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Why Bush Will Win, pts 12 and 35

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In this post I play the role of neutral observer. For the record, although I am basically a liberal on domestic policy and agree with Kerry on more individual issues than Bush, I feel Bush’s zealotry regarding the war on terror is the most important single attribute that either candidate possesses, and that happens to be the most important issue of our time. Too bad I can’t pick and choose aspects of each candidate and create my own Frankenstein-like composite (not that I’m commenting on Kerry’s looks or anything).

But anyway, Steve Chapman is a totally pro-Democratic columnist – the guy brays when he speaks and had a tail pinned on him – and here is his assessment of the Kerry campaign:

    To: John Kerry, Republican mole
    From: Karl Rove, White House political adviser

    ….let’s review some of the tactics we’ve implemented. They fall into the following categories:

    Making Michael Dukakis look good. People thought he looked like a doofus riding in a tank wearing that goofy helmet. But you outdid him when you put on an anti-contamination suit to tour the space shuttle orbiter. You looked like one of those sausages that race around the field at the Milwaukee Brewers’ home games. Dukakis would never have let himself be photographed in that outfit–heck, Ben Stiller wouldn’t have let himself be photographed in it.

    ….Impersonating Thurston Howell III. One of the ways rich politicians show their kinship with “Joe Six-Pack” is speaking the universal language of sports. But you’ve cleverly “bungled” every opportunity to show your sports savvy. You went to Michigan and said, “There is nothing better than Buckeye football.” When someone mentioned stock-car racing, you asked, “Who among us does not love NASCAR?” You said your favorite Red Sox player of all time was Eddie Yost, who never played for Boston. Maybe I’m overoptimistic, but that last one might even put Massachusetts in play this year.

    Those remarks were scripted by our crack staff, of course, but they didn’t equal your brilliant ad lib when you showed up in Green Bay and made a reference to the Packers’ “Lambert Field”–when everyone this side of Paris know it’s “Lambeau.” The only thing that could have hurt the Democratic ticket more in the Dairy State is to confess that you’re lactose-intolerant.

    Creating your own woman problem. Bill Clinton had Gennifer and Monica, but you’ve got Teresa. It was shrewd to equip you with a fabulously wealthy wife who speaks with a foreign accent, but Teresa has expanded the role far beyond my fondest hopes. That speech she gave at the Democratic National Convention–well, I haven’t witnessed such a prolonged display of self-absorption since Alanis Morissette’s last CD.

    One of our biggest challenges this year is finding a way to help Bush among black voters who would rather eat dirt than vote Republican. But for a rich white lady to proclaim herself “African-American” might cause them to reconsider.

    ….Making yourself look hopelessly confused on Iraq. Honestly, who could have imagined one U.S. senator could come up with a different position for every day of the week? At this point, I doubt God himself could figure out what you really think about Iraq. But here’s what you can do to seal the deal: I’ll plant a question at your next town hall meeting, asking what colors you’d like to see in a new Iraqi flag. Your answer: “Plaid.”

    ….So I’ll tell you what. For the time being, do your best to look like a competent politician who wants to win the election. I know it’s a stretch, but try. Really. [Chicago Tribune]

So Kerry is running a crappy campaign, and that’s a big part of why he is losing, but there is a much more important reason why he is losing and why he will lose, and after an entire career of waffling, his recent tough clarification of his position regarding Iraq and the war on terror in general seals the deal.

(Ironically, indecision regarding Iraq has been, until now, Kerry’s biggest political liability:

    Iraq, however, has been the source of the most damaging charges of equivocation and wind-shifting against Kerry. The Massachusetts senator voted for the Iraq war in October 2002, but a year later voted against Bush’s request for $87 billion for military and reconstruction spending in Iraq and Afghanistan. The latter vote came when former Vermont governor Howard Dean’s antiwar candidacy was ascendant. The vote may have been wise politics at the time, but came with a high price — lending an aura of plausibility to the subsequent charges by Bush that Kerry is motivated by opportunism.

    Kerry’s statements have compounded the damage. In September 2003, he said at a Democratic debate, “We should not send more American troops” to Iraq. “That would be the worst thing.” In April, he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “if it requires more troops . . . that’s what you have to do.” In August, he told ABC’s “This Week” that if elected, “I will have significant, enormous reduction in the level of troops.” This week, he said that, as president, he would not have launched an invasion if he had known that there was not clear evidence of weapons of mass destruction or ties to al Qaeda, though last month he said, knowing these things, he still would have voted to give Bush congressional authority to wage the Iraq war.

    Polls make clear the extent to which Bush’s flip-flop charge has stuck. A poll released last week by Kohut’s Pew Center showed that 53 percent of voters believe Kerry “changes his mind too much.”

    ….Stevens, who has been studying Kerry since advising then-Massachusetts Gov. William H. Weld (R) in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat the senator in 1996, said Kerry’s very manner exacerbates the flip-flop impression: “He says these things with great condescension, [suggesting]: ‘If only you were as smart as I and understand this that these issues are too complicated to have a consistent position.’ . . . People have a good internal detector of the difference between nuance and confusion and opportunism.” [Washington Post]


But now Kerry appears to have made up his maind – Jim Hoagland explains:

    …The incumbent president is the radical in this unorthodox election year. In his view, a new threat to U.S. security, in a new geographic region and from a new kind of enemy, demands a paradigm shift in international behavior that can be unilaterally enforced by U.S. power if necessary.

    Bush believes that America’s friends and foes abroad can — and must — be made to change their ways to make the world safer for democracies and particularly for the United States. Only by making the regimes of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia and Libya understand that their very survival is at stake can effective cooperation be gained in the war on al Qaeda and other parts of the loosely connected and fanatical Islamist network.

