Tag Archives: Chris Bodenner

Liberaltarians Are So 2006

Will Wilkinson:

Of Matt Yglesias’s sensible approach to regulation, Conor Friederdorf writes:

Being someone who understands progressives, Mr. Yglesias makes the case for deregulation in terms likely to appeal to his colleagues on the left. What would be nice is if more people on the right could be similarly persuasive. Of course, capitalizing on common ground or winning converts on individual issues requires an accurate understanding of what motivates people with different ideologies, so it isn’t surprising that a Yglesias fan invoked Cato in that Tweet. It’s a place where several staffers are daily deepening our understanding of where liberals and libertarians can work together.

I’m glad Conor recognizes the value of the work some of us at Cato have been doing to make productive liberal-libertarian dialogue and collaboration possible. Alas, all good things must come to an end.

Via the Kauffman Foundation

Brink Lindsey Joins Kauffman Foundation as Senior Scholar

Economic researcher and author to contribute to Kauffman’s growing body of work on firm formation and economic growth

KANSAS CITY, Mo., Aug. 23, 2010 – The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation today announced that Brink Lindsey has joined the Foundation as a senior scholar in research and policy. Lindsey will use his expertise in international trade, immigration, globalization and economic development to identify the structural reforms needed to revive entrepreneurial innovation, firm formation and job creation in the wake of the Great Recession.

As for me, my official last day at Cato is September 15. Expect more blogging and sketches.

David Weigel:

The libertarian Cato Institute is parting with two of its most prominent scholars. Brink Lindsey, the institute’s vice president of research and the author of the successful book The Age of Abundance, is departing to take a position at the Kauffman Foundation. Will Wilkinson, a Cato scholar, collaborator with Lindsey, and editor of the online Cato Unbound, is leaving on September 15; he just began blogging politics for the Economist.

I asked for comment on this and was told that the institute does not typically comment on personnel matters. But you have to struggle not to see a political context to this. Lindsey and Wilkinson are among the Cato scholars who most often find common cause with liberals. In 2006, after the GOP lost Congress, Lindsey coined the term “Liberaltarians” to suggest that Libertarians and liberals could work together outside of the conservative movement. Shortly after this, he launched a dinner series where liberals and Libertarians met to discuss big ideas. (Disclosure: I attended some of these dinners.) In 2009 and 2010, as the libertarian movement moved back into the right’s fold, Lindsey remained iconoclastic—just last month he penned a rare, biting criticism of The Battle, a book by AEI President Arthur Brooks which argues that economic theory is at the center of a new American culture war.

Did any of this play a role in the departure of Lindsey and Wilkinson? I’ve asked Lindsey and Wilkinson, and Wilkinson has declined to talk about it, which makes perfect sense. But I’m noticing Libertarians on Twitter starting to deride this move and intimate that Cato is enforcing a sort of orthodoxy. (The title of Wilkinson’s kiss-off post, “The Liberaltarian Diaspora,” certainly hints at something.)

Ilya Somin:

There are two big problems with Weigel’s insinuation. First, Cato has not changed or even deemphasized any of its positions on those issues where they have long differed with conservatives including the war on drugs, immigration, foreign policy, and others. If they were trying to move “back into the right’s fold,” one would think they would pulled back on these positions at least to some noticeable extent. Yet a quick glance at Cato’s website reveals recent attacks on standard conservative policies on Afghanistan, and the “Ground Zero mosque,” among other issues.

Second, it is strange to claim that Cato got rid of Lindsey for promoting a political alliance with the left at the very time when Lindsey himself recently disavowed that very idea, stating that “it’s clear enough that for now and the foreseeable future, the left is no more viable a home for libertarians than is the right.” If Cato objected to Lindsey’s advocacy of an alliance with the left, one would think they would have purged him back when he was actually advocating it, not after he has repudiated it. Wilkinson does still favor liberaltarianism, but apparently only as a philosophical dialogue. He holds out little if any prospect of an actual political coalition between the two groups.

Both Lindsey and Wilkinson have done much important and valuable work, and Cato is the poorer for losing them. At this point, however, there is no evidence that their departure was caused by a “purge” of liberaltarians intended to bring Cato “back into the right’s fold.”

CONFLICT OF INTEREST WATCH: I am a Cato adjunct scholar (an unpaid position). However, I am not an employee of Cato’s, and have no role in any Cato personnel decisions. In this particular case, I didn’t even know it was going to happen until it became public.

Daniel Foster at The Corner:

I won’t speculate on what’s going on at Cato. But, as much as I respect Brink Lindsey, both he and Wilkinson often expressed contempt for conservatism andconservative libertarians — Cato’s base, as it were — that probably didn’t help their causes. In Lindsey’s case, it was tempered by a kind of anthropological aloofness; in Wilkinson’s, less so.

American libertarianism is queer in that it can admit both rationalists and conservatives in the Oakeshottian senses. Reading Wilkinson it becomes clear that he is a classic rationalist. He derives his libertarianism a priori — a set of propositions on a chalkboard. Contrast with, for example, the average tea partier, who gets his as a uniquely American historical inheritance — a full-blooded tradition. Like most rationalists, Wilkinson thinks this is not just silly and sentimental but pernicious (one of his biggest bugaboos is patriotism).

And so, holding the same set of basic principles, but with different reasons, sends these two kinds of libertarians in two very different directions: the rationalists off toward liberaltarianism; the conservatives the classic Buckley-National Review fusionism.

Matt Welch at Reason

Alex Pareene at Gawker:

Various libertarians (and, to a much lesser extent, liberals) have wondered, as Lindsey did in that 2006 piece, why libertarians so often align themselves with conservatives instead of liberals. Considering the number of anti-libertarian policies the conservative movement fights for, it seems slightly odd that libertarians would act as an arm of that movement. But I think the answer is sort of obvious: While some outlets, like those leather jacket-wearing rebels at Reason, just tend to go after whoever’s currently in power, most of the big libertarian institutions are funded by vain rich people. And these vain rich people care a lot more about tax policy (specifically a policy of not having to pay taxes) than they do about legalizing drugs or defunding the military-industrial complex. And if they’re keeping the lights on at Cato and AEI, they want Cato and AEI to produce research that relates more to hating the IRS and the EPA than to hating the NYPD or the FBI.

And Cato was born as a Koch family pet project. As in the Koch family that is bent on the political destruction of Barack Obama.

Anyway, Lindsey and Wilkinson aren’t saying anything about their departures, but, as Dave Weigel writes, it looks for all the world like “Cato is enforcing a sort of orthodoxy.”

A libertarian influence on the Democratic party in the realms of law enforcement, drug policy, and civil liberties would definitely be a good thing. But the big libertarian institutions are not really amenable to working with liberals.

Steve Benen:

But what’s especially interesting to me is how often we’ve seen moves like these in recent years. David Frum was forced out at the American Enterprise Institute after failing to toe the Republican Party line. Bruce Bartlett was shown the door at the National Center for Policy Analysis for having the audacity to criticize George W. Bush’s incoherent economic policies.

In perhaps the most notable example, John Hulsman was a senior foreign policy analyst at the right’s largest think tank, the Heritage Foundation. Hulsman was a conservative in good standing — appearing regularly on Fox News and on the Washington Times‘ op-ed page, blasting Democrats — right up until he expressed his disapproval of the neoconservatives’ approach to foreign policy. At that point, Heritage threw him overboard. Cato’s Chris Preble said at the time, “At Heritage, anything that smacks of criticism of Bush will not be tolerated.”

A few years later, Cato seems to be moving in a very similar direction.

Intellectually, modern conservatism is facing a painfully sad state of affairs.

John Quiggin:

These departures presumably spell the end of any possibility that Cato will leave the Republican tent (or even maintain its tenuous claims to being non-partisan). And Cato was by far the best of the self-described libertarian organizations – the others range from shmibertarian fronts for big business to neo-Confederate loonies.

On the other hand, breaks of this kind often lead to interesting intellectual evolution. There is, I think, room for a version of liberalism/social democracy that is appreciative of the virtues of markets (and market-based policy instruments like emissions trading schemes) as social contrivances, and sceptical of top-down planning and regulation, without accepting normative claims about the income distribution generated by markets. Former libertarians like Jim Henley have had some interesting things to say along these lines, and it would be good to have some similar perspectives

Chris Bodenner at Sully’s place:

With Lindsey and Wilkinson out, perhaps there’s a chance for Nick Newcomen, the Rand fan who drove 12,000 miles with GPS tracking “pen” to scrawl the message above?  If nothing else, his ideological chops are unassailable.

UPDATE: Heather Hurlburt and Daniel Drezner at Bloggingheads

Arnold Kling

Tim Carney at The Washington Examiner

Tim Lee here and here

James Poulos at Ricochet on Lee

UPDATE #3: David Frum at FrumForum

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The End?

Laura Rozen at Politico:

In Morning Defense, POLITICO’s Jen DiMascio and Gordon Lubold make sense of the somewhat confusing drama last night as a convoy of troops from the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division crossed from Iraq into Kuwait:

OVERNIGHT — More than seven years after the U.S. invasion, the last U.S. combat troops rolled out of Iraq and into Kuwait in the early-morning darkness. That’s two weeks ahead of Barack Obama’s schedule, but it ain’t over ’til it’s over: A U.S. Army spokesman tells CBS that the U.S. still has “plenty of trigger-pullers there.”

