Now we know how debates can be stupider


    "I think this is a ridiculous exercise."
            — Joe Biden


If the frontiersmen who trashed the White House after Andrew Jackson’s inaugural had had YouTube, it would have looked like what we saw out of Charleston Monday night.

No, I take that back. The yahoos who had to be lured back out of the mansion with ice cream in 1829 were not this insipid. They were real; they were who they were, and I shouldn’t malign them by comparing them to the "Ain’t I cute" questioners on the "YouTube debate."

Gail Collins has it exactly right on today’s op-ed page, as I’ve said before (sorry; can’t show it to you — you know how the NYT is. You can’t have a serious debate with five or six or — come on, eight? — candidates on the stage. But there are worse things than the debates we had seen up to now — people who would occupy the most important job in the world being subjected to "Reality TV," and having to be deeply respectful of this abuse. (Certainly I think it’s a very important question," said Chris Dodd to the first one. It wasn’t.)

Joe Biden was only answering one of the questions that came out of this process in the quote above, but it easily applied to the evening — or most of it. Some of the questions were questions that should have been asked. But they would have been better asked by people who did not see themselves and the message. And they say politicians are narcissistic.

I like YouTube. I love YouTube. It can be fun. It can be useful. But unless it is applied much better than it was in this case, it cannot bring intelligence or coherence to a format that is far too fragmented and distracting already — the free-for-all debate among anyone and everyone who says he or she wants the nomination.

If you wish to learn what was said — and I certainly don’t blame you if you didn’t watch it — without the distractions of the posturing, mugging, simpering and snideness of the the questioners hitting you full in the face — here’s a transcript. But it doesn’t help much.

Did I get anything out of this debate? Yes. I saw once again that behind all the "I want to get out of Iraq faster than Cindy Sheehan does" posturing by this crowd seeking the affections of the angry base, serious people know that it’s not that simple. Obama: "At this point, I think we can be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in." Of course, he went on to promise a quick retreat, but I think he knows better (at this point, I’ll grasp at any straw for hope that someone who might be president might have a clue). Biden: "You know we can’t just pull out now." Of course, he then quickly proposes a pullout, but at least he has a coherent plan. I think it’s an extraordinarily dangerous plan (creating an independent Kurdistan on Turkey’s border?), but it’s a plan.

I could go into other "issues," such as Chris Dodd’s white hair, or Anderson What’s-His-Name’s white hair, or whether John Edwards is better for women than Hillary Clinton (his wife says so, but let’s not go there), or how black Barack Obama is. But I think it’s safe to say that we’ll hear more about such things as the months grind slowly on.

Bottom line: We didn’t learn anything more from this than the middle-school slam-book stuff we had known before: Hillary projects presidential; Obama is smart and charismatic; Biden and Richardson are experienced, Gravel is certifiable, Kucinich is irritating, Edwards is a demagogue, and Dodd is uninteresting.

But hey; I can pander to the masses as much as the next guy: What did you think?


41 thoughts on “Now we know how debates can be stupider

  1. bill

    I think they should have used an “American Idol” format.Each candidate could do a song about their positions,and then Randy,Paula,and Simon could critique each performance.Of course,this being a democracy,the viewers at home would decide the winner.I don’t think this would be any more surreal,but it would be far more entertaining.People might even watch.

  2. Brad Warthen

    Did you catch the part with the YouTube questions they DIDN’T ask? There was one from a precocious child in SC.
    These were dismissed as parents using their kids to ask grownup questions.
    I thought some grownup questions would have been nice to have…

  3. weldon VII

    I thought the preacher who got an in-studio follow-up to his gay rights video question, apparently to skewer John Edwards in his former home state, was a pathetically unprofessional journalistic ambush that Edwards handled remarkably well.
    Otherwise, it was the same old same old: Hillary projects arrogant, not presidential, and, like her husband, she’s a born liar who never really answers a question; Obama is smart and charismatic but appears naive, especially on foreign policy; Biden has the stones and experience but displays too much cutting edge; Richardson shows up well but doesn’t look presidential; Gravel offers more truth than anyone would like to admit from his perch in the on-stage audience; Kucinich being elected to anything appears more amazing with each debate; Edwards still looks too young and smarmy; Dodd still looks too old and smarmy.
    The Democrats really need to get the also-rans off the stage and back into the asylum so the HOE show — Hillary-Obama-Edwards — can get started.

  4. bill

    Yeah,I saw that.I was amazed at some of the videos they DID allow.I guess I did enjoy it in a sort of Dan Aykroyd SNL way.It was “truly,truly,bad”.But then the “Daytime Emmy Awards” get my vote for deliciously awful TV.