    The challenger is for once the pragmatist and traditionalist on foreign policy. Kerry first would change the U.S. approach to the world, then persuade and gently pressure allies and adversaries to return to established patterns of cooperation or coerced behavior.

    Restoring NATO’s Cold War cohesion is a primary goal for Kerry but a secondary tactical issue for Bush in grappling with turmoil in the Middle East, where European interests and reflexes often run counter to those of the United States. Israel is important to Kerry as a diplomatic and political partner; to Bush as a strategic ally in waging a long, necessary war.

    ….It is also prudent to remember that campaigns produce their own dynamic of change as issues become more serious and contrasts more vivid. Other nations adapt in real time to what Kerry and Bush say (and are), and subtly change the policy environment the two leaders pretend to command.

    This is particularly true for Kerry, whose repeated promises to get Europe to shoulder more of the burden in Iraq and in the war on terrorism have begun to worry even those Europeans who are favorably disposed to a change at the White House in January.

    Gerhard Schroeder’s Germany is perhaps the most important example of a country that fully expects diplomatic tensions to continue if Bush is reelected but is also beginning to fret that a new crisis in NATO could emerge if a Kerry administration piles too many burdens on the alliance.

    “I think some of my colleagues were perturbed by the briefings they heard at the Democratic convention in July about how much more Europe would have to do for President Kerry,” says one European diplomat. “All the speeches since then saying U.S. allies and not just Halliburton have to rebuild Iraq just add to the concern.”

    Another future problem lies in the way Kerry and John Edwards have portrayed (although not named) Britain, Italy, Japan and other nations as having been bribed and coerced into serving in the coalition now in Iraq. [Washington Post]

America invested in the “radical” Bush worldview after the trauma of 9/11 and acknowledged that this reshaping of the world wouldn’t happen without forceful American action making it so. People know deep down that Europeans aren’t going to do much more than they are now no matter who is in the White House, including John Kerry, therefore they know his worldview really means retreat and retrenchment and a return to the status quo, the status quo out of which 9/11 emerged.

No one – even Mr. Allawi – says things are going swimmingly in Iraq. This is a difficult, depressing, bloody, and trying time – it may even be called a time that tries men’s souls – but Max Boot reminds us that it was ever thus with war:

    John Kerry is right to accuse President Bush of “colossal failures of judgment” in Iraq. These range from decisions taken in the early days of the occupation, such as the premature disbanding of Iraq’s army, to more recent missteps, such as allowing Fallouja to become a terrorist sanctuary.

    ….Despite all that’s gone wrong so far, Iraq could still go either way. (In one recent poll, 51% of Iraqis said their country was headed in “the right direction”; only 31% felt it was going the wrong way.)

    Lest we be too hard on Bush, it’s useful to recall the travails of the nation’s two most successful commanders in chief, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.

    Lincoln is remembered, of course, for winning the Civil War and freeing the slaves. We tend to forget that along the way he lost more battles than any other president: First and Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Chickamauga…. The list of federal defeats was long and dispiriting. So was the list of federal victories (e.g., Antietam, Gettysburg) that could have been exploited to shorten the conflict, but weren’t.

    As the Union’s fortunes fell, opponents tarred Lincoln with invective that might make even Michael Moore blush. Harper’s magazine called him a “despot, liar, thief, braggart, buffoon, usurper, monster, ignoramus.” As late as the summer of 1864, Lincoln appeared likely to lose his bid for reelection. Only the fall of Atlanta on Sept. 2 saved his presidency.

    ….Roosevelt had more than his share of mistakes too, the most notorious being his failure to prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor, even though U.S. code breakers had given him better intelligence than Bush had before Sept. 11. FDR also did not do enough to prepare the armed forces for war, and then pushed them into early offensives at Guadalcanal and North Africa that took a heavy toll on inexperienced troops. At Kasserine Pass, Tunisia, in 1943, the U.S. Army was mauled by veteran German units, losing more than 6,000 soldiers.

    ….Though FDR bore only indirect responsibility for most of these screw-ups, he was more directly culpable for other bad calls, such as the decision to detain 120,000 Japanese Americans without any proof of their disloyalty. Like Lincoln, who jailed suspected Southern sympathizers without trial, Roosevelt was guilty of civil liberties restrictions that were light-years beyond the Patriot Act. And, like Bush, Roosevelt didn’t do enough to prepare for the postwar period. His failure to occupy more of Eastern Europe before the Red Army arrived consigned millions to tyranny; his failure to plan for the future of Korea and Vietnam after the Japanese left helped lead to two wars that killed 100,000 Americans.

    None of this is meant in any way to denigrate the inspired leadership of two great presidents. Both Lincoln and Roosevelt were brilliant wartime leaders precisely because they were able to overcome adversity and inspire the country toward ultimate victory with their unflagging will to win. That’s what Bush is trying to do today.

    And, no, I’m not suggesting Bush is another Lincoln or Roosevelt. But even if Bush hasn’t reached their lofty heights, neither has he experienced their depths of despair. We are losing one or two soldiers a day in Iraq. Lincoln lost an average of 250 daily for four years, Roosevelt 300 daily for more than 3 1/2 years. If they could overcome such numbing losses to prevail against far more formidable foes than we face now, it’s ludicrous to give in to today’s fashionable funk.

    “Colossal failures of judgment” are to be expected in wartime; I daresay even John Kerry (whose judgment on Iraq changes every 30 minutes) might commit a few. They do not have to spell defeat now any more than they did in 1865 or 1945. [LA Times]

With anti-war writers brandishing historical analogies from classical Athens to Vietnam, Boot’s perspective is a corrective tonic.

