Clueless is as clueless does

This book review by Matt Taibi of Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat is brilliantly funny. Go read it.

Taibi’s review has been widely linked and praised by bloggers but I have found a blogger who didn’t like it—John Ray, who wrote about it:

But reading these diatribes of rage and hate does certainly explain the horrors that happen when Leftists gain unrestricted power (i.e. in Communist regimes).

My guess as to why Ray didn’t like it goes like this: Before Ray can fit a piece of writing into his worldview, he needs to decide whether it was written by a Leftist or not. In this case, Friedman’s book is a rave about the wonders of globalization, so Ray decided that he must be “conservative-leaning”, and that someone who criticises Friedman must therefore be an evil Leftist full of rage and hate. Ray isn’t bothered at all by the fact that everyone else thinks it’s a great review. In fact, after he reads posts from conservative bloggers praising Taibi’s review, Ray concludes that his

point about the article by Taibbi being just a rage outburst with only marginal information content stands well confirmed.

I guess that the more people disagree with you, the better confirmed your theories are….

Comments

  1. #1 ben
    April 28, 2005

    Sortof a funny review, except that you could take it and apply it, with only exchanging a few nouns, and arrive at an equally funny review of, say, a book by Paul Krugman. That, and this error

    This is like three pages into the book, and already the premise is totally fucked. Nilekani said level, not flat. The two concepts are completely different. Level is a qualitative idea that implies equality and competitive balance; flat is a physical, geographic concept that Friedman, remember, is openly contrasting-ironically, as it were-with Columbus’s discovery that the world is round.

    But, dictionary.com gives for level

    lev.el Audio pronunciation of “level” ( P ) Pronunciation Key (lvl)
    n.

    1.
    1. Relative position or rank on a scale: the local level of government; studying at the graduate level.
    2. A relative degree, as of achievement, intensity, or concentration: an unsafe level of toxicity; a high level of frustration.
    2. A natural or proper position, place, or stage: I finally found my own level in the business world.
    3. Position along a vertical axis; height or depth: a platform at knee level.
    4.
    1. A horizontal line or plane at right angles to the plumb.
    2. The position or height of such a line or plane.
    5. A flat, horizontal surface.
    6. A land area of uniform elevation.
    7.
    1. An instrument for ascertaining whether a surface is horizontal, vertical, or at a 45 angle, consisting essentially of an encased, liquid-filled tube containing an air bubble that moves to a center window when the instrument is set on an even plane. Also called spirit level.
    2. Such a device combined with a telescope and used in surveying.
    3. A computation of the difference in elevation between two points by using such a device.

    And so, the two concepts are not completely different. Friedman had actually constructed a correct metaphor in this case, something Taibi accuses him of being incapable of.

    I had never heard of either of these two people, so I’m not trying to defend Friedman, but only point out that Taibi is not that funny, really.

  2. #2 liberal
    April 28, 2005

    ben wrote, Sortof a funny review, except that you could take it and apply it, with only exchanging a few nouns, and arrive at an equally funny review of, say, a book by Paul Krugman.

    Nonsense. No one comes close to Friedman in the “who writes the most idiotic prose?” department.

    I found Taibbi’s piece somewhat funny. But not nearly as funny as the parody of Friedman entitled The Datsun and the Shoe Tree.

    It’s a must read. You’ll piss your pants laughing if you’re at all familiar with Thomas F’s writing.

  3. #3 Amanda
    April 28, 2005

    I would pay good money to see what John Ray would say about Taibbi’s alma mater, the Moscow eXile.

  4. #4 Tim Lambert
    April 28, 2005

    Ben, to be level, something has to be flat AND horizontal. You can have a flat slope or cliff, so the metaphor is wrong.

  5. #5 John Ray
    April 28, 2005

    O sheepish one,
    Thank you for directing your readers to my comments. I think they speak for themselves

    JR

  6. #6 ben
    April 28, 2005

    Yes, I know that Tim. Technically that is true, but in lay terms, flat and level can be synonymous, just as clear is often used when colorless is meant e.g. as when describing the color of water. Metaphors are often constructed in lay terms, leaving the meaning to the astute reader. And since when in history has a flat earth refered to an earth of constant but nonzero slope?

    Here’s the definition of flat from dictionary.com once again to help

    flat1 Audio pronunciation of “flat” ( P ) Pronunciation Key (flt)
    adj. flat.ter, flat.test

    1. Having a horizontal surface without a slope, tilt, or curvature.
    2. Having a smooth, even, level surface: a skirt sewed with fine flat seams.
    3. Having a relatively broad surface in relation to thickness or depth: a flat board. See Synonyms at level.
    4. Stretched out or lying at full length along the ground; prone.
    5. Free of qualification; absolute: a flat refusal.
    6. Fixed; unvarying: a flat rate.

    So I win.

  7. #7 ben
    April 28, 2005

    Just to beat the horse to death, something can be flat without being level, can be level without being flat, or can be flat and level, and there can be some amiguity to the terms and their interchangeablitiy. Such is the language.

  8. #8 Pro bono mathematician
    April 28, 2005

    …Columbus’s discovery that the world is round.

    You would think that even Friedman would know better. Columbus’s trip had nothing to do with discovering that the world is round – this was well known long before.

  9. #9 Tim Lambert
    April 28, 2005

    A flat earth still has hills and mountains it’s just that the overall shape is not a sphere. A perfectly spherical earth would have nobody higher than anybody else which is what the “level playing field” metaphor conveys. Any way you cut it, “flat earth” is a bad metaphor for globalization.

  10. #10 anthony
    April 28, 2005

    I think many of us have appreciated the difference in our lives between flat and level chested.

  11. #11 Thomas Palm
    April 28, 2005

    Both Friednamn and Tiabib seems to share a belief in the idea that Columbus discovered that the Earth is round. Had Taibib complained about something like that rather than about sophisms on the difference between ‘flat’ and ‘level’ his review might be easier to take seriously. Now it’s all attack on style and none on contents.

  12. #12 dsquared
    April 28, 2005

    Columbus was setting out to prove that the round earth was actually a smaller sphere than everyone else thought and thus that it was possible to reach India by circumnavigation. He was, of course wrong in this belief; if it wasn’t for America being there, he would have died of thirst in the middle of the Atlantic-Pacific Ocean.

  13. #13 Jeff Harvey
    April 28, 2005

    Funny or not (and I found Taibi’s review VERY funny), Thomas Friedman is a first rate idiot. For some inane reason that is beyond me, he is claimed by many to be a “left-wing” scribe, whereas in reality, as Anthony Arnove put it less than succinctly, the guy is a hack, an apologist for empire and someone who defends aggression and war so long as America is pulling the trigger. His true nature was elucidated when he stated in his NYT column that “We [meaning the U.S.] should bomb Iraq over and over and over again”, or when he got all aroused as NATO was about to pound Serbia in 1999, stating, “You want 1950? We can give you 1950. You want 1350? We can give you 1350 too”.

    Friedman has an almost erotic obsession with globalization, as his previous book, “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” displayed. If you want an equally funny review slating this atrocious book, read the relevant chapter in Greg Palast’s “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy”. Friedman’s idea, that economic integration leads to a level playing field actross the globe, is utter drivel, bearing in mind that globalization under conditons of intellectual property rights, a drive to deregulate by conglomerates and transnationals, and wholly undemocratic markets are driving inequity in which globalization as currently defined benefits those with accumulated wealth and power, while dispossessing the poor. There is so much evidence to support this but Friedman is on one side of the fence only, and the fact that he gets as much attention as he does shows who controls the media. His garbage is syndicated across the world and he even pops up in newspapers over here in Holland from time to time. Writing establishment b*s is a sure way to make it in journalism.

  14. #14 TallDave
    April 28, 2005

    I don’t like Friedman, but I do think this line in the review is typical of the flawed “we’re so much smarter than the Right” intellectual snobbery of the left today:

    In politics, this allows America to invade a castrated Iraq in self-defense.

    When someone is shooting at you, castrated or not, shooting back is self-defense.