  5. bud

    Brad, lighten up a bit. I enjoyed the debate. It was fresh and different. It’s important to see how candidates handle themselves in different environments.
    (As usual Brad has to throw in the gratuitous, “it’s irresponsible to get out of Iraq” dig. And, as usual, fails to explain why.)

  6. Brad Warthen

    That wasn’t a dig. That was me reaching for some scrap of hope that whoever the president is, it’s someone with a realistic perspective rather than someone who will do ANYTHING with regard to national security if it’s popular among the base.
    I don’t want a Republican who wants to round up all the illegals, and I don’t want a Democrat who can’t wait to abandon Iraq. Whenever I hear any candidate departing from party line and actually THINKING about these issues, I am encouraged. And perhaps I strain too hard to hear it, but I really, really want to.

  7. Brad Warthen

    A related thing I was encouraged by: Hillary saying she wouldn’t rush into hugging Hugo Chavez and the like. She does that a lot, and good for her. She often seems to be doing her best not to commit to something stupid because it might sound good to the base in a debate.
    Obama does the same thing a lot. So does Biden, but everybody’s dismissed him, right?
    Another thing that occurred to me after posting this morning: As painfully informal as this format was, no one asked Hillary if she wears boxers or briefs. And something I like about her is that she would never, ever answer such a question (yeah, I know chicks generally don’t wear boxers, but you know what I mean).
    Bill was fun, and if you’re going to have a party you’re more likely to invite him than the wife, and tell him to bring the saxophone. But at least Hillary’s got some dignity.

  8. bud

    I don’t want a Democrat who can’t wait to abandon Iraq.
    I love this word parsing. Here’s my version describing the same event:
    I want a Democrat who has the courage to stand up to the profiteering special interests who continue to use fear tactics to shroud the truth that our military involvement in Iraq is counterproductive to our national security interests. We need a president who recognizes that the only sensible military action is one that will quickly bring our troops home in order to foster American security at home, rebuild the respect we lost from a half decade of military adventurism, while at the same time allowing Iraqis to pursue their own destiny unfettered by our undesirable occupation of their homeland.

  9. Karen McLeod

    I don’t kno ’bout anyone else, but until the media comes up with a more substantial way of holding a debate (i.e. give time, and expect the candidates to say something substantial, rather than 30 sec. snippets) I have been going to the candidates web sites and trying to plough through their policy statements. Of course this doesn’t give one the opportunity to challenge any statement, and some of them can use a lot of words to say nothing.

  10. Brad Warthen

    Come on, bud, you’re being deliberately ironic here, right? “The courage?” You’re kidding, right? The only thing that takes courage for a Democrat these days is to do or say anything that seems to stand in the way of the base getting what it wants — immediately. And what that base wants is complete retreat, desert the field, let’s go. These are (in some cases) smart people up on that stage, and they’re smart enough to know that the base can’t have what it wants. I keep looking for them to have the guts to be straight about that, and when they are, I’m encouraged.
    “Profiteering special interests?” That sounds like something from an Oliver Stone paranoiafest. What special interests? What profiteering? I’m probably the only guy in this virtual room who sees abandoning Iraq as a mad, dangerous course of action. So what’s in it for me? Where’s my profit? What have I ever gotten out of expressing what I believe to be right and true on this besides a lot of grief from you and others who think as you do?
    Make an argument if you’d like to, but don’t just say wild stuff…

  11. Logan Lee

    I wouldn’t expect someone in the media to like the YouTube Debate. This format took the power from the media and gave it to the people. Last time I checked the people elect out leaders, and it about time we got an opportunity to ask questions of the candidates who may end up leading the free world.

  12. Brad Warthen

    Come on, Karen, what does that mean? How about Force Protection? How about General Motors? You want to see a war in which fotrunes were made? Check out the war against Hitler.
    I think we outsource too much, right down to food service in the mess hall. But that’s what the country decided to do years ago. We decided to have a volunteer military, so thousands of tasks that would have been performed by an overstaffed military are now contracted out. I don’t like it. There will always be something unsavory about making money off of war. But someone always will, and the fact that they do does not prove the war is just or unjust.
    “Halliburton” is like a talisman. It evokes Cheney, which invokes the whole personal thing about the war, which gets us back into a conversation we already had. I don’t know the people who run Halliburton; if I did I’d probably think they were a bunch of greedy jerks; I don’t know. But the fact that some greedy jerks might make money off a war is not exactly an argument for or against our involvement in a particular conflict — and it certainly has nothing to do with the conversations we have here. I’m not making a buck off it, you’re not, and bud’s not. And if we were, how much guts do you think it would take for Democratic candidates for president to play to the crowd by telling us where to get off? You couldn’t hold them back; they couldn’t wait to flip us off.
    “Courage” in a Democratic primary would be to explain to people that this is not a commitment we can walk about from. THAT would take some guts.

