Does Israel Have a Right to WMD?

During the run-up to Saddam’s War, a number of critics of the war raised the issue: “What’s wrong with letting Saddam have WMD?? We have WMD. Israel has WMD. Why is his possession of them suddenly a cause for war?”

I never unpackaged my responses to that, which were superficially that it was a stupid argument not worth responding to. Recent discussions here raised the issue, and I realized that my own thinking needs to be taken out and exercised a bit to see if it can really walk around.

There are two parts to this. First is that it’s OK for he U.S. to have WMD.

I’m not going to get into this in depth here except to point out that the Americans who take the opposite position (no WMD for the US) have apparently transcended nationalism, which would be a good thing if it weren’t for the unpleasant fact that the keys to our lives then get handed to a panel where Robert Mugabe gets equal billing with Tony Blair. Great concept, I foresee some problems in implementation.

I’m an American, and further I’m an American who buys into that whole messy “exceptionalism” thing, so I’m probably not the best audience for that argument.

The second argument, however, is a very interesting one. If the assertion is that it’s OK for Israel to have WMD, we open up an interesting discussion.

Because the discussion is so fundamentally tribal, I’ve put up some comments on my own background over at Armed Liberal, in the event that anyone thinks it matters. Actually, I think it’s important to do so in order to make such limits as there may be on my perspective clear to everyone.

OK?? Let’s go…
I’ve never lost any sleep over Israel’s possession of WMD. Then again, I’ve never lost sleep over the UK’s or France’s possession of them either. But there are some key differences among these three parties.

The UK is fundamentally THE major ally of the US, and as such, my level of comfort in/with them is obviously high. They’re good guys. And I believe that the nature of their politics is such that they’d have a hard time becoming not-good guys.

France is not an ally of the US, and I’ve never believed that it was. But France’s desire for WMD (specifically nukes) made historic sense in light of their desire not to be beholden to the US during the Cold War. And while France has geopolitical ambitions, it has no meaningful territorial ambitions, and could not manifest any because it is so deeply embedded in the multinational institutions that link the countries of the West.

Israel is not an ally of the United States either. It often acts like one, but the reality is that we are a better ally to them than they are to us. This is relatively simple to explain, in that unlike every other significant nation I can think of, the existence of Israel is at issue. Israel’s policies thus tend to have a rather one-dimensional aspect which makes it difficult to rely on them as allies when any issue comes up that potentially impacts their self-perception of their ability to survive both as a nation and as a population.

Sadly, a lot of issues do.

The basic position of the Arab countries and political movements is pretty well summarized by reading MEMRI (acknowledging it’s bias…they probably don’t go out of their way to translate and summarize the moderate articles) and Arab News as well as Al-Jazeerra, as well as the official sites of the PA. Basically, they’d like their land back. Their desire for Israel to go away is tempered, in some cases, by a certain willingness to accept ‘facts on the ground’. But I certainly haven’t found a wholehearted acceptance of Israel’s existence from an authentically Arab source (I’d love to be sent one if it’s out there), and I have read authentic cries for Palestine “from the river to the sea”, as well as the usual litany of LGF-published Muslim threats.

Rhetoric is one thing, action another. By my recollection of history, the collective Arab nations have invaded Israel three times; in 1948, in 1967 (preempted by the Israeli counterstrike) and in 1974. Israel, on the other hand has taken and held Arab territory twice; in 1967, when they took the west Bank, Gaza, and the balance of the Sinai Peninsula and the 1982 invasion of South Lebanon.

In each case, the Arab effort was pretty clearly a war of conquest – a war with the objective of destroying or conquering Israel; in the case of Israel’s territorial expansion, it appears that one could reasonably argue that they were primarily tactical, intended to improve their military and strategic position vis-à-vis their opponents.

There are arguments about Gaza and the West Bank in terms of Israel’s desire to annex versus occupy – a serious distinction to me – and Israel’s behavior in establishing settlements, on the initial argument that they were outlying defense posts, and on far more questionable arguments now – does muddy that water. But if Israel intended to annex the West Bank and Gaza, they could easily have done so and no one could have made them stop (the U.S. might have acted to restrain them, but their willingness to play out of the U.S. handbook is limited).

So a big part of my attitude toward Israel comes from my belief, which I believe is supported by facts, that (past the initial grant of territory in 1948) they have no territorial ambitions, and that if their neighbors would leave them in peace, they would most likely leave their neighbors in peace.

