It's better to light one candle…
– What percentage of those kids in the West Point audience will die because of this decision?
A: Not a valid data-point for making the decision. I know this question is rhetorical, but then, let’s get real, not rhetorical. War costs lives. The question is, how do you close this pandora’s box with minimal loss of life, while not fucking up too many other things that are also at stake?
– Would you be OK sending yourself or a loved one over to face combat and potentially death for the mission Obama articulated in Afghanistan? If not, how could you support sending other people?
A: Is one ever OK about war? It should never be a comfortable decision. The problem is, we’re already there. We already made that decision, 7 years ago. The question is, how do we end it? If ending it means a temporary increase in the number of troops which enables a quicker, cleaner resolution, you bet, let’s do it.
– Why do so many pundits and pro-Obama activists continue to focus on how “hard” and “difficult” and “trying” this decision is for President Obama, rather than on how “hard” and “difficult” and “trying” this will be for the soldiers who are killed? Doesn’t Obama get to make this decision, and then go home to the comfortable confines of a butlered White House, while thousands of Americans will be sent 7,000 miles from home to face their potential deaths? Isn’t the latter “harder” than the former?
A: Another stupid rhetorical question. Both Obama and the soldiers signed up for this. How about we stop talking about that, and start talking about whether or not this is a strategic and wise choice? What is the goal, is the goal worthwhile, and will this tactical move achieve the goal?
– Where’s the antiwar movement and the marches and the organizing and the protesting? Where’s all those well-funded groups that protested George W. Bush’s war policy? Or was all that really just about hating George Bush and embracing blind Partisan War Syndrome?
A: Now THAT’S a good question. But, don’t blame Obama for that.
– In the days and weeks after this speech, will the White House’s cynical new spin get ever more desperate and become, hey – at least an Afghanistan escalation holds out the possibility of making sure military combat casualties start outpacing military suicides?
– Simple budget question: Should we now believe that escalating the Afghanistan War at the same annual cost of universal health care will save more than 45,000 Americans a year (ie. the number of Americans who die every year for lack of health insurance)?
A: It is not an either/or choice. Republicans are making that argument right now, in order to NOT pass healthcare reform, and it’s bullshit.
– Did CNN really turn a move to send thousands of Americans to potentially die in Central Asia into an over-stylized, hyper-marketed television show called “Decision Afghanistan?” Is the media really that soulless, or did my eyes betray me? Because it’s really hard for me to believe that even in this cynical age, a television network tried to make a cheap reality-TV show out of life-and-death decision that could affect tens of thousands of people.
A: DIdn’t see it. Wouldn’t surprise me if they did. The MSM is finding new ways to sink even lower.
– Which is worse – a stupid person like George W. Bush starting a dumb occupation, or a smart person like Barack Obama following the lead of that stupid person, but actually escalating that occupation?
A: Or the person who doesn’t know what the fuck they’re talking about at all? How the F#@% do we know what input and data Obama used to make his decision? To anyone following this, it is clear that Obama has been seeking a strategy to bring this thing to a close, while the former administration was committed to endless wars. Which is dumber, making thoughtful strategic decisions about how to clean up a mess someone else made, or pulling out for purely ideological/political considerations with no consideration for strategy or consequences in the same way his predecessor went in? Seriously.
– The “we’re going to escalate war to end war” refrain throughout the speech – have we heard that before somewhere? It sounds sorta like “we’ll burn down the Vietnam villages to save them.” Just curious if that’s what we’re talking about here – because, ya know, that worked out really well.
A: Maybe, maybe not. Proof will be in the pudding, but, Obama did make some good arguments for how this is not the same as Vietnam. Clearly, he has that on his mind, and is looking for those traps.
– Are we really expected to believe that massively escalating a war is the way to end a war? I mean, really? Like, is the public really looked at like we’re that stupid? And a follow-up question: Are we really that stupid?
A: I’m not so stupid as to actually answer that question directly. What a waste of time that would be.
– If Obama’s Afghan War strategy about escalating a war to end a war was a self-help strategy for, say, alcoholics, wouldn’t it prescribe drinking more whiskey to stop drinking – and wouldn’t we all laugh at that?
A: C’mon. Seriously? We do use fire to fight fire. But, all analogies break down at some point. Lars, do you really think anything here makes any INTELLIGENT argument so far?
– How many pundits will insist that bowing down to the Military-Industrial complex and escalating this missionless war somehow shows “resolve” and “strength” and “toughness” and “leadership” and not embarrassing weakness?
A: Why do we even give a crap what mindless MSM pundits think? So. Fucking. What.
– Would the Obamaphiles now telling us to “give President Obama a chance” with this decision and/or defending Obama’s escalation – would these same people be saying we should “give President McCain a chance” and/or defending President McCain’s escalation if he was the one in office making this decision?
A: Some would, some wouldn’t. So?
– I’m confused: Is this hope or change?
A: It’s a process. Obama inherited two stale-mated wars and the worst economic crisis since the great depression. For crissake, pink unicorns didn’t fly out of his butt the day he was inaugurated, so why expect other miracles. First year isn’t even over. Lame, lame, lame.