  13. Brad Warthen

    Oh, and Logan — since you didn’t expect to find anybody in the media liking the format, my following post was probably a shock. Most people in the media probably liked that shtick a lot more than I did. But what you have to understand is that I don’t like most of these debates, and the more they try to dumb them down to make them more “accessible” or whatever, the more offensive they are. Reality TV offends me. Stupidity offends me. A format that’s more about the questioners posturing and having their 15 minutes than about substantive answers is extremely offensive.
    Sure, you might get an unexpected answer to an unexpected question, but neither is likely to be terribly important. Politicians who do this 24/7 can much more easily manipulate an interaction with someone who’s having his big moment than with someone who does this all the time. (Or at least, they seem to think so. Have you ever heard anything more condescending in your life than that “Certainly I think it’s a very important question.” Sometimes I think pols save that cliche for the very easiest questions, the easiest to dodge and manipulate — like an expression of their satisfaction at not having anything they really have to engage.
    But professionals can’t get much out of candidates with 8 of them on the stage, either, which takes us back to Gail Collins’ point.
    You want public involvement? The “town hall” format can be much better. I don’t say it WILL be, but it can be. Questioners who are facing the ones they’re interrogating tend to be a lot more thoughtful and conscientious than someone who’s trying to show how much attitude he can put into his YouTube performance.

  14. weldon VII

    Well, Brad, here’s a place where you and I might actually agree on two things.
    1) If we just walk away, why did we stay past capturing Hussein? Why drag a one-night stand out to feign a relationship if some sort of marriage, or at least an affair, was never a possibility?
    2) The debate format was a joke, an embarrassment to the YouTubers posing the questions, CNN and the candidates. From a “power to the people” standpoint, the Democrats were hoist by their own petard. Stupid questions rarely elicit presidential answers.
    Of course, one could argue that a truly presidential candidate would rise to virtually any occasion. But all the gnashing of tongues so far leads to the same conclusion former Clemson defensive coordinator wound up choking on when asked about the quality of his players, and America may have to stomach this time around with regard to the quality of its presidential hopefuls: “We got who we got.”
    God help us all.

  15. Tom Robinson

    Brad, do you really know the details of Halliburton’s performance and the quality of their work? There is a lot of information available.
    And I have to disagree with the way you state that Democrats show courage when they “tell the base it can’t get what it wants”, and that we cannot withdraw from Iraq. I know that you have stated your views on Iraq repeatedly in the past, and I know that you have cited the piece you wrote in 2003.
    That you wrote a piece on the subject of Iraq in 2003, I am willing to concede without argument. Your argument that we must stay in Iraq, along with your assumption (if indeed you are making such an assumption) that we must stay in Iraq, I disagree with.
    I understand what you’re saying. I just disagree with it. Can you give me reasons in support of your argument?

  16. Brad Warthen

    I thought I said I don’t care about Halliburton within the context of this discussion. I think thorough investigations should take their course. If they get off without punishment, I will not applaud. If they are stood up against a wall and shot for their crimes, I will not mourn. It is a matter of complete and utter indifference to the question of whether we have a commitment to Iraq that we must maintain.
    NOt to slide too much into the condescending tone of your messages, but do YOU understand THAT?
    Do you further understand that I have explained why we will be in Iraq for a long time over and over? But we have a cognitive barrier here. From the broadly known facts, it is painfully obvious to me.
    But let me put it in terms that folks who opposed the war to begin with might understand: This mess is our responsibility. It is a mess that will immediately become worse if we leave it in anything like the current situation. This is not Vietnam, where a single adversary will quickly end the conflict (before starting the reign of retributions). Without the control rods of American power, the complex reactions would erupt into something far more dangerous for the whole region.
    Now, either you nod and say, that’s true. Or you do like bud and say things would be just fine. Neither of us can PROVE this future outcome to the other. But mine is based upon what I see in the world around me, today and historically, from the Balkans to much of the continent of Africa. I look at the differing agendas and interests of Iran, Turkey and Syria and what a weakened, fragmented Iraq without an American presence would present to them in terms of threats and opportunities.
    Now, do you understand this? You should. I’ve done more to explain my position here than you did when you said you “disagree” about the necessity of our staying.
    I’m pretty sure I understand YOU. But perhaps you can demonstrate that I’m wrong with an argument against the idea that we have a commitment we can’t walk away from.