    Saddam’s regime might have been castrated in terms of ability to militarily invade another country as they did to Iran and Kuwait, but was still a horrific regime that was universally believed to have WMD stockpiles, was trying to kill US/UK pilots (a violation of the Gulf War I ceasefire and an act of war) assigned to keep him from committing airborne genocide against Iraqi civilians, was underwriting suicide bombings against civilians in Israel, and was committing horrendous atrocities against domestic Shia, Kurds, and Marsh Arabs, not to mention anyone it considered possibly disloyal or merely insufficiently respectful.

    And self-defense takes on a broader context post-9/11 (a concept leftists either cannot grasp or deliberately ignore); creating/promoting democracy in the Mideast is not only the moral thing to do, it’s a better strategy for eventually ending Mideast terrorism than the combination of appeasement and Chomskyesque national self-flagellation that seems to be the only Leftist alternative.

  15. #15 Rune
    April 28, 2005

    TallDave for some reason I find you very funny…

    It might be because I was told many years ago, that that you can’t have a serious discussion with people who is only interested in tench warfare (left-wing right-wing accusations in this case).

    Also can you tell me what other words have changed meaning/context post-9/11. thank you.

  16. #16 TallDave
    April 29, 2005

    For some reason I find you very amusing as well. It might be because I was told many years ago that you can’t have a serious discussion with people who immediately assume you can’t have a serious discussion with them.

    Not the word “self-defense”, the context of the strategy of defending the United States. Kind of like how Pearl Harbor did a ways back. Before that, about 90% of Americans opposed entering the war or even maintaining a standing military. Afterward, obviously things were different.

    And not because any words changed meanings.

    I actually agree with a lot of leftist positions: abortion in the first trimester, higher minimum wages

  17. #17 TallDave
    April 29, 2005

    ending corporate welfare, higher science funding, reasonable environmental restrictions… I could go on.

    Mostly what I object to are the excesses or oversimplifications: unreasonable, unscientific, federally-mandated arsenic-level laws, the idea more money for education automatically creates better education, the argument that a child five minutes after birth is somehow magically different than five minutes before, the idea no war is ever justified.

  18. #18 Dominion
    April 29, 2005

    Mostly what I object to are the excesses or oversimplifications: unreasonable, unscientific, federally-mandated arsenic-level laws, the idea more money for education automatically creates better education, the argument that a child five minutes after birth is somehow magically different than five minutes before, the idea no war is ever justified.

    Just curious. Can you give any evidence that any of the above is true?

    I mean, aside from “I believe it to be true therefore it must be true”.

  19. #19 Dano
    April 29, 2005

    You know, not too long ago, the issue amongst the moonbat Murrican lefties was that they couldn’t get anyone elected because:

    1. organizing the left is like herding cats because of the varied positions within the “left” and

    2. The left insists on arguing subleties of a position and thus can’t latch on to simplistic phraseology to help politicians rile up a base.

    Now I’m confused, because TD authoritatively lists these simplistic leftist positions, effectively smashing the moonbat argument just above. Is TD the new Galileo?

    [finally remembered to include my gravatar] D

  20. #20 TallDave
    April 29, 2005

    Dominion:

    I’m not sure what you’re asking me to prove as true.

    Dano:

    Like I said, I agree with some positions, simple or otherwise, and disagree with others. I think the main problem the left has is that while by and large its heart is in the right place, some overly extreme positions have been institutionalized by special interest groups like NARAL, teacher’s unions, and antiwar groups, for whom having a mission has become the mission, which results in a dearth of consideration about whether what they’re doing is actually right or sensible. I’m probably actually more of a libertarian than a rightist.

  21. #21 Thomas Palm
    April 29, 2005

    TallDave, and yet, despite how horrible Saddam Hussein was, and despite the brutal sanctions, death rates are still up in Iraq after the US invasion. People are still being tortured. Now it is sunni cities being destroyed by the US troops instead. I wouldn’t try to claim any humanitarian justifications for the invasion if I were you.

    The no fly zones that USA and Britian imposed was not part of the cease fire so Iraq firing on airplanes violating their airspace wasn’t that strange, the bombings on Iraq OTOH was an act of war, although Iraq couldn’t do that much about it.

    As for the stockpiles of WMD:s. There were plenty of suspicions, and when US and Brittish officials claimed that they had solid evidence there were WMD:s many people tended to believe them. But that was only because the available information was misrepresented and all facts pointing in the other direction ignored. All times USA pointed at a specific place and said “Here there be WMD:s” and UN went there to look it turned out to be empty buildings or civilian factories. This was known before the invasion.

  22. #22 Rune
    April 29, 2005

    TallDave in other words if I go to your house (long walk) and you throw a stone at me, I can shoot you in self-defense?

  23. #23 iangould
    April 29, 2005

    Thomas

    In general the Iraqis didn’t “fire on” any planes. They tracked them with radar, which the US and UK claimed COULD have been a precursor to firing on them.

    It’s kind of the “he was looking at me funny” version of self-defence.

  24. #24 Rob
    April 29, 2005

    I’m still waiting for Tall Dave to realize that Friedman is a liberal. Really I thought conservatives liked when liberals policed their own?

  25. #25 Dano
    April 29, 2005

    TallDave:

    like I said, you mischaracterized ideolological positions, simple or otherwise.

    D

  26. #26 Pro bono mathematician
    April 29, 2005

    Saddam’s … regime … was universally believed to have WMD stockpiles

    What exactly is this universe of believers you write of? You and your Fox-News-brainwashed Bush-parroting friends? Does it include Hans Blix and his team of UN inspectors who couldn’t find any ABC weapons even though they had access to every point in Iraq?

    And here is a related riddle: I am thinking of another country in the Middle East. It, too, invaded a neighboring country (but was allowed to stay and occupy parts of that country for many years). The country I am thinking of really is universally believed to possess atomic weapons (but does not allow inspectors in its facilities). Can you name this country? Clue: Like Iraq, its name begins with an I.

  27. #27 Jeff Harvey
    April 29, 2005

    TallDave is back! And speaking utter rubbish! Fact is, U.S. and U.K. intelligence, under pressure from their ‘superiors’ (e.g. the neocon chickenhawks who for some reason have attained power in the U.S.) knew that Iraq was utterly defenseless, otherwise they wouldn’t have attacked it in the first place. The Iraqi Air Force and Navy were destroyed in the first Gulf War and the military and civilian infrastrutures were not rebuilt by 2003, and Bush, Blair and their respective vile administrations knew it.

    I won’t even go into the crap that TallDave spun about the ‘no fly zone’, except to say that this was also a sham, considering the U.S. allowed Turkish fighter planes to enter Iraqi air space on at least three occasions in the 1990′s to bomb Kurdish villages (this according to accounts of U.S. personnel).

    Finally, I’d like to highlight TallDave’s hypocrisy and selective memory. Why does the U.S. have no interest in launching attacks against some its brutal allies (Colombia, Nigeria, Uzbekistan, Algeria) in the illusory ‘war on terror’ that have human rights records that are as bad as Saddam’s was? In each of these countries there have been tens of thousands of political opponents who have been killed or tortured by the current regimes (and the list is a lot longer than this). Similarly, I wonder why the U.S. has done everything it can to block the extradition of Emmanuel Constant and Prosper Avril, former leaders in Haiti, to that country for crimes they committed during their rule; both leaders live in relative luxury in the U.S. which refuses to hand them over to authorities in Haiti which has been trying to extradite them for over then years. Ditto for Suharto and Pinochet, two mass murderers who have also enjoyed their later years in comfort. Could it be – omigosh – that the U.S. couldn’t care less about human rights when it interferes with their political, economic and military interests? Say it ain’t so, Joe!

  28. #28 TallDave
    April 29, 2005

    Jeff Harvey is back, and apouting garbage and irrelevancies!

    Yeah, Saddam was so defenseless after Gulf War I, he only managed to slaughter a couple hundred thousand Shia and shoot a few hundred SAMs at US/UK pilots. Why, he’s a harmless little puppy.

    Finally, I’d like to highlight Jeff’s lack of perspective and logic. Yes, there are other bad regimes out there, and yes they should be reformed, but no it is not realistic to think we can reform all of them, nor is it logical to suppose that since we can’t do all of them we shouldn’t do any of them. Also, none of those regimes invaded two neighboring countries and killed 2 million people, so the case for war against them is a bit weaker.

    Could it be – omigosh – that Jeff couldn’t care less about human rights when it interferes with his anti-U.S. interests? Say it ain’t so!

