Friday, September 16, 2005

This is Funny on So Many Levels

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez claims that the U.S. is planning to invade his country, and that he has the "documentary" evidence to back it up (I'm assuming that's a typo by CNN for "documented," but who knows? Maybe Michael Moore embarked on another project). The nerve of us, after all the help they gave us after Katrina! We should be ashamed. [/sarcasm]

But Chavez knows how to play hardball too. In the event of an invasion, Chavez warned, American can "just forget" about receiving any more oil from the country (you just can't make this stuff up). And, he added, if they occupy Caracas, he might not send flowers to the States on the 4th of July (okay, that part I made up).

Not that I think there is a whit of evidence we are going to attack Venezuela, but if we did? Call me skeptical, but I really don't think that Chavez will be able to stop us from getting however much oil we want. But maybe I'm wrong, and the unknown and untested Venezuelan military will win the biggest upset since Vietnam (ranking only slightly ahead the Red Sox coming back from down 3 games to beat the Yankees last year).

Set your bets now, ladies and gentlemen.

Thought over the Weekend (I)

I realize I haven't been blogging as much recently. And I feel badly. All the more so because the reason is that I've been doing some fasicinating non-blog reading and writing which I'm not sharing.

So to at least partially make it up, I figure I'll pluck out some of the more thought-provoking passages from the stuff I've been reading, and hand it off to y'all. Consider this a modified version of my "debater cards" feature. Feel free to discuss, flame, argue, or do whatever with it.

Today's edition comes from Patricia J. Williams's superb book "The Alchemy of Race and Rights" (Cambridge: Harvard U.P., 1991)
The tyranny of the majority has survived in liberal political theory as a justification for all manner of legislative restraint, particularly economic restraint. But what [John Stuart] Mill did not anticipate was that the persuasive power of the forum itself would subvert the polis, as well as the law, to the extent that there is today precious little 'public' left, just the tyranny of what we call the private. In this nation there is, it is true, relatively little force in the public domain compared to other nations, relatively little intrusive governmental interference. But we risk instead the life-crushing disenfranchisement of an entirely owned world. Permission must be sought to work upon the face of the earth. Freedom becomes contractual and therefore obligated; freedom is framed by obligation; and obligation is paired not with duty but with debt. (43)

Maybe not earth-shattering, but still interesting. The very tools we used to free ourselves from feudalism and other caste systems (indeed, the very things we conceptualize as "freedom") are in the process of enslaving us.

Look Over There!

In an inversion of my usual practice, I wrote a long post over at TMV and are pointing you to it from here. So, if you want my opinion on the most recent Pledge decision, check it out over here. Since it is a response to a previous post my bloghost Joe, the specific arguments it covers are an abbreviated legal argument, a normative claim as to why "under God" in the pledge is harmful to religious minorities, and a response to the claim that it is only a few agitators making the case and thus they should be ignored as out of step with the vast quantity of mainstream society.

If, for some odd reason, you want the opinion of someone who actually knows what they're talking about, you can try...

Hillel Levin

Ethan Leib (happy birthday Ethan!)

Self-described "fervent atheist" Jim Lindgren with a conservative critique.

And Armen shows us just how much fun lower court judges have in dealing with the Courts crystal-clear Establishment Clause jurisprudence.

And after that--well, you can read me again.

If you haven't noticed, I've been blogging less frequently of late. I hope this is merely a temporary bout of fatigue. To be honest, the major reason for the slowdown is that I'm reading some really interesting books (specifically "The Alchemy of Race and Rights" by Patricia J. Williams and "Jews and Blacks: Let The Healing Begin" by Michael Lerner and Cornell West), am finally making progress again in my (off-blog) writing, all of which, when topped with interesting classes (including Feminist Theory and Philosophy of Law) are taking up all my intellectual energy. Leaving little time for blog posts.

But if, as will inevitably happen, these things lose their novelty, I'll be back. I always come back.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Gather round, boys and girls. It's time for a story from your Uncle David.

I'm considering using the following tale as an introduction for a paper I'm writing. I'm curious therefore to know what people's reactions are to it, what they think the "message" is (if any), whether it seems superficial (or too obtuse), etc etc.. Of course, any comments on grammatical or stylistic matters would also be greatly appreciate.