Finally, the notion of “exporting democracy” has been ridiculed as impractical, foolish, and disingenuous – a utopian notion of the dreaded “neocons.” Boot, again, provides some necessary perspective and data:

    From Pat Buchanan to Paul Krugman, the cry has gone up that the stress on exporting American ideals is a plot by nefarious “neoconservatives.” Even John Kerry — the nominee of Wilson’s own party — sounds disdainful of attempts to spread freedom to places like Cuba and Iran.

    Maybe, the cynics suggest, some people (the Arabs, for instance) are simply unfit for self-rule. More sophisticated versions of this argument suggest focusing on economic development first, to be followed eventually by political liberalization. If impoverished nations rush to hold elections, realpolitikers fear, the result could be the rise of “illiberal democracies” or instability and civil war. Better to deal with enlightened despots like Hosni Mubarak or Lee Kuan Yew rather than risk the messiness of freedom.

    Anyone seduced by these arguments would do well to peruse two important studies conducted by scholars with impeccable liberal credentials. The first is a new book called “The Democracy Advantage”

    ….Siegle, Weinstein and Halperin puncture the myth that democracy works only in rich nations. In fact, many poor countries have freely elected governments (think India, Poland and Brazil) while some rich ones (think Saudi Arabia and Singapore) do not. Far from economic development being necessary for democracy, they argue that democracy promotes economic development. Free countries grow faster than their more repressive neighbors. They also perform better on social measures such as life expectancy, literacy rates, clean drinking water and healthcare. And they are less prone to armed conflict.

    ….According to Siegle, Weinstein and Halperin, autocracies are prone to wild swings in economic and political performance. Democracies, with greater openness and accountability, generally produce more consistent results. They note that “the 87 largest refugee crises over the past 20 years originated in autocracies,” and they cite Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s observation that “no democracy with a free press has ever experienced a major famine.”

    In light of these findings, Siegle, Weinstein and Halperin urge the U.S. to eschew a “development first, democracy later” model in favor of spreading democracy first and foremost. That case is strengthened by a study last year in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Alan Krueger, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton (and a Clinton administration veteran), and Jitka Maleckova, a professor of Middle Eastern studies in Prague.

    They reject the conventional wisdom that terrorism is rooted in poverty and lack of education. It does not comport with data showing, for instance, that Palestinian suicide bombers are wealthier and better educated than the general population.

    …the only variable that was consistently associated with the number of terrorists was the Freedom House index of political rights and civil liberties. Countries with more freedom were less likely to be the birthplace of international terrorists. Poverty and literacy were unrelated to the number of terrorists from a country. Think of a country like Saudi Arabia: It is wealthy but has few political and civil freedoms. Perhaps it is no coincidence that so many of the Sept. 11 terrorists — and Osama bin Laden himself — came from there.”

    Paul Wolfowitz couldn’t have said it better. Of course, even admitting that democracy promotion is in U.S. interests, there will be differences over how to go about it. Anyone not on the administration’s payroll would concede that its performance has been far from flawless. But President Bush is on the right track because he recognizes the democracy imperative that too many of his critics unfairly dismiss as neocon nuttiness. [LA Times]

Bush sees that the right thing is also the best thing to do: attacking terror aggressively and clearing a way for democracy at the same time. Ultimately – campaign style, personality, and mud-slinging from both sides notwithstanding – this is why he will win.

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About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted, Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.
  • Bill Wallo


    That was a very interesting post. Thanks.

  • Eric Olsen

    thanks Bill, much appreciated!

  • Interesting that ultra-neoconservative Max Boot says:

    ‘From Pat Buchanan to Paul Krugman, the cry has gone up that the stress on exporting American ideals is a plot by nefarious “neoconservatives.”‘

    The claim is true, and Max Boot himself confirms it in the Wall Street Journal’s OpinionJournal:

    Neoconservatives believe in using American might to promote American ideals abroad.

    Now that their policy has failed, they’re trying to distance themeselves from it.

    Does anybody believe anything the neocons claim?

    I, for one, do not. How about you?

  • Eric Olsen

    I would say it’s very premature to say that “their” policy has failed, if you mean forwarding democracy backed with force, the whole point of that section of the post was to indicate that promoting democracy backed with force isn’t an idea limited to “neocons,” and rather than having failed, it seems to me it is just getting started.

  • OK, I’ve been reluctant to get into this, but I have to say it:

    I really don’t understand why otherwise intelligent people like Olsen who admit Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 admire Bush’s “war on terror” beyond some vague psychological desire to lash out in response to tragedy.

    Virtually everyone has already commented upon this in the media, including many people far, far smarter than I, but Iraq did not make us safer and drew resources away from Afghanistan and the hunt for Bin Laden in the areas bordering Pakistan. It also blew our international goodwill that could have been marshalled toward an expanded, targeted war on Al Qaeda around the globe. Look at that quote in the Hoagland excerpt above: it’s gotten so bad that our allies don’t even want to help Kerry pick up the pieces of Bush’s mess if he wins. Countries like Japan and Italy have offered some help in the way of financing and infrastructure, but haven’t been willing to commit political suicide as Blair has by committing to a full-blooded deployment of their own troops.

    Call it for what it is, as some brave conservative commentators like Bill Kristol have: If you believe that Islam is a threat to our way of life and think Huntington’s notion of the “clash of civilizations” must be resolved with lethal force, admit that. That’s what the Bush ideology has been post 9/11 and if you can accept that, it’s fine with me. Just don’t have any delusions about this being an efficient, targeted course of war. There’s way too much influence from Cold War-style ideology and manipulation of justified general public anger and desire for vengeance at work in planning this fight.