  17. bud

    Brad, it’s time to put up or shut up on Iraq. Show us with facts, evidence and sound reasoning why it’s in America’s national interests to continue with a project that costs $100 billion/year, 800+ American lives, 10,000/injured and sick soldiers each year. Facts man, facts. No more “it’s irresponsible to withdraw”. No more, “it takes courage to continue”. No more articles about how we shouldn’t “abandon the Iraqis”.
    The burden of proof is with the people who support the occupation not those who oppose it. Don’t turn this around on the majority of Americans who do not want to support these costs any more. Show us how things are better now and how we’ll be better still in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years. Put up or shut up.

  18. Karen McLeod

    Brad, Yes Halliburton. Of course people make fortunes during wartime. But this particular company is/was affiliated with a vice-president who has seemed to be all too in favor of this war. And it has an awful lot of unbid contracts. During the course of our conversations, I have pointed out how this war is going, and have asked you to either show me facts that that suggest we have the troops, the equipment, the money, or the cultural expertise to win this war or to suggest realistic alternatives. You have done neither. Everything I see, from the inability of our forces to meet recruiting goals, to the lack of needed equipment (like armored transport designed to survive road bombs), to an incredible deficit coupled with unmet needs in this country (eg. homeland security, education, mental health), combined with continued misunderstanding of the culture we’re up against (don’t even have enough translators) suggests that our best bet is to stop doing more damage, both to Iraq and to our own image as rogue nation (we look like an unprovoked aggressor here to most of the world). I really am interested in your information and your ideas, but I need to see something based on “what is” not on “when you wish upon a star.”

  19. Tom Robinson

    For “your assumption that we must stay in Iraq”, I should have said “your assumption that it is self-evidently obvious that we must stay in Iraq”.

  20. Brad Warthen

    Well put, Tom. And that goes to the crux of our communication problem, highlighted by the most recent comments from Karen and bud. It is indeed "self-evidently obvious" to me — from everything I’ve ever seen or read on the subject, and everything I’ve written.

    That’s why such comments as Tom’s, and bud’s "put up or shut up," cause me to just tear my hair out and say "what the hell do these jerks think I’ve been doing for four years?" To me, nothing has ever been said or presented that supports pulling out, or reassures me that pulling out would be anything but disastrous for this nation, its national security, and our ability to act effectively across the globe for the next 30 or 40 years. And the implications — not the certainties, but the distinct possibilities — to me would be even longer than that, when you consider that China could very well become the world’s dominant force during this century, given a weakened, inward-turned U.S.)

    And now Karen. Well, I can’t get mad at Karen, because she’s too civil.

    I don’t know what to tell you folks. And I don’t know what anyone would say that would change your minds — a newspaper from the year 2012, perhaps, or a history book from 50 years later? That probably wouldn’t do it, either. What I would see as disastrous, you might see as acceptable. Or if we both saw disasters, we wouldn’t agree that pulling out of Iraq was the cause.

    You want fact, figures, numbers for the future? I’ve made it very clear that I have no such projections in mind. We simply have to stay committed to Iraq, constantly changing our approaches and tactics as circumstances demand, and there’s no telling when it will be safe to move on. One sign would be that no one was demanding that we pull out any more. In fact, that might be the ULTIMATE sign.

    But we just keep coming back to the fact that for me, it IS obvious.

    Anyway, if you’d like to review the arguments, just go to the rail at right and click on the "Iraq" category and start reading. I see that the first thing that will greet you is the speech McCain recently made, which provided a pretty good summing-up of the situation. But there’s plenty below that written by me. I don’t know what else you want to know. But I suspect that there is nothing I could possibly tell you that would change your mind, and you’re already quite certain of that.

  21. Brad Warthen

    Of course, I didn’t think ALL of the debate was stupid. I liked "Mitch from Philadelphia’s" question:

    My question for all the candidates: How do we pull out now? And the follow-up, are we watching the same blankin’ war? I certainly wasn’t a big fan of the invasion/liberation. It sickens me to hear about soldiers wounded and getting killed daily, not to mention innocent Iraqis, but how do we pull out now? The government’s shaky; bombs daily.

    Don’t you think if we pulled out now that would open it up for Iran and Syria, God knows who — Russia — how do we pull out now? And isn’t it our responsibility to get these people up on their feet? I mean, do you leave a newborn baby to take care of himself? How do we pull out now?

    Mitch made a lot of sense to me. But I assume he makes NO sense to Tom, bud and Karen. That cognitive gap again.

