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Tilting at Windmills

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January 29, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

THE CHINA CARD....Matt Yglesias isn't happy with Hillary Clinton's "politics of militarism," but he's even less happy that Barack Obama doesn't seem willing to offer the full-throated alternative he ought to be capable of. Instead, in last week's debate, he responded to Hillary's provocation ("I am better positioned and better able to take on John McCain or any Republican when it comes to issues about protecting and defending our country and promoting our interest in the world") with a weak, rambling appeal to "overcome the politics of fear in this country." Says Matt:

I'm sympathetic to what I think Obama was trying to say, but the point is better put more simply — to have the best shot at winning national security arguments with John McCain, the Democrats need a candidate who didn't support the invasion of Iraq.

....For months, [Obama] has been unwilling to make a forceful case from the left on national security issues in a Democratic primary, so it's far from clear that [in a general election] he would, in practice, make the sort of strong arguments his record leaves him capable of making. If McCain (or, for that matter, Mitt Romney) starts talking about how in a Democratic administration North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Syria, Hamas, al-Qaeda, and some Iraqi dude who doesn't like having a foreign army occupy his country are all going to team up and kill your children, it won't do to respond by whining about the politics of fear. He'll have to learn to say something in response, perhaps about how the real best way to keep Americans safe is with a focused, targeted effort that gives us the maximum chance of actually killing or capturing our deadliest foes rather than one that lets them escape while needlessly stirring up unrelated trouble that multiplies the number of adversaries we face.

OK, but here's the thing. There are two reasons Obama might not be making this argument. The first is that he doesn't believe it. If that's the case, then we're stuck. Obama just isn't the change agent we'd all like to think he is.

But let's assume he really is less militaristic than Hillary. The second reason he might not be making the argument Matt wants to hear is that he believes it would be electoral suicide. Americans, perhaps, just aren't open to the idea that a "focused, targeted effort" is what we need. Maybe the politics of fear works really well, and once the genie is out the bottle then you either adopt a hard-edged, interventionist rhetoric or else you sound like a wimp.

If that's the case — and it might well be — then what we need is a new way of convincing average voters that there are better ways of staying safe and increasing our global influence than fighting lots of overseas wars. Matt himself might have some ideas on that score. But here's another one: make an appeal to national chauvinism. In the Parag Khanna piece I mentioned below, there's a bit of discussion about how China interacts with the world, and none of it has to do with projecting military power. So what would happen if you played off that? China isn't fighting foreign wars, they're doing X, Y, and Z instead. And they're winning. So we'd better get on the stick and start doing what they're doing.

A lot of Americans — maybe most — instinctively think that the best way to react to a threat is via force. Logic isn't going to change their minds, but an argument that our dumb interventions are causing us to lose ground to other countries that are smarter than us just might. Even Joe Sixpack doesn't want us to lose ground to a billion wily Chinese, after all. Maybe it's worth a shot.

Kevin Drum 1:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (103)

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Didn't Obama make a big deal about his willingness to engage in diplomacy with America's enemies to try to find a better way forward? And didn't Senator Clinton savage that stance and say we shouldn't meet with dangerous dictators? I thought that was a pretty instructive moment.

Posted by: jbryan on January 29, 2008 at 1:42 AM | PERMALINK

Obama would never do something like that.
Obama doesn't just speak the truth, he knows it.
according to Michelle Obama.

And you know what, I'm not going to let any facts or any other politician bamboozle me or hoodwink me into believing otherwise. I'm telling Ray Ray and Pookie up the block too.

Because you know Senator Clinton never cried for Katrina. Those tears melted the granite state, but "as we move on to South Carolina, where 45% of the electorate is black, we have to ask where those tears were during Katrina."

Oh wait.. South Carolina already happened.

Oprah asked.. is he the one.. "Yes South Carolina, I do believe he is the one."

Well. gosh darn it, if Oprah says it, then he must be "the one."

For a candidate that knows the truth and doesn't just speak it, I know in my heart that when he turns his back, its actually a gesture of humility.

You are so confused.. CONTRIBUTE TO THE OBAMATHON NOW!!!!

Posted by: obamisthemessiah on January 29, 2008 at 1:46 AM | PERMALINK

Didn't Mike Huckabee mention exactly that the other day during an interview? About China's interactions with other countries...

So let's all vote for him.

Posted by: KathyF on January 29, 2008 at 1:50 AM | PERMALINK

He's not so much the change agent he's willing to let everybody else to make him out to be, Kevin.

There, that wasn't so hard, was it?

And, Mr. Matt Yglesias, if you really want change, you know you have to vote off the board rather than staying in the two-party box.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on January 29, 2008 at 1:52 AM | PERMALINK

Rather than speculate about what Obama meant to say, why isn't he pointedly asked? Last I heard, Obama is still interviewing for the job.
This man is highly intelligent and articulate, why are so many willing to hire him without requiring that he answer our important and legitimate questions?
Frankly, I don't give a damn what Matt Yglesias
"thinks Obama was trying to say." Does he have a better insight into what Obama meant than Obama?
This is madness.

Posted by: GW on January 29, 2008 at 1:58 AM | PERMALINK

"our dumb interventions are causing us to lose ground to other countries that are smarter than us"

You can't start an argument by saying America is second best. You immediately lose your audience. Joe Sixpack is so used to being told America the best in every possible way that he just doesn't believe it when someone tells him otherwise. And if you do somehow manage to convince him that just maybe America is not the best, then he gets angry and upset because that's just how humans react when they're made to doubt something they strongly believe.

Sit at a bar and try telling someone that Europe has better healthcare than America and you'll see what I mean.

Since the end of the Cold War alot of Americans, both elites and average Joes, have become so convinced of America's superiority that they're incapable of learning from the example of others because they can't understand it might be better.

Posted by: swio on January 29, 2008 at 2:05 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

That was my reaction to Khanna's piece. Let's ignore that some of it is not well argued (it's a condensed version of his argument). Iraq *really* has diverted us from our own self-interests. We really are in a new competition with China and other countries, and we really could come off the worse for it. We've lost some ground and there's much more to lose, but it doesn't have to be that way.

There's a great argument for the Democrats in this. They'll have to present it in a narrative; tell a story and build on it during the election. The economic stress we are under fits in, too. But, Democrats aren't good at telling nationally compelling stories.

FDR told a story about the need to "try something". Reagon told the story of how government was the problem. He told it well. Bush told the story of how Kerry flip-flopped. The stories started before the primaries and grew and grew.

Posted by: dws on January 29, 2008 at 2:13 AM | PERMALINK

Let me make this clear, Obama said in a speech prepared for delivery at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al-Qaida leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf wont act, we will.

--http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20070536/

Posted by: Michael Robinson on January 29, 2008 at 2:14 AM | PERMALINK

"A lot of Americans — maybe most — instinctively think that the best way to react to a threat is via force. Logic isn't going to change their minds,"
Sadly Kevin I believe this to be true of roughly 35-40% of all males and 20-25% of all females. What the hell can we do? Elect some really hardball bellicose soldier--oh wait, that's McCain. Americans are too damn pugnacious against their best interest. swio is likewise right about the xenophobia and false sense of superiority.

Posted by: hollywood on January 29, 2008 at 2:18 AM | PERMALINK

Somehow I think that "China is winning" is not a winning political slogan, even if it is true to some degree, in some ways.

From Matt:
Throughout the campaign, there's been little consideration of the lessons future politicians will take if they see that having backed a Republican president in launching a war of choice that proved the most catastrophic foreign-policy mistake of the past 25 years didn't even cost Clinton the Democratic Party's nomination.

Spot on. And what lesson would she take from it all, if she's elected, when it comes to deciding whether to start a preemptive war of her own? I hope that she supported Bush's war out of political cowardice, but I fear that she supported Bush's war because she's in tune with the neo-con ideal of a "muscular" foreign policy, and it's her current stance during the campaign that is feigned. Especially since she's not really even distancing herself all that much from her support of Bush's war.

Posted by: bobb on January 29, 2008 at 2:41 AM | PERMALINK

I am starting to think we're on the edge of a big generational shift, but we aren't _quite_ there yet. It may be that Obama is running several years too early ...

Basically, the problem is the baby boomers. World War II defined their life, quite literally, and they seem to think that America is only capable of changing the world by blowing it up.