It's been the end of a long day at the end of a long week. A young, white male rides down the subway escalator, anxious to return home. Today will be the first time he's been home before 9 o'clock since Sunday. It's hot inside the station and hot outside the station--no day to be wearing a suit. As he goes through the turnstiles, he sees a train is already on the platform ahead, picking up passengers. Quickening his pace, he strives to catch it before it leaves the station.

"Metro's been spotty this whole week. Who knows when the next one will arrive?"

As he approaches the car, he sees that it is rapidly filling up. Jammed to the hilt, it seems. Still, there is room for one more...

Just before he reaches the subway, a black woman appears seemingly out of nowhere and slides inside. They connect as he goes by--not quite a collision, but not quite a brush either. The train is full, the doors close. The young white man is left on the outside.

"Hey, what the hell? What are you trying to pull?" The young man screams. The car hasn't left yet, the African-American can still see him through the window. He gesticulates wildly, ranting, yelling, upset even though he doesn't really know why. The woman's eyes widen--she looks afraid, but he doesn't notice. He continues, animal, bestial, consumed.

"Fuck you" he finally says. She can't hear him (the windows block out the sound), but she can see his raised middle finger. He stalks off, to wait for the next car.

* * *

He's home now. The rage has worn off. He knows he over-reacted. Why was he so angry? He doesn't really know. "Must have been the heat," he thinks. Stress too.

He remembers the look on the woman's face as he yelled at her. My God, she probably thinks I'm a racist!" The thought weighs heavily upon him. He knows he's not a racist. He votes for progressive candidates. He supports affirmative action. He even attended rallies for racial justice when was in college. He can't be a racist...right?

She, of course, didn't know any of that. Which means that she is probably home right now, thinking about her near miss with the racist white guy in the subway station. For a flash, he's angry at her again. She should know better--it was rush hour, everybody is touchy. How dare she consider him a racist!

"Am I a racist?" The question pops unbidden, jarring, disconcerting. Was this an anomaly, a fluke, an unfortunate byproduct of, as he had justified it before, heat and stress?

He ponders this for a moment. Why was he so upset? Because she had taken the last spot on the train, that's why. He would have been angry no matter who it was. "And," he reminds himself, "I'd be upset afterwards about my reaction. It's not right to treat anyone that way."

In fact, he thinks, there’s no reason to think of this in racial terms at all. This was a tense moment between two rushed commuters at rush hour. Happens thousands of times across the country, every day. For that matter, why did he just assume that the woman thought of the incident as race-related? That's not fair to her—that's the very type of race-conscious thinking that does cause racism. Nope--this was just a tragic case of stress. He wasn't racist, she didn't think he was racist--racism was entirely, completely, totally irrelevant.

The man makes a mental note to apologize to the woman if he saw her again, knowing that in the multi-million person metropolis they lived in, the chances were slim to none. He feels bad about that--but what can he do?

He relaxes. All is calm again.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

[Sniff] This is the Happiest Moment of My Life...

George W. Bush has taken responsibility for something that went wrong (thanks to John Cole)!

I'm stunned. Seriously, I am. I've never heard Bush take responsibility for anything before--what was supposed to motivate him to start now? I mean, now that "Brownie" resigned I had assumed the GOP would go back on the assault, same as always. But no! He threw a change up at us this time. And boy has it thrown the blogosphere for a loop.

Hostile bloggers like Steve Soto, Josh Marshall, Lean Left, and The Talent Show are all disoriented. They think that it was the right thing to do, but are convinced that it was a completely political calculation designed to dodge true accountability. As TTS puts it:
It will be interesting to see if this kind of "aknowledgement" [sic] of responsibility becomes the basis by which, as always, Bush and Co. manage to skate by without actually being held responsible by anyone. My feeling is, sadly, that we will once again see any serious attempt to reform the system stymied, and the only people to suffer any political punishment will be the people who were most vocally calling for accountability in the first place.

But if anything, it's worse for the right. At least liberals believe that Bush actually did screw up Katrina. Conservatives (or should I say, the more intellectually dishonest of them) are now caught between their pathological desire to attack liberals and their sycophancy to President Bush (or their oh-so-brave "challenges" for him to be yet more conservative). LaShawn Barber, for example, avoids the issue of Katrina entirely--only asking that Democrats apologize for welfare and demanding that Bush apologize for "fail[ing] to harness the power of a conservative government, squandering precious time and resources." Yes, that's really the problem here. A rather neat turnabout, to tell the truth: it attacks Bush for his liberalism and liberals for their liberalism, making this apology just another case of liberals being wrong. Woohoo.