  29. #29 TallDave
    April 29, 2005

    pro bono,

    OK, find me one gov’t who was arguing against the war on the basis Iraq didn’t have WMD. Not even France made that argument. Even Blix never argued that; he just said he needed more time.

    Here’s an interesting riddle: It’s a tiny country, only 1% of the landmass of its fascist neighboring countries who have all declared war on it and very nearly annihiliated it, in response to which it seized some of their terroritory so they couldn’t lob artillery shells into it. Until very recently, it was the only democracy in the Mideast. It was created after millions of its ethnicity were slaughtered in Europe by fascists.

  30. #30 TallDave
    April 29, 2005

    Rune,

    If it’s a big enough rock thrown hard enough that you feel your life is in danger, yes you have a right to defend yourself.

    Of course, the real question is, do I have a right to go around throwing rocks at people with no consequences?

  31. #31 TallDave
    April 29, 2005

    Thomas Palm,

    TallDave, and yet, despite how horrible Saddam Hussein was, and despite the brutal sanctions, death rates are still up in Iraq after the US invasion.

    There’s conflicting evidence on that. So, are you arguing they were better off under Saddam?

    People are still being tortured.
    But far less, and generally not just because they wrote or said something the regime disapproved of.

    Now it is sunni cities being destroyed by the US troops instead.
    Only when the people in those cities decide to try to seize power from the elected gov’t by killing people with car bombs.

    Trying to impose tyranny is wrong; defending democracy is not. The moral equivalence argument that says violence committed in either cause is no different is simplistic and wrong.

  32. #32 TallDave
    April 29, 2005

    Rob,

    There seems to be some debate on whether he’s liberal or not, but as I said I’ve never liked his work much regardless. I just didn’t like the way the reveiewer equates Friedman’s stupidity with the political arguments for liberating Iraq. In that regard, he rather ironically commits the same sort of stupidity he calls Friedman out for.

  33. #33 Rune
    April 29, 2005

    TallDave:
    Then does my right to self-defence give me the right to invade the US?

  34. #34 Eli Rabett
    April 30, 2005

    Friedman’s stupidity was why he bought all the arguments for invading Iraq.

  35. #35 Agricola
    April 30, 2005

    Genius of a kind only rarely seen.

  36. #36 TallDave
    April 30, 2005

    Rune:

    Well, I’m not sure what act of war you feel the U.S. has committed against you or your country, or what moral justification you’d advance for replacing an elected U.S. gov’t that does more to defend democracy and freedom than every other country on Earth put together, or what expected security benefit you would derive from doing so.

    Eli Rabett:

    Or one could argue that despite his stupidity, he still wasn’t quite dullard enough to buy all the arguments for leaving Saddam’s regime in power.

  37. #37 Dominion
    April 30, 2005

    Well gee Tall (do you mind if I call you Tall?) I thought I was as clear as clear could be. Let me try again:

    the excesses or oversimplifications: unreasonable, unscientific, federally-mandated arsenic-level laws, the idea more money for education automatically creates better education, the argument that a child five minutes after birth is somehow magically different than five minutes before, the idea no war is ever justified.

    I would like to see your evidence that any of the above spew is true. Surely it is not difficult for you to back your position…

    Is it?

  38. #38 Rune
    April 30, 2005

    TallDave remember we were talking about the case where you were throwing a (very big) stone at me and my rights to self-defence.

    Or are you saying that it is OK to invade a country defending myself against the rock thrown at me, if I don’t like the countrys gov’t?

  39. #39 Ian Gould
    April 30, 2005

    Talldave

    How about if you think your neighbour MIGHT have a rock because he threw one at one of his other neighbours a couple of years ago and you call the cops and they search his house and tell you there aren’t any rocks there but you decide that, damn it, you know better than they do and you and a bunch of your buddies go over to the neighbour’s house with semi-automatic rifles and shoot the shit out of the place and the neighbour himself survives but you kill a couple of his kids and then one of the kids gets pissed at you for killing his siblings and throws a pebble at you and you respond by killing that kid and another couple of his siblings?

  40. #40 Pro bono mathematician
    April 30, 2005

    It’s a tiny country, only 1% of the landmass of its fascist neighboring countries…

    The cat’s out of the bag: weapons or no weapons, invasion or no invasion – that’s all just smoke. What really matters is if TallDave (or Hannity or Cheney) put you in the GOOD column or in the EVIL column. If you are in the first, you can do no harm; if you are in the latter, the US reserves the right to invade you when it finds it convenient.

  41. #41 Pro bono mathematician
    April 30, 2005

    And as for finding one gov’t who was arguing against the war on the basis Iraq didn’t have WMD … Even Blix never argued that,

    Blix and every country that voted to keep the inspectors in Iraq had some doubts about the existence of banned weapons. Of course, since our Torturer-in-Chief talks directly to God, he never has any doubts.

  42. #42 Dan Navarro
    April 30, 2005

    Just to go back to John Ray’s counter-review for a second, I’m not sure I’d like to lend much credibility to someone who uses the byline: “Leftists just KNOW what is good for us. Conservatives need evidence…”. Since this is itself an empirically-testable statement, and he appears to have a conservative bent, I thought it useful to test this. In his article on The Psychology Underlying “Liberalism” he argues that

    Something that Leftists have had in common from the beginning is the rejection of any idea of “human nature”.

    That’s a very strong statement, I would think. All we would need to falsify it is evidence of some liberals who believe in some kind of “human nature”, correct? Since he’s well aware of “American liberals such as Chomsky” I thought that Noam Chomsky would be a good initial test of his hypothesis. Quoting from the Wikipedia entry on Chomsky,

    Recent theories of Chomsky’s (such as his Minimalist Program) make strong claims regarding universal grammar – that the grammatical principles underlying languages are innate and fixed, and the differences among the world’s languages can be characterized in terms of parameter settings in the brain

    In fact, Chomsky is one of the most hardline “innateness of language” folks around, and has been for almost 50 years (I talked a little bit about this once). Statement falsified, it would appear. So presumably, since it is “conservatives [that] need evidence”, we will soon be seeing John Ray make public retraction of this claim about the left, or perhaps a renunciation of his status as a conservative? Because it would be unbecoming of an evidence-driven conservative to make a claim about leftists that is blatantly contradicted by empirical data, would it not?

  43. #43 David Tiley
    April 30, 2005

    I always thought that my problem was a pitiful belief in the decency of human nature, leading to my stupid, stupid socialism.

  44. #44 Jeff Harvey
    April 30, 2005

    TallDave should read Anatol Lieven’s excellent book, “America Right or Wrong: an Anatomy of American Nationalism”. By no means is Lieven a left winger – many of his arguments I disagree with (for example he defends NATO actions against Serbia and US/UK attacks on Afghansitan), but much of what he says hits the mark.

    In the book, Lieven examines the American Creed and its attendant myths. He states that there are many Americans who have swallowed whole the myth of American exceptionalism, and believe that America is exceptional because it universally supports universal human rights and freedom around the world (myth 1). Because many, like TallDave and Skev, honestly believe this myth, which is constantly drip fed to the masses in the U.S. through a compliant corporate media, the creed continues that America must be excswpetionally good (myth 2), and thus cannot use its power in an evil fashion (myth 3). Because of this, America deserves to be exceptionally powerful and to be considered the global hegemon. The creed and its accompanying myths are believed my many Americans, as Lieven points out, and any contradictions to it are studiously ignored by the media completely (e.g the destruction of Falluja and the consequent slaughter there) or else are explained away as accidents or aberrations (e.g. Abu Graib and the widespread torture of Iraqi detainees, or the many examples of the deliberate bombing of civilians at gatherings such as wedding parties). There are countless historical precedents that TallDave and his ilk have airbrushed from their conciousnesses or, more worryingly, don’t even know about. I suggest they read up on some of the dissident literature, even if it destroys some of the myths they are force fed every day from the corporate media in the U.S.

