Monday, July 03, 2006

The Good Guys

Paul Mirengoff has graciously penned a response to my post regarding Peter Beinart and the Democrats on terror policy. I'm a debater by trade (hence the blog's name), and Mr. Mirengoff was my first mentor in debate, so there's always the potential that these things can run around forever. But fortunately, I think that there is a lot of "agree to disagree" areas that have sprung up, so I think after this post we can let things lie.

The first area of dispute is how much domestic policies influenced our victory in the cold war. I forwarded the argument that America got significantly more aggressive in fighting for civil rights because having a Jim Crow system significantly reduced our credibility in the third world, the battle ground of the cold war. Mr. Mirengoff thinks this thesis is "overblown." I've been sufficiently persuaded by my readings of Derrick Bell, Mary Dudziak, and Richard Delgado to think that it had a considerable role. (Incidentally, for those of you scratching your heads and wondering what the hell I'm talking about, I typed up a bare bones explanation of the scholarly history behind this idea). Again, I find this evidence convincing, but if you don't agree, you don't agree.

But granting that it had some effect, Mr. Mirengoff then challenges me as follows:
Let's assume that the Justice Department intervened in Brown v. Board of Education because diplomats said it would help us defeat Communism. Let's assume that Kennedy proposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for the same reason. What's missing is evidence that these moves had anything to do with us winning the Cold War decades later during the conservative Reagan administration.

I could be really snide and agree with Paul on the grounds that Reagan's overt hostility to the civil rights movement makes it difficult to ascribe to that same movement our victory in the Cold War. But that would be mean (and counter-productive). So I'll just make two arguments here.

First, this seems incompatible with how conservatives view Reagan's contribution to ending the Cold War. Sure, they'll go on about winning the arms race and muscling the USSR under as crucial components to Reagan's strategy. But where they really wax poetic is in talking about the bold moral challenge Reagan put out to confront the Soviet Union. In other words, they do recognize the importance of drawing sharp moral contrasts between "the land of the free and the home of the brave", on the one side, and the "evil empire," on the other. Civil rights is obviously a critical part of this.

Second, Mr. Mirengoff is proposing a counter-factual scenario. We can't, of course, go back and see what the upshot of the Cold War would have been had Brown gone the other way, or the Civil Rights Act never been signed. I have serious trouble believing that we would have done as well in the Cold War had we not taken significant, tangible steps to show we were serious about protecting (non-White) rights, especially given the importance of non-White countries in prosecuting the war. Mr. Mirengoff apparently believes it would have had no effect--we could have gone completely Bull Connor and done just as well in our diplomatic efforts in Africa, South and Central America, Asia, et al. This is agree-to-disagree part number two, again, let the reader decide.

The next question is what degree liberal norms help convince wavering Muslims that democracy is in their interests. I argued that the case for democracy is seriously weakened when people see some of the worst trappings of authoritarianism (torture, detention without trial, "ghost" internment camps) still happen inside of democracy's biggest cheerleaders. Paul responds as follows:
There's no doubt that genuine human rights abuses like Abu Ghraib can create anti-Americanism. It's conceivable that they can even cause people to take up arms against us. What's far-fetched, I believe, is the view that human rights abuses by Americans will cause people who might prefer self-government over a dictatorship to decide that a dictatorship is better after all. Arabs can certainly have a democratic government without adopting specifically American policies, a point that critics of the administration are fond of making.

I have three responses here. First, even if American human rights abuses "only" cause "anti-Americanism" and "cause people to take up arms against us," those are still Really Bad Things that make it more difficult to effectively fight and win the war on terror. So I'd say that even this minimal concession is proof positive that American human rights violations are counter-productive to fighting this war, ipso facto, the party that fights against those abuses gains a unique advantage in prosecuting the war effort.

