Faith and the Force of Arms

For someone who doesn’t go to church (except once in a while to hear my sweetie sing), I do seem to talk a lot about faith. I do because I believe that on a fundamental level, it is the intangible that really drives people; it is their faith in the future and each other that makes them willing to step up and shoulder burdens, take risks, accept loss, to move out of present comfort into pain in order to move to a future about which we can’t be certain.

I flippantly mentioned this below, in talking about Tyler Hamilton’s incredible performance in the Tour de France this year – riding with the leaders and even winning a stage with a broken collarbone. He could have withdrawn with no damage to his career, but some intangible drive…some inner fire, some commitment, some faith…kept him on the bike.

We’ve been having an e-mail conversation about this post on Stratfor:

The Bush administration’s continued unwillingness to enunciate a coherent picture of the strategy behind the war against al Qaeda — which explains the war in Iraq — could produce a dangerous domino effect. Lurking in the shadows is the not fully articulated perception that the Iraq war not only began in deception but that planning for the Iraq war was incompetent — a perception driven by the realization that the United States is engaged in a long-term occupation and guerrilla war in Iraq, and the belief that the United States neither expected nor was prepared for this. Ultimately, this perception could erode Bush’s support base, cost him the presidency and, most seriously, lead to defeat in the war against al Qaeda.

(emphasis added)

This is congruent with some of the critical things I’ve said about Bush; specifically that he hasn’t articulated or sold his plan. I think it is necessary that he do so, because ultimately this war will be won by the side with the stronger faith; we are matching our faith in our vision of the future against our opponents’.

Trent thinks my position is silly, and makes some strong arguments that I’ll leave to him to fill in; in summary, his view is that Bush has a plan, but can’t articulate it for political/diplomatic reasons, and that we need to simply trust him – that we can simply rely on his character.

My reply is “nope”.

Even if I stipulate that Bush has grown immensely wiser and more credible than he was in his early life…and I do believe that he has grown, although I’m not convinced that he’s grown immensely…I just can’t accept the notion that we’re sending our sons and daughters – hell, that I may send my son – because GWB says so.

And I don’t think that I’m alone.

Modern leadership involves propagating your vision – of a project, or a business. It involves creating faith which can motivate people to accept discomfort, pain or loss. When a team shares a vision, they have some understanding of the high-level plan which will make them more tolerant of not knowing the low-level plans.

But you can’t ask people to accept burdens based solely on one’s character any more. We are past the point of kings.

Clearly, this limits his freedom to practice Richelieu-like diplomacy by deception, as Trent suggests he may be doing.

Tough. I have a lot of faith in the American people, and I believe that there are a whole lot of those – like me – who would be willing to follow a President in spite of disagreements if we believed in and understood his vision and the overall path he proposed to take to get there.

Bush has set out parts of a vision, but we’re missing some key pieces. And I haven’t seen an path yet.

So I support him against the Hesiod Theogenys of the world…for now.

38 thoughts on “Faith and the Force of Arms”

  1. I agree that he is making a mistake. It may be that he is assuming the majority of the country wants to go back to the party of the 1990s and can’t do the heavy lifting required. He’s wrong. I think people want to be mobilzed. Want to help. Bush should have capitilized on that for the past two years instead of advising us to “just get on with our lives.” It isn’t too late. I have three sons, one will be of age to go to war too soon for his mother’s comfort. I want to help make this better so he doesn’t have to, but the president needs to have faith in the American people. Not just ask us to have faith in him.

    A. D.

  2. Tyler Hamilton is inspiring in a way that Lance Armstrong has always been. What is stomach turning has been the complaints from some French riders that he was faking the injury, until X-rays of the fractures were shown on French TV. Pathetic. It’s like the complaints over the years from the French that Armstrong – a cancer surviver – is riding doped. Double-pathetic. That characteristic French combination of projection and envy.

    Now, how the hell you tie this into strategy in the war on terrorism/Iraq, etc. – God knows!

    First, let me wear out one theme a bit more: Iraq was not an option and should not have been an option for the UNSC after 17 resolutions. If enforcement of international norms of behaviour on a regime that had LOST A WAR and FAILED TO ABIDE by the CEASEFIRE TERMS imposed by the VICTORS IN THAT FIRST WAR requiring coming clean on WMD was of urgency 5 years ago – and I had not trouble supporting overthrow of the Hussein regime 5 years ago on those grounds alone – tossing in 9/11, Al Qaida and the sheer brutality of the regime only added to the urgency. The basic problem was always there.

    The general question of a plan as phrased is loaded with too many subquestions: war on terrorism, war on Al Qaeda, why the war in Iraq, how do we get out of Iraq, where do we go from here, etc. Steven den Beste has a piece today in the WSJ (a reedited version of a post from a couple of days ago) that goes a way towards addressing some of these questions, I presume more along the lines of Trent’s thinking (but of course he speaks for himself).

    I think it comes down less to having of a detailed plan, than a rational overall approach or philosophy. I also think that Bush has articulated such an approach: a doctrine of preemption, drawing firm lines not to be crossed, and institutional reform – too ambitious and sweeping to be put into anything you could call a plan, as opposed to a vision. (I think he should add to that vision an absolute principle that any country suspected of developing a nuclear potential that does not open up its facilities to serious international inspection, whether that country be Iran or Sweden, will immediately have those facilities destroyed. I also think the nuclear club should get together and unambiguously adopt such a position.)

    Den Beste’s indirect implicit point, in part I think, is that leaders are elected based on our faith – ah, the tie in to Tyler Hamilton! – in their ability to come up with the specific implementations partly improvisized from that vision. It’s nice to have the vision fleshed out, but I doubt FDR announce on the eve of D-Day that an invasion was imminent. We even trust leaders to make tough decisions that may be unpopular but, as we may know deep down inside, necessary. Ask Tony Blair or José Maria Asnar.