This is a fundamental axiom of my position, and one that somehow doesn’t get brought into the light often enough, in my view.

This is getting a bit long for a blog post, so I’ll break off now and complete it tomorrow. Let’s leave this as a “historic overview and background” for what is to follow, which will talk specifically about Israeli WMD.

Things That Make You Go “hmmm…”

Just to toss a few pebbles into the pond and watch the ripples, I’ll suggest that you go visit Network Solutions’ whois server and look up “”. You’ll get this:

Domain ID:D95934086-LROR
Created On:17-Mar-2003 19:57:52 UTC
Expiration Date:17-Mar-2004 19:57:52 UTC
Sponsoring Registrar:R71-LROR

which my tinfoil-hat wearing friends have pointed out is five days before she was captured.

I’m sure there is an innocuous explanation (bad record in the database, clock mis-set on a server), but it’ll be a fun thing to talk about at parties!

[Update: I barely had time to get a cup of tea when the conundrum was answered in the comments below. Go to Note the winner’s name…]


As I prepare some comments on Israeli WMD’s to put up over at Winds of Change, it occurs to me that my own heritage becomes something that I should disclose, to allow readers to make a judgment on whether my own ethnic or religious affiliations might have something to do with my positions (I don’t think they do, but I don’t necessarily get to make that call).
I’m a mutt. When asked, I typically identify myself as “a Californian”.
My father’s family were German Jews who left for the United States in the late 19th Century, but they didn’t practice, and I’m not sure if my father was even bar-mitvah’ed. His own spiritual affiliations were much more Eastern, as befits his personal beliefs…which can best and most simply be described as Beatnik. I read my first D.T. Suzuki book at his house when I was a young teen, and his circle of friends included a preponderance of jazz musicians, poets, and horseplayers.
My mother’s family were in part Hispanic, with a strong mixture of Native American and some random other strains that changed as I listened to the oft-changing stories of my various relatives. Like my father, my mother stepped away from her family and their culture as fast and hard as she could; she never spoke Spanish in my presence, and to my knowledge can’t. She has reinvented herself as a Southern California charitable figure, and a strong participant in her nontraditional Eastern religion.
The feature common to both of them was their efforts to personally step away from their heritage and to reinvent themselves as Californians.
As a child, the strongest adult figures I remember include three men who worked for my father, and who had a strong role in raising me when my divorced parents were otherwise occupied. Each was a senior blue-collar worker, at the boundary between management (my dad) and labor (the teams that worked for them).
Robert (never “Bob”) was a sandy blonde from Kentucky who made sure I knew all the lyrics to “Tennessee Stud” by the time I was ten, introduced me to Bob Wills and Johnny Cash, and explained to me as he bandaged my hands after a fight at school that you never hit the hard parts with your hands, you used your forehead, elbows, or better still, a hard object you picked up close at hand.
Theodis was from the back country in Louisiana, where his black – never “Negro” – sharecropper father had raised ten children on hand-me-downs, help from the church, and damn hard work. Theoidis’ main lesson to me was that no matter how hard or smart I worked by myself, the job couldn’t get done unless everyone on the team helped. Five of us kids were hired one summer, to pick up trash and sweep the concrete slabs on one of the jobsites, and as the son of the boss, getting the work done somehow became my responsibility.
Joe was one of Theodis’ brothers, and I’ll save him for last because he took special responsibility for me. Joe showed me that a man works even when he’s tired, and goes home when he’s done, not before. When I was hungry he showed me that a belly full of water would hold you for a few hours until he could take me out to eat – it wasn’t until much later that it occurred to me how that lesson had come to him and what it said about his growing up and how present hunger must have been. His family ate damn well, and sat together every night at the table for dinner, talking, and didn’t eat while playing or watching TV or walking around the neighborhood, and so does my family now.
Somehow, my own heritage is – in my mind at least – a crazy conjunction of all these things.
In West L.A., old Jewish men want to introduce me to their doctor daughters.
In East L.A., people approach and address me in Spanish.
I’ve been pulled off of the San Diego – Los Angeles train after a 140 mile bicycle ride down there because my skin was dark, I was unshowered and smelled, and when asleep I couldn’t respond to the questions of the Border Patrol agent.
When I lived in Paris with my first wife, everyone was convinced that I was Lebanese.
In Wisconsin with my second wife, everyone thought I was down from the rez. (they thought I was Native American)
In Corsica, everyone was convinced I was Corsican, and when I went on to Sardinia, everyone there thought I was Corsican too, until we checked into a luxury hotel where they were convinced I was an Arab.
I’ll admit to enjoying this confusion.
Somehow I see it as an advantage, but as a Californian I – like many of my compatriots – believe in the power of reinvention, and that I’m not a slave to my heritage – or heritages, in my case.

