Thursday, January 18, 2007

Andrew Sullivan is not a great thinker

Andrew Sullivan quotes someone who blames the rush to war on the inarticulateness of war opponents and then writes:
I agree. A few people - James Fallows, Joe Klein, Brent Scowcroft, for example - opposed the war for sane reasons. They deserve kudos as much as I deserve criticism for not listening to them closely enough. But I went to the pre-war anti-war marches as an observer. I did not hear arguments about the difficulties of managing a sectarian society, nor questions about troop levels, nor worries about the impact of the war on Iran's status in the region. I heard and saw often reflexive hostility to American power, partisan hatred of Bush, and blindness toward Saddam's atrocities. I remember what I saw. And I feel as estranged from that reflexive position today as I did then.
Sullivan attends a protest thinking that he will hear articulate and thoughtful arguments. He implicitly believes that - unlike the anti-war population - the vast majority of people supporting the Iraq war could explain it in coherant terms and not in terms of "we have to find us some Arabs to beat on". Sullivan has a lot of ideas that don't seem to comport with the truth. Why read him?

32 comments:

Paul said...

I'm not sure I would know how to correctly and effectively employ the "ass-hattery" label...

Tommaso Sciortino said...

Just trust your gut. You'll know it when you see it.

Diego said...

Yup. Looking at the average supporter or opponent of the invasion will only depress you. War, geopolitics and foreign policy really only make sense to people with the interest, time and patience to look into these things deeply.

Public opinion is to society what instinct is to an individual. Sometimes useful, often not - especially in complex circumstances - and VERY basic.

As a kind of social science pseudo-experiment, it would be interesting to go back and collect the reasoned arguments against Iraqi Freedom and see where they were right and wrong.

Aaron said...

lol Scowcroft

Tommaso Sciortino said...

"But the central point is that any campaign against Iraq, whatever the strategy, cost and risks, is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism. Worse, there is a virtual consensus in the world against an attack on Iraq at this time. So long as that sentiment persists, it would require the U.S. to pursue a virtual go-it-alone strategy against Iraq, making any military operations correspondingly more difficult and expensive. The most serious cost, however, would be to the war on terrorism. Ignoring that clear sentiment would result in a serious degradation in international cooperation with us against terrorism. And make no mistake, we simply cannot win that war without enthusiastic international cooperation, especially on intelligence," Scowcroft said August 15, 2002, Forum for International Policy.

Scowcroft is worryingly Kissenger-esque, in other respects. It's true. But one does not need to agree with his more repellent positions to see that he had a more prescient understanding of the war than most of the gullible folks who supported it.

Thinker said...

In the November 2002 issue of The Atlantic, James Fallows wrote an article titled The Fifty-First State (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200211/fallows), a report on his interviews with numerous military, diplomatic and political leaders about the likely outcomes of a preventive war against Iraq. His conclusion:

Going to war with Iraq would mean shouldering all the responsibilities of an occupying power the moment victory was achieved. These would include running the economy, keeping domestic peace, and protecting Iraq's borders—and doing it all for years, or perhaps decades. Are we ready for this long-term relationship?

Aaron said...

hahahaha as long as we are holding up scowcroft as a paragon of clear-eyed realism, we might also want to think a bit harder about his description of the middle east pre-2003 as "50 years of peace" and why exactly he would feel the need to make a declaration that obviously stupid.

Thinker said...

Aaron, are you going to attack Fallows' prescience too?

Tommaso Sciortino said...

I'm not going to defend everything Sullivan or Scowcroft said. Certainly it's no sillier that a lot of what was said by the pro-war governmental official you personally supported in their rush to war.

To people who continue to fight withdrawal like yourself it's clearly important to delegitimized all opposition to the war as isolationist or stupid. It's unfortunately that you can't keep an open mind and seek out only the examples that conform to your preexisting view of Iraq-war-opposers.

Aaron said...

Nah, referring to the period of time that includes the Iran-Iraq war, the 1991 conflict and just about every war fought involving Israel as an unprecedented time of "peace" is an order of magnitude more stupid than anything that the pro-Iraq-war people were saying.

Going after me personally isn't going to make Scowcroft's position any more responsible.

And for the umpteenth time, I'm not anti-withdrawal, I just think that you have to have a pretty serious consideration of what its effects are going to be and under what circumstances we should reasonably do it. You can say that I'm "not open-minded" for taking that position, but that feels like projection to me.

Aaron said...

Also it's kind of absurd that you guys both assume that my dismissal of Scowcroft's so-called "realism" stands in for my dismissal of all arguments for withdrawal. And no doubt there were some people who were prescient about the post-war commitment. But nobody really got this scenario 100% right and the way forward is anything but clear.

