Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 7, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

IRAN....I'm old fashioned enough that I still tend to ignore silly attacks rather than respond instantly to them, but enough's enough. A couple of days ago, citing sources who thought the Bush administration was becoming increasingly likely to propose air strikes against Iran, I said, "If Democrats don't start thinking about how they're going to respond to this, they're idiots." The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto, displaying the postmodern parsing skills favored by contemporary conservatives, didn't like this:

One would have more confidence in the Democrats if this leading young intellectual said they needed to start thinking about what was in the best interests of the country rather than "how they're going to respond to this" as a campaign issue.

This is pretty rich. I was specifically responding to the likelihood that the Bush administration would cynically build up Iran as a campaign issue just as they did with Iraq and my advice encompassed two obvious meanings: Democrats should figure out substantively what the right policy toward Iran is and they should figure out how to sell this policy to the American public. Choosing a transparently strained reading in an effort to pretend that I don't care about what's best for my country is pretty contemptible.

And for the record: I didn't cite "a source of [my] own." I cited and linked to a Joseph Cirincione column in Foreign Policy.

Kevin Drum 2:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

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Comments

Spin, fold, mutilate.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on April 7, 2006 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Taranto - and the rest of WST journal horde - simply have no regard for facts whatsoever. Arguing with these people is fruitless, Kevin. The only things they understand are invective and ridicule. Better to return fire with the same kind of ammo, I'd say.

Posted by: bling on April 7, 2006 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

So, when is the WSJ going to fire Taranto for lying?

Oh, that's right . . .

. . . the NRO, Washington Times, and WSJ don't fire their employees when caught lying.

Right, Brian?

Posted by: Advocate for God on April 7, 2006 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

I was equally struck by his "young" comment.

Posted by: Jim E. on April 7, 2006 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

Contemptible?

I admire but am exasperated by your restraint.

These guys have much worse things planned for you before it's all over.

Posted by: John Thullen on April 7, 2006 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, but who was he calling a "leading young intellectual"?

Posted by: patrick on April 7, 2006 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

Why are you suprised?

This administration treats serious matters of national security as nothing but fodder for domestic politics (ya don't roll out a new product in August, you know.). Why would you expect that this administration's apologists would hold themselves to any standards of honesty, integrity, and patriotic responsibility whatsoever?

It's like a disease with these people. They cannot stop playing games for even five minutes, no matter how serious the consequences.

Posted by: theorajones on April 7, 2006 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

What?! An intellectually dishonest conservative?!
Inconceivable!

Posted by: shingles on April 7, 2006 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Kev, how "young" are you? I was kinda under the impression that you were on the old side, for a blogger.

Posted by: MDS on April 7, 2006 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe he means do shit instead of obscure wonk crap.

You know like have a policy position " Its better to give those who openly call for genocide on jews to get a Nuclear bomb than to agree with Bush".

Posted by: McA on April 7, 2006 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

So, where's the news? The foreign policy is for creating domestic wedge issues for the modern Republicans. The WSJ is a witting or an unwitting accomplice in the process. And we are supposed to start a rational debate here? No wonder we get screwed at the polls...

Posted by: jonathan on April 7, 2006 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, no, its not contemptible, and its not strained. Your original post read at the time, and reads still, as if it was more concerned about the the administration preparing a war on Iran because it was an underhanded electoral strategy and the Democratic Party might fail to respond to it as an electoral strategy, not because of the staggering stupidity and damage to the national interest and security that would result from a war in Iran aside from any electoral considerations.

It comes off even in the most generous possible reading as excessively focussed on the political to the exclusion of the policy aspects of a war.

And really not addressing substantive policy issue runs through your posts on Iran -- your Israel and Iran post doesn't get to substantive policy, your Iran Update on March 24 doesn't stake out a policy position, or even discuss any substantive policy issues.

The closest you get to policy discussion on Iran is saying we can't trust the administration's claims because of the lies of Iraq. Which is a true problem facing evaluation of the policy choices and their context on Iraq, but doesn't begin to address the substantive policy questions.

You opened yourself up for this attack by keeping substantive policy at arms length, while not doing the same with the political concerns -- revealing a greater apparent concern for the political aspects than the policy aspects of the issue.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 7, 2006 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe he means do shit instead of obscure wonk crap.

If my translation from the McA/Mca/mca hive-mind language is accurate, this means Kevin is supposed to get off his butt and "do something" about Iran instead of simply writing about it.

Okay. Just what are you doing, Kemosabe?

You know like have a policy position " Its better to give those who openly call for genocide on jews to get a Nuclear bomb than to agree with Bush".

False dilemma, not to mention ungrammatical, indigestible horseshit.

Posted by: Alek Hidell on April 7, 2006 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

So, when is the WSJ going to fire Taranto for lying, Brian?

The NYTimes fired their liar.

The WSJ doesn't.

Conservatives embrace liars, Brian.

You embrace liars, Brian.

Liars like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, Rove, DeLay, Abramoff, McCain, Frist, Hastert, Roberts, McClellan, Bartlett, and the NRO, the WSJ, and the WaTimes, to name just a few.

Posted by: Advocate for God on April 7, 2006 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure I'm with you on this one cmdicely. I think that Kevin's point was that the political dimensions had a huge impact on the basic issue. In other words the political issue was directly linked to the substantive issue, because:

1) Given the massive tide of dis-information that's come out it's very hard to figure out the Iran issue.

2) And since the whole world thinks that we lied ourselves silly in Iraq, we don't have any standing left. and

3) Given that the US troops are tied down in Iraq there's not a lot we can do anyway.