Huxley’s Patio

So at the conclusion of predictable but truly strange chain of events, I wound up spending the day at Aldous Huxley’s house in the Hollywood Hills with his widow, Laura, and some other folks (including Littlest Guy and Tenacious G), and had an odd kind of epiphany.

We were sitting out on the back patio, overlooking the canyon and looking up to the Hollywood sign, chatting, cutting up fruit and watching the kids play, when I realized that this scene – perhaps this exact scene – must have played out on this exact spot, except that the people standing around on the deck would have included Huxley, his friend and sometime writing partner Christopher Isherwood, and the rest of the wartime expatriate intellectual community.

Two of whom would have been Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, founders of the Frankfurt School and root figures in the rise of ‘critical theory’, one of the roots of what I would today call Bad Philosophy.

Huxley himself, with his search for transcendence, fits into the Romantic tradition which I’ve discussed as a further part of the cultural conflict in which we find ourselves.

I think that the cultural /philosophical battles are just now rising to everyone’s consciousness, and are not yet seen as critical, but will ultimately determine the outcome of this conflict.

And here I was sitting on that very patio, chowing down on excellent pineapples and pears, and realizing that I’m a part of a Reformation aimed in part at the very man whose lovely home I enjoyed today, and all his friends and colleagues.

Sometimes reality is just too damn weird.

Grumpy Old Engineers

Today’s L.A. Times takes the current NASA team back to school:

Shuttles’ First Engineers Exasperated

By Scott Gold, Times Staff Writer

Some of the original architects of America’s space shuttle program told investigators Wednesday that they never designed the spacecraft to withstand a forceful strike from any object, much less the large chunks of foam insulation that pounded the Columbia 16 days before it disintegrated.

At a boisterous public hearing that at times felt like a production of “Grumpy Old Engineers,” several men who helped NASA realize its dream of building a reusable spacecraft 25 years ago said they were flabbergasted that today’s space agency shrugged off the threat posed by the liftoff accident.

Independent investigators now believe the foam insulation, which fell from an external fuel tank and struck the edge of the shuttle’s left wing after liftoff, opened a breach that allowed superheated gas to penetrate the craft and bring it down two weeks later.

NASA has known since at least 1997 that pieces of foam insulation periodically “popcorn” off during liftoff and strike the shuttle.

Robert Thompson, 77, former vice president of the shuttle program for contractor McDonnell Douglas and the manager of the shuttle program in its formative years, said he believes today’s NASA engineers were lulled into complacency because early foam insulation strikes were harmless.

The strike on Columbia was crippling, Thompson said, because of the large size of the foam insulation and the fact that it came 81 seconds after liftoff — meaning the insulation struck the wing while traveling at 700 feet per second. Thompson told the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, the independent panel charged with finding the cause of the Feb. 1 disaster, that it took an understanding of “high school physics” to grasp the impact of that incident.

“That’s a hell of a speed bump,” Thompson said.

“There were indications that there was a problem,” he said. “And people didn’t address it fast enough. People didn’t understand: this can do a lot of damage.”

“People didn’t understand…”


Cancer, CNN and the Shuttle

One reason I haven’t blogged much in the last few weeks is that a friend’s wife was dying. Note the past tense; she died yesterday morning, after losing a year-long struggle with cancer.

When she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lung cancer, she and my friend jointly decided to pursue alternative therapies – alternative to the mainstream therapies of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. She radically altered her diet, alternating juice fasts with healthful eating, and took a zillion supplements a day; she visited a number of alternative practitioners of a variety of arts.

When they started on this path, I took her husband aside, and asked him about it. Are there statistics that support this? I asked. He had a number of stories – testimonials – of people who had been cured in these ways. I dug a bit, and came up with some numbers (can’t find them now) that suggested that the cure rate for alternative therapies was essentially the same as the cure rate for doing nothing; cancer just goes away sometimes.

I’m no oncologist, and both as an observer and a friend, I’d be careful about asserting that she would have lived had they only…(pick something). But I will confidently assert that they followed a path that was more based in belief and hope than provable fact.

They were not alone. Honesty has been much in the news lately.