    A commentary by Stan Goff on Counterpoint sums it up accurately: “Just for the record, the US military is not in Iraq to do a damned thing for the Iraqi people. What particular brand of cheap magical-mystery acid does someone take when he implies that Pizarro should be nominated to help the Incas with reconstruction? WE are the barbarians here! This benevolent force many are arguing to leave in Iraq has been used to enforce attacks and sanctions that are slouching toward a body count of 2 million, microtoxified the entire environment with a radioactive condiment that produces babies born without brains, slaughtered children in front of their parents and parents in front of their children, trashed the social and economic infrastructure, imprisoned thousands of people in indiscriminate round-ups (including children, by the way), subjected detainees to sexual humiliation, beatings, rape, murder, and other methods of systematic torture, bombed whole neighborhoods, kicked in the doors of sleeping families and waved guns at their infants and grandmothers, surrounded a city (Fallujah, in case WE forgot), then blocked the exits against “military-aged males,” who the US armed forces then exterminated, Warsaw-style, by the thousands. You know, I could go on with this list for some time”.

    Enough said. Those arguing with TallDave are wasting their breath. He refuses to accept that the American creed is a myth and won’t accept that fact that this current bunch of neocon crazies in the White House couldn’t give a rat’s ass about democracy and freedom (not that their predecessors could, either…).

  45. #45 TallDave
    May 1, 2005

    Jeff Harvey should read a little history. I recommend Victor Davis Hanson; he has an excellent explanation of American exceptionalism, which is far from a myth.

    The fundamental flaw in your premise is easy to expose: we don’t claim America “universally supports universal human rights and freedom around the world “, merely that it has done and continues to do more to support them than any other nation; indeed, more than all other nations combined. This isn’t hard to see; just look at a map. Japan, Germany, S Korea, Taiwan, Israel, and now Afghanistan and Iraq, are all free, democratic states primarily because of American exceptionalism.

    Nor do we claim that everything America does is right. There is a healthy debate in America over what whould or should not be done, and whether actions we have taken have been wrong. For instance, there is much debate over whether our support of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, while arguably necessary in the face of Soviet expansion, was not moral and should be discontinued. Your fatuous suggestion that Americans merely support action taken by their gov’t “because it’s America” is ridiculous.

    Stan Goff is a perfect example of the lack of perspective the left displays. Yes, all those things are unfortunate (although the description of DU as a “radioactive condiment” is lurid, unscientific), but taken in the context of repelling the invasion of Kuwait and freeing Iraq from the far worse atrocities committed by Saddam, they seem a tragic but necessary price. He seems utterly uninterested in the concepts of freedom and democracy, and assigns them zero value. Easy, I suppose, for someone who has never suffered without them.

    Enough said; I’m probably wasting my breath. You can’t convince people who aren’t interested in looking at the facts.

  46. #46 TallDave
    May 1, 2005

    Dominion,

    Why would I prove them true? My argument is those are not true; that’s why I don’t support them and oppose organizations like NARAL and the NEA that constantly espouse policies based on them.

    I’m not saying all leftists believe those things, just that these orgnanizations promote policies that amount to them. NARAL supports zero restrictions on abortion. The NEA’s answer to education problems is always more money, not accountability or competition (i.e. competence testing or school vouchers).

  47. #47 TallDave
    May 1, 2005

    Rune,

    If the gov’t is throwing the rocks at you, and has invaded two other countries, and is a brutal dictatorship that has a long history of throwing rocks not just at you but at its own people, yes I think you have pretty good moral case for removing them.

  48. #48 TallDave
    May 1, 2005

    Ian,

    Well, that isn’t what happened. In this case, the “rock” are WMD that Saddam had already used against his people, had agreed to destroy as part of the Gulf War I ceasefire, and the “cops searching the house” didn’t say there weren’t any, just that they needed more time to look, but did say the neighbor was not cooperating with the search as he was required to do under UN Res 1441. Here’s a list of the numerous other resolutions he flouted: http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/iraq/decade/sect2.html

  49. #49 TallDave
    May 1, 2005

    Ian,

    Also, my original metaphorical “rock” which you have borrowed was not the WMD, but the firing on American pilots, which again were a violation of the cease-fire, an assault on United States soldiers, and an act of war.

  50. #50 TallDave
    May 1, 2005

    pro bono,
    i>What really matters is if TallDave (or Hannity or Cheney) put you in the GOOD column or in the EVIL column.

    Again, an interesting difference in philosophy here. It’s not whether I or Hannity or Bush put them in a column; it’s whether they are in fact GOOD or EVIL. Leftists tend to mock such simple absolutist expressions of morality, as you do with your sneering capitalization, or imply that the Right uses them as mere tags of convenience to advance some agenda. Whereas us poor unimaginative (libertarian-leaning) rightists tend to simply ask “is it good or evil?” and act accordingly, and generally find the equivocation on the left counterproductive at best, repellent at worst.

    I mean, really. Was Saddam any better than Hitler? Would we today argue over whether it was morally justified to remove Hitler for the murder of millions of Jews, Poles, and Slavs, regardless of whether he was a threat? Neville Chamberlain was one who thought preventing war was more important than simple ideas like GOOD and EVIL.

  51. #51 Dan Navarro
    May 1, 2005

    I know that this is a bit off-topic, but I’m a real sucker for this kind of thing. I don’t think that the argument about Neville Chamberlain holds up. To quote from George Orwell’s essay, “The Lion and the Unicorn” (1940):

    In spite of the campaigns of a few thousand left-wingers, it is fairly certain that the bulk of the English people were behind Chamberlain’s foreign policy. More, it is fairly certain that the same struggle was going on in Chamberlain’s mind as in the minds of ordinary people … Like the mass of people, he did not want to pay the price either of peace or of war. And public opinion was behind him all the while … Only when the results of his policy became apparent did it turn against him

    So, one way or another, Chamberlain was doing his job as a democratic statesman: following the will of the people. You can’t go around extolling the virtues of democracy and simultaneously expect democratic leaders to ignore what the people want. We might not like Chamberlain’s bloody stupid policy, but if that’s what the people wanted, then that’s what he was duty-bound to deliver. That’s sort of in the definition of democracy.

    Getting back on-topic, I guess the Orwell quote explains why I’m actually in favour of the “equivocation of the left” that TallDave refers to. A simple “good or evil” judgement isn’t quite enough to guide policy, because there are evils associated with any course of action (“the price either of peace or of war”), and we never have sufficient information to be totally certain about the state of the world (witness the non-existent WMD debacle). So it’s not sufficient to say either that “war is bad so we shouldn’t go to war”, nor to say “dictators are bad so we should get rid of them” (or even the more sophisticated versions of the same statements). Every policy is a trade-off between different goods and evils, and that trade-off has to be made in the face of massive uncertainty about the world. I think we ought to acknowledge that when making decisions. So maybe it’s the statistician within me, but I think that since life is uncertain, anyone who says that their course of action is definitely “the good one” is probably lying, lied to, or stupid.

  52. #52 Ian Gould
    May 1, 2005

    TallDave

    The problem with your unequivocal stance is that it leads you to the sort of absurd positions which you advance here: “America is Good. America invaded Iraq. Therefore invading Iraq is Good.” One wonders what your position would have bene if you’d been around at the time of segragation; the internment of Japanese-Americans or the TRail of Tears.

    Let’s see: “America is Good. America allows slavery. Therefore slavery is good.”

    Meanwhile those of us on less familiar temrs with the Will of God have to work through the logic: “Killing people is bad. Invading Iraq will kill people. Therefore invading Iraq is bad unless it will save more people than it will kill.”

  53. #53 TallDave
    May 1, 2005

    Ian Gould,

    No, that’s a crazy mischaracterization. The morality of invading Iraq has nothing to do with whether America is “Good,” nor would I advance such a specious argument. My argument is invading Iraq was “Good” because the Hussein regime was a horrible regime, and democracy and freedom is better than tyranny.

    Meanwhile those of us on less familiar temrs with the Will of God have to work through the logic: “Killing people is bad. Invading Iraq will kill people. Therefore invading Iraq is bad unless it will save more people than it will kill.”

    Ahhhh, now we’re getting somewhere. That’s the real Iraq debate: are freedom and democracy and the removal of a regime that is actively trying to kill Americans (but generally failing) worth the cost in lives? I believe they are, you clearly do not.

    You mentioned slavery as an example of an obvious wrong. The U.S. Civil War was fought primary about slavery. Was it wrong for the North to invade the South to free the slaves? It involved a lot of killing; 400,000 people died out of a population of 40 million to free 5 million slaves.