Aaron said...

Also, Andrew Sullivan is increasingly a douchebag that wants to have it both ways on everything; I have basically stopped reading him for this reason.

Thinker said...

Aaron wrote, Nah, referring to the period of time that includes the Iran-Iraq war, the 1991 conflict and just about every war fought involving Israel as an unprecedented time of "peace" is an order of magnitude more stupid than anything that the pro-Iraq-war people were saying.

Here are a couple of statements from pro-warriors. They seem awfully stupid to me now, as they did at the time they were uttered. What makes them less stupid than what Scowcroft is quoted as saying, Aaron?

Some worry that a change of leadership in Iraq could create instability and make the situation worse. The situation could hardly get worse, for world security and for the people of Iraq.
George W. Bush, October 6, 2002 televised address to the nation

my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.
Dick Cheney, Meet the Press, March 16, 2003

Aaron said...

No doubt those were stupid things to say (although things in Iraq were pretty god-damned bad before we invaded and there actually were lots of Iraqis, none of whom were Sunni, that greeted our entry -- not that this prevented the tribal clusterfuck that emerged). However, compare those statements to the flat-out denial of about 6 armed conflicts and two civil wars; I don't think that it's a contest. However, if the best that you can do is to say that Scowcroft is as dumb as Bush and Cheney, I'll happily concede the win.

Thinker said...

Well, I read the Goldberg article in which Scowcroft was quoted (http://www.jeffreygoldberg.net/articles/tny/letter_from_washington_breakin.php), and I don't see him denying the wars in the middle east from 1948 on. I took his statement to refer to the relative stability of the nation states there during that period. Compare the maps of the middle east from 1900-1948 and 1948-2000. There were huge changes during the first half of the 20th century, but relative stability in the 2nd half. My guess is that when we look at maps of the middle east in 2050, they will look much different than they do today. It is that sort of change I took Scowcroft to be talking about. His choice of words might have been better, but if my interpretation is correct, we'll look back and see that he was correct.

Aaron said...

lol, are you really arguing that the (relative) stability of borders is the same thing as political stability?

Aaron said...

this is the full quote, btw:

Yet the two do not see each other much anymore. According to friends of Scowcroft, Rice has asked him to call her to set up a dinner, but he has not, apparently, pursued the invitation. The last time the two had dinner, nearly two years ago, it ended unhappily, Scowcroft acknowledged. “We were having dinner just when Sharon said he was going to pull out of Gaza,” at the end of 2003. “She said, ‘At least there’s some good news,’ and I said, ‘That’s terrible news.’ She said, ‘What do you mean?’ And I said that for Sharon this is not the first move, this is the last move. He’s getting out of Gaza because he can’t sustain eight thousand settlers with half his Army protecting them. Then, when he’s out, he will have an Israel that he can control and a Palestinian state atomized enough that it can’t be a problem.” Scowcroft added, “We had a terrible fight on that.”

They also argued about Iraq. “She says we’re going to democratize Iraq, and I said, ‘Condi, you’re not going to democratize Iraq,’ and she said, ‘You know, you’re just stuck in the old days,’ and she comes back to this thing that we’ve tolerated an autocratic Middle East for fifty years and so on and so forth,” he said. Then a barely perceptible note of satisfaction entered his voice, and he said, “But we’ve had fifty years of peace.”

For most of the past hundred years, American foreign policy has oscillated between two opposing impulses: to make the world more like America, or to deal with it as it is. Those who object to what they call “interference” in the affairs of others-today’s realists-often cite the words of John Quincy Adams, who in 1821 said that America stands with those who seek freedom and independence, “but she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.” By contrast, Woodrow Wilson, the unbounded moralist, said, in seeking a declaration of war against Germany in 1917, that “the world must be made safe for democracy.” Wilson told Congress, “We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them.”

Aaron said...

Also, a partial list of conflicts in the middle east can be found here. Scowcroft is presumably referring to the period of time from 1952-2002, inclusive.

Thinker said...

Continue reading Aaron, the fifty years of peace Scowcroft is referring to are the fifty years in which the US was not embroiled in a war on the scale of WWI and WWII. The chain of events the Bushies have ignited could well be the beginning of a conflagration on a such a scale. If Scowcroft turns out to be right about that, you can tell us how crow tastes.

Aaron said...

Bill, I'm kind of marveling at how much error you managed to pack into one small paragraph. At the very least, you need to review some literature about the Iran-Iraq war, its causes and its aftermath.

Tommaso Sciortino said...

I'll agree with you on Sullivan's douchebaggery so long as I can maintain that he is an ass-hat as well.

