Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Monday, July 31st, 2006.

“A Childish Fantasy”

Bush Administration, Middle East

More about the crisis in Lebanon (all boldfacing in the quotes below is added)–

Dan Froomkin:

Bush’s official position is that some blood-spilling in the Middle East is worth it in pursuit of the region’s positive transformation. …

… In the best of circumstances, Bush would be running the risk of being considered callous. But in the current circumstances, he runs the risk of being considered both callous and delusional. …

… You don’t get much more Washington Establishment than Richard N. Haass, who was Bush’s first-term State Department policy planning director and now leads the Council on Foreign Relations. And he apparently finds Bush’s position laughable. Literally.

Peter Baker writes in the Washington Post that Haass “laughed at the president’s public optimism. ‘An opportunity?’ Haass said with an incredulous tone. ‘Lord, spare me. I don’t laugh a lot. That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long time. If this is an opportunity, what’s Iraq? A once-in-a-lifetime chance?’ ” …

Froomkin also notes that Condi’s “shuttle diplomacy” consists mostly of “negotiating” with Israel. Then he brings up a point that IMO is critical —

The White House position appears to be to refuse to even contemplate ideas that, elsewhere, are widely considered obvious: That regardless of who started it, Israeli strikes are taking a vastly more terrible toll on Lebanese civilians than Hezbollah is taking on Israelis; that Israel’s actions are turning the region ever more resolutely against the United States and its goals; that the war is undermining Lebanon’s fragile democracy; that the death of 37 children in an air strike is more than just a “qualifier” — it is a bloodbath that shocks the conscience of the world; and that there is more urgency to stop the killing than there is to pursue a dubious and so far disproved theory of regional rebirth.

It’s apparent to most of the world that Israel has already lost its objective, assuming the objective was to route Hezbollah. The righties continue to make excuses, which mostly consist of “they started it” and “if civilians die, it’s their own fault for not getting out of the way.” They do not see that such “arguments” are not winning them any points; it just makes them look more childishly pathetic.

Even the rightie blogger Michael Totten admits that Israel has lost.

The fog of war makes it impossible for me or anyone else to determine whether or not Israel’s war against Hezbollah is succeeding of failing militarily. But it’s painfully obvious that Israel’s attempt to influence Lebanese politics in its favor is an absolute catastrophe right now.

The (second in a decade) attack on Qana that killed scores of civilians has all but cemented the Lebanese public and Hezbollah together.

Cable news reports that 82 percent of Lebanese now support Hezbollah. Prime Minister Fouad Seniora – whatever his real opinion in private – is now closer to openly supporting Hezbollah in public than he has ever been.

It’s way to late to be whining about how they started it or that, per Victor Davis Hanson, civilians want to be bombed so it’s OK to bomb them. And it’s way too late to whine, as this blogger does, that news photographs of the dead children of Qana are “propaganda.” Right or wrong, fair or unfair, it doesn’t matter. Israel has lost. It’s all over but, unfortunately, the shootin‘. Israel continues to fight, if only to save face.

[Update: The excuse of the hour is that the Qana tragedy was staged. The biggest “clue” is that it appears the building in which the civilians were sleeping didn’t collapse until several hours after the bombing, Saith Carla of Preemptive Karma:

These are the same guys who call lefties conspiracy theorists for questioning Bush’s response to 9/11 and his connection to the bin Laden family. Sheesh.

It just couldn’t be that Israel bombed the crap out of the building and it was so unstable that it collapsed..could it?

Or, it could be that the building did collapse during the bombing attack and the reports of a later collapse are wrong. And even if (for argument’s sake) the collapse was staged — it won’t matter. Here in the United States I have no doubt the audiences of Faux Nooz and rightie talk radio are being told, over and over, ad nauseum, that the atrocity at Qana was staged, and that the Fable of the Staged Atrocity at Qana is already firmly established in rightie mythos. But outside the U.S. most people are exposed to actual news, not wild-ass speculation and propaganda disguised as news, so unless (someday) Israel can actually prove the allegation, it won’t be making headlines. And Israel still will have lost the PR war.]

