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August 14, 2007

Posted by Michael Cohen

Well it's no fun being a star! Glenn Greenwald, who I generally think is quite good, posted an item about me today saying that I believe there are "good arguments" for going to war against Iran or North Korea. Part of the confusion here is my own fault. I shouldn't have said "good."

Simply put, what I meant is that there are "arguments" to be made for attacking Iran and North Korea. There were arguments to be made for invading Iraq. Hell you could have made a case for attacking the Soviet Union during the Cold War. . . but to do so would have simply been insane. Do I think these arguments are credible? No, I absolutely do not. As I have said repeatedly, I opposed the war in Iraq from day one and I thought it was a terrible idea. The only point I was making is that simply because you CAN make an argument for war does not mean you should do it.
Part of the problem with those who supported the war in Iraq was that they allowed their belief in an affirmative case for war outweigh all the many, many reasons not to go to war. While I NOW realize that subtlety can get lost in a blog posting, let me be as clear as possible: I was in no way shape or form advocating that we should invade Iran or North Korea. I quite reasonably think it is a terrible, terrible, terrible idea - just as I thought invading and occupying Iraq was a terrible, terrible, terrible idea.
I hope this clears up any confusion and we can now get back to sober foreign policy blogging.


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Being quoted accurately is a bitch, ain't it?

What about the argument Greenwald makes about the need for an "imminent threat" before military force is used?

While I appreciate your statement that you oppose the idea of war now against Iran and North Korea, it would be helpful if you expressly disavowed the ides of preventive war.

That was Glenn's point, and with due respect, it does not appear to me that you address it.

I think Armando hit the head of the nail with that simple comment, the question seems to be: is preventative war ever justified? I wouldn't mind a meta-debate on that issue, since it might be the central issue of each individual debate on Iraq, Iran, N. Korea, etc. Obviously Atrios doesn't think preventative war is justified, while it appears that Michael Cohen and the others riduculed by Atrios would use a case by case approach. Also note the terms of the debate: preventative is different from preemptive, is different from defensive.
Also, because factual questions bug me, your (Michael Cohen) comment on the 1997 removal of inspectors from Iraq from the previous thread has been questioned, and directly contradicted by quotes from Scott Ritter (a knowledgable though not definitive source). I would greatly like to know why you believe that Saddam 'kicked out' the inspectors while others maintain that the UN withdrew them under US urging so that Operation Desert Fox could commence, all steming from allegations that Iraq was in non-compliance with the inspections? It is tangental to the topic at hand, but like I said, factual issues bother me.

The source of all of this agita was your statement that you liked Will Marshall. It turns out Marshall is one of the most controversial and reviled war supporters there is; so by saying you liked him you immediately implied agreement with all of his war-supporting cheerleading. That was a mistake on your part. If you disagreed with the "argument that could be made" for war in Iraq, you should not like Will Marshall, at all. Trying to walk it back as you have is not going to work. You need to renounce Will Marshall and all his works, admit your mistake and then maybe you can move on.

Whinging about civility and how all you were trying to do was have a reasonable discussion on the merits is not going to win you points either. In an operation where we're soon going to pass 4,000 American soldiers dead and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians are already dead due to the policy people like Will Marshall supported, pleas for calm and civility are going to go unheard. Blood cries out for blood, and every day we remain in Iraq more and more is spilled. The time for civility and calm thought is long past. It is now time for vehemence and fierce defense of the Constitution and traditional American values, as well as what used to be considered universal human rights; things that the current American administration has discarded as quaint relics of an earlier, more innocent age.

Liberal rob, I never said I liked Will Marshall. I have never actually met the man. I have only a cursory idea of his views re: the war in Iraq either in 2003 or today. If you actually read my posts you would know that.

You're right, it was Shadi's saying he liked Will Marshall that kicked all of this off; that part of my comment should have been directed at him.

But your riding to his defense and talking about "arguments that could be made" was not helpful. Arguments can be made that the Holocaust was a good thing; but if you go out in public and say that, you're going to catch a lot of flak from people who think any such arguments are abominations.

Is this blog a spoof, like the old Scrutator blog or Baptists4Brownback? A lot of the posts here read like a spoof of "sober centrism".

I'm on to you guys...

Good work so far.

Why would you even bother saying that "there are arguments," if, when someone calls you out on it, you just reply with "there ARE arguments, but they're completely batshit insane!!"

Why? There are "arguments" that I should go hijack an ice cream sandwich truck and distribute frozen treats to all of the little children in my neighborhood. There are "arguments" that the moon is simultaneously made of cheese and the pulsating center of all evil in the universe. Hell, there are "arguments" that the Earth is 10,000 years old. Do we bother mentioning these "arguments" at every turn? No. Your sloppy writing is getting you into deserved trouble-- if you really think that invading Iran is insane, which I would agree with, you might say "there are completely insane rationalizations" for going to war in Iran, or "there are batshit crazy ramblings that can't reasonably pass for arguments about why we should go to war with Iran."

