A Final Attempt At Making A Liberal-Progressive Case For The Rational Use Of Force Against Assad

One of my recent posts was a response to “Bill,” a commenter who had referred to me as a “supposed liberal” for “advocating war” by taking a position in support of President Obama’s desire to attack Bashar al-Assad’s regime for its use of chemical weapons.

I find it only fair to publish here Bill’s response to what I wrote, which demonstrates exactly how we liberals ought to treat each other when we disagree on an issue so untidy as what to do about Syria:

Ok, note to self: don’t do drive-by comments on the Erstwhile Conservative. :)

I regret my use of the word “supposed.” I have no reason to doubt your liberal credentials, and obviously the left is divided on this issue (as is the right). I happened to read the post while feeling a great deal of frustration at seeing so many Democrats teaming up with John McCain and his gang of neo-con warmongers. But still, it was wrong of me to use that word. My apologies.

My principal objection to your post was the American exceptionalism in it. I’m going to guess that if some right-wing warmonger referred to America as “the only true enforcer of international law, the keeper of the flame of a progressive world civilization” you’d find that disturbing. I certainly would.

I am strongly opposed to authorizing an attack on Syria. I’ll spare you my rationale, while acknowledging that principled people of all political stripes can reasonably disagree on this one.

peace

I found something in Bill’s response that I thought deserved some further attention, so I answered him this way:

Peace to you, too, Bill. I appreciate your clarification and the way you expressed it.

This is a difficult issue, and I understand your “frustration at seeing so many Democrats teaming up with John McCain and his gang of neo-con warmongers.” It is just as frustrating for me as I watch a lot of my liberal friends climb into political bed with Rand Paul and his gang of libertarian-conservatives. Let’s hope that no matter what happens, we liberals can live with ourselves in the morning, despite the beds we are sleeping in tonight.

If you will permit me to do so, I would like to respond at length to something you said, as I will attempt, likely for the last time, to present a liberal-progressive case for the rational use of military force against Assad. You wrote:

My principal objection to your post was the American exceptionalism in it. I’m going to guess that if some right-wing warmonger referred to America as “the only true enforcer of international law, the keeper of the flame of a progressive world civilization” you’d find that disturbing. I certainly would.

I confess I believe in American exceptionalism, except I don’t believe in it the way right-wing warmongers do. I would very much be disturbed by a right-winger saying what I said because I can’t imagine a single one of them saying it. I would think they had been smoking something dangerously potent. The point is, Bill, that those folks don’t believe in “progressive world civilization,” and they certainly don’t believe the United States has any business promoting it around the world.

America’s exceptionalism today is, among other things, found in our embrace of the principles of freedom and representative government and our unmistakable ability to defend those principles. But more than that, our exceptionalism is found in our willingness to use our power to defend those principles—which are really principles of progressive civilization—even if they are not directly threatened here at home. I say that even though I am acutely aware of how many times we have miserably and shamefully—and I mean miserably and shamefully—failed to live up to our principles in our past dealings with other nations.

I want to remind you that it was a liberal—Abraham Lincoln was a liberal in the context of his times—who believed it was vital to protect, even if it meant civil war, our nation and what it stood for, a nation that he said was “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” And he said those words at the dedication of a national cemetery in Gettysburg where somewhere around 50,000 soldiers from both sides died in three days of fighting.

In talking about those “brave men, living and dead” who “struggled” at Gettysburg and who fought hard for and “nobly advanced” the cause—the cause being that our “nation might live”—Lincoln noted that they left “unfinished work” (the war would go on another 17 months or so), namely to ensure,

that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Whether one agrees with how he proceeded, in Lincoln’s mind, what we stood for as a nation was worth preserving, even at the cost of using military force, even at the cost of many American lives. And if the way Lincoln defined what America stood for isn’t also a definition of American exceptionalism, then I don’t know what you might call it, and it was beautifully articulated by a man who would, if he were in office today, get called unflattering names by Tea Party Republicans.

I said all that to say this, Bill: Even if one doesn’t believe the Civil War was necessary, even if one believes it would have been better to simply keep the “peace” with rebellious Southerners, going to war was at least rational in the mind of Lincoln and obviously many others who gave their lives for the cause. By appealing to the “liberal” Lincoln, I am simply arguing that there is a place for the rational use of military power that a progressive can defend on liberal grounds.

