Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 1, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS....Matt Yglesias calls Andrew Bacevich's op-ed in the Boston Globe today "brilliant," and I want to dissent from that. The whole thing only takes a minute or two two to read, but here the two key paragraphs:

Throughout the long primary season, even as various contenders in both parties argued endlessly about Iraq, they seemed oblivious to the more fundamental questions raised by the Bush years: whether global war makes sense as an antidote to terror, whether preventive war works, whether the costs of "global leadership" are sustainable, and whether events in Asia rather than the Middle East just might determine the course of the 21st century.

....By showing that Bush has put the country on a path pointing to permanent war, ever increasing debt and dependency, and further abuses of executive authority, Obama can transform the election into a referendum on the current administration's entire national security legacy. By articulating a set of principles that will safeguard the country's vital interests, both today and in the long run, at a price we can afford while preserving rather than distorting the Constitution, Obama can persuade Americans to repudiate the Bush legacy and to choose another course.

My dissent isn't because I think Bacevich is wrong. It's because what he's saying is so obvious as to be almost banal.

That is, it's so obvious it ought to be banal. But even now, nearly seven years after 9/11, instead of framing the question the way Bacevich does — the obvious way — we still allow people like George Bush and John McCain to frame it their way. They've created a looking glass world in which they pretend that the rest of us are naive because we allegedly think terrorism is merely a law enforcement problem, and everyone sleepily nods along as if that's a sensible way of looking at the question.

But it's not. Bacevich's common sense formulation is both obvious and correct. Maybe that makes it brilliant too. But if it is, Barack Obama's job is to get us all to rub the sleep out of our eyes and turn it back into a banality. He's got four months.

Kevin Drum 10:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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obvious and correct?

that means he's insulting someone's military record.

traitor!

Posted by: cleek on July 1, 2008 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

But even now, nearly seven years after 9/11, instead of framing the question the way Bacevich does — the obvious way — we still allow people like George Bush and John McCain to frame it their way. They've created a looking glass world in which they pretend that the rest of us are naive because we allegedly think terrorism is merely a law enforcement problem, and everyone sleepily nods along as if that's a sensible way of looking at the question.

And yet, after the mind-boggling incompetence that led to 9/11 -- the Bush Administration initially de-prioritized terrorism as a "Clinton thing" -- two wars, billions of dollars, thousands of lives, the national shame of torture, an Executive run amok with tyrannical impulses and the sullying of our once-proud global reputation, Bush, McCain, Lieberman and the rest of the neocon yo-yos have fuck-all to show for it.

But if it is, Barack Obama's job is to get us all to rub the sleep out of our eyes and turn it back into a banality.

More than that -- the task of the Democratic Party is to finish the job Bush started of ruining the Republicans' decades-long branding effort as "strong on defense." No American should trust Republicans with national security for a generation.

Posted by: Gregory on July 1, 2008 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

gregory, suddenly you and i are popping up everywhere!

kevin, to repeat the essence of a remark i made to gregory elsewhere yesterday, it's already time to stop hoping for obama to do such a thing: that time was when he sold out on FISA.

as for the democrats as a whole, i have a touch more long-term optimism, but in the short-run, if obama, after all his promise of questioning old verities has immediately gone into a shell, then there's not much reason to expect anything of intelligence on that national level ini the next 4 months.

Posted by: howard on July 1, 2008 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Nothing is obvious or correct any more. Shape of Earth: Views differ. And only the Repukes work the refs.

Posted by: John McCain: More of the Same on July 1, 2008 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

we allegedly think terrorism is merely a law enforcement problem

This is an insult to law enforcers everywhere.

Law enforcement long ago realized that you can't solve crime by just gunning everyone down and assigning one officer per person.

It has to be an integrated solution that works within multiple points of contact: education, jobs, community organizing, building design and maintenance, urban planning.

If we approached crime now the way the McCain/Bush approached War, our cities would look the way they did in the 1920s and 30s, when violence and murder and petty crime were at much, much higher levels.

McCain/Bush are just about 100 years behind on their thinking.