As it turns out now, WWII was basically a giant anomaly but the boomers' entire world view is dominated by this anomaly, as if a man sees one black swan and continues to believe all swans are black, even as he is getting pecked to death by an army of white ones.

One message I have: World War II was an _anomaly_, ya freakz.

The reality: America loses more wars than it wins (I said it) but the boomers brains are too calcified to acknowledge this singular fact. For them, WWII is everything. Everything will be like WWII again if we just keep bombing people ... WWII ... "WWWII ... WWII has to be this great thing, because it led to my creation, and I am a great thing. If WWII was not a great thing revealing a grand destiny than what am I? ..."

But there is a new generation moving up and Obama is leading them. The boomers were the children of destiny, but the boomers' children, led by Obama, were the children of divorces, Watergate and Jimmy Carter, born in servitude to the boomers' insatiable need to f up everything it touched.

Pity the boomers' children: An entire generation born to Gomer Pyle.

The boomers' children have had to put up with a lot of crap from the boomers (HELLO Nixon, Reagan, Carter, Bush, Clinton, and Bush and Clinton and Bush and Clinton and Jeb and Jeb II and Chelsea and Jeb III and let's give one of those Bush felons a go at it, boomers, you crazy people ... Oh Christ, and Ford! Where did you guys find Ford? Did you guys really just make us sit through a two week eulogy for FREAKIN GERALD FORD, don't you remember that you didn't even vote for him?) and the boomers' children are ready for the boomers to sit down and ... at long last ... JUST SHUT THE F UP and try to think about someone other than themselves for a change.

Unlike the boomer generation, the post-boomer generation wants the government to help maintain a good economy, make sure there aren't hungry people in the streets and, oh yeah, make sure the PLANET DOESN'T MELT. No more police actions, no more Grand Ideological Plans of a Conservative or Liberal Nature, no more Contracts with Americas, can we please get some people who know how to keep the planet from melting? NO, SIT DOWN BOOMER, I AM TALKING NOW. YOU SHUT UP AND EAT YOUR APPLE SAUCE. YOU HAD YOUR CHANCE!

Sigh.

Unfortunately, boomers are still politically active, so we are all still caught in their WWII-fed Delusional Destiny of bombing the crap out of people until somehow everyone is happy in a great orgiastic display of post-war coitus giving rise to the Baby Boomers II, Baby Boomers III, a whole truckload of George Dubyas and so on ... until the entire universe has morphed into a giant baby boomer wife-swapping party where mutants on Betelgeuse 7 shake their heads sadly at the resignation of Gnort Dubya Goofflut before snorting more blow into the 7000 noses. And Gerald Ford eulogies are on 24/7 re-run, the death of the boomer ur-Father for megalapaloids of all universes to appreciate.

So, to answer you question, until the boomers stop voting, YES, we're going to need to continue to force feed children's books to them, which means that YES we will need to continue to say, "Yes, Georgie ... we will bomb them all ... now go to bed, Georgie ... night night, we will bomb them good, Georgie and then it will be just like the end of WWII again when you started existing."

Once we put the boomers to bed, then we can start doing things like reading facts and acting on them. But as long as the Boomers are here and voting, we're f'ed.

Posted by: BombIranForChrist on January 29, 2008 at 2:42 AM | PERMALINK

The Republicans would have to have a lot of nerve to claim they can better defend us after having spent almost $1 trillion and caused an enormous number of casualties seeing a threat where none existed and invading the wrong country.

Their noses should be continuously rubbed into this fact, in public. To paraphrase McCain, "Talk Iraq, talk Iraq, talk Iraq". (Something that Obama could do more easily than Hillary for obvious reasons).

Posted by: JS on January 29, 2008 at 2:54 AM | PERMALINK

Shorter BombIranForChrist:

Boomers just want to go boom? (ba ba boom)

Posted by: snicker-snack (tail-end boomer or early Xer) on January 29, 2008 at 2:58 AM | PERMALINK

The third reason might be that he doesn't want to alienate any of his diverse supporters until he's forced to. Espousing specific foreign policies could very well erode his coalition of kossacks, independents, and disenchanted republicans. They're all against fear, divisiveness, and the status quo -- so that's where Obama will try keep the message.

There isn't a red america or a blue america. There's an america filled with individuals hearing what they want to hear in fairly ambiguous and eloquent stump speeches.

-----------
Although it works for me I don't think major candidates are going to be willing to admit the "China is winning" in 2008. I know it would have been considered a major gaffe in 2004. Maybe "China is making strides" or "China is catching up." Remember, we're number ONE!!

Posted by: B on January 29, 2008 at 3:06 AM | PERMALINK

Rather than speculate about what Obama meant to say, why isn't he pointedly asked?

1) Kevin had a post about reporters getting to ask questions of Obama the other day. Apparently its not that easy.

2) I would really love it if we had a single news anchor out there who was willing to research policy issues and was capable of thinking on their feet. The selection bias for the current crop of talking heads seems to preclude this.

Posted by: B on January 29, 2008 at 3:18 AM | PERMALINK

Well, for me I see America's relative decline as inevitable and in sum a good thing. Lord Acton's dictum "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely" remains my starting point for political systems. It has as much relevance in looking at the dynamics of international systems as it has in looking at power dynamics within the nation. The U.S. has quite simply become corrupted by the possibilities it sees as being within its grasp.

I'm not looking for whichever party is best able to reassert American preeminence (a fool's errand) but for whichever party is able to work with the rest of the world towards a less bleak future for all. Course I come at this as a non-American.

(Hey and I thought Norway was Number 1!)

Posted by: snicker-snack on January 29, 2008 at 3:37 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin Kevin Kevin.... You know what the response would be?

"We don't want to do anything China is doing! Those bastards are commies!"

Posted by: MNPundit on January 29, 2008 at 3:44 AM | PERMALINK

If I've seen one discussion about "What Obama really meant was..." I've seen dozens.

How can he be a "change agent" when we don't know what the hell he's talking about half the time?

And, uh, bombiranforchrist, you've got your generations badly mixed up. Read a little recent history, maybe. The Wikipedia article on baby boomers would be a good start.

Posted by: Swift Loris on January 29, 2008 at 3:47 AM | PERMALINK

Like many others, Matt inflates his Obama doll and breathes into it every idea Matt supports. Alas, the real Obama falls short of many of wishes his worshipers see in him, the China thing included.

The St. Obama cult of personality is the left's version of the St. Reagan the right has. Not very surprising that Obama admires Reagan.

Posted by: Koshembos on January 29, 2008 at 5:44 AM | PERMALINK

If I've seen one discussion about "What Obama really meant was..." I've seen dozens.

Now you know what the rest of us have felt like for the past few years when Hillary tries to explain her Iraq war vote! You pick your equivocating politician, I pick mine.

Koshembos, I hope Obama is the left's version of Reagan, though it's way too early to say that. If you're a liberal, you should be hoping it too.

Posted by: sweaty guy on January 29, 2008 at 6:11 AM | PERMALINK

How can he be a "change agent" when we don't know what the hell he's talking about half the time?

Christ was a change agent and we're still arguing about what the hell he was talking about. That's part of the gig of a change agent, isn't it?

Take Bob Dylan: Hell, he still doesn't know what he was talking about four decades ago. And, neither do we.

Posted by: Econobuzz on January 29, 2008 at 6:36 AM | PERMALINK

One thing that encourages me about Clinton, though, is that they were quite adroit at avoiding wars and military involvement in the first administration. Only Bosnia-Kosovo, where we did not lose a man.

Posted by: bob h on January 29, 2008 at 7:27 AM | PERMALINK

maybe he's actually smart enough to know that foreign policy argued from the left is not only political suicide is absolutely stupid! I assumed at least a few of you morons must have studied history but I guess not. Are you so deluded that you think a guy who makes pretty speeches is somehow going to change human fucking nature? What exactly are you people smoking?

Posted by: dus on January 29, 2008 at 7:41 AM | PERMALINK

Well, well, already Obama is having an interesting effect on an important issue. What a nice way to start the day for once.

Posted by: Bob M on January 29, 2008 at 7:44 AM | PERMALINK

This is a very unimpressive post. Yglesias points out that Obama essentially has no position on the War on Terror and you respond by saying well, maybe he doesn't but if said the U.S. should imitate China that might work.

I grow more and more tired of Bill Clinton every day, but the basic rap against Obama--that as a smart, personable black guy all he's had to do in life so far is show up--gets more persuasive as well.