And there are things worth defending, even if all the variables can’t be finally plugged neatly into the equation, even if the ending can’t be predicted with certainty. Lincoln didn’t know how the Civil War would unfold, and of course he didn’t know with certainty what the outcome of the war would be. But he thought it was worth the risk for the principles at stake and I think it is fair to argue, as I have done, that he acted rationally and with an eye toward a compelling vision of American exceptionalism.

Today we are talking about a limited American military engagement—emphatically not involving troops on the ground—to uphold a principle of international law against the use of chemical weapons, weapons that may one day be used against American troops somewhere. Outside of our own self-defense, if there ever was a strong case to be made for the rational use for good of our exceptional military power, it is now. In doing so, we will not only have attempted to enforce the international prohibition against the use of specific and horrific weapons, we will, to borrow from Lincoln, have “nobly advanced” the cause of what I have called a “progressive world civilization.”

Duane

29 Comments

  1. ” It is just as frustrating for me as I watch a lot of my liberal friends climb into political bed with Rand Paul and his gang of libertarian-conservatives.”

    I tend to think most libertarian oppose this intervention on principled grounds. A lot of conservatives though I think will oppose this action because: It’s Obama’s war.

    I find that disgusting.

    Like

    • ansonburlingame

       /  September 9, 2013

      Bruce,

      Which is EXACTLY why this conservative has repeatedly said, herein and elsewhere, to keep politics out of this debate, period. No war is “Bushes war” or “Obama’s war”, or ….. Anytime America uses military power it must be an American use of military power, period.

      United we stand, divided we fall and we have shown that to be the case ever since WWII!!!

      Duane is doing his best to UNITE us now and I admire his attempts to do so, primarily against the likes of “Bill”, “Rand Paul (libertarians) and me, neither of those two for sure.

      Anson

      Like

    • Bruce,

      It’s beyond disgusting. But it is very real.

      Duane

      Like

  2. The principle by which libertarians oppose this action is the same one they apply to most situations: They don’t give a shit. Many liberals oppose it because they don’t believe violence is a solution to any problem. They care too much, I’m sorry to say. They certainly don’t belong in the same camp with Rand Paul.

    Like

    • King Beauregard

       /  September 8, 2013

      You’re dead-on about the libertarians. With liberals, though, I think the driving principle is hatred of AMERICAN military policy. Assad totally gets a pass in most liberal analysis, for example a recent open letter to Obama by Ralph Nader, where he accused Obama of being indifferent to civilian casualties, while not even mentioning the 100,000 who have already died (1400 in this most recent incident). Nader doesn’t give a shit, nor do all the people who logged on to that particular e-Toilet to comment, “Go Ralph!!!”

      These same people are also typically critical of US inaction in Rwanda, so yeah.

      Like

      • King B,

        I have admired many of the things Ralph Nader has done to make America a better place.

        But he and folks like him–I put Noam Chomsky in this category along with many other intellectuals–simply can’t make important distinctions between the perfect and the good. Nader ignores the realities of contemporary American politics, including the fact that a significant part of the country doesn’t share his enthusiasm for a radical restructuring of American life (if he had recognized this reality in 2000, he would have done the country a lot of good, as quite likely George W. Bush would never have taken up residence in the White’s House).

        It is sad, really, that a man dedicated to doing so much good for the country can’t find a way of dealing with how slow real, meaningful change is in a democracy like ours (that is why he ran in 2000). Things don’t happen overnight and these people can’t seem to understand that the President or Democrats in Congress aren’t simply free to do whatever they want, since there are these untidy things called elections that have a way of thwarting any good politicians best intentions because the other side is free to demagogue and to frighten folks over significant changes. Case in point: Obamacare, which has been demagogued endlessly and is responsible for the Tea Party House.
        One can’t help comparing the uncompromising attitude of the Naders out there with folks in the Tea Party.

        Duane

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    • ansonburlingame

       /  September 9, 2013

      Writer,

      Might I say you don’t “know shit” about libertarians if you think they “don’t give a shit” about war and peace. I am not a libertarian but have spent several years learning about how they think and call for government to do. They are as passionate in their beliefs as you are in yours and they, like you, give very much ” a shit” about what happens!

      I accuse you as such of “shitty politics”, out right!!!

      Anson

      Like

    • Writer89,

      There are some principled libertarians out there who oppose this action on neo-isolationist grounds, which I find untenable in today’s complicated world. Caution, not isolation, should be our guiding principle.