Which all unfortunately leaves only one real problem: how do the democrats defend themselves against the GOP attacks.

Lastly, this is pretty typical rightwing move: set up a strawman and beat the daylights out of it. And then cry that you're a media victim despite the fact that your editorial ran in the biggest paper in American, the WSJ.

Posted by: Samuel Knight on April 7, 2006 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

I think "ungrammatical, indigestible horseshit" is McA's middle name.

And there was picture of Kevin on TPMCafe. Didn't look like he qualified for the "young" description based on that photo. Of course, conservatives love to portray themselves as the world-wise, healthily skeptical types in comparison to liberals. Except when they are sending the American military around the globe to impose democracy on people.

Posted by: brewmn on April 7, 2006 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, "leading young intellectual" is a stretch. I write a blog, I'm 47, and I have a BA in journalism from Cal State Long Beach. The Journal must have a very low LYI bar.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on April 7, 2006 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

When a WSJ columnist (as opposed to a WSJ reporter) is sniping at you Kevin, it means you've arrived, and you're wearing a white hat. Congratulations!

Posted by: ferd on April 7, 2006 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK
I'm not sure I'm with you on this one cmdicely. I think that Kevin's point was that the political dimensions had a huge impact on the basic issue.

I certainly believe that point is true, but I don't see Kevin saying anything that points strongly to that until his defense now. His characterization of the double meaning as "obvious" is, I think, unconvincing.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 7, 2006 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

I would say, cmdicely, that the future of US-Iran policy depends greatest this year on how it plays in US elections, just as US elections may have been the most important event for the history of Iraq in 2004.

This depends, of course, on how well one believes the heat of rhetoric is matched by the severity of the threat.

Posted by: Boronx on April 7, 2006 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

Okay. Just what are you doing, Kemosabe?

Posted by: Alek Hidell on April 7, 2006 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

Laughing my ass off and placing bets on Tradesports.

Posted by: McA on April 7, 2006 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

You know like have a policy position " Its better to give those who openly call for genocide on jews to get a Nuclear bomb than to agree with Bush".

Bush, in case you haven't noticed, is currently working with allies to defuse the situation. A position which is widely supported by one and all. Almost. YOU'RE the one, apparently, who is advocating bombing. If there's an assault on Iran, I hope you've got enough TP to avoid the resultant storm.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on April 7, 2006 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely, I argued here that there's really no value at all in coming up with a substantive plan (as opposed, of course, to appearing to have a substantive plan) because anything we propose is completely irrelevant. The best thing we can do, politically and substantively, is prevent Bush from doing anything catastrophic:

What this means for us is that any response to any administration proposal must be focused on damaging them politically; we cannot fall into the trap of trying to talk seriously about what should really be done. That sounds like political cynicism, but here's the thing: this really is the best thing we can do about Iran anyway. Whatever the administration proposes is pretty much guaranteed to make things much worse; doing nothing at all is also bad, but vastly preferable to anything they might do. Stopping them--which is to say, making action by them politically infeasible--is our best possible outcome, substantively as well as politically.

Posted by: Tom Hilton on April 7, 2006 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

McA: Laughing my ass off and placing bets on Tradesports.

And fixin' to lose his shorts!

Posted by: Advocate for God on April 7, 2006 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

If there's an assault on Iran, I hope you've got enough TP to avoid the resultant storm.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on April 7, 2006 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not in America or the Middle East. If there's a storm. Why not make it happen before Nukes go both ways instead of one way?

Posted by: McA on April 7, 2006 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

So now all Democrats are judged by the musings of a blogger?

Posted by: JC on April 7, 2006 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

What cmdicely and Taranto don't understand is that:

1. It goes with out saying that Kevin wants Democrats to act in the country's best interest.

2. That Bush and the Republicans will still paint Kevin and the Democrats as weak or traitorous over Iran even if there are no policy difference between them.

Bush will attack Democrats for not having the guts to bomb Iran even if he's decided it's not a good idea.

Bush will attack Democrats for not having the guts to bomb Iran even if they've decided it is a good idea.

Posted by: Boronx on April 7, 2006 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

Tom Hilton:

cmdicely, I argued here that there's really no value at all in coming up with a substantive plan (as opposed, of course, to appearing to have a substantive plan) because anything we propose is completely irrelevant.

How much longer do you think this "we don't need no steenking ideas" gag is going to work?

The Contract With America was generated when the Republicans were out of power. Nothing is stopping the Democrats from telling voters why they should be running things.

I think the real reason Democrats don't put their own policies forward is because they either don't have any, or because the ones they would really favor wouldn't sell to the voters. The party is free to prove me wrong.

Posted by: tbrosz on April 7, 2006 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

Nothing is stopping the Democrats from telling voters why they should be running things.

I think the real reason Democrats don't put their own policies forward is because they either don't have any, or because the ones they would really favor wouldn't sell to the voters. The party is free to prove me wrong. Posted by: tbrosz on April 7, 2006 at 3:36 PM

I have to agree with tbrosz's first point. The Democrats should indeed field an alternative plan.

Just because they are not in power now isn't really a good argument. It is quite conceivable that there will be a Democratic majority in at least one of the houses of Congress later this fall.

And by that time it's a little late to start thinking of alternatives.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on April 7, 2006 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

James Taranto is clearly getting his ideas from RedState.

Posted by: Jackmormon on April 7, 2006 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

There is a substantial false choice logical fallacy at work here.