[Update: It’s apparently in the air, as well. Not only has Trent got a piece up on this, but Glenn Reynolds has one at TechCentralStation]
Many commentators have suggested that the Iraqi regime collapsed as fast as it did because at no level was anyone telling the truth.

MARINE COMBAT HEADQUARTERS, Iraq – (KRT) – Maj. Gen. Sufian al Tikriti left Baghdad on Sunday in a white Toyota sedan, in uniform and alone except for a chauffeur.

Just outside the city, the Republican Guard general came upon a Marine Corps roadblock, where he died.

His sudden death, and a great deal of other evidence, suggests how little Iraq’s military knows about the whereabouts and movements of the U.S. and British soldiers who invaded their country three weeks ago.

“I think they are basically clueless,” said a senior officer of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (IMEF). “They have no situational awareness,” he said, using the military term for knowing the locations of friendly and enemy forces.

and this:

A captured Iraqi colonel being held in one of the hangars listened in astonishment as his information minister praised Republican Guard soldiers for recapturing the airport.

He looked at his captors and, as he realized that what he had heard was palpably untrue, his eye filled with tears. Turning to a translator, he asked: “How long have they been lying like this?”

“Everyone lies”; there is a whole discipline in philosophy (epistemology, or the study knowledge) which was once summed up to me in those words. We humans don’t have direct access to facts, we construct realities as best we can.

But some of those realities have proven to be more durable than others.

The power of Western society is ultimately its willingness to adapt to facts. All societies that survive do at some level; you can only eat illusions for a while. But Western society is probably the first that makes a positive goal of factualness, and where a claim to fact is a claim of virtue.

That is why I react so strongly to the bureaucratic stifling of fact that led up to the Columbia disaster, and why I react so strongly to Eason Jordan’s weasel words.

These are examples of corrosion of the core value – of the value of truth – that make the West successful, and they are a far greater threat than any terrorist attacks.

It is also why the dream societies discussed by Porphyrogenitus in his great post (and he is carrying the banner for The War on Bad Philosophy!) and exemplified by my fantasy-ridden engineer friend will ultimately fail.

The goal, of course, is to make sure we don’t fail first.

An Unsettling Dinner

So last night our friends returned a favor and made dinner for us. She is American, and he is Iranian; he served in the armed forces under the Shah, and fled after he fell by walking out of the country (quite a story).

She & I have been discussing the war, and my journey to supporting it; I lent her my copy of Pollack, but I was obviously very interested in hearing what he had to say.

To be honest, it both scared and enlightened me.

He is a highly educated man, an engineer from an upper-middle class family. Every time he goes back to Iran, he is sweated by the religious police, but always let go (his parents are alive there, and he has very strong family ties). He works for the airline industry, and we’ve joked about the security examinations he’s been through – “with a proctoscope” he says.

But when we started talking about the war, his affect changed dramatically. I suggested that this might help bring about the fall of his detested mullahs, and he responded that only the decision of the Iranian people would make that happen.

But most telling was our discussion of civilian casualties. I commented that the largest numbers I have seen (which I felt were unreliable) were in the 5,000 range, and that reliable sources tended to cluster in the 1,000 – 1,500 range.

He replied that there had been “at least” 75,000 civilian casualties.

I laughed, thinking he was joking, but quickly stopped when I realized that he wasn’t. I asked him where he got his information, and he replied that he’d had some phone calls with friends who lived near the border, and they had talked with some refugees.

I suggested that this might not be the most fact-based approach, and he waved his hands.

“What are your facts? From the media that tells you what the government wants you to hear? They are an arm of the government, a part of the government. They are told what to tell you and you believe it.”

I stopped him and suggested that, thanks to the Internet, I’m reading everything from the London Times and Le Monde to Arab News, and that none of them came close to supporting what he was saying.

He gave a dry laugh and suggested that for a price – a price the oil companies were willing to pay – the media would say anything.

I gently suggested that his upbringing might have had something to do with this; that in Iran, now and during the era of the Shah, the media were pretty much a joke. But that here, in the West, while I saw structural issues in the media’s coverage of government, that I could not conceive of the media missing out on a chance to embarrass the government in this way.

He gave a knowing smile and we agreed to change the subject.

What does it say about the millions of Arabs in the Middle East, and the gap between us, if this Westernized, educated, security-cleared man believes that we’re essentially living in “The Matrix”? And what does that mean to our plans and hopes for the region?

I need to think more about this…

[JK Note: The comments section gets that process off to a great start, with some excellent sharing of context and experiences from Sub-Saharan Africa to Yugoslavia.]