Posted by: Alan Vanneman on January 29, 2008 at 7:59 AM | PERMALINK

Talk softly and carry a big stick. Bush talked loudly and carried a very, very small stick. Maybe Obama's smart to play his cards close to the vest -- it gives you infinitely more options than making stupid, belligerent promises you can't keep.

Posted by: dalloway on January 29, 2008 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

Jesus, Kevin - are you serious? Let's emulate China? Are you fucking serious!? That's a joke, right? I've always felt that electing Obama could turn out to be a worse mistake than Bush - but now I'm convinced of it. You people are insane. This one blog post has pushed me over, I've been leaning more and more each day listening to you Obama fanatics talk jibberish, but now it's over - I'm voting McCain.

Posted by: rubicon on January 29, 2008 at 8:26 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

I think it's pretty misguided to believe that Americans will ever see China as an object of fear because China may be achieving some success on economic grounds.

Look, people just see national security and economic power as two separate realms. And I think that mostly they are right to do so. Fear of being physically attacked is really a very different phenomenon from fear of economic decline. It's pretty unimaginable that in voters one could succeed in supplanting one fear with another.

And what's the big threat of China to the US anyway? What more can it do to our economic base that it hasn't already done? It's taken over a lot of manufacturing, but most of that has been lost for us already for any number of years. I don't see it being anymore of a threat in technology than, say, Japan has already been.

And it's useful to remember that back in the eighties everyone seemed to think that Japan was going to squeeze the economic life out of us and dominate the world. That didn't exactly happen -- there were important domains, such as software and certain basic computer technologies where it never made any inroads. It's very hard to imitate Silicon Valley elsewhere in the world -- it's very hard to replicate it even elsewhere in the US. The critical mass of basic technology and science culture responsible for key portions of our economic engine resides in the US and nowhere else. For all the talk of change, some things never seem to do so -- and every evidence is that the core dominance of science and technology we enjoy in the US will continue as far as the eye can see.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 29, 2008 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

Now you know what the rest of us have felt like for the past few years when Hillary tries to explain her Iraq war vote! You pick your equivocating politician, I pick mine.

This is getting sort of stale but I always thought the vote by Kerry, Edwards, Biden, Dodd, Daschle, Lieberman, Schumer, Reid, Landrieu, Feinstein, Harkin, Rockefeller, and Clinton was fairly transparent. They'll tell you different things about being hoodwinked on intelligence, believing Bush would let the inspections run their course, or believing Bush would run an efficient war and not do everything possible to start a sectarian war.

The truth is they rolled over (with cover and caveats) because they were afraid of being on the wrong side of a successful and popular war. They were afraid of being painted as weak on national security and homeland security and losing the ability to run for higher office in a "post 9-11 world" (well, Lieberman also apparently believed killing Iraqis and bitch-slapping middle eastern countries was the right thing to do). They knew Bush was going to invade Iraq regardless of the inspections, assumed Bush knew something they didn't regarding the results of future inspections, or assumed Bush was going to plant WMD.

It tells you something about the success of the politics of fear in 2002. Democrats were on the defensive a month before the midterms and it wasn't pretty.

Personally I think you're projecting if you think you know how Obama would have voted. I would hope that he would have voted with Graham, Wellstone, and Widen but he said himself that he's unsure how he would have voted. I think you have to have some respect for his word and his suggestion that senators were put in pretty tough situation. My bet is 3:1 that he was just providing cover for Kerry, but I'm on the fence. I see the record of other democrats with presidential aspirations.

Posted by: B on January 29, 2008 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

America should be more like China? Make a forceful case from the left on national security issues? Yeah--that's the ticket.

If you need a soundbite for Joe Sixpack, try this:

I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

Posted by: Lucy on January 29, 2008 at 8:51 AM | PERMALINK

Filipinos are wily. Chinese are inscrutable.

Posted by: Wile E. Filipino on January 29, 2008 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

And what's the big threat of China to the US anyway? What more can it do to our economic base that it hasn't already done?

Well, in the event of a conflict (i.e. over Taiwan) they could control us like puppets with a little twist of our currency or real estate markets. They could also withhold new clean underwear.

It's very hard to imitate Silicon Valley elsewhere in the world -- it's very hard to replicate it even elsewhere in the US. The critical mass of basic technology and science culture responsible for key portions of our economic engine resides in the US and nowhere else. For all the talk of change, some things never seem to do so -- and every evidence is that the core dominance of science and technology we enjoy in the US will continue as far as the eye can see.

What's made in silicon valley? As a country I believe there is nothing we can not do. Including exporting the very core of our science and technology dominance. That's assuming it improves the bottom line for the next couple of quarters.

I think the real threat is to international leadership. We will lose control on many different levels -- environment, world health, timber & petroleum & mining development, and the tenure of dictators and democracies.

Posted by: B on January 29, 2008 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

Deep.

Funny how all of successful foreign policy falls out of that. I don't believe you need a further thought to have a robust, unified theory covering all issues of foreign policy. And it's a good thing that you don't need a further thought, because I'm not sure that Obama has had one -- just look at the mess from him quoted by Yglesias:

Obama weakly returned the conversation to Clinton's comment, saying, "I believe that the way we are going to take on somebody like a John McCain on national security is not that we're sort of -- we've been sort of like John McCain, but not completely, you know, we voted for the war, but we had reservations." Then, figuring this wasn't abstract enough, he went meta: "I think it's going to be somebody who can serve as a strong contrast and say, 'we've got to overcome the politics of fear in this country.'"
On wonders, is Obama going to take us to a post-partisan politics, or, like his Republican mirror image, Bush, take us to a post-competence politics?

Posted by: frankly0 on January 29, 2008 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

Are you kidding me?

After 8 years of Bush and Cheney, 6 years of an unnecessary, counter-productive war in Iraq that bankrupted the U.S. treasury and decimated the U.S. military, strengthened Iran, Americans still think knee-jerk force is the best way to go?

If this is true, then American truly will get the government they deserve. The Kyl-Lieberman-Hillary approach to defense policy is theirs for the asking.

Good luck with all that.

Posted by: lina on January 29, 2008 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

Hey B (my nick as well btw)and Frankly0,

I don't think you realise what we have in Europe, and other parts of the world as well (Japan f.e.). The percentage of the population with new computers and fast broadband connection is way higher in Sweden than in the US for example. The latest mobile phone technology is at the moment evolving in a competition between Finnish Nokia and Swedish (Sony)Ericsson.

As we'll be seeing more of a tech-savvy European population ready to jump on and reinvent the latest environmental gadgets and programming, the US will have to struggle to sustain such development outside of enclaves like Silicon Valley and Universities.

Posted by: B nr2 on January 29, 2008 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

frankly0, you are being completely disingenuous by:

1) ignoring the soundbite for Joe Sixpack bit;

2) extrapolating from Obama's dig at Hillary--that she would have a tough time distinguishing herself from McCain on the record--a "post-competence politics".

Seriously, knock if off.

Posted by: Lucy on January 29, 2008 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

Er, what I meant to say, frankly a zealot, was:

Knock it off.

Posted by: Lucy on January 29, 2008 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

No, no. frankly0 has the right idea--we need to follow the GOP lead on these wars, only not so much. It's not too late to re-live the glory days of 2002!

Posted by: calling all toasters on January 29, 2008 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

Speaking as a baby-boomer, though a bit on the young side, WW2 did not define our lives, that was our parents. We weren't alive then. What defined us was Vietnam, and the failure to win. As a dog returneth to its own vomit, many of my generation want to replay the Vietnam experience, only this time with us winning.

Vietnam defined me, too. But I reached a different conclusion. I'm no longer quite the pacifist I was then, but ...

Posted by: Doctor Jay on January 29, 2008 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

Matt wrote:

I'm sympathetic to what I think Obama was trying to say, but the point is better put more simply — to have the best shot at winning national security arguments with John McCain, the Democrats need a candidate who didn't support the invasion of Iraq.

Why?

To me, that just sounds like a rationalization to prefer Obama over Hillary.

The situation of what we knew really was so ambiguous going into the Iraq war, it really was a justifiable decision to believe the President and to vote for the Iraq war (even if in retrospect one might conclude we would have been better off if congress voted against the war). Millions upon millions of us believed it then, and by no means only Republicans. To reject the president's claims out-of-hand then really almost required partisan distrust.

The argument about political suicide also rings true.

