Calpundit on Terrorism

So Calpundit Kevin replied to my post on “sticking it out” below, and nailed me on one point that I thought I’d covered, but on rereading realized I truly hadn’t.

He interprets my post as suggesting that the reason to stay in Iraq was less to rebuild the country than to show determination. Note that I think that would be a silly damn thing to do, and a waste of lives and treasure (which I thought I’d pointed out with the Schaar quote) and wish I’d written more clearly to make that point. We’re there to remove an evil dictatorship and to prevent the resources of that country from being used against us, against the people of the region, and against the people of the country itself. I believe that doing this will ultimately have a positive effect on a broader conflict which I perceive we are in. I think that to succeed in either of those efforts, we will have to both be determined and show determination.What I mean by ‘determination’ isn’t so much in the day-to-day policy arena as in the overarching goals and in how we communicate those goals. A bit more Churchill and a bit less Hamlet, if that makes any sense. And my point in doing that is that I genuinely believe that we are in a dialog between peoples, a dialog that is in ideas and words as well as blood. The hope is that through handling one well, we won’t need to handle the other.

Speaking of which I went over to Calpundit’s comments section and walked away kind of depressed. It’s not that they don’t like me – hell, lots of people in the real world don’t like me, which tells me that I’m an actual person as opposed to a Beanie Baby – it’s that I really and truly just don’t get the worldview that they are speaking from. I spend a lot of time on the left side of the media and blog world, and am increasingly finding islands there where the words are English and yet I just don’t understand the concepts laid out in those words, and I’m finding that depressing and frustrating, given my goal of creating constructive dialog.

That’s my problem – I ought to be smart and flexible enough to understand arguments I may or may not agree with. And I need to do some work on that; there are too many people sharing a beliefset for there not to be an argument there, and I need to figure out what the hell those arguments are and what it is about them I object to so strongly.

Meanwhile I’m reading boatloads of energy papers, and will get around to writing something about it soon.

14 thoughts on “Calpundit on Terrorism”

  1. Wish I had a solution for your dialogue issue where the words are English but the meanings alien, and you want meaningful dialogue.

    I have 2 alternatives, and here’s the catch: either may be true, and only one has any chance of working, and I can’t guarantee either.

    [1] Accept that the real meaning of the statements = the actions they support, or the behaviour pattern displayed. Depressing, because dialogue becomes impossible. But sometimes it’s true.

    George Orwell’s “objective pro-Naziism” is one manifestation, and so is your diagnosis of liberals who value preening moral purity, self satisfaction, and comfort above all else. Orson Scott Card’s “On Lying” also talks about this “other agenda” type.

    Hey, some left-liberals really don’t understand what makes their civilization tick, but they’ve been taught to treat it the way an abusive parent does – or they may actually hate it. Some right wingers really are selfish pricks who don’t give a damn, or can’t tell the difference between economics and governance, or go certifiable at the mention of the word “c-l-i-n-t-o-n”. It happens.

    [2] Conclude that their worldview is so different from yours that the only way to begin a dialogue is on fundamental premises, not specifics or even overall analysis.

    Which means your dialogue with Calpundit wouldn’t even start from “what’s to do in Iraq.” It would have to start with topics like:

    * “Traditional notions of state sovereignty should remain absolute in an age of ethnic genocide, state terrorism and WMDs: discuss”

    * Why do humans fight wars? (no, that’s not too basic)

    * “What role does military force play in the modern world?”

    * “Who should make decisions about the use of American military force, and why?” Which may lead to…

    * “What would have to change at the U.N. in order for it to become an effective body with respect to security issues? How likely is this?”

    * The idea that terrorism is a product of poverty.

    * “What is the role and importance of cultivated hatred in the Islamic world, and how can it be addressed effectively?”

    Etcetera. And while you’re having at those questions, the only way to do effective dialogue is to keep hammering back to fundamental premises, and asking for evidence (esp. “where has this approach worked in the past?”), and offering counter-examples that shine a tough light on bad generalizations.

    Now, will this work?

    Not necessarily. Some folks fall into category #1, after all. Others simply refuse to do dialogue, it’s either foreign or beyond them. You & I can think of commenters right here who were really trying to do dialogue as they saw it, and it was just… like Stevie Wonder trying to drive a motorbike, y’know?

    So there you have it. In case #1, it won’t work. In case #2, it might work but enormous energy is required.

    Ironically, the thing that helps #2 most is pain from the external environment. If there’s enough pain from the external environment, it creates an inner questioning that’s much more receptive to questioning from outside – and sidelines or eliminates those who would otherwise serve as influences to keep the examination from happening.

    The fractal similarity of this dynamic to the larger conflict we’re engaged in is left as an exercise for the reader.

  2. Hey, now. I was on that comment thread…I thought I had some pretty valid points! Granted, I think that thread also revealed a lack of knowledge coupled with residual mistrust, and sprinkled with your standard dose of good-old-fashioned dislike of Bush. At the same time, however, I think some very valid points were made. I was particular intrigued by the book Reputation and International Politics, which I intend to read next.

