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November 17, 2006


Most Absurd Superlative Contest
Posted by Shadi Hamid

A couple weeks ago, I heard a prominent journalist say that Lyndon Johnson was the greatest president the US has ever had (this journalist, for his own sake, will remain unnamed). When I heard this, it struck me as a rather comical thing to say. I tried hard not to interrupt the talk by chuckling uncontrollably. And then I realized he was totally serious. In this spirit, I thought that after their drubbing last week, conservatives would resort to similarly absurd superlatives. And they certainly have. But, as far as I can tell, nothing can still top what Michael Novak said a week before the midterms:

I call Donald Rumsfeld the best Defense Secretary the U.S. has ever had. Close behind him, in my book, is Secretary Richard Cheney, and we have been lucky to have a number of other very good Secretaries of Defense during the past century. 

I hereby declare this the reigning champion. But I propose a challenge: can anyone find a more absurd superlative then this? 


Borat and Anti-Semitism
Posted by Michael Signer

At the risk of forever marking myself as a dour, humorless scold (see my critique of Talladega Nights, to which one reader, "Mikedbot," crisply responded, "I don't think you fully understood the movie, but then I don't think I fully understood your post.") I want to say here that I thought Borat was a problematic movie -- and even risky. 

I was heartened to read a story yesterday on CNN where Sacha Baron Cohen found himself on the defensive about the film's obsessive anti-Semitism.  His argument:

He said he always had faith in the audience to realize this was a fictitious country and the mere purpose of it was to allow people to expose their own prejudices.

"I think part of the movie shows the absurdity of holding any form of racial prejudice, whether it's hatred of African-Americans or of Jews," said Baron Cohen, a devout Jew who keeps Kosher and observes the Sabbath when he can.

There is a fine line between entertainment and satire; there is another fine line between satire and education.  I don't believe the movie even crosses to satire, much less education.  And this is because of its strangely obsessive, almost totally raw, depiction of anti-Semitism.

Continue reading "Borat and Anti-Semitism" »

November 16, 2006

Progressive Strategy

Stop the Murtha-Mongers
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I find it baffling why any liberal would readily lend his or her support to John Murtha, who hopes to win the post of House Majority Leader later today. Let’s pray he doesn’t. If he did, it would provide only more evidence that the Democratics are devoid of a moral core or any recognizable set of principles or ideas. Murtha is not a liberal. He doesn’t claim to be a liberal. The only reason progressives like him is because he stuck it to Bush presumably when no one else would. That’s a pretty crappy reason to vote someone in as Majority Leader of your party. It would be one thing if Murtha’s opposition to the war was based on a distinctly progressive vision for US foreign policy. It isn't (as Bradford Plumer explains in an excellent post).

Murtha remains a perplexing mix of realist and neo-con, taking perhaps the worst of the two trends and fusing them together. I can’t think of one time where I’ve heard Murtha talk about the importance of democracy in Iraq and the Middle East. That may be because he doesn’t really care (there are, apparently, dearer things to his heart). Can someone tell me what distinguishes Brent Scrowcroft from John Murtha in this regard? Not much, except that Murtha is actually more of a hawk, but in the worst sense of the word. Every now and then, he will give us a Michael Ledeen-ish nugget like: "The big problem in the Middle East is Iran. We went to the wrong place." How reassuring.

Opposition is not vision. It’s simply criticism, and that’s all Murtha has offered the House on the issue of Iraq. He wants us to get out now. For many liberals, apparently, this is the only position that matters. Hatred of Bush and opposition to the Iraq war have become the litmus test for a good chunk of the Democratic base. These activists, in any case, have always been united more by tactics than belief. It is not clear what they believe. It is, however, clear that this war is all that matters to them, even if it means putting aside the liberal values and principles that supposedly define us - or at least the ones that once did.

Progressive Strategy

Where State and Human Security intersect
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Marc and Shadi have pointed out a painful dilemma in their last few posts: That the values of a democracy promoting foreign policy have been given a bad name by the neo-cons and their rush to war in Iraq.  I have also been perplexed by this (keeping in mind that the USA has undermined itself abroad in the name of democracy several times before the neo-cons were on the scene). Yet I agree, we must not let the values of democracy (human rights, transparency, participation) become casualties of the past five years.  One way to do this is to forget about the rhetoric for awhile and dive into real problem solving.

The DLC  method of lining a bunch of lefties up against the wall and forcing them to say "kill terrorists" or "twin perils of terrorism and tyranny" before they get into the serious-foreign-policy club is silly. A much better strategy is to actually tackle liberal dilemmas in the real world: Like when to use force.  How to do it, whether or not the military is the one who should do it, should it be done by the USA or through a collective organization, what does the doctrine look like, what does the training look like, should it be privatized etc. etc. etc.

Our challenge today, not just as progressives, but as a planet is to derive a way to understand security two ways simultaneously: one that combines the needs of the individual with the more traditional needs of the state. This intersection is dangerous--with lots of careening traffic. Rhetorically this place is often posed as a tradeoff like the old rusty guns versus butter debate. But that is conceptually wrong and mostly unhelpful.  Both are important. Always. State and individual human security needs are not mutually exclusive and should not be seen as tradeoffs. A strong Army is good. So are more girls' schools. Because we haven't talked about it --putting everything on the budget table as we go--we have neither.

I attended a book reception today where the audience pitched questions along this theme.The Impossible Mandate? is a new publication out of the nonpartisan Henry L. Stimson Center . It centers on military preparedness, the Responsibility to Protect  and Modern Peace Operations. (The book will be up on the site asap!)

The central question: Is the world prepared to use military force to protect civilians from mass violence?

Author Tori Holt called the military role in providing civilian protection "coercive protection". What a great example of the new language we need to explain our new world. Those two words together help me envision an integrated idea at the all important intersection--using the military to create safety.  The humanitarian lobby Interaction comes at it from a humanitarian aid point of view in this publication

We're living in a time when an individual can inflict terrible harm on a state. The flip side of that coin is that the state is also marshalling resources on behalf of individuals.

I'm hoping that the outcome of all this conceptual athleticism is a policy to make a virtue out of necessity.  Support for preventive measures that help both states and individuals: participatory, self-government early and often. I'm going to think about this some more and hopefully come up with a less clunky way of putting it.

November 14