But I think it goes beyond just saying what people want to hear. I think people voted for Republicans in '00 and '04 (Bush, at least) because they know in their hearts that people are out there who want to kill us, and they know that you can't always respond to that without force. So you have to be ready to use force. Just like many other questions in life that are often phrased to suggest an absoltue answer, the real answer is "Sometime force is called for, sometimes it's not, and the real trick is to know which time is which and to be prepared to act appropriately in the approproate situation." The Republicans are able to turn off the American people to Democrats when all you want to keep talking about is how you're not going to use force. That, of course, is why the Democrats have uniformly been saying-- even Barack-- that they're ready to go after Al Qaeda and that they'll do whatever it takes to bring them down.

Posted by: Swan on January 29, 2008 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

..."even Joe sixpack.........to a billion Chinese."

Kevin, that should read 1.32 billion.

The USA has only ~23% of China's population. Why shouldn't China be leaving us in the dust.? We barely have 1/5 of their population, therefore they could be 5x more focused than we are.

301,139,947 USA

1,321,851,888 China

~23%= USA/China

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 29, 2008 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

"I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars." Deep. Funny how all of successful foreign policy falls out of that.

It does fall out of that if one understands that all wars from here on out are dumb. Unlike St. John, who says "there will more wars, my friends," I think Obama feels there's no need ever to have another war. He just can't say that.

One can't be a "change agent" and get specific on all issues important to progressives. Getting specific results in the pundits and wonks attacking you for, say, using the wrong discount rate to compute present value -- or something equally stupid. One can't be visionary or statesmanlike while arguing with Krugman or Sullivan about "mandates."

Voting for a leader is always a leap of faith. He/she has to show you that their values are the same as yours without getting their private parts hung up on the wankery fence of pundits and wonks.

Posted by: Econobuzz on January 29, 2008 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

By the way, in the latest polls, Hillary has been picking up votes from John Edwards in several states that have still not had their primaries as compared to January polls taken a couple of weeks previous.

This is contrary to the near-uniform message in the mainstream media and on the blogs that Barack was going to take Edwards' votes.

For example, in Oklahoma, New Jersey, New York, California, and Massachusetts, there are all polls in which Hillary has widened her lead over Obama as compared to earlier polls this month from those states respectively.

link

Posted by: Swan on January 29, 2008 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

You are onto something, but it will take a little while to demonize the "Chinese honorable business partner."

Luckily we have historical references we can turn to. First, we need to return to calling it "Red China." Then we can work on returning the labels
"Inscrutible, cunning, and devious" to the Chinese people.

Maybe we can return the old Flash Gordon series with the real "Ming the Merciless." Maybe we can show the lazy, drugged Chinese laughing it up in their opium dens spending all our money.

This would work, of course, it would just take time to teach the new generation the old prejudices.

Posted by: Tripp on January 29, 2008 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

The situation of what we knew really was so ambiguous going into the Iraq war, it really was a justifiable decision...

Just a reminder: the policy of regime change in Iraq originated in the Clinton administration.

There were two people who had either the moral authority or political capital to have perhaps halted the march to war. One of them was Colin Powell; the other was Bill Clinton.

Both of them failed their country in the service of ambition for themselves and their families.

Posted by: Lucy on January 29, 2008 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

Instead, in last week's debate, he[Obama] responded to Hillary's provocation with a weak, rambling appeal to "overcome the politics of fear in this country." - Kevin Drum

Weak and rambling? What he is doing is not giving personal tactical specifics that can be twisted against him by a potential Republican challenger. If they want to argue with him, he's setting up the topic of the argument to be "politics of fear" instead. That's a smart strategy IMO and a more apt topic.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on January 29, 2008 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

1) ignoring the soundbite for Joe Sixpack bit;

And you're ignoring the point I was clearly making, namely that Obama's "soundbite" comment itself, however much mileage he might have gotten out of it, is simply vacuous, and tells you absolutely nothing useful.

Yeah, we should avoid "dumb" wars. What the hell does that tell you? How is that not simply the most obvious of platitudes? What about avoiding "bad" ones? Wouldn't that be equally empty? Thanks loads, Obama, for the insight.

And if you want to defend Obama's incoherent mumblings I quoted above about McCain, you're welcome to it. He's your man, I guess you've got to. But they strike me as empty of real content as his famous soundbite.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 29, 2008 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

It does fall out of that if one understands that all wars from here on out are dumb.

And how on earth can you presume to know a priori that it will never again be important to fight another war?

Posted by: frankly0 on January 29, 2008 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

Lucy,

There were two people who had either the moral authority or political capital to have perhaps halted the march to war.

I need to get this straight - Are you saying that Bill Clinton could have stopped our invasion of Iraq in 2003?

Posted by: Tripp on January 29, 2008 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

As we'll be seeing more of a tech-savvy European population ready to jump on and reinvent the latest environmental gadgets and programming, the US will have to struggle to sustain such development outside of enclaves like Silicon Valley and Universities.

I'll believe it when I see it. Having a "tech savvy population" is hardly the equivalent to having a culture capable of great innovation in technology.

I'll give some real credit to Europe, though: they are the one region of the world that has been able to create software of first rank -- though only a fraction as much as the US. But I hardly see any reason to believe that they are going to compete for dominance with the US in the area. They are pretty stable cultures, and in almost every area of innovation already lag well behind the US. Don't know why that might change.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 29, 2008 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

What's made in silicon valley?

Money.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 29, 2008 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

You don't use ubuntu or Linux then?

Posted by: B nr2 on January 29, 2008 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

You don't use ubuntu or Linux then?

As I said, Europe has been able to produce software of first rank.

But consider: how much money does unbuntu or Linux bring in to the European economy? How much money does Microsoft, Oracle, Google, Yahoo, etc., etc., bring into the American economy?

Posted by: frankly0 on January 29, 2008 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

A lot of Americans — maybe most — instinctively think that the best way to react to a threat is via force. Logic isn't going to change their minds,

I am starting to think we're on the edge of a big generational shift, but we aren't _quite_ there yet. It may be that Obama is running several years too early ...Basically, the problem is the baby boomers. World War II defined their life, quite literally, and they seem to think that America is only capable of changing the world by blowing it up.

Interesting points. When looked at from my perspective as a half-American, half-European it's even more interesting, because WWII was equally a turning point for Europe, but in the oppposite direction. Before the war many Europeans shared the opinion above that the best way to meet a threat was with force. But the war that resulted was so horrific, and the loss so staggering, that it caused a generational and intellectual shift in which force was rejected as an option. I fear that we may be stuck in the old mindset until we ourselves face an equally overwhelming loss, a loss that shows us what the real cost of violence is....

Posted by: Stefan on January 29, 2008 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

No, Tripp, that's not what I'm saying. But if you recall the war had considerable support from liberals. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair lent credibility to the notion that Saddam was a nuisance who had to be dealt with sooner or later. Clinton could have led a spirited opposition that may have affected the debate, such as it was (since the left was completely ignored), but he did not, and Hillary, of course, voted in favor of the AUMF. The Democrats caved to Bush, surrendered their moral authority, and then came "I voted for it before I voted against it".

So yes, I think Bill Clinton, and, to a much larger extent, Colin Powell, were greatly remiss.

Posted by: Lucy on January 29, 2008 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

One can't be visionary or statesmanlike while arguing with Krugman or Sullivan about "mandates."

You entirely miss a major point here that Krugman made. The deepest problem with Obama's proposal on health care is that he chose to be specific, for political reasons, and attack mandates using Republican talking points.

As bad as it would be for Obama not to have addressed the issues of mandates, and simply have left it as a specific he would deal with later, it was infinitely worse that he put himself on record as attacking the concept (again, simply to have a cheap counterattack to a political opponent).

As Krugman rightly pointed out, short of single payer, the only way universal health care can be achieved economically is by implementing mandates. Obama is on record as opposing them, and even as ridiculing the concept.

That is one reason I would be appalled to see Obama become the Democratic nominee: I don't see any way the man can backtrack on his own stated position without great political damage to himself, and I certainly don't see him ever doing anything that might taint his own image in the eyes of the public.

I just don't see how we are going to get universal health care if Obama becomes President. We'll get at best some pale, compromised, defective substitute.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 29, 2008 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

I guess it depends if Gates puts his savings in Euro or dollars and where the factories making the parts are situated.

The big companies are international and they will settle where it is most profitable for them - regardless of origin. That's why it is so important that Europe has a tech savvy and well educated population. I believe more and more multi-national companies move their head quarters to London nowadays.