  54. #54 TallDave
    May 1, 2005

    So, one way or another, Chamberlain was doing his job as a democratic statesman:

    I wouldn’t argue that he wasn’t, just that what he did was wrong, and we should learn from history’s mistakes so we don’t repeat its horrors.

    Your other comments seem well-thought-out, and I agree completely that we can’t be totally certain any action we take is right or good. Thus the need for ongoing debate and analysis.

  55. #55 iangould
    May 1, 2005

    So, Dave, how do you feel about Tibet?

    Can you explain in temrs of your wonderfully simple “good/bad” view why the US shouldn;t go to war with China to force it to withdraw from Tibet?

    Remember noe of that murky leftie pragmatic “they have nuclear weapons too” moral equivocation. Explain, in the same simple terms as “Saddm was bad and therefore overthrowing him was good”, why allowing the continuing torture and murder of ethnic Tibetans; the systemic destruction of Tibetan culture and the swamping of the Tibetans with millions of Chinese immigrants is morally justified.

  56. #56 Jeff Harvey
    May 1, 2005

    TallDave says, “The fundamental flaw in your premise is easy to expose: we don’t claim America ‘universally supports universal human rights and freedom around the world’, merely that it has done and continues to do more to support them than any other nation; indeed, more than all other nations combined”.

    Pure and utter fiction, if you read a list of American vetoes at the UN (everything from endorsing universal human rights and equitability as well as protection of the environment has been vetoed by the U.S. in the general assembly). Some of the vetoes are absolute howlers. TallDave might replace his quote with, “The fundamental flaw in your premise is easy to expose: we don’t claim America ‘universally supports universal human rights and freedom around the world’, merely that it has done and continues to do more to OPPOSE them than any other nation; indeed, more than all other nations combined”.

    Now that is more of the truth. Since WWII, the U.S. has unilaterally overthrown somethig like 40 democratically elected governments and moved to block more than 50 populist risings against intolerable regimes. Research by Edward Herman has shown that the U.S. tends to give more aid to countries that torture their citizens; this is not because the U.S. endorses torture, but because countries that routinely torture priests and union leaders, and support business practices that create misery for the poor and for the environment tend to be the best for U.S. business investment. Human rights does not even enter into U.S. foreign policy and it never has; certainly not over the past 50 years has it meant anything. TallDave ought to go the the library and pour through some of the declassified documents that were written by U.S. and U.K state and government planners in the 1950′s and 1960′s. Nowhere does the rights of indigenous peoples get a mention; the planers are more concerned that people in other countries that the U.S. wants to control will embrace populist goverments that will attempt to redirect the resource and capital wealth within these countries to address social needs rather than to enrich foreign investors. This has been the aims of U.S. elites for decades. TallDave is living in cloud cuckoo land if he thinks that freedom and democracy are important to the U.S. established order. Sorry TallDave if the truth hurts, but U.S. exceptionalism is a LIE. A BIG LIE.

  57. #57 TallDave
    May 2, 2005

    Jeff Harvey,

    Well, again, your first argument doesn’t speak to my mine. Name a country that’s done more for freedom and democracy than the U.S. UN Resolutions have yet to free very many people or countries; the U.S. has freed millions of people and numerous countries.

    Your second argument, I think, is based too heavily on conspiracy theories claiming the CIA or State Dept. are somehow responsible for everything bad that’s ever happened in the world, while any reasonable observer must conclude most of those events have much more complicated causes and U.S. involvement is peripheral. That’s not to say the U.S. hasn’t supported unfree undemocratic regimes (often in service to larger goals, like containing unfree undemocratic Communism); again I don’t argue the U.S. is perfect or unpragmatic, just that overall it’s done more than anyone else.

    Restricting ourselves purely to overt military situations where cause and effect is obvious, it’s pretty clear the U.S. has done more for democracy and freedom than any other country.

    Can you name another country that is keeping free democracies from being conquered by unfree tyrannies, as the U.S is doing in Taiwan and S Korea and Israel? Can you point to another country that has removed unfree tyrannies and replaced them with free democracies as the U.S. has done in Afghanistan and Iraq?

  58. #58 TallDave
    May 2, 2005

    Ian Gould,

    I feel that only should Tibet be free, China should be free as well. My girlfriend is the daughter of Chinese immigrants and agrees quite vehemently on both points. She hates what has been done to her people’s society.

    But military action against China would obviously carry a great cost, perhaps even causing a nuclear holocaust.

    Overthrowing the Communist dictatorship resposible for 50 million deaths and innumerable acts of repression would certainly be a good thing, but we on the right are pragmatic too, and recogize this is not feasible through military action. The continuing oppression of not only Tibetans but ordinary Chinese is wrong and should not go on, but lacking any direct way we can stop it, I suppose we must be satisfied with occasional denunciations and encouragement toward economic and political liberalization.

  59. #59 iangould
    May 2, 2005

    Dave, so if we’ve disposed of the “the right is more moral than the left” canard can we now go back to discussing the substantive issues?

  60. #60 Rune
    May 2, 2005

    TallDave,
    “the U.S. has freed millions of people and numerous countries”
    I assume WW2 is a big part of this.

    Can you answer these Q’s:
    * Did the US do this alone?
    * What were the reasons for the US freeing the countries
    in WW2.
    * Why did it take so long for the US to officially
    help/free the democracies in WW2?

    Also can you help me, I’ve forgotten the name of the tyranny that lend the US an airstrip(?) for the current Iraq war. the reason I want this name is that it is a perfect example of how the US Govt does ‘problem-solving’.

  61. #61 Rune
    May 2, 2005

    take 2… sorry

    TallDave,
    “the U.S. has freed millions of people and numerous countries”
    I assume WW2 is a big part of this.

    Can you answer these Q’s:
    * Did the US do this alone?
    * What were the reasons for the US freeing the countries
    in WW2.
    * Why did it take so long for the US to officially help/free the democracies in WW2?

    Also can you help me, I’ve forgotten the name of the tyranny that lend the US an airstrip(?) for the current war on Iraq. the reason I want this name is that it is a perfect example on how the US Govt does ‘problem-solving’

  62. #62 Ian Gould
    May 2, 2005

    Dave, as it happens, my view of the US’ position in the world and its contribution to the welfare of the world is closer to yours than, say, Jeff Harvey. although I think you underrate the contribution of the other western democracies. (For example, it was primarily Japan and Australia that oversaw the end of the cambodian civil war with substantial assistance from ASEAN members.)

    which is why it puzzles me that you keep defending a poorly conceived military adventure which has crippled the US armed forces, wrecked the US budget and brought the US international reputation to probabyl its lowest point ever.

  63. #63 Pro bono mathematician
    May 2, 2005

    Leftists tend to mock such simple absolutist expressions of morality.

    Not the Leftists I know. We actually like absolutist expressions of morality, it’s just that ours are fact based rather than pre-conceived. For example, we think that when country A invades country B which is no threat to country A, causing the deaths of tens of thousands, it is evil. But for you this is true if country A is EVIL (like Iraq) but not if country A is GOOD (like the US or Israel). Clearly, it is your position which is relativist.

  64. #64 Jeff Harvey
    May 2, 2005

    Nothing will budge TallDave from the precarious position with which he has positioned himself. It does not matter that the record effectively speaks for itself – that the ‘most peace-loving of nations’ [how many in the U.S. see themselves] has been involved in brtual military campaigns in every corner of the globe, without a break, almost since day one of its existence. If one looks at the carefully chronicled evidence, one can see (with not too much effort really) huge numbers of U.S. military campaigns coupled with attempts to violate, obstruct and subvert international law, and especially between 1945 and the present. If one goes over the empirical evidence, they find a history of butchery and carnage – intially using ‘communism’ as an excuse for economic and military expansion and interventions, and, more recently, terrorism.

    TallDave likes to suggest that the examples of U.S. malfeascence and violence have either been carried out in the name of freedom and democracy, or else are ‘aberrations’ and ‘accidents’. Many conservatives may be transiently cornered into conceding that there have been and are a few contemporary unsavory aspects to America’s historical record, but they wriggle out of responsibility by claiming that these can only be properly understood when viewed as ‘exceptions to the rule’, or ‘atypical’. Few have attempted to explain how many such anomalies are required to comprise the ‘rule’, considering that history is littered with examples of U.S. atrcoities, either carreid out directly or by proxy. If TallDave would like an annotated list, I would be more than happy to oblige.