Sebastian Mallaby writes in today’s Washington Post:

The first lesson is that allies do matter, and so does the global public opinion that creates, or fails to create, a political climate in which governments feel able to work with the United States. The Bush administration has at times skated past this truth, correctly believing that doing the right thing can matter more than doing the popular thing. But it has learned, slowly and painfully, that doing right gets to be impossible if your unpopularity becomes toxic. To address any major foreign policy challenge, from Iran to North Korea to Darfur, you need international backing.

In supporting the bombardment of Lebanon, the administration appears to be forgetting this lesson. It has embraced a military operation that puts pictures of bloodied civilians on the world’s TV screens, harming the United States’ image and disrupting vital U.S. policies. American allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, which fear Shiite militancy, have switched from criticizing Hezbollah to criticizing the U.S.-backed retaliation. American enemies are seizing the opportunity for a propaganda victory. Al-Qaeda has rushed out a new video, complete with a fresh, studio-quality backdrop. China has hinted that U.S. blocking of an anti-Israel resolution last week at the United Nations would justify Chinese resistance to U.N. action against Iran’s nuclear program.

Gerald Kaufman:

Israel’s current adventure has turned out to be a disaster not only for the Lebanese, being slaughtered in increasing numbers by Israeli attacks, but for Israel itself and its sponsor, the United States. Three weeks after their invasion, the Israelis have accomplished none of their objectives. The two soldiers whose kidnapping was the casus belli remain in Hezbollah hands – just as Corporal Galid Shalit is still a prisoner of Palestinian insurgents in the Gaza strip.

None of the Israelis’ military objectives has been achieved, or shows any sign whatever of being achieved. The Hizbullah infrastructure remains intact and has inflicted heavy casualties on Israeli forces. Hizbullah rockets continue to pour down on Israel, with the entire northern half of the country unprecedentedly a vulnerable target.

The Israelis are calling up thousands of reservists and saying their forces will be in Lebanon for weeks more. It is impossible to see how these additional men or this additional time will improve this situation for the Israelis, or for the Americans – the only two countries who have seemed to believe that the running sore of Hizbullah can be cauterised by a short, sharp shock.

… Taking into account that previous Israeli incursions into Lebanon were total failures, with no objectives attained and many Israeli servicemen killed, and taking into account, too, that the Americans suffered 241 servicemen killed in Beirut at the hands of Hizbullah, it is difficult to understand how even ultimate buffoons like Ehud Olmert and George Bush could have expected anything else.

Furthermore, in the whole history of the state of Israel, this is the first time that that country, in all its wars, has been subject to almost unanimous condemnation, worldwide. Not only has Olmert failed abjectly to protect his country. He has turned it into an international pariah.

Paul Krugman

For Americans who care deeply about Israel, one of the truly nightmarish things about the war in Lebanon has been watching Israel repeat the same mistakes the United States made in Iraq. It’s as if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been possessed by the deranged spirit of Donald Rumsfeld. …

… both Clausewitz and Sherman were right: war is both a continuation of policy by other means, and all hell. It’s a terrible mistake to start a major military operation, regardless of the moral justification, unless you have very good reason to believe that the action will improve matters.

The most compelling argument against an invasion of Iraq wasn’t the suspicion many of us had, which turned out to be correct, that the administration’s case for war was fraudulent. It was the fact that the real reason government officials and many pundits wanted a war — their belief that if the United States used its military might to “hit someone” in the Arab world, never mind exactly who, it would shock and awe Islamic radicals into giving up terrorism — was, all too obviously, a childish fantasy.

Professor Krugman is sympathetic to Israel and its famous right of self-defense, but …

There is a case for a full-scale Israeli ground offensive against Hezbollah. It may yet come to that, if Israel can’t find any other way to protect itself. There is also a case for restraint — limited counterstrikes combined with diplomacy, an effort to get other players to rein Hezbollah in, with the option of that full-scale offensive always in the background.

But the actual course Israel has chosen — a bombing campaign that clearly isn’t crippling Hezbollah, but is destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure and killing lots of civilians — achieves the worst of both worlds. Presumably there were people in the Israeli government who assured the political leadership that a rain of smart bombs would smash and/or intimidate Hezbollah into submission. Those people should be fired.