    Here’s a question: Do we really not see each others’ points, or do we willfully refuse to? I think when we lose patience with each other, it’s because we’re suspecting the latter.

  22. bud

    Do we really not see each others’ points, or do we willfully refuse to?
    I understand your points. You are suggesting that staying in Iraq is in the best interests of U.S. security (defined by the number of Americans getting killed by terrorists). Apparently you believe a power vacuum would emerge that would be filled by Islam radicals or Iran. Somehow that would give them greater power to do mischief to our vital security interests. Further, you’re saying the “surge” is working to bring stability to that country and it should continue indefinitely.
    I just don’t believe you’ve offered any evidence other than to keep re-stating these same points in somewhat diffent ways. Your supporting evidence amounts to nothing more than quoting right-wing talking points made by people like Charles Krauthamer and Kimberly Kagan. (Who basically support their arguments by quoting right wing talking points made by people like Brad Warthen).

  23. bud

    Do we really not see each others’ points, or do we willfully refuse to?
    I understand your points. You are suggesting that staying in Iraq is in the best interests of U.S. security (defined by the number of Americans getting killed by terrorists). Apparently you believe a power vacuum would emerge that would be filled by Islam radicals or Iran. Somehow that would give them greater power to do mischief to our vital security interests. Further, you’re saying the “surge” is working to bring stability to that country and it should continue indefinitely.
    I just don’t believe you’ve offered any evidence other than to keep re-stating these same points in somewhat diffent ways. Your supporting evidence amounts to nothing more than quoting right-wing talking points made by people like Charles Krauthamer and Kimberly Kagan. (Who basically support their arguments by quoting right wing talking points made by people like Brad Warthen).

  24. Uncle Elmer

    The saddest thing for the Iraqis to hear has to be our focus on Al Qaeda instead of nation-building. I don’t believe any of the candidates, in any forum, have addressed the real issue: Iraq as a police state is unsustainable; so how do we build Iraq to be a self-determined society instead? I would love to hear that re-enter the discussion.
    But I disagree with Mitch – Iraq is opened up for other countries if we leave? Other countries that will have an easier time than we have had? Hey, if those guys know the secret to running Iraq we should be asking for their help. (I doubt we will, asking for help hasn’t been our strong point) I think it’s much more likely that Iraq will become another Somalia when we leave, sort of a country in name only.
    But unfortunately we mere voters don’t really get the chance to nuance the occupation one way or another. Brad you’re completely wrong when you say “it’s not about Bush,” of course it’s about him! He’s still in charge, and still following the same pattern of bad decision making and ignoring history that has become his trademark. Given his absolute refusal to work with other countries, build consensus support here in the US, or even explain himself in any other way than beating the Al Qaeda drum what choice is there? I think a lot of the “pull out now” crowd is really saying “I don’t trust him and won’t trust him” and what they are hearing you say is “trust him!” Maybe if you could explain how supporting occupation is somehow different than trusting George Bush to do the right thing you would get more support for your views. Personally, I think we have broken that sad country and have now confused military pacification with fixing it. And I just can’t bring myself to believe that exposure to more George Bush ideas is going to help them. I hate to say it, since the analogies to post WWI Germany; the disintegration of Somalia; the post-Soviet disintegration of the Balkans (etc etc!) are all so clear, but I am beginning to think those risks are less than the risk of allowing George Bush more access to the Middle East. What a disaster.

  25. Ready to Hurl

    Brad, you have two basic misconceptions:
    (1) You think that our indefinite military presence will change the current state of affairs for the better.
    (2) You think that some foreign power must fill the “void” that we’ll leave when we pull out.
    Both of these assumptions betray an ignorance of modern Iraqi history. This is the same ignorance that the neo-cons obscured with a shiny patina of “spreading democracy” dogma.
    Please do a little due diligence and let us know which foreign power replaced the Brits when they withdrew in 1932.
    The Iranians, Russians, Syrians, Saudis, and, yes, the Israelis will continue to dip their paddles into Iraq after we’re gone.
    In the end, the Iraqis will determine their own fate. We’ve done what we could do in our own bumbling way. We’ve out-stayed our welcome. Our continued presence is stumbling block to letting the Iraqis work it out for themselves. The Iraqi factions have refused to take the opportunity to work out a political solution without descending into all out warfare. We offered. They refused.
    We can’t impose peace, religious tolerance and political harmony on them. As long as we stay, each faction will delude themselves into believing that they can win militarily without political compromise. Each faction will endeavor to co-opt American forces into giving their side an advantage or, at least, keep their particular faction from being destroyed.
    Our soldiers now serve as targets. Remove them and the factions will decide who rules Iraq.
    Contrary to Bush’s self-serving justifications, many intel analysts say that the Iraqis will clean up AQ and their foreign followers in the process.
    It won’t be a fary-tale ending but when a crew of deluded idiots take us into a snake pit, cutting OUR losses is the best that we can hope for.
    If our next President is a cold-blooded geo-political player we may be left in a relatively good position to influence what devolves out of Iraq.
    That’s the best result that we can hope for.