THE PRESIDENT, IN OHIO: “We are keeping the promise I made when I began my campaign for the presidency. By the end of this month we will have removed 100,000 troops from Iraq and our combat mission will [end].”

THE AP’S REBECCA SANTANA IN KHABARI CROSSING, KUWAIT: “For these troops of the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, it was a moment of relief fraught with symbolism. As their convoy reached the barbed wire at the border crossing out of Iraq on Wednesday, the soldiers whooped and cheered. Then they scrambled out of their stifling hot armored vehicles, unfurled an American flag and posed for group photos.” http://yhoo.it/dcT5Wj

It’s Thursday morning, and this is Morning Defense.

IRAQ BY THE NUMBERS, from Stars and Stripes:
U.S. troops killed: 4,414
U.S. troops wounded in action: 31,897
Number of U.S. troop amputees: 1,135
Iraqi civilian deaths: 113,166
War’s operating cost: $747.6 billion
Per American: $2,435; Per Iraqi: $25,828
Estimate of the total cost of the war: $3 trillion
Cost of maintaining 50,000 troops from now to end of 2011: $12.75 billion
Cost of medical care and disability compensation for Iraq war veterans over their lifetimes: $500 billion.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up

Grim at Blackfive:

4/2 SBCT rides out.

The 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which left Iraq this week, was the final U.S. combat brigade to be pulled out of the country….”Operation Iraqi Freedom ends on your watch!” exclaimed Col. John Norris, the head of the brigade.

“Hooah!” the soldiers roared, using an Army battle cry.

Shortly before midnight Saturday, a group of infantrymen boarded Stryker fighting vehicles, left an increasingly sparse base behind and began scanning the sides of a desolate highway for bombs. For many veterans, including some who made the same trip in the opposite direction years ago under fire, it was a fitting way to exit.

“They’re leaving as heroes,” Norris said of his soldiers. “I want them to walk home with pride in their hearts.”

They are heroes.  The advise and assist brigades, and the strong Special Operations contingent, remain behind for a time.  It’s a strange war that ends this way; but as Clausewitz said, war is the continuation of politics by other means.  We’re moving from war to a very tense political environment.  That’s more or less what we should expect.  What comes next?  Either compromise arises that allows tensions to ramp down, so that the political takes over from the war; or it goes the other way, and war blooms anew from the failure of politics.

Victor Davis Hanson at The Corner:

The departure of the last combat brigade from Iraq is full of symbolic weight.

1. President Obama, to his credit, dropped the nonsense from his candidacy about promising withdrawal by March 2008 and stuck to the Bush-Petraeus plan.

2. While there is violence in Iraq (as there is in Pakistan and in many nations of the Arab Middle East), the surge worked, broke the back of the resistance, and allowed some sort of consensual government to survive.

3. We are reminded by the departure that the campaign-constructed “bad” war in Iraq become okay in late 2008, while the okay war in Afghanistan turned bad, something candidate “Let me at ’em in Afghanistan” Obama probably never anticipated, as his post-campaign surprise seems to suggest.

4. We should remember that while the surge coincided with a booming economy, the departure is taking place against the backdrop of a deep recession, and borrowed money is now as big a consideration as grand strategy (e.g., it will be difficult to ever reinsert the troops at their former levels should the terrorists return) . . .

5. . . . but the 50,000-something troops left in Iraq are not weaponless, and with air support can in extremis aid the Iraqi security forces.

6. If the calm holds, George Bush will be seen in a rather different light than when he left in January 2009, not just because Iraq miraculously has functioned under a constitutional system for years now, but because we have seen how different governance is from perpetual campaigning. In the latter, the rhetorical choices are always good and bad, rather than bad and worse, as is the case when one must be responsible for consequences. In short, despite all the “war is lost,” the “surge is not working,” and the “General Betray Us,” Bush’s persistence paid off — and now Joe Biden, of erstwhile “trisect Iraq” fame, thinks that Iraq could be one of the Obama’s administration’s “greatest achievements.”

James Jay Carafano at The Corner:

In the waning days of World War II, the OSS gave FDR a briefing that would have turned his hair white, if it hadn’t been white already. The president was told to expect a sea of German saboteurs and assassins running rampant through post-war Europe. They would number in the tens of thousands. It might take years to quell the havoc.

The briefers were wrong. The Nazis did, indeed, have a “Werewolf” campaign to continue the fight after armistice, but it largely fizzled. Hundreds of thousands of American troops flooded back home sooner than expected.

Yet some stayed and, for reasons that shifted over the years, American troops remain there today. They remain in Japan and South Korea, too.

This history is not recited to suggest that Iraq is on the road to becoming the next South Korea, but it is a reminder of how the future unfolds. There is no predictable linear path, and in matters of war, everybody gets a vote — enemies as well as allies. Anyone who tells you today just how many troops will be in Iraq ten years hence and just what shape the country will be in is guessing just as much as the OSS agents who briefed FDR on the post-war nightmare that never came.

Here is what we know for sure. 1) Given the state of Iraq in 2006, the country is in a much better place today that any reasonable observer then dared hope. 2) Iraq is better off than it was in the age of Saddam. Now the country has a future, and it rests in the hands of its people. Bonus: The world is rid one of its most dangerous and bloodthirsty thugs. Yes, it was a heavy price. Freedom rarely comes cheap. 3) The surge worked. The surge never promised a land of “milk and honey.” It just promised to break the cycle of continuous, unrelenting violence, to give the new Iraqi political process a chance, and to allow the Iraqis time to build the capacity for their own security. It did that. 4) Things didn’t turn out the way Bush planned. But the vision — a free Iraq without Saddam — was achieved. Remember, things didn’t turn out the way FDR planned either. He said all the troops would be out of Europe in two years.

Here is what we don’t know. How much longer will U.S. troops need to stay there? The fact that the “combat” troops are gone does not mean that the mission is done or that U.S. troops won’t see some kinds of combat. While troops don’t and should not remain permanently in Iraq, they will obviously need to stay longer than one or two more years. Withdrawing U.S. forces too fast would jeopardize progress. Freedom may lose its momentum. Everything is contingent on events on the ground. There cannot even be serious discussions about the long-term U.S. presence until after an Iraqi government is formed.

John Negroponte at Foreign Policy:

Having landed in Baghdad as U.S. ambassador to Iraq at the end of June 2004, I find it a truly remarkable and positive accomplishment that we are able to look to the day not too far off when Iraqi security forces will be able to assume full and complete responsibility for their country’s security. At the time of my arrival, Iraqi security forces were, for all practical purposes, nonexistent. There was, for example, only one — yes, one — Iraqi army battalion and it was composed of various ethnic and sectarian elements. Today, there are some 600,000 Iraqi security forces and important strides have been made toward giving Iraq’s security organizations a national rather than partisan character. This is no small achievement; it has taken seven years to accomplish and only after some false starts and perilous moments.

In the wake of the Samarra Mosque bombing in 2006 and the ensuing sectarian strife, those of us concerned with Iraq could not have imagined the dramatic reversal of fortunes that would occur in the ensuing two years — the death of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the liberation of Basra by the Iraqi army, and the extension of the government’s authority to the country as a whole. By 2008, these improvements had given the government of Iraq the necessary self-assurance to negotiate the withdrawal arrangements that are now being implemented.

But can Iraq really remain stable once U.S. troops have completely withdrawn? While there are no guarantees, the prospects for Iraq’s security and stability beyond 2011 look as good or better than they have at any time in the recent past. The Iraqi army now has close to 200 trained combat battalions, a formidable increase from the somber days when I arrived in 2004, and they are spread throughout the country. The specter of sectarianism poisoning the ranks of Iraqi military and police forces remains the single most serious threat to be guarded against. But progress since the 2007 surge in nurturing the army and police as truly national institutions has been encouraging. Vigilance and political maturity will be needed to ensure that this positive trend continues.

Conn Carroll at Heritage

Max Boot at The Wall Street Journal:

Americans can take pride in how Iraq has developed. But have we truly “won” the war? That is a hard question to answer.

Opponents of the war effort—including Barack Obama and Joe Biden—once had an interest in saying that the war was unwinnable. Now they claim that we should sit back, relax and prepare for a smooth on-time departure. If only.

Iraq has made tremendous strides, but it still has a long way to go. Violence has fallen more than 90% since 2006. Al Qaeda in Iraq has lost most of its leadership. The Jaish al Mahdi, Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia, has been silenced. But this uneasy peace is still broken by too many acts of terrorism. One still reads headlines like this one, from earlier this week: “61 Killed in Bomb Attack on Iraqi Army Recruits.” Baghdad is considerably safer than it once was but is still more dangerous than Kabul, where I’ve also visited recently. Iraq had clean elections in March but still has no new government. Investors are holding off committing funds, the Iranians are licking their chops, and various militias are nervously fingering the triggers of their AK-47s.

Iraq’s future is still to be determined: Will it continue on the path of prosperity and democracy? Will it emerge as a key American ally in the Middle East? Or will it regress into civil war or dictatorship? U.S. forces still have a vital mission: to ensure that a newly sobered Iraq does not fall off the wagon and once again imbibe the deadly brew of ethno-sectarian violence.