Second, I'm not sure that I do believe American human rights abuses have no role in causing anti-democratic sentiment. A Sunni in Iraq might very well conclude that having a Sunni dictator is superior to democracy, if "democracy" means that the Shi'ite controlled government is sending out death squads and slaughtering his compatriots and political leaders. One might respond that this would be an Iraqi-perpetuated rights violation, not an American one, and thus falls outside our control. But I don't think that neat division of labor is coming across--Sunnis (rightfully) expect America to do everything it can to stop the government from oppressing them, when it was the American's who promised that this democracy thing would be the cat's meow. As long as Iraq is effectively an American client state (which it is as long as we still have hundreds of thousands of troops in the nation), it is on our heads to send the message that torture is intolerable from the government we're propping up. This is why liberals like me swooned over Peter Pace when he told Donald Rumsfeld publicly, to his face, that American troops have an obligation to intervene to stop inhumane conduct by Iraqi forces. Rumsfeld thought they should just look the other way. So this view-clash is present, and it pits folks like me and Pace, who think that America does have a role to play in preventing Iraqis from torturing each other, and the Bush administration, which doesn't care at all.

Third our goals for Iraq are not encompassed merely in the phrase "democracy." We don't just want a democracy, we want a vaguely liberal democracy that respects the rights of its citizens and (among other things) doesn't discriminate on the basis of religion (in Iraq, that's the big one). So now working from the Shi'ite side of things, they might decide that a theocratic democracy is superior to a liberal one if "liberal democracy" still means Abu Gharib. This might be what Paul means when he says that Iraqis can choose their own form of democracy, and he may well be right that we should allow them this choice. But to reiterate, Iraq turning into a theocratic-leaning democracy hostile to America still represents a case of a Really Bad Thing that makes our war on terror harder. So policies which make that outcome more likely vis-a-vis a more liberal democracy are also Really Bad Things that make our job harder.

Finally, Mr. Mirengoff is just skeptical that most Democrats actually believe all of this. He cites Beinart's call to "purge" the more leftist elements from the Democratic party. I might even sign onto this, but I think it's a smaller portion of the party than Paul does. For example, he tries to group on "MoveOn" and "Michael Moore" with "the Kos crowd", but of course these groups are not the same (Moore, for example, isn't a member of the Democratic party). Again, this is kind of one of those "agree to disagree" moments. All I can say is that I'm a hawkish Democrat who goes to bleeding heart liberal college, and while I see a lot of fury at President Bush (which I share, incidentally), I have not encountered many opinions incompatible with a Beinart-like view on foreign policy. Differences at the margins and in the mechanics, of course, but the basic principles seem relatively widely held: that radical Muslim extremism is an awful thing incompatible with basic liberal norms, that America needs to fight it, that this fight needs to be conducted constrained by certain moral considerations, both because it's right and because we won't win if we don't, and that this fight will at times involve the use of American military forces. I feel comfortable ascribing these basic beliefs to the majority of Carleton Democrats, who I think themselves are mostly left of the party median.

18 comments:

jack said...

The Daily Kos reaction to Beinart was negative to be sure- but it was the response was basically: Duh, we know Democrats can fight the war on terror better. We've been saying it all along and Beinart is a dick for reinforcing the bullshit notion that Democrats don't care about terrorism. That is, Democrats are already doing and advocating just about everything Beinart wants and he's pretending the aren't and hurting the part as a result.

Anonymous said...

Your thesis is that, if the Democratic Party could pitch the Michael Moore wing of the party over the side, and return to its proud, internationalist traditions of FDR, Truman and Kennedy, it would do a better job of prosecuting the war on terror than the current administration. I'm willing to accept that. I'm also willing to assume that it would be good for baseball if the Cubs won the World Series this year.

Unfortunately, the Cubs' chance for a Series win in October are a great deal higher than the chances the Democratic Party getting serious about the war on terror. Joe Lieberman may lose a primary on the issue. Hillary Clinton gets booed because she is passionately opposed to the war in Iraq

Anonymous said...

I meant, of course, that Sen. Clinton isn't passionately opposed to the war.

David Schraub said...

