Tucker Annihilation
February 23, 2012

A couple nights ago, Tucker Carlson told Fox News that “Iran deserves to be annihilated.” Nothing to see here; just some standard yuppie pundit chest-beating. But I found his pseudo-mea culpa absolutely fascinating:

It’s my fault that I got tongue tied and didn’t explain myself well last night. I’m actually on the opposite side on the Iran question from many people I otherwise agree with. I think attacking could be a disaster for the US and am worried that Obama will do it, for fear of seeming weak before an election. Of course the Iranian government is awful and deserves to be crushed. But I’m not persuaded we or Israel could do it in a way that doesn’t cause even greater problems. That’s the main lesson of Iraq it seems to me.

See, the problem with declaring war on Iran is that it would be a “disaster” … for the US. It might cause problems. That’s the main lesson of Iraq.

You could argue that this position is less monstrous than the one that tongue-tied Tucker seemed to profess on Fox News. After all, he’s saying that we shouldn’t take actions that would lead to the senseless slaughter of thousands of Iranians. But he’s doing so while also making clear that the lives of those thousands of Iranians are not the main issue. National interest, dammit!

If the “main lesson” of Iraq was really that one should refrain from committing inexpedient atrocities, then no one’s really learned anything. Just remember Tucker’s words the next time he castigates the Iranian government for how poorly they treat Iranians.

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Decision Points
November 22, 2010

DALLAS - NOVEMBER 09:  Former U.S. President G...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

In his review of Decision Points, George Packer writes that former President Bush “has no toleration for ambiguity”

he can’t revere his father and, on occasion, want to defy him, or lose charge of his White House for a minute, or allow himself to wonder if Iraq might ultimately fail. The structure of “Decision Points,” with each chapter centered on a key issue—stem-cell research, interrogation and wiretapping, the invasion of Iraq, the fight against AIDS in Africa, the surge, the “freedom agenda,” the financial crisis—reveals the essential qualities of the Decider. There are hardly any decision points at all. The path to each decision is so short and irresistible, more like an electric pulse than like a weighing of options, that the reader is hard-pressed to explain what happened. Suddenly, it’s over, and there’s no looking back.

No wonder, then, that Fox News continues to function as his in-house PR firm. The whole right-wing noise machine is oriented towards one thing: the promise of a wholly unambiguous world, with the evil elites on one side and the salt-of-the-earth forces of good on the other. Why, in a world like that, would historic decisions ever be difficult?

International Ethics
November 12, 2010

Sergio Vieira de Mello
Image via Wikipedia

So right now I’m working my way through the first half of Samantha Power’s excellent book Sergio. It’s a biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello (pictured), who the back cover describes as “a charismatic peacemaker and troubleshooter with the United Nations.” Oh, and also, “a ‘cross between James Bond and Bobby Kennedy.’”

Vieira de Mello himself is a fascinating tour guide, but what makes his story relevant — and not merely compelling — is that his career took him through the slow, painful birth of our current world order. From 1969 to his death in 2003, he watched the bipolar world disappear, Westphalian sovereignty begin to mutate and erode, humanitarianism’s role in foreign affairs change, and terrorism rear its ugly head.

One thing that I think makes Vieira de Mello a particularly good guide to these issues is his philosophical background. He actually juggled his UN duties with earning a doctorate at the Sorbonne, and it’s clear that he made an effort to integrate what he learned about academic philosophy into his thinking on the UN’s mission. It seems that he didn’t have a choice: Power quotes a letter he wrote while taking undergraduate courses at the Sorbonne in which he says he would “never abandon philosophy,” and that, “to do philosophy is to have it in your blood and to do what very few will do — to both be a man and to think everywhere and always.”

Unfortunately, we only get little snippets of his philosophical writing on problems related to foreign policy. Early on, there’s a passing reference to intersubjectivity (in phenomenology, the perception of another as a subject rather than an object) as the basis for dealing with foreign powers. And a little later, we learn that his doctoral dissertation, called “Philosophical History and Real History: The Relevance of Kant’s Political Thought in Current Times,” he argued for a global Kantian “federation of states” that would not breach the sovereignty of other states unless their internal political instability proved to be an international threat.

I mostly picked up this book due to my deepening interest in international relations, but the philosophical angle is an intriguing one. I’m used to thinking about ethics in terms of how individual actors interact with one another, but states are not individual actors in the same way people are. Creating a just society is one thing; imagining just arbitration between societies that are just to varying degrees is another. But when I try to think of philosophers who have addressed this head-on, it’s hard to name any. I know Kant talked about international relations, but I haven’t read the source material itself. I think Kymlicka talked a little about it too.

Who else? Help me out, fellow philosophy nerds.