      But given what we have seen over the last five years, in terms of the rhetoric coming from libertarian-conservatives, you are right to suspect that it is their live-and-let-die philosophy that is guiding a lot of their opposition to not only this action but to an aggressive domestic agenda designed to help with joblessness and poverty and the unequal distribution of wealth. This abhorrent philosophical stance is rightly objected by most Americans, even though it has enjoyed a minor resurgence since 2010 as some Tea Party elements have embraced it.
      And, yes, there are a lot of liberals out there who oppose the attack because of their aversion to violence as a solution to the problem. I understand that. I disagree with it in this situation, but I understand it. Just look at what the threat of violence against Syria has done already: there is talk, involving both the Russians and the Syrians, of turning over control of chemical weapon stockpiles to an international body. Now, whether that is a delaying tactic or a serious proposal remains to be seen, but if it is serious and workable it would not have happened without the threat of violence.

      Finally, there are some liberals who are opposing this proposed action simply because of our past failures, mostly in Iraq and the intelligence that allegedly supported starting that war. This argument is only valuable as an appeal to caution, not an appeal to inaction, as I have explained numerous times on this blog.

      Duane

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  3. There is, yet, another reason why many Liberals oppose the idea of more intervention in Syria: This is long and I apologize for that, but it reflects the compromised position of the integrity of the US Military/Intelligence/Industrial Complex over the 60-or-so years. From our friends at FAIR:
    Which Syrian Chemical Attack Account Is More Credible?
    By Jim Naureckas
    Let’s compare a couple of accounts of the mass deaths apparently caused by chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21. One account comes from the U.S. government (8/30/13), introduced by Secretary of State John Kerry. The other was published by a Minnesota-based news site called Mint Press News (8/29/13).
    The government account expresses “high confidence that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack” on August 21. The Mintreport bore the headline “Syrians in Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack.” Which of these two versions should we find more credible?
    The U.S. government, of course, has a track record that will incline informed observers to approach its claims with skepticism–particularly when it’s making charges about the proscribed weapons of official enemies. Kerry said in hisaddress that “our intelligence community” has been “more than mindful of the Iraq experience”–as should be anyone listening to Kerry’s presentation, because the Iraq experience informs us that secretaries of State can express great confidence about matters that they are completely wrong about, and that U.S. intelligence assessments can be based on distortion of evidence and deliberate suppression of contradictory facts.
    Comparing Kerry’s presentation on Syria and its accompanying document to Colin Powell’sspeech to the UN on Iraq, though, one is struck by how little specific evidence was included in the case for the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. It gives the strong impression of being pieced together from drone surveillance and NSA intercepts, supplemented by Twittermessages and YouTube videos, rather than from on-the-ground reporting or human intelligence. Much of what is offered tries to establish that the victims in Ghouta had been exposed to chemical weapons–a question that indeed had been in some doubt, but had already largely been settled by a report by Doctors Without Borders that reported that thousands of people in the Damascus area had been treated for “neurotoxic symptoms.”
    On the critical question of who might be responsible for such a chemical attack, Kerry’s presentation was much more vague and circumstantial. A key point in the government’s white paper is “the detection of rocket launches from regime-controlled territory early in the morning, approximately 90 minutes before the first report of a chemical attack appeared in social media.” It’s unclear why this is supposed to be persuasive. Do rockets take 90 minutes to reach their targets? Does nerve gas escape from rockets 90 minutes after impact, or, once released, take 90 minutes to cause symptoms?
    In a conflict as conscious of the importance of communication as the Syrian Civil War, do citizen journalists wait an hour and a half before reporting an enormous development–the point at which, as Kerry put it, “all hell broke loose in the social media”? Unless there’s some reason to expect this kind of a delay, it’s very unclear why we should think there’s any connection at all between the allegedly observed rocket launches and the later reports of mass poisoning.