The primary remaining military mission is to continue providing support to the Iraqi security forces. There are now 440,000 Iraqi police and 220,000 Iraqi soldiers, but they still lack the capacity to defend their own borders. The U.S. plans to deliver M-1 tanks and F-16 fighters to Iraq, but it will be many years before the Iraqis can operate such sophisticated weapons systems on their own. In the meantime they cannot even control their own air space; that will remain the job of American personnel. The U.S. Navy will continue to safeguard Iraq’s main oil export terminal near the southern city of Basra.

The remaining political mission is even more important—to reassure all sides in Iraq’s fractious politics that their opponents will not resort to the car bomb or the powerdrill-through-the-temple to get their way. Iraq is still recovering from the trauma of internecine bloodletting—as are, for example, Bosnia and Kosovo. In Bosnia it has been 15 years since the guns went silent; in Kosovo 11 years. In both places thousands of foreign troops remain to safeguard a fragile peace.

It would be the height of hubris—the kind once displayed by George W. Bush’s prematurely proclaimed “Mission Accomplished”—to suggest that Iraq, a country of more than 25 million, needs less help in its post-conflict transition than did the micro-states of the former Yugoslavia.

Allah Pundit:

The last combat troops are out and now 50,000, er, “advisors” remain. It’s not the end of the war, in other words, but as a not-so-grim milestone for a lot of guys who are no longer in harm’s way, it’s a moment worth celebrating. Rather than waste your time by blathering at you, let me give you some reading and viewing material. Watch the two clips below from NBC, which, to its credit, did a bang-up job in covering the occasion. And note well Col. Jack Jacobs’s reminiscence about being sent to Vietnam after combat had supposedly ended there too. The fighting isn’t over yet; the question is who’ll be doing it from now on. And the NYT has an answer sure to please liberals of all stripes: “Mercenaries.”

To protect the civilians in a country that is still home to insurgents with Al Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias, the State Department is planning to more than double its private security guards, up to about 7,000, according to administration officials who disclosed new details of the plan. Defending five fortified compounds across the country, the security contractors would operate radars to warn of enemy rocket attacks, search for roadside bombs, fly reconnaissance drones and even staff quick reaction forces to come to the aid of civilians in distress, the officials said…

The department’s plans to rely on 6,000 to 7,000 security contractors, who are also expected to form “quick reaction forces” to rescue civilians in trouble, is a sensitive issue, given Iraqi fury about shootings of civilians by American private guards in recent years. Administration officials said that security contractors would have no special immunity and would be required to register with the Iraqi government. In addition, one of the State Department’s regional security officers, agents who oversee security at diplomatic outposts, will be required to approve and accompany every civilian convoy, providing additional oversight.

It’s the State Department’s show now, on an “unprecedented” scale for such a dangerous area. But can they run it with so few troops left in the country if the electoral stalemate between Maliki’s and Allawi’s factions blows up? (Ryan Crocker: “Our timetables are getting out ahead of Iraqi reality.”) That’s the story you want to read if you’re interested in the “what now?” angle. If you’re looking for something more human, i.e. troop reactions on finally getting to leave, MSNBC’s and WaPo’s pieces are the way to go.

UPDATE: James Joyner

Andrew Berdy at Tom Ricks place at Foreign Policy

Chris Bodenner at Andrew Sullivan’s place

UPDATE #2: Max Fisher at The Atlantic with another round-up

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Iran’s Road Not Taken Permanently Closed

Robert Worth in NYT:

Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the plain-spoken senior Shiite cleric who helped forge Iran’s system of religious government and went on to become a fierce critic of its hard-line rulers, died Sunday morning at the age of 87. He died of heart failure while sleeping in his home in Qum, his son Ahmad told Iran’s official IRNA news agency.

The ayatollah, who was once designated to succeed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as Iran’s supreme leader, stepped away from the country’s hard-line path in the 1980s. He later embraced the reform movement, which has come to view him as the spiritual father of its cause.

His death was widely seen as creating a critical test of the opposition’s struggle against the government power structure led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Senior opposition leaders, including the former presidential candidates Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karoubi, immediately began urging supporters to flock to the holy city of Qum for his funeral on Monday. And the Iranian authorities were clearly bracing for a showdown there: there were reports Sunday of riot police forces already gathering in the city, and Iranian news sites said the government was planning to close the main highway between Tehran and Qum.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

He was Iran’s road not taken, a leading cleric–Ayatullah Khomeini’s designated successor for a time–who came to understand that the Islamic Republic’s religious dictatorship was taking a fundamentally irreligious path. He was a revolutionary who came to believe that the mullahs could provide guidance for the government, but shouldn’t run it. He was a religious figure far senior to Ayatullah Khamenei and the assorted thugs who took power after Khomenei died (in fact, the only other Shi’ite who approached Montazeri’s authority is Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Iraq, also a quietist).

His death removes a thorn from the side of the military dictatorship that runs Iran. In recent months, he had spoken vehemently against the theft of the June 12 election and subsequent brutality. It will be interesting to see if anyone emerges to take his place as the signal moral religious voice in opposition to the regime. But his career stands as a monument to the notion that not all leaders become more brutal and power-hungry over time–some can grow wiser and more humane.

Via Chris Bodenner, Scott Lucas


Montazeri’s death just before this day has significant implications. While the regime may be glad to have one of its harshest critics gone, his death is only bound to lead to an enormous outpouring in the streets of Tehran next week. The demonstrations, in fact, may likely be the largest in months.

And making the event all the more significant is the fact that carrying green banners with ‘Hossein’ written on them is custom on Ashura. This year, of course, Hossein is also the name of an opposition leader (and not just an Imam) and green symbolizes the opposition movement he helped start (and not just Islam). Perhaps realizing the futility in trying to prevent protests, Tehran police commander Azizollah Rajabzadeh said last week that the “police will not take action against those carrying green symbols during Imam Hussein mourning ceremonies.”

Khamenei — and indeed, all regime-insiders — are also put in a bind: do they dare not publicly mourn the death of the country’s most renown marja? On the one hand, the Islamic Republic needs to mourn Montazeri’s loss to keep up appearances that it is a legitimate Islamic theocracy. On the other, Montazeri had described this very regime as “tyrannical” only weeks ago, and even publicly said that Khamenei does not have the necessary qualifications to be a marja. Not surprisingly, it was this same regime that had him virtually imprisoned for so many years.

With the increased optimism and determination that resulted from the success of the 16 Azar protests, as well as the regime’s increasingly weak hold on power, Montazeri’s death may come to be the event that brings this movement to stand up.

Spencer Ackerman

John Tabin at American Spectator

Rick Moran:

At one time, he was the designated successor to Khomeini – an insider’s insider with the ruling clerics. But after strenuously objecting to the massive number of executions and crackdown on a free press undertaken by Khomeini back in the late 80’s, he was stripped of his power and put under house arrest.

He repeatedly clashed with the ruling authorities over the years, including once calling out Khamenei for his lack of knowledge of the Koran – in effect, challenging his credentials to be supreme leader. That resulted in the closing of his school, the arrest of some of his students, and 6 years of house arrest.


Would the authorities dare crackdown on dissidents who attend the funeral?

To disrupt the funeral of such a holy man – second only to Khomeini in the eyes even of many regime supporters – would be suicide. But Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have already warned protestors what would happen if they turn out in the streets so it will no doubt be a tense time in Qom tomorrow.

UPDATE: Juan Cole

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One Of The Longest Running Beefs In The Blogosphere Continues…

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Afghanistan is different. There are familiar arguments about why this is so–we invaded them because they allowed Al Qaeda safe havens to plan attacks on us, for example. It can also be argued that while the Viet Minh were a national liberation army with broad popular support, the Taliban represent only one Afghan ethnic faction, the Pashtuns, and they are not very popular even among their own people. But some of the best arguments about why this war is necessary must go unspoken by the President. They involve Pakistan and India. Let me lay them out briefly:

Let’s start with a fact: the Indian Embassy in Kabul has suffered major, lethal bomb attacks twice in the past two years. There is little question in the intelligence community that these attacks were staged by terrorist allies of the Pakistani Army. The Pakistanis are absolutely convinced that if the U.S. leaves Afghanistan, India will jump in, supporting the non-Pashtun elements in the country–indeed, India was a supporter of the Northern Alliance’s guerrilla war against the Taliban in the 1990s (although, it must be said, the Pakistanis have a rather exaggerated sense of Indian involvement).

Why is this a problem we should care about? Because India and Pakistan both have nuclear weapons. Because tensions between the two countries would escalate dramatically if we were to abandon the region. And, most important, because our departure would empower the more radical elements of the Pakistani military and intelligence services–not merely in their support of the Taliban, but also, potentially, in their ability to stage an Islamist coup d’etat. This is the worst scenario imaginable: a nuclear Pakistan, with allies of Osama Bin Laden controlling the trigger. (Nor would this be the first Islamist coup: Zia al-Haq staged one in the late 1970s, which we supported–against the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.)

