Moore vs. Swift Boat Vets

Interesting take on Moore v. the Swift vets by Derek Cressman, in the Christian Science Monitor today.

The key graf:

People who go to see Moore’s movies know pretty much what they are getting. Other citizens prefer to get their news from Rush Limbaugh, or the networks. Whatever the source, when people seek information, especially when paying for a book, newspaper, or movie, the marketplace of free speech is at work. We all theoretically have a somewhat equal opportunity to say our piece in the town square through pitching a screenplay or a news release. If the producers and editors that citizens have trusted to seek out the news think that what we have to say is of interest, our voice will be heard.

But when donors pay big money to interrupt what we are otherwise viewing, that is paid speech – and that is where campaign-finance regulations should come into play. We live in an age where the federal candidate who spends the most money wins more than 9 out of 10 elections. Yet the funding for those campaigns comes from but a fraction of all Americans, who are not representative of the rest of us. Paid speech is available primarily to the wealthy few and it is overwhelming free speech and distorting the political marketplace.

I strongly disagree, but have to run and will toss the subject out for discussion until I get back.

Law Enforcement and Legitimacy

Mark Kleiman has an interesting post suggesting that one of the key metrics we’re using in law enforcement – the number of people convicted – is the wrong one.

But what police and prosecutors do from day to day is make arrests and secure verdicts (or guilty pleas) and thus sentences. It seems natural to count those activities and use the counts as performance measures. That, however, turns out to be a mistake. Actual arrests and prosecutions are mostly costs rather than benefits.

It’s an interesting notion, but I think that he ignores one key point.

The audience for crime control isn’t just criminals, it is the citizens who use the state’s ability to protect them as a measure of the legitimacy they grant the state.
This is, for example, kind of crucial in solidifying (or, better, creating) the legitimacy we’re seeing in Iraq.

The consequence of losing that legitimacy looks like this:

Maria del Refugio Perez is a 60-year-old street vendor who says she abhors violence. But this month, she joined a raging mob that corralled, pummeled and hog-tied a suspected thief and almost burned her alive.

Drawn by a butcher’s shouts that she had caught the woman grabbing money from a cash drawer at her shop, Perez and other neighbors quickly seized her. Once the church bells in this Mexico City suburb started ringing, signaling a town emergency, the mob grew in size — and anger.

“These things happen because the authorities don’t do anything,” Perez said, recalling days later how the woman, Juana Moncayo, was tied to a flagpole in the town plaza for several hours as the crowd of 200 insulted and beat her.

An orderly society not only requires some control over who gets to use force and in what conditions; more important, it requires a public sphere of justice and respect for the law.

The risk of a formulation like Kleiman’s is that we may decide not to punish certain criminals, because for us as a society, it is as Kleiman suggests simply too expensive (we do that today – ever try and report an auto burglary in a major city?). Kleiman says:

[Putting someone away is a benefit when an especially active bad guy gets locked up, preferably for a long time, thus reducing criminal victimization through incapacitation, but the median person who goes to prison isn’t actually worth locking up, balancing the costs — financial and non-financial — of keeping him behind bars against the benefits of the crimes he doesn’t commit while incarcerated.]

In making that calculation, he needs to add to the costs the erosion of the legitimacy of the overall body of laws in the eyes of the victimized noncriminal class.

Kerry On Vietnam (in my head)

In light of the post below on Adeimantus’ excellent comments on the ‘Vietnam Truce,’ I thought I’d (belatedly) post my idea of a Kerry speech that would start to tie his career and divergent positions on Vietnam together. Personally, I’d have felt much better about his candidacy if he’d made a speech like this at the Convention or shortly thereafter.

It may not be too late.

Almost thirty years ago, I was a college student, and I spoke against the war in Vietnam. I wasn’t alone at that time; while standing against the war was not as common in 1966 as it was in 1972, it certainly wasn’t a position that was strange for someone to take.

I took that position after much thought – I do that, think about my decisions – some people seem to think that’s strange – and I took it for a few simple reasons. First, because like all sane people, I abhorred war. I grew up in the aftermath of World War II, and saw the destruction done to cities and people. I believed then, as I believe now, that we need to make war when we must, not when we can.

I thought we could have easily avoided the war in Vietnam by supporting the legitimate national aspirations of the Vietnamese people against the colonial power – the French – that ruled them.