    It’s a simple fact that Americans are unable or unwilling to make the distinction between the radical brand of Islam adhered to by Hamas and al Qaeda and the increasingly secular, Westernized societies of most of the Middle East. The diversity of ideologies, ethnicities and politics there is remarkable, but the fact remains that our “war on terror,” by virtue of its lack of specificity, has achieved a self-fulfilling prophecy and is rapidly creating the Manichean world neo-conservatives already presume we have: more and more of the Arab world is becoming united and radicalized in opposition to the American way of life. We are losing any potential for moderate allies and driving more people toward terror. The more we associate terrorism with ALL Islam and ALL Middle Eastern people, the more we’ll find a great clash of religions and cultures that will lead to more tragedy. This is the conclusion of virtually all the social science, diplomacy and even theology written about this divide over the last 20 years, even before 9/11.

    Yes, oil’s important too. Let’s be honest about that motivation. I think it’s strategic for the United States to ensure the security of oil in the Middle East, make no mistake about it. But the long-term security of the region of a whole continues to be in grave jeopardy, and our economic interests along with it.

    The high talk about morality and human rights is rhetorical cover for these strategic interests. If you look at Bush’s positions in the 2000 election or the writings of the neo-con ideologues, moral considerations and human rights have NEVER been a primary reason for American military deployment. That’s long been the conservative criticism of liberal humanitarian interventions in places like Somalia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. The ex post facto moral justifications only an ancillary concern of the project of “spreading democracy” and “freedom,” which is primarily a strategic consideration.

    In fact, those of you who like the so-called “neo-con” agenda will be sorely disappointed by the relative lack of new aggression in the 2nd Bush term. No matter how much Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle whisper in Bush’s ear about Syria, Iran, and North Korea, Bush realizes he’s blown his entire wad on Iraq and will lose not only what little world standing we currently have left, but also the entire public along with his own party if we send more troops and money after another “nation-building” war. It just won’t happen. The only bloodshed you’ll have to look forward to is the continuing tragedy of the war on Iraq on the ground.

    This loss of lives isn’t an abstract thing and it troubles me that so much of the push for war and “being tough” from intelligent people is based on emotion and not the reason and steely-eyed strategic calculation we want from our leaders and somehow mis-attribute to Bush.

    “Status quo that produced 9/11?” We should really be talking about Bush’s comfort with the status quo that made us slow in preventing and responding to 9/11 or the self-satisfaction that allowed us to go on an unrelated war while the real mission of defeating al Qaeda remained unfinished, a status quo no leader should ever be willing to accept or distract his attention from.

    Bottom line: Iraq will not be a functional, neo-liberal, Western-styled democracy in 20 years. It just won’t be. That’s the consensus of most academics who’ve written about Iraq’s future. The historical tribal problems of ethnic divide; the increasing opposition of the populace to occupation; the remaining imbalances in wealth, education, and access; the lack of a political history of accommodation; the lack of an integrated middle class into participatory institutions; the increasing militarism and radicalization of young people; the weakness of borders and infiltration of foreign insurgents; the absence of significant international support or allies within the region; and the increasing cultural division over religion and the West all correlate very poorly with the prospects for lasting democratization.


    If the talk of Bush trying to leave Iraq ASAP due to the political pressure is true, that portends even more grim news for Iraq and the region. We’re talking civil war and possibly a radical theocracy within 10 years if that’s the case.

    I’m not even going to get into how Bush has failed us in Homeland Security. Many, many commentators have written about the SPECIFIC policy failures and misplaced priorities that leave our ports and borders as insecure or more insecure than they were on 9/10. Not to mention the continued foot-dragging of this administration and reluctance to support the recommendations and criticisms of the 9/11 Commission until public sentiment and political pressure makes it inevitable to cave, as they now have, on the majority of those recommendations (while still excluding some provisions for some unknown reason).

    For all of you who use such stark language in defending the war on Iraq or Bush’s national security record, try and offer a real response for why his approach is an effective one beyond cartoonish, emotional “we kick some ass, motherfuckers” justifications or vague talk about how the best way to deal with danger is to make some danger of our own.

    I’m not saying that Kerry has offered any great ideas. In fact, I think he hasn’t offered much beyond what Bush has already failed to do. But this isn’t a debate about candidates. I’m talking about why so many of you adhere to this reductionist, overly simplified worldview of foreign policy and military strategy that ignores realities and the majority of expert opinion on this “war.” Since you’re so ardent on bold defenses of our way of life, defend yourselves on this issue. Have some balls — let’s hear what you have to say, without evasion or bullshit. Strip it down to your honest motivations and assumptions.

    This is a debate everyone needs to go through before they vote in November — otherwise, you’re buying into slogans and images aimed at your emotions and fears.

    Emotion, fear and anger obviously has a legitimate role in how we approach the world today. But we can’t be confused about whom the rightful target of our “infinite justice” should be or how to address the people and causes that have produced our current state of affairs that produces such anxiety.

    That is all.

  • Bush and democracy, eh? What has Bush done about Musharraf’s moves to push Pakistan away from Democracy. What has Bush done that about Putin’s moves to push Russia away from Democracy. What has Bush done about Saudi Arabia which is one of the least democratic countries in the world (well actually he has had the Saudi ambassador over for dinner to discuss our war plans)?