Israel’s decision to rely on shock and awe rather than either diplomacy or boots on the ground, like the U.S. decision to order the U.N. inspectors out and invade Iraq without sufficient troops or a plan to stabilize the country, is having the opposite of its intended effect. Hezbollah has acquired heroic status, while Israel has both damaged its reputation as a regional superpower and made itself a villain in the eyes of the world.

Here’s a message for righties:

Complaining that this is unfair does no good, just as repeating “but Saddam was evil” does nothing to improve the situation in Iraq. What Israel needs now is a way out of the quagmire. And since Israel doesn’t appear ready to reoccupy southern Lebanon, that means doing what it should have done from the beginning: try restraint and diplomacy. And Israel will negotiate from a far weaker position than seemed possible just three weeks ago.

Professor Krugman calls the U.S. response “hapless and malign.”

For the moment, U.S. policy seems to be to stall and divert efforts to negotiate a cease-fire as long as possible, so as to give Israel a chance to dig its hole even deeper. Also, we aren’t talking to Syria, which might hold the key to resolving the crisis, because President Bush doesn’t believe in talking to bad people, and anyway that’s the kind of thing Bill Clinton did. Did I mention that these people are childish?

If you want to understand just who Hezbollah is, Juan Cole provides a primer. They are not, as Michelle Malkin seems to think, another version of al Qaeda. Although after this week they could be inspired to go into the international terrorism business. Who knows?

See also: “A World Gone Mad“; “Why the Middle East Crisis Isn’t Really About Terrorism“; “Israeli Attacks Strengthen Hezbollah“; “The Triumph of Crackpot Realism“; “War in the Age of ‘Poodle-ism’”

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Creative Chaos

Bush Administration, Iraq War, Middle East

“The result in war is never absolute.” — Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Chapter 1

I’ve been trying to wrap my head about the neoconservative “creative chaos” theory. Apparently, the neocons believe that if the Middle East is thrown into enough turmoil, the bad old authoritarian governments will break down and nice democratic governments will rise up out of the ashes. There is more explanation here and here. From the second link, we find a quote from neocon Michel Ledeen:

Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our own society and abroad. We tear down the old order every day, from business to science, literature, art, architecture, and cinema to politics and the law. Our enemies have always hated this whirlwind of energy and creativity, which menaces their traditions (whatever they may be) and shames them for their inability to keep pace. Seeing America undo traditional societies, they fear us, for they do not wish to be undone. They cannot feel secure so long as we are there, for our very existence—our existence, not our politics—threatens their legitimacy. They must attack us in order to survive, just as we must destroy them to advance our historic mission.

What is “our historic mission”? World domination? When did we vote on that?

This does explain why the Bushies didn’t think they needed a postwar plan for Iraq. They really did believe that once they removed Saddam Hussein, the chaos of instability would generate energy and creativity, and out of this a democratic and pro-western nation would rise. I assumed they believed in the Good Democracy Fairy, but it’s really more like quantum chaos theory applied to politics.

Glenn Greenwald asks if Bill Kristol is writing George Bush’s Middle East speeches —

George Bush’s radio address yesterday on the Israel-Lebanon war preaches pure neoconservative gospel. Every point the President made would fit very comfortably into a Bill Kristol Weekly Standard column or a Michael Ledeen Corner item. This speech leaves no doubt that, at least rhetorically, the President is still a full-fledged adherent to the tenets of neoconservatism, and thus considers the Israel-Lebanon war to be “our war” in every sense, merely another front in the Epic Global War of Civilizations (a/k/a The Long War, World War III/IV, etc.):

    As we work to resolve this current crisis, we must recognize that Lebanon is the latest flashpoint in a broader struggle between freedom and terror that is unfolding across the region. For decades, American policy sought to achieve peace in the Middle East by promoting stability in the Middle East, yet these policies gave us neither. The lack of freedom in that region created conditions where anger and resentment grew, radicalism thrived, and terrorists found willing recruits. We saw the consequences on September the 11th, 2001, when terrorists brought death and destruction to our country, killing nearly 3,000 innocent Americans. [emphasis added]

Since that nasty stability gave us all these problems, Bush says, what we need is instability.