Choices:

1) Democrats need to decide what is in the best interests of the country vis-a-vis the current situation with Iran.

2) Democrats need to decide what is the proper response when Bush does whatever dumbass thing he's going to do vis-a-vis Iran.

It is not the case that, by advocating the second item, Mr. Drum has stated in any way that the first item should be neglected, nor even that it should be the first priority.

Mr. Drum stated that Democrats need to think about how to respond to an air strike on Iran. He is right.

He is also correct that Mr. Taranto is misrepresenting his position in a fashion typical of conservative spin-meisters; because Mr. Drum did not also explicitly state what he thought ought to be done, Mr. Taranto implies that Mr. Drum feels the political response is more important.

This is untrue and unjustified.

Just because Mr. Drum did not address the topic of what really ought to be done does not imply that he is more concerned with or thinks that other issues have priority. It's his blog, he posts some things and not others. To assume omission has meaning is, well, to assume, and can be (and in this case is) wrong.

Posted by: S Ra on April 7, 2006 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not agreeing with you, cmdicely...Kevin got pedant-ed by a different species of troll than the ones you deal with around here. Think Don P., except with fewer column inches.

Kev should realize that this is just the beginning of the assault on his credibility and character.

BTW: How many center-left bloggers have written editorials for major newspapers or joined editorial staffs? I'm curious.

Posted by: grape_crush on April 7, 2006 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

I wanted to second S ra that Taranto puts up a false dichotomy of a response versus deciding whats best for the country.

In addition, to ignoring the prior comments its worth noting that the comment wasnt even particularly political. For example it didnt include advice that whatever the circumstances Democrats need to oppose the policy, but rather they be prepared to fight for what is best for the country. Which means supporting the President if that is appropriate and opposing him if its not.

That conservatives like Taranto appear to assume that either its political or good for the country says more about the current state of conservative approach to policy than Democrats. For Democrats its not a divided issue. For Bush as noted by former members of his administration, its all politics all the time with little time left for policy actually considering the good of the country.

Posted by: Catch22 on April 7, 2006 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz: The Contract With America was generated when the Republicans were out of power. Nothing is stopping the Democrats from telling voters why they should be running things.

Speaking of spin and distortion...

The "Contract with America" was introduced six weeks before the 1994 midterm elections.

Six weeks. Put that fact in your pipe and spin it.

And the Democrats are telling voters why they should be running things: they are responsible and they aren't corrupt. And voters seem to be finding those reasons compelling.

Why would any Democrat ever listen to your advice anyway? You're a conservative ideologue. You wouldn't vote for a Democrat if the cure for cancer were in their pocket.

But I'm sure when, in the last few months before the election rolls around and the Democrats do introduce their goals, you'll have plenty of time to lie about them. So be of good cheer.

Posted by: S Ra on April 7, 2006 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

I still think Kevin should feel flattered to be called a "young" intellectual. And he spelled your name correctly, too . . .

Hey friends, can everyone please focus their psychic energies this weekend toward Italy so that Berlusconi gets booted out in Sunday/Monday's election? On an office door today I saw a note that read

"Siamo due coglioni"

You will have to google the last word to understand the context.

Posted by: troglodyte on April 7, 2006 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

I have to agree with tbrosz's first point. The Democrats should indeed field an alternative plan.

If having an alternative plan (or appearing to have an alternative plan) helps in the political fight--helps to prevent Bush from carrying out his own plan, then yes, we should do that. But the reality remains that any plan we have, or appear to have, is at best fart in a hurricane.

Bush is preparing, once again, to damage national security for the sake of political gain. Stopping him has to be our focus.

Posted by: Tom Hilton on April 7, 2006 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK
cmdicely, I argued here that there's really no value at all in coming up with a substantive plan (as opposed, of course, to appearing to have a substantive plan) because anything we propose is completely irrelevant.

IMO, that's wrong, and its insulting and disrespectful to the American people, and it is also bad politics. It may be impractical for Democrats in Congress to work with the Republicans in Congress to get a good policy together. But its imperative that Democrats (including, but not limited to, those in office) to discuss seriously what needs to be done, and to make the case for those ideas to the public.

In terms of working to affect substance, its the only way -- via political pressure from the public on Republican officeholders -- that Democrats or going to influence the substantive outcome.

And in terms of politics, its also the best course, because nothing will hurt the Republicans except them taking stands the American public sees as wrong, and us selling our real ideas now is the best way for their bad plans to be seen as bad.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 7, 2006 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

Let me put it another way: there may well be political value to having a substantive plan, but there is certainly no substantive value (because nothing about it will be so much as considered).

There is both political and substantive value to having a political plan that has a shot at preventing Bush's chosen catastrophe.

Posted by: Tom Hilton on April 7, 2006 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

One would have more confidence in the Democrats if this leading young intellectual said they needed to start thinking about what was in the best interests of the country rather than "how they're going to respond to this" as a campaign issue.

Kevin, this is the power of projection at work. It's obvious that Republicans ALWAYS frame everything through a political lense, so they see the same tendency in everyone else. It's a bit like a guy who's cheating on his wife accusing his wife of cheating on him.

Posted by: ExBrit on April 7, 2006 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not in America or the Middle East. If there's a storm. Why not make it happen before Nukes go both ways instead of one way?

You've decided that bombing is the only way to proceed.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on April 7, 2006 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

Young intellectual? Huh?