Unsurprisingly, my co-blogger Joe has a characteristically thoughtful and erudite post on the matter.

Federalist Society Inducts Kos Blogger As Newest Member

Jim Lindgren plays a bit with Supreme Court nominee John Roberts' claim that a judge should be an "umpire," rather than one who plays the game himself. Lindgren notes that different umpiring philosophies might translate to different legal philosophies:
First umpire: "Some are balls and some are strikes, and I call them as they are."

Second umpire: "Some are balls and some are strikes, and I call them as I see 'em."

Third umpire: "Some are balls and some are strikes, but they ain't nothin' 'til I call 'em."

Translating roughly to an essentialist "natural law," traditional liberal, and a realist or CLS model, respectively.

Angus Dwyer of the Yale Federalist Society takes it even a step further though. Noting that there is some dispute as to what rules are the "real rules," he asks:
My point is: it's not enough to say "I will neutrally enforce the rules" without answering the question "which rules are the rules?"

To put it differently, does Judge Roberts believe in the wide strike?

Upon reading that, a memory was aroused. What did Kos blogger Armando say on the subject?
It is an interesting analogy Judge Roberts draws. And it seems to me to be an excellent argument for why Judge Roberts must answer the questions put to him by the Senate. As any baseball fan knows, umpires are not uniform in the delineation of the strike zone. Some are "hitters" umpires. Some are "pitchers" umpires. Some call the high strike. Some call the outside pitch.

And when it comes to the Supreme Court of the United States, it is important that we know what Judge Roberts' "strike zone" is.

Basically the same thing.

Who'd have thought that The Daily Kos and the Federalist Society would see the Roberts nomination so similarly? Satan, get your skates on.

Crescat tipped me off originally. De Novo also opines.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Don't Waste Your Tears on Me

Jazz feels bad for me. I'm under some delusion that I'm a liberal. Apparently, neo-liberal "is code for neo-conservatives who want to sway people toward the hypnochrists." And to think I thought I was Jewish too--apparently, in addition to being a pawn of the Bush administration and "Dean Asmay acolyte" (someone whom I've rarely read--the point of confusion was that Tom Strong read Asmay, and I considered the arguments Strong found persuasive the same I do. My actual influences run closer to Tom Friedman, Peter Beinart, and Jonathan Chait), I'm also an unwitting member of Jews for Jesus. Who knew?

Let's start off with what Jazz got right--that I was indeed a bit ruffled by his first post. This was due to my false assumption that it was an attack on me. Alas, what we have here is a classic case of mistaken identity. Jazz simply refuses to believe my self-described motivations for my policy positions. He isn't making an argument, his post was the intellectual equivalent of covering his ears and going "I can't hear you."

For example, when I disclaim any support for Bush, he responds
Ok. You don't endorse Bush. You endorse his war in Iraq and his attempts to "spread democracy" (as if you believe that) in the Middle East. Fair enough. You don't endorse him. You simply endorse his worst policies. My apologies.

Even a cursory glance at my prior blogging would belie this (see, e.g., here, here, and here). I am appalled by Bush's horrific mismanagement which jeopardizes the democratic principles that caused me to support the war in the first place. Saying "I told you so" may be a valid attack (though it has very little critical bite, since the impact, "don't trust Bush," I've absorbed by myself, thanks). Saying that I'm a consistent shill for the Bush administration is simply facile. I support Bush as deep as the statement "I support the war" goes. In terms of conduct, preparation, justification, success metrics, and virtually any other indicator, we split.

His defense of the WMD statement? Same problem:
Ok. But you then go on to say, "I'm a neo-liberal anti-Bushite who believes in an at least partial WMD disarmament..." Oh, so you believe in PARTIAL WMD disarmament, do you? And since I'm wrong, I assume that you think the USA should give up their WMD's and Turkey, N. Korea, Iran and Russia should keep them, eh? Pull the other one, Senor... it doth have bells on it. You believe in the "bad people" disarming.