The question is, how do we end it? – Ah, Vietnam reasoning. I once heard Michael Parenti, a Vietnam era activist, say that that was the EXACT question that too many in the Johnson (and later Nixon) administration were asking: “how can we end this?” And he said the answer was then – as it is now – so simple that people who can see it clearly begin to doubt their own sanity because no one else is even mentioning it: “…well, first, you put the guys in the boat (or the plane), and then you point it back to the USA….” But the reason, Parenti went on, that no one IS discussing that is because they don’t WANT to do that. For various reasons, it is not in the interest of the people doing both the majority of the decision making and the commenting on it in major media outlets, to simply put the guys in the boat or on the plane, and (to quote another phrase from that era): “declare victory and leave.” Those reasons may vary from individual to individual or group to group, but let’s not pretend that an identical end result based on one person’s recalcitrance is more noble than the same one based on another’s.
If ending it means a temporary increase in the number of troops which enables a quicker, cleaner resolution, you bet, let’s do it. – But no one has credibly made the argument that this will be the case; not you, not McChrystal, not Obama. This part of the speech was like the fucking underpants gnomes 3-step plan for world domination from South Park: 1. Collect underpants. 2. ??? 3. PROFIT!! Only, with this strategy, it’s 1. Take an eight year old war, for which we’ve already sent an additional three combat brigades (back in February), and guess that sending another 30,000 will help. 2. ??? 3. Conditions for success and withdrawal achieved! There’s no middle part there. None. Who is the enemy in Afghanistan? Surely not the Afghans. It’s (supposedly) Al Qaeda. And yet, by all credible estimates, there are less than 100 Al Qaeda in all of Afghanistan right now. We need another 30,000 men to fight them? To do WHAT? He was very clear that we won’t be “nation-building,” and equally clear that we’d begin leaving in force in the summer of 2011 (just over a year and a half), and yet a was which has eaten up $250bn and taken tens of thousands of troops, is somehow going to be “won” with only 30,000 more in just 18 months? I call bullshit. Plus, phrases like “Is one ever OK about war” followed shortly by “…you bet, let’s do it” simply make my skin crawl. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzofJeg5bPo
Another stupid rhetorical question – Indeed, I believe that was Sirota’s point: why do so many Obama defenders continue making that stupid rhetorical comment about how darn hard it is on the President to send other people to die.
…the soldiers signed up for this. I don’t even know what to say to that one – or, rather, I don’t trust myself to say anything to it, so I’ll let it pass without comment; I just want to make sure you know it’s not for lack of noticing what that means.
It is not an either/or choice. Republicans are making that argument right now, in order to NOT pass healthcare reform, and it’s bullshit. It’s NOT “bullshit,” for at least two reasons. First, the very fact that the Republicans are talking about it means that, if they can convince enough fellow legislators that the giant deficit beast allows for only one, guess which one loses? If health care loses, partially as a result of the perceived need to send these extra troops and the extra expense which comes with sending them, then it will be a real, tangible loss – both of life, and of continued out-of-control spiralling of health care costs. Secondly, given what we’ve already spent on bailouts, etc, we truly don’t have an unlimited supply of money. Just last month, we had to vote to raise the national debt ceiling to twelve trillion dollars. If we hadn’t, we’d have “maxed out” the national credit card. In a very real sense, considering that our ability to even be ABLE to deficit spend is severely curtailed currently, money spent on one project is money which can’t be spent elsewhere. And America is hurting badly in not only health care, but also infrastructure and any of a host of other areas. The phrase “guns and butter” wasn’t coined for no reason.
Or the person who doesn’t know what the fuck they’re talking about at all? How the F#@% do we know what input and data Obama used to make his decision? – Egg-sactly. Which could have been said (and was said, by the Republicans), without any alteration whatsoever from your phrasing of it, about George Bush’s invasion of Iraq: we just don’t have all the data they have. We have to trust.
No, we fucking DON’T. Your above argument is no better – and no worse, to be fair – than the bullshit excuses used by both Republicans and scared-of-upcoming-midterms Democrats, in 2002, to justify their AUMF vote. Hillary Clinton is right now not President because of – literally – just such a vote, with just such reasoning behind it. Had she not had to explain away that vote on the Iraq war, Barack Obama would not be President right now. Your argument is nothing more nor less than “I trust this guy.” Which leads me to:
To anyone following this, it is clear that Obama has been seeking a strategy to bring this thing to a close… – We must not be watching the same news. Obama virtually CAMPAIGNED on Iraq being “the wrong war,” and Afghanistan being “the right war.” He literally SAID, many times, that he intended to increase our involvement there. I was against it then, I’m against it now. But let’s not pretend as if Obama’s always intended to draw this thing down.
Which is dumber, making thoughtful strategic decisions about how to clean up a mess someone else made, or pulling out for purely ideological/political considerations with no consideration for strategy or consequences in the same way his predecessor went in? – Hmm? Who do you think is advocating “pulling out for purely ideological/political considerations with no consideration for strategy or consequences?”
Well, as i said near the top, the full question is not just how do we extract ourselves, but how do we do that without screwing up other strategic priorities. More generally, what is the optimal result we can expect at this stage, and will this increase in troops meet that objective?
Now, I don’t claim to have the answer. But, one thing about Obama is that he, unlike his predecessor, is a guy who asks questions, and is a student of life and history. I do trust his judgement more than Bush. And, I never expected a sudden pull out. Sure, you could just fold up shop and be out in a matter of weeks. But I assume there is great potential for some heavy negative consequences for such hasty action.