How can there be a "Michael Moore wing" of a party of which Michael Moore doesn't belong? He's a Green!

And Senator Clinton is, might I remind you, still a front-runner for the Dem nomination in '08, unapologetic pro-war stance notwithstanding. Democrats aren't angry at Lieberman because he's pro-war, they're angry because they see him (rightly or wrongly) as a Bush shill

Don said...

Don said...
While I am a social radical and economic conservative and voted happily for Bush and still support most (but definitely not all) of his decisions, and, thus, am at variance with your own personally stated "lot of fury at Bush (which I share...)," I fully and whole heartedly concur with the position you have taken here -- and wish it would become a widely articulated perspective -- on both sides of the political spectrum. Thank you for the civility and clarity with which you stated your position. It is refreshing to have a well articulated perspective from the other side of the political perspective from me. Thank you. I only wish to share with you a conservative perspective, consistent with your articulated position -- one from John Hinderaker at Powerline, using the words of Abraham Lincoln. The Permalink is the following: http://powerlineblog.com/archives/014597.php. I think your perspective is one that can be held passionately by both sides of the political world in the U.S.

Ajay C. said...

Consider three points regarding Mr. Moore and the Democratic Party: (1) a number of prominent Dems--Tom Harkin, Bob Graham, Barbara Boxer, numerous members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Tom Daschle--showed up for the June 2004 VIP screening in D.C.;(2) Moore got a seat at the Dem nat'l convention with Pres. Carter (July 26, 2004); (3) Moore went on the talk circuit prior to the last general election drumming up support for Kerry 2004.

TNR has at least one article on the Moore-Democrat alliance (Zengerle, 'Crashing the Party', TNR 7.12.04).

I think the better argument for your position is that Moore has no particular relevance now. It is not do the work of, say, 'Reagan Republican'. But the idea that Moore's being Green settles the argument is unpersuasive. People make convenient, ideologically impure alliances all the time.

However, those who used Moore and his movie as rallying points still exist and presumably have not capitulated. So even if the term 'M. Moore Dems' is dated, the phrase still does the same work in picking out a politically active group that arguably are not inclined to Beinart's position.

a Duoist said...

What was immediately apparent by the disclosure of the abuses at Abu Ghraib was the opportunity it provided the Bush Administration to quickly and resolutely take a stand on human rights. Instead of using the "bully pulpit" to promote American values on human rights, however, the Administration instead assigned the task of investingating and prosecuting violations to the military's very honest and quite competent judicial procedures.

So, the rule of law was followed, but the moral force of an American government firmly committed to human rights was dissipated.

There is a sharp difference between leading and managing; leaders lead people, frequently at risk to themselves, while managers manage numbers. The Harvard MBA is earned by managers, who then safely look down from 10,000 feet in the air upon New Orleans under water, or who turn over the worst American human rights abuse since My Lai to routine military justice.

The prosecution of the 'War on Terror'--whether by Democrats or Republicans--is a matter of leadership, not of poll numbers, not of Michael Moore's anti-intellectualism, and certainly not of the nihilism in the moral relativism of the hard political left...or weak managers on the political right.

Anonymous said...

the Dems are also, with variations in detail, calling for everything Bush is already DOING, while claiming he's doing it all wrong.

As in Kerry loudly and repeatedly calling for troop drawdowns while he knows full well (is in a POSITION to know) that drawdowns are in the near future-- just so he can make it seem like Bush is taking HIS advice.

Our biggest problem in Iraq is that the citizens are fence-sitters, afraid to commit to democracy in case we leave TOO SOON and thus leave them to be crushed and ruled by the Al Qaeda/Ba'athist coalition (which soon will be in civil war anyway, strange bedfellows). If our LEFTISTS would shut up and let our nation appear singleminded and committed to democracy in Iraq, the terrorists would give up a lot SOONER. With a lot less bloodshed. And the citizens would rise up and run the killers to ground if they could have a tiny shred of confidence that we won't desert them. But we KNOW that what the terrorists do, they do for headlines and for leftist negative press about the war. They're playing our lefties for all they're worth, playing you guys like a cheap kazoo. But you let them.

