Greenwald’s post from a few days back on Tom Daschle’s seedy background is pretty searing, but for pure, unadulterated snark, William Brafford really brings the heat. Thank goodness Daschle withdrew from consideration.
Tag Archives: Politics
I liked this, from Spencer Ackerman:
Politics is important. But so is friendship, and to take that a step further, you should want to have friends who disagree with you, and sometimes disagree with you deeply. Check each other’s excesses, fill each other’s blindspots, strengthen your own arguments and then light the peace pipe and make Steely Dan references. It’s a better way to live.
I think it’s a worthy addendum to my own thoughts on partisan dating.
Our man J.Peter Freire gives the Obama infomercial a well-deserved spanking over at Culture 11. Predictably, critics in the comments section call our Managing Editor an angry idiot while simultaneously lamenting the loss of thoughtful discourse–you know, the kind where you shellack the entire conservative movement outside of yourself and your holier-than-thou blogging buddies as a bunch of knuckle-dragging ninnies so that you might get an electronic pat on the head from Andrew Sullivan and a perfumed invitation to the pseudo-intellectual circle jerk that has suddenly become the hottest ticket in town for pretty young right-wing things in D.C.–not to mention for some not-so-pretty-or-young right-wing things.
Admission is cheap enough: Mostly a willingness to hate on the squares you frequently agree with to curry favor with those cool cats who would fit you with fangs & horns if your ideas ever approached anything resembling politically feasibility. At first the approach is kind of a turn-off, but, then…Oh, the way you cut your condescending pretentiousness with knowing pop culture references! And who wouldn’t want to become smarter than everyone else just by saying it is so?
I admit this made me laugh out loud. Freire’s take on the Obama infomercial is also quite good. I just think it’s worth remembering that argument, discussion, and friendly debate are not the same as ideological capitulation. The point of politics, after all, is persuasion.
For me, the low point of the past several days has been watching Sarah Palin repeatedly criticize Obama for calling attention to Afghani civilian casualties. Leaving aside the incredible callousness of this line of attack, one hopes Palin realizes that bombing noncombatants can be pretty counterproductive. This also happens to be one of the best arguments for redeploying troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, as more troops on the ground will reduce our reliance on indiscriminate air power. That, incidentally, was the argument Obama was making in 2007 when his comments were first reported.
After considering the issue, I’m left with two unappetizing conclusions. Either Palin is unaware that bombing innocent civilians is extremely unhelpful or she’s willing to callously demagogue an issue that has serious implications for both our national security and moral standing. The former implies she’s incompetent; the latter suggests something else entirely. And while I recognize there’s a certain amount of obnoxious political posturing on both sides of the aisle, this incident really exemplifies all that is wrong with America’s foreign policy. We seem entirely oblivious to the real humanitarian consequences of our overseas blunders precisely because foreigners (in this case, the hapless Afghanis) bear the brunt of our mistakes.
Palin’s political opportunism suggests a broader truth about public opinion and American foreign policy. Contra Glenn Greenwald, I do not think that public opposition to the Iraq War is the same thing as a widespread rejection of foreign interventionism. Here is an example of his wishful thinking on the subject:
What is most notable about all of this is the broader point: there is a belief across the ideological spectrum (which I believe is wrong) that the Iraq disaster hasn’t changed the way that Americans think about war and foreign policy generally, but rather, merely reflects the long-standing fact that Americans only dislike wars that the U.S. is losing. At least now, this is plainly untrue. Many Americans have become convinced by the silly though widespread claim that the Surge Has Worked and that we are now “winning” in Iraq. But — as I’ve documented many times, and as is still true — increased perceptions of stability and even “victory” in Iraq have had very little effect on how Americans perceive of the wisdom of the war and, most importantly, whether we should withdraw.
Greenwald is undoubtedly correct that public opinion has dramatically turned against the war. But a few favorable focus groups aren’t a reliable indicator of a broader public backlash. Last night, Biden essentially endorsed NATO expeditions to Lebanon and Darfur, and Palin wholeheartedly agreed with him. I have yet to hear a single pundit decry Biden’s support for “liberal” interventionism as an election year liability. The fact that Palin so readily followed suit on this issue – one of the candidates’ few points of agreement – again demonstrates that both parties recognize the public’s continued faith in benign American hegemony.
Why is this the case? With foreign policy, the costs of intervention fall most heavily on foreigners, which also allows Palin to get away with her spurious criticisms. When an errant smart bomb levels a village in Afghanistan, no American is affected. We may empathize with the victims, but our willingness to identify with their loss is compromised by cultural and geographic distance.
Our empathy is also undermined by self-interest. The perceived benefits of US hegemony are both very obvious (protecting the homeland) and viscerally important (particularly after September 11th). The candidate most prepared to articulate a compelling national security vision will find a lot of voters willing to be persuaded. As our distance from September 11th grows and concerns over the economic crisis deepen, the salience of an aggressive foreign policy will gradually diminish. But for now, hegemony remains an easier sell than conciliation, retrenchment, and humility.
The case for hegemony is also easy to make to a low-information electorate. Blaming Al Qaeda, Saddam, or Ahmadinejad is much easier than examining the roots of Muslim resentment or our own complicity in the growth of anti-Americanism. Applying a rigorous cost-benefit analysis to the terrorist threat is also a non-starter. For better or worse, a compelling, easily-understood narrative is the best way to make your case to voters, and Palin and Biden’s performance yesterday demonstrates the thematic coherence of a pro-intervention platform.
In short, the contours of a democratic society make it extremely difficult for any candidate, however articulate, to present a compelling case for non-interventionism (or even a scaled-back approach to foreign affairs). The best political rejoinders to American hegemony are the tangible domestic costs of intervention – heavy American casualties, “building firehouses in Baghdad instead of [insert city here]”- which is why Greenwald can identify such a marked shift in public opinion. Unfortunately, this shift is purely reactive and not particularly durable. Remember that Democrats were dogged with a damning reputation for pacifism after Vietnam, despite the fact that the war lost public support as early as 1968.
The debate over the Iraq War mirrors this underlying reality. Pew Surveys show consistent majorities in favor of the war until late 2004/early 2005. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that November and December of 2004 and January of 2005 saw marked increases in the monthly totals of US combat fatalities. This interactive graph from USA Today also suggests that public opinion is very responsive to casualty increases; antiwar spikes are heavily correlated with combat deaths. In other words, when foreign interventions exact tangible costs, the public is willing to reconsider its support. If foreign wars remain political abstractions, however, they’re much easier to sell, which is why opposition to American hegemony remains politically problematic. A debacle like the Iraq War doesn’t start costing anything until we’ve already gone through with it, so anti-interventionists are fighting an uphill battle from the start.
I’m unsure how to respond to this electoral reality. For all his faults, Ron Paul put forward a compelling anti-imperialist message coupled with real small-government credibility, and he was exiled from the Republican mainstream for his troubles. On the Democratic side of the spectrum, Obama won the primary by appealing to a progressive, anti-war base, but I think this reflects a momentary shift in public opinion against the invasion, not any deep support for abandoning American leadership. Obama’s foreign policy vision – and some of his more egregious panders – also leave little doubt that he is aware of the public’s tacit support for US hegemony.
I don’t offer any solutions. But I’m also not deluding myself about the nature of the problem. Until we recognize the structural incentives of American politics, non-inerventionists will continue to beat their heads against the proverbial brick wall.