In my own mind, I see it as a responsibility of ours to try and leave Afghanistan in some form of stability before we leave. We came in there, overturned the apple-cart, and made some pretty big promises. I don’t think we can just walk away. I won’t claim that that’s the primary objective for Obama, but it certainly gives me a reason to think that being there a bit longer in order to leave the place in a state where they’re stable enough to govern themselves is an obligation we ought to at least try and meet… at least until we gave it a good college try (which we didn’t in the past 7 years).
I think a major distinction you’re missing here is the the difference between combat, and the more intricate matter of providing security and stability. We’re not fighting 100 Al Qaeda. If it were, then the job would’ve been over already. This is one major difference between Vietnam, and Afghanistan. In Vietnam, we were really fighting, trying to take ground and defeat an enemy. But, they’re the ones who took the ground, and we lost. But the objectives this time are more about creating enough stability so that the security infrastructure can be established, and so that Al Qaeda can’t just march in and take up shop the way the enemy did in Vietnam. This is a multi-faceted process… not just a matter of slinging guns and shooting bullets. And part of that process involves a number of troops. Another part involves even more contractors, building police and military through training, setting up command and control structures, etc.
Do you really think Obama is South-Park-dumb? You think there isn’t a answer for the ??? in-between 2 and 3? Really? It may not be a good strategy, but I guarantee there is one, and it’s not simply a matter of “Duh, let’s send more warm bodies over there.” Maybe they’re not sharing the entire strategy, but I’ve picked up snippets here and there. It’s not just about the number of troops. If that were the only thing, I’d be calling bullshit too.
Soldiers signed up for this… what I’m saying is the whole pity thing is not a valid argument. I am not saying their lives and well-being is unimportant. But, each soldier did sign up to risk their lives for our country, and the only question is whether what we’re doing is worthy of that price. All of us will have different answers for that, but, the question isn’t simply a matter of establishing the fact that soldiers are suffering, and therefore this all must end. And, if I may say, the whole point of stating how “hard” or “difficult” a decision this is for Obama is to illustrate that Obama IS considering the costs in terms of blood, and that this is not a very clear cut situation… that he is not disengaged (like his predecessor) but is working *hard* and it is a *difficult* choice to make.
Trust. Yes… to some degree that IS what democratic style governance is all about. I trust you, I elect you. We elect others to govern on our behalf, because we can’t all be presidents. We can’t all be experts on foreign policy, healthcare, energy infrastructure, nor war. But there is the other side, which is accountability. We do have the right to ask those representatives to explain what they’re doing and why. At the same time, I don’t the same level of explanation to the general population, who’s eyes glaze over at anything longer than a 5-second sound bite. And, I also expect a certain degree of generality when it comes to war strategy… it’s not like we want to broadcast exact details of each phase of the upcoming effort to those who would work to undermine it. And, there is the political climate, which always encourages hedging one’s bet in public (unfortunately). But, the ultimate test of accountability is an election. I guarantee that if in three years we’re at the same place in Afghanistan we are now, if we’re stuck with no way out, no progress being made… then Obama will be out.
Who do you think is advocating “pulling out for purely ideological/political considerations with no consideration for strategy or consequences?”
You. Everyone else who’s worked up their own wedgie about this. I see a lot of hyperbolic rhetorical questions, but very little strategic thought which considers the strategic objectives at risk, the obligations to Afghanistan, and how an immediate pull out would, when factoring all consideration, be the best thing for our country AND Afghanistan. What I hear is a position-based selective argument, no different that the neocons in style. The point being argued is different, but the arguments are equally devoid of substance… as perfectly exemplified by the post you linked to.
And that is my beef here. I want someone to show another way forward which accomplishes some key strategic goals, leaves Afghanistan in some semblance of stability, and requires less troops than Obama is using. Show me that, not David Sirota’s irrelevant rhetorical hyperbole, because, without some comprehensive alternative strategy, I’ll trust Obama more than I trust Sirota.
I’ll just point out two other examples from late last century, of a country’s leader, a “good guy,” elected with broad popular appeal and support, who “inherited” another leader’s conflict.
1986: Mikhail Gorbachev “doubles down” on the Soviet occupation of – guess, what? Afghanistan – in an attempt to “finish it,” and bring it to a close. Result? Disaster.
1965 – Lyndon Johnson, elected with the widest margin in American history, and a Democratic Senate and House, “doubles down” on Vietnam. Result? Disaster – and a one-term Presidency for Johnson, along with the war being the largest part of – and blot on – his record. Oh, and giving us The Dick for six years.
I hope you don’t want to divorce me when all is said and done, but I pretty much totally agree with Daddy D.
You keep saying that Obama’s goal is to defeat Al Queda. I keep contending that the goal is to not allow the Taliban to regain power and control in Afghanistan which would further inflame Pakistan (which has nukes!).
Specifically with regard to the Vietnam comparisons, I’m going to blatantly cut and paste what someone on my board said, mainly because he said it better than I could without spending more time than I currently have to say it (understand that he was responding to a comment about the suffering of women and children in Afghanistan):
Pending permission – here’s a link though:
Divorce you? Hell, no!
If I was gonna divorce you because I was the only person in the room with the right opinion, it woulda happened a long time ago.