Posted by: MNPundit on April 7, 2006 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Yep, the attacks will come even if we would have an identical policy (which we can't have because the policy is meant to be a wedge with which to divide the Democrats). So, yes, why not, let's debate the point like it was a genuine point. And in the meanwhile the swiftboat machine will screw us all over. It doesn't mean anything what is best for the nation etc. etc. The icon of the modern Right is Lenin: who, whom? That's it, nothing else.

Posted by: jonathan on April 7, 2006 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK
What cmdicely and Taranto don't understand is that:

1. It goes with out saying that Kevin wants Democrats to act in the country's best interest.

2. That Bush and the Republicans will still paint Kevin and the Democrats as weak or traitorous over Iran even if there are no policy difference between them.

I can't speak for Taranto, but I certainly get that. So what? What I am saying is Kevin needs to take a stand on what the countries best interests are in policy rather than merely political terms if he doesn't expect people to accuse him of being more concerned with politics than policy.

The "the Republicans will say bad things no matter what" line is no more an excuse for not offering substance than, e.g., the right-wing argument that the terrorists will hate us whether or not we deal with the legitimate concerns of Arab populations fairly, so there is no reason to try to understand and address their legitimate concerns.

Its stupid, because while Bush is, naturally, reasonably assumed to be unconvinceable, the Republicans in the electorate are certainly not, and while generalized disaffection helps us a bit, if we want to crystallize an opposition to the Bush policies that puts pressure on members of Congress and, if that fails, replaces those members on election day, we need to articulate substantive policy stances on the issues that matter. Bemoaning the fact that they have become issues and blaming that on Republican partisanship and manipulation isn't going to be enough, we have to convince voters that we are going to solve them.

Recent polls show that on security affairs we aren't fighting from as deep of a hole as we have in the past, but that doesn't excuse not fighting. People who aren't happy with Republicans are nice on election day, people who believe in the Democratic alternative are better. And if we do get in a position of power, we need to learn before we get there the lessons of 1993-94, and get there with some substantive policy agenda, not merely the illusion of one which then splinters in nine different directions once their is an opportunity to do something.

Bush will attack Democrats for not having the guts to bomb Iran even if he's decided it's not a good idea.

Yes, he will. Which is why before he gets a chance to do that, we need already to have made the case to the American public as to why its a bad idea, if that's what we believe. The objective isn't to convince Bush, its to convince the electorate, put pressure on the Congress, and thereby constrain Bush.

Bush will attack Democrats for not having the guts to bomb Iran even if they've decided it is a good idea.

Well, if we've, in fact, decided its a good idea, we should make that case to the public, too, which would insulate against that charge from Bush. But I somehow doubt there is any rational basis for that decision.

Its not about convincing Bush. Its not even, necessarily, about convincing Republican politicians on the merits, though there may be some of them honest and open enough to be swayed on that basis. Its a matter of selling ideas to the public, and letting them take the actions to control the government, even before and outside the context of elections, that make this a government of, by, and for the people.


Posted by: cmdicely on April 7, 2006 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

And in terms of politics, its also the best course, because nothing will hurt the Republicans except them taking stands the American public sees as wrong, and us selling our real ideas now is the best way for their bad plans to be seen as bad.

The problem with this is that dealing with this on a they-have-a-plan/we-have-a-better-plan level buys into the notion that whatever the administration proposes might actually be a plan designed to deal with a national security problem, as opposed to a purely political ploy to be carried out regardless of the national security consequences. We know, absolutely, that it will be the latter and not the former; we know this from the Iraq experience.

We can certainly attack whatever they come up with on a substantive level, but that won't be the strongest attack. The strongest attack will be to make it abundantly clear that it isn't really a plan at all--that, like the Iraq invasion, it's a cynical political gambit, founded on lies, with catastrophic consequences. Here's what they're saying now; here's the exact same thing, which they said in 2002. They lied then; they're lying now. They played politics then (remember Andy Card's quote); they're playing politics now. They mismanaged Iraq; they'll mismanage Iran.

With Bush currently at 36%, an aggressive offense on this basis could create a situation in which congressional Republicans are running away from Bush, as opposed to Democrats being too terrified to oppose him.

Posted by: Tom Hilton on April 7, 2006 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I would not touch actual rational political debate with a pole. This is about winning elections, not about national security. That's the game we are playing. We can blather about security endlessly but the Republicans will not give a damn: they aim to WIN.

Posted by: jonathan on April 7, 2006 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

Cmdicely,

It's probably obvious that I take a different spin on this than you do. Essentially, I just don't think there is much we can do about Iran at this point.

Except for maybe one thing: seriously addressing weapons proliferation world-wide, and not just Iran in isolation.

Therefore, I don't really fault Kevin's focus on the political angle of the GOP attack that we knew was coming.

Posted by: Samuel Knight on April 7, 2006 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

Catch22 on April 7, 2006 at 4:02 PM:

For Bush, as noted by former members of his administration, it's all politics all the time with little time left for policy actually considering the good of the country.

