Don’t Waste Your Vote! (Third Parties Turn the Tables)

Anyone who has ever considered voting for an independent or minor-party candidate has probably been vigorously admonished by his Republican or Democratic friends not to “waste” his or her vote.  Yesterday, the Libertarian ticket turned the tables by sending out an e-mail arguing, in effect, that a vote for John McCain would be wasteful in precisely the same sense.  The e-mail, which came from Bob Barr’s Campaign Manager Russ Verney (former Campaign Manager for Ross Perot), carried this subject heading:  “McCain is guaranteed to lose . . . so what does that mean for America?”  Here’s the rest of the e-mail: Read the rest of this entry »

Ron Paul, “The Revolution: A Manifesto”

Last winter, when I donated to Ron Paul’s presidential campaign, I made the mistake of buying a Ron Paul sweatshirt but no Ron Paul T-shirt. I do not remember whether that was simple inadvertence on my part or whether it reflected a conscious prediction that Dr. Paul would likely be irrelevant by the time it was too warm for the sweatshirt. Either way, it was a mistake, because Ron Paul’s role in the presidential election is today very much the same as it was back in January. He is a man who will not be president, but who will not stop asking some of the most important questions about the course our nation is on. It is perhaps no coincidence that he also provides the most philosophically coherent package of answers. Read the rest of this entry »

Consequentialism and Integrity (or: Why People Disagree About Iraq)

A few weeks ago, toward the end of a spirited exchange on Iraq, abortion, Catholic social teaching, and the presidential election (we like to keep the topics narrow enough to be manageable on this blog), I expressed some thoughts on consequentialism that I was leaving unfinished because I needed a book from my shelf. Today, I give you the coda to that discussion, which of course I hope will turn out also to be a prelude to other discussions. Discussions about Iraq? Yes, and other things. Read the rest of this entry »

Catching up with the New York Review of Books

I spent a lot of time on my back this week due to a freak dog-washing injury. But I’m a silver-lining kind of guy, so instead of writing about the stabbing pain I’m writing about the fact that I got to catch up — a bit — on a few unread issues of the New York Review of Books, which always seems to give me so much to think about.

From the September 27 issue, I enjoyed Christopher Jencks’s review of Pat Buchanan’s State of Emergency, a book we also discussed on this blog a few months back, and also Janet Malcolm’s article “Pandora’s Click,” an uncharacteristically brief review that provides a timely reminder about the perils of e-mail and that medium’s own special contribution to our incivility. I also finally got around to reading the piece Jim Walsh recommended in the October 11 issue, Bill McKibben’s review of four books on climate change.  But what really held my attention in the October 11 issue was this fascinating excerpt from Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.’s journals of 1966 and 1967.

It’s called “The Turning Point,” and it’s all about LBJ’s fateful decision to escalate rather than withdraw from Vietnam. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Book Reviews, Bush Presidency, Civility, Failure of Imagination, Foreign Policy, History, Iraq, Politics. Comments Off on Catching up with the New York Review of Books

Separation of Mosque and State

Today’s Washington Post has a short but fascinating story on the “religious enlightenment” programs we’re providing for Muslim detainees at a military facility in Iraq that we call the “House of Wisdom.” According to the Post,

The religious courses are led by Muslim clerics who “teach out of a moderate doctrine,” [Marine Maj. Gen. Douglas M.] Stone said, according to the transcript of a conference call he held from Baghdad with a group of defense bloggers. Such schooling “tears apart” the arguments of al-Qaeda, such as “Let’s kill innocents,” and helps to “bring some of the edge off” the detainees, he said.

I have a number of reactions to this, and they are not entirely consistent. Read the rest of this entry »

“Far More Complex” (Updated)

I’ve been trying to steer clear of newsy items because I doubt anyone comes here for news. But I try to give President Bush credit when he does something well because I don’t want to be written off as a knee-jerk Bush-basher. (Just to be clear, it’s the “knee-jerk” part that’s the problem.)

I did not watch the President’s speech on his veto of the “emergency” funding bill for “Iraq,” but when I read the transcript a couple of points impressed me. Read the rest of this entry »

Loyalty in Government

In Washington, there are weeks when everyone seems to know someone, who knows someone else, whose sister went to school with a close friend of Smith, the unfortunate person who is at that moment caught up in a political firestorm of some sort. Smith, it turns out, is pronounced by the grapevine to be a really good guy, a person of keen intellect and sound judgment, and those who know him personally are baffled at how a guy like Smith could do something so boneheaded. GeorgeTenet, Donald Rumsfeld, D. Kyle Sampson — the characters change but the plot is largely the same.