I’ll say it again: I am looking at real-world actions, precedents and possible outcomes, especially with regard to internal coherence and consistency of reasoning, instead of hoping that Obama’s war escalation will be a change from Bush’s.
Apparently, WordPress will only let replies go three levels deep, because there’s no reply option to your most recent post, Daddy D. But the nut of my reply is this: your reply, essentially, boils down to “you got a better idea, pal?” To which I reply: you’re asking the wrong question. It isn’t incumbent upon me or Sirota or anyone else to come up with a hypothetically, subjectively “better” way to fulfill the goals you believe to be most important to achieve in Afghanistan, instead of the one Obama has proposed. That’s especially (but not solely) true because, as you point out, there may indeed be much that no one without Top Secret or better clearance has any idea about, in terms of specifics of the situation.
But even without that knowledge, you’re asking the wrong question. You say: “Sure, you could just fold up shop and be out in a matter of weeks. But I assume there is great potential for some heavy negative consequences for such hasty action. In my own mind, I see it as a responsibility of ours to try and leave Afghanistan in some form of stability before we leave.” First off, “I assume” – exactly, you are assuming, never the best rationale for spending billions of dollars and potentially thousands of lives. But I know you’re counting on the fact that “the authorities” are not merely assuming; that they know this for a fact. However, its WELL worth pointing out that history shows this is often nothing at all like the case (that “the authorities” have sussed the situation correctly – let alone are dealing in good faith). But even if your assumptions are 100% true, and Obama and all of the people advising and prodding him on this are of sound moral character and piercing perception and cool-headed analysis, there’s a larger question to be answered, which is whether there IS, in fact, any better solution than simply declaring victory and leaving.
And I’ve yet to hear anyone credibly argue that there is. Oh, sure, I can fantasize about a better outcome, but then I can fantasize about winning the lottery, too, but that doesn’t make it a realistic thing to make plans around – in fact, it’s a rather dangerous thing to make plans around. We did not run into trouble in Vietnam because we were fighting and losing, we ran into trouble because we faced a broad-based, popular insurgency that made it difficult to distinguish in practice between ordinary citizens and VC. As our occupation of their country continued, sympathies re-aligned around Ho, who was first a nationalist and a distant second a Communist, and against us. And once that scale is tipped, it rarely tips back – at least not as long as the occupation lasts. We lost Vietnam not because we couldn’t beat a third world army strictly by dint of arms, but because we lost the battle for hearts and minds, and our mission became increasingly one of “search and destroy” (or sometimes merely “survive”) rather than “clear, hold and build.”
What does the average Afghan think of us right now? What will they think when they hear we’ve raised troop levels approximately 60% in one year? Maybe they’ll think “great, we’ve needed that for a long time now.”
But I wouldn’t count on it.
Just as likely – in fact, much more likely – they’ll think “you do this now, after seven-plus years of bombing our wedding parties by mistake from the detached comfort of your flying death-machines? Fuck you, Yankee!…. Sure, we’d like better schools and roads and hospitals, but you guys are as likely to blow those up as you are to build them, and for every one of our people you save from the Taliban, you ‘inadvertently’ kill two more.”
The bottom line is that armies – by definition – are not now, and have literally NEVER been, through history, tools for building and fostering and nurturing and creating. They are engines of destruction, specifically designed to fight. They are what you use when you need someone – a great many someones – dead, no matter the reason. It might be a noble reason or a vile one (usually, given the nature of the tool itself, and its clear purpose and utility, it’s the latter of those two), but the tool itself – men and machines specifically designed to kill other men and destroy their property. This will not have escaped the Afghans; it’s as old as humanity.
Then there is the Karzai government – rotten throughout, if reports are to be believed. Karzai’s own brother is thought to be one of the bigger narcotrafficers in the region, connected to many more. This also will not have escaped the Afghans. The recent election is widely viewed as having been illegitimate, and even if not, the result is a government that has more corruption than structure, in the same way that pair of old socks at the back of your closet has more holes than fabric left. Do we declare their election results invalid and institute a new “interim” government, as we did in Iraq? That’ll go over well – both within the country and around the world. Do we pretend to work with the Karzai government, but try to orchestrate behind-the-scenes removal (by force if necessary) of people we identify as corrupt or “part of the problem?” Good luck with that; corruption of that nature is stronger and faster-growing than Kudzu. Hell, we can’t even get rid of the corrupt fuckers in our OWN vaunted government; and we’re going to do it for THEM? The only way to truly root out the rot – either there or here at home – is for there to be enlightened mass of people who form a critical electoral mass for reform. It might be the hardest trick in the book to accomplish; a genuine people’s movement. And it most certainly will not be accomplished at the point of a gun by an occupying army. It requires winning hearts and minds – something that simply cannot be won by force of arms – and the very reason we lost the larger battle in Vietnam.
I get (and agree with) the notion that we’re not going to broadcast military plans, for obvious reasons. But did you notice that there were literally no plans whatsoever put forward for the sort of massive non-military undertaking of winning the Afghans’ hearts and minds which would be necessary to allow them to get to a point where we felt the government stable enough to leave without fear of creating a safe-haven for Al Qaeda? In nineteen months? Color me skeptical.