Stuff like infrastructure and workforce matters. More and more corporations also begin to use ubuntu nowadays and I hope things like creative commons et.c. will step in and replace old monopolies. This means that creative input of a countries citicens will become ever more important. It's the creative collective that will keep the balls rolling.

Elitist countries risk ending up like India today - with a small wealthy upper class and a close to starving multitude below that.

Posted by: B nr2 on January 29, 2008 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

shorter BombIranForChrist:

I'm a fucking moron. I don't need to study history. Everyone born after the Bronze Age and before 1980 must be a boomer. They all think alike and I blame them for my troubles.

Posted by: thersites on January 29, 2008 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

Lucy,

Wow. You ignore the fact that traditionally ex-Presidents do NOT interfere in the workings of the current President. You also ignore the fact that Bush could have quickly stated that he was privy to classified information and Bill Clinton was working with old outdated assumptions.

Face it - this is Bush's war and the Bush team used everything including sneaky tactics and lies to make sure they got their way.

If you are going to blame Bill Clinton you might as well blame Poppy Bush too.

Posted by: Tripp on January 29, 2008 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

By pulling the "China card," aren't you just creating a new politics of fear?

Barack Obama pulls the China card all the time, BTW. He's attacked Edwards for supporting Normal Trade Relations with China (something 150+ other countries enjoy with the US). He's called for a COMPLETE ban of ALL Chinese toy imports (and acknowledged himself that that would mean banning over 80% of all American toy imports). As expected of Obama, he later "clarified" that statement to include only toys with lead.

Obama as president would be disastrous on our economy and our relations with China. Apparently the solution of diluting anti-muslim sentiment in our country is to shift it to anti-Chinese sentiment. Except the latter has far more dire consequences for us.

Posted by: Jon on January 29, 2008 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Lucy wrote:

Just a reminder: the policy of regime change in Iraq originated in the Clinton administration.

Nothing Lucy wrote in her two comments at 10:19 AM and 11:08 AM comments changes what I wrote in my comment, which was that it was understandable that Democrats voted for the war in light of the case Bush made for the war.

Lucy claims that Clinton had a "policy" of regime change. This totally confuses the fact that Clinton was not George W. Bush- Bush's policy towards Iraq has been totally different from Clinton's. Iraq was a fascist dictatorship that implemented human rights abuses as public policy, and on a vast scale. Naturally, the Clinton administration opposed that regime and broadly supported a change of leadership in Iraq. Clinton's administration almost constantly bombed Iraq, a fact the media now never mentions but that would probably help Hillary Clinton immensely in the general election. However, Bill Clinton did not attempt to invade or overthrow Iraq, because it wouls not have been best for the country. Bush and Cheney, on the other hand, leant on their subordinates in the executive branch to cook up a bogus case for going to war, and claimed that Iraq was a threat to us, something Bill Clinton never had evidence of during his presidency. Bush and Cheney's policy of "regime change" was therefore totally different from Bill Clinton's policy, as we have all seen unfold.

Posted by: Swan on January 29, 2008 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

I thought maybe I was too harsh on BombIranForChrist. Then I went back and read his/her post again.

we can start doing things like reading facts and acting on them.

Few people are more harshly critical of our generation's penchant for self-congratulation than I am. But if you're going to criticize me, get your damn facts straight.

But as long as the Boomers are here and voting, we're f'ed.

One of the Boomers' worst vice was their (our) absolute conviction, in some cases, that they (we) knew everything and that as soon as the previous generation went away, things would be fine.

Posted by: thersites on January 29, 2008 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

single most idiotic blog posting I've read in awhile. So dumb one wonders if it was accidentally copied from comment section. It's Tuesday Kevin, not Friday, don't be starting your cat blogging early.

Posted by: guffinton on January 29, 2008 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

But the war that resulted was so horrific, and the loss so staggering, that it caused a generational and intellectual shift in which force was rejected as an option. I fear that we may be stuck in the old mindset until we ourselves face an equally overwhelming loss, a loss that shows us what the real cost of violence is

Well, that's a depressing thought if true. I just don't see how Americans could ever themselves experience the degree of suffering imposed by WWII on Europe. Likely the tragedy of the Iraq war is about the worst we'll see in terms of the horrors of the use of unnecessary violence. I do think, though, that the American people did learn, in virtue of the war, a lesson they desperately needed to grasp. How long the effects of that lesson last is another question.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 29, 2008 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

frankly0: How long the effects of that lesson last is another question.

My guess? 20 years, if that long.

Posted by: thersites on January 29, 2008 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

One can't be a "change agent" and get specific on all issues important to progressives. Getting specific results in the pundits and wonks attacking you for, say, using the wrong discount rate to compute present value -- or something equally stupid. One can't be visionary or statesmanlike while arguing with Krugman or Sullivan about "mandates."

Voting for a leader is always a leap of faith. He/she has to show you that their values are the same as yours without getting their private parts hung up on the wankery fence of pundits and wonks.

This is smart stuff. Furthermore, it's a structural problem. The bottom line is that being specific in our current media environment is rarely rewarded and heavily penalized. This is especially true in the short term, and elections, due to the dominance of momentum, is *entirely* short term.

Any form of specificity is an invitation to verbal assault - fair criticisms, unrealistic criticisms, wildly distortive criticisms, and the whole kitchen sink. You can't please everyone, but the requirement for benefitting from your policy proposal is, literally, pleasing everyone. If there's a controversy about a politician's proposal, the politician usually loses, regardless of the merits. What has being specific about policy gotten John Edwards, exactly? Anyone?
A label of 'crudity', 'hypocrisy' and 'extremism' to go along with the other smears about his haircut. It's gotten him a perception of being fringe. It ain't fair. It ain't right. It's just true.

Obama really is more willing to resist pointless synchophantic militarism than Hilary Clinton, who has no principles at all about using force and is so compromised from repeating the "keep America strong" mouth noises that she can't even imagine putting forth an alternate theme. Have you ever heard her try to talk antiwar? It's the most banal cliches imaginable. You can immediately see she doesn't believe a word.

But frankly, he's very cautious about being specific, because like Kevin suggests, his lunch will be eaten.

The problem is that you can't build momentum for changing a policy without articulating it. The time to do that, though, may be after the election by Obama. Until then, it's on our shoulders.

The difference between Obama and Hilary though - and it's important difference - remains that while Obama may do a lot of hedging and subject-changing on militarism, Hilary Clinton jumps right in and slobbers all over militaristic soundbites. Obama won't get in the ring, but Hilary has chosen "ride" rather than "fight". She may dial down GWB's stupid policies a *notch*, but only while rhetorically covering them in slobber. But when it comes to considering defense cuts to make room for healthcare, forget it. Over before it begins.

Posted by: glasnost on January 29, 2008 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

I never could stand Bill Clinton. In the first Presidential election I could vote in (1996) I did not vote for President.

I'm not paying much attention to this campaign, in part because I never much cared for Hillary and I don't "get" the appeal of Obama.

But I have to say that I - as an example of someone not paying a lot of attention - have a better sense of what I think HRC stands for as far as national security is concerned than I do of what Obama stands for.

And I say that as someone who despises the militaristic, America-is-good-so-everything-we-do-must-be-right culture of this country.

Posted by: PowerOfX on January 29, 2008 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin's post isn't idiotic at all. He's analytically right, and his message could indeed get a lot of traction. Our trillions on pointless social engineering in the ME really is dragging our entire socioeconomy down due to opportunity costs. China really is gaining on us and this really is an important piece of why. It doesn't mean imitating China domestically - that should be totally f*cking obvious. (seriously. We're democrats, dipsh*t.) But China's foreign policy is more advantageous to China than ours is to the US right now.

I wouldn't imitate a lot of China's FP, but the " avoid stupid third world wars" part is golden.

Posted by: glasnost on January 29, 2008 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

I do not think it would be difficult at all for any mainstream politician to convince Joe Sixpack and Irving Chardonnay to nuke a billion Chinese.

Posted by: Brojo on January 29, 2008 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

To frankly0:

I wrote: One can't be visionary or statesmanlike while arguing with Krugman or Sullivan about "mandates."

Then you wrote: As bad as it would be for Obama not to have addressed the issues of mandates, and simply have left it as a specific he would deal with later, it was infinitely worse that he put himself on record as attacking the concept ...