So, says the President, the Israel-Lebanon war is not about territorial conflicts or endless Israeli-Hezbollah disputes but, instead, is part of the glorious worldwide “struggle between freedom and terror.” It is but the “latest flashpoint” in the “broader struggle,” which includes the U.S. war in Afghanistan, the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, and America’s hostilities with Iran and Syria. All of these problems are part of the same War, and are all caused by the one big neoconservative sin — stability. Exactly as Mark Levin pointed out yesterday — Mark Levin — the President claims that the reason 9/11 happened is because the foreign policy of both political parties for the last several decades was devoted to preserving stability (i.e., a state of peace, avoidance of war), and stability in the Middle East is our greatest enemy.

That, according to neoconservatives (apparently including the President), is what needs to be changed. Stability is our enemy because it breeds hatred and war. Only instability and war will breed a “lasting peace.” Thus, the more instability and war in the Middle East, the better. That is the central neoconservative warmongering tenet and it is what is coming out of the President’s mouth as he discusses his views of the new war in the Middle East. [emphasis added]

That’s just the beginning of Glenn’s thought-provoking post; you can read the rest of it at Unclaimed Territory. I also want to highlight this paragraph of Glenn’s written yesterday —

To neoconservatives, everything that made the U.S. a respected superpower over the last six decades is all obsolete and worthless. To them, foreign policy experts from both political parties are responsible for 9/11 and the rise of Islamic extremism because they believe too much in diplomacy and restraint. They didn’t wage enough wars and the wars they did wage weren’t ferocious enough. There weren’t enough Qanas, and as a result, we aren’t sufficiently feared. People around the world need to know that they either comply with our instructions or fire and brimstone will rain upon their heads.

IMO Neoconservative foreign policy seems rooted in two basic childish conceits. The first conceit is that every foreign policy problem can be resolved, once and for all, and if problems continue to fester after years, or decades, of diplomacy, then diplomacy failed. The second conceit is that we’re better than them, and deep down they know it, and once we knock some sense into them they’ll try harder to be like us.

Regarding the “failure” of diplomacy — when you’re dealing with matters like nationalistic, ethnic, and religious identities, and clashing cultural values, it may in fact take generations for people to stop fearing and hating each other. This is especially true when people have already been locked in a cycle of mutual retribution for many years. It may be that the best anyone can do is prevent war long enough for people to chill out and develop a little tolerance. This can take a long time, as witnessed by the history of racial animosity in America. But sometimes, I believe, there are no shortcuts.

Basic rule: Anything you feed will grow. If you feed hate and war, you get more hate and war. If you feed tolerance and peace, you get more tolerance and peace. It may take a lot of feeding for a warring people to develop tolerance and peace, but that’s the only way peace can get big enough to prevail.

Neocons, on the other hand, think America can force the simple native people to be nice, and that’ll be that. They think they can apply war and get an absolute result, which Carl von Clausewitz said ain’t the way it works. Instead, I believe, the neocon approach just grows hate and war, and it’s going to come back and bite us eventually. Possibly hard.

Who recognizes his limitations is healthy;
Who ignores his limitations is sick.
The sage recognizes this sickness as a limitation.
And so becomes immune.
Tao Teh Ching, Verse 71

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Bush Administration

Scientific support for the Maha Elective Ignorance Theory:

In an experiment that pols may want to note closely, researchers recently plopped 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats into scanners that measure changes in brain-blood oxygenation. Such changes are thought to be linked to increases or decreases in particular areas of brain activity.

Each of the partisans was repeatedly shown images of President Bush and 2004 Democratic challenger John F. Kerry.

When Republicans saw Kerry (or Democrats saw Bush) there was increased activation in brain areas called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is near the temple, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which is in the middle of the head. Both these regions are involved in regulating emotions. (If you are eating an ice cream cone on a hot day and your ice cream falls on the sidewalk and you get upset, these areas of your brain remind you that it is only an ice cream, that not eating the ice cream can help keep those pounds off, and similar rationalizations.) More straightforwardly, Republicans and Democrats also showed activation in two other brain areas involved in negative emotion, the insula and the temporal pole. It makes perfect sense, of course, why partisans would feel negatively about the candidate they dislike, but what explains the activation of the cognitive regulatory system?

