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April 30, 2006

Defining the Center

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

I liked Matt's firm rejection of war with Iran when I first read it, because it was right.  I like it even more now after reading Matt's explanation of how it shapes political debate:

Politically, defining the terms of the debate is important. A certain number of people are going to want to hold a nuanced, sophisticated middle-ground position on the Iran question. That's fine, that's the way the world works. The important question becomes what counts as nuanced and sophisticated. I took it as a good sign that in the latest New Republic Peter Beinart's column on Iran refers to my own column as "Not exactly subtle" and the main liberal take on the issue "too glib" while ultimately having much harsher words for Iran hawks. If that's the way things are going to play out, then I say so much the better for unsubtly and glibness on the part of those of us who'd prefer not to see another disastrous war.

It reminds me of something Paperwight once wrote:

Let us imagine that the choice put to the American People is "Death or Cake".

Republicans:  DEATH!

Democrats:  What?  Are you insane? Cake.

Centrists:  Look, here Democrats, you need to back off of this shrill cake position and be reasonable.  Compromise a bit.  How about a cookie and a maiming?

Democrats:  What?  How about just a cookie, no maiming?

Centrists:  Now, Dems, be reasonable.  You have to meet the Republicans half-way.  They want death.  Seems to me that a little maiming isn't too much to ask.

Democrats:  Wha?  But death is insane.  A cookie and a maiming is still insane.  That's not much of a compromise.  Why don't you ask the Republicans to ask for something that's not insane?

Centrists:  Well, they did win the last presidential election by around 3% of the popular vote.  That's clearly a mandate. You need to go their way.  Do you want to be in the minority forever?  Be reasonable.  Maybe just a little maiming, like losing a foot or a couple fingers on your off hand?

Democrats:  I really think just cake is the way to go.  Maybe pie.  Or some kind of food.  But no death or maiming.  I don't care if that's the Republican position.  It's really insane.

Centrists:  Well, you're going to lose my vote.  I can't understand why you're so unreasonable that you won't accept some maiming.

April 30, 2006 in Iran | Permalink


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Judging by many recent polls, the centrists have become the Democrats, or vice versa.

So we have the sane on one side, and the insane on the other, as it should be in the natural order of things.

I've been a believer that Bush and Rove have an Iran war planned for sometime before November - and many signs seem to indicate that - to save the Repub majorities in Congress.

But if this BushCo obsession to scratch the war itch is to be halted, it will be by casting this as a fight between the sane and the insane rather than between the Dems and Repubs (or 'patriots' vs 'terrorism wimps' - or whatever).

Repetition works. BushCo is insane.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 30, 2006 5:42:30 PM

OK fine. But after the bombs have fallen, and Iran attacks in Iraq and gets a battalion, and Bush goes to his first military funeral of 4000 GI's, and Iran publicly expresses its joy in killing so many Americans, and Hezbollah guns down a Dallas pre-school...stick with it.

"Bush is insane. The deaths are Bush's fault, and his fault alone".

I will be right alongside you. Umm, probably looking around to see where y'all have run. You are not going to stop the war. Hell, you & I are the enemy, Iran the weapon.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 30, 2006 6:09:36 PM

I mean seriously:"Well, I feel bad about our brave soldiers and those 35 little caskets in Dallas, but Iran was attacked by us. I suggest we negotiate with the mullahs, forgive and forget all the bad stuff, let Iran have nukes, stop supporting Israel, and withdraw from Iraq. Oh, and folks, be sure to vote Democratic in November."

I may blame our cowards in the Democratic beltway, but I at least offer them a little understanding and compassion. Because I have seen no evidence that their base is really, really ready to rumble.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 30, 2006 6:22:31 PM

Indeed. What is there to do when one side (liberals/Democrats) objectively has the best interests of the country and world in mind and the opposing side (conservatives/Republicans) objectively wants to cause harm?

Also, is it really a fair criticism to say that liberals/Democrats don't have any alternative to the conservatives/Republicans? Who exactly needs an alternative to immoral and evil policies and actions?

Surprise! There are no alternatives to evil actions. There is only a choice of whether or not to engage in said evil actions. Claiming that no alternatives to evil actions justifies engaging in them is fallacious reasoning, and such thought rests on the foundation that the actions themselves are legitimate.

Posted by: Joshua | Apr 30, 2006 6:23:46 PM

Bob, I think the line goes like this: "We've got five years before Iran gets nukes. Smart diplomacy, starting now, can solve our problems -- bombing them right away is an idiotic idea."

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Apr 30, 2006 6:34:15 PM

In the case of Iran, there IS an alternative to war.

Containment. NATO and MAD. Economic isolation. Engagement. Regional alliances. Reward good behavior. Resist bad behavior - but make it clear that retaliation against against an attack on us or our allies will be punished severely. Negotiate and talk. Talk, talk, talk, not war, war, war.

It worked well for 40 years or so with the Soviet Union. They fell apart and we prevailed.

Preemptive war with Iran would be as insane as a preemptive attack on the Soviets would have been.

We can't wait until after Bush starts a war, as Bob McManus points out, for then there will be no alternative - just as there isn't a really good alternative now to the madness in Iraq.

Dems must pre-empt this conversation on Iran. Our foreign allies will support us, as they supported us in the long war against the Soviets.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 30, 2006 6:43:07 PM

"Dems must pre-empt this conversation on Iran"

God, we can try, but I look at the beltway, and I interpret the passive behavior as indicating that the war is going to happen before the midterms, and no one can stop Bush and Cheney. The events, or something near, in my scenario will come to pass. Calculate based on my scenario.