Far-fetched? Well, it’s certainly a worst case scenario–but it’s far more plausible than the domino theory that led us into Vietnam. Our continued presence in Afghanistan gives the civilian government in Pakistan space and time to build some institutions, like a non-corrupt judiciary and an non-religious education system, if it can. (Yes, a big if.) After the Musharraf dictatorship, the notion of yet another military coup is very unpopular with the general population–a sentiment that can be built upon now, especially with the $7.5 billion infusion of U.S. economic and humanitarian aid. The stronger the civilian government, the less likely a military coup. (Another big if: as long as the civilian government is led by Asif Ali Zardari, held in almost universal low regard by Pakistanis, the chances of a credible central government remain crippled–but Zardari is gradually moving toward a power-sharing arrangement with other civilian factions.)

Over the weekend, Time‘s Joe Klein, undoubtedly reciting what his hawkish government sources told him, trotted out a brand new “justification” for the war in Afghanistan:  we have to stay in order to prevent India and Pakistan from going to war with each other.  The U.S. government excels at finding brand new Urgent National Security Reasons to continue fighting wars once the original justifications fail or otherwise become inoperative:  no more Al Qaeda in Afghanistan? Still have to stay, otherwise India and Pakistan will fight. As part of his stenography services, Klein explained:

[S]ome of the best arguments about why this war is necessary must go unspoken by the President.

So there are deeply compelling reasons to escalate in Afghanistan.  But they’re secret.  They “must go unspoken by the President.”  The American people have no right to know what the alleged purposes and objectives are of this war.  They’re supposed to fight in it (a tiny percentage, anyway) and pay for it with massive debt but they can’t be told why it’s really being fought.  And, of course, one of the most significant prongs of this war — the one fought with Predators and drones in Pakistan — is something no American government official will even mention, let alone explain and defend.  Recent escalations of that part of the war — as well as ones being actively considered still, such as targeting a large Pakistani city where high civilian causalties are likely — will remain strictly secret.  That, too, “must go unspoken by the President.”

It’s true that as a Constitutional Republic, the U.S. is not governed by direct democracy.  Political leaders are at times expected to exercise judgment independent of public opinion.  And once wars are underway, things like troop movements and battle plans are legitimately classified.  But whether to fight wars — and the reasons they’re being fought — are probably the least appropriate decisions to immunize from public opinion.

The Constitution ties the ongoing use of military force to the approval of the American citizenry in multiple ways, not only by prohibiting wars in the absence of a Congressional declaration (though it does impose that much-ignored requirement), but also by requiring Congressional approval every two years merely to have an army.  In Federalist 26, Hamilton explained that this Constitutional requirement is vital for ensuring constant public involvement in debates over war and peace.  In Federalist 24, he described the need for public involvement in such matters as “a great and real security against military establishments without evident necessity.”  That’s because the Founders were all too aware, as John Jay put it in Federalist 4, of the “variety of other motives, which affect only the mind of the sovereign, [that] often lead him to engage in wars not sanctified by justice or the voice and interests of his people.”

Urging leaders to continue to wage wars in the face of great public opposition, as the NYT Editorial Page does today, is deeply misguided and undemocratic.  But fighting wars for secret, undisclosed reasons — as Klein suggests and defends is being done by the Obama administration — is even worse.  But — as former Navy Commander Jeff Huber and former Marine Scott Ritter, among others, have both recently pointed out — Dwight Eisenhower’s warning has come true:  the military has become its own branch of government, uncontrolled by anyone and almost entirely unaccountable.  It virtually always gets what it wants.  The stated reasons for fighting in Afghanistan make so little sense that Klein is almost certainly right that the real causes are undisclosed.  It’s extremely difficult to imagine a circumstance that could justify that.

Chris Bodenner

Andrew Sprung:

I can see contesting the swallow-the-spider-to-catch-the-fly logic of the U.S. fighting a war in Afghanistan to keep Pakistan from imploding and to keep it from going to war with India.  But there is nothing new or really covert about this argument, though the Administration is not exactly trumpeting it. It’s been aired for some time, and it’s central to the Administration’s calculus. Here’s Steve Coll — a net supporter of the Administration’s AfPak policy but no “stenographer” —  testifying before the Senate on Oct. 1:

The success of Pakistan—that is, its emergence as a stable, modernizing, prosperous, pluralistic country, at peace with its neighbors and within its borders, and integrated economically in South and Central Asia—is obviously important, even vital, not only to the United States but to the broader international community.

One obstacle to the emergence of such a Pakistan is the deeply held view within the Pakistani security services that the United States will abandon the region once it has defeated or disabled Al Qaeda. Pakistani generals correctly fear that a precipitous American withdrawal from Afghanistan would be destabilizing, and that it would strengthen Islamist radical networks, including but not limited to the Taliban, who are today destabilizing Pakistan as well as the wider region.

Alternatively or concurrently, sections of the Pakistani military and civilian élite also fear that the United States may collaborate with India, naïvely or deliberately, to weaken Pakistan, by supporting governments in Kabul that at best are hostile to Pakistani interests or at worst facilitate Indian efforts to destabilize, disarm or even destroy the Pakistani state.


Klein’s reporting is spot-on. Concern about Pakistani-Indian relations is central to the Administration’s thinking about Afghanistan.  You can argue with the policy; you can argue, as Greenwald does, that it’s unwise to escalate a war without strong domestic support (though Obama’s speech seems to have boosted support somewhat); you can argue that the Administration should itself air these concerns more fully.  But it makes no sense to hit Klein simultaneously for airing the “secret” rationale and for implicitly supporting it. If it were secret, and Klein supported it, why would he air it?

Klein responds to Greenwald:

Glenn Greenwald has now joined several Swampland commenters in asserting that I somehow raised a “new” argument for the Afghan war escalation over the weekend when I wrote that pulling out of Afghanistan would exacerbate tensions between India and Pakistan, empower the more extreme elements of the Pakistani military, perhaps leading to an Islamist coup and certainly removing whatever restraints the Pakistani military has had in supporting its Afghan Taliban clients. Greenwald, inimitably, goes on to assert that I’ve been spoon-fed this “new” rationale by my “hawkish government sources” in the Obama Administration.

First of all, there is absolutely nothing “new” about this argument. It is well known to most people who have been following this story carefully; I’ve referred to it more than a few times. In fact, candidate Barack Obama raised it more than a year ago, in this interview with me, several weeks before the 2008 election, when he placed the Afghan war in the context of the regional struggle between India and Pakistan and proposed a special envoy to sort it out, paying particular attention to the problem at the heart of the controversy–Kashmir. (This comment was front-page news all over the subcontinent. The Indians were so adamantly opposed that India had to be dropped from Richard Holbrooke’s official brief when he became the special envoy to the region–proof of the volatility of the issue.)

Second, I don’t know where Greenwald gets his information about how I go about my work; indeed, he does this often with mainstream journalists he disagrees with. The assumption is, if we disagree with him, we must be either (a) lazy or (b) prostitutes.

Over time, it has become clear to me that he has no idea how actual journalists do what they do–I mean, people who report as opposed to people who merely opine, as he does. So let me explain how I came to write what I did on Sunday.


But it’s interesting: over the course of 2 years of blogging, I’ve learned that most people really don’t understand why journalists write what they write when they write it. On that larger point, Greenwald is sometimes right–journalists don’t always do what they should. They can be lazy or inaccurate; more often, it’s not so much a matter of being spoon-fed by sources as the opposite–cynicism has become the default position, there isn’t enough independent thinking and analysis going on. Sometimes, believe it or not, the President–even a terrible President like George Bush–does the right thing and should be commended for it. The press latches onto minutiae (is the President too over-exposed etc etc), sees too many trees without giving the context of the forest. But we often do our jobs very well–at times, brilliantly, at the risk of life and limb. (I’m not talking about occasional visitors to war zones like me, but people like Dexter Filkins of the Times, Pamela Constable of the Post and dozens of others, who actually live in difficult places and who’ve helped educate me when I’ve traveled to their regions.)

Greenwald only acknowledges good journalism when he agrees with it; he never acknowledges a thoughtful or responsible position taken on the other side. It’s all a manichean cartoon–no, actually, it’s all a court case: he’s standing at the plaintiff’s bar, fighting against the comfortable and the powerful–except for comfortable and powerful trial lawyers. Well, bravo. Sometimes there is call to do that. But usually, when dealing with public policy issues, it’s more complicated than a court case. And on an issue like Afghanistan, complicated doesn’t even begin to describe it. Those who would have us retreat need to take every aspect of the situation into account, just as those who would have us stay. I believe that in this case the President went through the exercise, carefully considered every option, and made his decision–a grudging decision–in honorable fashion. I agree with his decision, although I’m not sure that I’m right to do so; I certainly don’t denigrate those, including some I know in the military and the Administration, who disagree–not even those who make their arguments carelessly, as George McGovern and Glenn Greenwald have. They may, in the end, be right.

Glenn Greenwald responds:

In a post yesterday about public opinion and war, I noted that Joe Klein justified the war in Afghanistan by claiming it was necessary to prevent war between Pakistan and India — a justification and purpose never cited by the U.S. Government.  To justify the fighting of a war for reasons different than the stated official reasons, Klein propounded the highly undemocratic proposition that “some of the best arguments about why this war is necessary must go unspoken by the President.”  Yesterday Klein and Andrew Sprung, writing at Andrew Sullivan’s blog, both responded to what I wrote — Klein by pointing to Obama’s statements in a 2008 interview about the need to diplomatically resolve the India-Pakistan dispute and Sprung by pointing to statements made by various commentators and experts about the importance of the India-Pakistan dispute in the region.