  3. I think you do Trent a dis-service. He didn’t say _Bush_ the man had a plan, rather he said the Bush _Administration_ has one. To the extent it belongs to any one person, the person is National Security Adviser Rice. The plan can be found at:

    This is grand strategy. It’s at the top of the food chain. Strategy is generally created on a country-by-country basis for important countries, and sometimes on a multi-country basis for a region. Strategy is a plan for a single campaign. Iraq was one campaign. North Korea is another, and Iran will be a third.

    Strategy necessarily entails deception. Grand strategy does not, and it is grand strategy which must be sold to the public.

    Nothing a Republican president says can give Democrats a backbone. That they have to find for themselves.

  4. I would add: What is a plan supposed to look like? Resolution? Exit strategy? I’m not sure that having a plan in a meaningful sense is possible in the kind of war we are in. It’s not military defeat alone with a predictable timeline that is relevant here. It’s ideological defeat, something far trickier, against asymetrical warfare, something that is not going away any time soon, indeed ever. Any “victory” will be relative and ever tentative. As Tony Blair said in his speech a couple of days ago, this is unprecedented and history is not much of a guide.

  5. A.L.,

    You know if I had a son in the military the most important thing for me if I trusted the leaders of the country would be to keep the war plan secret at all costs. That would minimize the danger to my son.

    If I was like you and didn’t trust the leadership I’d keep my son out at all costs.

    Of course not believing in the obvious progressive idea that the best way to help the poor is government enforced theft followed by the social workers cut, the thieves (enforcers) cut, and the remainder (if any) to the poor, my ideas are probably a bit peculiar.

    I can see the draw of robbing Peter to give charity to Paul. It makes one feel virtuous while still promoting robbery. And you must admit that raising the required funds for the largess necessary is much easier if robbery is allowed than if you have to work for it. Work is hard. Robbery is easy. I vote for robbery.

    Can I be a progressive again? Pretty please?

    (All unannounced sarcasm is the responsibility of the author. Preceede at your own risk.)

  6. M. Simon –

    I think you started out too far to the left, and the pendulum swung back a bit too violently. Maybe its due for a swing in the other direction?

    (Luke! Luke…)

  7. My problem with the communist/socialist/progressive idea is that at the core all these ideas depend on theft for their functioning.

    Theft is not a sound basis for any system. I suppose I’m old fashioned in that regard.

    Durn, it looks like I have already lost my progressive credentials. That didn’t take long.

  8. Gabriel,

    Glad to hear that you are a believer in theft. The world needs more thieves. I mean progressives.

    You know I really prefer the term progressive. Thief sounds so mercenary. So lower class.

    The honest thief robs you with a six gun. The decietful thief robs you with a pen. The hegemonic thief robbs you with a vote of the legislature. That vote separates the thief and the fraud from real honest men. If it is political it is not a crime is my motto. When I’m a progressive.

    Which is why Twain called Congress America’s only native criminal class. I guess he hadn’t heard of progressives.


    Now I am a believer in government even if limited in scope. Some theft is necessary for the support of such a government. However, we should try to keep it as small as possible because we understand that theft is fundamentally wrong even if a necessary evil in the case of government. We ought to reduce the evil to it’s smallest possible dimension.

    I don’t see how any one who understands the drug war can believe in the benevolence of government. Course as I said, I have some strange ideas.

  9. O.K., guys, can we please put this conversatrion back on track here… thanks.

    Back to A. Diggins, who makes one of the most perceptive comments I’ve heard in a long time. Lot of people seem to be on a roll these days, and he’s one.

    Then let’s head over to Tom Holsinger’s rejoinder that the grand vision is on the web right here.

    Let’s assume that IS the grand vision right now. What’s missing from it that needs to be there? If the answer is “nothing”, how does it need to be communicated in ways that aren’t happening right now?

  10. Well M. Simon –

    Nothing wrong with strange ideas. But my first principle is not “I thieve therefore I am”. I think it’s more a question of compromise and tradeoffs. I’m more Rawlian I guess. But I suppose you don’t believe in veils of ignorance? Hell, someone might rip you while your not looking.

  11. Back on track.

    Nice sounding grand vision. Two thoughts:

    – I think AL is maybe looking for something like a five-year plan: like what is our basic strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan (hot, crucial, the public needs reassurance), Israel and Occupied Territories, Iran and Korea (WMD), Saudia Arabia and Syria (Terrorism), Sub-Saharan Africa (Humanitarianism), the French and the Germans (Childcare), the Italians and the Spaniards (Cooperation), Eastern Europe (Core future allies), the U.N., China and Russia (necessary partners), etc.? How are the central themes? How do they all fit together? Who pays for it? Where do we seek specific cooperation from allies? What is the mid-term goal?

    – Second thought: Jay Leno’s joke about Bush having a domestic policy for Iraq but none for the U.S.

  12. I think that Trent was absolutely correct, as was Steven Den Beste, who recently expressed a similar opinion. There is a time for sharing plans and goals, but not all plans and goals can be shared at any given time.

    For example, would you argue that in January of 1942, President Roosevelt should have announced that the focus of the war was Europe, that the Pacific war would be an island-hopping campaign, and that the European war would be fought first in N. Africa? That would have been criminal: it would have told the enemy where to put his resources. Now, once we were solidly on the ground in Africa, it would have been reasonable for the President to say that the UK would attack from Egypt, and we would attack from Morocco, and we would crush the Germans between us. As long as the President didn’t give away which thrust was the main thrust, no information would get out that the enemy wouldn’t have already figured out.