    When the evidence isn’t circumstantial, it’s strikingly vague: “We intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the UN inspectors obtaining evidence,” the report asserts. Taken at face value, it’s one of the most damning claims in the government’s report–a veritable confession. But how was the identity of this official established? And what exactly did they say that “confirmed” chemical weapons use? Recall that Powell played tapes of Iraqi officials supposedly talking about concealing evidence of banned weapons from inspectors–which turned out to show nothing of the kind. But Powell at least played tapes of the intercepted communication, even as he spun and misrepresented their contents–allowing for the possibility of an independent interpretation of these messages. Perhaps “mindful of the Iraq experience,” Kerry allows for no such interpretation.
    Another key claim is asserted without substantiation: “Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of ‘Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21, near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin.” How were these personnel identified, and what were the signs of their operations? How was this place identified as an area used to mix sarin? Here again the information provided was far less detailed than what Powell gave to the UN: Powell’s presentation included satellite photographs of sites where proscribed weapons were being made, with an explanation of what they revealed to “experts with years and years of experience”: “The two arrows indicate the presence of sure signs that the bunkers are storing chemical munitions,” he said, pointing to an annotated photograph of bunkers that turned out to be storing no such thing. Powell’s presentation graphically demonstrated that US intelligence analysts are fallible, which is part of why presenting bare assertions without any of the raw materials used to derive those conclusions should not be very convincing.
    Kerry did offer an explanation for why the report was so cursory: “In order to protect sources and methods, some of what we know will only be released to members of Congress, the representatives of the American people. That means that some things we do know, we can’t talk about publicly.” It is not clear, however, why intelligence methods that produced visual and audible evidence that could be shared with the public 10 years ago cannot be similarly utilized today. It does point to why the $52 billion the United States spends on surveillance annually, according to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden (Washington Post, 8/29/13), provides relatively little information that’s of value to American democracy: The collection of information is considered so much more valuable than the information collected that it rarely if ever can be used to inform a public debate. Instead, as we discuss the dreadful question of whether to launch a military attack on another country, we are offered an undemocratic “trust us” from the most secretive parts of our government–an offer that history warns us to be extremely wary of.
    Mint takes a similar approach to the Syrian story, with a reporter in Ghouta–not Gavlak but Yahya Ababneh, a Jordanian freelancer and journalism grad student–who “spoke directly with the rebels, their family members, victims of the chemical weapons attacks and local residents.” The article reports that “many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out” the chemical attack. The recipients of the chemical weapons are said to be Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al-Qaeda-linked rebel faction that was caught possessing sarin nerve gas in Turkey, according to Turkish press reports (OE Watch,7/13).
    Mint quotes Abu Abdel-Moneim, described as the father of a rebel killed in the chemical weapons attacks, as saying that his son had described carrying unconventional weapons provided by Saudi Arabia to underground storage tunnels–a “tubelike structure” and a “huge gas bottle.” A rebel leader identified as J describes the release of toxic weaponry as accidental, saying, “Some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions.” Another rebel referred to as K complains, “When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them.”
    Of course, independent media accounts are not necessarily more credible than official reports–or vice versa. As with the government white paper, there are gaps in the Mint account; while Abdel-Moneim cites his late son’s account of carrying chemical weapons, the rebels quoted do not indicate how they came to know what they say they know about the origin of the weapons. But unlike the government, Mint is honest about the limits of its knowledge: “Some information in this article could not be independently verified,” the story admits. “Mint Press News will continue to provide further information and updates.”
    This humility about the difficulty of reporting on a covert, invisible attack in the midst of a chaotic civil war actually adds to the credibility of the Mint account. It’s those who are most certain about matters of which they clearly lack firsthand knowledge who should make us most skeptical.