None of that really disputes, but rather bolsters, what I wrote.  I wasn’t disputing Klein’s reporting that many people, including inside the administration, privately claim that we need to stay in Afghanistan to prevent conflict between India and Pakistan, nor was I criticizing him for reporting that this was the case, nor was I even commenting on whether that war justification is valid.  My objection is that the U.S. Government, in all the times it explained why this war was necessary, never cited that as a justification or a goal. If, as Klein and Sprung both claim, that is truly one of the Government’s primary goals, then we’re fighting this war for reasons different than what the public is being told.  Klein basically acknowledges this (“Over the past few weeks, especially since Obama’s West Point speech, I’ve been struck by the narrowness of the Afghan discussion–by the President and the press”), as does Sprung (“you can argue that the Administration should itself air these concerns more fully”).  Indeed, Klein not only acknowledges, but justifies, the disparity between our stated war justifications and our real ones (“some of the best arguments about why this war is necessary must go unspoken by the President“).  That is what I find profoundly undemocratic and dangerous.

Klein updates his earlier post:

More Greenwald, though he’s backpedaling a bit now. He’s concerned that the regional strategic concerns that I’ve described are a secret casus belli on the part of the Obama Administration. That’s rather melodramatic. What’s actually happening here is…diplomacy. It would be indelicate for the Administration to talk about its fears that Pakistan will trend toward an Islamist takeover if we leave–because the Administration doesn’t want to rile or insult the Pakistanis (although Bruce Riedel, who led the first Obama Afghan review, has said so very publicly, both to me and in an article in the National Interest). It is also impossible to speak publicly about Kashmir because the Indians go berserk whenever we do so (as the Indians did, when Obama mentioned Kashmir in the interview with me cited above).

As I said, these are matters of diplomacy, not intelligence. They have nothing to do with the sort of government secrecy that so concerns civil libertarians like Greenwald. Indeed, the argument I laid out is not considered news in the foreign policy community; I felt the need to repeat it in order provide some context for the Afghan decision. I also believe that the Administration could have done a better job in providing that context. But the President–or any of his top officials–would be foolish to comment on it, since that would work at cross-purposes with our diplomatic mission in the region.

As for those commenters who believe that this disagreement with Greenwald is somehow rude or over-the-top, or unnecessary, you should have seen previous exchanges between us. I think we’ve both been fairly well-behaved so far and that our readers have benefited from this discussion.

Greenwald seems to want us to believe simultaneously that a) this is all a bunch of pointy-head chatter, deployed either for the chatterers’ amusement or to add faux pillars to the Administration’s argument edifice, and b) that it’s the secret heart of the Administration’s case for war that dare not speak its name.

Take it as a given that concern over Pakistan’s worries about India is part of the Administration’s calculus in Afghanistan. In that case, I think Greenwald overstates Obama’s alleged secrecy. The challenges of dealing with Afghanistan, “Pashtunistan,” Pakistan, Kashmir, and India are devilishly convoluted. The direct national security aim is  to neutralize the Taliban so that a measure of stability can be restored in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and al Qaeda’s freedom to operate can be shrunk to as near zero as possible. Ultimately, one of Greenwald’s  “Serious, in-the-know Washington insiders” — Steve Coll — argues, that goal depends on development in Pakistan — and so on peace between Pakistan and India:

American policy over the next five or 10 years must proceed from the understanding that the ultimate exit strategy for international forces from South Asia is Pakistan’s economic success and political normalization, manifested in an Army that shares power with civilian leaders in a reasonably stable constitutional bargain, and in the increasing integration of Pakistan’s economy with regional economies, including India’s

A means to that end is to convince the Pakistanis that the U.S. is not scheming with India to extend Indian influence in Afghanistan. Is it incumbent on Obama to go that far down the aim chain in the public case he makes for war? Even if it is, does failure to do so constitute deception? Few people accuse Obama of talking down to the electorate or failing to acknowledge the complexity of issues.

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Filed under Af/Pak, Mainstream, New Media

Yes, The Very First Graduate Of Rice University Elected Mayor

Luisita Lopez Torregrosa at Politics Daily:

Finally, after a grim series of setbacks, a ray of light, not just a glimmer but a huge lit-up sky, has broken through for gay advocates across the nation. Yesterday, in one of this year’s most-watched elections, Houston became the largest city in the United States to elect an openly gay mayor.

And it wasn’t a squeaker, either. In a fiercely contested runoff to lead a city of 2.2 million people, Annise Parker, who is 53, decisively defeated a fellow Democrat and former city attorney, Gene Locke, 61, who is black, by 53 percent to 47 percent. Her victory came just a few weeks after gay advocates were reeling from a couple of major reversals in the same-sex marriage movement in Maine and in New York and are now facing a likely defeat in New Jersey.
“Tonight the voters of Houston have opened the door to history,” Parker said last night, standing by her partner of 19 years, Kathy Hubbard, and their three adopted children. “I acknowledge that. I embrace that. I know what this win means to many of us who never thought we could achieve high office.”
Parker’s victory resounded even more because it came in a conservative state where voters have banned gay marriage and where gays generally, though flourishing in Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston, have not built the political clout and organizations seen in more liberal states like California and New York.

Chris Bodenner at Sully’s place:

“I am proud, very proud, to have been elected the very first graduate of Rice University to be mayor of  Houston,” Annise Parker, the first openly gay mayor of a major American city, in her victory speech last night. More details here and here.

James Joyner:

I’d bet more Americans could name the head coach of the Houston Texans than the mayor of Houston, Texas. And that’s saying something, because the Texans aren’t very good. Nonetheless, the results of the Houston mayoral race is the top story in the blogosphere this morning.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.


I’m honestly not sure that we can draw major conclusions from run-off elections in off years.  When only 16 percent of registered voters bother to show up, it’s not exactly a popular referendum.   And that’s especially true in an open primary like this one, where the top two vote-getters are liberal Democrats.

Interestingly, Houston is the 4th largest city (ranked by population) in the United States.  Everybody knows that New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are the top three.  But while it gets only a fraction of the attention, Houston is only somewhat smaller (2.2M vs 2.8M) than Chicago and is leaps and bounds ahead of the 5th largest city, Philadelphia (1.4M).  Even if we rank cities by the way we think of them — considering the suburbs and the broader metropolitan areas, not just the people living within the city limits — the Houston area is 6th, behind Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington and Philly-Camden-Wilmington.

Huffington Post

UPDATE: Rod Dreher:

A couple of you have written nanny-nanny-boo-boo posts to me about Houston’s election of its first gay mayor over the weekend. As if I thought that was necessarily a bad thing. Here’s a news flash: I think it’s fine. I know nothing about Houston city politics, but if Annise Parker was the better candidate, I would have voted for her. When it comes to municipal politics, all I care about is whether or not potholes are going to be fixed, crime is going to be controlled, and spending is going to be prudent. I’d as soon vote for a competent pragmatic liberal who was married to his vacuum cleaner and who liked to hit the streets dancing the hokey-pokey naked by the light of the moon than I would vote for a churchgoing conservative family man. Seriously, if a lesbian is the better mayoral prospect, more power to her. She’d get my vote. When I lived in New York, I had a couple of pro-life friends who were miffed that I said I’d vote for pro-choice Rudy Giuliani for mayor. That made no sense to me. The mayor of New York does not set abortion policy; he runs the city. I wouldn’t vote Rudy for president, but he was a fine mayor, and I would have been pleased to have given him my vote.


Filed under LGBT

Keeping It Real

Larison rounds this up pretty well, but we’ll add on some pieces and do what we do. Do not read just the snippets here, read the whole articles.

Paul Wolfowitz in Foreign Policy:

Of course foreign policy should be grounded in reality. Americans agree that foreign-policy goals should be achievable — that the United States should match its ends with its means. What sensible person could argue with that? That is simply pragmatism. But “realism” as a doctrine (I’ll spare you the quote marks henceforth) goes much further: In the words of one leading realist, the principal purpose of U.S. foreign policy should be “to manage relations between states” rather than “alter the nature of states.”

Unquestionably, what makes realism seem so plausible today is skepticism about the war in Iraq and the belief that it was part of a crusade to “impose” democracy by force. I believe, to the contrary, that the purpose of the war was to remove a threat to national and international security. Whether the Iraq war was right or wrong, it was not about imposing democracy, and the decision to establish a representative government afterward was the most realistic option, compared with the alternatives of installing another dictator or prolonging the U.S. occupation. In Afghanistan, the same choice was made for the same reasons after the Taliban fell, and many realists not only supported that decision, but argued for putting even more effort into “nation-building.”


Critics of realism, like myself, do not think that a businesslike management of the “relations between states” should lead us to neglect issues regarding the “nature of states.” In reality, the internal makeup of states has a huge effect on their external behavior — so it must also be a significant consideration for U.S. foreign policy.

Judging by his own words, Obama seems to agree with this, and not the realist dogma. In Moscow, the U.S. president deliberately spoke over the heads of the Kremlin’s leaders to tell Russians, “Governments which serve their own people survive and thrive; governments which serve only their own power do not.” In Cairo, he stated, “Government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power.” And in Ghana he was even clearer: “No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy; that is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end.”