  26. bud

    RTH, I think your prognosis is a bit too gloomy. The BEST we can hope for is that the Iraqi people can, and will, be able to work out their differences once we leave and begin to built a stable, prosperous country. It will no doubt be difficult but it’s possible that our very presense is what is preventing that. Perhaps you’re right, but I believe the BEST we can hope for is something much better than either Saddam’s or Bush’s version of Iraq. That seems just as likely to me as the armagedon scenerio painted by the neo-cons.

  27. Brad Warthen

    bud: OK, so I’m “right-wing” as well as being a “statist.” Doesn’t that pretty much add up to “fascist?” Well, that’s not where I thought I would end up in all this, but I suppose I can try that label on for awhile and see how it works. Sometimes we have to listen to other people, right? Don’t they sometimes know us better than we know ourselves? Who am I to keep insisting such tags don’t fit me? One thing, though: I do want to cooperate, but I want to know what all is involved. Am I going to have to be antiSemitic? That would be pretty upsetting to some proverbial good friends of mine. Maybe we could just keep this between you and me until we see if it works, because I don’t want to worry anybody unnecessarily…
    Uncle Elmer, you and I are pretty close to being in total agreement, although it may not be readily apparent. Basically, you make the same point I’m trying to make when you say “I think a lot of the ‘pull out now’ crowd is really saying ‘I don’t trust him and won’t trust him’ and what they are hearing you say is ‘trust him!'”
    Exactly. And I’m trying to get them to hear the opposite, which is that Iraq has a real-world existence that is independent of what you or I or anyone else thing of that serial bungler in the White House. What we do from this moment on is what matters. We’re stuck with Bush as president until January 2009, which is really, really bad, but it has nothing to do with whether we need to maintain our commitment in Iraq. The only issue we have before us in terms of who the president is, or what we think of the president, is the 2008 election.
    Let’s say there is some “Plan A” that is the perfect thing to do with regard to Iraq. Maybe it’s go with the surge. Maybe it’s run like a scalded dog. Maybe it’s a phased pullout. Maybe it’s institute a draft and inundate the country with U.S. troops. Maybe it’s declare martial law. Maybe it’s to pull back to remote bases, or try the Biden plan of partitioning the country.
    Now mind you, even though “Plan A” is the one most perfect thing to do, it “won’t be a fairy-tale ending,” as you say. The “perfect” plan under such circumstances (that is to say, in the real world) is merely the best result you can get. That is not, and never was, the bogus “Jeffersonian democracy” that various people who didn’t want us there to begin with seem to set as the impossible standard, short of which we should just give up. (If they’re waiting for us to have a “Jeffersonian democracy” in THIS country, I hope they’re not holding their breaths. Given that reality, we would be looking for something short of that in Iraq.) No, the standard is that things will be better. Greater peace, greater prosperity, greater stability, greater self-determination, better relations with neighbors and with the West, etc. And Plan A gets things “more better” than anything else.
    Oh, hell, this is taking too long. I’m going to turn it into a separate post…