In fact, if that’s the standard – making sure a nation’s government is stable and un-corrupt enough to do the job of rooting out or making unwelcome the sort of terrorist groups that attacked us and still threaten the world, what other countries might we want to start thinking about invading, right now? This is not a hypothetical, nor is it a “slippery slope” argument – there are these hotspots extant in the world literally as we speak. Somalia, for example, literally has NO government to speak of whatsoever right now (if you’ve not been following that one, do a little googling, and you’ll see what I mean, but suffice it to say that the reason the world’s only significant piracy comes from the shores of Somalia is because there is literally no government in place to stop it). And within Somalia, Al Shabab is on the rise. This is exactly the sort of group which can and might very well BE the same as Al Qaeda, ten or twelve years ago. Entire swaths of Yemen are notoriously terrorist-friendly, and/or controlled by Islamic extremists. Can – should – we be invading those countries without delay, as well, on the same theory? Because I promise you, the next Al Queda – or perhaps Al Qaeda itself – is as likely to arise from either of those two places as it is from the mountains of South Waziristan.
What you have to look at is not simply “what might happen if we simply left,” but “do we have any realistic chance to prevent that thing which we fear from happening AT ALL (not to mention the larger question of is it our right to indefinitely occupy other countries pre-emptively in order to attempt to stave off what we worry might happen in the future if we don’t), even if we DO go ahead with these plans for continued occupation/invasion/military action. At some point, do we have to recognize that we’ve been holding the hammer of the military in our collective hands for so long that indeed, every geopolitical problem has begun to look like a nail which needs to be pounded? I heard NO non-military plans for winning hearts and minds, for doing the hard, non-gun-and-bomb-related work of construction, teaching, feeding, infrastructure-building and rooting out corruption; all tasks best accomplished not by men with guns and bombs and missile-tipped airplanes, but by aid workers and people sent to help.
I’ve yet to see a flood of international assistance for our efforts, either. Perhaps that will come organically and just hasn’t had time to manifest itself…or perhaps little or none is coming. Much of the rest of the world is also mired in a recession just as we are; perhaps they’re figuring that the reduced budget available to their respective governments is best spent on feeding, schooling and providing infrastructure for their own citizens, rather than for those in another country, in a theoretical attempt to ward off potential acts of future terrorism. Or maybe they’re just tired of feeling like they’re continually being asked for military (and non-military, but usually military) assistance by the United States, when there is already a body – the U.N. – set up for international cooperation to do exactly that: assess and coordinate responses to international disasters and emergent threats. Whatever the reason or combination of reasons, it will be telling indeed to see whether Obama’s call for a true coalition of volunteer nations to fund and staff the new Afghan effort will end up looking more like the first Bush’s coalition against Iraq in 1990-91, or like the second Bush’s coalition of the bribed and ultimately the non-existent in 2003-8 in Iraq. You will be able to tell a great deal about the advisability and solidity of the effort judging from the level of international commitment to it. Not that we ought to base our own judgments on what to do on the collective opinion of the international community, and you could certainly write off one – or two, or even three – individual entities telling you politely “thanks, I’ll take a pass on this one,” but when it becomes more like most of them taking a pass versus us and a few other slam-dunk loyalists like Israel and Britain (though even they are shaky, embroiled as they currently are in a forensic examination of how the decision to join us in the most recent Iraq adventure got so badly fucked up), you have to start to ask yourself: “hey, is it possible that maybe we’re the ones out on a limb here, and not the rest of the world?
At the end of the day, I don’t think you’re framing the question correctly. Or, rather, you’re jumping ahead to a set of questions that might be appropriate if earlier questions had been answered….but they have not. It might (though I would still argue against this) be appropriate to jut out one’s chin and say “oh, yeah??? You got a better idea, pal?” to anyone who disagrees with the current plan, IF we’d already ascertained that doing something was almost certainly a better idea than doing nothing, and it was just a question of figuring out what the best thing to do was. But we have – IMO – ascertained nothing of the sort yet. In fact, evidence strongly indicates the exact opposite conclusion. There’s the cliché that says “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, Afghanistan’s “broke,” in most people’s opinion, including mine. Then there’s the cliché most often attributed to Colin Powell as the “Pottery Barn rule”: “you break it, you bought it”; which is where I perceive you, Obama and many other people are at right now: we’re already IN Afghanistan, and since it’s still broken, it’s clear that we simply haven’t been doing the right things, or enough of certain things and what we need is a redoubling and refocusing of our efforts. But beyond even that is a third perspective, which doesn’t really have as direct an operational cliché to sum it up, but which I’ll try to summarize here as “when you’re in a hole, stop digging.” Have you ever fucked up very badly and said something stupid or hurtful to someone you love, and come to realize that though you really want to either take it back or “fix” it, the wisest course of action based upon the specific nature of the situation is to simply shut up and do/say nothing, because anything you try will likely only make it worse (or at best, have no effect)? It takes an awfully wise person to recognize that as painful as it is to conclude thusly, sometimes the best course of action, on balance, is NO action other than to back up, shut up and vow to do better next time – and keep watch on things.
And it takes an even wiser country to so conclude. We’ve made too many mistakes over the previous eight years. Let’s not make any more, or make the ones we’ve already made worse.