Posted by: Christopher on July 1, 2008 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

Bacevich, Drum, and MY are all oversimplifying this. If BO makes any of the following arguments, respectively, he loses:

1. global war makes no sense as an antidote to terror
2. preventive war does not work
3. the costs of "global leadership" are not sustainable, and/or
4. events in Asia rather than the Middle East will determine the course of the 21st century.

The truth of these statements is not in question. But the nature of our public debate, and the MSM's biased participation in it, make each of the statements above one that McCain and his surrogates dearly hope and pray that BO will make.

These all represent analytical responses to what are essentially emotional issues. Thus they are all losers.


Posted by: Econobuzz on July 1, 2008 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

I'd just like to say, Obama is turning into Joe Lieberman faster than you can say "Eeyore."

Back on-topic: I don't think we have to have a problem, even with China or anyone else in Asia. Superior peace-keeping involves developing everyone's global inter-dependence to that point that they need you as much as you need them. By comparison, warfare is less practical, less sure a deterrent to foreign aggression and less honorable. This is the direction we should be heading (and can be, I think, heading) not always trying to determine what "next threat" we think we are going to fight, and start being pissy to / undermining them.

Surely, as the example of Europe shows, states that ones fought blooy and seeemingly almost endless wars against each other can eventually become so friendl that they don't need to do anything aggressive at all against each other.

Posted by: Swan on July 1, 2008 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

If you thought this was an important issue, you should not have voted for Obama. It was clear to some of us -- approximaely half of us -- that Obama was not going to go there. Unfortunately, not just half of us but all of us are going to have to live with the results of that refusal to see what was so plainly in front of us.

Posted by: gyfalcon on July 1, 2008 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Obama shouldn't have been so defensive about the Wes Clark thing- this is despite whatever headlines they may have put out today about him, to take our eyes off the ball.

The day after tomorrow, Obama will probably be telling us it's time to bomb Iran.

Posted by: Swan on July 1, 2008 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

He's got four months; but no balls. What you advocate is not the "safe" way for him to get elected, and it is not "reaching across" the aisle, it is making a mockery of the other side of the aisle. Therefore, Obama won't do it.

Posted by: bmaz on July 1, 2008 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

A Presidential candidate who is so afraid of the GOP attacks, real or imagined, that he has to give a 'major' speech to convince that voters that he is indeed a patriot is in deep trouble.

We are underestimating Mr. Obama's coming difficulties. So far he has been mainly on the defensive, and his agenda has been forced on him by McCain- the speech, the Clark denunciation, the planned trip to the middle east, etc.

Does not bode well for him unless he radically changes his style.

Posted by: gregor on July 1, 2008 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

For a good laugh/contrast to your point, read Jonah Goldberg's column in today's LA Times. Incredible! Talk about spin!

Posted by: hollywood on July 1, 2008 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure I buy one of the underlying premises of the article, that this argument should determine how Obama defines his presidential campaign. Instead, I think it is how he should define his presidency.

I agree with Econobuzz that those arguments could hurt him in the election because they are analytical responses to emotional issues. But, once elected, I believe they could define his foreign policy as president.

Posted by: Parry on July 1, 2008 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

The War on Terror was always a smoke screen. It was and is about oil, dividing the Moslem states and taking their oil on the cheap. 'Terrorists' are criminals who must be apprehended and tried as criminals. (Along with some members of the current administration)

Every other point of view is BS.

Posted by: slanted tom on July 1, 2008 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

The obvious way to deal with 'terror' is below the horizon of Americans' consciousness. Americans cannot perceive that much terrorism is a retaliatory response to American military aggression. Americans cannot perceive their military is not a force for good like it was in WW II. Americans cannot perceive the costs of aggression degrade their living standards.

It would be extraordinary if Sen. Obama had the communicaiton skills to open Americans' minds and reframe the platitudes of the past six decades. Instead, Americans should expect Obama to continue his move to the right, embracing the dogma of our American exceptionalism. He wants to become president.

Posted by: Brojo on July 1, 2008 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

One piece of context to be aware of when reading Bacevich, himself a Vietnam and Gulf war Vet: His son Andrew was killed a little over a year ago in Iraq.