Actually, what I meant by disarmament was that both the US and Russia should significantly reduce their WMD stockpiles, and we should aggressively combat the proliferation of WMDs to other nations (it should be noted that one can be anti-proliferation without wanting ANY reduction in current WMD levels--proliferation being the spread of WMDs, not anything to with the status quo. But that's not my position). The "partially" was merely to denote that WMDs still have some deterrent effect on conflict and thus we should preserve SOME nukes--but we don't need as many.

Of course, some of this confusion may be related to my doubts as to whether Jazz even read my piece at all. Certainly, he did this discourse no favors by skipping over all the meat of my analysis (non-intervention as a conscious choice which reifies oppression and murder). Moreover, he completely mangles my characterization of his position. He says that I call him a "liberal" and a "pacifist." I do neither. I actually say that while his argument masquerades as being a pluralist case for non-intervention ("pluralists for tyrannies"), a look beneath the surface reveals a fundamental conservatism. Since the ultimate sticking point between us was whether or not my opinions could be characterized as liberal (as he puts it, to take my arguments and "couch them in a cloak of faux liberalism...borders on insulting"), it is rather integral to show that the counter-argument he makes against intervention cannot under any stretch be called liberal. Indeed, I specifically label it conservative (" can see the conservatism in the argument itself."), so it's a bit weird that he thinks me critique was that he was liberal. What we're disputing is what liberal is. My claim is that while the argument draws from leftist theories of pluralism, in effect it is a conservative position which justifies political inaction and marginalization of outsiders. You can even see the conservative influence in his invocation of his armed service--he served in Desert Storm (thanks for that, by the way. I'm totally serious), so his opinions on war are utterly and completely beyond reproach. Geez, where have I heard that type of argument before? As to the pacifism thing--I registered no claim as to what Jazz feels about any given war. I critiqued his objection to foreign policy intervention, but then, these subtleties seem to be escaping him.

The straw men keep coming. Why do I hate the UN? Because of oil-for-food (actually, it's because the UN has consistently refused to stand up to genocide occurring in front of it's very eyes: see, e.g., Rwanda, Darfur, Cambodia, Congo, Iraq (Anfal campaign). And when other people try to pick up the slack, they declare the war illegal, see Kosovo. I have no use for an international organization who ignores its own explicit mandates to stop genocide for the sake of political expediency). Why do I hate Europe? Because they're "old Europe" (I actually don't hate Europe, but given their history of colonization in the middle east, they too have little credibility when it comes to liberation). What's the most important thing in the world to me? Fitting in the Rovian agenda (I hate, hate, Karl Rove). The post is a giant imputation of false motivations that can be disproved simply by reading my archives. What we have here, is a failure of imagination. Jazz cannot argue against anybody who isn't a neo-con. To compensate, he just insists that anybody who disagrees with him is a neo-con, and works from there. Sorry dear, but it just ain't flying.

Amidst all of that straw-bashing, there is a tiny, tiny, bit of substantive clash. It comes in the following two passages. Referring to my defense of democratization as an ideal (as oppose to America) as an ideal, he writes:

Do you honestly think that democracy is the only functional form of government in the world? Dave, ours is barely functional at this point. And there have been many successful ones that have lasted far longer than the gnat's lifespan that ours has been here. Democracies often implode, also. It's a hard form of government to run over the long haul. Others take other choices. Your desire to "democratize" puts the lie to your first statements.

Note, incidentally, that Jazz claims that authoritarianism is a "choice" by citizens in the third world. That's odd: how did they choose? Did they vote for it? The conception of "choice" in government is inextricably bundled with democratization--if you're supporting choice you're supporting democracy. This may seem paradoxical, but it isn't--unlike other forms of government democracy is characterized by its indeterminancy: the citizens of France can vote for one type of government and the citizens of Indonesia can vote for an entirely different one. Two totally different choices, both under the framework of "democracy." In dictatorships, by contrast, the only person choosing is the dictator. This is why Jazz's case is so easily deconstructed, again, it's defending dictatorships from the position of free choice.

Passage two:
David seems to think that when we went in and took out Saddam and his party every other Iraq was waiting to cheer and exclaim, "Finally! Finally, we can have equal rights for our women and for gays and for people of all religions!" Here's a tip, David. The Iraqis who do support us do so because they hate us slightly less than they did Saddam. Why do you think they are quickly moving to form a theocratic bond with Iran?