And so the anti-Biden backlash begins
August 23, 2008

I really should be packing right now, but this kind of irritated me:

Obama, whose mushy Iraq plan excites no one, is marrying his own’s flawed ideas — which mostly revolve around beefing up US forces in Afghanistan and unilaterally attacking Pakistan — with Biden’s discredited notion of partitioning Iraq into three squabbling mini-states.

The headline of that article, by the way, is “Biden is Worse than McCain.”

First of all, thanks again for dragging up the old, “Obama’s going to invade Pakistan” canard. But that’s not why we’re here, folks. We’re here to talk about the three-state partition plan.

A nice cold cup of cynicism
August 21, 2008

It is indeed, as Matt points out, extremely good news that the Bush administration has hammered out an agreement to withdraw combat forces from Iraq. Another underreported yet unambiguously fantastic component of this agreement is that the White House has finally admitted that Blackwater and its ilk aren’t immune from the law of the country their employees are currently stationed in.

These are the most important parts of the story. The domestic political ramifications, and which party this is “good for,” are ridiculously minuscule issues compared to matters like the bloody occupation of a sovereign nation.

That being said, since everyone’s talking about who this is good for anyway, I think Matt’s take is a little off base:

However, the medium to long term effect will be the vindication of Obama’s plan and taking the issue of Iraq off the table as an election issue for the GOP.


Committee for the Liberation of Evan Bayh’s Long-term Memory
August 14, 2008

You know how sometimes you’re hanging out in the Senate and you’re all like, “Hey, we should go bomb the crap out of Iraq?” And then a member of your staff takes the initiative to sign you up as co-chair of Committee For Bombing the Living Crap out of Iraq? And you end up at a press conference for the event with no memory of how you got there? Don’t you hate that?

Well, that’s exactly what happened to Evan Bayh, apparently. I guess when you’re such a big fan of invading Iraq and Iran, it’s hard to keep track of which fringe organizations you’re letting use your beaming smile in their press packets.

The Way of the World
August 7, 2008

While I was offline, I also missed this, which is frustrating because it’s HUGE.

A new book by the author Ron Suskind claims that the White House ordered the CIA to forge a back-dated, handwritten letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam Hussein.

Suskind writes in “The Way of the World,” to be published Tuesday, that the alleged forgery – adamantly denied by the White House – was designed to portray a false link between Hussein’s regime and al Qaeda as a justification for the Iraq war.

Wish I could say that, like Matt, I’m surprised by this, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the stories of illegal wiretapping, torture, black sites, rendition, the Downing Street Memo, and so on and so forth, it’s that the Bush administration recognizes basically no meaningful limits on its authority. And we’ve also learned, unfortunately, that there’s pretty much nothing that House Democrats consider a real, live impeachable offense anymore.

So I guess I’m all caught up with the news now.

Bush: Something or other about Iraq
July 31, 2008

From the AP:

President Bush hailed a

Oops! Gotta pay if I want to show you any more. But the basic gist is that Bush gave a progress report on Iraq in which he said that we’re winning and so now we can have troop reductions and shorter tours of duty for the troops that are still there.

The funny thing is, with all the credibility Bush has right now, his progress report may as well have said that Iraq was overrun by frakkin’ Cylons. There’s really no need to take what he says at face value – all this talk about “winning” in Iraq and troop reductions is an attempt to take the war off the electoral table. And that’s fine with me. Whatever he needs to tell himself to start sending troops home.

Fun with timetables!
July 27, 2008

For those who don’t think that McCain is in very deep trouble on the topic of Iraq, I would point to this:

McCain’s position on Iraq never made a whole lot of logical sense, but at least it sort of sounded coherent. But by the time we get to his recent interviews at the end of that video, I have absolutely no idea what the hell he’s talking about. He likes Maliki’s timetable but not Obama’s timetable, and thinks all the timetables are great, as long as they’re not based on … uh … the passage of time. It’s like he’s speaking in code, and that’s pretty much the easiest way to lose any kind of argument.

Cheap shots
July 24, 2008

What a day yesterday. Apparently, not only did John McCain attempt to convince America that the surge is not actually the surge except when it is politically advantageous for him to take credit for something that seems surge-y, but Bob Novak hit an innocent pedestrian with his car. Presumably he was distracted while driving because he was busy writing “MOCK ME, POLITICAL BLOGGERS” on his forehead in sharpie.

Well this is the last you’re going to hear me say about either of those two incidents. There’s such a thing as something being too easy. Mocking Robert Novak for being the last of a subterranean breed of evil reptiles is one thing, and so is mocking John McCain for babbling on about how awesome his Iraq policy is when he clearly has no idea what the fuck he’s talking about, but when they both serve up proof of those assertions on a silver platter … well, it’s a little unsportsmanlike to stab a man in the chest when he’s already committing seppuku right before your eyes, isn’t it?

In that spirit, I will only draw attention to how evil or stupid public figures are when they don’t seem to be making a conscious effort to draw attention to it themselves. This is my code.

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