Dover Bitch

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Now for something civil...

DB is supposed to be on vacation, but I can't let my last (profane and deleted) post lead this site while I'm away, so here's a more "civil" and "rational" response to the nonsense Gideon Rose has pushed out into cyberspace.

First off, here's the reason I responded as I did. It is a cowardly tactic to say something monumentally offensive and provocatively stupid, while couching it in a "high road" plea for civility. That's precisely what Rose did. I call his bluff.

I've never written anything like that last post to anybody on the blog-o-sphere. But I'm not going to allow Rose to dictate the terms of the debate, which is the entire point of this Internet-wide topic -- that the Very Serious People (VSPs) in the foreign policy community are more interested in shutting down voices than they are at reaching conclusions that reflect reality.

Here is the point as Atrios articulated it:

The "foreign policy clerisy" apparently exists to close off public scrutiny of or wider debate about America's appropriate role in the world, to limit the range of options which are "on or off the table" and which are open to public debate or discussion. They exist to monopolize debate and have veto status over club members. Members of the community are clearly chosen for the ability to perpetuate this agenda, rather than for their expertise. Max Boot? Peter Beinart? Pollack? O'Hanlon? Can anybody in this gang tie their shoes?

Challenging his critics to use "civil" language is simply an extension of this attempt to monopolize debate, particularly in the context of a post which aims to equate and ultimately dismiss two completely different groups of people with opinions. As I wrote above, I don't typically use that language, but I'm not about to let Rose tell me what is appropriate. To cede that point is to cede the entire argument, really. Of course, I'm not suggesting that the solution to America's problems is more posts like my last one. I'm simply not going to let Rose tell me what I can and cannot write. Ever.

Furthermore, I was enraged by that comment because nothing more vibrantly demonstrates elitist, ivory tower-dwelling detachment than suggesting that a conversation about whether or not America should drop nuclear weapons on countries that do not threaten us is something other than the highest stakes. If a first-strike nuclear attack isn't high stakes, just what is?

I wrote at Hullabaloo a while back that the ivory tower many of our most visible pundits occupy is apparently shielded from the view of the consequences of the policies and decisions hatched and/or advocated there. That Very Serious People like Gideon Rose are also unable to recognize that the cost of their failures comes in the form of dead children, among other atrocities, is a disqualifier in and of itself. To suggest that those stakes are so low that some vulgar blogging is, by comparison, some sort of heinous transgression is simply adding insult to injury (literally, as the injuries are legion).

So let's take a look at the main points in Rose's response to the blog-o-sphere in challenging his claims that the netroots are like the neocons. I'll take it point-by-point:

MY LAST post has sparked some discussion elsewhere, so I figured it was worth doing a follow-up before finishing up my stint as a guest-blogger here. What seems to have annoyed critics most is my comparison of the netroots to the neocons. To elaborate my position, I think there are three main similarities and one difference:

  • 1. Both are obsessed with Iraq to the exclusion of other issues. Back in the day, many neocons put Saddam at the center of all the world’s troubles. No matter what the question—terrorism, nuclear proliferation, Arab-Israeli relations—Iraq was the answer. The netroots’ version of this is to argue that the war is so far and away the most important issue of our time that people’s views on it are the only important thing to know about them.

  • Wrong. I won't waste any time listing the myriad issues that the netroots discuss every single day. Likewise, I won't presume to speak for the neocons, who certainly spend time thinking about issues beyond Iraq.

    But what should be clear to anybody paying attention, particularly the managing editor of Foreign Affairs, is that the neocons are as interested in bombing Iran. The neocons clearly see Iraq as the first step towards a wider conflict. The VSPs don't appear to appreciate the severity of the disaster the neocons have created. It's about America's role in the world and the limits we are willing to impose on ourselves. This isn't just about Iraq.

    How much more obvious can it be, Mr. Rose? In fact, part of what got this entire debate about VSPs and neocons started was Glenn Greenwald's pointing out that they were following the same script used in Iraq while talking about Iran. It is impossible to believe that Rose doesn't think this is about more than Iraq.

    It is not unlike Joe Lieberman's last campaign for the Senate, when he claimed the people supporting Ned Lamont were only thinking about one issue -- Iraq. Now Lieberman is on television talking about hitting Syria. He's already talked about striking Iran. Joe Lieberman is a liar. Rose is parroting his campaign rhetoric.

