Saturday, July 12, 2003

UPDATE ON DEAN AND FOREIGN POLICY: TNR has a must-read piece by Dan Drezner on Dean's foreign policy views. Dan points out that Dean, while certainly to the left of most of the other Dem. front-runners regarding Iraq and free trade, actually has a fairly mainstream, developed, and in my view quite sensible and even attractive foreign policy position. Dan also manages to identify the quality in Dean that I think has been so energizing, so appealing to many of my Democratic/left-liberal friends, and somewhat off-putting to me -- his populism. On domestic issues, I enjoy a bit of anit-conservative populism as much as the next guy (assuming the next guy is reading the NY Times rather than the WS Journal's opinion page); but when it comes to foreign policy, it makes me rather uneasy. Still, Dan's piece makes me think that Dean's foreign policy stance may not be QUITE so great a liability as I had thought.

What is this Howard Dean thing? Everyone seems to be up in arms about the guy. My parents, and friends of mine like Jacob, seem to think he's the Dems and the country's last best hope [CORRECTION OF FREUDIAN SLIP: I've apparently mis-characterized my parents' political views -- while I thought my father said he supported Dean, he now explains that he doesn't know enough about him to be that enthusiastic about him; while my mother, it turns out, while also uncertain, leans towards Kerry. Whoops. Sorry, folks.); while my neo-con friends seem to think he's the devil (of left-liberal dovishness) incarnate, and jump on him at every possible opportunity (like Jacob, I think that talk of Dean's support for intervention in Liberia being 'dismantled' is greatly exaggerated. I don't share Dean and Jacob's conviction that Iraq wasn't a threat at all, and while I think Jacob (and Dean) under-estimates the extent of Ba'athist terror at the time of the war (even if it had subsided from earlier genocidal levels). But I can see the logic for supporting intervention in Liberia, where there is an extremely bloody civil war, and starting a war against Iraq based on a highly dubious principle of pre-emptive defense and inaccurate, if not downright fabricated, intelligence (also, remember that while the Bush administration and many supporters of the war -- yours truly included -- appealed to the promotion of human rights and democracy as reasons why the war would (or might) be ultimately beneficent, the war itself was supposedly fought for security reasons).
As it is, I agree with, and applaud, Dean's principled stance on Liberia; I remain rather more dubious about his position on Iraq (which, aside from it's inherent merits, I thought and think rhetorically overblown and simplistic.)
However, while I don't think Dean deserves the sniping to which my OxBlog buddies have subjected him, I'm not about to start gushing about how 'the doctor is in', either; and I find myself partially persuaded by this John Judis essay (usefully quoted from by Dan Drezner for those not subscribed to Salon) that Dean's chances of getting elected aren't terribly good. Then again, aside from having greater foreign-policy expertise and a generally more (some, myself included, might say too) modulated foreign-policy perspective, Kerry -- still my prefered candidate among the current batch [though I'm reconsidering this in light of his comments about gay marriage, correctly taken apart by TNR]-- wouldn't seem to be that much better a candidate. I'm not sure that I agree with Judis that, as it were, bland is beautiful; and Kerry, too, carries the 'New England liberal' onus. (Can I just add, entre nous, how much it pisses me off that being a New England liberal is a politically bad, if not fatal, thing in American politics?)
And this brings me to the main point: Franklin Foer's argument for drafting Gen. Wesley Clark.

CONT'D: Now, if we accept Judis' argument about Dean's un-electability, and the general view that New England liberals are likely to do poorly, the selection of the Southern, moderate, martial Gen. Clark does sound awfully appealing. And, unless things go very badly sour -- a quagmire in Iraq, more terrorist attacks -- it would seem that Bush will be very hard to beat on foreign affairs/national security -- as the polls Foer cites suggest. Having a general run against Bush could be the Dem's one hope to gain credibility on security and defense policy.
Will it work, though? I'm not all that optimistic. We do need someone with credentials and expertise on foreign policy and defense (not the same thing, despite what the current administration sometimes seems to believe); and Clark, having not only had a career in the military, but been a NATO commander, has both military and diplomatic experience that Bush very blatantly lacks (and could, in my view, have used). However, so solid is the grip of mis-apprehension and misinformation -- look at how many Americans think Iraq had something to do with 9/11, or think that not only did Saddam have WMD, but deployed them against our troops -- that I'm not sure the Dems have much of a chance at winning the battle for foreign/security policy supremacy. And, given the general parochialism of the American electorate, even after 9/11, I'm not sure that foreign policy will, even now, be the decisive issue -- though I could be (and hope I am, even if it gives an upper hand to the GOP) wrong about this.
So, what we need, it seems to me, is someone who will be able to allay fears of being weak on foreign policy and defense/security, will be able to aggressively go after and expose the mendacity and arrogance and short-sightedness of much of the Bush administration's behaviour, while also rallying liberals and moderates in opposition to Bush's insane tax policy and social regressiveness.
Could Clark do it? Foer seems quite bowled-over by Clark's plain-spoken common sense; call me a nattering nabob of negativity -- a pointy-headed, egg-headed liberal intellectual elitist snob, out of touch with the pulse of the American people -- but I found the most of the comments Foer quotes pretty banal and flat (though the one about gun control is nice). So, I'm not quite convinced, either that bland will be the flavour of the election season -- or that Clark could be the Dem's Dwight Eisenhower.
But, I could be wrong; and in a fallow field, a man with medals could stand out -- and be our best hope for putting the country back into the hands of responsible, sensible, humane adults.