I would point out, frankly0, that, except for the part about it being bad not to have addressed mandates, you are making my argument better than I did. Obama made a mistake in overspecifying.

The inevitable chain reaction that feeds the wonks and pundits, and does not serve a candidate like Obama well, starts with well intentioned folks -- like yourself -- demanding specificity. But, the greater the specificity, the more questions are raised, and the more time is wasted arguing about details over which the candidate has no control up front (the specifics will be decided in the legislative process) -- issues that are not going to decide an election. This is all aided and abetted by a humiliating process that includes going before the likes of Russert and Matthews, letting them point out and wring their hands over minute differences.

A candidate who wants to be seen and accepted as a "change agent" or a "visionary" has to break out of that cycle and can't be repeatedly drawn into the kind of arguments that someone like yourself or Krugman -- whom I admire -- wants to have over, say, health care.

Arguments about details -- over which, once again, the candidate has no control -- do not decide elections. I simply don't accept the argument that a potentially transformational candidate like Obama, who has demonstrated that he can as much as double turnout, has to "prove" to progressives that he's "one of them" by detailing the policies that he will try -- repeat, TRY -- to implement. It simply doesn't serve him well.

Now, admittedly, voting for such a candidate is always a leap of faith and may, in the end, prove disappointing. As Bill opined, it certainly may be "a roll of the dice."

Posted by: Econobuzz on January 29, 2008 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

I thought last night showed a important difference in the two main Democrat candidates in their response to some of President Bush's SOTU lines.

When Bush proclaimed, "Ladies and gentlemen, some may deny the surge is working, but among terrorists there is no doubt", Clinton sprang to her feet in applause but Obama remained firmly seated. The president's line divided most of the Democratic audience, with nearly half standing to applaud and the other half sitting in stony silence.

In one instance Clinton appeared to gauge Obama's response before showing her own.

When Bush warned the Iranian government that "America will confront those who threaten our troops, we will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf", Obama jumped up to applaud. Clinton leaned across Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), seated to her left, to look in Obama's direction before slowly standing.

Ted Sorenson who has been campigning for Obama since March of last year said what he he most admires about Obama is his "judgement"...Personally, I think Obama is more mature than Hillary, as well.

Posted by: Steve Crickmore on January 29, 2008 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

China is going to continue to eat our lunch, economically, until we start getting smart and require them to play by the same rules as our companies have to play by. Until we do, we might as well just sign over half of our paychecks each week to the Chinese government.

As far as military aggression, we would be damn fools to start a war with China, as it would undoubtedly escalate into a nuclear conflict, given the Chinese mentality of winning at all costs, and the United States military's long-time view of Asians as something less than human.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on January 29, 2008 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

And how on earth can you presume to know a priori that it will never again be important to fight another war?

Posted by: frankly0

Well, let's look at the possibilities, shall we? How about another one like Iraq: invasion and occupation of a country with brown, or at least tan, folks who never threatened us. Up for that, are you?

Or how about preemptively bombing Iran per St. McCain -- because, let's say, they are thinking about trying to find a way to learn about the possibility of building or at least planning to acquire a nuclear weapon -- or, maybe, because there's a jar of coyote piss somewhere in Tehran?

Or, best yet, how about starting a nuclear war with a nuclear power? Up for that, are you?

I think you have to realize that the way you stated the question is a republican frame. For our children's sake, our candidate should be saying there will NEVER be the need for another war because we will take EVERY step necessary to prevent one.

Posted by: Econobuzz on January 29, 2008 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

The inevitable chain reaction that feeds the wonks and pundits, and does not serve a candidate like Obama well, starts with well intentioned folks -- like yourself -- demanding specificity.

Really, you're missing my point. Here's how the dynamic actually played out.

First, Edwards came out with a detailed, thoughtful, quite workable plan, with enough specifics to be used as a model, but not so many that it could not be adjusted to political realities.

What Edwards did here was simply impressive, and a sign of someone who might really know how to bring policy into legislation.

What did the other candidates do? Well, Hillary knew that the challenge had been laid down, and mostly did what I'd hope any good politician would do: shamelessly copy every good idea he or she ever hears.

What did Obama do? Basically, given the dynamic of what went had gone on, he certainly couldn't afford to say something completely vague and general, and had to come up with a reasonably detailed plan. But, either out of economic cluelessness, or because he wanted to tack well to the right of either Edwards or Hillary, or because he felt, as you do, that he would deal with this "detail" later, he chose a plan without mandates.

Then what happened, predictably? He was attacked on his plan, because the claim to universality was demonstrably bogus, given the "detail" that it lacked mandates.

Now what could Obama do? He could have sucked up his gut, and basically admitted that he had neglected to add that detail, and simply sign on to the concept of mandates.

But what did he do instead? Well, rather than take any political damage, he immediately chose to inflict it as best he could, even though he needed to use Republican talking points to do so, and even though it would inflict permanent damage on his ability to implement genuinely universal health care as President.

You see, given the dynamic of how things progressed, Obama really had no choice but to be specific; after Edwards, neither he nor Hillary could afford not to have a plan. And the man just chose wrong. For all the talk about how fine his judgment is, he got wrong an absolutely critical issue in the most important progressive issue facing our nation: universal health care. And when he was caught out being wrong, he chose to throw progressive policies under the bus in service of his political ambition. I don't know how else to understand his behavior.

In short, unlike what you seem to argue, it was not politically possible for Obama simply to leave details to the future, given the dynamic. He needed to display good and courageous judgment right there in the midst of the campaign. And his judgment was, instead, both bad at first and cowardly at the end.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 29, 2008 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp and swan,

If you think that I'm blaming Bill Clinton for the war then you are being willfully obtuse. I'm not arguing that the Bush policy was simply a continuation of the Clinton policy; of course it wasn't. My point was that the Clintons were plenty steeped in Middle Eastern affairs and in a better position than most to assess the arguments driving the invasion. Either Hillary's AUMF vote was politically motivated, or Hillary was genuinely hawkish. So either she's craven or she got it wrong on one of the the biggest US foreign policy blunders ever. And you want to elect her Presdient!

Bill Clinton as elder statesman of the Democratic party had the political capital to foster a critique of the invasion from the center, which he did not. So what if Bush had countered with the secret information card (that so many people assumed he had since the case for invasion was otherwise dubious)? He was going to counter no matter what. The point is, the Clintons' approval both tacit and explicit lent credibility to the whole adventure.

You ignore the fact that traditionally ex-presidents do NOT interfere with the workings of the current President.

IIRC Jimmy Carter strenuously opposed the invasion of Iraq.


Posted by: Lucy on January 29, 2008 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

I fear that we may be stuck in the old mindset until we ourselves face an equally overwhelming loss, a loss that shows us what the real cost of violence is.... -Stefan

Yep. Until we get our ass whooped (again), people aren't going to stop believing that God is on our side and we're always right and invincible. Same goes for the economy. We'll have to have a major crash and burn and then people will see that MagicMoney™ doesn't work (again).

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on January 29, 2008 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

frankly0, mandates for healthcare seem to be running into a lot of trouble in Massachusettes, the one place it is being tried.I suggest Hilalry wait a little to see how that plan works out. The problem wth mandating people is what to you do with those who may be able to afford health insurance but don't want to pay for it out of their own pockets? And regarding the universality that Clinton is always touting in her plan,

Neither Clinton nor Obama are being fully candid about the gaps in their health care proposals. Neither plan truly provides for "universal" coverage, although Clinton's proposal (which is much more expensive) probably comes somewhat closer to reaching this goal than Obama's. There are strengths, drawbacks, and loopholes to both plans. At this point, nobody knows how many uninsured they will include, but it will not 100 per cent.

The 'single payer'as in Canada is the only plan that really provides universal coverage and Obama has been much closer to accepting that plan than Hillary. He has said many times if he had to "start from scratch" that is the way he would go but most Americans he recognizes want choices.

Posted by: Steve Crickmore on January 29, 2008 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

One of the Boomers' worst vice was their (our) absolute conviction, in some cases, that they (we) knew everything and that as soon as the previous generation went away, things would be fine. -thersites

Hmmm. Very "Koanesque" there! That movie Wild in the Streets comes to mind... I especially liked that slogan "When you're 30 you're through!" :)

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on January 29, 2008 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

What a plate of bullshit from frankly0 at 12:53.