    Like

    • In my first post on Syria and what to do about it, I raised the issue of the possibility that it might not have been Assad. I did so because Assad’s action made no sense to me. But I’ve since come to terms with the fact that Assad’s actions, in terms of their logical coherence, have to be interpreted in the light of his dire circumstances domestically. If he wants to remain in power, he has to act in certain ways to convince his supporters he is in it till the end. That is one plausible explanation for his actions, even though it defies what we would consider to be rational.

      In any case, I’ve previously dealt with the source of the article you reference, which source was also promoted by Alex Jones, the nuttiest conspiracist on the planet, as well as the Russians.

      Dale Gavlak does do work for the AP, but the original story was not directly reported by him, nor was it picked up by the AP. That tells me something about the sources in the original story. If the AP thought there was something there worthy of a first-class journalistic enterprise, I’m sure its editors would have moved on the story.

      Given that, I’ll concede that we are not talking about absolute certainty here. We are for the most part talking about strong circumstantial evidence and a common-sense interpretation of that evidence. Keeping in mind all the things I discuss below, the evidence is very convincing in terms of a) there was a chemical attack and b) the Syrian government was responsible for it. (What to do about it from here is a matter that people of good will can differ on without acrimony.)

      I like it when people critically examine evidence and arguments in order to find holes in them. I do that constantly on this blog and I expect people to do it to what I write. But I am troubled when I see folks (like the writer of this latest article) go to outlandish means to avoid reasonable and logical conclusions. I see it all the time when it comes to global warming and the human role in it, as well as other issues like that. It is always easy to “raise questions” about the evidence. But we should also be skeptical of the questions that are raised. Are they reasonable questions? Is there an agenda behind them?

      Naureckas’ piece seems to be severely infected by the Iraq war experience, which is an infection all of us have acquired to some degree or another. But reasonableness demands that we don’t commit the genetic fallacy and instead interpret this present evidence on its own merits. We should not allow the evidence to be tainted by the past and the fact that it is the government bringing it to us. I’m arguing here that reason should inoculate us against evaluating evidence in unusually skeptical ways. If George W. Bush’s administration was presenting this evidence, that would be one thing. He earned our extreme skepticism. But it isn’t. It’s another administration, one most reluctant to get involved in Syria in the first place, as the last two years demonstrate. That means something to me, in terms of how I evaluate the evidence and the conclusions that can be drawn from it.

      Finally, I find it unsettling that someone like Jim Naureckas would give such weight to an account that is based allegedly and mostly on interviews of “rebels, their family members, victims of the chemical weapons attacks and local residents.” We all know how unreliable eyewitness accounts are and we all know how conspiracy-minded are folks everywhere, especially in the Middle East. While it’s possible that their accounts might be true, it’s not likely. Just like it’s not likely that the claims by climate-science deniers—it’s all a plot to socialize the American economy—are true. We have to make reasonable judgments and I side with the government’s evidence as far as this present mess goes.

      Duane

      Like

      • King Beauregard

         /  September 9, 2013

        “I raised the issue of the possibility that it might not have been Assad. I did so because Assad’s action made no sense to me. But I’ve since come to terms with the fact that Assad’s actions, in terms of their logical coherence, have to be interpreted in the light of his dire circumstances domestically.”

        And of course there is always the possibility that not everyone is a rational actor: people act out of emotion, people make mistakes, people receive bad intel, and sometimes orders get mangled going through the chain of command. None of which are points that should be worth paying that much attention to, except that I have encountered too many ODS sufferers saying that Assad could not have launched those attacks because to do so would be illogical, therefore Obama is trying to provoke a needless war.

        Like

        • You know, I’m not sure if Assad himself ordered the attacks, or if it was is brother, or someone else in the regime. But I listened to the Charlie Rose interview and if he didn’t directly order them, or if some rogue general did it on his own (highly unlikely), all he had to do was say so and say that the culprit had been punished and relieved of his duties and apologize. But he didn’t do that. He essentially claimed there was no evidence that his regime was to blame for an alleged chemical attack. In my mind, because I am persuaded by the evidence available, that makes him completely responsible for what happened.

          As for the ODS sufferers, what can one say? I can only hope that our side, when a Republican president is in power, can rationally examine the evidence without succumbing to the temptation of overlooking the evidence because of our dislike for whoever’s in office at the time. I know, I know. That’s wishful thinking, but a guy can hope.

          Duane

          Like

          • King Beauregard

             /  September 10, 2013

            Mind you, when I speak of ODS (Obama Derangement Syndrome) sufferers, I’m not just talking about those on the Right. The disease is rampant on the Left as well.

            Like

  4. ansonburlingame

     /  September 9, 2013

    Duane,

    We BOTH agree that there are times and causes where military responses are required. You articulate the liberal case now for a military response in Syria and I recognize you are trying to unite us all in your position. You recognize, just as I do, that if America goes to war (uses military power against another nation in any shape or form today) we must be united. Failing that, any success in any war is hopeless. We have proven that, even with “limited” wars, for the last 60 years.

    No way, absolutely not, do I oppose the use of military power in Syria simply because President Obama proposed it. I don’t even yet oppose what he has recommended as well. I just don’t yet support that call for reasons stated “all over the place”, herein, Jim’s blog and my own blog, and amongst some “warmongers” in my old military class from college as well. I still remain on the fence, for now and may well stay there until the Congress votes.

    BUT, once Congress votes, I will support whatever Congress decides to do. I do so in a matter of war and peace because that is the Constitutional way to decide such things.

    As well, IF Congress says NO to use military force as requested by the President, well NO in that case is NO, like it or not. None of this “I have the authority to …….”. Only when America is DIRECTLY struck (or is in imminent danger of such), does any President have such authority, once Congress has expressed the “will of the people”. But that is a future argument, not yet upon us.