So SHUT UP already, and let Bush get it done! So our boys can come home.... after they're DONE with their current task, not before.

Russet Shadows said...

"It is on our heads to send the message that torture is intolerable from the government we're propping up. This is why liberals like me swooned over Peter Pace when he told Donald Rumsfeld publicly, to his face, that American troops have an obligation to intervene to stop inhumane conduct by Iraqi forces. Rumsfeld thought they should just look the other way. So this view-clash is present, and it pits folks like me and Pace, who think that America does have a role to play in preventing Iraqis from torturing each other, and the Bush administration, which doesn't care at all."

As far as I can tell, Rumsfield rightly regards it as an Iraqi problem because it is within their scope of jurisdiction and responsibility.

This reveals everything about the liberal mind. The whole problem with their mindset is the mothering, oppressive care that pats people on the head and then does everything for them, because they're too stupid, ignorant, whatever, to do it for themselves.

This mothering instinct (which is based on a fundamental disrespect and disavowal of the equality of men) is why liberalism has always been a bedfellow of racism.

Anonymous said...

Many conservatives may wax poetic about the influence of Reagan's "moral vision" on the collapse of the Soviet Union, but they have virtually no evidence that it had any international effect. The Russians certainly did not need Reagan to tell them that the communist regime was brutal, corrupt, and ineffective, nor did the people of eastern Europe. As for the European left, they STILL are making goo-goo eyes over Stalinism as is the intelligentsia in most of the Third World.

I am not much of a debater, but I cannot get persuaded by your turning around an argument that had no empirical content to begin with.

The importance of Reagan's "moral vision" was its insistence that the US had something worth maintaining helped build sufficient domestic support for his foreign and defense policy.

It is exactly in its domestic consequences that Bush has, I fear, gone wrong. He may be right that installing viable democratic regimes in the Middle East is the best way to combat a culture that supports terrorism. That is at least a plausible argument. But the means and time required to achieve that best result cause internal discord: the US has never shown much appetite for la mission civilatrice, and a conservative who forgets history is in a bad way. Nor does the US setting itself up as judge and jury of which foreign governemtns are civilized enough to be tolerated generate foreign support for American policy. Just the contrary.

Understand I have no qualms about Bush destroying the Taliban or the Baathists using military means. I am unconcerned with what effects that has on foreign public opinion. Nor am I concerned, for example, that holding suspected terrorists in prison camps until the war against terrorism is won (in another century or two) may annoy people who are essentially pacifists at heart. Nor am I interested in trying to win a war in a way that will simultaneously instill liberal values into Moslem culture, a quixotic quest if I ever saw one.

Bush has succumbed to Wilsonianism, a liberal illusion. He should have modelled his policy on Jefferson's for the Barbary states: annoy us, and you will bitterly regret it. Jefferson never dreamed of imposing American government over the Barbary coast to enlighten it.

Thus, I consider the current US debate as fruitless. You may be right that we must protect the Sunnis from reaping what they have sown in order to construct an Iraqi democracy. And I am quite sure that Rumsfeld is right that, for example, using shock troops to police an art museum is silliness. Is not the sensible conclusion that Bush has chosen the wrong grand strategy to rally the American people while simultaneously achieving a satisfactory, rather than optimum, result?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anonymous who cited President Jefferson's action against the Barbary pirates as the way presidents should work to protect us from foreign threats, which is his primary job. It is often said that if we don't nation build, we'll just have to go in and take them down again, suggesting that path is cheaper in blood and treasure. Has any one ever really done a study based upon the doctrine of preemptive war. If we had attacked Germany and Japan before Germany got too big or Japan attacked us, would we expended the blood and treasure we did in those wars. If we then left them to their own devices instead of "Marshall Planning" them and they started messing up again and we went in and bashed them again, what would have been the comparative cost in blood and treasure. What would it be today if we just left Afghanistan and Iraq on their own, came home, they put some more Talibans and Saddams in, we go "shock and awe" them again, they cease and desist for a while and start again. We do it again. Anybody out there smart enough to make this comparison - I'm surely not.