And Matt Welch is on Vacation…

From this morning’s L.A. Times:

BAGHDAD — Two Army sergeants went searching for saws Friday to clear away branches that were blocking their Humvees. But they stumbled across a sealed-up cottage that aroused their curiosity – and ultimately led to the discovery of an estimated $650 million in cash.

The sergeants tore down a cinder-block and concrete barricade at the cottage door and found 40 sealed galvanized aluminum boxes lined up neatly on the stone floor. Breaking open one box, they were stunned to discover 40 sealed stacks of uncirculated $100 bills — $100,000 per stack, or $4 million in the box. In all, the 40 boxes were assumed to contain $160 million.

Now one of the pre-war discussion was on the cruelty of the U.S. government in maintaining sanctions which impoverished the Iraqi people, and led to stories of starving children, as Matt Welch noted:

Are “a million innocent children…dying at this time…in Iraq” because of U.S. sanctions, as Osama bin Laden claimed in his October 7 videotaped message to the world? Has the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) discovered that “at least 200 children are dying every day…as a direct result of sanctions,” as advocacy journalist John Pilger maintains on his Web site? Is it official U.N. belief that 5,000 Iraqi children under the age of 5 are dying each month due to its own policy, as writers of letters to virtually every U.S. newspaper have stated repeatedly during the past three years?

I hope we’re starting to get the idea about why the Iraqi people suffered during the B’aath regime. And I hope that in other Middle Eastern countries run by brutal kleptocrats, this news get out…

…me, I’m going to go rent “Three Kings” again tonight.

Theory and Philosophy

As a break from thinking about issues of life and death, I want to weigh in on a fairly abstruse discussion that has been going on in the more rarified neighborhoods of the Blogosphere (here, here, and here, for example); the discussion concerns “political philosophy” vs. “political theory”.

The discussion is pretty abstract and academic, but I think it is an important one. It is important both because I think that these kinds of questions are important – that philosophy matters, as shown by the role that an obscure Muslim philosopher played in 9/11 and the current geopolitical situation – and because this distinction helps mark a break point between where I stand and where I believe Joe stands, in encouraging what we call “4th Generation” politics and where some other commentators seem to be.

Part of where this difference lies is in the notion that instead of looking at “one unifying truth”, it is often best to let that truth develop through the elicitation and communication of “many small truths”. I’ll expand on this at some point.
Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Jacob Levy has a pretty extensive discussion on the subject, with a pretty good institutional analysis of the differences, which leads him to an explanation of the difference:

All of this means that theorists and philosophers, even when thinking or writing about the same questions, have different intellectual backup resources. To put it crudely: a political philosopher is much more likely to appeal to a higher level of abstraction (to general ethical theory, then to metaethics, then to epistemology…) while a political theorist is much more likely to appeal to a lower level of abstraction (empirical findings, history).

Relatedly…though this is probably the weakest tendency I’ll mention…theorists tend to be more interested in institutions, in normative analyses of political systems as a whole, and more willing to think that politics is importantly distinct from other realms of ethics. Sometimes ‘political philosophers’ are simply ethicists and moral philosophers who apply their familiar tools to new situations. What a policymaker should do is treated as a special case of what the person standing at the trolley switch should do. This is not true of Rawls, and indeed isn’t true of many of the most prominent political philosophers. (Interestingly, it is sort of true of Nozick.) Moreover, some theorists tend this way themselves. But (as Matt Yglesias notes), for this sort of reason theorists have a loose tendency to find the turn to ‘political liberalism’ in late Rawls both more comprehensible and more justifiable than do philosophers.

First, given that we’re doing kind of an “anthropology” of the discipline, let me disclose my own background; I was a student of Sheldon Wolin and Jack Schaar. I started my college career as a physicist, and could never get comfortable with the representations of the political scientists that their work was somehow “scientific” when I saw it as an extension of the old high school lab error of “precision by division”. I was always interested in and read philosophy, but because Schaar used literature as an extensive part of his theory curriculum, I came to see a kind of thinness in the purely philosophical explanations that I could never get beyond.

This doubtless marks me as someone who fits neatly into the “theorist” camp. My senior paper, which in essence argued that “political philosophy” was an oxymoron … probably sealed my membership in that camp.

It wasn’t until graduate school, where I studied with Host Rittel, that I began to be able to articulate a little more about the distinction.

Rittel, along with Mel Webber, wrote a brilliant paper on this exact issue. It was called “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning”, and in it, they suggested that problems could be divided into two categories: “tame” and “wicked”.