I like the sound of that, but some realists may not.

And then many, many responded. Stephen Walt:

On the whole, Wolfowitz’s discussion of “realism” in the Sept./Oct. issue of FP is about as accurate as his 2002 estimates about the troop levels needed to occupy Iraq and the overall costs of the war. He implies that realists are uninterested in moral issues and claims “there is a serious debate” between realists and their critics regarding the peaceful promotion of political change. But this is a caricature of realist thinking and a nonexistent debate, and it is telling that he never offers any evidence to support his description. The only “realists” he bothers to mention are Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, and he never quotes or cites other prominent realist scholars or policymakers. Having decided to expose realism’s alleged limitations, in short, apparently he couldn’t be bothered to do some research and read what they had to say.

What do realists believe? Realists see international politics as an inherently competitive realm where states compete for advantage and where security is sometimes precarious. So, realists emphasize that states should keep a keen eye on the balance of power, which makes them wary of squandering blood or treasure on needless military buildups, ideological crusades, or foolish foreign wars. Realists cherish America’s commitment to democracy and individual liberty, but they know that ideals alone are no basis for conducting foreign policy. They also understand that endless overseas adventures will inevitably provoke a hostile backlash abroad and force us to compromise freedoms at home.

David Rothkopf in FP:

Reading Wolfowitz’s piece, I kept thanking Providence for giving me a concentration in English in college rather than say, political science. I actually was taught what words mean. (In fact, being an English major taught me that “political science” may be the humdinger of all oxymorons … even if calling “realists” realists and “neoconservatives” neoconservatives comes pretty darn close.) Economists have their “lies, damned lies, and statistics” and clearly, political scientists have their “lies, damned lies, and labels.”

It’s not just “neocons” and “realists” of course who are mislabeled or falsely advertising themselves. There is nothing “conservative” about the reckless fiscal policies of “conservative” champions like Reagan or Bush, nothing “progressive” about the New Deal nostalgia of many on the left, nothing “pro-life” about abortion opponents who also use a misreading of the Second Amendment to allow them stock up on assault weapons, nothing “liberal” about folks who think the answer to everything is greater government control of people’s lives. Say what you may about the underlying beliefs, the labels are meaningless.

That said, if we can stipulate the labels are primarily forms of branding and positioning that are as related to the underlying realities as Madison Avenue claims of the health-benefits of smoking in the middle of the last century, then we can move on to the more relevant policy questions raised by Wolfowitz. These turn not on whether “realists” are more realistic than other policymakers but rather on whether the “realism” peddled to the public actually holds water as an approach.

Daniel Drezner:

On these points, Wolfowitz is mostly right and very wrong on one important issue.  He’s right to say that Obama might be a realist (pragmatist) but he’s not a Realist.  I also think he’s right to say that regime type matters.

So he’s right, but he’s also banal in his rightness. No president will ever be a Realist. Few foreign policy leaders are so wedded to a theoretical doctrine that they don’t think regime type matters at all. Henry Kissinger might have been a Realist in the academy, but in power he was a realist.  Wolfowitz takes great pains to point out that George H.W. Bush didn’t always act like a Realist — but it’s also true that George W. Bush stopped acting like a Neoconservative around 2004.

Presidents are politicians, and they’ll discard ideas that don’t work.  And no promulgator of ideas in international relations should be brassy enough to think that their doctrine is always right.

What’s missing from Wolfowitz’s essay is any genuine assessment of the costs and benefits of the different policies available to the United States when dealing with, say, the likes of China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, or North Korea.  Wolfowitz seems to think that more aggressive steps should be taken to foment internal regime change in these countries.  In doing so, he cleverly contrasts it with the counterfactual of “doing nothing.”  But, as previously noted, the Obama administration has been ratcheting up containment policies against adversaries like Iran and North Korea.  There’s a lot of virtue in using containment to deal with these regimes — and in the case of Pyongyang, the policy might be bearing fruit.  The word “containment” never appears in Wolfowitz’s essay, however.  This suggests a kind of all-or-nothing logic to Wolfowitz’s thinking that might explain certain policy blunders committed in the past decade.

Steve Clemons in FP:

By the end of his essay, Wolfowitz identifies himself as a hybrid realist as well — choosing the term “democratic realist.” I’d call Scowcroft and Brzezinski adherents of newly emerging hybrid schools of “ethical realism” and/or “progressive realism” in which they worry first about the overall ability of America to achieve its global objectives vis-à-vis other states, but with a sensitivity to and concern for both the internal realities of other countries and the increasingly disconcerting transnational challenges that are facing the international system as a whole.

In other words, these hybrid realists of the Scowcroft/Brzezinski sort do believe in states as the primary actors of the international system, but they see tremendous value in institutions like the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions, in negotiating international deals on many issues, including arms, nuclear weapons, and climate change. Brent Scowcroft even sits on the board of one of Al Gore’s major climate-action groups. These hybrid realists are sensitive to the role that global public opinion — inside countries — about the United States and its policies plays internationally.  These are not characteristics of the type of classic realists that Paul Wolfowitz contrasts himself with in his essay.

Chris Bodenner at Sully’s place

David Adesnik at Doublethink:

The essence of realism is elusive. There is no definition of realism that would satisfy all of its leading exponents, let alone its critics. Nonetheless, realism is a coherent intellectual tradition, marked by persistent emphases and concerns that are as immediate for realists today as they were 60 years ago. In their role as public intellectuals, realists have consistently advised American statesmen to strike a careful balance between a reliance on power and a reliance on diplomacy. In the words of Hans Morgenthau, the most influential theorist of international relations in the years after World War II, successful leaders understand “the two fundamental propositions that diplomacy without strength is futile and that strength without diplomacy can be provocative.” By itself, this statement may seem like a platitude. What makes it distinctive is the complementary argument that there are two specific kinds of idealism whose excesses tend to disrupt the balance between power and diplomacy in American statecraft.

Passive idealism tends to reject power as a legitimate tool of statecraft. Rather, passive idealists insist that the actions of the state must have the sanction of international law or of a multilateral organization. Aggressive idealism is too quick to reject diplomacy as a necessary tool of statecraft. Confident in the justice of their cause, aggressive idealists refuse to engage diplomatically with immoral adversaries. From a realist perspective, this bellicose self-righteousness is the fatal flaw of neoconservatism. In a recent interview, Brent Scowcroft regretted the influence of neoconservatives in the Bush administration: “They contended we did not have time to reach out to our friends and our allies—such an approach would only slow us down. America knew what had to be done…transform the world. We should do so starting with the Middle East; it needed to be turned into a bastion of democracy. This was…idealism with a sword.”


Rather than courting either realists or idealists, President Obama may search for the elusive middle ground between realism and idealism. His predecessors sought the same balance, although they tended to approach the middle from one side or the other. As Kissinger has suggested, successful presidents must avoid the peril of bending too much in either direction. American voters demand nothing less. Yet both candidates and experts have struggled to define a tangible and coherent middle ground. In last year’s campaign, John McCain described himself as a realistic idealist. Others have written about the need for democratic realism or idealpolitik as realpolitik. For now, we simply don’t have the words to define a middle path as anything more than a compromise between opposing principles. The challenge facing every new president is to translate this uncertain guidance into action.

James Kirchick at Doublethink:

That President Obama has had no more luck than the man who preceded him has not diminished the hopes of the “realists.” If anything, it has made their calls for a lessening of tensions and the increase of inducements all the more self-assured. Their faith seems to be invested in a conception of this president as a man uniquely qualified to improve America’s relations with regimes that are historically and inherently antagonistic to our own.

But there’s no reason to believe that the president will be luckier than he already has. Various Iranian officials have made it abundantly clear – both before and after the fraudulent June 12 election – that they have no intention whatsoever of forgoing the country’s nuclear program, and, furthermore, that talks about the future of such a program are not even an option. The insurrection which brought the regime to power 30 years ago was predicated upon a revolutionary anti-Americanism, and that is the only crutch on which the regime can prop itself. Every rationale that the government in Tehran has offered for its continued existence has been shown up as deficient, and a paranoid fixation on the machinations of evil outsiders is all it has left. And thus it must be noted that the Second Iranian Revolution – a repudiation of the first – died on this president’s watch.

President Obama has disappointed on other fronts and in other regions, in ways both large and small. His reaction to the “coup” in Honduras – in which the country’s military ousted the president on the orders of the Supreme Court, Attorney General and Congress – was a sign of his inclination to be led rather than lead. In this case, Obama did not side with the democratic forces in Honduras resisting the attempts of their leader to follow in the footsteps of Hugo Chavez; rather, Obama parroted the same position on the matter as Chavez and Raul Castro.

Daniel Larison (entire post):

David Adesnik and Jamie Kirchick have contributed to a Doublethink symposium in which I am also participating. My essay will be up fairly soon, and I’ll announce when it appears. Adesnik and Kirchick are both addressing the state of foreign policy realism. Adesnik has provided the broader overview, and Kirchick has applied his usual critique of realism to Obama’s policies. As I hope my essay will explain, the relationship between realism and Obama’s policies is far more tenuous than realists or interventionists would like. So many of the arguments over the place of realism in the Obama administration take for granted that it actually has a significant place in the administration’s conduct of foreign policy. I am finding that assumption less and less tenable as time goes by.