  28. Karen McLeod

    Brad, its perfectly ok to get irritated with me. You occasionally cause me to slow down, take a few deep breaths, and ask for peace. But lets see if I can try one more time to explain why I don’t think staying in Iraq is a good idea, because I base this conclusion, at least on part, on what I think is in the best interests of this country.
    1. We only lose if we continue militarily until we have no choice but to pull out. As it is right now, we can continue, but the Iraqi people show no interest in building the type of nation we want to build. We keep asking them to come together and form a sharing and stable government. They aren’t interested. The mistrust, old feuds, and tribal warfare there go back to Cain and Abel, and simply got new names, oh, around 1400 years ago. As far as I can tell the Shia and Sunnis are locked in a struggle as deadly as the Catholics and Protestants in Ireland were, and are not nearly mature enough culturally to truly attempt to come to terms. Since they are not willing to meet attempt the government that we wish, and we are not willing to support the government that they wish, the only sane thing to do is to pull out and let them develop a form of government that suits them. This is not losing; it’s allowing them the right to govern themselves as they see fit. Isn’t this what we demanded of England a few centuries ago? Such a choice is consonant with our own culture.
    2. Currently we are seen as a rogue nation by most of the world. This perception plays into the hands of al-Qaida and others of our enemies, and strengthens them. Abu Ghraib and Gitmo strengthen this perception. We are now seen throughout the world as a nation that rushes into war without provocation, and which has no interest in keeping our word (we did sign the Geneva convention didn’t we?). This does nothing but give aid and comfort to a cruel enemy. I know that what they have done is indefensible, but our doing the same is not an improvement. By the way, it looks to me as if beheadings have become less popular know that they realize that doing such things produces universal revulsion. Unfortunately, we grown inured to simple shootings. We haven’t prevent the spread of al Quaida or the Taliban. If anything, Mr. Bush’s policies have poured oil on the fire.
    3. You speak repeatedly of communitarianism, of being willing to go into situations that are a clear affront to “Global Values.” We are the ones now who have affronted global values (see above). I don’t see us going into Dafur, and that’s an affront that has been going on for years! One leads by demonstrating the virtues that one hopes to instill, not by beating up on others and then saying, “Go thou and do otherwise.” We simply do not have the moral authority to continue trying to force a nation to become what it so clearly does not want to be.
    4. As for nation building, we have not invested enough in learning about their culture to have any idea of how to get from where they are to where we want them to be. If we can’t speak to them, make them understand that its in their best interest to try a new way of approaching culture, then we cannot build the nation. We destroyed their infrastructure going in, and have been unable to rebuild it. Yes, I know that it’s that way primarily because of insurgent work, but the people of Iraq see no electricity, no clean water, no safe roads, limited medical resources, little food, and they see us. Can you at least understand why they might not trust our good intentions.
    5. OK. Let me preface this by saying (again) that I consider war wrong. Period. However past misdeeds may make war the lesser of evils. If we are going to continue war anywhere, here’s how I see it.
    A. Stop trying to fight a 2 front war; get
    out of Iraq, and commit overwhelming force to winning Afghanistan, and pushing Taliban and al Qaida out of there.
    B. Set up and push programs to encourage people (college age especially) to learn Arabic and other needed languages. We need to be able to speak to people, and to understand them, and high school Arabic won’t do it. Insisting they speak English won’t do it. Using their interpreters is begging for trouble. We want to be familiar enough to sniff a hidden agenda when one’s floating in the air. That leads to
    C. Take steps to teach our ambassadors and negotiators the culture of the other side. We don’t have to agree with them, but if we don’t truly understand them we can’t figure out what they really want or understand how to effectively leverage them. From what I have read, most of our folks are really dependent on what their told by their translators and interpreters. This is not good.
    D. Offer Pakistan real support in the effort to clean out extremists. In return work hard to follow those folks into Pakistan and root them out. Afghanistan may be the best place to practice our nation building skills once we understand them and where they’re coming from.
    Finally, the draft. I have no real problem as long as it’s universal. Nobody who has a working mind and body gets to fake it. We can use those folks to do all sorts of good things during peace time, and we can use conscientious objectives in non war jobs (that can be just as dirty and sometimes just as dangerous).
    Now, I’ve undoubtedly ticked everyone off! Peace.

  29. Brad Warthen

    Thank you, Karen! You haven’t ticked me off. I really appreciate the thoughtful arguments you present. I will respond at greater length, but I’m just checking in briefly now because it’s nearly 10 p.m., I haven’t had dinner, and I gave blood about three hours ago (see subsequent post).
    But I like the way you argue, and if everyone on both sides of this argued in such good faith, we would have solved a lot of problems by now that currently seem impossible.

  30. bud

    Karen, I only disagree with your draft idea. If we had a draft now it would make it much easier for the president to launch another invasion of say Iran or Syria. The only thing holding him back is a lack of manpower.

  31. Karen McLeod

    Bud, Its a whole different story to most of the public and to Congress when they know it’s their children who might end up getting blown into tiny bits half way around the world. Are you sure Mr. Bush would be so blood thirsty if he knew his two children would be right there. Currently the war is being fought by the poorest third or so of the population. Of course there are some middle class and rich sons and daughters out there, but they are usually smart enough to find other military jobs that don’t involve driving/riding humvees down Iraqi roads. Others are smart enough; their sin was being born to parents who were too poor to live in a first class school district, and find the military the best chance they have for education and the good things that come with it. I do realize that people with real pull can get their precious little darling a safe job; that’s part of the human condition. But I would like to see a draft that minimizes that to the extent possible. The least intelligent are always going to be the cannon fodder, but at least war will be something most of us have a real stake in.