But another important piece of grapevine information available in Washington for the last six years has been the extraordinary degree to which political loyalty has been made the basis for hiring decisions. Read the rest of this entry »

Antiwar Crimes

I’ve made no secret of my opposition to the war in Iraq, even when that was a relatively lonely position to take. Recently, though, I have been inclined to think the Democrats dishonored the antiwar movement by loading so much pork-barrel spending onto the recent funding legislation passed by both houses of Congress – which, if you’ve been living on another planet for the last few weeks, is the legislation that includes a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. President Bush has been using this talking point fairly well lately, and his attack on the vote-buying nature of pork certainly resonates better with me than any defense he has ever made of the war itself.

Well, not so fast. Read the rest of this entry »

Luban Yoo Pan in the NYRB

David Luban, writing in the March 15 issue of The New York Review of Books, assesses the contribution John Yoo has made to our understanding of executive power and the war on terror in his book, War by Other Means: An Insider’s Account of the War on Terror. Since I have previously quoted an extended argument that the “war on terror” is only a metaphorical war, let me here quote Luban’s argument to the contrary, a point on which he and Yoo agree:

Some of Bush’s critics deny that the struggle against al-Qaeda is a war, but I think this is wrongheaded. . . . September 11 was an aerial attack against US targets using, in effect, a stolen air force, and was one of many attacks by Islamist extremists who, to greater and lesser degrees, are determined to kill for ideological purposes. It is a campaign, not a crime wave. What al-Qaeda shares with traditional war-makers, and what differentiates it from an equally violent and powerful narcotics cartel, is that it uses violence in service of politics.

But that is where Luban and Yoo begin to part company:

The problem lies not in the label, but in the consequences that supposedly follow from it. For Yoo, labeling the struggle “war” activates every war power formerly associated with battle commanders. The central contradiction, which Yoo never overcomes, is that while he insists that the US is fighting a new kind of war, he also insists that it should be fought with the full panoply of traditional presidential war powers. But these war powers were designed for conflicts in which the enemy is in uniform and belongs to an identifiable foreign government, and whose duration and conclusion are defined by victories, surrenders, and peace treaties.

Ah, the power of vocabulary. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Arts and Letters, Book Reviews, Bush Presidency, Constitution, Iraq, Law. Comments Off on Luban Yoo Pan in the NYRB

Armed Humanitarianism Marches On

On the surface, it’s simple: The State Department is going to resettle 7,000 Iraqi refugees in the U.S. by the end of September, refugees who are currently waiting in third countries like Syria and Jordan. Under the circumstances we have perhaps more than the usual reasons for accommodating them here.

But beneath the surface lurk a few points that might benefit from more discussion:

(1) Who are these refugees seeking refuge from? Are they fleeing the current Iraqi government that we’re trying to support? If so, why? If not, is this official recognition on our part that the government we support is not, in fact, in charge? For years, gloomy appraisals of the situation in Iraq have been widely blamed on left-wing bias in the “MSM.” Does anyone think it’s the MSM that induced all these people to leave their homes?

(2) How do these refugees differ from the millions of others whom we are not resettling? According to this report, 2 million Iraqis have fled the country and 1.7 million more are internally displaced. Are these 7,000 the only ones with connections good enough to get them here? Are they the only ones who want to come to the U.S.? I don’t know enough even to speculate, but it seems to me the selection principle might be informative in our domestic debate about the war.

(3) One of the reasons immigration is such a sensitive issue in the U.S. right now is because of concern that terrorists will infiltrate our relatively open society in order to do us harm. I assume we believe these are friendly Iraqis who are fleeing unfriendly Iraqis, but how do we know? Isn’t our inability to distinguish friends from enemies a big part of the problem over there? I see that the refugees are to be interviewed by DHS officials before they come here. If DHS officials are so good at discerning which Iraqis bear us malice in their hearts, shouldn’t we be sending those DHS officials to Iraq to work with the troops?

(4) The article says the administration wants Congress to pass legislation to facilitate the admission of “other Iraqis who are at special risk in Iraq because of their close association with the U.S. government.” That’s fairly vague, but I can’t help wondering how the long-term evacuation of those who have worked closely with the U.S. government fits in with a policy of standing down as the Iraqis stand up.

I certainly don’t want to discourage the administration from dealing humanely with the refugee problem by holding it to its prior ideological commitments; on the contrary, I take this as a hopeful sign that the utopianism of those commitments is beginning to lose its delusive grip.

Posted in Bush Presidency, Foreign Policy, Iraq, News. Comments Off on Armed Humanitarianism Marches On