    More will be written and said, now, after the “Assad interview”. I note the immediate response from SECSTATE is over the evidence presented and “known” thus far. He said the evidence presents only the “common sense” level of proof that Assad and his government (not some “rogue commander”) directed and actually used CW.

    Is that good enough for you in matters of war and peace, “common sense”, or as a liberal do you call for a greater level of proof before going to war. Please don’t try to duck that question by equivocating over the term “war”. You have not done so yet, so please don’t start now. Do we the people, when asked (which the President has clearly done now by going to Congress) need more proof, up to beyond a reasonable doubt, before going to war?

    I will now admit that “moving chemical weapons into a war zone”, putting them in range to attack is MORE evidence than I previously knew about. It seems that Kerry has now suggested that PROOF is in fact available on that count (but the details remain classified). But that still is not proof that Assad or his government actually ordered such use of CW. And even if he did so order that use, it remained IN SYRIA, against only Syrians.

    As well, many will take the statement by Assad that if we strike “anything can happen”, as a grave threat. I take that statement to be an admission that Assad cannot in any way now control what many people in the MIddle East will do, anytime. At best he only controls (maybe) his own forces and many others are well beyond his control now, in Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East.

    As for Lincoln, and a liberal call to war, that requires a long response and I won’t do so herein.

    Anson

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  5. “And even if he did so order that use, it remained IN SYRIA, against only Syrians.” ~Anson

    What do you mean by this?

    Like

    • Steven,

      You need to resubmit your comment as a reply directly to Anson so he will see it in his email. Maybe then you’ll get an answer.

      Duane

      Like

    • ansonburlingame

       /  September 9, 2013

      steven,

      I abhor the use of CW anywhere, anytime, by anyone. BUT, when such weapons have been used in the past within a national boundary (Iraq, 1980’s) there was no Congressional vote to “go to war with Iraq” in that case. Now because of “humanitarian” concerns, IN SYRIA (and the refugees coming out of Syria) we are debating going to war over “someone’s actual use of CW but ONLY IN Syria, so far.

      Before going to war, using military force against a NATION, to punish, invade, do whatever, I want to be sure we know what, exactly what we are going to do and why.

      The more I think about how unsuccessful we have been over 60 years with “limited” war, I want to be sure we get it RIGHT this time around. I remain uncertain we have yet to do so, be SURE we are doing the RIGHT thing, in the RIGHT way, for now.

      Anson

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  6. Jane Reaction

     /  September 9, 2013

    Duane says “America’s exceptionalism today is, among other things, found in our embrace of the principles of freedom and representative government”. Really?

    As much as we wish it, we are exceptional in almost nothing save our use of force. The fact is we have NO control of our government, no oversight of our military actions, no privacy, and no accounting to the American people.

    “Among other things” we have corporations as people, a clown posse for leadership, and, thanks to the NDAA, the loss of our most cherished civil rights, including habeus corpus, a trial by our peers, the ability to present evidence.

    There is a vast gulf between our government’s ignored principles of freedom, and actual participatory democracy. We the people are no longer in the game.

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    • Jane,

      Needless to say, I disagree with your rather dismal assessment of the state of our country.

      1) “NO control of our government”? While I agree that moneyed interests have far too much say in what goes on, the country did elect and reelect a Democratic president who at least has acted in such a way that he has made some very powerful and rich enemies. That ain’t nothing.

      2) “no oversight of our military actions”? Republicans were tossed out of office largely because of their use of the military after 9/11. I call that oversight.

      3) “no privacy”? Are you kidding? To the extent Americans have surrendered some of their privacy, it is because they have willingly submitted personal information to social media sources and in other ways via the Internet, not because the government has invaded their privacy through illegal means.

      4) “no accounting to the American people”? To the extent that is true, it is the fault of the American people, not because there is some federal government plot to avoid accountability. See 6) below.

      5) I submit that you personally have nothing to fear from the NDAA, even though I agree with you that parts of it are quite troubling and need to be fixed.