    But because Bush “talks” of Democracy, you think he cares about it? He talked about being a “unifier” but he didn’t do that after being elected, he spoke of “not getting into the nation building business” but he is now in the middle of that, he spoke of “weapons of mass destruction”, but that wasn’t true.

    Why is it that you believe him now? You are a very optimistic and wishful person Eric. I can sympathize, most very cynical people like myself are closet idealists, but we learned better. I’m sorry that it will be George Bush who is the one to give you an education on people with lofty rhetoric and low character.

  • Bush and democracy, eh? What has Bush done about Musharraf’s moves to push Pakistan away from Democracy. What has Bush done that about Putin’s moves to push Russia away from Democracy. What has Bush done about Saudi Arabia which is one of the least democratic countries in the world (well actually he has had the Saudi ambassador over for dinner to discuss our war plans)?

    But because Bush “talks” of Democracy, you think he cares about it? He talked about being a “unifier” but he didn’t do that after being elected, he spoke of “not getting into the nation building business” but he is now in the middle of that, he spoke of “weapons of mass destruction”, but that wasn’t true.

    Why is it that you believe him now? You are a very optimistic and wishful person Eric. I can sympathize, most very cynical people like myself are closet idealists, but we learned better. I’m sorry that it will be George Bush who is the one to give you an education on people with lofty rhetoric and low character.

  • It is because I am an optimist that the cynicism of this administration’s foreign policy and the misleading of optimistic, well-meaning people in support of misplaced aggression bothers me.

    Perhaps the only thing I like less than the current fashion of people who have no experience of war (no, I’m not talking about Bush, I’m talking about you who’s reading this) hiding behind tough, “steely” military posturing and making real lives into some kind of war game is the “false optimism” game being played in politics today.

    Face it … no one can truly be an optimist in these times. And war is not a business of optimism. Optimists don’t go to war; smiling while you shoot an innocent civilian isn’t possible. Ask the troops who are increasingly losing morale in Iraq as our military becomes increasingly over-stretched and over-used.

    Optimism is about fighting for a way of life that isn’t about exclusion, fear and hatred. Optimism is about creating a world where we don’t expect the worst out of people we don’t know enough about and re-establish the possibility of dialogue so violence isn’t the most common method of interaction between cultures.

    Go ahead and call that hippie nonsense and then tell me about how you’re an optimist while using laughably childish language like referring to beheadings as “regrettable.” Collateral damage, right, tough guy? You’re not Don Rumsfeld, guy playing with his computer who’s never gotten into a fight in his life. War’s tough. Ask Rumsfeld — he’s on the outs and has lost most of his influence (and likely his job in a 2nd term) because war has a funny way of making false optimists look silly.

    That is all.

  • Greg

    Where did this administration assume the moral authority to try and shove ‘democracy’ down another Nation’s throat–much the way the Crusaders tried to shove Christianity down Muslim throats? Do these people have no sense of hundreds of years of history, or only an agenda? This administratiobn has succeeded in exaberating the problem, and birthing more terrorists, and terrorist’s children and grandchildren–there will be no finite point where ANY President can declare “Mission Accomplished”, because of this bunch’s Grand Adventure. My greatest concern is that if Bush&Co. are defeated in November, what havoc will they cause until January??

  • Kerry may well lose the election. But, what Steve Chapman has to say is about as deep as the water in a toilet bowl. The domestic issues are what will persuade many voters: continuing high employment in some parts to the country and among minorities, increasing inability to afford health insurance and prescription medication, the disproportion of poor and minority folks in the military, increases in college tuition, etc. They could not care less about Teresa Kerry’s accent.

    Bob is right about scaredy cats and the war on terror. The average American has a heck of a greater chance of being murdered by a fellow citizen (about half of that being by an acquaintance, friend or relative) than a terrorist. We need to start putting that risk into perspective instead of running to hide behind ‘Daddy Bush.’ There is no real reason to believe we will more safe after another four years of Bush. Just an illusion. In fact, if Americans continue to do things that infuriate radical Muslims all over the world, we will be less safe.

  • By the way, I like the Steve Chapman piece. Even as I hope that Kerry gets his campaign style together and rights the ship, I’ve found his rough touch funny. One of the right-wing columnists (I forget her name) in the Chicago Tribune wrote a similar piece about Nader’s campaign style about a year ago — I voted for Nader in 2000 but I cracked up reading all the quotes from Nader about “humans” and how “humans need health insurance.” She was fairly convincing that Nader was a space alien, at least on the campaign trail. I don’t think Kerry’s nearly as weird or monastic a guy as Nader, but his failed attempts to connect with blue-collar voters re-confirm our doubts about him even as they make us laugh. I mean, even the diction of “Who among us does not love NASCAR [Dads]?” is just plain funny, especially since you know Kerry was thinking “way to chip away at his base, John old boy … now let the plebeians see you with a hunting rifle.”

    There was a funny Bush verbal gaffe this past week where he tried unsuccessfully to say some word … what was it again? That’s an example of how candidates confirm our doubts about them in funny moments: Bush’s anti-intellectualism and difficulty with complexity; Kerry’s aloof, entitled sense of life-long pre-election (and not the political kind); Gore’s pandering desperation to be loved by everyone; Nader’s morose sermonizing about the sins of the human race, etc.

    When I was in college, Clinton and Gore came to my school to do an education speech. Before the speech, some advisors asked us (student volunteers) for the names of some popular athletes on our basketball team. We gave them three names, and Gore got stuck with the job of listing them off in order to win points with the locals. Of course, he mispronounced one of them horribly and people started snickering. Lesson for all future candidates: don’t pretend to know shit about sports if you’re a prep school nerd.