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE ... In reply to Brett's suggestion: No, actually I'm not so happy with this post -- partly because it seems incomplete, partly because I agree with Brett that it's unfair to the anti-war movement, and partly because I think that it's not quite on target. I don't blame or condemn the media for not focussing more on the pro-democracy-in-Iran protests in the US; what I do blame it for is not devoting more attention to what's going on INSIDE Iran -- for not devoting more attention to the Iranian students themselves.

OXBLOG: SPANNING THE WORLD: David, holding down the fort at OxBlog, has good and important posts on drug-lords in Afghanistan and how to possibly remedy the insufficiency of US forces in Iraq.
To which I can't help but adding that even the neo-conservative OxBlog [though Josh Chaf. is on vacation ...] recognizes that Bush's attempts at nation-building are -- well, what you'd expect from an anti-nation-building president who's never realized -- and hasn't been made to realize -- that if you do something, especially something that drastically affects the lives of peoples, you should be serious about it.

Friday, July 11, 2003

UPDATE ON THE LATEST CHERNISS-REMES SPAT: Jacob has responded to my posts. His two main points, so far as I read him, are that 1)ANSWER didn't dominate the anti-war movement, and 2)It was ok for democratic leftists to join with Stalinists in opposing the war, since the goals were the same -- to stop the war -- but not ok for democrats to join with monarchists in supporting the student movement in Iran, since they have different goals. Jacob also notes that he didn't attend anti-war rallies organized by ANSWER.
Now, my response: first, it may well be that ANSWER's role in the anti-war movement was greatly exaggerated by some news sources - and I noted that it seemed to me that the anti-war movement, as time went on, threw off the influence of ANSWER. However, ANSWER did seem to be co-opting the anti-war movement pretty effectively in the early days; and in at least one well-publicized incident, they were able to get the organizers of an anti-war rally in San Francisco to black-ball Rabbi Michael Lerner as a speaker -- or so the reports I read claimed.
However, I'm willing to grant that ANSWER didn't dominate the anti-war movement. The point at issue, though, is this: the monarchists didn't dominate the pro-student, pro-democracy rallies on Wednesday, either. The rallies certainly drew monarchists -- just as the non-ANSWER-organized rallies that Jacob did endorse, and I thought at some point attended (though my memory could be at fault here), probably were attended by members of ANSWER. My real question was, and remains, why Jacob seems so much more sensistive to the presence of monarchists in the crowd than to members of ANSWER -- and why he was readier to believe reports (which he himself exaggerated in his summary) that the monarchists were controlling the pro-student, pro-democracy movement in the US than reports that ANSWER controlled the anti-war movement. Part of it, of course, is probably that he knew the anti-war movement better than the pro-Iranian-democracy movement, being himself involved in it; but knowing how the media distorted (?) the nature of that movement and ANSWER's involvement would, I'd have hoped, and should have made him a bit more sceptical of claims of monarchist control of the pro-Iranian-democracy movement -- claims which Jacob, so far as I know, is alone in making.
As for the issue of goals: both the monarchists and the democrats want to bring down the Mullahs, and support those in Iran who are bravely agitating to do so. Both the Stalinists and democratic Leftists were opposed to the war. The monarchists want to bring down the Mullahs to reinstate the monarchy, and the democrats want to institute democracy; members of the Democratic Left opposed the war, so far as I can tell, because they (reasonably) distrusted the Bush administration and were opposed on principle to its foreign policy doctrines, while the Stalinists, so far as I can tell, opposed the war because they oppose everything America does and rather liked Saddam. In both cases, very different sentiments and ideals; in both cases, a unity of purpose in the short-term.
If I may hazard to say so, it seems to me that Jacob was just far readier to stand up and be counted -- and stand alongside some unsavoury characters -- in opposing the war, than in supporting the Iranian student movement. The opposite is the case for me. I have some idea why this is so on my part -- though I'm also troubled by my own slight inconsistency, and am re-evaluating my own outlook accordingly. I'm not sure why it's the case with Jacob.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