Last one – Col. Lawrence Wilkerson on the Real News Network, the kind of in-depth interview you usually can’t find on regular news shows. Very illuminating, and amplifies many of the points I’ve made here:
1.) It IS incumbent upon those who complain about something to offer an alternative. Otherwise, STFU. Really. That’s no better than the way the Party of No is acting. Because, frankly, there will always be complainers, no matter what a president does. His job isn’t to cater to who complains the most and loudest. His job is to work with his team to figure out the best solutions, and to respond to legitimate alternatives from the outside if and when presented. If we ain’t got nothing else for him then this is just pissing in the wind.
2.) We’re BOTH making assumptions, dude. I assume there are issues with the ‘withdrawal method’. I actually came up with some myself, and if I can do so as a Jr. Armchair Quarterback, I KNOW there’s got to be more. It’s not all one sided – and you know that. My assumption is barely an assumption at all. Meanwhile, you’re making assumptions that because others have made bad judgements in the past, we should presume the same here and now.
But, we can quibble without end about various points which really make no difference because we’re just a couple of guys on the sideline who really don’t know enough to render a indisputable position on the matter one way or the other.
What really prompted my original response had less to do with the issue of a ‘surge’ in Afghanistan, than the recent ‘surge’ in the left’s mindless hyperbolic hyperventilation about each and every shortcoming of Obama, for which the article you linked to is a perfect example.
I’m going to quote something posted from a TPM reader which captures precisely my current feeling about the left in America at this specific moment in time:
“This is all very sad. I have always supported Obama, I still do, and, for the most part, I trust his instincts. What makes this especially sad is that — although I think Obama should [fill-in-the-blank] — I am shocked by the way the Left has abandoned him. I disagree with Joan Walsh, for example, that Obama is a Centrist. That is only a label. I think that Obama is a left-leaning pragmatist, and he figures out a solution to every problem on its merits.
If the Democrats come crashing down, I think it will be as much the responsibility of ideologues on the Left as idiots on the Right.”
So, more than anything here, I take issue with the attitude that after 11 months, it’s time to start bashing Obama because he isn’t perfect on one’s pet issues. You pick yours, others pick theirs, and then we all turn our backs. But does this make any sense? How, exactly, does feeding a feeling of disappointment and malaise among the left-leaning populace move the agenda forward? Who is the number one enemy here, the guy we just elected, or the freaking asshats who’re blocking him every step of the way?
One cannot allow the R’s rally in 2010 and then expect that will somehow result in Obama or Democrats moving to the left. Quite the opposite. If I were a politician, and I saw how quickly the far left will abandon me because I wasn’t perfect on every issue, I’d seek out the more reliable centrist support, and maybe even try to pick off some conservative voters on a couple issues… especially if I was in a competitive district. And, for Obama, in order to move anything through a more conservative congress, his stance will have to become more conservative too.
Look, Obama is Obama… we got what we got… why not give the guy more than a few freaking months to sort things out? Where we ought to turn our attention right now is the congress. IF – and, you being someone who loves to refer to history will know this is a big IF – but IF we can be competitive enough in 2010 in congress to show that the left is a.) united, and b.) that the right does NOT have any broad support, let alone a mandate, then this will begin to embolden those representatives more inclined to the progressive agenda. Also, those who’re centrist will likely see the writing on the wall and shift left a bit themselves, while the R’s will have to move to the middle to simply remain a viable Party. But, if the R’s win big next year, an opposite effect will take place. Shift your attention off Obama, and put it on the Senators and Congress-people who comprise the other 3rd of the government which also needs to move more to the left – which, when it does, will also allow (if not force) the WH to move more to the left as well. Where our angst about pet issues will reward us is in targeting individual politicians in key races next year. Bashing Obama will just sew seeds of apathy for next year’s election, and that is a formula for failure – guaranteed.
“It IS incumbent upon those who complain about something to offer an alternative. Otherwise, STFU. Really.” – I’mma let H.L. Mencken field this particularly odious, fragrant bit of contentless – and thoughtless – horseshit:
“Of a piece with the absurd pedagogical demand for so-called constructive criticism is the doctrine that an iconoclast is a hollow and evil fellow unless he can prove his case. Why, indeed, should he prove it? Is he judge, jury, prosecuting officer, hangman? He proves enough, indeed, when he proves by his blasphemy that this or that idol is defectively convincing—that at least one visitor to the shrine is left full of doubts. The fact is enormously significant; it indicates that instinct has somehow risen superior to the shallowness of logic, the refuge of fools. The pedant and the priest have always been the most expert of logicians—and the most diligent disseminators of nonsense and worse. The liberation of the human mind has never been furthered by such learned dunderheads; it has been furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt, after all, was safe—that the god in the sanctuary was finite in his power, and hence a fraud. One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent.” — The American Mercury, p. 75
You’ve tried several times to suggest that this is just saying “no” reflexively, with no thought whatsoever behind it. You seem pretty wedded to that narrative, since in order to stick with it, you’ve had to overlook quite a bit of carefully crafted reasons why doing nothing more in Afghanistan – in essence, leaving in as orderly a fashion as possible with the bulk of our troops – is in reality the best idea. That pretty much seals it up, as far as further conversation, since it’s difficult to have any sort of rational discussion when the participants can’t even agree upon what’s being said. I get that you disagree with what I’ve been saying, but your insistence that I’m not saying anything is not only getting quite old, but is simply contradicted by previous posts. Makes further discussion seem pretty pointless from my end of things.