    For President Bush, prior to entering Iraq, to have articulated the strategy of Iraq first, followed by {Syria, Iran or Saudi Arabia}, followed by … would have been criminal, because it would have rallied the enemy (and I don’t mean the Iraqis, but the Arab/Muslim countries of the Mid-East in general) against us. You think not having Turkey was a problem? Imagine not having Kuwait!

    I’m not sure that the President can articulate that strategy yet. It may not be possible until the next country has fallen, because until then it might be unwise to give the enemy information on where he needs to be strong and where he can afford not to be. I’m not sure, frankly, when it will be OK for the President to tell us the strategy. That might not happen until the next President is in office.

    And I’m OK with that. One of the primary jobs to which we elect a President is Commander in Chief. It is the President’s sole responsibility to fight as best he can the wars that Congress commits us to. We are committed by Congress, expressing the will of the people, to the war on terror, though Congress has opted to approve each campaign separately, rather than passing an omnibus declaration that would include all terrorists and all state sponsors of terrorism and all countries attempting to acquire nuclear arms which don’t already have them. The President has the job of determining the strategy, and implementing it. Our responsibility is to remove him at election if he’s not doing that job as we desire. Congress’s responsibility is to remove the President by impeachment should they determine that the President is not fighting the war as well as possible and according to the will of Congress as stated in the declarations of war that have been passed.

    And that’s it. I’ll speculate about – and judge – strategy, and read other people’s speculations and judgements, and I’ll form that into a will to vote at election time. It will affect not just my vote for President, but also my votes for Congress and Senate (this will be the first election in a long time where none of those votes will go to a Libertarian, because the Libertarians oppose fighting the war overseas at all). But I won’t demand an explanation from the President, since he’s already stated his philosophy. I will judge based on the results as I see them, not on the plans and motives of the candidates.

    I will demand a partial explanation from the President’s opponents, though, since there are no results to judge by. They need to state their philosophy in general terms: do they agree with the Bush doctrines of treating state sponsors of terrorism as inseparable from the terrorists themselves, and of pre-emptive action to remove threats; do they think we should stay in Iraq or pull out, and if so what should we do instead? I don’t want them to state their proposed strategies either, though.

  13. This really isn’t a problem for Bush, or for waging the war.

    Regarding the war on terror, we’ve all read enough web commentary to understand that either you get it, or you don’t. Most get it – some have gotten it, but are discouraged or distracted by “setbacks” in Iraq or in local politics – and others (like the nine spineless wimps pandering to arch-Bush haters to earn the right to be a sacrificial lamb in 11/04, for example) will never get it.

    Bush has plenty of time for events (i.e., progress against al Queda, success in Iraq, collateral benefits in the Middle East) to convince the discouraged and distracted and to discredit those who don’t get it.

    Or, to jump off on the Tyler Hamilton/Tour de Vichy analogy, it’s the whole race – not a time trial.

    A quick check of Bush’s speeches since 9/11 on the war will confirm he has never spoken of a short, easy war – but has always described it as long, and often unseen. But in a time of exceedingly short news cycles and ever more information, it’s easy to forget.

    Now, that’s not say that broader policy discussions concerning national mobilization or domestic security or related concerns are not necessary – but that when it comes to keeping on task, the Administration does not cause me to doubt or fear for our success.

  14. I certainly don’t subscribe to the notion that all taxation = theft, but otoh if you believe that property is a social construct and the community (the state) has an a priori claim on whatever we happen to have or earn and thus we should be happy with whatever we’re left after society is done with us, you’re probably disatisfied with the Democratic candidates because you should be voting Social Democrat.

    Getting back to the Stratfor quote you extract, though, there’s a logical disconnect between the subject sentance and the argument that follows; the enunciated complaints really have little to do with whether their is a grand strategy or not – something others adressed in prior comments.

    The “perceptions” that are out there we have already discussed elsewhere and they are driven by misinformation, not on the part of the Bush Administration but by its critics.

    In sum, the Bush Administration never said the things that they are being accused, implicitly, of having said, and they did articulate things that they are being accused of not having said; however, the drumbeat is to claim and/or imply otherwise.

    The Bush Administration never said there wouldn’t be difficulty in Iraq following the war itself – they were careful, indeed, to point out that difficulties remained and there would be problems.

    Similarly, the Bush Administration never claimed that the broad war would be quick and easy – indeed, they have maintained it would be long and span several Administrations, not just theirs.

    The “perception that the planning for the Iraq war was incompetent” is likewise something fostered by critics who are misrepresenting the facts in many degrees, large and small. Some of them are mentioned in that “Gephardt Speaks” post of mine that you kindly plugged. When they get the opportunity, Administration officials strive to rebutt the accusation that they have no plan or that adjusting their strategy in Iraq is not a sign that there was no plan or the plan was flawed – the critics want people to forget the old adage that “no plan survives contact with the enemy” and it is a sign of *competence, not incompetence, to adjust in the face of unforseen events, the unexpected, or things that are recognized as not working as hoped; this is far better than sticking, Soviet-style, to the scripted plan hell or high water. But we’re being told otherwise.

    Why? Well, the truth boils down to the fact that though the Bush Administration is far from perfect and indeed there are a lot of apt criticisms that can be made most of which are not the criticisms that are being levied – again, we’ve commiserated about this in the past – other institutions in the country, in particular the ones that are heavily influenced by the critics, are simply malfunctional, dysfunctional, or non-functional.

    In our society, a free society where we’re not yet treated entirely like a collectivity (we’re social beings therefore everything belongs to society), it’s not just up to the government to transmit to the public the information they need, a (hopefully) accurate picture of the world, as in Statist societies where information/media are controlled by the government. It is up to other institutions, not just public institutions, to give people a full picture – not a half-picture, a distorted picture of reality.