    That is all.

  • Greg

    Our Founding Fathers would be appalled at this administration’s unfounded policy of waging ‘pre-emptive war’ upon a sovereign Nation that posed little threat to us except that Daddy got yapped at for not proceeding to Baghdad in the Gulf War. Don’t hand me the non-comparison about Thomas Jefferson sending the Marines to safeguard American shipping against the Barbary Coast Pirates–non-issue. No, what needs to be addressed is the loss of life(both our sons and daughters, and Iraqi civilians) resulting from this Neo-Conservative ‘Grand Adventure’. Bush, Cheney Rumsfeld, AShcroft, Wolfowitz, et.al. have squandered our monetary surplus, and our standing in the eyes of the World. All we have left are their glaring mistakes and a stretched way to thin delusion of military might. We have no moral authority to dictate whom may or may not have nuclear capability. By what moral right do we sanctimoniously proclaim that we can have nukes, but no one else can? Because we’ll use ours first? How sophomoric……

  • Eric Olsen

    Certainly a buttload of articulate disagreement – some of the best I’ve read – can’t get into it tonight, had attend high school football and we’re off first thing to visit my daughter at college tomorrow.

    It isn’t that I think anything said here is necessariy wrong, it is just out of context and too narrow of vision, and that is Kerry’s problem (from my perspective) also. This is a problem that really does require a grand reimagining.

  • Greg, I hate to break it you, old boy, but throughout history, people have mainly been foolish. This is just more of the same. If they re-elect Bush, the persons responsible will then sit around wondering why that didn’t end terrorism. The real question is why they are foolish enough to think it will.

  • RJ


    Does this mean “super Jew?”

    Just wondering…

  • RJ

    “We have no moral authority to dictate whom may or may not have nuclear capability. By what moral right do we sanctimoniously proclaim that we can have nukes, but no one else can? Because we’ll use ours first? How sophomoric……”

    An anti-American speaks…

  • Greg-B

    Let me be clear–I think George W. Bush is an amiable enough type that I might want to invite to my backyard cook-out, and with whom I would partake of an iced tea. However…I think Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Wolfowitz, and, to some extent Bush Sr. are manipulating their marionettes- both W., Jeb and the media. Colin Powell has been sold out and Condoleeza Rice is too sharp to put up with this travesty…

  • Greg

    I guess it’s too late for response…

  • Eric Olsen

    it’s never too late, I’ll be back, it’s never over

  • Now that, RJ, is the kind of neocon bullshit that really pisses me off.

    Raising the idea that objecting to neocons is somehow anti-Semitic is despicable.

    I wrote about it in What the heck is a ‘Neocon’: Part II [opens in new window] and here’s a bit from that piece

    [The neocon script reads:] Calling us “neocons” means you’re calling us Jews [sub-text: the whiff of a taint of anti-Semitism].

    Max Boot: ‘When Buchananites toss around “neoconservative”–and cite names like Wolfowitz and Cohen–it sometimes sounds as if what they really mean is “Jewish conservative.” This is a malicious slur on two levels.’ [What the heck is a ‘Neocon’]

    David Books: ‘In truth, the people labeled neocons (con is short for “conservative” and neo is short for “Jewish”) … ” [The Era of Distortion]

    Max Boot again: ‘”Neocons Are Jews Who Serve The Interests Of Israel” [his ‘myth’]
    ‘A malicious myth. [He follows with a list of people and media who] … have used neocon as a synonym for Jew, focusing on Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Eliot Cohen, and others with obvious Jewish names.”

    That’s all an attempt to intimidate by raising the taint of anti-Semitism, but calling a neocon a neocon is not anti-Semitism.

    Your question:

    RJ: Does this mean “super Jew?”

    seems to be more of the same slime.

  • Eric Olsen

    no it isn’t a game at all – it’s very real, but ironically, it has to be played like a game. A certain distance is required to make strategic decisions that are matters of life and death for hundreds, thousands, or even millions. But inaction is also action and can have just as grave consequences.

    We are not fighting Islam, but we are fighting a mindset of a quite substantial portion of the Islamic world, and we have tried to avoid that fight through appeasement, averting our eyes, diplomacy, etc. It hasn’t worked, to put it very mildly, so it is now time to try another course, which Bush is doing, with some serious blunders along the way, but doing nonetheless.

    As stated in this post, I, and others, see Kerry returning to the 9/10 approach, which I see as disaster.

    It’s hard to disagree with most of your individual points, but I see that perspective as revealing a telescope with a much narrower focus than I think is necessary and more “true.”

  • Olsen,

    I appreciate your comments (as always), but they’re quite general. What do you see as the broader vision? I do think that vision is important to how we approach the Middle East and part of the reason we’re in the situation we’re in now.

    What do you mean Kerry’s returning to a 9/10 approach? That’s a sweet little campaign stump line Bush and Cheney use (and it’s obviously working in the great state of Ohio), but I think that charge needs to be fleshed out.

    Islam is the largest religion in the world. If our vision is that we’re going to take the fight to a large part of that population of billions (multiple countries, cultures, nationalities, ethnicities) indiscriminately while giving up on the possibility of dialogue, we’re in for a world of trouble for a very long time.
    We can’t win another Crusades.

    And finally, warfighting should never be thought of as a game. That’s when we lose connection with what we value and what our objectives are. Game theorists and military psychologists talk about how commanders can get caught up in unnecessary risk and escalation under stressful situations when they lose perspective and judgment. That’s another reason we conduct military exercises and war games — not because we treat war lightly, but quite the opposite: we go through the worst-case scenario to make sure it never happens and so that it can be avoided at all costs (and the costs are always huge). It makes the least sense for civilians discussing war (like ourselves) to fantasize about huge conflagrations and wars that wouldn’t ever happen since we have no reason to willfully numb ourselves to tragedy and the loss of human life. There’s no reset button when you’re talking about real troops on the ground and, as we’re seeing in Iraq, things almost never go as planned in war.