On a related topic, via Andrew I see that Foreign Policy asked Walt, Rothkopf, Drezner and Clemons to respond to Paul Wolfowitz’s tired attack on realism. Rothkopf first objects to the abusive deployment of vague and/or meaningless labels and then proceeds to endorse a strongly interventionist view. Drezner distinguishes a kind of pragmatic recognition of hard truths from a grander theory of “Realism.” Walt and Clemons naturally engage in more polemical refutations of Wolfowitz as the most prominent and identifiable realists among the four.

On the question of whether realists should be concerned with regime type and altering the nature of other states, Rothkopf writes:

If the objective is to advance the national interest and influence states and our ability to do so is limited and different from circumstance to circumstance, shouldn’t we use every tool at our disposal to do so (assuming the use of the tool provides a net gain toward achieving our goals)? If so, influencing the nature of states or the internal workings of states is not off bounds for realism — it is the beginning of realism — it is the place where the effort to influence states begins.

If realists were simply interested in the most cynical Machtpolitik imaginable, this would be true. What is strange about this passage is that Rothkopf insists that realists pretend that state sovereignty and international law are ultimately irrelevant in the calculation of the national interest. Even though we have repeatedly seen from the 17th to the 21st centuries that wars fought to change the internal constitutions of other states produce profoundly negative consequences for all parties, respect for state sovereignty and international law appear nowhere in this analysis. If a government respects the principle of state sovereignty, which ours is bound by treaty to respect, it ought to be concerned overwhelmingly with relations between itself and other governments rather than working constantly to subvert them from within. There is no guarantee that changing regime type will change a regime’s behavior in our favor, and if we believe that there are permanent state interests that persist despite major internal political change there is no use in changing regime type. As I have said before, a liberal, pluralistic, democratic Russian government that meets all of the expectations of Westerners concerning its internal behavior will nonetheless still be a Russian government interested in the same strategic goals and wary of the same potential threats. Indeed, a more liberalized Russia could easily justify its interventions in neighboring states, whether on behalf of ethnic Russians or not, with the language of “responsibility to protect,” “human rights” and, of course, “freedom.” Even now Moscow mimics our use of this propaganda to justify its presence in the separatist enclaves in Georgia–imagine what “liberations” it might carry out if it had credibility as a full-fledged liberal, constitutional regime. Obsessing over the ideological orientation and constitutional organization of other states has powerfully destabilizing effects when that obsession is made into the basis for policy and the justification for the use of force. That ought to be enough of a reason for realists and everyone else to reject it as folly.

Related in foreign policy news, Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson argue in Commentary for the GOP foreign policy to be:

In response, some Republicans have been tempted to promote their own brand of retreat from global engagement out of the belief that, the cause of democratic internationalism having been severely damaged by the war in Iraq, the GOP should seize the mantle of foreign policy “realism.” Thankfully, the Republicans who nominated John McCain in 2008 did not succumb to this temptation, and it would be disastrous if the party were to yield to it in the future. A durable national consensus holds that American interests are served by the promotion of free trade and classical liberal ideas. With the spread of weapons of mass destruction, it has never been clearer that America and the world have the most to fear from dictatorship and radicalism, the most to gain from liberalization and reform.

A moral component to our foreign policy is, moreover, part of the American DNA. It would have been impossible to maintain the seemingly endless exertions of the Cold War without the American people’s instinctual concern for those held captive and their no less instinctual abhorrence of oppression. The same is true in the conflict with Islamist extremism and other current global challenges. Americans have an interest in liberty and human rights because they are Americans—and because America’s safety is served by the hope and health of others. Republicans can be forthright about the foreign-policy tradition that mixes toughness with generosity, the willingness to confront threats forcefully with the active promotion of development, health, and human rights. Since the midpoint of the last century, this has been the GOP’s watchword. Among younger Americans focused on global issues like genocide, poverty, women’s rights, religious liberty, malaria, and HIV/AIDS, it can resonate loudly.

And Robert Wright, in an old NYT op-ed, sounds the Progressive realism bell:

It’s an unappealing choice: chillingly clinical self-interest or dangerously naïve altruism? Fortunately, it’s a false choice. During the post-cold-war era, the security landscape has changed a lot, in some ways for the worse; witness the role of “nonstate actors” last week in India, Israel and Iraq. But this changing environment has a rarely noted upside: It’s now possible to build a foreign policy paradigm that comes close to squaring the circle — reconciling the humanitarian aims of idealists with the powerful logic of realists. And adopting this paradigm could make the chaos of the last week less common in the future.

Every paradigm needs a name, and the best name for this one is progressive realism. The label has a nice ring (Who is against progress?) and it aptly suggests bipartisan appeal. This is a realism that could attract many liberals and a progressivism that could attract some conservatives.


Progressive realism begins with a cardinal doctrine of traditional realism: the purpose of American foreign policy is to serve American interests.

But these days serving American interests means abandoning another traditional belief of realists — that so long as foreign governments don’t endanger American interests on the geopolitical chess board, their domestic affairs don’t concern us. In an age when Americans are threatened by overseas bioweapons labs and outbreaks of flu, by Chinese pollution that enters lungs in Oregon, by imploding African states that could turn into terrorist havens, by authoritarian Arab governments that push young men toward radicalism, the classic realist indifference to the interiors of nations is untenable.

In that sense progressive realists look a lot like neoconservatives and traditional liberals: concerned about the well-being of foreigners, albeit out of strict national interest. But progressive realism has two core themes that make it clearly distinctive, and they’re reflected in two different meanings of the word “progressive.”

UPDATE: Larison’s piece is up at Doublethink

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A Sensitive Subject… A Very Sensitive Subject


There’s been an Atlantic round-up already on this subject by Mara Gay over the original Rosin post. But we’ll do our cutting (ahem) and pasting job as well.

Hanna Rosin at Sully’s place:

The responses to the Center for Disease Control’s proposal this week to require all American boys to be circumcized are predictably hysterical. Hundreds of commenters wrote into the New York Times today to complain about “child abuse” and “genital mutilation” and one “religious sect’s agenda of control” (i.e. Jews). Subsequent news stories refer to the “controversial procedure” and quote CDC epidemiologists carefully measuring their words.

But the procedure is only “controversial” because people have emotional, psychological and religious reactions to it. Scientifically speaking, it’s not remotely controversial. The anti-circumcision sites always refer to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ 1999 policy statement on circumcision, which declined to recommend the procedure. But that statement was issued before the most compelling studies emerged about the role circumcision plays in reducing the risk for transmission of HIV and other STD’s. This is a good overview from medical writer Arthur Allen.

KJ Dell’Antonia at Double X:

Actually, not one enraged commenter on yesterday’s NYT article about the possibility of the CDC recommending circumcision as an HIV preventative raised that question. But the fierce opposition that still surrounds the HPV vaccination for girls centers around exactly that. If both procedures might make unprotected sex marginally safer, why is the conversation so different?

I’m not actually opposed to the CDC recommending circumcision—especially since the main effect of the recommendation would be that an always-optional procedure would remain optional, but be once again covered by Medicaid. Circumcision appears to reduce the risk of contracting the HIV virus through sex with an infected (female) partner by about 60 percent. The HPV vaccine prevents “some types” of genital warts which “may” cause cervical cancer. Neither’s a slam dunk, but both might make a night of unprotected sex a less risky proposition in the long term. And teens claim to consider the risks of HIV when making the decision about whether to have sex, while HPV remains low on their radar. So it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that being circumsized—along with a nice public health campaign promoting the reduction in risk—might make a teen boy feel even less mortal. But it didn’t come up.

From The Atlantic round-up, DiA:

I WAS shocked to read Hanna Rosin’s post noting that the CDC was considering requiring circumcision for all American baby boys. And I was reassured to find that Ms Rosin had mischaracterised the New York Times article she referenced. In fact the CDC is simply considering nudging its recommendation on circumcision to a more positive slant, because conclusive evidence from studies in Africa shows that circumcision reduces men’s chances of getting HIV through heterosexual sex by about half. That’s a pretty huge public-health benefit, considering that America has HIV prevalence rates several times higher than European ones, with a 2% prevalence rate among blacks that is higher than most third-world levels. HIV in America spreads chiefly through injecting-drug use and male-to-male anal sex (where benefits from circumcision have not been shown), but multiple partner heterosexual sex is also an important vector, and circumcision has been shown to inhibit the spread of other sexually transmitted diseases too. Basically, on the medical side, the evidence favours circumcision.

On the cultural side, obviously, the decision to circumcise is a lot touchier, and that’s why I wish Ms Rosin had been more careful with the distinction between “require” and “recommend”. Growing up Jewish in America, where the great majority of boys of all religions have been circumcised for decades, I never considered the issue a big deal; scenes in movies like “Europa, Europa”, where a Jewish boy strains to hide his penis in the bathroom for fear of discovery by Nazis, seemed alien and antiquated. But then I had a son in Europe, where boys are not routinely circumcised, and where in fact simply finding a doctor who will perform the procedure is a royal pain. (This is a big issue for Muslims in Europe, incidentally.) Finding a Jewish mohel who would circumcise a boy with a non-Jewish mother was a non-starter, too. And I pretty quickly realised that for men, for deep-seated psychic and cultural reasons, ensuring that your son’s equipment looks like your own, and does not renounce his membership in a tribe you belong to, can be a very big deal.