I thought that we were sending the wrong message to the world by supporting dictators and by using our might to oppose a relatively weak and poor enemy. I believed then, as I believe now, that we have been given our power and wealth to help the weak and poor, not to kill them.

When I graduated college, like other young men of that era, I was feeling a draft. I wavered – I certainly wasn’t excited about fighting in a war that I did not believe in – but I also knew that I owed a duty to my country and to those who had fought for the freedom I enjoyed.

Duty won, as it often has in my life, and I enlisted.

Whatever I have done in my life, I’ve tried to do well. When I enlisted, I made a conscious decision that if I was to wear the uniform of the United States Navy, I would be the best sailor that I could possibly be.

And when I was given a command, I decided I was going to be the best leader I could be. I would execute my missions, protect and lead my men, and put my life on the line in service to the country that had given me so much.

I did my best to do so.

But it was difficult. Not only because the work was hard and dangerous, which it was and which I freely accepted when I put on the uniform for the first time.

It was difficult because what I had believed about the war as a college student was confirmed in front of my eyes every day by me and my men and the men who served with us. We used the machinery and power of a mighty state to kill people who – dangerous as they were to us as individuals – were no threat to us as a state, and whose desire was simply that we leave them alone and let them have their own country.

I talked to Vietnamese men, women, and children while I was there. Members of their armed services who rode on my boat, women and children in the cities where we were based. They hated the Communists, but knew that the Communists had only been able to take power when the French refused to leave. I began to regret every morning, every new mission, every bullet that we fired.

Today, looking at what tragedy followed out withdrawal, I am filled with a different regret. I wonder if I was right. I know that there must have been a better way.

The regret then became a moral struggle within me that I felt began to weaken my ability to perform as an officer, and would – I believed – either destroy me as a person or cause me to fail in my duties and endanger my men.

I took the option open to me because of my wounds, and asked – as many others did – to leave the theater of battle. I no longer had that moral certainty I had entered the Navy with, and as I struggled, the decision to simply leave certainly seemed like the right one to make.

When I came home, I began to talk to other veterans who felt as I did, and who questioned what we had done and what was being done by our fellows in our name. The more we talked, the more certain I became that the war was wrong, and that we needed to work hard to stop it.

I did so, in every way open to me.

In doing that, I said and did some things that were immature, exaggerated, and hurtful. I don’t know today if the moral value of any help I may have been in ending the war outweighs the personal hurt that I visited on my fellow veterans. I hope it does, and I offer my hand in apology to those whose wounds I deepened.

Today, I still believe that we have to balance duty and morality – a service to a higher honor, and that the hardest thing we can do looking forward is to strike that balance as best we can.

History and my Church both teach that we are imperfect. I know that in my own life, I have tried to balance the conflicts as best I can, and while I know that I could have done better then if I knew what I know now, that I did the best I could and I have never hung my head because I did not try.

The scar of Vietnam is deep within the memories of this country and the lives of the Vietnamese even today.

I cannot dissolve that scar and make it as though there was never a wound. But I can stand before you, imperfect and human, as we all are and offer my own life and service and my continued service to lessening the pain of the past and improving our vision of the future.

No one who stands behind the podium that I am behind today is free of ambition. But please know that the ambition I have is not for myself – I have already been far more successful than I ever dreamed as a child – but for the future we can make together, a future where wounds are healed by hope.

Hooray For Gov. Dean

Via TAPPED, a seriously great comment from Howard Dean.

In a column available at Cagle Cartoons (??), Gov. Dean says:

Europeans cannot criticize the United States for waging war in Iraq if they are unwilling to exhibit the moral fiber to stop genocide by acting collectively and with decisiveness. President Bush was wrong to go into Iraq unilaterally when Iraq posed no danger to the United States, but we were right to demand accountability from Saddam. We are also right to demand accountability in Sudan. Every day that goes by without meaningful sanctions and even military intervention in Sudan by African, European and if necessary U.N. forces is a day where hundreds of innocent civilians die and thousands are displaced from their land. Every day that goes by without action to stop the Sudan genocide is a day that the anti-Iraq war position so widely held in the rest of the world appears to be based less on principle and more on politics. And every day that goes by is a day in which George Bush’s contempt for the international community, which I have denounced every day for two years, becomes more difficult to criticize.