    As far as creating ‘democracy’ in Afghanistan and Iraq, I would argue that (1) the only area of stability in the former country is in Kabul (where ex-Unocol employee Hamad Karzai is ‘honorary mayor’); the rest of the country is a lawless landscape controlled by warlords, narco-trafficers and other assorted criminals. (2) The election if Iraq was of course a farce, as no fair election can be held under the conditions of a brutal military occupation. Imagine if there had been elections held in Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968 under equally brtual Russian occupations: the western press would have had a field day making fun of these farces. Iraq is no different. In the end, if the Shia majority is allowed to run the country, and the illegal occupiers are forced out (including abondonment of their ‘enduring camps’), then the government will move to re-establish relations with Shia in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Following this, they will wish to rearm, and eventually take on the old enemy of the region, Israel. Does TallDave think for a second that the neocons have any intention of letting this happen?

  65. #65 Eli Rabett
    May 2, 2005

    Well be thankful for small favors as TD is quite willing to admit that “The U.S. Civil War was fought primary about slavery.” as many of his fellow thinkers will not even go so far. It must be the civilizing influence of deltoid

  66. #66 Rune
    May 2, 2005

    Jeff Harvey
    The best way to get people to shut up is to ask them questions they wont answer..

    almost everything else is often seen as posturing..

  67. #67 Jeff Harvey
    May 2, 2005

    Rune, You’re right. I suppose that I should start by asking TallDave some questions that he can’t answer about the U.S. historical record and its associated carnage – and there are plenty of examples.

  68. #68 TallDave
    May 2, 2005

    Jeff Harvey, etc.,

    Well, I don’t think I claimed the U.S. is “most peace-loving” (or that that’s necessarily a good thing anyway), and I’ve stated that the U.S. is not perfect. Again, my position is just that the U.S. has done more than any other country for freedom and democracy around the world.

    But my thesis would be simple to defeat if it were not true. You could simply name me another country that has done more than the U.S. to create and maintain freedom and democracy in the world. Of course this is impossible, because there is no such other country.

    I’ll repeat myself here:

    Can you name another country that is keeping free democracies from being conquered by unfree tyrannies, as the U.S is doing in Taiwan and S Korea and Israel? Can you point to another country that has removed unfree tyrannies and replaced them with free democracies as the U.S. has done in Afghanistan and Iraq?

    Pointing out things the U.S. has done wrong (and again, I don’t dispute that there are such things) doesn’t speak to my argument.

    As for your denunciations of the U.S.-backed elections, I’ll leave to any reasonable person to accept the verdict of the international observers who declared them imperfect, but overall free and fair. Your comparisons to the Soviets are rather laughable; the Soviets Communists did not hold free and fair elections.

  69. #69 TallDave
    May 2, 2005

    pro bono,

    For example, we think that when country A invades country B which is no threat to country A, causing the deaths of tens of thousands, it is evil.
    OK, then you agree Iraq was evil. But then, according to your logic, the U.S. is also evil for invading Iraq and removing that evil regime. Sounds more reactionary than fact-based. A more reasonable test would be to ask: what does the conquering country do with the conquered? Do they commit mass rape and pillaging and seizure of wealth as Saddam did in Kuwait? Or do they give the country back the people, creating a free democracy as the U.S. did in Iraq and Afghanistan?

    But for you this is true if country A is EVIL (like Iraq) but not if country A is GOOD (like the US or Israel).
    Again, you’re attributing to me arguments I don’t and wouldn’t make. The question of whether liberating Iraq was moral should stand on its own, and has nothing to do with whether the USA is “good”.

  70. #70 TallDave
    May 2, 2005

    then the government will move to re-establish relations with Shia in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Following this, they will wish to rearm, and eventually take on the old enemy of the region, Israel.

    Purely speculative, and rather insulting to Iraqis as well as contradicting the history of free democracies. Did the Germans re-arm and invade France again? Did the Japanese re-arm and invade China again? Are U.S. troops there “occupying” them? Let’s not assume free, democratic Iraqis are going to turn out to be foaming-at-the-mouth crazies who want to replicate a failed Iranian theocracy in their country and later make war on free democratic Israel.

  71. #71 TallDave
    May 2, 2005

    Ian,

    Sorry if I gave the impression other countries have not made valuable contributions; of course I would agree they have.

    which is why it puzzles me that you keep defending a poorly conceived military adventure which has crippled the US armed forces, wrecked the US budget and brought the US international reputation to probabyl its lowest point ever.

    Because replacing a heinous dictatorial regime with a free democracy was the right and necessary thing to do. Also, I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration. While we do have some issues with infantry, our ability to project power with carrier groups and air power is untouched. Our public debt as a % of GDP is lower than many other industrial economies. I would argue our international reputation is not particularly important relative to doing the right thing.

    I would ask the reverse: How can you oppose removing a horrific police state dotted with state-sanctioned rape and torture rooms, that tried to conquer two neighboring countries in order to seize their oil for its own use, gassed its own people, put hundreds of thousands of its own people in mass graves, and killed around 2 million people total, and replacing that regime with a free democracy?

  72. #72 TallDave
    May 2, 2005

    Rune,

    I generally left WW II out of my arguments to that point, as it was a long time ago and involved a major threat to the U.S. But to answer why it took so long: probably because America had no military to speak of and something like 90% of the country opposed getting Americans killed in what was viewed as yet another of those interminable European wars.

    OTOH, we did arm the UK and eventually free Western Europe after defeating the Axis, who we fought because they were a threat. Why free the conquered peoples? Because freedom is what we’re about. We didn’t try to make Japan or France or Germany U.S. territories subject to our imperial whims; notice the Russians freed no one. Had we left sooner or given Patton his head, Eastern Europe might have been free fifty years sooner.

    Also can you help me, I’ve forgotten the name of the tyranny that lend the US an airstrip(?) for the current war on Iraq
    I believe you are referring to Uzbekistan. Not a very nice regime, and I hope we can persuade them to reform.

  73. #73 Eli Rabett
    May 3, 2005

    Ah, but Tall Dave, you are ignoring the role of the Soviet Union in WWII. They won the war in Europe. More so than the US and UK. OTOH, let us not believe that they did so out of the milk of human kindness or that the effect was to set up democracys.

  74. #74 Rune
    May 3, 2005

    TallDave,
    “I generally left WW II out of my arguments to that point”
    Fair enough, but where came the number from? where did the US save “millions” of peoples from tyranny if not WW2?

    “America had no military to speak of and something like 90% of the country opposed getting Americans killed in what was viewed as yet another of those interminable European wars.”
    Doesn’t this mean that the US public didn’t give a rats ass (arse) about conquered peoples of europe, until what? What made them change their minds?

    “Why free the conquered peoples? Because freedom is what we’re about”
    Then why wasn’t this enough in the first place?

  75. #75 Rune
    May 3, 2005

    TallDave,
    “How can you oppose removing a horrific police state dotted with state-sanctioned rape and torture rooms, that tried to conquer two neighboring countries in order to seize their oil for its own use, gassed its own people, put hundreds of thousands of its own people in mass graves, and killed around 2 million people total, and replacing that regime with a free democracy?”
    If this was the reason(which it wasn’t), then why now. Most of these are hardly current? Can you do this without using 9/11 as an excuse?

  76. #76 TallDave
    May 3, 2005

    Rune,

    The reasons did in fact include all of the above, as Bush made clear in several 2003 speeches.

  77. #77 TallDave
    May 3, 2005

    Eli,

    As I mentioned, the Soviets freed no one. They merely re-enslaved the populations of the countries they took over.

  78. #78 TallDave
    May 3, 2005

    Rune,

    Re WW II:

    There were two separate events here:

    1) the defeat of the Axis powers, which it can be argued was purely done for selfish reasons

    2) the subsequent freeing of the people of Japan, Germany, France, Italy, etc., as opposed to the re-enslavement that the Soviets undertook.

  79. #79 TallDave
    May 3, 2005

    where did the US save “millions” of peoples from tyranny if not WW2?

    Taiwan, S Korea, Israel, not to mention Iraq and Afghanistan.