Obama has repeatedly explained that his conversations with low-income families discouraged him from mandates that would impose fines on the less well-off. He may also think that such a plan would be more palatable to Americans, who, although they want health care reform, are susceptible to scare tactics with regard to "socialized medicine".

You can agree or disagree with that position, but to spin it to mean "economic cluelessness" or "cowardice" is simply dishing out more of the intellectual dishonesty that characterizes so many of your tirades against Obama.

Posted by: Lucy on January 29, 2008 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

frankly0:

just look at the mess from [Obama] quoted by Yglesias:

"I believe that the way we are going to take on somebody like a John McCain on national security is not that we're sort of -- we've been sort of like John McCain, but not completely, you know, we voted for the war, but we had reservations."... "I think it's going to be somebody who can serve as a strong contrast and say, 'we've got to overcome the politics of fear in this country.'"

What he said was exactly right IMO. If it the first sentence sounds broken, that's because you are reading a transcript of an oral conversation. All such transcripts include broken sentences. You cannot deconstruct them as you would a written statement -- that's unfair.

Posted by: JS on January 29, 2008 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

Lucy,

Sorry, but you're the one clearly being dishonest here in service of your chosen one.

It simply WAS economic cluelessness not to include mandates. It's simple economics; you don't get universality without mandates, and you skew the insurance market toward the unhealthy without forcing healthy people to get health insurance, instead of gambling that they won't need it, and will do better themselves without it. I don't think there's a single economist who doesn't basically agree with argument, given how basic it is.

That's the reason mandates were introduced in Edwards' plan, and why Hillary knew she'd have to follow suit. Obama and/or his advisors simply would not step up to the plate and deal with that economic reality. That showed very poor, or cowardly judgment. And when Obama was called out on it, he attacked his opposition, and threw progressive policies under the bus, rather than admit he was wrong. And that was cowardly judgment.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 29, 2008 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK
....the policy of regime change in Iraq originated in the Clinton administration.... Lucy at 10:19 AM
This is another old Republican talking point oft regurgitated by 'bamabots new to politics. The Iraq Liberation Act of 1998

...The Act found that Iraq had between 1980 and 1998 (1) committed various and significant violations of International Law, (2) had failed to comply with the obligations to which it had agreed to following the Gulf War and (3) further had ignored Resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. The Act declared that it was the Policy of the United States to support "regime change." The Act was passed 360-38 in the U.S. House of Representatives[2] and by unanimous consent in the Senate.[3] US President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law on October 31, 1998....The Act specifically refused to grant the President authority to use U.S. Military force to achieve its stated goals and purposes, except as authorized under the Act in section 4(a)(2)) in carrying out this Act....

Two things to note is that this passed by a veto-proof majority and specifically forbade a military invasion.

Your second point is absurd in both instances. Powell could have resigned but he would have been smeared and ridiculed worse than what Bush did to McCain in South Carolina. Your claim that Clinton could have stopped Bush is bizarre and ungrounded in reality.

..... the Clintons' approval both tacit and explicit lent credibility to the whole adventure.....Lucy at 1:35 PM
Bill Clinton did not approve either tacitly or explicitly

...Clinton's comments on March 14, 2003, just days prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq -- which the presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) posted on its website the evening of November 27 -- opposing war at that time. In those remarks, he said "let's give him [Saddam Hussein] a certain date in which, in this time, he has to destroy the missiles, reconcile the discrepancies in what we believe is the truth on chemical weapons, reconcile the discrepancies on biological weapons, reconcile the issue of the Drones, and offer up 150 scientists who can travel outside of Iraq with their families for interviews. If you do that, then we'll say this is really good-faith disarmament, and we'll go on without a conflict."...

Instead of flaunting your ignorance, you should check your facts. Don't believe everything you know.

Posted by: Mike on January 29, 2008 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

A present for the spinmeister frankly0.

Posted by: Lucy on January 29, 2008 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

He has said many times if he had to "start from scratch" that is the way he would go but most Americans he recognizes want choices.

Nobody cares what Obama would have done if things were otherwise. If the queen had balls, she'd be the king. What they care about is how Obama expects to achieve universality. The problem is, there's no way to get to universality from his proposals without mandates. Even he himself pretty much admitted that at one point. The problem is, he's already on record not just as being against mandates, but as ridiculing the very concept using Republican talking points in ads he aired.

And what kind of criticism is it of Hillary's or Edward's plans that they may not cover some people, when Obama's plan excludes millions and millions of more people?

Posted by: frankly0 on January 29, 2008 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Lucy,

Your link is nothing but a lengthy and entirely evasive apology for Obama's inadequate plan. It does nothing to address the issues I raised, or which Krugman raised.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 29, 2008 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Lucy,

the Clintons were plenty steeped in Middle Eastern affairs and in a better position than most to assess the arguments driving the invasion.

Your argument is all over the place. First you are after Bill Clinton for not stopping the war, then you add Tony Blair into it, and now you're going after Hillary Clinton.

Bill and Hillary are two separate people. If Bill had classified info as President regarding Middle Eastern affairs he should not have shared that with Hillary. Why do you think Senator Clinton was "plenty steeped in Middle Eastern affairs?" Was she getting insider tips from her hubby? That would be wrong. Did she spy on the foreign affairs happenings at the Whitehouse when Bill was President? That would be wrong as well.

I think you need to understand the psychological concept of "boundaries" and stop lumping everybody together in your "I hate these people" pile.

Bill Clinton was so vilifed by the right-wing echo chamber he didn't even campaign for Al Gore, and you think he could have given a speech as the self-appointed Democratic 'elder statesman' and stopped the invasion?

Your love for the virginal unspoiled Obama has clouded your judgement.

Posted by: Tripp on January 29, 2008 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

Lucy wrote:

My point was that the Clintons were plenty steeped in Middle Eastern affairs and in a better position than most to assess the arguments driving the invasion.

Well, that's not what you wrote. According to what you wrote, one could fairly conclude your earlier comments were meant to portray Bill Clinton as beginning the exact same policy as Bush carried out, when in fact Clinton's policy was distinct, and although Clinton would have, as the commander-in-chief, ordered the military to invade Iraq probably whenever he wanted to, he didn't.

Lucy wrote:

Either Hillary's AUMF vote was politically motivated, or Hillary was genuinely hawkish.

Well, why couldn't it have been what I said, that she assessed the intelligence she was given, and thought it was worthwhile to go along with the president based on the argument he was making, and the evidence he was putting forth?

Lucy wrote:

So either she's craven or she got it wrong on one of the the biggest US foreign policy blunders ever.

If she got it wrong it was because she was lied to, along with a lot of other people who went along with it.

Posted by: Swan on January 29, 2008 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

This is another old Republican talking point oft regurgitated by 'bamabots new to politics.

Actually I read about the policy of regime change and so on in Kenneth Pollack's The Gathering Storm back when it came out. I don't think Pollack's a Republican, but if I'm wrong, you may have a point.

Powell could have resigned but he would have been smeared and ridiculed worse than what Bush did to McCain in South Carolina.

Oh dear, that would have been unpleasant.

just days prior to the invasion

Again, I offer the example of Jimmy Carter, who made a principled stand against the invasion well before the eve of war.

Posted by: Lucy on January 29, 2008 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

As an Obama supporter, I'll say it's fair to say that Clinton's "regime change" excluded an invasion -- though it included chronic bombing which Anan indicated was not UN-sanctioned.

But what did Bill mean when he said in 2004:

"I have repeatedly defended President Bush against the left on Iraq, even though I think he should have waited until the U.N. inspections were over,"

To my knowledge, not waiting until the UN inspections were over is the main criticism of Bush by the left. How can Clinton be defending Bush "against the left" if he agrees with the left? It can only mean that the inspections thing was not so important to him after all.

Posted by: JS on January 29, 2008 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp,

I don't hate the Clintons, and I never said Bill could have stopped the war. In fact, I was fatalistic about the war; it was clear that the Bushies would invade come hell or high water.

I said he could have "halted" (too strong a word for Clinton, but apt for Powell) the march to war by countering, from his singularly informed and incisive perspective, the propaganda being cranked out by the administration. So what if the right reviled him; a lot of liberals like and respect Bill, and the liberal position is what I'm concerned with here.

I'm not going to speculate about what Bill told Hillary or any of that. Hillary is a very intelligent person who spent 8 years in the White House before Bush came to power. I'm sorry, but I don't buy that she was duped.