  32. bud

    Karen, I appreciate your point. But for me it’s personal. I have 3 teenage children who will all be draft eligible in less than 3 years. (twins 15 and a 17 year old). Nothing scares me more than one of my offspring winding up in some ridiculous war like Vietnam or idiotic occupation like Iraq. They could end up dying in a vain attempt to satisfy some maniac’s ego.
    As for your other points, I agree 100%.

  33. Karen McLeod

    Precisely, Bud. And if we had universal draft when Bush was beating the drum for war with Iraq, without having any actual provocation, my guess is that you (and most other people with draft eligible children) would have been roaring a resounding ‘NO!’ to it. I also think that when provoked (as in 9/11) people are willing to serve (remember how many volunteered then?). I also think that any attempt to do ‘war on the cheap’ as Rumsfeld advocated, would have been met with a vociferous ‘not hardly.’ What I’m trying to say is that wars don’t happen when everyone has a personal stake in them unless there is a very good reason, and then they are more likely to be carried out as professionally well as possible rather than directed by a strange person with a harebrained scheme.

  34. bud

    Karen, I did oppose it in the beginning, the middle and I still oppose it even though my children will probably not get involved (although it’s possible). It’s just plain wrong to continue with this morally bankrupt war. I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I can’t support a draft under the current set of circumstances. It’s just not necessary for legitimate national security purposes.
    On a slightly different subject. I was watching some of Hannity and Colmes last night on the Faux News channel. It is downright hilarious how they continue to label themselves as fair and balanced. They had two guests on at the same time, Jon Voight and Oliver North. I thought this is good. I remembered Jon Voight from his younger days playing a role opposite Jane Fonda in an anti-war movie, The Homecoming or something like that. Boy was I shocked to find out that Jon has come full circle and now says he was wrong to support our pullout from Vietnam. Of course he’s a huge pro-occupation man now. Poor ole Alan Colmes. Outnumbered 3 to 1 he never was given much of a chance to talk. Fox News is the biggest joke on TV. It’s nothing but a propaganda arm for the Republican Party.

  35. Karen McLeod

    Bud, Had there been a universal draft at that time, more that you, me, and a few friends would have opposed that war, at that time. I agree with you that it is and was a morally bankrupt war. I am appalled that our government attacked without physical provocation, or at least a believable declaration of war from the other side. To me, that’s like saying that because I’m small, and don’t have testosterone boosted muscle, that I can simply shoot (Surprise!) any full grown man because he’s got the ability to break my neck and just might decide to do it someday (those MCP’s can talk some trash). I’m appalled that our government said that the Geneva convention did not apply and engaged/engages in torture. For goodness sake, Jeanne d’Arc pointed out years ago that a person under torture will say anything he/she thinks will get the torturer to stop. What the tortured person says is based on what he thinks the torturer wants, not on the truth. This one atrocity has appalled the rest of the civilized world as well and given aid and comfort to the enemy. I’m appalled that we aren’t even attempting a body count of the civilians that we actually kill (at least as far as I know, all I’ve seen are estimates). This ranks right up there with the practice of baptizing central/South American Indians before killing them (we saved their souls). We’re setting the people of Iraq free. From what? Their bodies? I’m appalled that we’ve been sending our soldiers over there in inadequate numbers and with inadequate equipment to even do the (misguided) mission they’re supposed to do. If they had enough to do it with at least something positive might (big might) come from it. Finally, I’m appalled that so many of the people in this country cannot/do not care enough to rise up, and demand a clear policy that marks real moral change. OK. Deep breath. I seem to be ranting here. Sorry.

  36. Mark Whittington

    Karen, I do have to take exception with one thing you say: “Others are smart enough; their sin was being born to parents who were too poor to live in a first class school district, and find the military the best chance they have for education and the good things that come with it.”
    You mean the privilege that comes with it, don’t you? Isn’t that the problem?
    Our supposed merit system affords privilege and lets the top fifth of the population off the hook. Our best men are the ones traveling Iraqi roads-encountering the perils of combat. It’s not a matter of intelligence-it’s a matter of substance and mettle vs. cowardness. Perhaps we do need a draft, but bringing the privileged classes into the fray won’t necessarily improve the military. A draft would for once hold these people accountable-they would have to do something more than seek privilege and reap the fruits of other people’s labor.

  37. Karen McLeod

    Education improves your chance for wealth, and wealth brings privilege. You are in some ways very right. Some of our top people are over there. But the uneducated are always in the front of the line for cannon fodder duty. And the idea of holding all accountable is precisely my reason for being willing to consider universal draft (as in, if your kid is rich, but not highly skilled, he/she’s cannon fodder.


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