    This is, instead, what we are getting. So while the Stratfor piece seems to lay the blame for this entirely at the feet of the Bush Administration, at least the part you quote from, they are not playing it straight themselves in doing so. This refers back to discussions we had in the last couple weeks, involving posts like Of Course You Know, This Means War, succeeded by this one, to which you wrote this response and I followed up with this, leading to a chain of exchanges ending up here, now.

    See also The Walking Dead: I too, as you know, think Bush should have done far more to mobilize us than he has. However, I think there would have been a internal fight over it, of dimensions that some would not suspect.

    I am worried as well that we’ll lose the war. But note that Stratfor terms it as “the war against al Qaeda” (your emphasis continued) – the narrowest definition of the war, one that we agree is inadequate, and is mainly used by those opposed to any sort of Grand(er) Strategy that goes beyond al Qaeda (a symptom, not a cause).

    The reasons we may lose have some to do with Bush, but mostly – in my opinion – to the degree to which he, too, is driven, tugged – in part by misrepresentative and distortive portrayals that put everyone under certain constraints – to being an “expression of rather than cause of“, as I termed some of the Democratic candidates in the “Of Course You Know, This Means War” post; because the fact that he is less affected doesn’t mean he is immune. These things create a policy/political environment/atmosphere that is impossible for anyone to completely escape.

    He could confront it more directly; which would mean dropping the “new tone” and engaging in ideological combat which will be more bitter than even what we’re seeing now – what we’re seeing now is the passive-agressive form of it. Just wait till we see the openly agressive form of it when there is a direct challenge.

    Back to the malfunctioning institutions; I’ll recommend a search of my site under the search-terms “Long March Through the Institutions”. I’m planning a post that more directly adresses this, but for now that and the above will have to do.

    The fact is, as others have pointed out, the Bush Administration has, in speeches, policy statements, and documents, outlined a strategic vision, but this was mischaracterized and then buried by the institutions that the Citizens of our Republic depend upon to provide them a complete picture of the world, because those who populate those institutions are largely hostile to what was outlined, and also for reasons similar to the form in which, say, Gephardt’s speech was transmitted to people who didn’t see the whole thing. Of course, any synopsis, short version, leaves things out, but we’re typically getting presentations that are entirely misleading and often portray the reverse of reality. One can see that in examples posted all over, for example, and referencing how this or that presentation by this or that person (say, Wolfowitz) or in this or that place (say, Afghanistan) are distorted to unrecognizability in the form they are reported to the American people.

    As for the comedysphere rather than the mediasphere being the center of gravity for information in our society – actually, Leno’s been pretty good when compared with some of our Professional Journalists; but there what happens is a characterization of a characterization: Leno characterizes, in humor form, what the Story of the Day is. What has made Leno good of late is that he happens to have a fairly well functioning Bovine Fecal Matter Detector – almost though not quite as strong as Dennis Miller’s – so he sees *some* of these stories as the B.S. they are and then pokes fun at that.

    As for Bush not having a domestic policy, though; that, too, is less than accurate. G.G. knows better himself. Bush has one – a guy like G.G. might not like it, but he has one. There are aspects I criticize, too; I bet I criticize & deplore things that G.G. might, if grudgingly, think were at least in the right direction while he criticizes the things that *I* think were on the right track. But that’s a dispute over aspects of the policy, not whether there is one or not.

    We should also remember that Bush ran to do domestic things; we critiqued his campaign themes in previous comments because, as it turned out, events showed that those were the wrong priorities. Bush has, for better or ill, devoted the attentions of his administration and the spending of its political capital increasingly on foreign policy matters, related to the war – something he hoped to avoid since the Bush Family firmly believes that this pitfall is what cost his father (so he tries to divide his attention best he can). But something I think all of us here (or at least the pro-war among us) is what his Administration should make his foremost priority – IMO in part on the rather strong grounds that avoiding smoking craters in the downtowns of your major cities is sound economic policy, and that such craters are bad for jobs and financial well-being.

    An Administration can accomplish only a limited number of policy objectives in one Term and Administrations that try to push more than can realistically be pushed through our system usually fail at all their efforts. I for one can remember, if others have forgotten, a time in the six or so months after Sept 11th when people (the aforementioned Andrew Sullivan was one) were saying that Bush should simply drop domestic matters and make his Administration a War Administration, focused on winning the War. The argument was exactly thus; given the economic costs of the Sept. 11th, he could do the most good for everyone by insuring that more like it didn’t happen and *that* “could produce a dangerous domino effect” in the economy, to borrow a phrase from the Stratfor piece.

    That *is* how they have spent most of their political capital. They have pushed other policies in line with their domestic policy agenda, but naturally haven’t been able to pursue that with full focus, because, well, their main focus is on something else.

    Another longwinded post. Sorry, I felt I had to cover a lot of ground in it.

    I’m not trying to let the Administration off the hook for the things they’ve done poorly or the things they should have done but didn’t. But there are apt criticisms and inapt ones; inapt ones enable and foster, rather than refute, the forces that I think need to be confronted.

  15. Ok, well I would agree in the following fashion: Bush should be more like Reagan in the sense of speaking more often directly to the American people.

    IMO it is true that they close him off from such opportunities too much, because they’ve all come to internalize the hype that Bush is inarticulate.

    However, if we remember the SotU speech as it was rather than the characatured distortion that has, like a Changeling, been put in its place in characterizations of it, the post-Sept. 11th speeches he made, the actual speech on the carrier, rather than the misrepresentation of it, Bush *has* been able to speak persuasively to people. He’s not as eloquent as Blair or Reagan – unlike Reagan he didn’t spend his middle years honing the skill, nor a lifetime in politics like Blair. But he can and has been good and he should do more to go around the media and speak directky to the American people.

    This is clearly the only way his views and statements will be accurately communicated in most venues and one of his errors is not doing it more often.

  16. A.L.’s opening post: “…ultimately this war will be won by the side with the stronger faith; we are matching our faith in our vision of the future against our opponents’.”