      6) “We the people are no longer in the game”? If that’s so, it’s the people’s fault. Slightly more than half of eligible voters bother to vote in presidential elections and in off-year congressional elections it is much worse than that. In local elections in off years voter participation is embarrassingly low. So, if you are right, it is because many people have quit the game or are too cynical to play.
      Duane

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  7. It’s not a hard to slide into cynicism. I’m with Jane. However we got there, the broken system is protected by lots of greedy, conservative money and Congress’s willingness to run in place. As for a “Liberal” take on things, the President (I like him and voted for him twice) has pissed us off with Wall Street coziness and citizen privacy compromise. Why shouldn’t we be cynical? It’s hard to trust the analysis of anyone wearing a uniform or a badge anymore. We don’t know who deployed the gas — whatever Sec’y Kerry says. If we don’t know, we should NOT go.

    Like

    • Sure, it’s easy to slide into cynicism. That’s why one has to fight the temptation.

      I find it odd that liberals say all the time how cozy Obama has been with Wall Street. One has to ask then: why did the banksters give so much money to Romney? Why do they still criticize Obama constantly? Have you ever tuned into CNBC or the Fox Business Channel? You would see much dislike for Obama and his administration from the financial class.

      That being said, I agree he hasn’t been tough enough. There is a long way to go to rid the country of the dominance of high finance and unproductive, often harmful gambling on Wall Street. But I wouldn’t exactly call what Obama has done as “coziness.” If you want to point to the problem with our system, it is the problem with how campaigns are financed. Democrats can hardly disarm financially while conducting expensive national campaigns, and, unfortunately, Wall Street is a source for a lot of dough. And I remind you that it is conservatives who have stood in the way of changing that money-dominated process, especially with their presence on the Supreme Court. And ultimately it is the people who put Republicans in power, who then appointed those justices and who largely looked the other way during the lead up to the financial crisis in 2008 because of the money involved.

      Finally, I guess I have a problem with any analysis that overlooks the fairly stark differences between the contemporary Democratic Party and the contemporary Tea Party-dominated GOP. One side is much better than the other, in terms of what I want for America. And I say that knowing that my side has many flaws, plays too many games with the rich and powerful, and often fails to push hard for a progressive agenda. But all of our politics has to be interpreted in light of how far the other side has gone, and how far it would go if given a chance. I’ll take a flawed Democratic Party, full of flawed Democratic politicians, over what the Republican Party has become since Eisenhower. At least there remains the hope that we can get better Democrats and make the party better as time goes on. And that’s why I refuse to slide into cynicism.

      Duane

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      • Duane —
        You know I appreciate your blog. And I respect your fair and thoughtful analysis. And I agree the Democratic Party is more inspired and capable of governance for the good of the people of this country than the Tea Party the GOP has become. That said, I reserve the right to be as disappointed with the Dems — to the point of a slightly jaded cynicism. As for “coziness” — Larry Summers? Seriously? Tim Geithner? Seriously? You want me to believe this President has a Wall Street improvement plan? Would we be worse off with Mitt? ABSOLUTELY! But c’mon. He has an alternative to Larry. He has an alternative to NSA abuse. I know you don’t believe the NSA has gone “rogue” on the President. He’s done nothing recently to inspire my confidence — other than be a Democrat and not a Republican.

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        • ansonburlingame

           /  September 9, 2013

          OK, General, I WILL engage with you on just the above. Lay off the “coziness” with Duane. This whole discussion has been and should be about war and peace in Syria today, NOT a g…. d…… Presidential campaign, again. You won that last round and the next round will not start until this fall sometime, AFTER we decide what next to do in Syria!! (which I say again should not have anything to do with party politics).

          Anson

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          • Classically, consistently and predictably, Anson, you missed the point. Surface skimmers usually do. That is my point. Thanks to President Cheney’s war of Iraq aggression, many of us are cautious about thinking we can just waltz in and blast a country back into the stone age because we’re not confident about how our cock measures up to Russia’s or Israel’s. I don’t think the President wants a war, but I am concerned that his default position is predictable US military muscle. I hope you live in a state where dope is legal because if you believe there’s no politics connected to how many in Congress are voting on this issue you are smoking some righteous stuff, indeed. Stop trying to kiss Duane’s ass. He’s a big boy and may be right or wrong on this issue, but he doesn’t need you to block for him. We’re having a discussion. We don’t agree. It’s important to get this right — or at least, not get it wrong like your hot monkey love, Curious George Bush.

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        • I appreciate you, too, my friend.

          And of course I respect your right to be disappointed with the Democrats. I am often disappointed with them myself. But I am suggesting that disappointment ought not turn into despair and cynicism, that’s all. Believe me, I am at times tempted to say to hell with it and forget about all this stuff, but that way leads to the bad guys winning.