I'm a day late, but I do want to add my small, reedy voice to those of my friends at OxBlog (see also here) and elsewhere in supporting the courageous students who are fighting for democracy in Iran, at great personal risk and, it would appear, cost; I also want to note my condemnation, for what little it's worth, of the repressiveness of the Islamo-fascist Iranian regime -- and, to a lesser extent, all those who have stood by and said and done nothing. (I can't be sure, having not been able to cover the whole of New Haven yesterday, especially while teaching; but I didn't notice any protests here in support of the Iranian student movement or against the Mullahs -- in sharp contrast to the omnipresent protests around the Yale campus against the US's attacks on Afghanistan and the war on Iraq. Of course, it's summer; but there are still plenty of people around -- and plenty of them are activists.
And while I'm on the subject of criticizing Leftist Yale activist types ...

MORE FRIENDLY MUD-SLINGING: I should start off by emphasizing to all possible readers, and reminding myself, that I love my friend Jacob very dearly; he is a good, principle, sincere, intelligent, passionately just person, worthy of great respect, attention, and affection. He also really knows how to press my buttons, as experience demonstrates (but we won't go there -- in part because the permalinks in the archive seem a bit screwy).
Now, I don't want to start another round of back-and-forth Jacob-and-Josh-being-moral-bitches-towards-one- another nastiness. But I do have to say, I think that Jacob's post regarding the pro-Iranian democracy movement doesn't show him at his best; and that it also pisses me off a little.
First of all, there's the basic premise: that the pro-Iranian-democracy movement in the US is monarchist, and that the pro-Iranian-student protests in the US "weren't truly solidarity protests, but rather groups piggy-backing on the democracy movement back in Iran."
Now, first of all, this involves what I think is a rather casual and misleading reading of the post from which Jacob got the idea that the protests were heavily monarchist (which happens to be by another, far less close, friend of mine from Yale, Gene Vilensky) As Gene notes, the organizers of the protest -- the Iranian Unity and Solidarity Council -- told the supporters of the Shah to pipe down, "since the rally was for democracy and was to be inclusive of all parties who wanted to rid that country of the Mullah's". Certainly, the slogans that Gene mentions -- Down with the Mullahs!"; "Get Out Hezbollah!"; "Iran, Iran, Just Iran!" -- seem not to involve any creeping monarchism. I think that Jacob is making too big a deal of the presence of monarchists at the protests. Of course, there were monarchists there -- but there were many anti-monarchists as well. What united everyone was opposition to the rule of the Mullahs -- and, at this point, I think that that's a cause worth banding together for (when the Mullahs do fall, or seem likely to, we can worry more about preventing a return of the monarchy).
But it isn't just that Jacob has made what I think is an inaccurate, unfair, and overly-alarmist criticism of a worthy, and indeed urgent, cause -- or that he seems to me to be looking for a rationale for his reluctance to join, or his lack of enthusiasm for, the Iranian-democracy movement. What bothers me most is the double standard.

Jacob and I have long been engaged in an ongoing argument about the compromises and alliances with dubious groups involved in effective (or avowedly effective) organizing. Most notably, we disagreed regarding the role of ANSWER in the anti-war on Iraq movement, which Jacob supported, and which I, in large part because of ANSWER's involvement in -- indeed, it seemed to me, domination of -- the Stop the War Coalition, was deeply critical of. Jacob strongly objected (sorry for the malfunctionings of the permalinks) to my criticisms of ANSWER's role in the anti-war movement, and call for the anti-war movement to, as he put it, spend more time combatting ANSWER and less time to combatting the war-mongers -- even going so far to talk darkly of McCarthyism. Jacob was himself critical of ANSWER, being no friend to Stalinism; but he seemed willing to put up with it -- and quick to regard attacks on ANSWER's role in the anti-war movement as effectively attacks on the anti-war movement itself (which in many cases was a fair enough impression), and to bridle at them appropriately. At least, this is how I recollect his reactions, and the blog archives seem to me to bear this out.
Now, from what I've seen of the pro-democracy-in-Iran protests, the monarchists have not been as prominent or dominant in organizing the protests or directing their rhetorical line as ANSWER or the Socialist Workers Party were in at least the earlier days of the anti-war movement (which, to be fair, did bridle at, and try to shake off, ANSWER's attempts to co-opt the movement for it's own, rabidly anti-American, pro-totalitarian agenda); I haven't seen reports of pro-monarchist slogans being as visible or common as grossly anti-American (and anti-Israel) slogans and banners were at many anti-war rallies.
So it seems to me, first, that the parallel is inexact, and that ANSWER and other far-Left zealots were a more disturbingly prominent presence in the anti-war movement than the monarchists are in the pro-democracy protests. But, perhaps I'm wrong; after all, I was ambivalent about the war, but I'm pretty strongly in favour of the Iranian democratic movement (which, from my impression, is indeed not itself monarchist, as Jacob somewhat worriedly hopes); so there's a stronger inclination on my part to assume the best about it.