    I’ve been struggling to articulate exactly why I think Bush foreign policy is fundamentally misguided over the long term. I’ve been reading a lot, and to be honest, I’ve been somewhat disappointed with the critiques of Bush that I’ve found so far–from the media, blogs, think tanks, books, candidates and Congressmen, etc. The arguments so often seem, well, a little thin.

    Part of the reason I spend so much time on this blog is that many of the arguments made by democratic imperialists are quite compelling, and I often find myself half-convinced by an AL or a JK post. Sometimes, if I’m not careful, I find myself painted into a rhetorical corner, particularly when I argue for more inclusion of our (sometimes feckless) allies.

    The grand transformation of the Middle East sounds great at first blush: we are making a long-term investment in our national security by taking decisive action (military or otherwise) to take out corrupt and brutal autocrats and replace them with democracies. Meanwhile, our aggressive pursuit of WMDs will prevent terrorists from being able to create large-scale human disasters. In the long run, democracies don’t make war on one other (at least, not so far), and citizens of democracies don’t strap plastic explosives to their waists and blow up discotheques. Furthermore, as a democratizing Iraq turns on the oil spigots, we no longer depend solely on the deceitful and possibly unstable Saudi regime for our economic security. For these reasons, as I understand the situation, we are in Iraq today. Someone correct me if I’m wrong in this characterization.

    The problem with this vision is that the democracy part of the equation takes a level of seriousness that we have yet to see out of the Bush administration. Part of this has to do with a split between the Wolfowitz types and the Rumsfeld types. I think the Wolfowitz camp is more optimistic about human nature and hope to change the equation in the Middle East, whereas the Hobbesian Rumsfeld camp is mostly concerned with figuring out how to eliminate threats in a perilous world. Throw in Powell’s well-known views, and you’ve got genuine disagreements going on.

    As events on the ground have changed, Bush has switched from one of these factional viewpoints over another.

    This is getting way too long, and I need to sleep. Anyway, have at it. More later.

  3. What I mean by ‘determination’ isn’t so much in the day-to-day policy arena as in the overarching goals and in how we communicate those goals. A bit more Churchill and a bit less Hamlet, if that makes any sense. And my point in doing that is that I genuinely believe that we are in a dialog between peoples, a dialog that is in ideas and words as well as blood. The hope is that through handling one well, we won’t need to handle the other.

    And you’re pretty sure we’re led by a Churchill, rather than a Hamlet? Like you, I’m not a “native Republican.” I watched Bush shift his entire campaign message in SC and pull some not-so-noble dirty tricks when McCain proved to be a tough opponent. I have a hunch this is going to take every ounce of determination we can muster, and I’m not certain we quite know how to wield the sword of our own charisma. I’m not sure what it is that bugs me about Bush. It’s certainly not what bugs the the Deaniacs. And it’s probably not his Hamlet impression either. I guess I’m just not sure that determination alone will do it.

    Legal domination, resting on the assumption that the created legal structure is an effective means of attaining group ends, is necessarily a weak sourch of authority in societies in which the law has been identified with the interests of an imperial exploiter. Charismatic authority, on the other hand, is well suited to the needs of newly developing nations. It requires neither time nor a rational set of rules, and is highly flexible. (Lipset, The First New Nation, p. 17)

    And the conventional view that charisma can only be supplied by a charismatic individual may just be too thin to explain the success of Japan and Germany. What those transformations demonstrated was agency of the charisma of the US itself (which, as the conqueror may have been fleeting)… transferred into the founding institutions of those regimes. They were both, after all, more stable than either postwar France or Italy.

  4. Ok, I was pretty sure I understood what A.L. was talking about with the whole Churchill/Hamlet opposition. It has to do with Churchill’s rugged constancy vs. Hamlet’s chronic indecision, right?

    Based on that, I cannot see how Bush could be considered anywhere near the Hamlet side of that continuum. The direction from the White House, through Bush’s speeches and foreign policy, has been focussed and consistent almost to the point of being one-note. Tactical shifts due to changing conditions, sure; but love it or hate it, the underlying “strategery” hasn’t shifted one iota since 9/11.

    (Fights between State, Defense, CIA, etc. don’t count, because I’m talking about Bush specifically. Powell, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz certainly represent a diversity of viewpoints, but none of them are ultimately responsible for setting executive policy.)

  5. Yeesh…I read the comments thread A.L. linked–that was depressing. To give credit where it’s due, though, praktike earns lots of points for reasonableness and calm logic. Good job.

  6. A.L.,

    If the people you are trying to have dialog with are on the wrong side of a paradigm shift. Nothing you say or do will make a difference.

    Old paradigms go away when the people holding them do. Thomas S. Kuhn’s “THE STRUCTURE OF SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONS” documents that cultural reaction in the realm of science (drink lots of water, its very dry reading!).

    The reality is America is on a salvage and destroy mission with regard to the Muslim world. We are trying to salvage the best of it and that which is irredeemably hostile we are going to destroy. The reality of cheap and easy weapons of mass destruction in the hands of irrational regimes leaves us no other choice.

    Calpundit’s crowd is in the world of 9/10/2001 and refuses to change in the face of 9/11. Irrelevance is a hard thing to deal with. Tough for them.