Let me add that Scowcroft is no deep thinker. However, I think it says something that even someone as stupid as he could see problems with the Iraq war that weren't appreciated by the pro-war crowd.

Thinker said...

Aaron, I'm well aware of the savagery and lethality of the Iran-Iraq war, and of the US role in supporting Iraq during that struggle. However, US troops did not fight that war, and US casualties, if any, were minimal. And one million dead, as bad as that is, comes nowhere close to the 15 million dead of WWI and the 62 million dead of WWII. The aftermath of those two conflicts are still with us in the changed maps I referred to earlier, and the conflicts that have resulted from those attempts to force change. The policies you appear to support today, if continued, will lead to bloodshed and change on a similar scale. The blinders you've put on, and the stories you tell yourself make you a lemming heading for the cliff.

Aaron said...

Ad hominem attacks are not your best option here, Bill, especially when accusing me of supporting the "ignition" of events that have been fairly long-standing and, what's more, partially the byproduct of the right-wing realist nonsense you now appear to be trumpeting merely because one of its practitioners happens to be anti-war.

Aaron said...

and tom, for what it's worth, I think that scowcroft's opposition to this war was more a function of ideological rigidity than foresight.

full agreement on sullivan though.

Diego said...

Aaron, you're off. Scowcroft clearly meant that the U.S. had 50 years of peace, not that Middle East has had 50 years of peace. He paraphrased Rice saying we’ve [the US has] tolerated an autocratic Middle East for “fifty years and so on and so forth” and then responded smugly with “But we’ve (U.S.) had fifty years of peace.” 50 years was an approximation.

Thinker said...

Aaron wrote, accusing me of supporting the "ignition" of events that have been fairly long-standing

I don't recall a previous time when an American force of over 100,000 troops occupied an Arab nation, killing men, women and children for nearly 4 years, with no end in sight. That is the ignition event to which I referred, not longstanding conflicts within the region.

It seems to me that the policies you've repeatedly and vociferously supported are akin to setting a house on fire in a tinder dry area, then attempting to put it out with gasoline rather than water. When the fire gets worse, rather than recognizing that gasoline won't put out a fire, the president and his neocon supporters call for more gasoline. Now they seem to want to set fire to the houses on either side too (Iran and Syria). That will never make sense to me.

Aaron said...

Diego, my original point still obtains: that "50 years of peace" has included plenty of attacks on American interests -- including both assaults on the world trade center. When Noam Chomsky types refer to 9/11 as "chickens coming home to roost," it's presumably not because of events that took place afterwards.

Bill, please stop calling me names; it makes responding to you at all feel like an insult to my intelligence. My point is that the Iraq invasion hardly takes place in an historical vacuum, so referring to an "ignition" is kind of boneheaded.

Diego said...

I see your point, but you savaged Scowcroft for something he didn't really say. Whether or not U.S. Mideast interests have been threatened was not what he was talking about (um, he strongly advocated for removing Iraq from Kuwait). But you tried to make it what he was talking about, and in that you were wrong. The subtext indicates quite obviously he was talking about peace in relative, conversational terms.

If you sat Scowcroft down and asked him to explain what he meant by "peace" in his dinner conversation with Rice I'm pretty sure he'd give you a nuanced explanation. I'm sure he'd also wonder why you got so pinched about such a trivial aside.

And 9/11 being seen as an act of war (un-peace, or something) is the first conceptual error that I'd avoid making (even if Al Qaeda wishes to frame it that way [may be tactical]. But we should leave that for another thread.

Aaron said...

Diego, part of my point here is that is exactly that it doesn't make any sense to talk about "50 years of peace" if that time period also includes 9/11, which is to some degree the fruit of 50 years of constant destabilization in the region, which is to some degree the fruit of realist policy. Whether or not Scowcroft is referring only to American interests or not seems an ambiguous point, actually, but let's not conflate America acting in its interest (i.e. 1991) and the constant attack that those interests have been under for the past half century. And perhaps it's too lengthy a topic for this thread but if Scowcroft's "peace" includes the first attack on American soil since pearl harbor, 3000 dead, etc., I'd suggest that it's nothing for him to be smug about.

None of this is trivial, by the way, unless you think that foreign policy itself isn't really worth bothering about.

Diego said...

Right, I think foreign policy isn't worth bothering about, Scowcroft was being so ambiguous, and he probably thinks 9/11 was a peace offering. Cuckoo!

Tommaso Sciortino said...

Don't worry Diego. Aaron does that to everyone.

Aaron said...

awesome, yet another ad hominem attack.

even if I'm completely wrong about Scowcroft's "we" (omg, break out the champagne, boys!), it goes without saying that, best-case, any "peace" that includes 9/11 isn't worth the repulsive interviewee that proclaims it.