There will be alternatives and options, but they will not be good. I will not expect Hillary Clinton to provoke violence in the streets of America. When the base is ready, she may lead. I ask again:Are you ready to rumble? The nation is at risk.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 30, 2006 6:53:33 PM

That Centrist strawman better not think of getting up again.

Posted by: Dustin | Apr 30, 2006 6:55:05 PM

I am so tired. In 2001, before 9/11, there were people saying:"Golly, this isn't politics as usual." And people I respect all over the blogosphere are still talking messages and elections, 5 years and hundreds of thousands of deaths later. Politics as usual.

We are at war. All you get is the choice of enemy. I'll paraphrase Muhammed Ali:"No Vietcong never did nothing bad to me."

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 30, 2006 7:12:20 PM

You're sounding uncharacteristically vague today, Bob.

Posted by: Iron Lungfish | Apr 30, 2006 7:23:17 PM

"And people I respect all over the blogosphere are still talking messages and elections"

Thank god for that.

The higher the stakes, the more important it is for people to dirty their hands with the grubby business of messages and elections.

Posted by: Petey | Apr 30, 2006 7:32:10 PM

Oh man, I think Paperwight's Death v. Cake dialogue is just about the funniest thing I've ever read.

Posted by: Ezra | Apr 30, 2006 7:48:56 PM

"Bob, I think the line goes like this: "We've got five years before Iran gets nukes. Smart diplomacy, starting now, can solve our problems -- bombing them right away is an idiotic idea."

Great. Now we've got the policy side of the equation solved.

Too bad there is also an electoral side of the equation where things aren't quite so rational. On that side of the equation, the game is to agree with the administration that Iran combined with nuclear weapons does indeed pose a future threat, agree that force should be an option on the table, and then make the case that Bush has proven himself not a trustworthy CiC to deal with a wider war. That sets us up to carry the argument whether Bush drops bombs or not by pre-defining Iran as part of Bush's mess.

Posted by: Petey | Apr 30, 2006 7:51:43 PM

"God, we can try, but I look at the beltway, and I interpret the passive behavior as indicating that the war is going to happen before the midterms, and no one can stop Bush and Cheney."

Of course no one can stop Bush and Cheney. Presidents have a god given right to bomb any country they please. If the WH wanted to bomb Luxemborg, no one could stop them. This is a prime reason why Democrats should stop nominating Bos-Wash candidates for the Presidency.

But I'd bet on no bombs dropping before the election. I think the WH wants a war of words, not a war of bombs, as their election campaign. And since a war of words suits the purposes of both the American and Iranian leaderships, a war of words we shall have.

If the WH really does want to bomb, if I were in their shoes I'd wait until after the elections. There too much risk of political blowback in expanding an unpopular war. After November is when they'd have a free hand to be as crazy as they wanna be. Before November, they can have the benefits of a war of words without the potential for blowback.

Posted by: Petey | Apr 30, 2006 8:05:52 PM

I don't think anyone has linked to Josh Marshall here yet. Uncharacteristically long and passionate from Josh.

And here is Lindsey Beyerstein at Majikthise linking to Iran attacking the PKK in Iraq. Second time since April. I sat asking myself is PKK Barzani or Talabani or which Kurdish faction? Does ignoring this serve some Iraqi or American purpose?

My greater point being that Bushco is perhaps not in complete control of timing. That even if they manage to get UN sanctions, Iran might respond ro sanctions with an escalation.

Otherwise, timing might depend on polling.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 30, 2006 8:25:24 PM

Yeah, Marshall's "Double or nothing is not a foreign policy" is a really nice line.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Apr 30, 2006 11:29:16 PM

I think bombs will drop in October. If the Republicans are polling particularly badly, they will use tactical nukes. I believe this as strongly as anything.

Americans generally want to have a cause to pull them together. Dropping a nuke is something so outside the pale that most Americans will believe that there must have been a really good reason, else it wouldn't have been done. Not even Bush is that crazy, they'll say.

Eat, drink and be merry, because in October everything goes to hell.

Posted by: Stephen | May 1, 2006 1:29:12 AM

I dont doubt that we attack Iran at some point. We have all the hardware on the ground, practically 360 around them. From a general's point of view you can't ask for better then that. ..and of course Bush 'always listens to his commanders on the ground' doesn't he? (sarcastic)

Its not the option I like. Mad is an intersting thing.. I think as far as the middle east, and N.Korea is concerned we should go for a little more of a U-Mad policy. (unilateral mad)

1. we sign treaties that we will not strike these countries first. (not gonna happen)
2. we let them follow whatever course they will on nuclear power.
3. we promise that if they use 1 nuclear weapon, we will vaporize their country. Nothing will be left.

The unilateral part is of course our second strike which destroys their country. Unfortunately there is still the MAD piece, which means the sacrifice of at least 1 city somewhere, ours or someone elses.

It wont happen, but its amusing to contemplate.

..beyond that. It strikes me as a complete gamble any way around. If we rule out combat and negotiate no matter what. ..we may one day lose a city, if they're not the up-front electricity mogul hopefuls they claim to be. If we choose combat we undoubtedly inflame tensions with China and Russia, and dig ourselves into a long term war with Iran.

The only way to keep nuke tech our of their hands by force is long term occupation. ..and we all know that really hurts.

...so unless the Iranian leadership are good guys in really elaborate bad guy suits, something's gonna hurt. What how and when I dont know.

Posted by: david b | May 1, 2006 2:49:17 AM

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