Let's say, then, for the sake of argument, that the monarchists are as prominent and disturbing a presence in the pro-Iranian-democracy movement in the US as ANSWER was in the anti-war movement; that the monarchists are as morally bad as ANSWER; and that both the anti-war and pro-Iranian-democracy movements are nonetheless morally just. I take it Jacob will have no problem with the last supposition, and will be as willing to suspend any misgivings and scepticism regarding the other points as I am. The question, then, is why Jacob and I seem to have switched places -- why he now manifests more tender scruple about joining in with dubious allies, while I'm less prudishly worried about the moral contamination of joining with unsavoury allies in pursuit of a noble cause.
I'm not entirely sure. I suspect that a large part of it is that I DON'T believe that the anti-war movement and the pro-democracy-in-Iran movement are morally equivalent, that I'm less ambivalently devoted to the former -- and also that I don't find the monarchists as off-putting as I did ANSWER, for reasons I can't entirely explain (it certainly isn't out of any affection for the atrocious old Shah of Iran)
As for Jacob, who has in the past been willing, and indeed has seemed quite happy, to attend rallies organized in part by ANSWER, or by Unions whose leaders he's had personal disagreements with and objections to -- I'm not sure why he seems to be applying a heightened level of reservation and even suspicion to protests in support of the Iranian student movement -- especially when this movement is fighting a pretty clearly good and just fight, and fighting in the face of dangers which Jacob and his fellow American student activists have never had to grapple with. No doubt his motivations are wholly just. But his conclusions do seem to me not merely inconsistent, but misguided. And while I could accept and respect his scruples about the dangers of unsavoury allies if they were more consistently held, in light of his past actions and arguments, I can't help but bridle at them, and find them distinctly unfair.

An exciting and extraordinary new addition to the blogosphere has arrived in the form of Crooked Timber -- a group-blog powerhouse of left-of-centre scholar-blogging. The site design is gorgeous by blog standards, and the list of links is usefully comprehensive (not wholly comprehensive, though ... I note at least one horrendous omission, which modesty forbids I mention ...)
Now, at first, I admit I was filled with blog-envy. Not only does the blog take it's title from Isaiah Berlin's favourite quote, but they also invoke Dr. Stephen Maturin. With my scholarly subject and intellectual hero and one of my favourite fictional characters both co-opted, I felt my identity in peril.
However, I needn't have worried. Turns out that, despite taking their title from him (since, after all, he was the one who popularized the Kant quote), the Crooked Timbers aren't necessarily Berlin fans, as Chris Bertram demonstrates. [CORRECTION: The offending Berlin post was, as those who go there will see, the work of Kieran Healy, rather than the unjustly maligned Chris Bertram. My apologies to both of those fine gentlemen. ]
I don't think that Kieran's accusation that Berlin conspicuously wore his learning lightly is fair. True, he would turn to Kant, or whomever, to help him in making the point he wanted to make; and he was prodigiously learned. But he neither showed off his knowledge, nor coyly veiled it while actually pointing to it, nor manifested it in a deliberately off-hand manner; he could call on it when he had reason to do so, whether in engaging in an interpretive debate with a fellow scholar, or correcting minor errors on the part of a graduate student -- and he could put it aside when it wasn't necessary, or seemly.
Also, if one's going to adopt an example of Berlin's conspicuously-lightly-worn learning for one's blog title -- well, what sort of position is one in to talk?
Nevertheless, in spite of all, do go check this spanking new blog out.

STILL ALIVE And more or less keeping afloat while teaching (and also reading a good bit of Strauss and Strauss-influenced writings on Classical Political Philosophy; I'm not sure which experience is more disorienting ...) I'm hoping to get around to posting about my teaching experience, and some of my thoughts on recent (scholarly) reading, in a couple of days; for the time being, though, there are a few things in the blogosphere to respond to ...

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