From Ron Suskind in 2003:

(John) DiIulio defines the Mayberry Machiavellis as political staff, Karl Rove and his people, "who consistently talked and acted as if the height of political sophistication consisted in reducing every issue to its simplest black-and-white terms for public consumption, then steering legislative initiatives or policy proposals as far right as possible. These folks have their predecessors in previous administrations (left and right, Democrat and Republican), but in the Bush administration, they were particularly unfettered."
Remember No child left behind? That was a Bush campaign slogan. I believe it was his heart, too. But translating good impulses into good policy proposals requires more than whatever somebody thinks up in the eleventh hour before a speech is to be delivered."
Weekly meetings of the Domestic Policy Council "were breathtaking," DiIulio told me. As for the head of the DPC, Margaret La Montagne, a longtime friend of Karl Rove who guided education policy in Texas, DiIulio is blunt: "What she knows about domestic policy could fit in a thimble."
Part of the problem, DiIulio now understood, was that the paucity of serious policy discussion combined with a leakproof command-and-control operation was altering traditional laws of White House physics. That is: Know whats political, know whats policy. They are different. That distinction drives the structure of most administrations. The policy experts, on both domestic and foreign policy, order up "white papers" and hash out the most prudent use of executive power. Political advisers, who often deepen their knowledge by listening carefully as these deliberations unfold, are then called in to decide how, when, and with whom in support policies should be presented, enacted, and executed.
The dilemma presented by Karl Rove, DiIulio realized, was that in such a policy vacuum, his jack-of-all-trades appreciation of an enormous array of policy debates was being mistaken for genuine expertise.
"When policy analysis is just backfill to support a political maneuver, youll get a lot of oops," he (DiIulio) says.

It's an interesting article, with plenty of observations.

Posted by: grape_crush on April 7, 2006 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK
The problem with this is that dealing with this on a they-have-a-plan/we-have-a-better-plan level buys into the notion that whatever the administration proposes might actually be a plan designed to deal with a national security problem,

No, it doesn't.

It buys into the idea that regardless of the motives of the people offering plans, the principle of government of, by, and for the people means that the American public ought to be in the position of deciding what the policy should be, and holding leaders accountable to it.

Yes, its important when the Republicans make claims that seem aimed at justifying their policy preferences to question their motives where that is justified, and to question the credibility of the information they are offering in the context of their past mendacity.

But that doesn't absolve the Democrats of the need to offer an alternative description of what should be done that is justified by the information available, including the credibility, or lack thereof, of the information offered by the administration.

as opposed to a purely political ploy to be carried out regardless of the national security consequences. We know, absolutely, that it will be the latter and not the former; we know this from the Iraq experience.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 7, 2006 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK
Yeah, I would not touch actual rational political debate with a pole. This is about winning elections, not about national security.

Failing to offer a serious alternative vision on national security besides "Well, you can't trust the other guy's vision" isn't a good way of winning elections, though arguing why you can't trust the other guy's vision can be a great way of predisposing people to listen to yours.

But you need to have something.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 7, 2006 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK
It's probably obvious that I take a different spin on this than you do. Essentially, I just don't think there is much we can do about Iran at this point.

I think we need to try, even if we can't do anything; if we don't take a strong stand for an alternative vision, we lose whatever chance we have to affect, even in a small way, the substance, and, moreover, we weaken our stand when we try to tie the bad policy around the necks of the people who pushed it at the ballot box.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 7, 2006 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

It buys into the idea that regardless of the motives of the people offering plans, the principle of government of, by, and for the people means that the American public ought to be in the position of deciding what the policy should be, and holding leaders accountable to it.

Problem number one: the playing field isn't level. On matters of national security, a sitting administration gets the presumption of correctness, and the opposition has to clear a very high bar in order to overcome that presumption. (This is the reality that drove Democratic cowardice on Iraq back in 2002.) So dealing with it on a purely policy level, we've already all but lost. (On the other hand, we can neutralize that advantage by making it all about how they abused our trust the last time.)

Problem number two: they have all the intel, they can choose what to release, and we know from experience that they will release it selectively to make themselves look good. So a substantive debate would be conducted on their turf with the facts they choose. (Again, we can neutralize this advantage by hammering on exactly how they cherrypicked intel the last time. What is it you aren't telling us, Mr. President?)

Problem number three: they won't offer a plan. What they will give us, besides the cherrypicked intel, is a bunch of fatuous platitudes about keeping us Safe! from Danger! and did we mention Terror! That gives an Eddie Gaedel-sized strike zone. If we have a full-on plan, conversely, it will be child's play for them to pick it apart.

Problem number four: they will lie about their intentions. They will claim they are pursuing every diplomatic option, just as they did with Iraq; the party line will be that it's up to Iran to behave if they want to avoid attack. That makes it much more difficult to tell people an attack would be catastrophically stupid, because Bush will be saying it's only a last resort.

Posted by: Tom Hilton on April 7, 2006 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

It's just that this particular debate feels like completely framed by the Republicans. Yes, we should have something on the table, but please God, let it not be judged by any actual relevance, but only by its salebility. Iraq has proven that you don't have to do anything right, it is only the perceived attitude that matters.

Posted by: jonathan on April 7, 2006 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

"Failing to offer a serious alternative vision on national security besides "Well, you can't trust the other guy's vision" isn't a good way of winning elections, though arguing why you can't trust the other guy's vision can be a great way of predisposing people to listen to yours."

Failing to offer an alternative to what? To cooperating with the Europeans and the Russians while leaving the possibility of attack on the table? This is a sane and possibly correct strategy.

The only real policy problem for the Democrats is the well justified apprehension that the above strategy is only the facade for yet another hidden plan that is very dangerous and stupid.

The election is not presidential, so it won't solve the problem. The only opportunity it provides is to elect a congress that might shorten Bush's leash a bit.

Posted by: Boronx on April 7, 2006 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

start thinking about what was in the best interests of the country rather than "how they're going to respond to this" as a campaign issue

He's OK with the Bush administration doing this on every fucking issue!?

IOKIYAR Indeedy.