  80. #80 TallDave
    May 3, 2005

    Something like 90% of the country opposed getting Americans killed in what was viewed as yet another of those interminable European wars.”
    Doesn’t this mean that the US public didn’t give a rats ass (arse) about conquered peoples of europe, until what? What made them change their minds?

    Well, I don’t think we cared enough about them to change our entire economy to a war footing and sacrifice hundreds of thousands of American lives to rescue Europeans from their follies. But after the Japanese bombed us, defeating the Axis became a matter of self-defense if not self-preservation. After that was accomplished, while the Soviets imposed Communist dictators on Eastern Europe, we wrote new German and Japanese constitutions for the conquered under which they would be free democracies like us, and let liberated nations like France write their own new constitutions.

  81. #81 Pro bono mathematician
    May 3, 2005

    what does the conquering country do with the conquered? Do they commit mass rape and pillaging and seizure of wealth…

    Funny how seizure of wealth appears on your list but mass killing, torture, and destruction of entire cities are absent. I guess these have nothing to do with good and evil (or else they wouldn’t be perpetrated by the US).

    Also, your story about the US going after Saddam because of his human rights record would have had a hope of being credible if Saddam and the US weren’t such a good friends back in the 80′s, if the US wasn’t still such good friends with various central Asia dictators, if the US weren’t backing up the brutal occupation of the Palestinians. The US even supported a military coup against a democratically elected government in Venezuela. Sheesh.

  82. #82 Pro bono mathematician
    May 3, 2005

    Uzbekistan – Just one of our friends in central Asia.

  83. #83 Pro bono mathematician
    May 3, 2005

    Uzbekistan – Just one of our friends in central Asia.

  84. #84 TallDave
    May 3, 2005

    pro bono,

    No, I’m pretty sure I mentioned those several times – for instance above: horrific police state dotted with state-sanctioned rape and torture rooms, that tried to conquer two neighboring countries in order to seize their oil for its own use, gassed its own people, put hundreds of thousands of its own people in mass graves, and killed around 2 million people total,

    Also, your story about the US going after Saddam because of his human rights record would have had a hope of being credible if Saddam and the US weren’t such a good friends back in the 80′s, if the US wasn’t still such good friends with various central Asia dictators, if the US weren’t backing up the brutal occupation of the Palestinians. The US even supported a military coup against a democratically elected government in Venezuela. Sheesh.

    Maybe if there han’t been another superpower extremely inimical to freedom and democracy that was vying for influence all over the world, we wouldn’t have been so friendly with Saddam and so many other unsavory regimes in the 1980s. Or maybe you’d prefer the Soviets had won the Cold War. Sheesh, indeed.

    Again, my argument is not that the U.S. is perfect, just that it’s done more than everyone else to promote freedom and democracy in the world. Show me a country that doesn’t maintain friendly relations with those regimes, and that has also done the positive things the U.S. has. Since overthrowing every unfree tyranny is neither practical nor advisable, for the most part we maintain relations with such regimes today in case they’re needed to repel greater evils like the Taliban or Saddam Hussein.

    FYI, The Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez was not legitimately elected. MIT mathematicians have proved he rigged the machines and stole the last election. Even the Carter Center stat guy who initially defnded the elections has admitted he was wrong and the machines must have been tampered with. Chavez is also quite friendly with Castro, which should cause great alarm to anyone concerned with human rights and political freedom.

    I would argue the Palestinians are more the victims of the Arab dictatorhips than the democratic Israelis (most of the Pals were told to move there because they could have Israel after the Arabs drove the Jews into the sea; some say if you bet on genocide and lose you get what you deserve), but that’s a whole separate issue, so I’ll just ask whether you think it would be more appropriate to allow a Second Holocaust than to support Israel (and notice, we do condemn Israeli actions now and then).

  85. #85 Pro bono mathematician
    May 3, 2005

    Again, your ideas of who is GOOD and who is BAD are pre-conceived. Any incovenient fact can be explained away: We supported Saddam – but only because of the Soviets (you forgot to come up with an excuse for why we support Uzbekistan, but I can do it for you: it’s only bacause of Osama), we support a military coup – but only because the MIT mathematicians showed that the election was rigged, the Israelis oppress the Palestinians – but only because of the Arab dictators…

    Look at the pathetic state of your relativist morality: scraping excuses for murder and torture. Repent. Save your soul.

  86. #86 Ian Gould
    May 3, 2005

    How can you oppose removing a horrific police state dotted with state-sanctioned rape and torture rooms, that tried to conquer two neighboring countries in order to seize their oil for its own use, gassed its own people, put hundreds of thousands of its own people in mass graves, and killed around 2 million people total, and replacing that regime with a free democracy?>p>
    1. That “free democracy” so far exists mainly in the minds of the more optimistic partso the American public.

    2. As we’ve alreayd discussed here repeatedly, the two million people (probably a bit of an exaggeratioon) are still dead. The invasion of Iraq would have been justified if it could reasonably be argued (as it could in Kosovo and Afghanistan) that the FUTURE casualties of the Iraqi regime would have exceeded the casualties likely to be incurred by the war.

    3. How was Saddam’s Iraq any worse than the Sudanese, Zimbabwean and Burmese dictatorships (to name just three from a depressingly long list)? Are you prepared to argue that the US should now invade those countries as well? apart from the wholly false claism that Iraq possessed WMDs, what distinguished the Iraqis as particularly deserving of invasion.

    4. As to the US economy, you gross debt is comparitively low as a percentage of GDP – but this ignores the larger assets held by most other OECD governemnts. Australia has virtually paid of its natioanl debt in the past decade – but the shift in its net assets was much lower since much of the repayment was financed from privatisations. Additionally, the Euroepans and most other developed countries have lower unfunded off-balance sheet liabilities for future pensions. I’ll also point out that the US is currently running large deficits despite the fact that its economy has been expanding for about the past four years. This US expansion has been quite unusual – its been longer and shallower than most post-WWII expansions. Since it is unusual, its difficult to predict its future but we can be certain that at some point the US WILL experience a recession. When that happens, your budget deficit will get dramatically worse.

  87. #87 Jeff Harvey
    May 3, 2005

    Ian,

    You have conveniently cited regimes as rogues that are not on the U.S. payroll. What about Nigeria, Colombia, Uzbekistan, and Algeria which are? What about Turkey, for that matter? Pakistan? Egypt?

    TallDave,

    Please chceck up on the number of international laws that the U.S. has violated; the number of solitary U.N. vetoes on issues pertaining to human rights; the number of elected democracies they have helped to overthrow because these new governments were populist and did not support the economic interests of U.S. elites; the number of populist uprisings against intolerable regimes that the U.S. helped to quash. As I said before, the U.S has spent the better part of the past 50 years suppressing real democracy; the democracy’s you allude to are in fact plutocracies, wherein the countries are ruled by an elite order which has its own priorities. Look at the nominal democracies across Latin America that the U.S. bolsters: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and more recently Nicaragua (after destroying the country in its terrorist war against the populist Sandanistas who overthrew another American client, the butcher Somosza and his thugs). In all of these countries, several idealogically identical far-right candidates are shoved in front of the electorate every four or five years; their policies are more-or-less identical and they speak for the conglomerates and corporations who finance them. This is the Negroponte version of democracy.

    As far as Hugo Chavez is concerned, the man is also a populist who has been vilifed simply because he has challenged the established order and won. Like Kirschner in Argentina and Lulus in Brazil, Chavez is the face of true bottom-up democracy, where a farmer or a laborer can rise to political power with promises to use their countries resources to benefit the poor in society, rather than to act as a surrogate for foreign investors. The U.S. is terrified that populist governments will begin to replace the polyarchies and corrupt regimes they have traditionally supported throughout the region. I would also like you to explain how the U.S. terrorist war against Nicaragua in the 1980′s – which destroyed a fledgling democracy committed to redirect the nation’s wealth to austerity programmes – can be regarded as just. By 1984, the Inter-American Development and World Banks were hailing the Sandanista reforms by saying that the Nicaraguan economy was a “Model for all of Latin America”. Within several months, however, George Schultz stated that there was a ‘cancer’ in Latin America (Nicaragua) that had to be, in his words, “Cut out”. Six years after waging a terrorist war which left up to 85,000 dead, the country was in ruins (the U.S., incidentally, is the only country to be found guilty in the World Court of ‘Illegal Aggression’ [state terrorism in other words] for its brutal assault on Nicaragua; it was ordered to pay 5 billion dollars which of course it refused to do, and instead it intensified its terrorist war). Nicaragua now is the second poorest country in the western hemisphere (after another American client state, Haiti) and will probably never recover. But the bottom line is that Nicaragua is back where it was before 1980, as a client state for U.S. investors.