    “Whatever happens
    we have got
    the Maxim gun
    and they have not.”

    Hillaire Belloc

    Democrats gotta problem with force. Republicans don’t.

    From my column, _The World’s Coming Encounter With Andrew Jackson_, at

    “… Failure to defeat terrorism means further attacks at home, so lack of resolve is not an issue. Ditto for ability. Americans in general, particularly their Jacksonian element, tend to believe in using all available force when involved in a serious war, and being attacked at home qualifies as one. Walter Russell Mead said in Special Providence: “The only reason Jacksonian opinion has ever accepted not to use nuclear weapons is the prospect of retaliation.”

    The United States will use whatever means are necessary to win the war against terror, up to and including genocide against whole countries and peoples.”

    I doubt such will be necessary, but means isn’t the problem, nor is having the stronger will. We need only minimal will given our means. The only Americans for whom will to win is an issue are the “Democrats”.

    This is why the Democratic Party is in danger of extinction. _Deserved_ extinction.

    “The Democrats banished their national security faction long ago, and feel military policy is merely a variant of domestic policy – either pork-barrel spending or armed social work among ungrateful foreigners. Every problem looks like a nail if your only tool is a hammer. Democrats are unable to accept the existence of evil or the necessity of winning in war. This resulted in collapse of public confidence in the Democrats’ ability and willingness to protect the American people, even if many Democratic internationalist proposals have merit.”

  17. This is why the Democratic Party is in danger of extinction. _Deserved_ extinction.

    Well, as long as we’re quoting, I’ll quote Wellington; I think it’ll be “a damned near run thing“, though in the end it may be decisive, one way or the other. I think the extinction of the Democratic Party is a possibility if it doesn’t remake itself along the lines A.L. outlines but with the even, IMO, significant if of whether what Joe has termed the “Pan-Western Culture War” is engaged by us and won; and this matter goes far beyond a political, partisan campaign.

    It means waging rather confrontational intellectual battle at home, in ways that Bush et al have prefered to avoid. They have avoided it because it “isn’t their thing”, because they are busy, and because there are big risks. If things seem nasty now, we aint seen nasty yet till this erupts into the open. Politicians have a tendency to avoid it because the damage is slow, or seemingly slow, and they have a natural tendency to want to defer dealing with problems until they absolutely must if they can, because confrontation, especially domestic confrontation, turns people (voters) off, in particular the “can’t we all just get along?” set that will blame whoever seems to initiate an open conflict of this sort. I mean, in the end this is one of the reasons Lieberman, who has something of a strong past record on this score, has jettisoned it himself.

    I think Bush is failing to see the danger that’s posed and think that he’ll be able to get by on a “new tone” theme of not fighting back. It occurred to me that this is why they haven’t been more agressive, taking the offensive, on some of these criticisms. Instead they fell for a “Lucy-and-the-Football” thing. An example? The way they’ve played this Uraniumgate faux-crisis. Instead of fullsomely arguing back in a way that some webcommentators and bloggers have, they have half-defended themselves while going the “we made a mistake and we’re sorry” route.

    Why did they do that? It was a strategy adopted because for years and years the media-mavens and pundits have always claimed that “well, I wonder when an Administration will realize that if they only came clean at the start of one of these things, admitted they made a mistake, and said they’d be sorry, scandals like this would go away and they’d get credit for admitting an error, because we’re very forgiving people.”

    Well, Charlie Brown has tried to kick that football again and again and again and again on this when the truth is the whole thing is bogus at bottom. Too-clever-by-half avoidance of open confrontation (which would, I admit, be characterized as “stonewalling”): the “the statement is true, British the intelligence is different from that stuff from last fall, the British stand by it, but we made a mistake and we’re sorry” hasn’t worked on the “forgiving”. Well, again, except with Clinton who does apear to understand.

    What is at stake is an effort by the forces that need to be confronted to discredit not just Bush but certain policies; they would go after any Grand Strategy as A.L. proposes the same way they did the Bush Administration foreign policy doc, mischaracterizing it then burying it. They are the ones creating the “perceptions” mentioned in the Stratfor piece, almost invariably out of whole cloth and through the use of distorted mirror/lense shown to the public.

    That has worked; it will continue to work until it is confronted and defeated. If it is not, then the wrong elements will win, not become extinct. Unless and until not only the Bush Administration but more importantly a considerably greater number of people than have take up this fight – a fight that we did not declare but has been being waged, mostly by one side, against us for a long time now – then it’s IMO rather more likely that our Civilization will be what becomes extinct; a prospect that won’t displease the sort who tend to lay blame for all that goes wrong and the credit for nothing that goes right in the world at our feet. The reason the Bush Administration cannot do it alone, or even – perhaps – the main part of it is that it would be too easy to characterize them as acting out of spite in their own selfish interests, that they’re really just mad at people who have been “holding them to account” and “administrations always dislike and fight with their critics” and the like.

    But we’ll see.

  18. Porphyrogenitus,

    “Never interrupt a man who’s committin’ suicide.” Bush and Rove aren’t interrupting.

  19. The Democrats have two major things working against them.

    1. They are clueless on foreign policy
    2. The are clueless on economics

    What they do have mostly right is civil liberties.

    By hanging on to #1 and #2 and marginalizing their commitment to civil liberties they are in fact destroying themselves.

    Now it is good that pro-war liberals see the folly of the Ds foreign policy efforts, however, they have failed to see that socialism (theft) is not a sound basis for a productive economy. The world depends on the American engine for much of it’s economic activity. The more we hobble America with social programs the harder it will be on the rest of the world. America’s social programs (including corporate welfare) are in fact taking food out of the mouths of hungry children.