First Lieutenant Andrew J. Bacevich , 27, of Walpole, died Sunday in Balad of wounds he suffered after a bomb explosion, the military said yesterday. The soldier, who graduated from BU in 2003 with a degree in communications, is the 56th service member from Massachusetts to be killed in Iraq.

http://tinyurl.com/2hpeu4

Posted by: mojo on July 1, 2008 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

I had a post on this site a few days ago making the point that in Europe and Israel, where I lived before, facts are facts and people argue only about what to do about them. Here facts are disputed to the point that if you concede the facts you already lost the argument. That's why the issues of what to do about the objective realities are so rarely discussed (and when they are, the discussion is so off the real issues).

Here is another example. The objective situation IS obvious. But in the virtual reality fed by the administration and media it is so distorted that the opposite becomes the CW.

This is also exemplefied by Condi being discussed as a great success to the point where she will be a great help to McCain as a VP. How can one person who was NS adviser for 4 years and Sec. of
State for 4 others, not be responsible for the total geostrategic collapse of USA?

Posted by: Yoni on July 1, 2008 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

Where do Ralph Nader, Bob Barr and Cynthia McKinney stand on this point?

Posted by: Carl Nyberg on July 1, 2008 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

90% of the time brilliance is stating obvious things that people have decided to ignore.

Posted by: DBake on July 1, 2008 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

Econobuzz wrote: "If BO makes any of the following arguments, respectively, he loses: ...."

Econobuzz, I don't know if I agree with you or not, especially regarding point #4, which is pretty obvious, when you remember that Pakistan, China, and North Korea are all part of Asia. But let me say this. Your first three points all have the word "no" or "not" in them. Perhaps Senator Obama should say:

1. What does make sense as an antidote to terror.
2. What does work.
3. What is sustainable.

I can even imagine something like finding those rare examples of the Bush administration working cooperatively with other nations to solve problems, and the problems actually getting solved, and saying that we need to do more of that.

Posted by: Joel Rubinstein on July 1, 2008 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

I certainly wish that the points Bacevich makes were so obvious as to be banal, but can you point to any members of Obama’s foreign policy team that have made them explicitly? Bacevich’s perspective is certainly not in the mainstream even of the Democratic wing of the foreign policy establishment.

But I disagree with the commenters above who are convinced that it would be politically disastrous for Obama to espouse such views. It depends on how they are framed. There is a persistent strain of what both liberal and conservative pundits routinely deplore as “isolationism” among the American people. I would argue that much of that isolationism reflects a healthy skepticism toward foreign adventures that don’t reflect our real interests and that may lead to unnecessary wars. It has to be done right, of course, but a campaign pitched to such sentiments could well be successful. Unfortunately, that would be too much to expect of Obama.

Posted by: Tony Greco on July 1, 2008 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

My dissent isn't because I think Bacevich is wrong. It's because what he's saying is so obvious as to be almost banal. —Kevin Drum

And this is, of course, why Yglesias thinks it's so good.

Kevin, when are you going to stop linking or commenting on things from Sully and Julio's nephew? Do you continue to do this because it's red meat to the more thoughtful posters? I can't think of any other reason to feature them because public exposure and book contracts notwithstanding, they are never worth the time.

Posted by: Jeff II on July 1, 2008 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

This is one of your better posts Kevin. I'd paraphrase it as: Obama needs to lead, not just claim to be leadership material.

Posted by: jerry on July 1, 2008 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

From the article:
"McCain's determination to stay the course in Iraq expresses his commitment not simply to the ongoing conflict there, but to the ideas that gave rise to that war in the first place. While McCain may differ with the president on certain particulars, his election will affirm the main thrust of Bush's approach to national security."

Yet, polls show 80% of Americans think this country is headed in the wrong direction. Will the media help connect the two? Doubtful. We will learn every instance of Obama not wearing a flag pin and that he wants to surrender to the terrorists. One would think with 80% of the people unhappy with the direction of the country, voting for more of the same would be out of the question, but I doubt it.

Posted by: Mike on July 1, 2008 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, maybe Obama should just tell the truth - Terrorism is worse under Republican administrations!