Robert Stacy McCain:

She dares defend circumcision while guest blogging at the site of the world’s foremost foreskin fetishist, Andrew Sullivan.

“Male genital mutilation!” scream the connoisseurs of uncut, preservationists of the precious prepuce.

Get over it, people. Only porn freaks and gay men — having ample opportunity to comparison shop, as it were — obsess so fanatically over the difference. As I was taught in commercial design classes 30 years ago, form follows function, and familiarity with the fact of foreskinless functionality (i.e., I’ve fathered six kids) indicate my circumcised state is entirely adequate to the rigors of the task.

Freddie at The League:

Hanna Rosin continues to polish her trophy as the least thoughtful person, and worst reader, to ever blog in any capacity for the Atlantic.

In a post as hectoring as its title, Rosin writes,

But the procedure is only “controversial” because people have emotional, psychological and religious reactions to it. Scientifically speaking, it’s not remotely controversial.

Not only is this nonsense, it’s insulting nonsense. The first thing to say is that, in fact, there are very many rational reasons to oppose routine circumcision. The first is to point out the simply bizarre notion of recommending preventative surgery to all Americans to prevent a condition that afflicts a tiny minority of Americans. Something along the lines of a third of a percentage point of our population has HIV. (All stats courtesy of the CDC.) I know that the efforts to raise AIDS awareness is undertaken in good faith, but the simple fact, obscured by people with good intentions, is that AIDS and HIV are extremely rare in the United States, and theaverage American has very little to fear contracting HIV. That’s just the numbers.


Rosin is the latest in a long line of pro-circumcision commentators who attempt to paint all of those who are opposed to routine circumcision as a hysterical fringe. That’s an empty rhetorical tactic, of course, but at times an effective one. Yet it seems clear to me that the people who have the burden of proof are those who want to enforce a permanent and body-altering surgical procedure on an entire gender, and it equally seems to me that they have not even begun to meet that burden of proof. I do believe that there is promise in using circumcision in sub-Saharan Africa, where vastly different logistical realities make the use of circumcision, as part of a comprehensive campaign against AIDS, an intelligent strategy. But to extend that wisdom in an incredibly tenuous way to the, yes, tiny risk of HIV and AIDS for the people who would benefit does not follow, and I find that they case as argued is laughably thin.

So why does such a powerful pro-circumcision movement in the United States exist? Because here, unlike in the rest of the world, circumcision is the norm, and people– particularly people who believe themselves to be socially liberal– love to use the language of science and medicine to enforce norms. Religious and cultural preference (”it looks weird if you don’t do it”) pushes Americans to circumcise their children when there is no rational benefit to doing so, and those most interested in enforcing that norm have been grasping around for justification in the realm of medicine. That’s the only reason I can imagine for a movement so incredibly zealous and assured about statistical and logical information that is so obviously insufficient to make the argumentative case they are trying to make.

Rosin responds:

I’d forgotten how passionate Dish readers, and Andrew, are on the subject of circumcision. Andrew once published a photo of this “gruesome procedure” which has the feel of one of those pro-life placards – after which I probably rescinded his invitation to my son’s bris. To make things worse, my post defending circumcision taps into the current fears about “big government trying to mandate certain types of medical procedures,” as one reader wrote in.

The objections to my post fall into three basic categories:

1. How can we do this to a child without his consent? There are so many things we do to children without their consent – change their school, banish their friends, give them drugs, abandon and neglect them. Removing a foreskin should not even fall in the top 20 ways to ruin your child’s life.

2. “Foreskins are, well, fun,” writes one gay reader. My authority here is obviously limited. That said, all that research of specific areas of male sensitivity (Andrew cites some here) has always struck me as dubious. Erotic pleasure is a rich and complicated thing. Specific percentages of sensitivity can’t possibly sum up the experience.

3.Preventative surgery is a “bizarre notion.” This is somewhat more convincing. But for one thing, “surgery” is a bit of an exaggeration. We certainly cause infants minor pain for the greater public good many times, in the form of vaccines. It depends, I suppose, whether you consider HIV and STD’s a widespread public health crisis, or something affecting only a very few. I could get into the specifics of the research here, but I won’t.

There are obviously strong, visceral emotions here which I confess, I don’t really understand.

The conversation continued at The Dish. Chris Bodenner:

Is sensitivity that important to begin with? Well duh, of course it is on a basic level. But what if a slight decrease in sensitively actually heightens sex overall? In other words: The guy lasts longer. And that’s generally better for everyone involved, no?

When I checked out Wikipedia’s many cited studies on “ejaculatory function,” most are not statistically significant – and those that are balance out. So my hunch seems unfounded. Furthermore, what if decreased sensitivity from circumcision hinders the game to begin with? But studies on “erectile function” are also inconclusive. So are those comparing “satisfaction.”

Studies are a red herring, however, when it comes to the ethical part of the debate. Even if there are no discernible differences between cut and uncut on average, there are still many individuals who are better or worse off from a procedure their parents imposed. As one reader puts it:

It’s my dick. It’s my dick. It’s my dick. It is no one else’s dick but my dick.  And I should have the choice to circumcise it when I am old enough to make that decision.Then again, if you were circumcised as a newborn, how would you ever know the difference? Wouldn’t your range of sensitivity adjust accordingly? (Unless the procedure was botched, of course.)

More Bodenner

Matt Steinglass:

But with respect to the practice of circumcision, the important point is this: he’s my son. Not yours. Parents have the right to decide on medical treatment for their children, presuming such medical treatment is not actively harmful. And parents have the right to include their children in cultural rites and practices, again presuming no harm is done.

In the case of circumcision, the evidence shows that it prevents the transmission of HIV and other STDs. There is some disputed evidence, on the other hand, that it reduces sexual pleasure; and there are some ludicrous and hysterical people claiming that it damages the bond between mother and child. This certainly sounds plausible; we all know Jewish men don’t enjoy sex, and have trouble bonding with their mothers. Not.

What, then, of female circumcision? Well, I understand, perhaps wrongly, that there are some forms which are not particularly medically invasive, and which do not entail significant medical consequences. I think that such forms of female circumcision are a matter of cultural practice that should be left up to parents to decide. The more invasive forms of female circumcision entail serious negative medical consequences. Obviously that’s not cool. And female circumcision is carried out on girls aged 7 to 12 or even older; at that age, the child gets a vote, too. In any case, this doesn’t have much to do with anything, because we’re talking about a medical recommendation.

Freddie again:

If I was an anti-circumcision zealot, I would not recommend circumcision for men living in sub-Saharan Africa. And I would likely not want parents to circumcise their children on religious grounds. But I do think circumcision is a very important tool for preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa; I think men should be encouraged in those cultures to be circumcised; and I think we should provide funding and education for them to do so in clean, sterile conditions. I additionally, of course, believe that ultimately parents are empowered to make the decision, whether for religious observation or whatever else. What I ask, however, is that a procedure with almost no proven medical benefit whatsoever for Americans not be recommended as a universal procedure for an entire sex based on a reduced risk of a disease when the people who are protected from that disease by the procedure don’t get the disease in the first place. And I want those arguing for routine circumcision to be more honest about who, exactly, is being zealous. Shouting “Lose the foreskin!,” as Rosin’s first post did, demonstrates that she is taking exactly the wrong kind of attitude towards the issue, and reveling in a lack of sensitivity or regard for the concerns of people who don’t think routine surgical procedures for negligible medical benefit make sense.

The only reason I can think of that Chris Bodenner and Hanna Rosin are not being honest about the number of people infected in the United States, and the essentially mythical nature of HIV infection from heterosexual sex in the United States, is out of some dedication to political correctness. In a very well-intentioned but ultimately harmful way, those pushing for AIDS awareness in the early and mid-90s ended up developing many myths about HIV and AIDS, particularly the size of the disease here in America (HIV is most certainly not a pandemic in the Western world) and of who catches the disease. Outside of our dedication to political correctness, the simple fact is that HIV and AIDS, outside of sub-Saharan Africa, afflict two groups of people, gay men and those who use intravenous drugs. That we have elided respect and love for the people who have the disease, and a dedication to fighting it, with the sympathetic lie that everyone has to fear HIV and AIDS, tells you something about our culture.

Patrick Appel:

Freddie makes a related point but goes on to say that “HIV is most certainly not a pandemic in the Western world,” and that the threat to heterosexual non-IV drug users is greatly exaggerated. A third of HIV infections are heterosexual and in certain regions of the country, such as DC, heterosexual transmission is ahead of male to male transmission. African-Americans also have much greater risks. This is not to argue for or against circumcision, I’m agnostic on the issue, but under-emphasizing the risk to certain heterosexuals is a greater sin that exaggerating it.

UPDATE: Freddie responds to Steinglass

UPDATE #2: More Freddie

Emily Bazelon and Hanna Rosin at Bloggingheads here, here, and here.

Bazelon here and here.

UPDATE #3: Andrew Sullivan points to David Harsanyi in Reason

E.D. Kain asks Sullivan a question

Sullivan responds


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