    I welcome good discussion from the rest of you as well. RJ, stop being childish.

    Hal, I actually think there is a significant element of anti-Semitism directed toward the neo-conservative movement — that’s one reason it was always somewhat marginal within the conservative foreign policy establishment until Wolfowitz and Perle got Rumsfeld’s ear. However, I think there’s a great irony in conservatives’ newfound appreciation for Israel and the Jewish people post 9/11 — traditionally, conservatives have not been the most hospitable to Jewish concerns (here or abroad) and it’ll be interesting to see how long the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” sentiment prevails. For what it’s worth, a lot of Jewish commentators and intellectuals seem awfully skeptical of the new foreign policy hawks and their strategic embrace of Israel.

    That is all.

  • I agree, Bob, that there has been some actual honest-to-god anti-Semitism against the neocons, going back at least a few decades.

    But what I object to is their twisted attempt to say that objecting to them and their policies is of itself anti-Semitic.

    That’s as bad as the right-wing cries that it’s traitorous to object to the invasion of Iraq and the way it’s going.

    And the neocons apparently decided to put this anti-Semitic defense into their playbooks, as several of them used the same approach approximately coevally.

    As in the instance in this thread, it’s an attempt to scare off critics.

    Screw that.

  • Vic

    Islam is the largest religion in the world.

    That is indeed, a scary thought. Radical Islam is tightly woven into what people call “moderate” Islam. Despite what the apologists say, Jihad is a core tenet of Islam and those who do not convert are to be either converted, given second-class citizen status as long as they pay a special tax, or killed.


  • Eric Olsen

    Bob, to be more specific, I will quote myself, one of my favorite sources – this is a very blunt and not particularly politic, nor sensitive statement of what I perceive the reality of the situation to be, as more than one person told me:

    the “real” reality is that after the overthrow of the Taliban, in order to reinforce our seriousness of purpose, to convince all who would dismiss our resolve, revert to business-as-usual, and fail to understand that violent Islamist exceptionalism is an unacceptable worldview, we had to take further aggressive action in the greater Middle East and the situation in Iraq was amenable to such action.

    We had to go in there and throw our weight around, blow shit up, as it were, and overthrow something, which we have now done. I do not believe the presence of WMD in Iraq was intentionally fabricated as a casus belli, but neither do I doubt that the intelligence seeming to indicate their presence was greedily seized upon as a rationale for what had to be done regardless.

    You simply can’t announce to the world, or to your own people for that matter, that you are going to invade a nation and overthrow its government because you have to prove your viciousness. But that is the reality.

    Problems have ensued and the aftermath of the blowing-shit-up phase has not been handled particularly well; this is indisputable, but the bottom line is Saddam is out, the world knows we are no longer fucking around, there will be a roughly democratic government in Iraq one way or the other, and the behavior and attitudes of other nations in the region have been altered in myriad salutary ways, seen and unseen. Surely our relationships with Libya and Pakistan have changed dramatically for the good, and it has been made clear throughout the region that the spewing of anti-Western hatred from the mosques and madrassas is no longer acceptable.

    A reasonable case can be made that it would have made more sense to blow shit up and kick the fuckers to the curb in Iran, Syria, North Korea, even Saudia Arabia, but everyone who lives on this actual planet knows that not one of these countries presented feasible targets for any number of political, logistical, military, geographic, diplomatic reasons. And Iraq really is better off without Saddam. You do what you can, where and when you can, and it is my hope that the invasion of Iraq removes the need for direct military action against these other nations.

    The region had to be transformed, and the process has been very tangibly begun – this is not nothing, and effort and steadfastness in the face of adversity and opposition count.

  • Eric Olsen

    Actually, Christianity has the largest number of adherents by a wide margin, although that margin is shrinking:

    Christianity: 2 billion
    Islam: 1.3 billion
    Hinduism: 900 million
    Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist: 850 million
    Buddhism: 360 million
    Chinese traditional religion: 225 million
    primal-indigenous: 150 million
    African Traditional & Diasporic: 95 million
    Sikhism: 23 million
    Juche: 19 million

  • RedTard

    Must have pulled that play from the Democratic playbook. Just took black and replaced it with Jew.

  • The figures in Comment 27 are intriguing in a way. I suspect that a much greater number of people worldwide are not religious than is reflected. What is being reported is probably being born into a religion, not actually believing in a god(s).

    But, particularly in regard to politics, it is often unwise to say one is not religious. Thomas Jefferson went as far as any president, saying he was a deist. Even that might have been a problem if more voters had been truly literate. Today, whatever a candidate really thinks, he had better say he is some variety of Christian who believes in an interventionist God. Deism, agnositicism, atheism, can sink a candidacy for most offices.

  • Eric Olsen

    that is certainly true in some areas, though in others I don’t think religion has much to do with the perception of a candidate – there are still very strong political and cultural regional differences in the U.S.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    Eric, your last comment strikes me as naive. No national politician nor governor (nor even state legislator, according to some sources) has been elected who is openly atheist or even agnostic in the last hundred years or so.

    Believing in ghost stories is as much a prerequisite for office as having a white penis once was.