  7. Just so you know, I don’t like Beanie Babies.

    I’ve bumped up against the dialogue problem many times, on many topics. Every time I venture into the left half of the blogosphere, I find myself confronted with people who obviously have such a different set of assumptions from mine that I don’t bother to comment. I know that the right half does the same thing–it’s just that I know their assumptions and they make sense to me.

    I think it’s easiest to overcome in person–where you can ask direct questions and propmptly correct mistaken assuptions. I’m not sure how to make it work on blogs, which have enough speed that tempers flare, but are slow enough to allow misunderstandings to propagate without correction.

    The best answer I have found is just to avoid people who won’t engage in good faith–you can’t have a dialogue with them.

  8. Rob,

    The problem is distinguishing “bad faith” from “unconvinced by your argument”. No one is going to convince me that an economic system that is based on socialism is ever going to work: I’ve seen too many examples of failure (from the Book of Acts on up) in the real world. Whether or not a particular policy is “socialistic” might be open for a debate…. but if it involves government doing more than setting standards at the “weights and measures” level you’re going to have to talk real fast to convince me.

    I’ve got more to write on this, but I’ll have to come back to it later.

  9. Rob,

    I used to be from the hard left side of the spectrum. It is all about feeling good about what you want for the world and the means to get it.

    This is all so confusing because the left confuses means and ends. The left believes that any means are justified by good ends. Thus: why not take the shortest means to the end – violence.

    The libertarian center sees that means and ends must be adjusted. i.e. capitalist economics works better than socialist economics when it comes to the good of the workers.

    The cultural conservative right is right there with the left when it comes to means. Though their ends are somewhat different.

    In a lot of ways the socialist/liberal left and the cultural conservatives have a lot in common emotionally.

  10. Trent, quick question: Do you think Iran is next?
    If yes, explain, if not, then who do you think is.

    Personally, I think we are going for Iran soon, before they get nukes. Summer ’04. Right when the Iraqis will start governing themselves. Saudi Arabia will be a year or two later. No time now, I will be back soon.

  11. A.L.,

    Don’t disregard the demonstration value of persistence upon our enemies – after all, they think us weak and decadant, cutting and running when the going gets tough. In one key (but awful) respect, our willingness to stay in Iraq to the bitter end, despite casualties, lack of support, delays and setbacks communicates in ways words cannot that we are in this war until they are defeated.

  12. praktike,

    > particularly when I argue for more inclusion of
    > our (sometimes feckless) allies.

    When did we ever exclude any of our allies? We have quite a few already helping, etc. Or by “inclusion” do you really mean “veto power”?

  13. Hrmmm… I see basic fundamental stumbling blocks in concepts between you two before you ever get to his comments section, that I think preclude your coming to a “Meeting of the Worldviews”:

    “1. Iraq is tangential to the war on terror.” – KevinD

    “2. We can’t win.” – KevinD

    “3. This is the wrong fight. Fighting al-Qaeda style terrorists with a conventional army is suicidal. We need to get out of Iraq and put together a genuine counter-terrorism force.” – KevinD

    Out of those, only “3” is the basis for a meaningful discussion and possible agreement on some points: I can agree with him completely on establishing an effective counter-insurrgency/counter-terrorism force. It’s the “We need to get out of Iraq” that doesn’t belong in the paragraph… the counter-terrorism concept should have made a “bullet point 4″.

    Numbers “1” and “2” are simply incorrect, and are operating from inherently insupportable logic from a military and military historical perspective.

    “1”: Iraq is central to the region from a strategic view: t gives us military high ground for future operations and a direct supply line via Kuwait. It’s analagous to holding the Little Round Tops at Gettysburg: not absolutely neccessary for victory, but definately advantageous.

    The flaw in my analysis of “1” is in if one is operating from an assumption that there won’t be any further military operations against Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia or elsewhere… which is the premise I believe Kevin is operating from, and you probably aren’t. As long as your assumptions are diametrically opposed, then you and Kevin won’t achieve dialog, regardless of his commenters.

    On “2”… there’s no currently precisely analagous military historical situations to compare to, so “We can’t win” is presumptive from a military analysis. From a theoretical standpoint, we can win, we can lose, we can come to a negotiaged cease fire from a position of strength [or weakness], or we can surrender or withdraw. All possible outcomes in a situation that’s never been attempted in quite this scale with quite this mix of forces/tactics and terrain/logistics.

    Secondly… military force isn’t directed at al-quaeda style terrorists, it’s directed at the nationa states that fund, train, and support them.

    From a practical rather than theoretical perspective… we determine how to win now that we’ve started, because the alternative is learning to be dhimmi. Not an option.

    Too many of us disagree with the assumption that “Iraq is tangential to the Wot”… it’s a difference in premise that may preclude meaningful dialogue. I doubt Kevin would agree with my assessment from a strictly strategic standpoint that we’re going to need to eventually use Iraq as a base to go into Iran and Syria next.

  14. We win when there are no more dictators in the ME. Not before. And there will STILL be some terrorism after this (eg Timmy of OK.
    We can declare an earlier victory in Iraq, if we help them establish a law respecting democracy.

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