  88. #88 iangould
    May 3, 2005

    Jeff,

    I didn;t base my seelction on whether the countries in question were allies of the US or not – I based it on the number of people they’re currently killing and torturing.

    I considered a number of othet hypotheticals such as Belarus and Pakistan before picking what I think are soem of the worst regiems on the planet.

    Somehow eports of Burma recently using chemical weapons on the Karen don’t seem to raise much international ire. This is despite well-documented links between Burma and North Korea.

  89. #89 TallDave
    May 3, 2005

    Jeff,

    As far as Hugo Chavez is concerned, the man is also a populist who has been vilifed simply because he has challenged the established order and won. Like Kirschner in Argentina and Lulus in Brazil, Chavez is the face of true bottom-up democracy

    Maybe you didn’t read what I wrote: he stole the election. It’s been proven. That’s not democracy, bottom-up or otherwise. Google MIT Chavez election if you think that’s just “vilification.”

    Re Nicaragua: Communist regimes have been consistently anti-freedom and anti-democracy when it looks like either will cost them power, virtually without exception. Opposing them needs no apology. Maybe you should check out El Salvador in the 1980s; that was another Communist regime that was called a “model” and liberal media assured us they were “popular” and would win any elections held there. The U.S. backed the anticommunists until the Communists were forced to actually hold those elections — which they promptly and decisively lost.

  90. #90 TallDave
    May 3, 2005

    Ian,

    1. Well, you go explain that to the 8 million Iraqis who voted in free and fair elections for the first time in their lives, and the 25 million who enjoy a free press and freedom of political thought for the first time not just in Iraq, but in modern Arab history.

    2. That’s sort of like saying you can’t arrest a mass murderer unless you can prove he’ll kill again. Besides, what makes you think Saddam’s regime wouldn’t have killed another 2 million? In Abu Ghraib alone, he tortured 2000 people to death every year according to doctors who worked there. There was no indication the regime would not remain in power for another 50 or 100 years absent US intervention. Look how long Castro has hung on, and he’s not sitting on trillions in oil.

    3. Well, besides the fact those regimes weren’t invading their neighbors or shooting at US pilots, I don’t know why we’d need to prove he was worse in order for it to be moral to remove him. It’s a logical fallacy to say “Well, you can’t justify removing one horrible regime if you don’t remove them all or prove this regime is worse than all the others.” Though of course I would agree those regimes are heinous, and should be reformed.

    4. OK, but even accepting all that, the Iraq war has still had a pretty minor impact on overall US debt.

  91. #91 TallDave
    May 3, 2005

    pro bono,

    You’re right, what was I thinking. Opposing the Soviets didn’t justify being frendly with some awful regimes. For that matter, we shouldn’t have allied with Stalin against Hitler. Who cares if antifreedom, antidemocratic powers control the world? As long as our hands are squeaky clean!

  92. #92 TallDave
    May 3, 2005

    Jeff,

    It’d be nice if the Haitian and Nicaraguan gov’ts could get their act together, but if you’re blaming their troubles on US military assistance/intervention, then conversely you have to give the US credit for the much greater number of free and democratic regimes we also gave military assistance to. Even in S/C America, there are quite a few countries like Costa Rica, Bermuda, Dominican Republic, etc., that manage to be halfway free and democratic, at least in part because of U.S. influence in the region.

    So even if we accepted your arguments that the U.S. is responsible for the sorry state of affairs in some countries as true (as opposed to regarding them as noble but failed efforts to improve their lot), it still doesn’t change the fact that when you add all the countries the U.S. has freed and kept free into the equation it’s obvious that even accepting your allegations of misbehavior the U.S. has done more than any other country to promote and defend democracy and freedom.

  93. #93 TallDave
    May 3, 2005

    pro bono,

    In a larger sense, your arguments are more anti-reality than anything. Apparently you would like all moral decisions to take place in a vacuum, with no larger considerations ever allowed. The Isaelis “oppress” the Pals, so we shouldn’t support them, never mind that that means free democratic Israel will be destroyed by unfree Arab dictqatorships. Saddam’s regime is bad, so we should let the Soviets dominate the Mideast, never mind that they’re trying to destroy freedom and democracy worldwide. Chavez steals elections, but we shouldn’t support a military coup against him because coups are bad regardless of who they overthrow. Uzbekistan is bad, so we shouldn’t enlist their help to overthrow the Taliban. Stalin is bad, so we shouldn’t ally him to defeat Hitler. As they say, the perfect is the enemy of the good.

    That’s not moral relativism, that’s acknowledging reality. Moral relativism would be saying, for instance, “Well, from the Soviets’ perspective, their oppression isn’t wrong because they’re helping the poor.” And we did get a lot of that during the Cold War, like when Dan Rather reported that the Soviets enjoyed “economic freedom” while we enjoyed “political freedom” and the two were really morally equivalent. Of course the reality was the poor in the Soviet Union were generally far worse off than in the West, and were brutalized and unfree besides.

  94. #94 Rune
    May 4, 2005

    TallDave,
    “the subsequent freeing of the people of Japan, Germany, France, Italy, etc., as opposed to the re-enslavement that the Soviets undertook”
    which can be seen as preemptive self-defence with respect to the Soviets.
    So you’re saying that freeing all those people from tyranny was a by-product of the US defending itself. What happend to those words of freedom you cited?

  95. #95 TallDave
    May 4, 2005

    Rune,

    No, I’m just saying we freed them. The warmaking was self-defense, the subsequent freedom of the conquered an expression of Western and American values. The Soviets, if you’ll notice, did not free the countries they took.

  96. #96 Rune
    May 4, 2005

    TallDave,
    “The reasons did in fact include all of the above, as Bush made clear in several 2003 speeches”
    Ok if I remove it, will you now answer the question?

    If this was the reason, then why now. Most of these are hardly current? Can you do this without using 9/11 as an excuse?

  97. #97 Rune
    May 4, 2005

    TallDave,
    “No, I’m just saying we freed them. The warmaking was self-defense, the subsequent freedom of the conquered an expression of Western and American values. The Soviets, if you’ll notice, did not free the countries they took.”
    Then you’re saying that the good thing the US did was to not keep the countries they took, everything else was self-defence?

  98. #98 TallDave
    May 4, 2005

    Rune,

    I’m not sure what you mean by “not current.” We’re still fighting those same regime elements that would like to restore those nightmares today.

    Yes, in WW II we made war primarily in self-defense, and not just because what was happening in Europe under Hitler was wrong. Afterward, we made those countries free, and undertook to keep them free as a matter of principled self-interest.

    Yes, I would say the warmaking was not the “good” part. Had we taken the Soviet route and made the countries we conquered, tribute-paying unfree dictatorships ruled by American proconsuls as opposed to free consitutional democracies, our military efforts would have served no good cause. That would have been unprincipled self-interest, like the Soviets displayed.

  99. #99 Rune
    May 4, 2005

    TallDave,
    “…ruled by American proconsuls as opposed to free consitutional democracies, our military efforts would have served no good cause.”
    As you said the countries the US took was a by-product self-defense.
    So you’re saying that the only good thing that made what the US did in WW 2 a good cause, was how the US treated a by-product of its self-defense.

    Returning a purse I found on the street, doesn’t make me a Hero… or is it different in the US?

  100. #100 Pro bono mathematician
    May 4, 2005

    That’s not moral relativism, that’s acknowledging reality.

    With your version of “acknowledging reality”, anything can be justified. Just pick your excuse. Saddam killing the Shi’a? Only to stop the spread the EVIL Iranian regime. The Whites in South Africa oppressing the Blacks? Only because they are threatened by Black dictators. etc. etc.

    Can’t you see how arbitrary and convoluted your excuses are?

    Sure, sometimes you have to make compromises. But only in those cases where the net benefit is clear enough so as to leave no doubt that the compromise is justified. The acts you are trying to defend would not pass this test even if we were to accept your claims regarding the pure motives of the perpetrators (which, of coure, I don’t).