    There was a time when progressives cared about the rest of the world even if their prescriptions were wrong. I see that care waning or at least being put to the services of policies that slow economic advancement. I know it sounds good to take care of the poor in America by government enforced theft, but what actually happens is that it slows progress for the world. Not very progressive in my book.

    I think we will in the end wind up with two major parties. The social conservatives and the libertarians. I predict the libertarians will win the day because of a superior program: sex, drugs, and lower taxes.

  20. A.L.

    Of course property is a social construct. To prove that all you have to do is go to a biker bar and try to steal a patron’s scoot.

    You must be prepared for a social deconstruction in the event.


    Actually property is not a social construct. It is hard wired into the brain. deSoto says it is necessary for economic advancement. In fact he says defence of property and it’s transferability is the cornerstone of any functioning modern economy.

    We can get a pretty good idea of what is social construct and what is not from anthropology. Theft is universally outlawed in all legal codes. Murder as well. Those two are found in every culture and are not too hard to enforce because they are built in to human nature.

    Other things like the intoxicants allowed vary from place to place and time to time. Thus intoxicant regulation is a social construct.

    So how does this all fit in with faith/morale? I only need faith where my experience or information is inadequate. The USSR is proof positive that outlawing property (even if only large accumulations of same) is not economically viable. So I don’t need faith in property. Human behavior and experience teaches that property is critical to economic development and an ordered society. ie. Without police people will kill over stolen stuff. Without the ability to transfer property all you get is a poor subsistience economy.

    I do need faith in our military because I can’t know their plans in advance. I do not need much faith though because I have seen the results. America wins wars on the cheap in terms of human costs. I’d trust my sons to the current group of admirals and generals any time they wished to serve. This is high praise coming from a Vietnam era sailor who had no trust in the officers of that era’s military.


    BTW if property is a social construct I’d be glad to relieve you of the social burden. Let me know when you are ready to prove yourself superior to mere social constructs.

    My advice is that you consult your wife first. She may have a different view of the social construct.


    Rawls is an idiot. I can see why he is popular these days. All the old justifications for theft are wearing thin. His will too, in time.

    I used to be a follower of Marcuse so the attraction to stupid ideas is not a subject foreign to me. I have in the past victimized myself with such delusions.

    People in their 20s are very attracted to redisributionist policies. By the 40s this whole train of thought becomes folly for most. It is such a truism that it must have a foundation in nature.

  21. If taxation is not theft then try not paying.

    The government will send armed men to divest you of your worldly goods.

    Sounds like theft to me.

    Of course you can hold up the contract the person didn’t sign but that was “co-signed” for him by 51% of the legislature as proof of the “contracts” validity.

    Let me remind you what Mao said on the subject: “Political power comes from the barrel of a gun”. Now there was an honest thief and mass murderer. Come to think of it our own George Washington said something similar.

    It is amazing to me how much people prefer to avoid the obvious, when it interferes with their cozy preconceptions and political programs.

    As a constituent to Davy Crocket once admonished him re: a vote in Congress. “It ain’t your money”.

    We used to be a people who understood the nature of government. So sad to see such a proud people fallen on hard times by forgetting their inheritance.

    Course I understand the ambivalence about the current government. If I believed in theft and the government was at least verbaly opposed (though not in actual practice) I might be a bit uncomfortable as well. As far as I can tell there is nothing to worry about. You have a friend in Bush. He is a much bigger thief than Clinton.


    The question of theft is central to trust in government. There are those who do not trust government theft. There are others who do not trust a government that is not into theft.

    One side or the other in that disagreement will always be disappointed.

  22. M. Simon-

    You shouldn’t see Rawls as an idiot. He introduced a useful concept that places a limit on both collectivism and libertarianism. Sort of like a Kantian resolution of Continental Collectivism and Anglosaxon “Savage Capitalism”.

    It’s no coincidence that Rawls, undoubtedly one of the most influential political theorists of our times, is entirely unknown in France. This despite the fact that he took one of Rousseau’s pet themes and found a practical moral rule for its implementation. The French still don’t get it and are operating in complete anarchy.

  23. I’m sure either Hayek and Hernando deSoto would not agree that taxation is theft; both emphasize the importance of the Rule of Law. Armies, police forces, agencies that keep the property records that deSoto asserts (IMO proves) are important, all that costs money

    IMO, A. L. is going too far on one end and M. Simon you’re going too far in the opposite end. IMO, Rawls’ philosophy is flawed – for one thing, he tends to move from his first principle to things that do not necessarily follow; after all, following deSoto, strong, recognized property rights are what is the most beneficial to the least well off, and Hayek arrived at his position (free markets and limited government) precisely for this reason; he had been a Socialist and says that the concerns that made him a Socialist were the same that drove him to the positions outlined in The Constitution of Liberty; I recommend to A.L. and others this brief bio.

    IMO Rawls simply assumes that the position he takes naturally follows from a concern for what is best for the least well-off in society and that others simply don’t care – but that’s not true. It’s a matter that what is debated is what is most beneficial to the least well off, especially over time, with plenty of us who have studied this coming to different conclusions than Rawlsians.

    However, that position does not reach the conclusion that “taxation is theft” – its position is rather that levels of taxation should be kept low and government limit itself to spheres where it is competent, do them well but not over-reach – the over-reaching of which is not beneficial economically anyhow, does not help the poor much if anything, and inevitably encroaches on freedom.

    The idea that all taxation = theft, though, is more properly an anarchistic position than a Hayekian or Friedmanite position, much less the position deSoto (who is not as Libertarian as they) would take.

    All that said, I recommend we table these matters for another time; we can discuss political economy and philosophy in another thread. I expect A. L. will be doing a Rawls post in a few days, anyhow. Lets wait till then to further debate this.

  24. Rawls the method, not necessarily the implementation. After all, Descartes started with his fairly uncontrovertial cogito principle and then went on to “prove” something ridiculous like angels dancing in his kitchen. He still had a method.