Posted by: ckelly on April 7, 2006 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

Is anybody going to nail the press at large and conservative commenters for opining about how Bush and Congressmen should deal with the backlash on Iraq, Katrina, Abramoff, DeLay, Domestic Spying, etc?

Have Republicans come forth with any plan at all to hold anyone responsible for even one of these crimes and disasters?

Posted by: Boronx on April 7, 2006 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK
Problem number one: the playing field isn't level. On matters of national security, a sitting administration gets the presumption of correctness, and the opposition has to clear a very high bar in order to overcome that presumption.

While this is generally true, recent polling suggests that neither the presumption usually granted to the sitting president nor the presumptive advantage of the Republican party are as operative in the current milieu as they have historically been. So, while this is somewhat true, it is less true now than it ever has been, and its certainly never been, even when it was more true, a good reason for the opposition party not to articulate a policy.


Problem number two: they have all the intel, they can choose what to release, and we know from experience that they will release it selectively to make themselves look good. So a substantive debate would be conducted on their turf with the facts they choose. (Again, we can neutralize this advantage by hammering on exactly how they cherrypicked intel the last time. What is it you aren't telling us, Mr. President?)

Of course that's true, to an extent, and that's part of why any criticism of policy should include criticism of the reliability of the information provided based on past behavior. But it need not be limited to that; there will no doubt be assessments available separately from US intelligence -- as there were from Iraq. There will no doubt be good arguments that will be available that, even if the intelligence facts they present are true, the analytical conclusions are unjustifed. There will no doubt be arguments available that even if their presentation of the problem were correct, the action they propose would not rationally lead to a result enough better than refraining from that action as to warrant the likely cost in lives and treasure, and indeed that it will, at great cost, make us less safe, not more.

And, more importantly, our members in Congress ought to dig in their heels and demand access to all the underlying intelligence necessary to assure confidence in the presentation, and if they don't get it, they ought to refuse even cooperation on minor symbolic measures of support for any hardline stance.

Problem number three: they won't offer a plan. What they will give us, besides the cherrypicked intel, is a bunch of fatuous platitudes about keeping us Safe! from Danger! and did we mention Terror! That gives an Eddie Gaedel-sized strike zone. If we have a full-on plan, conversely, it will be child's play for them to pick it apart.

Well, if they talk about "Safe!" "Danger!" "Terror!", we should present a vision -- which need not be complete in every detail -- of what it means to be safe from the danger and terror actually presented. We ought to show their empty rhetoric as non-serious.

They get away with justifying their actions as the only route to deal with the vague danger if we don't provide an alternate vision.

Problem number four: they will lie about their intentions. They will claim they are pursuing every diplomatic option, just as they did with Iraq; the party line will be that it's up to Iran to behave if they want to avoid attack.

Then we need to highlight the diplomatic routes they ought to be following, the course they ought to take, our vision of what a verification and (if necessary) sanction regime would look like. We have to provide a vision of what could be done that puts the lie to their vague claims that they are doing it. Otherwise, people have no reason other than vague distrust to disbelieve those claims. Now, with the administrations current polling, that will certainly help, but we need, I think, to put something concrete for those feelings to crystallize around.

People will go along with -- or at least not strongly oppose -- a course they feel uncomfortable with if there is no concrete, well-articulated alternative, particularly if there is a threat dangling out there. We have to call into question their presentation of the threat, were it has holes, and we need to present our own vision of how to deal with any real threat that exists.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 7, 2006 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK
The election is not presidential, so it won't solve the problem.

If we actually lived in a real dictatorship, rather than a republic that sometimes approached dictatorship because there was no pressure on the legislature to take its responsibility seriously, I would agree.

OTOH, in the real world, I think that the degree to which the election can solve anything is directly related to the degree to which the public is convinced that Congress ought to do anything that would solve anything.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 7, 2006 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

Yaayyyy... Kevin fights back.

Posted by: SombreroFallout on April 7, 2006 at 6:02 PM | PERMALINK

S Ra:

But I'm sure when, in the last few months before the election rolls around and the Democrats do introduce their goals, you'll have plenty of time to lie about them. So be of good cheer.

Won't have to bother, because they aren't going to introduce anything. They've got nothing. Maybe you noticed that their big National Security presentation hit the floor like a bucket of wet cement.

Posted by: tbrosz on April 7, 2006 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely wrote: ... the administration preparing a war on Iran because it was an underhanded electoral strategy ...

I think it's quite possible that the Bush administration's entire approach to Iran, sabre-rattling and imminent-mushroom-clouds-over-America rhetoric and all, is nothing but an "underhanded electoral strategy", that they don't actualy intend to do anything at all about Iran, and they are concocting this whole business for the sole purpose of influencing the 2006 elections.

It's just a part of their usual lying, cheating and stealing to get or keep power.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 7, 2006 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

This seems relevant:

Poll: Bush, GOP Hit New Lows in Public Opinion
The Associated Press
Friday 07 April 2006

Excerpt (emphasis added):

President Bush's approval ratings hit a series of new lows in an AP-Ipsos poll that also shows Republicans surrendering their advantage on national security - grim election-year news for a party struggling to stay in power.

Democratic leaders predicted they will seize control of one or both chambers of Congress in November. Republicans said they feared the worst unless the political landscape quickly changes.

"These numbers are scary. We've lost every advantage we've ever had," GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio said. "The good news is Democrats don't have much of a plan. The bad news is they may not need one."

There is more at stake than the careers of GOP lawmakers. A Democratic-led Congress could bury the last vestiges of Bush's legislative agenda and subject the administration to high-profile investigations of the Iraq war, the CIA leak case, warrantless eavesdropping and other matters.