Societies change from within. Do you really think we can have a trooper standing at the dinner table with every Iraqi Man saying, "Embrace your wife's rights! Embrace your gay son!" Yeah. That will work. Cultures evolve over centuries. You don't do it at gunpoint. But David and the "spread Americanism at the end of a rifle" crowd somehow think you can.

Paired with the passage above, this boils down to a "democracy isn't so hot" argument paired with "democracy can only be home-grown."

I've never been the biggest democracy fan as a theory--I support it pragmatically because I'm Churchillian, I think that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried.

Jazz tells me there are other "functioning" governments besides democracy. Alright Jazz, I'll call your bluff: what are they? Obviously this depends a lot on what the definition of "functioning" is. If it's just keeping order, then sure, there have been loads of functioning non-democratic states. The USSR, Nazi Germany, Communist China, to name a few. If "functioning" implies a basic level of rights for citizens, though, then suddenly the list becomes a bit tighter. Indeed, on an empirical level, and even controlling for economic development, democracies have outperformed autocracies on almost every level. Joseph T. Siegle, Michael M. Weinstein, Morton H. Halperin wrote in the September/October 2004 edition of Foreign Affairs that:
People in low-income democracies live, on average, nine years longer than their counterparts in low-income autocracies, have a 40 percent greater chance of attending secondary school, and benefit from agricultural yields that are 25 percent higher. The latter figure is particularly relevant because some 70 percent of the people in poor countries live in the countryside. Higher levels of agricultural productivity mean more employment, capital, and food. Poor democracies also suffer 20 percent fewer infant deaths than poor autocracies. Development practitioners should pay particularly close attention to these figures because infant-mortality rates capture many features of social well-being, such as prenatal health care for women, nutrition, quality of drinking water, and girls' education.

More integral to the point I'm trying to make is the link between authoritarian states and mass death. R.J. Rummell, Professor at the University of Hawaii, compiled the statistics and found that:
While 36 million people have been killed in battle in all foreign and domestic wars in [the 20th] century, at least 119 million more have been killed by government genocide, massacres, and other mass killing. And about 115 million of these were killed by totalitarian governments... There is no case of democracies killing en-masse their own citizens. The inverse relationship between democracy and foreign violence, collective domestic violence, or government genocide is not simply a correlation, but a cause and effect...[T]he more democratic freedom a nation has, the less likely its government will commit foreign or domestic democide...through democratic institutions social conflicts that might become violent are resolved by voting, negotiation, compromise, and mediation. The success of these procedures is enhanced and supported by the restraints on decision makers of competitive elections, the cross-pressures resulting from the natural pluralism of democratic--spontaneous--societies, and the development of a democratic culture and norms that emphasizes rational debate, toleration, negotiation of differences, conciliation, and conflict resolution. Moreover, democratic leaders see others, even political opponents, as within the same moral universe, as equally nonviolent, as disposed to negotiate differences peacefully."

That comparison should be astounding. In the 20th century, totalitarian governments beat democratic governments in terms of democidal deaths by a total of 115 million to 4 million. Given that reality, the argument that Iraqis won't immediately vote for gay rights pales.

As to the argument that democracies can't be established via military force, this is factually inaccurate. Just ask the folks in Germany, Japan, and Kosovo, where we did(/are doing) just that. University of Chicago Political Scientist Daniel Drezner notes that
But what of governments imposed via military occupation? Surely they're the exception to this optimistic rule. Actually, the empirical evidence of the last 50 years is rather evenly split on the question. Postwar Germany, Japan, Bosnia, and Kosovo are all, to varying degrees, democratic success stories; Somalia and Haiti are probably safely considered failures. (Let's be generous and say the jury is still out on Afghanistan.) Still, the more relevant point is that the key difference between the democratic haves and have-nots is not the conditions that prevailed prior to war; it's the occupiers' commitment to the democratization process once the fighting ends. In the words of a compelling new RAND Corporation study, America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq...:
'What principally distinguishes [successes from failures] are not their levels of Western culture, economic development, or cultural homogeneity. Rather, it is the level of effort the United States and the international community have put into their democratic transformations. In Germany and Japan, for example, substantial American aid reduced social, political, and other obstacles to the reconstitution of parliamentary politics and facilitated a transition to democracy.