  25. Well, I have a watch, but if it keeps giving me the wrong time, maybe the watch doesn’t work.

    Marx had a method, so did Lenin. Having a method doesn’t mean it’s the right method, though it may be very rationally thought out. One still has to check the methodology against the results it produces and some methodologies are flawed.

  26. Well, I don’t believe there is such a thing as the “right” method. They are only tools for analysis and understanding or, as I said earlier, they may have useful concepts. Marx is a great example. His method has possibly been the most influential in the social sciences over the last 200 years, even if you disagree with how he applied it. Sort of like the saying: We are all Keynesians now. Anyway, for another day, another thread…

  27. Whatever overarching strategy or plan that Bush has, he’d better stop stretching the truth to justify it. Keep whatever secrets you must keep, but you better not start lying, or even look like you’re, lying.

    It should be obvious by now that a president can’t govern effectively if many in the American public believe him to be a liar. Even if some believe it is more important to be more frank about certain sexual relations, than when rallying the public to a sustained, possibly unending, treacherous war against terror.

    I supported the invasion of Iraq, independent of any WMD threat. I suspect that most other Americans did too. Bush has jeopardized the support of the American people, strengthened political oppentents of an aggressive war, and damaged his reputation by repeating an irrelavent and unneccesary lie. If it was done in an attempt to bolster multilateralism, or to bring the UN on board, more the shame.

    I hope he doesn’t do it again.

  28. Porphyrogenitus:

    Since GWB said what he said, I must assume that you mean that there is no factual basis for the supposition that the intelligence was stretched on this matter.

    I disagree, and I think the administration knows that it was a stretch. Just look at all the damage control and spin mongering. If there’s any speciousness it’s with the fashionable arguments that Bush never made it a major point since it was only “16 words” in the State of the Union address, or that it didn’t mean anything since there was many other reasons to go to war. Maybe so. Like I said, I supported the war; but, from where I sit, a lie is a lie is a lie. If the truth won’t due, it’s better to remain silent. This is just as clear as the meaning of “is”. Are you a relativist?

    As you’ll recall, the nuclear threat was hammered over and over by many members of the administration. The specific claims of a “Nigerian” connection were just the last in a chain of dubious nuclear threat claims.

    However, this is distracting from my main point. The President could have had the support that he needed without making ANY claims about nuclear weapons. In fact, he already had a resolution of congress granting the authorization!!! He has damaged his reputation foolishly, I believe in a misguided quest to get a favorable UN resolution.

    Now, if the war leads to Syria, Lebanon, Iran, or wherever, it will be that much harder to garner the necessary support; rightfully so, I’m afraid. And if he does it again, we can probably forget about all these grand plans for rebuilding the Middle East.

    I hope he dosen’t do it again.

  29. He said what he said – not what manipulatively misleading critics are trying to delude people into thinking he said.

    There was nothing misleading about saying what he did say, since British Intelligence still stands by the information Bush mentioned in the SotU.

    The speciousness is with claiming he “lied” or “misled” anyone; even the man you mentioned in your initial post recognizes that.

    The “spin” that’s going on here is generated mainly by the critics who are being very disingenuous about this – and either you are, too, or you’be been misled and are unwittingly following their line – so that they can score political points for their own reasons, not because they are pillars of rectitude and truth-telling.

    They are the ones damaging reputations; your parroting of their line doesn’t make it “truth”; the nuclear threat as a whole does not boil down to simply the intelligence on Iraqi efforts to aquire uranium in Africa. Indeed, you’re following the misleading line, stretching the truth, in saying “the administration” made this point repeatedly, when it was administrations – including the aforementioned Clinton Administration, and including administrations of foreign countries (some of the intel the British are sourcing came from tips from France. Italy has similar reports) – “multilateral” – that made claims about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program.

    Implying otherwise, that it was all concocted by the Bush Administration in a deliberate attempt to mislead the American people and the world, is the real lie here, and the truth is being stretched by the critics to fit that lie.

  30. Porphyrogenitus:

    Risking further distraction from my point:
    You’re saying that I’m a parrot for giving more weight to certain media, and maybe bloggers, than others. What are you? You are reading the same things that I do, you’re just weighting things differently. That’s ok. If this argument devolves to the point of citing facts, then no resolution is possible. Since neither one of us are in possession of these relevant facts. So, this will always boil down to whom you want to believe. So, peace. This is not relevant to what I want to say anyway.

    Back to my point again:
    Can you at least agree that this episode has hurt Bush’s credibility? If not with his die-hard supporters, then with the folks that have granted him, so far, the benefit of the doubt?

    If so, then your must also agree that it will be more difficult in the future to gather support for the next phase of the war. Still with me?

    Now, we can both agree that Bush already had ALL the support that he needed for the Iraq invasion before using the “16 words” that are causing all of this trouble, congressional resolution, strong support reflected in polls, various lurkers, etc. Right?

    Bush has, setting aside the issue of stretching the truth, staked out a position on Iraqi nuclear arms and recent ambitions that he could not support, publicly at least, with intelligence or hard facts. If he could have, he would have by now. OK?

    If you’re still with me, then we’ve agreed that Bush did a dumb thing. He asserted a statement with no facts to back it up. This has provided cause for those who have lent provisional support to consider withdrawing it (loss of faith) and an opening for his political opponents to exploit. AND he didn’t have to do it… since he already had everything he needed to move forward. Are we still in agreement up to here?

    Now here’s my main point:
    If this was done in an attempt to get the UN on board, then Bush has damaged his reputation in the quagmire set up by the French, Germans, and Russians… for NO good reason. That’s a partial victory for them. Isn’t it?

    I hope he doesn’t do it again. Every incident where the truth is stretched will lessen the faith placed in the president, and by extension, in the whole war effort. America is better served by straight shooting.