When you make sweeping generalizations about “the left,” not only do you sound eerily like Bill O’Reilly, the result is that you manage to focus on no one in particular in any way that’s helpful, yet manage to insult everyone who considers themselves left of center. I’m no longer in San Francisco, perhaps you’ve seen things locally there which have raised your ire along these lines, but I wouldn’t know — and you don’t say specifically what’s bothered you. All I have to go on is how you reply here, and as I just mentioned above, you seem more interested in generalized tarring and feathering of “the left” than in discussion of one specific member of “the left’s” (me) actual arguments.
You ask “why not give the guy (Obaama) more than a few freaking months to sort things out?” I’d have thought the answer to that was so obvious that such a question didn’t even need to be asked in anything other than a rhetorical fashion, but apparently I do need to point out that the reason I don’t “give him more than a few months to get things sorted out” is because he’s making these decisions now. There’s no “warm-up” period for being President. You want to tackle big issues right away? Expect the big debates, and the big problems right away. What are you suggesting? That critics who have (despite your apparent reluctance or refusal to believe it) thought through their points very carefully, ought to hold their fire, keep mum or moderate their remarks out of a sense of decorum or a desire to “go easy” on the President? And you accuse “the Left” (whomever you mean by that – you never have defined it) of knee-jerk ideological behavior? Answer me this: who’s acting with greater ideological concern in mind, a person who tries to treat each President the same way: by judging each of that President’s specific policy proposals on its own merits, and reacting accordingly, or the person saying “hey, be cool, don’t rock the boat even if you disagree or we might lose again in the midterms?”
Obama’s biggest single initiative so far, health care, (indeed, it is the most sweeping piece of legislation attempted in decades) stands at the brink of being either killed outright or watered down so dramatically that it is rendered near-useless (which will play right into the Republicans theme of “government doesn’t work”) because a handful of – not Republicans, remember, but DEMOCRATS stand poised to kill it. To literally do something unprecedented in the entire history of the United States (look it up): join the opposition party in a filibuster against their OWN party’s signature piece of legislation. No one – least of all me – has ever said that people shouldn’t vote their conscience. But Harry Reid is having to run around like a drop of water in a hot frying pan, trying to make all sorts of concessions and compromises with the likes of Lieberclown, Landrieu and the ever-odious Ben Nelson…not because they’re threatening to vote their conscience, but because they’re threatening to use a parliamentary parlor trick to prevent ALL Senators from even being ABLE to vote their consciences. These are the wages of a Democratic party which has, for at least twenty-five years, been focused on exactly the strategy you suggest: keep quiet, don’t rock the boat, get as many guys inside the tent as you can – even if you know they disagree with core issues of the party – and move ever-center-ward. What is the point of having supermajorities in both houses of Congress if one can’t pass literally any of one’s list of core pieces of legislation through those houses? See my earlier post here for expanded thoughts.
For far too long, the Democratic party has relied upon the axiom that “elections are won in the center” as their guiding principle. The mistake they’ve made – technocrats like Bill Clinton, Rahm Emanuel, and countless “strategists” – is that although this old saw is true, it presumes that both parties have clearly and strongly articulated their respective (very different) positions on the issues, and worked steadfastly to pass their version of the laws. But when you remove those assumptions, the equation that elections are won in the middle no longer works. When one party remains steadfastly – some would say inflexibly – committed to its way or the highway (that’d be the GoOPers) while the other party begins compromising and triangulating before the battle’s even been JOINED, then the result is that the debate skews inevitably toward the inflexible party. If the Republicans were willing to be a little more flexible and weren’t so adamant about going ever-further into Glenn Beck/Michele Bachman crazy-land as they apparently are, then Democrats could afford to start out a little more flexibly. But right now? No. The Republicans, with their record-breaking filibusters, procedural manueverings and outright lying, are not being willing to budge one inch. To compromise, up-front, with that is simple madness. And worse, it is madness doomed to fail.
Health care is a perfect, petri-dish example: Barack Obama has stated more than once that, if we were “starting from scratch,” the best system would be a single-payer system. Yet, when the debate initially began, and all the players were being brought to the table to begin to hash out what the initial proposal would look like, Obama took pains to specifically exclude single-payer advocates. Why? Because he figured, with not only the entire insurance industry and their wholly-owned subsidiary, the Republican party, but also too many of these so-called “blue-dog” Democrats arrayed against it, it would be too tough a sell, would seem “too radical.” The huge, perhaps even bill-killing tactical mistake he made with that one decision was that once he took the Presidential step of signaling that single-payer was off the table, suddenly, the public option was the “most radical” proposal on the table, and the one from which health care reform advocates had to negotiate even more watered-down compromises. In one fell swoop, Obama took the strongest bargaining chip he had away from himself. He’s entirely correct that we would never have wound up with an actual single-payer bill for him to sign – the congress simply isn’t ready for it currently, and too many powerful interests are arrayed against it. But had Obama enthusiastically welcomed the single-payer folks into the debate and given them a seat at the discussion table, it would have shifted the discussion much more in favor of genuine reform than the current mess.