In the past two congressional elections, Republicans gained seats on the strength of Bush's popularity and a perception among voters that the GOP was stronger on national security than Democrats. Those advantages are gone, according to a survey of 1,003 adults conducted this week for The Associated Press by Ipsos, an international polling firm.

For what it's worth, I predict that the Republicans will retain their majorities in both houses of Congress, by stealing elections through massive fraud, voter disenfranchisement and intimidation, rigged voting machines, etc., just as they did in 2000, 2002 and 2004.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 7, 2006 at 6:48 PM | PERMALINK

For what it's worth, I predict that the Republicans will retain their majorities in both houses of Congress, by stealing elections through massive fraud, voter disenfranchisement and intimidation, rigged voting machines, etc., just as they did in 2000, 2002 and 2004.
I hate to say, but that's a real possibility...

Posted by: ExBrit on April 7, 2006 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

Andrew Sullivan, I think, initially misquoted Kevin. Kevin might email Andrew and see if that's the case. Sullivan long ago stopped responding to my criticisms.

I expect Taranto simply got bad information at the Dish.

Posted by: kidneystones on April 7, 2006 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK

Congratulations, Kevin.

I didn't realize you were being read and cited by the WSJ.

Posted by: Mike on April 7, 2006 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely wrote:

OTOH, in the real world, I think that the degree to which the election can solve anything is directly related to the degree to which the public is convinced that Congress ought to do anything that would solve anything.

In the real, real world, the election will not come down to who has the most sensible plan for Iran, it will be a referendum on whether we bomb Iran. This is what Rove wants, and it's what he'll make it.

It is most unfortunate, especially for our professed strategy WRT Iran, since either outcome will derail it. But if 2006 is going to be a repeat of 2002, that's what the Democrats face.

Anyways, I wouldn't bet my life savings on the idea that Bush will bend to whatever mandate the new Congress receives, and Congress itself is constitutionally limited no matter what notions were in the heads of the voters.

Posted by: Boronx on April 7, 2006 at 7:32 PM | PERMALINK
While this is generally true, recent polling suggests that neither the presumption usually granted to the sitting president nor the presumptive advantage of the Republican party are as operative in the current milieu as they have historically been.
Right. And the reasons for that are a) their catastrophic incompetence at handling Iraq, and b) the exposure of their mendacity in the lead-up to the invasion. Both of which will be repeated on Iran, if Bush gets his way. Those are the points we have to hammer endlessly. Endlessly.
Of course that's true, to an extent, and that's part of why any criticism of policy should include criticism of the reliability of the information provided based on past behavior. But it need not be limited to that; there will no doubt be assessments available separately from US intelligence -- as there were from Iraq. There will no doubt be good arguments that will be available that, even if the intelligence facts they present are true, the analytical conclusions are unjustifed. There will no doubt be arguments available that even if their presentation of the problem were correct, the action they propose would not rationally lead to a result enough better than refraining from that action as to warrant the likely cost in lives and treasure, and indeed that it will, at great cost, make us less safe, not more.
And none of those arguments will mean anything at all, anymore than they did in 2002. Voters don't make rational analyses of policy issues--not in the real world, anyway; they decide whom they trust. Now, appearing to have a plan for Iran may be a component of getting them to trust us--but the more important thing, the much stronger weapon we have, is distrust of Bush.
And, more importantly, our members in Congress ought to dig in their heels and demand access to all the underlying intelligence necessary to assure confidence in the presentation, and if they don't get it, they ought to refuse even cooperation on minor symbolic measures of support for any hardline stance.
Hey, good luck with that.

Snark aside--and I trust it's as obvious to you as it is to me that we can hold our breaths til we all turn blue but we still aren't going to get anything but cherrypicked intel favorable to Bush because this is the Stonewall Administration--snark aside, I agree that we need to do that, but not as a substantive matter (we aren't going to get shit) but as a symbolic one. We need to make an issue of the fact that they're cherrypicking intel, and we need to beat Bush about the head with it at every opportunity.

Well, if they talk about "Safe!" "Danger!" "Terror!", we should present a vision -- which need not be complete in every detail -- of what it means to be safe from the danger and terror actually presented.
That's exactly what I said in my post: we need fatuous platitudes to counter their fatuous platitudes.
We ought to show their empty rhetoric as non-serious.
Oh, wait...you mean we should counter their fatuous platitudes with substance. Yeah...hey, good luck with that.

Look: the way to show their empty rhetoric is empty is to remind the voters, endlessly, of how empty it turned out to be last time. Sure, we need something that sounds good...but this isn't about one vision vs. another; it's about the administration that cried wolf. And, um, marched all its sheep off a cliff because of a wolf that wasn't even there. Or something...you get the idea.

Then we need to highlight the diplomatic routes they ought to be following, the course they ought to take, our vision of what a verification and (if necessary) sanction regime would look like.
That will accomplish nothing. What we have to do is remind the voters, endlessly, that the last time they said the things they're saying now they were lying, and they're lying again. And we need to repeat that. Endlessly.

In the end, it's all about inoculation.

Posted by: Tom Hilton on April 7, 2006 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK
In the real, real world, the election will not come down to who has the most sensible plan for Iran, it will be a referendum on whether we bomb Iran.

In the real, real, real world, results of a referendum on whether we bomb Iran will be determined in no small part by what people see as the alternative to bombing Iran.

