider what a blindman's-buff is this game of conformity. If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument. I hear a preacher announce for his text and topic the expediency of one of the institutions of his church. Do I not know beforehand that not possibly can he say a new and spontaneous word? Do I not know that, with all this ostentation of examining the grounds of the institution, he will do no such thing? Do I not know that he is pledged to himself not to look but at one side,--the permitted side, not as a man, but as a parish minister? He is a retained attorney, and these airs of the bench are the emptiest affectation. Well, most men have bound their eyes with one or another handkerchief, and attached themselves to some one of these communities of opinion. This conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, authors of a few lies, but false in all particulars. Their every truth is not quite true. Their two is not the real two, their four not the real four; so that every word they say chagrins us, and we know not where to begin to set them right."
-- Emerson, "Self-Reliance"

Given how criminal the leadership of the Republican party has become, I sometimes find myself unconsciously developing overly-positive attitudes about the Democrats. But then I sober up...

I mean, Al Sharpton? AL SHARPTON???? How can any self-respecting candidate even appear on the same stage with that guy after the Tawana Brawley business? Sure, the Republicans usually have their own cast of lunatics...but...AL SHARPTON?????

I once heard somebody on tv (Cokie Roberts, maybe?) say that, when she set out for D.C., her father told her that, if she wanted to keep her bearings in Washington, the one thing she had to remember was that "The Republicans are the bad guys....and the Democrats are the crazy guys." Whew. Truth.

Which is NOT to agree with Nader when he says that "there's not a dime's worth of difference" between the two parties. Anybody who thinks that's true right now is simply not paying attention.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

I'm hoping like Hell that Wesley Clark enters the race.
Here's a gross generalization that may have some truth in it, and may explain some of what we're seeing now:

The Left and the Right--perhaps only in the U.S., perhaps not--each have a characteristic set of intellectual/moral characteristics, and among these are some intellectual/moral failings. Among the characteristic failings of the Left is a kind of (especially intellectual) timorousness or diffidence, leading in extreme cases even to skepticism or a kind of relativism.

(note: there's a term ('relativism', that is) that is used in so many different ways, and in such vague ways, that it's almost useless. To get a better handle on relativism, you could take a look at my fascinating paper "What Relativism Isn't" in the April '98 edition of _Philosophy_...)

Anyway, among the characteristic intellectual/moral failings of the Right is DOGMATISM. And it is the dogmatism of the current administration that is at the root of many problems currently facing it and us.

If the Left too often doubts that which it should not doubt, the Right too seldom doubts that which it should doubt. As I noted in my last fascinating post, one of the main intellectual/moral failings of the current Republican leadership is that they seem constitutionally incapable of self-criticism. They simply can't seem to get their minds around the idea that they might sometimes be wrong, and that those who oppose them might oppose them for good reason. Now, of course there are times when one must ignore one's critics and simply press on in whatever way ultimately seems best. If criticism is unreasonable, it doesn't make sense to fret about it or allow it to alter one's decisions. The problem with the current administration is that it not only ignores even the most reasonable criticism, it attacks the intelligence and moral character of those who raise those reasonable criticisms.

This reaction to criticism is probably a particular manifestation of their general tendency to simply ignore the evidence. There is probably no greater intellectual vice than a resolute refusal to honestly assess and react to the evidence; but that is, perhaps, the most salient intellectual characteristic of the Bush administration.

The decision to invade Iraq in particular seems to have been made even though there was no credible evidence of any important link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and even though the preponderance of evidence and analysis by the relevant intelligence agencies indicated that Iraq probably didn't have appreciable stores of "weapons of mass destruction". (Note: that term itself is a cheat, and we really ought to call 'em what they are--or would be, if there were any of them--chemical and biological weapons, or CBW.)

One indicator--though by no means the strongest one--that the decision to invade was not made in response to any evidence of an Iraq-Al Qaeda link is that the decision seems to have been made within days of the 9/11 attacks. There is evidence that the neo-cons were basically sitting around waiting for an excuse to invade, and that Wolfowitz pounced as soon as the WTC fell. If Powell had been closer to Bush that Wolfowitz on 9/11, the story goes, the course of history would have been different...

But the strongest evidence here is, of course, the relatively clear pattern of exaggerating evidence, ignoring counter-evidence, and intimidating our intelligence services into saying what the Administration already wanted to believe. If you handle evidence in that way, you can get away with anything you damn well please.