Right on, as we used to say.

I’m one of those who abandoned respect for the U.N. quite a while ago, and so have a hard time with those – Kerry included – who call for the U.S. to align it’s foreign policy with U.N. mandates. The appalling track record of the U.N. continues, and weakens the claims of those who look to it as the world’s moral arbiter.

Gov. Dean deserves applause for taking this stand, and for acknowledging – atypically for a politician – how it connects to his past views.


TG and I have been watching Traffik, the British miniseries (rented from Netflix, who rock) that the movie Traffic was taken from. We’re about halfway through it.

Wow. It’s so much better than the movie.

Not only because the added time allows it to be more expansive, but in almost every way. It’s not only a great document on the drug trade, but one that shows very real people in almost every frame.

Rent it, and set some time aside – once you start, you’ll be addicted.

The Press Does the Job of Kerry’s Campaign

The Washington Post uses FOIA and pulls records that challenge (one) of the Swift Boat Veterans’ multiple claims about John Kerry’s Vietnam service.

I’ve stayed out of this and will continue to do so – because, as noted, while I do think that Kerry gamed his service (as did Bush), it is an issue of less importance to me than his potential competence and policies that will determine our future. And because lots of other people are spending time weighing in on the issue.

Having said that, I’ll go back to my earlier charge that the Kerry campaign’s reaction to this is stunningly inept.

Why is the Post using FOIA to dig these documents out? Why wasn’t a package with these, and all other relevant documents already researched by Kerry’s campaign and ready to be handed to the general media out two hours after the initial claims were made?

What kind of bozo, low-rent campaign is this, anyway? And, more tellingly, what does it say about the Administration that it would morph into if Kerry wins?

On al-Sadr

I don’t agree with John Quiggin or Matthew Yglesias about the standoff in Najaf and on whether continued military pressure is the correct policy to deal with al-Sadr.

I’ll suggest that today’s news that al-Sadr has apparently agreed to Allawi’s demands, and may leave the shrine of Imam Ali bears out the validity of the course of action, which was to make it clear that the cental Iraqi government – with U.S. military support – would not accept Sadr’s militia as a ‘second force’ within the country.

First and foremost, let’s not count our chickens just yet.But as I see it, the criticisms of the Alliance forces attacks on al-Sadr come down to three things:

# It probably won’t work, because al-Sadr will not surrender and his capture or death will stir up a Shi-ite uprising;

# It is a waste of our strategic assets (including credibility and moral standing) because al-Sadr isn’t so bad and Allawi is just another thug;

# It is immoral, because if 1) and 2) are true, we are killing Iraqis and risking our own and our allies’ troops for nothing.

I disagree on all three counts, and believe that today’s events support this case. Does anyone believe that he would have negotiated as he did if the Iraqi government had not made a credible threat to remove him and his men from the shrine?

It all started with a post by John Quiggin, over at Crooked Timber.

In it, he attacked the military operations aimed at the Sadr Army, and at the person of al-Sadr. A careful read of his post suggests that the core justification is straightforward: that al-Sadr is not a particular threat to the U.S. or to stability in Iraq. He is, instead just a (fairly) bad guy among bad guys.

These people weren’t Al Qaeda or Baathists, they were (apart from the inevitable innocent bystanders) young Iraqi men who objected to foreign occupation. Sadr’s militia is one of a dozen or so similar outfits in Iraq, and there are hundreds more around the world, quite a few of which have received US support despite having a worse record than Sadr’s. Moreover, there was no cause at stake that justified a war – the first started when Bremer shut down Sadr’s newspaper and the Sadrists retaliated by taking control of some police stations and mosques.

In his first post, Quiggin argues that the moral burden – the blood debt that we will owe for killing these ‘young men’ is simply not one that we can or should afford.

In his second post, Quiggin amplifies the points in the first post, and adds to it the certainty that violently suppressing al-Sadr and his militia will fracture the fragile Shi’ite/Sunni entente that exists today.

In the short term, his death would make it just about impossible for any Shi’ite leader to give support to the Allawi government1. Already, Ayatollah Sistani who has no love for Sadr and would have been happy to see him pushed out of Najaf2, has called for a ceasefire.