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on July 1, 2008 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

Bacevich is right to press Obama on this point, and Kevin is right to call it obvious, but left unsaid by all those who have doubted Obama's testicles above is the simple fact that he has put a non-partisan label on the permanent war ethos -- "the mindset" (that got us into this war). That's the kind of simple-but-true articulation that can convince a nation to change course.

Obama has spoken out against the war in public in this county as well as anyone except maybe Bacevich and Al Gore. That's why he's the candidate, and it has a lot to do with why he's leading in the polls. As president, his backers must hold him to his promise to get out of Iraq, but the first step towards that end, as Vaclav Havel would remind us, is to be fair and recognize that Obama has committed himself to the goal of ending the permanent war for oil mindset.

Posted by: Kit Stolz on July 1, 2008 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

"expect Obama to continue his move to the right, embracing the dogma of our American exceptionalism. He wants to become president. "

Methinks that's nail on head material.

Apparently Obamas advisors have determined that the majority of the electorate (needed to become president) are unable to accept policy outside the traditional center-right world-view.

Sadly, they are probably correct... and Obama is stampeding toward the center.

BTW, for you Clintonites out there... I have no doubts Hillary would be doing exactly the same thing.

Posted by: Buford on July 1, 2008 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

"They've created a looking glass world in which they pretend that the rest of us are naive because we allegedly think terrorism is merely a law enforcement problem, and everyone sleepily nods along as if that's a sensible way of looking at the question."

This thought deserves to be expanded (greatly), since it exposes the fundamental flaw of the Bushian misadventure of Iraq/Afghanistan. Law enforcement is the correct APPROACH to dealing with terrorism, but only part of the whole. Ignoring the underlying motivations/politics/raison d'êtres
of supposed terrorist entities leads to the path chosen by the Bush/Cheney wingnuts - WAR against anyone who doesn't see the world as they do (ie, your nefarious Islamo-Fascists, whoever they are).
Trouble is, WAR is difficult to wage against anomalous groups - and armies don't do well fighting Vietnam-style WARS. Some people never learn (Cheney). And some people never want to learn (Bush).

Posted by: maigre on July 1, 2008 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

Terrorism _is_ just a law enforcement problem. Now. Thanks to George Bush's efforts. That wasn't the case in 2002.

Posted by: am on July 1, 2008 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

Terrorism _is_ just a law enforcement problem. Now. Thanks to George Bush's efforts. That wasn't the case in 2002.

Too bad it wasn't the case in 2001, when Bush got his Augus6 6 PDB, eh, jackass?

Posted by: Gregory on July 1, 2008 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

Terrorism _is_ just a law enforcement problem. Now. Thanks to George Bush's efforts. That wasn't the case in 2002.

Some days, the jokes just write themselves.

Posted by: MLuther on July 1, 2008 at 7:47 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with Bacevich's column and Kevin's claim of banality is that each smugly assumes that they are correct - that they (and Obama) can articulate "a set of principles that will safeguard the country's vital interests, both today and in the long run, at a price we can afford while preserving rather than distorting the Constitution" -- the constintution stuff is typical liberal mush, but more importantly, what is this magic set of principles that Bacevich and Kevin are so sure will safeguard the country? Whatever criticism you have of Bush, the bottom line is that so far his administration has protected the country from attack. The other bottom line is that no, Obama cannot articulate the magic formula that will protect the country in the future, but of course, the campaign should be about how he proposes to try to protect the country.

[Brian, you have overlooked signing several of your posts today, but I am not too busy right now so I will go back and do that for you. Try to remember in the future, I don't usually have time to fix your oversights. --Mod]

Posted by: brian on July 2, 2008 at 12:11 AM | PERMALINK

The magic formula is observing the rule of law that is the constitution. There is no other formula available to protect us from the 'protections' that authoritarian leaders like W. Bush would like to impose on citizens.

The country is not at risk from attack. Terrorists have no army, navy or air force with which to attack the US and no nations pose any threat whatsoever. W. Bush has protected no one while seizing Iraq's oil for Exxon, except stockholders and company executives.

Posted by: Brojo on July 2, 2008 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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