Military force may not be ideal for creating democracies, but it certainly isn't antithetical to it. And even if it were true that totalitarian states will naturally evolve into democracies (something I'm skeptical of and in any event contradicts Jazz's earlier claim that dictatorship is a deliberate and happy "choice"), I really wouldn't care all that much, because waiting for dictatorships to squeeze every last murder, torture, rape, and robbery they can out of their state before they are overthrown doesn't strike as a particularly moral(/liberal) way to conduct foreign policy. Being a liberal means aiding the oppressed now (or as soon as is reasonably feasible), not letting history take it's whim and hoping for the best.

Not that I expect this post to matter. If it even gets a response, it will be yet another sad attempt to force me inside a neo-conservative box, where I can be slapped around like Rummy and Wolfie and all the other folks who have destroyed the credibility of Wilsonian Foreign Policy for generations to come. Oh well.

Pluralists for Tyranny?

In the midst of a kind of rambling and overall poorly written post on the role of narratives in political discourse, I wrote the brilliant line that "superficially going to war doesn't seem to mesh well with pacifism."

Okay, maybe not my best work, even though it was intended to be ironic. The underlying point was that the if pacifists adopt that position instrumentally in order to pursue "deeper" values (like social justice or avoidance of harm to individuals), then a well-constructed narrative could convince an erstwhile pacifist to support a certain war (say, one to end a genocide) by reinforcing, not refuting, their pre-existing value system. But whatever--it was inartfully worded, and I deserved to be mocked.

And mocked I was, by Jazz Shaw of Running Scared. But then he steps past that and makes me a convenient straw man to bash all sorts of nasty things. Specifically:
A thumbnail description of why people following this particular theory try to call themselves "liberal" while endorsing Bush, preemptive wars and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as long as it's among "the good countries" could not be crafted in the space available. However, the crux of it is that "we" (and by "we", the theory refers exclusively to America) are essentially perfect. And as perfect beings, we somehow need to "save" the other countries of the world from themselves and their inferior societies, if necessary, by war. Spending our most precious capital -namely the blood of our youth - is somehow seen as "for the greater good" as long as we can bring them to see the light.

I'd write a long argument against this, but let's face it... it falls apart on its own. There are so many religions in the world... so many forms of government... so many opinions. Most all of them are valid for people of good intentions who love their own countries and societies and cultures. The mind reels. I welcome you to read the short but stunning (you fill in exactly why it's stunning) work of... David Schraub.
I can't tell if it's more amusing or frightening. What I do know is that it perfectly sums up the "theory" of the neocons who want to use preemptive war to project American power and "theory" on other cultures. To take those theories, even if you seriously believe them, and couch them in a cloak of faux liberalism, though, borders on insulting.

Somehow, I endorse Bush (I don't), advocate the spread of WMDs (again, I don't), believe that only American ideas/religions/opinions are worthwhile (take a guess), and am a neo-conservative who wishes to project American power (I'm not). In all actuality, I'm a neo-liberal anti-Bushite who believes in an at least partial WMD disarmament and is committed the liberation of those suffering under tyranny and oppression.

Since some folks don't seem to understand the difference between neo-cons and neo-libs, I'll try and spell it out. Neo-cons, as Jazz helpfully points (and rather unhelpfully ascribes to me) believe that America is "perfect" or nearly so, and that a just world is an Ameicanized world--whatever that means. If America is perfect, than anything we do in the pursuit of perfecting the world (torture, indefinite detention, etc) is justified. Neo-liberals, by contrast, are committed to certain ideals, among them democratization, equal rights, and other liberal mainstays. For us, America is instrumentally useful for achieving those goals--but certainly does not inherently embody them. So we'll loudly press for American-led democratization--while at the same time condemning American-caused atrocities like Abu Gharib. Where we join forces with neo-cons is that we do not see an alternative to an American led effort to secure these ends. No other organization or nation is remotely capable of achieving these goals. Ideally, would I prefer a nation or group that has a better track record than America to undertake this project? Sure. But who is out there? The UN? The EU? Don't make me laugh. At the moment, the US is the only choice we have.