Turns out, rather than turning down their negative feelings as they might do with the fallen ice cream, partisans turn up their negative emotional response when they see a photo of the opposing candidate, said Jonas Kaplan, a psychologist at the University of California at Los Angeles.

In other words, without knowing it themselves, the partisans were jealously guarding against anything that might lower their antagonism. Turning up negative feelings, of course, is a good way to make sure your antagonism stays strong and healthy.

You might remember that one component of the Elective Ignorance Theory is that a person’s worldview is integrated into his self-identity. For this reason, challenges to his worldview are perceived as threats to himself.

Put another way, the conceptual box they live in is who they think they are. Any challenge to the integrity of the box must be fought by any means necessary. That’s why you can’t have rational discussions with extremist partisans, because while you’re presenting data and concepts, they’re guarding their cave.

The psychologist quoted, Jonas Kaplan, hasn’t gotten all the way to the Maha Elective Ignorance Theory yet.

“My feeling is, in the political process, people come to decisions early on and then spend the rest of the time making themselves feel good about their decision,” Kaplan said.

Although it seems paradoxical that people would want to make themselves feel poorly, Kaplan said partisans have a strong interest in feeling poorly about the candidate they are not going to vote for as that cements their belief that they are doing the right thing.

With extremist partisans, as I say, the reaction is a lot more than just trying to smooth over doubts or resolving ambiguities. It’s a matter of guarding and defending every part of the “reality” they live in.

The result reflects a larger phenomenon in which people routinely discount information that threatens their preexisting beliefs, said Emory University psychologist Drew Westen, who has conducted brain-scan experiments that show partisans swiftly spot hypocrisy and inconsistencies — but only in the opposing candidate.

When presented with evidence showing the flaws of their candidate, the same brain regions that Kaplan studied lighted up — only this time partisans were unconsciously turning down feelings of aversion and unpleasantness.

“The brain was trying to find a solution that would get rid of the distress and absolve the candidate of doing something slimy,” Westen said. “They would twirl the emotional kaleidoscope until it gave them a picture that was comfortable.”

We all do this, of course. Righties are certain the only reason we lefties oppose President Bush’s policies is that we’re Bush haters. And yeah, we spend a lot of time dissing Bush and enjoying it. No question about that. But most of us leftie bloggers are focused on documentation and criticism of what Bush does. Those criticisms either stand or fall on their merits; the fact that I find Dubya to be an odious toad is beside the point.

And I may be imagining this, but it seems to me there is less cartoony anti-Bush humor on the Left Blogosphere than there used to be. Early on I wrote some humor pieces about Bush, but after awhile I couldn’t do it any more. He just isn’t funny.

On the other hand —

During the 2004 primaries some of the Dean and Kucinich supporters became downright insufferable. I developed a serious dislike of Dennis Kucinich because too many of his followers were nasty little brats. Also in those days I was a regular participant on the Atlantic Online forums (which I think are closed now), but some people with whom I’d enjoyed cordial online relations went off the wall whenever I said anything nice about any candidate other than Howard Dean. And I mean off the wall, as in vicious personal attacks. This was particularly startling to me because I like Howard Dean, and I don’t believe I wrote about him negatively. But that wasn’t good enough for the Deaniacs; either I was fur ‘im or agin’ ‘im. I was so rattled I broke off discussions and relationships and vacated the premises, never to return. So we have to watch for partisan blindness in ourselves, too.

I have a long-standing policy of distrusting new information that I want to believe. This is a habit of mind Jason Leopold would do well to cultivate. As I remember, many of the leftie blogs that linked to Leopold’s “Karl Rove is already indicted” story added a “reader beware” caveat to the link. But I don’t believe they all did.

I caught a lot of flack when I criticized Cindy Sheehan for getting her picture taken with Hugo Chavez, but I still think stunts like that compromised Sheehan’s value as an anti-war symbol. And then there’s the “WTC implosion caused by controlled detonation” freaks. Don’t get me started.

So, in the spirit of intellectual honesty, I admit that we lefties have our anterior cingulate cortex misfire episodes, too. But righties are worse.

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