  31. Lurker, as they say; everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.

    The people you’re talking about are misrepresenting the facts.

    Regarding Intelligence: they released the part of the National Security Assessment that they could; Intelligence reports, raw intelligence, is not released to the public by *ANY* Administration. You – and those critics, are setting a standard that no Administration, including Clinton’s, was expected to meet.

    Now, if you’re pointing out that Bush had all the support he needed, including Congressional authorization, then you’re facing the internal contradiction of the critics who are claiming that Bush misled them into supporting war by the statement in his SotU speech. I’ve seen Kerrey and a bunch of others claiming that.

    However, this is just one example of where the critics are the O’Briens (from Ninteen-Eighty Four) of this situation: they are revising reality to suit their needs. “I was misled! I voted in October 2002 on the basis of what Bush said in his January 2003 State of the Union Speech!”

    If you don’t have a Bovine Fecal Matter Detector able to pierce the falacy in that, then I’m sure I won’t be able to reach you.

    Finally, no one has really shown anything aproaching FACT to support a claim that Bush lied (as you falsely claimed in your first post) or even stretched the truth; either of those would involve deliberation on his part (as opposed to making an error; and, sorry if this is news to you, but intelligence is rarely perfect. Otherwise Clinton would not have bombed what turned out to be an asprin factory).

    The fact that British Intelligence still stands by the intelligence that folks like you are claiming to be false evidences that. The mistake the Bush Administration “admitted” to is that this may not have been sufficiently validated to be included in a SotU speech – what we’re talking about is a judgement call rather than deception. At least on Bush’s part.

    What we’re talking about on the part of the critics, however, are misrepresentations of fact, selective presentations of fact, stretching of truth, and deceptiveness for political gain – the very behavior they, and you, are claiming Bush to have committed.

    I notice that you haven’t actually dealt with any of the factual matters around this – such as the concrete fact that British Intelligence remains convinced of the information they have, and therefore it is not plausible to assert that Bush lied or even stretched the truth on that matter; please explain to me how Bush lied about the information British Intelligence had learned, if British Intelligence maintains that yes, they have such information and yes, they stand by it?

    By saying “I think he shouldn’t lie again” you’re trying to get people to accept an unsupported premise.

  32. Porphyrogenitus:

    I never said anyone misled anybody. Like I said, I supported the invasion. I certainly don’t feel misled. No matter how you spin it, Bush stretched the truth on this issue. And you can’t even concede my main point, that he didn’t need to do it.

    Would the invasion have been aborted if he didn’t make that Nigerian connection claim? Obviously not. Therefore, the claim was not needed to make his case to proceed.

    So, Why was it included? Don’t know; but in my mind if it was an attempt to get the UN on board, then it was a sad mistake. And it has damaged Bush’s credibilty.

    Are you also denying that his credibiltiy has been damaged?

    BTW, You have a nice looking Blog. Don’t know why didn’t think to check it out before…

  33. Porphyrogenitus,

    Please review these excerpts:

    However, this is just one example of where the critics are the O’Briens (from Ninteen-Eighty Four) of this situation: they are revising reality to suit their needs. “I was misled! I voted in October 2002 on the basis of what Bush said in his January 2003 State of the Union Speech!”

    L: “I never said anyone misled anybody.”

    P: False; read your own posts.

    As you can see above, my statement was in reply to your post. My meaning was that I never personally claimed to be misled about the overall necessity of the invasion, and never used that argument in the way that you implied. Which should have been clear, since I’ve stated from the beginning that I support the war and will continue to do so. This still doesn’t mean that the specific “26 word” statement wasn’t misleading.

    Your point is valid about the facts, but it works both ways. What exactly are the facts that you are in possession of. You have chosen who to believe, the same as me. This cannot be denied. Can you claim to be an eyewitness as these events transpired? Not likely! I’m telling you… You have chosen who you want to be believe on this subject. You don’t have any SPECIAL knowledge of the facts over anyone else.

    Calling me a dupe of the left does not strengthen your argument. Like I said, I’m reasonably well read on this topic, so it’s unlikely that you’ll present any previously published information that I haven’t already considered. Which, based on your previous comments, has certainly proven to be true. However, as long as we’re playing rock’em sock’em media quotes, here are a few tidbits that you may have overlooked….

    Both George Tenet (CIA Director) and Steve Hadley (deputy national-security) have confirmed that the White House was told to be “wary” about these British Intelligence reports concerning the Nigerian Connection as they lacked credibilty.

    The Whitehouse chose to use this information anyway, even knowing that it had little credibility. So, I reckon that Bush didn’t technically make a false statement. But, just like “is”, the word “lie” can have multiple meanings:

    From the American Heritage Dictionary:
    lie n. 1. A false statement deliberately presented as being true; a falsehood. 2. Something meant to deceive or give a wrong impression

    Given that a non-credible statement was knowingly repeated as confirmed fact, I suggest that the second definition above is apropos… don’t you think? So, the only possible interpretations are that the Bush administration was either dishonest or incompetent with respect to this bit of intelligence. Certainly, I’m leaning toward the dishonest interpretation. So, are you saying, in your special antagonistic style, that Bush dropped the ball on this one? Either way, I hope he doesn’t do it again!

    Why do you keep wrapping yourself around this axle? Especially, after I’ve said that the matter of lying, stretching the truth, or whatever isn’t my main point? Do you care to address this point at all? If so, here it is copied from a previous post:

    Now here’s my main point:
    If this [asserting a statement as true that’s know to be non-credible] was done in an attempt to get the UN on board, then Bush has damaged his reputation [and the faith placed in him by Americans] in the quagmire set up by the French, Germans, and Russians… for NO good reason. That’s a partial victory for them. Isn’t it?

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