Among the kinds of dangerous people in the world are those who dogmatically adhere to their beliefs and intentions no matter how much evidence piles up against them. Such people aren't necessarily evil (though many evil people do share those characteristics), but they may ultimately, in the course of human history, do about as much damage as is done by those who are evil.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

It's time now to be very, very worried about the current leadership of the Republican party. After the election debacle of 2000, we shouldn't be surprised at how they've treated our allies (and domestic dissenters) with regard to Iraq. If you disagree with them, you will be characterized as either an idiot or a villain.

Consider the election debacle. Any sensible person could see that it simply wasn't clear what should be done after the election of 2000. The Democratic injunction to "count every vote" was eminently reasonable, and probably pointed to the most sensible course of action, though Republicans had an interesting and important argument that the votes had (in some sense) already been counted. At any rate, the one thing that was absolutely clear was that it simply wasn't obvious what should be done. However, the Republican leadership immediately printed up their asinine "Sore Loserman" signs and distributed them to the crowds of protestors they manufactured. They immediately began to push the line that their suggested course of action was the only reasonable one, and that anyone who disagreed was either idiotic or unpatriotic (or otherwise unscrupulous). Although Gore and the Democrats didn't act perfectly, their actions were far more honest and patriotic than those of the Republicans. Gore made it clear that the campaign had to stop immediately, and that we had to come together as Americans and arrive at a fair method for determining the outcome of the election. He urged his followers not to protest.

In short, the Democratic argument was "count every vote"; the Republican "argument" was "GIVE US THE PRESIDENCY. NOW."

Surely you know that the Republicans had kept back several million dollars because they thought that they were going to win the popular vote and lose in the Electoral College. They planned to foment a kind of popular uprising against the constitution. Everyone should meditate on that fact at some length.

We learned something very important about the Republican leadership. They are extraordinarily unscrupulous, authoritarian, and anti-democratic. They simply cannot be trusted with the reigns of government, and, though that was not obvious during the election, it became obvious during the controversy over the election.

I worked for Gore before the election, but every night that I drove down to Democratic headquarters I had an agonizing debate with myself about whether I was doing the right thing. The relentless Republican propaganda about Gore had begun to get to me, and I was seriously questioning my decision to work for his campaign. But I decided that it was clear enough that Gore was the lesser of the two evils, and I continued to work for him, and voted for him.

Within days of the election, it became clear to me that I had made the right decision. In fact, when the Republican leadership began to show their true colors, I was astonished that I had ever thought that it was a close call. The Republicans released their attack dogs (James Baker, Joe Scarborough (sp?), etc.), and I saw a kind of hatred and viciousness in them and their comments that I had never seen in American politics before (not even during their bizarre anti-Clinton campaign). They unleashed a scorched earth policy, rejecting the most plausible way of counting votes (the Delahunt (or "intent of the voter") standard), the very standard that George Bush himself had signed into law in Texas. They repeated over and over again that any human attempt to count the votes would be "subjective" (which is not true), and even threatened to ignore the votes entirely by getting the Florida legislature to send it's own slate of electors.

I was simply astonished at how quickly the Republican leadership became willing to ignore democracy and destroy fundamental pillars of our government in order to take power. I went from viewing them as the loyal opposition to viewing them as very, very dangerous men.

And Gore's actions made it clear that he was a far better man than I'd ever realized. His concession speech was a beacon of hope about American politics during a very dark time.

This is not to say that I think all Republicans are like the current leadership. That would be absurd. Really...some of my best friends are Republicans... Hell, I'm sympathetic with the Republicans about a lot of issues, and considered myself a Republican up until Ronald Reagan drove me to the Democrats (which was, admittedly, when I was 16...but still...). But the Republican leadership has gone bad. It's easy for unscrupulous men to take control of a party, and that's what's happened now.

I hope beyond hope that rank-and-file Republicans will come to their senses and throw these bums out. If not, there's still a good chance that they'll end up Gingriching themselves again. Tom DeLay is far, far worse than Newt ever was, and I expect that he'll eventually go to far. (Though one would have thought that the Texas redistricting-Homeland Security fiasco would have done him in...)

Anyway, the original point was:
How can anyone possibly be surprised at the way they've acted toward our allies, given how they are willing to act toward other Americans? These are unscrupulous men who seem to be incapable of entertaining the possibility that the might be wrong about anything.

Alright. That's it. I can't even write about this any more. FOR WESLEY CLARK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

So, bin Laden wants his toadies to "devour" the U.S.?

I guess the sorry S.O.B. doesn't understand the insulting sexual overtones associated with that request...