  • 2. Both are sure that policy questions have obvious right answers. The neocons were so convinced that disagreement on Iraq constituted heresy that they bullied dissenting voices on the right into silence or expelled them from the conservative movement altogether—to the point where antiwar conservatives felt driven to start their own magazine. As for the hardcore lefty bloggers, well, here’s how Ezra Klein put it recently: “In the opinion of the netroots, if you opposed eliminating dividend taxation and drilling in ANWR but enthusiastically supported the war in Iraq—and appear incapable of really repenting or learning from that error—you are not 66 percent liberal and thus an ally; you were and are wrong on the preeminent issue of our time.” And thus, of course, an enemy.

  • No. The problem isn't with the answers. Again, the problem is with the questions. "Should America drop nuclear weapons on countries that do not pose an immediate threat?" If that question was ever illegitimate in a policy debate, it was because answering in the affirmative would be immoral. That question is left out of the conversation today because it seems to be a given among VSPs that America can do whatever it wants. As Greenwald writes (and Rose ignores):

    As I said the other day, there is no such thing in the Community as "unserious war advocacy"; that term is an oxymoron. That is why you can travel as far along the spectrum as possible, arrive at the most extremist neoconservative point, and still be comfortably within the acceptable range of Serious Community Views. Kristol's partner, Fred Kagan, is a revered member of the Community. Rudy Giuliani knows that he can hire as his top foreign policy advisor an outright psychopath like Norman Podhoretz and not be deemed unserious because the Community takes Seriously all war advocacy. That is its nature, its ideology, its identity. Argue for the U.S. to start a war now with Iran and you are Serious; but argue that we should take off the table nuclear weapons when attacking a terrorist camp or that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegitimate, and you are an unserious leftist.

    Rose ought to know this since Rudy's obscene foreign policy views were printed in Rose's own publication. Rose writes that the neocons "bullied dissenting voices on the right into silence," but what about the voices on the left? Did they not get bullied? Of course they did. The problem is they still do.

  • 3. Both consider politics a blood sport with stakes so high that rational or even civil discourse is a frivolous luxury. This one hardly needs citations, does it?

  • I dealt with this one at the top of this post. Although, I neglected to mention that VSPs lack some civility as well.

    Finally, the lone difference Rose sees between the netroots and the neocons:

  • 4. The neocon’s views led to a disaster that the netroots’ views would have avoided.

    Many of my critics think the fourth so outweighs the first three as to make any comparison between the netroots and the neocons ludicrous, and I can see their point. The Iraq war has turned out to be the biggest disaster in recent American foreign policy, and so anybody who was in any way an enabler of it has some 'splainin' to do.

  • So, in Rose's view, the distinction between the netroots and neocons is that one was catastrophically wrong about a trillion-dollar, life-consuming quagmire, and the other wasn't. But they are also similar in unflattering ways. So they both should be dismissed. Except that only the one that was correct about the disaster is unserious. The catastrophically wrong group is Very Serious and belongs on our televisions every day.

    And while the neocons on television and in the newspapers tell us about the people we should kill, sitting next to them in a detached, dispassionate and civil manner will be a Very Serious Expert to explain why, this time, the same thinking that brought us Iraq is sound.

    There's a great deal more in Rose's post (like his comparison of a millionaire baseball player swinging a bat at a ball and missing with a foreign policy expert who couldn't contemplate the death, carnage and misery of Iraq... Or, his imaginary world in which Hans Blix didn't ask for more time and believed that Iraq had WMD...) but I'm supposed to be on vacation, so I'm not going to spend any more time on this post. I could swear at Rose for that, too.

    UPDATE: Joe Klein writes:

    Also readers should make the distinction between full-time TV talking heads like Bill Kristol and Fred Barnes, and members of the Priesthood, like Jessica Matthews or even Ken Pollack, who appear on TV infrequently unless they are under contract as Tony Cordesman is to ABC (I think). If you want to make the argument that the networks ignored anti-war voices, fine. I agree. But that's a different argument from saying that the Priesthood was overwhelmingly in favor of the war, or anything else (except comity and "a free and frank exchange of ideas.")

    Fair enough.