Michimacker said...

Debate is a wonderful thing. Until guns appear. If I read your post correctly you do not address in any way the absolutist nihilism of Mohammed's teachings, and what that means for the world. It seems that you think American polity is determinitave. When a jihadi says, "Convert, or die", and proceeds to enforce his belief with murder, explain to me again why a distinctively American moral debate counts for a tinker's damn in changing his behavior?

thirty-six knots said...

Re: Your #3

Three points:

1. I don't know any conservative who is in favor of human rights abuses such as Abu Graib as a matter of policy. What happened there was a violation of our policy, not the outworking of considered administration position. I seriously doubt that, if a Democratic administration were conducting this war, such incidents would magically disappear. If your exhibit A for Republican-sponsored human rights abuses is Abu Graib, therefore, I don't believe your argument has any merit.

2. As to captures in the insurgency itself, we are exceedingly lenient. There have been numerous blanket releases throughout the war in Iraq. There was another large one recently at the behest of the new government. Certainly the Iraqis would like us to leave as soon as events permit, but I don't think there is any sense in which our policies on the ground in Iraq are remotely comparable to Saddam's - and that is a known thing.

3. As to the detainees in the broader GWOT (which I take to be your primary point), there is a fundamental difference between the due process rights a liberal democratic nation accords to its citizens and the judicial process it accords to enemies captured on the battlefield. Surely you can see that the difference here is enormous. Under Saddam and other dictators REALL BAD THINGS happen to you though you are a citizen. Even supposing the worst about Guantanamo and other detention facilities, all this means is that America makes REALLY BAD THINGS happen to its enemies.

Surely the majority of the world is intelligent enough to see the difference. Your civil-rights/cold war argument makes sense because it compares apples to apples: US v. Soviet treatment of citizens. Comparing dictatorships' treatment of their citizens to our treatment of the worst of our enemies is simply not a credible comparison.

Anders said...

"How can there be a "Michael Moore wing" of a party of which Michael Moore doesn't belong?"

The blogger thinks his readers are fools. Big words of praise on the front page but very little to show for it. Yes, this is my first visit.

The comments far outshine the sorry commentary from Mr. Hot Shot Debater.

russell said...

What??? Michael Moore is a Green and not an influencial and powerful voice within the Democrat Party? Moore was seated at the highest place of honor next to Jimmy Carter at the Democrat Party Convention. You've lost all credibility with me now.

MD said...

The entire thesis of this "debate" is the implicit acceptance of the premise (propaganda?) of the Rove Republicans that democrats/liberals can't "fight the war on terror." It is therefore being conducted within an echo chamber created by a faction that frames the debate so that the conclusion is supposedly self-evident.

Of course Rove Republicans want to debate this question. It's the only "question" they want to debate. They certainly don't want to debate the performance of the Bush administration.

A more interesting debate is whether there is such a thing as a war on a tactic (which guarantees a state of Perpetual War, well suited to those who support a Warfare State), and if there is, is the Bush administration conducting this "war on a tactic" with any competence, within the law, and with any understanding of the means to a successful conclusion.

Another interesting feature of this faux debate is the implicit conflation of the Iraq occupation with a war on terrorism. Again, this admits a claim by Bush that is hardly universally accepted. It also ignores that Al Quaeda supports our occupation of Iraq as a serious strategic mistake on our part, exposing our troops to defeat in detail while draining our treasury and our goodwill among our allies and Muslims throughout the Middle East.

joe said...

I love these old "War on Terror" posts. Classic rick-rolling of a lot of liberals by the right. And whatever Tom Friedman is.

joe said...

Also, David likes to pretend he only bought into the war crap in 2002. ("When I was young and impressionable" and all that.) In fact, we see, he was still going strong several years later.