There are two main pillars of genuine reform of the health insurance mess in the US currently: one is insurance reform, and the other is increased coverage (both more people, and better (or as good) quality of care). There is also cost containment, but that is actually not a primary driver, but rather a function of the first one, insurance reform. The single largest piece of insurance reform possible would be to put the insurance industry back under the provisions of the Sherman antitrust act, just like literally every other industry in America. To do that, you have to take away the specific exemption the insurers won in 1945 with the McCarran-Ferguson act. This alone would cause the industry to stop its current practice of legalized collusion, and save uncounted tens of billions of dollars annually. That right there allow both cost savings and increased coverage. The other piece is a strong public option which forces insurers to actually compete. If they only have each other to compete with, we wind up with more or less what we have now.
But because President Obama made the tactical blunder of doing EXACTLY what you suggest – moving towards the center in an attempt to pacify the Rs (a vain hope) and placate the nervous blue-dogs – he gave up the very bargaining chip (single-payer) which would have allowed him to “negotiate down” to merely a STRONG public option and real insurance reform. And now, even the weakened public option is in doubt, and one of Ben Nelson’s “concessions” for even allowing debate to BEGIN has been to entirely remove the provision which takes away the health insurance industry’s anti-trust exemption. It’s entirely possible right now – and in fact, looking ever-more likely – that we will wind up with either NO bill, or a bill that is “health care reform” in name only. And if that happens, it will “embolden the Republicans” far, FAR more than any objections from the left during the debating process could ever do. Worse than simply “emboldening the Republicans,” though, such an outcome will also, in the court of public opinion, PROVE them right. If Obama and Reid either can’t pass a health care bill at all, or can only pass one that doesn’t wind up in reality either covering more people OR reducing the percentage of GDP we spend on health care, it will PROVE that the Republicans were “correct” that government doesn’t work, and/or that Democrats can’t be trusted to make it work. And all because Obama (and, probably Rahm Emanuel) were too afraid of looking “too lefty” if they took their real heavy hitter – single-payer advocates (you know, the plan Obama actually SUPPORTS, in theory) off the bench and put them in the game.
What Obama and Emanuel need to do, right now, is to make up 30-second ad spots which look like they come straight from the bowels of the RNC, against Nelson, Landrieu, etc – ads that say “when the most important vote in generations came up, how did Blanche Lincoln answer the call of duty? Did she vote with the majority of her constituents who supported a strong public option? No!….” Then, you invite Landrieu, Baucus, Nelson, etc into a room, dim the lights, screen that ad, and when the lights come up, tell these feckless blue dogs that each of them will be facing the full might and money of the DNC with these ads supporting a primary challenge against them in their next race(s). You tell them that they’re free to vote their conscience on the final vote, if they feel it’s in their own best interest or that of their constituents (even though that’s obviously just a fig-leaf), but by DAMN they had better not make Senate history by breaking with their party on a procedural vote to prevent a straight up or down vote. Having the privileges and committee chairmanships and perks which come with having the “D” after their name demands that much: when it comes to procedural votes, you vote with your fucking party, regardless of how you feel about the legislation itself. And you tell them that they’d better really feel absolutely morally convinced that this bill is poison, if they’re going to filibuster, because it’ll be their last term in Congress if they do. That kind of arm-twisting is what LBJ was famous for – and he’s the last guy who actually passed significant health care legislation, if I recall. He didn’t do it by giving up his best bargaining chips before the discussion had even begun, that much is for sure.
The quote is meaningless to me… poetic verse signifying nothing. Mindless bashing is exactly what the rightist wingnuts are dong today. I refuse to sail my boat in such shallow waters, even on my own shores. Give me substance, or I assume one doesn’t know WTF they’re talking about.
I have fist-hand experience with this kind of approach, and it’s bullshit. In the tiny little world of my son’s school, I’ve seen what a few habitual complainers/naysayers can do to unravel a community, undermine a good Principal – even halt all the momentum we had in our Greening Committee, which I chair – all in the good name of getting something done. But the real result is anything but that. All it takes is a couple of d-bags who THINK they’re right, but actually know nothing, to malign good people and bog down any progress. I’ve been on the receiving end of this crap, and so, I know the kind of poison it is.
Decisions are results, but not the final result. This is a bit more like a new chef showing up with some recipes you think look bad. But the chef hasn’t even started to mix the ingredients, and you’re already wailing about how bad it all is because of one ingredient you think doesn’t fit. Well, I say the proof is in the pudding (not the recipe). We’ll see how his Afghanistan policy looks in 12-18 months. I’ll judge Obama more on the output, and much less on the decision-making which I have less ability to assess, just as the asshats at my school who never attend a School Site Council meeting have no basis to asses the quality of decisions made by the Principal.
By the way, I hope this example from my own life explains the harshness of my tone. It IS personal, for me, as in: I’m living it. But, I don’t want you to feel it is personally directed at you, as in: I take issue with Lars, the person. What i take issue with is what, IMHO, appears to be premature hyper criticism of a man who’s barely begun to get to work, and who’s policy decisions have yet to bear their fruit (for good or bad). The Afghanistan strategy involves more than simply sending troops. They are one tactical move among many. I feel we are not in a position (you or I as individuals) to judge with any credibility the soundness of these moves. Others may be in such a position to do so, and I certainly would like to hear more from those sources. But the link you posted was certainly not helpful in THAT regard, and I believe counter-productive in the political struggle at home to move our government in a more progressive direction.
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