Quiggin’s solution in both cases is simple:

The only remotely feasible option is to make a place for Sadr and his supporters in the political process, and to hope that he is moderated by the attractions of office, as has happened in many cases before. There were some tentative steps in this direction in the period between the April insurrection and the current fighting.

My original disagreement with Quiggin’s point was simply that I disagreed with his calculus; that, simply, if the measure was the deaths that would be directly caused by a decision we’d never do anything – invading Normandy would have been an impossible decision if this is the formula that ruled the Allies’ thinking.

To a certain extent, this remains the core of my disagreement – which is to say that it is less on the subject of a detailed analysis and projection of the current political/military struggles in Iraq, and more on a challenge to the style and form of analysis that Quiggin is using.

But I have issues with his analysis, as well.

al-Sadr is an Islamist thug; he intends to push Iraq to set up a mullah-led theocracy like Iran’s, and closely allied with Iran. While I don’t share Trent’s beliefs that Abrams should and will be rolling down the streets of Tehran this fall, it’s clear to me that the current leadership in Iran does represent a key part of the Islamist forces that are arrayed against us, and that acceding to the expansion of those forces isn’t something that makes a lot of sense.

It is in that light – that of tipping the balance of power within Iraq toward those who we believe would steer Iraq toward a more effective civil society – the attacks on Sadr’s forces make sense, and seem worth the cost.

Yglesias disagrees:

This is a mission, then, that has an extremely low probability of success. In all likelihood it will either end with an exhausted America deciding to give up the game (in which case we’d best do it sooner rather than later) or else with a triumphant America having successfully set Iyad Allawi up as dictator of Iraq. He’ll go, naturally enough, by the title “president” or “prime minister” but that’s what he’ll be. This is not, I think, a goal of such overwhelming moral vitality that it’s worth expending significant quantities of American blood and treasure to achieve at a time when we face real, direct threats from other quarters. The point of suggesting that Allawi’s fans form a Lincoln Brigade in support of their hero is not to call them “chickenhawks” but is recognition of the fact that Allawi is not the bad guy here per se. Someone who chooses to fight for Allawi’s dictatorship over Muqtada’s could have some very good reasons for preferring the former to the latter, and should be welcome to take up arms on his behalf if that’s what he wants to do. But the lowish probability that the US Army and Marine Corps can successfully establish an Allawi dictatorship (and the vanishingly small probability that they can create a democracy) is not a reasonable objective of national policy at this point.

The core of his disagreement, as I see it, is that since Allawi will be a less-than-perfect democrat (note the small ‘d’), it’s not worth spending our national credibility and blood to prop him up – but if I and the others who support a more-free Iraq want to raise a private army to do it, that would be OK with him. I think that’s still a poor position to take, because we do have a vital national interest in picking apart the Islamist problem, and that keeping them out of power in Iraq would seem to be a valid step in that direction.

And that, I believe is the core of my policy disagreement with Quiggin and Yglesias: That we have a vital interest in keeping the Islamists from gaining more power; that defeating the Sadr Army is a necessary step in doing this; that allowing him to hold hostage the holy sites Najaf strengthens him since it allows him to paint himself as the custodian of those sites; and finally, that it will be possible to defeat him and his forces without the ‘explosion of the Arab street’ that has been much threatened and seldom seen.

In a sense, what they are suggesting is that we should have given Monster Kody a seat on the LA City Council because he represented a largte armed forced in South Central Los Angeles. Now in some cases, gangs do transmute into political organizations (I can’t think of a specific example offhand, but I’ll grant that it’s happened). But that key transition – from force of arms to politics – is the key step that has to be taken, and that al-Sadr must take before it can be decided that he gets a seat at the table of power.

What also strikes me most of all is the tone of resignation and hopelessness in both Quiggin’s and Yglesias’ posts.

On one hand, it’s clear that they both strongly oppose both the current administration and the war which this Administration chose. And I imagine that no small part of their tone comes from the discomfort they feel at seeing death, injury, and destruction in the service of a cause they believe to be fundamentally immoral – much as we see the death of someone killed by a criminal in the course of a robbery as fundamentally different than the death of someone killed, say, in the course of trying to save a life in a fire.

I also wonder if it doesn’t come from trying to overthink things. History is fundamentally irrational; it is messy, contingent, and resistant to planning.