          As far as Larry Summers, I know the conventional wisdom is that Summers is in. But I remain hopeful that Obama will choose Yellen. I would say that in the first term, he might have leaned strongly toward Summers, as the safe bet. But in this term, I am hoping against hope that he will choose Yellen, mainly because a man I greatly respect, Joseph Stiglitz, has a glowing recommendation for her appointment, and because Paul Krugman favors her for her views on monetary policy vis a vis the Fed’s mandate of maximum employment.

          If Obama chooses Summers—who, by the way, has, while out of power, talked a good game about what the Fed should do—I will be disappointed. But I won’t necessarily see it as a surrender to Wall Street interests. Summers is a complicated guy, and I won’t completely judge him by his past association with folks like Robert Rubin (or his many bad judgments that tended to favor overconfidence in unfettered financial markets), since a lot of stuff has changed since the 1990s. Thus I will be disappointed but not in despair.

          We simply can’t afford to wring our hands and give up, if things are to improve.

          And I’m a firm believer that mankind can, and must, improve.

          Duane

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        • Sorry, but I forgot to address your concerns about NSA abuse.
          I have heard the President express much concern about some aspects of what the NSA does. And I am concerned about a lack of robust exercise of oversight both by the courts and by Congress. But we are far from a runaway NSA, as far as I can see it. There are concerns being addressed as we speak, which suggests that this is not Big Brother we are talking about. I see a lot of paranoia in the response to the revelations of NSA activity, even though there are things that need to be tidied up. Congress, as it should be, is at work addressing those things.

          At the same time, I happen to think that the world we are now living in requires a strong intelligence apparatus to deal with the many threats, albeit small and isolated, that we face in this world. The nature of international conflict is changing, and we have to change with it. I don’t really give a shit if there is a collection of my phone calls, without my identity attached, stored on a server as part of an aggregate group of calls, in a government bureaucracy. Like taking my shoes off at the airport, I consider that the new reality we face these days.As I have said many times, people surrender much more privacy to Facebook and Google than they are likely to lose to government snooping.

          Duane

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          • Duane,
            You have a way of talking some of us off the roof. That’s why I follow this blog.
            I have tried to keep my mouth shut on most issues these days because I am often one of those reactive, knee-jerk, angry Liberals. I don’t think that plays well in what is usually (sans Anson) a responsible exchange of ideas. I brought up things outside of the war issue because, ultimately, it’s all connected. Larry Summers is a creep on so many levels. I don’t want him associated with my President. We’re not watching the details. That’s how we got stuck with Scalia and Thomas. That’s how we ended up with eight tragic years of George Bush: Clinton did a lot of great stuff, but wasn’t focussed enough to keep his prick in his pants, and sweet Jesus, the enemy within has lots of money to exploit that sort of mistake. Every play is important. I know Obama didn’t start up the NSA initiative, but neither did he shut it down. In Syria, we’re looking at a battle between two bad players. I’m so sorry the “innocents” are paying the price — wish we could airlift them out. We’ve backed the “lesser” of two evils before — except sometimes the “lesser” isn’t actually. We don’t know. We don’t know. I can’t support US military strikes against Assad.

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            • LisaF

               /  September 10, 2013

              Maybe diplomacy will win out. President Obama’s decision to take the debate to the American people through our representatives is why I voted for him. He is not a man looking for a reason to attack/strike a country like the divinely inspired cowboy.

              It looks as though the German press is reporting that Assad did not order a chemical weapons attack. In fact, he blocked the effort. This in no way vindicates him from being a brutal dictator but if does make one stop and think.

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  8. ansonburlingame

     /  September 9, 2013

    No way will I even try to engage with Jane or the General in such matters. I leave that up to Duane but even he won’t win with THEM, I think.

    NO ONE will win (or convert others in) this thing if we keep pushing the discussion DOWN into “dirty politics” from either side. “Greedy capitalists” or “Anti-war holligans” my ass. I don’t care what they think and ignore such observations when war and peace are the subject!!!

    Let Jane, the General, OWS mobs and Tea Party radicals go fight amongst themselves. In this case I would vote for coffee with Duane and some others to try to resolve this issue one way or the other. I would offer Herb to join us as well, but I already know full well his positions. We spoke at some length this past weekend, TOGETHER, and nothing was thrown at each other, either! Jim would not come because I might “talk” with some capital letters also!!

    Anson

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