I've admitted elsewhere that I cam appreciate why Kerry, who was looking to topple Bush in '04, might have thought it the lesser of evils to vote for the AUMF. But Hillary? Harder to justify.

Posted by: Lucy on January 29, 2008 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

JS,

I suppose he meant "One supports one President in times of war even if one disagrees with him."

I don't represent the left in any way, but my criticisms were that Bush took the focus off Afghanistan too soon, Bush concluded to invade Iraq and then reworked the evidence to support that conclusion, Bush and his lackeys intentionally misled the American people to make his point, and even my Mother knew that you should never, Ever, EVER stick your nose into the Middle East because those people have been fighting with each other for ages and all they can agree upon is to unite (briefly) against the outsider.

Posted by: Tripp on January 29, 2008 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Lucy,

Your arguments would be better if you actually, you know, say what you mean right off the bat.

If "halted" the "march to war" is now too strong a word to use for Bill Clinton then perhaps you should have not used that word in the first place.

Otherwise you come off as a reckless mudslinger throwing it all over the place, and when confronted simply widening your circle of mud.

Posted by: Tripp on January 29, 2008 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

According to what you wrote, one could fairly conclude your earlier comments were meant to portray Bill Clinton as beginning the exact same policy as Bush carried out, when in fact Clinton's policy was distinct, and although Clinton would have, as the commander-in-chief, ordered the military to invade Iraq probably whenever he wanted to, he didn't.

Yes, I was not explicit enough; I made this same point here a few days ago about the depth of Hillary's information about Iraq, but this time left too many fill-in-the-blanks.

Posted by: Lucy on January 29, 2008 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

I suppose he meant "One supports one President in times of war even if one disagrees with him."

I'm not sure if you agree with this attitude. I would say that it should apply only when a war is clearly defensive.

I think Bill Clinton was a good president for domestic policy, but he let his foreign policy be run by his foreign policy team (Albright, Holbrooke, Berger) who are not very distinguishable from Bush's neocons. And I think Hillary will also make a good domestic president, but she retains the same foreign policy team which is hawkish. Both Clintons seem to have calculated that, when it comes to foreign policy, it is safer to be hawkish if you want to get elected. They may be right.

Posted by: JS on January 29, 2008 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

To my knowledge, not waiting until the UN inspections were over is the main criticism of Bush by the left. How can Clinton be defending Bush "against the left" if he agrees with the left? It can only mean that the inspections thing was not so important to him after all.

Your assertion is just bizarre. The position that you claim that no one on the left embraced was EXACTLY Obama's own position, right? He thought that the Iraq war was a "dumb war" regardless of whether Saddam even agreed to full inspections, or even if he did then backed out of them eventually, right?

Here's his famous Oct 2002 speech:

Now let me be clear – I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity.

He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.
But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.
I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.
I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

How does this NOT amount to the very position that Clinton said he argued against?

Posted by: frankly0 on January 29, 2008 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

frankly0, I said:

not waiting until the UN inspections were over is the main criticism of Bush by the left.

In normal English, this means that there were other criticisms by the left as well. But AFTER the war, that's the one most often articulated -- because it was the most tangible evidence of malfeasance by Bush.

When you say:

The position that you claim that no one on the left embraced...

you are clearly making stuff up, because I never said any such thing.

If you think that Obama's speech was what Clinton was defending Bush "against", then you will also have to explain why both Clintons have recently been saying that that speech was "great" (as Hillary I believe called it) -- but now they criticize Obama for removing it from his website at some point. So did the Clintons like that speech, or did they think that Bush needed to be defended against it?

Posted by: JS on January 29, 2008 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Your arguments would be better if you actually, you know, say what you mean right off the bat.

I did say what I meant, and I'm not interested in mudslinging. You are putting the most uncharitable spin on my objection that Clinton and Powell, in their respective ways, could have made an impact when it mattered. Fine.

Posted by: Lucy on January 29, 2008 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

JS,

Your argument is just incoherent.

You first chastise Clinton for arguing against a position that you claim no one on the left really assumed. In fact, of course, Obama's central argument in his 2002 speech is exactly that position. Then you say, well there were other criticisms from the left. Of what possible relevance is that point to what you had originally argued?

As far as the Clinton's assertion that the speech was "great", who knows what that might mean, and how much of that is just due to politeness. But don't you think that they are NOT meaning to suggest that they agreed with it on its basic claims? Hillary has never even apologized for her AUMF vote -- why on earth would she admit to that?

Of course, the real question that never gets asked Obama is why he would have been so very comfortable not forcing Saddam even to admit inspectors, which is obviously what his 2002 speech implies. It would be rather nice to see Obama defend that view in front of the American people without looking weak.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 29, 2008 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

for arguing against a position that you claim no one on the left really assumed.

Try to focus now, frankly. As I already pointed out, that's not what I said. I referred to another criticism of the left as "the main" criticism -- which it was, after the war.

In fact, of course, Obama's central argument in his 2002 speech is exactly that position.

Exactly what position? How do you know what Clinton was referring to? He never specified it, to my knowledge -- and, since the Clintons have recently been calling that speech "great", I see no reason to assume that that was what Clinton felt Bush needed to be defended "against".

Of course, if Obama's speech was anathema to the Clintons, and a good reason to defend Bush against it, it would be good -- and honest -- if they admitted that now.

the real question that never gets asked Obama is why he would have been so very comfortable not forcing Saddam even to admit inspectors, which is obviously what his 2002 speech implies.

How does it imply that? Obama, like many of us, was no fool. He knew that Bush was going to invade no matter what. The reason he did not dwell on Bush's failure to let the inspections finish is that Bush hadn't invaded yet -- so that particular sin had not been committed yet. He focused on the substance, as he should have.

So do you think that Obama's speech was objectionable -- and would you (did you?) defend Bush against it?

Posted by: JS on January 29, 2008 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK
I offer the example of Jimmy Carter....Lucy at 2:58 PM
Why didn't Obama follow Carter's example? Why didn't Kerry? Why didn't x, y, z? After all, I did. Why wasn't everyone, aside from the millions of protesters around the world, as smart? Your point is silly.
It can only mean that the inspections thing was not so important to him after all. JS at 3:07 PM
You sound like a graduate of the Republican School of Orwellianism
I never said Bill could have stopped the war. .... Hillary? Harder to justify... Lucy on January 29, 2008 at 3:12 PM
Puleeeeze. If it applies to one, it applies to the other; and, yes, you did imply that Powell and Clinton could have stopped the war. You're using the same What Obama Meant To Say tactic as your new political deity, a typical pol of the genus euphonius balonious species itsallforme.
.... let his foreign policy be run by his foreign policy team (Albright, Holbrooke, Berger) who are not very distinguishable from Bush's neocons..... JS at 3:26 PM
That would be valid if one were totally ignorant of who neo-cons are and what they stand for.
.... uncharitable spin on my objection that Clinton and Powell.... Lucy- at 3:48 PM
There is no way to spin the nonsense you claimed, and did so more than once, charitably Posted by: Mike on January 29, 2008 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

Well, it's no use arguing with a fundamentalist.

Posted by: Lucy on January 29, 2008 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

The big companies are international and they will settle where it is most profitable for them - regardless of origin. That's why it is so important that Europe has a tech savvy and well educated population. I believe more and more multi-national companies move their head quarters to London nowadays.

I work in the hedge fund / investment bank field, and that's doubly true for the money. London is overtaking (some say it already has overtaken) New York as the global financial capital, for a variety of reasons (weaker dollar, difficulty and hassle of travelling to the US for foreign businessmen, generalized sense that the money is to be made in emerging markets) etc.

Posted by: Stefan on January 29, 2008 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

You sound like a graduate of the Republican School of Orwellianism

Do you have anything to say on the substance of the conversation?

That would be valid if one were totally ignorant of who neo-cons are and what they stand for.

Where the ignorance lies is arguable. If you don't know about Democratic neocons here is some reading:

Democratic Neocons (copy of LAT article).
From WaPo: It's Uphill for the Democrats.

From the latter:

Democratic adherents to what might be called the "neoliberal" position are well organized and well positioned. Their credo was enunciated just nine years ago by Madeleine Albright, then President Bill Clinton's secretary of state: "If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further into the future."...
In fact, these neoliberals are nearly indistinguishable from the better-known neoconservatives.

The writers forgot to consult you on the subject, it seems.

Posted by: JS on January 29, 2008 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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