Okay, now that we've gotten identity out the of the way, let's look at just who's argument falls apart on it's own terms, eh? Poor word choice aside, it seems quite reasonable for liberals of any stripe to push for the liberation of oppressed peoples. And realists of any stripe recognize that sometimes asking nicely doesn't work. So a liberalism that is in touch with reality has to occasionally sanction the use of force--and it certainly can't indulge in the sort of soft post-modernism Jazz embodies with his fuzzy talk of "so many opinions."

That, of course, is what makes Jazz's argument really ironic. "Pacifists for armed intervention" may be silly, but no more so than his "pluralists for tyrannies" objection. I recognize that Iraqis have many opinions--some of which are different from mine. In fact, I'm so cognizant of the fact that I'd actually like to give them the chance to express them! The right to self-determination, to be free of rape rooms and torture-on-whim, these aren't American rights (we too have violated them before). They're human rights--and at the moment America is the only chance of securing them.

What Jazz doesn't realize is that a "look-the-other-way" foreign policy is a conscious choice--one that dooms millions to rape, mutilation, and death. So when the US refuses to intervene to overthrow dictatorships, it isn't a "neutral" act but a positive affirmation of the current state of affairs. Effectively, Jazz is using pluralism to prop up authoritarianism--a contradiction in terms if I ever saw one. Jazz acts as if the contemporary global situation is natural and inevitable--that American efforts to rectify the situation are an illegitimate imposition on the way things "should be." Such a view is nakedly conservative--it not only asserts the naturality of the wretched state of the third world, but it implies that it is their choice to be that way. If trying to create progressive democracies is pushing an "American" theory or way of life, then the corollary is that the status quo--totalitarianism, oppression, poverty--is "their" way of life. That isn't liberalism. That's rationalization for refusing to rectify the pervasive inequalities that plague the modern world. If that's the new liberalism, then call me a moderate, call me a conservative, call me something else. But I refuse to believe it.

If you look closely, you can see the conservatism in the argument itself. Note what Jazz labels the "capital" being expended here: "the blood of our youth." Presumably also our money, our resources, and our attention. Of course, not a word is said about the capital expended when we do nothing: the blood of their youth (and adults), their money, resources, and attention (in quantities, proportionally, that dwarf what we'd expend). For an argument that purports to critique ethnocentrism, it sure does a damn fine job of marginalizing the Other. What of them? It is highly revealing that the interests of Iraqis or Afghanis or what have you play precisely no role in Jazz's moral calculus. After all, we both claim to be speaking for the best interests of the oppressed. Yet while at least the neo-liberals can provide concrete methodologies to improve the lives of the worst well-off, the leftist stance Jazz postulates consists mostly of looking in the mirror and beating ourselves bloody. We use the poor to whip ourselves, and then say what good persons we are because we're incorporating them into our discourse! Hurray for us! But true liberation isn't a product of making the oppressed our intellectual playthings, it's about seriously and materially working to improve their lives. We can't do that behind a podium in Turtle Bay--and it's willful ignorance to pretend otherwise.

Obviously, liberalism is a contested subject. But at the point where the "liberal" position is one that justifies inequality, shies away from reform, attacks liberators, and defends the status quo even in the face of sickening atrocities--at that point the term becomes distorted beyond recognition. Jazz can believe what he wants--but I'll defend my position as the true heir to liberalism any day of the week.

UPDATE: I go yet further into depth here.

First Thing We Do, Let's Burn Down The Synagogues

So the last Israelis are out of Gaza. How should the newly independent Palestinians celebrate? How about by burning all the synagogues to the ground?

And some people say there isn't anti-Semitism in this conflict (Eric Muller with the link).

PS: By the way, I did see that the Israelis originally promised to tear down the Synagogues themselves, then changed their minds. Big deal. The Gaza pullout already exacted a tremendous emotional toll on the Israeli populace and military--a giant step toward peace which, one might point out, was made with no promise of comparable concessions by the Palestinian side. It is not at all unreasonable to spare these soldiers the further trauma of having to tear down their own holy places. The Palestinian protestation is just another indication of their unapologetically maximalist positions and failure to even consider compromise. And in any event, respecting the holy places of other religions shouldn't be on the negotiating table anyway. Anyway you cut it, even if (like me) you supported the Gaza pullout, this was deplorable.