  • Eric Olsen

    I don’t doubt that, I was going down to the local level: there’s a world of difference between Berkeley and Birmingham

  • ClubhouseCancer

    I don’t think the issue comes up much in local elections, but you’re surely right about the regional differences.

    “I’d walk all the way from Berkeley to Birmingham… ”

    I vote for Emmylou.

    By the way, Mac, I think William Howard Taft had some very anti-Christian comments, but I’m not sure if he saved them for after his Presidency.

  • True, Clubhouse. Funny, huh? Reagan broke the divorce barrier. We now have a supposedly cured alcohol and drug abuser. We’ve had adulterers, men who got rich from corruption, misogynists and racists in the White House. But, no one should say he is an agnostic or atheist if he wants to run for the president of the U.S.

  • Vic

    Most people in the US believe in Christ, so it makes sense to me that most people would vote against someone who does not, just as I would not expect a Christian to win an election for President in a Muslim majority country (if such an election ever takes place).


  • Olsen,

    I appreciate the discussion. Your thoughts you quoted above I addressed at length on that same topic and I don’t want to quote myself in response to your original quote since we’d get caught in an endlessly self-referential loop and wouldn’t make any progress in this discussion 🙂

    The discussion on religion is interesting. It’s clear that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and that the major social cleavage in global relations will continue to be religion. We can all agree on that. You just can’t decide to “take on” a religion with billions of adherents and achieve peace. That’s the error of the misguided terrorists and radical clerics as well — they mistakenly think they can go to war, basically, with modernity itself, the entirety of Western technology, religion, and culture. These are primitive, deep-rooted, even tribal sentiments that are being resurrected from both sides of the divide.

    For what it’s worth, I think the Bush administration had a more limited focus than many of you in their strategic choice of Iraq (oil, extended military presence in the region, revenge upon Saddam). I don’t think the Bush administration is willing to embark upon a further crusade — they just used that sentiment among the public post 9/11 to pick Iraq as a politically acceptable (but increasingly less so) target for their strategy. So all of you would-be crusaders will be sorely disappointed to realize that much of the Bush administration’s rhetoric is just that. Otherwise, despotic, backwards regimes like Saudi Arabia wouldn’t enjoy our friendship. The undercurrent of antipathy toward Islam in general served its main purpose as political cover for aggression in Iraq.

    The worst effect of the war that I haven’t even mentioned yet is its prospects for peaceful resolution of the Palestinian question. We’re clearly seen as siding with Israel and Sharon by virtually all the Arab League nations and have probably lost any ability to be the honest broker in negotiations over withdrawal from settlements and the establishment of a Palestinian state. One of the best examples of the Bush administration’s early pragmatism overlooked by most rabid conservatives was its strong, historic support of the idea of a separate Palestinian state (the first adminstration to ever take that stance). Clearly, the primary problem in the entire region and the primary recruiting point for terrorists has been the Israeli-Palestine dispute (with American occupation now an equal motivation). Without a resolution of a Palestinian state, the prospects for peace in the region are likely to be very poor. The Bush administration’s continuing, overt military aid to Israel (including massive recent arms shipments of non-conventional technology) amidst ongoing violence only contributes to the instability. But then, I don’t know that it’s a particular strategic loss since the Bush administration did not seem particularly inclined to try to broker negotiations between Palestine and Israel to begin with. I highly doubt Bush would roll up his sleeves and begin peace talks on a Palestinian State, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights even with four more years in office. The point is that if he chose to do so, the war in Iraq has destroyed our trust and credibility among even moderate Arab leaders and made it impossible for us to have a positive effect on negotiations.

    About American political candidates: I think most of them are religious because it’s expected. I don’t think very many politicians take the ethical mandates of religion very seriously or exhibit much humility — I think that has a lot to do with the kind of compartmentalization you’d need to achieve your ambitions for high elected office. Saints don’t become Presidents. I doubt very seriously that most politicians we’ve known were deeply religious and I don’t think it’s their religion per se that makes them successful, although social policies like abortion and gay rights that are heavily tied to religion CERTAINLY matter. It’s just that being Christian is a sine qua non prerequisite for electoral success in America.

    I was going to get into a discussion of Lieberman in 2000, but I think I’ll save that since I’m not sure if I want to get into that or what I believe.

    That is all.

  • Eric Olsen

    As a very strong believer in the separation of church and state, I find religious campaign rhetoric distasteful unless it directly applies to the personal experience of the politician and explains some attitude toward public service. Rather than it being a negative, I actually admire those like Kerry who have a personal stand on an issue like abortion due to religious/moral beliefs, yet don’t feel it is appropriate to force the ramifications of those beliefs on others via the state. that is one “nuance” I fully support.

    In Bush’s case, a religious epiphany seems to explain a personal transformation, which appears to be sincere, and that is fine as far as explaining who he is and how he changed; but I do not in any support his allowing personal religious beliefs to blur the line between church and state, or to pursue a specific religious agenda via the power of the state.

  • JR

    Most people in the US believe in Christ, so it makes sense to me that most people would vote against someone who does not,…

    It may make sense, but it would be un-American. Article VI, Clause 3: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

    …just as I would not expect a Christian to win an election for President in a Muslim majority country (if such an election ever takes place).

    I believe that’s happened in Lebanon.

  • JR

    Eric Olson: I do not in any (way) support (Bush’s) allowing personal religious beliefs to blur the line between church and state, or to pursue a specific religious agenda via the power of the state.

    You do if you vote for him.

  • JR

    Oops, sorry about the mispelling.

  • Vic


    What I meant was that people might tend to vote that way. I’m not saying anything about an official mandate or change to any laws. 🙂

    Didn’t know about the Lebanon thing…