Anyways, I wouldn't bet my life savings on the idea that Bush will bend to whatever mandate the new Congress receives,

If he does not, a sufficiently motivated Congress has powerful remedies at its disposal.

and Congress itself is constitutionally limited no matter what notions were in the heads of the voters.

Congress has the power to eject the President from office for crimes it defines without review, under standards of proof it chooses without review, and its application of those definitions and standards is also without review.

Congress power to check the President isn't meaningfully Consitutionally limited; the only meaningul limit is Congressional will.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 7, 2006 at 8:09 PM | PERMALINK

yeah but he said you were young. If someone says I'm young I don't care what else he says and I am (slightly) younger than you.

Also to call his effort postmodernist parsing is over charitable. The part of his "quote" which is potentially damaging to you is the part which is not in quotation marks "this' as a campaign issue." That is a blatent effort to trick the punctuation impaired into thinking you said something that you didn't say.

Since his alleged point is that you are only interested in Iran as a campaign issue and not as a policy issue, he provides the second most obvious proof possible of bad faith. The most obvious proof would be to put something you never wrote in quotation marks (while linking to this blog). I'm not holding my breath waiting for that. Taranto is clearly dishonest but he is not as dumb as Daniel Luskin

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on April 7, 2006 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely is correct in his criticism of the tone of Kevin's previous post about Iran. And policy, as cmdicely has argued, should always precede political considerations, for reasons that should be evident from the tenure of Rove et. al. However...

I don't come here for substantive policy prescriptions. I come here because Kevin often has pointers to people with interesting policy prescriptions, and thought-provoking commentary to go with them. For example, Cirincione's column about Iran in Foreign Policy, referenced in Kevin's post, is one of those. While not a policy presecription per se, it does offer some good suggestions on how we should approach developing a rational approach to Iran.

For substantive policy prescriptions, discussion, and analysis, read Cirincione's piece or, e.g., Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, International Security, etc. I don't expect the same depth or quality from a blog (no offense Kevin).

Taranto is being disingeneous in his criticism and obviously cannot differentiate between oranges and frozen orange juice concentrate. Instead of castigating a "leading young intellectual" who posts on a blog several times a day on subjects ranging from immigration to social security to foreign policy--any one of which can and does consume entire careers--Taranto should take his beef up with the Democractic leadership and those who are career policy wonks. (And cats, what about cats Mr. Taranto?)

That said, compared to, e.g., Powerline or Instapundit, (or Domenech and friends) who do little more than parrot or defend pre-processed RNC positions--or more often act as little more than attack dogs--Kevin is a depthless well of originality.

Posted by: has407 on April 7, 2006 at 9:54 PM | PERMALINK

The question of whether or not anyone will be able to prevent the Bush Administration from bombing Iran is a political question. The Admin succeeded in fragmenting Democratic opposition to the pending war on Iraq by getting Democrats involved in discussing amongst themselves what an appropriate Iraq policy ought to look like. Democrats failed to understand that the choice in September 2002 (indeed, in July 2002) was not what American policy ought, ideally, to look like; it was, should we let this Administration invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein, or not?

That is the only question that was relevant for Democrats in the summer and fall of 2002. Today, the only relevant question regarding Iran for Democrats is: should we allow this Administration to go ahead and bomb Iran, or not? This is not an essay test; it's not even multiple choice. It's true-false.

It is an open question whether or not a completely united Democratic opposition, drawing some support from Republicans, combined with a massive public campaign including rallies, internet campaigns, donations, media events, and collaboration from like-minded elements in the mainstream media would be able to head off a Bush Administration decision to bomb Iran. It's entirely possible, considering Bush is not running for reelection and appears to have a messianic confidence in the rightness of his own lunatic notions, that he would go ahead with a bombing campaign even if polls showed that 80% of the American public were opposed to it. The best a well-organized movement to stop this campaign could really hope for would be perhaps 70%. But Kevin is exactly right: this thing is real, it may very well be happening, and a political response to it (in fact, a political effort to stop it) is an absolutely vital necessity for Democrats. And if you think, as I do, that an American attack on Iran would be the final bullet through the forehead of an already tortured and suffering American global image, would permanently spike America's ability to accomplish anything geopolitical on anything other than a pure economics and power-politics basis, and would put an end to any American role in encouraging the spread of democracy, human rights, environmental responsibility, or basically anything else with a moral dimension, then this is the only important political question you ought to be thinking about.

Posted by: brooksfoe on April 8, 2006 at 7:41 AM | PERMALINK
That said, compared to, e.g., Powerline or Instapundit, (or Domenech and friends) who do little more than parrot or defend pre-processed RNC positions--or more often act as little more than attack dogs--Kevin is a depthless well of originality.

Well, yeah, I can't disagree with that.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 8, 2006 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

And like Deutsch, Fund and others Taranto didn't graduate from college. Yes there's a trend.

Posted by: Mark A. York on April 8, 2006 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Check this out:

New Challenge for Press: U.S. Planning War on Iran?
The U.S. is planning a massive bombing campaign against Iran, including possible use of bunker-buster nuclear bombs to destroy a suspected--but far from proven--nuclear weapons facility, The New Yorker will report in its April 17 issue. Seymour Hersh writes that, as in Iraq, a driving force in the scenario is "regime change." - April 08, 2006 12:05 PM ET

http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/index.jsp

Posted by: Neil' on April 8, 2006 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

For years, I've regarded cmdicely's comments here with respect and appreciation, but in this thread with awe. Thank you, cmdicely, whoever and wherever you are.

Posted by: Nell on April 9, 2006 at 12:12 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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