“Tame” problems are those that can be modeled (represented in language, notation, or a simplified physical representation), repeated (they will consistently give the same response to the same inputs), and bound (defined entirely within a constrained space, such as a laboratory).

“Wicked” problems, on the other hand, meet none of those criteria. Rittel and Webber developed ten criteria to define wicked problems:

1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good-or-bad.
4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly.
6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
9. The existence of a discrepancy in representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem’s resolution.
10. The planner (designer) has no right to be wrong.

Problems in politics are almost certainly “wicked” problems, as defined here, and one of the reasons why we have so much trouble talking about politics … and why so much of the discussion on politics is inherently unsatisfying is that we persist in trying to make believe that they are tame problems.

Let me try this again in a more accessible way.

In Los Angeles, where I live, the movie industry is one of the core industries, so much as people who live in Redmond are fairly conversant in the ins-and-outs of the software industry, or people who live in Manhattan are often conversant in advertising and finance, we tend to be comfortable with movie jargon.

Most high-budget pictures today are what are called “high concept” pictures. The essence of the picture … the point, if you will … is readily reducible to a sentence or two, in which you describe the hero or heroine and situation. The rest of the film hangs from this armature of concept; in some cases, it works well – pick a John Ford western or a Kurosawa samurai movie – and in some, badly – pick any current Eddie Murphy movie.

“High concept” pictures are “tame”; they are representable (you can readily describe the film in two or three sentences), repeatable (Lethal Weapon II, III, IV, V, etc.), and bound – you leave the film feeling like the whole of the characters, plot, and environment are contained within the film itself.

Other movies are not “high concept”; they depend on the unpredictable-seeming interactions of the characters to define the plot, and you certainly walk away from them feeling like what you have seen is a small window into a vaster, more complex world that extends far beyond the screen and the duration of the film. These “wicked” films are typically more complex, more interesting, and when they work, can leave you with a deeper experience.

Similarly, what political philosophy attempts to do is to create what would in essence be a “high concept” politics; one in which the richness and unpredictability of real political relationships can be reduced to a to compact armature of formula. This manages to be both wrong and dangerous, because it turns theory into a Procrustean bed onto which we intend to force messy, complex, real people to fit.

I’ll pick this up later and use it to discuss Rawls specifically and how the nature of thinking that underlies this kind of “philosophical politics” can be perceived at the opposite end of the pole from the kind of dynamic 4th generation politics that I’m interested in.

Some Rethinking Going On…

Nathan Newman is one of the first serious Lefty commentators to step back and look at where the peace movement went wrong.

I’m not a pacifist (a pacifist Armed Liberal? A double oxymoron…), and while I certainly don’t consider my self a hawk, probably stand a little more on the “kill Americans and you’re toast” side of the spectrum. But I think we need an engaged and useful peace movement, if for no other reason than to keep the true nutcases on the right in check.

And we haven’t had one. We’ve had a form of bad psychodrama in which various unhappy people act out their issues with Authority.

Newman raises most of the right issues:

The antiwar argument had to be about whether there was an alternative way to achieve the goal of a freer and more democratic Iraq (and questioning the good faith of war proponents to achieve that result).

The antiwar movement lost the argument on timing and on the efficacy of alternative means of addressing peoples broad concerns on Iraq. And I attribute that partly to their simplistic focus on “no war” unity over developing a more sophisticated positive message that also would have required more outreach to non-rallygoers (and probably less focus on rallies).

And I continue to argue with a range of activist friends that when we allowed groups that defended the Hussein regime in the past to lead some of the rallies, many folks who don’t like Hussein rightly could think that such a movement has no real plan for an alternative challenge to Hussein’s regime.

For some of the left, they’ve retreated to almost isolationist pacificism as all the argument they need, without any need to address strategy and why THIS PARTICULAR WAR is the wrong direction.

The left in this country has an honorable history of leading the fight internationally for human rights, from challenges to Belgium’s mass murder in the Congo at the end of the 19th century (led by among others Mark Twain) to denunciations of the fascist regimes in Europe in the 1930s to attacks on colonialism in the 1950s to denunciations of death squads in El Salvador and Apartheid in South Africa, the left has always called for challenges to bad regimes.

Well, there’s a start.

Nathan places more emphasis on techniques of organizing and less on thinking through positions than I would, but that’s a post that’s coming soon. I’m glad to see that someone with credibility on the Left is talking critically. It’s a start…