Because when you just say "there are arguments," it sounds awful legitimate. Especially when prefaces incomprehensibly, with "good" (I won't even go there, as you retracted the "good" above). And consequently, you're gonna get some scorn from the very people who have been beating up on you for the last 3 days.

Nick, with all due respect, I agree with your point, but your examples! I don't think that hijacking an ice cream truck and the organized state murder of people who happen to live in a country other than the United States is a fair comparison. Let's compare it with a killing spree in the next town or something.

Michael, the "arguments for war" concept is what got us into the ongoing military fiascos. Killing people? A valid subject for debate, to some. The arguments for peace far outweigh those for elective war and they have the added not inconsiderable advantages of being both humane and legal. The use of elective war as a legitimate foreign policy option by the United States has never really gone out of style and is now enjoying a renewed popularity via these "arguments for war can be made", suggesting that they should be made.

"preventative is different from preemptive, is different from defensive."

Perhaps some of our debates would be more productive it we used more accurate terminology. For instance, if instead of speaking of "preventative war" we referred to it as semi-random human slaughter, then we could have a clearer picture of what circumstances would be required to justify it. I certainly don't think we'd be sacrificing any accuracy or clarity.

I'm still confused about what you're trying to say. I mean, name a country, any country (Mexico?) and someone can make an argument for why the US should start a war with them.

But if Bush were to invade Mexico tomorrow i don't think anyone sensible would be going around saying - "Sure, there was an argument to be made for invading Mexico, but i'm still dead against it."

Woops, i noticed Nick touched on the same thing as i did in a previous post. I should have read through them first, apologies. I like his ice cream truck scenario much better than my invading Mexico scenario.

Paul Dirks, excellent post. But "semi-random" seems so wishy washy.

just simply Human Slaughter works.

"...sober foreign policy blogging"?

I really hope you're being ironic there. I assume you realise that one of Greenwald's main beefs with "Sober/Serious" commentators is how un-serious and ill-considered their positions actually are?

As has been noted above, if you really are "serious" then you would understand that any kind of attack on the scale being considered would result in thousands of deaths on both sides, not to mention all the other costs. If you're REALLY serious you'd know that you don't need "arguments" - even "good" ones - to justify something like that. What you need is a bloody IRON-CAST case.

Ahh... whatever.

"Like it or not, there was a defensible case for war in Iraq. . . . . Did this justify war? In my view, absolutely not. But that doesn't morally invalidate the people who believed that war was appropriate."

You wrote this, Michael. That war supporters were not 'morally invalidated.' What does that mean? If their arguments were lousy and have led to terrible outcomes, then in both a Kantian sense and a pratical sense they are indeed open to criticsm based on moral failings. If they can (as many of them, Marshall included) be shown to alos use disingenous and very slippery rationales to re-script their bloodthirsty performances in 2002, then one might argue that they had made the situation worse, not better.

With respect:

I would like to point out that you end your post with a request to "get back to sober foreign policy blogging."

I suggest that your post yesterday, by using the word "good" in front of "argument" =was not= sober foreign policy blogging. Words are important - they have meaning, and when you write them down, your readers have no choice but to believe that you mean them. They were therefore absolutely justified in questioning you. Your recent post now admits your mistake, this is good, and thank you for that.

The fact that many pounced so hard on this line may help illustrate some of the frustration among Iraq war opponents on the internet. Speaking for myself, as a putative representative of a non-"sober" (your word) foreign policy type/citizen out in this democracy, your line seemed like just another clearly nonsense, unsupported, insane argument of the hawkish variety that passed so easily as reasonable discourse during the run-up to the Iraq war, and for so long after the invasion happened and turned sour. And still seems to have credibility. Please understand that this "maintained credibility for unsupported hawkish arguments" is one of the things that =still= infuriates me, and (based on my reading of various blogs) has a similar effect on many many others. We don't understand why, in the face of so much evidence in Iraq against the hawkish points of view, and for the war opponent point of view, there still seems to be strong credibility for hawks and such low credibility for war opponents.

Is there an explanation for this situation? Or am I not describing the situation realistically?

Max just addressed this quote, but it bears further emphasis.

"Like it or not, there was a defensible case for war in Iraq. . . . . Did this justify war? In my view, absolutely not. But that doesn't morally invalidate the people who believed that war was appropriate."

This is exactly the kind of attitude that gets us cable news with two talking heads one left (if we're lucky) and one right yelling at each other and contradicting each other. In each case one is using a real world interpretation of the facts and the other is just batshit insane (you can guess which). This goes on for 1-5 minutes and the host goes to commercial. Now, what comes of this? Well, everybody believes that there was just a discussion about the relative merits of whatever, and that the two commentators were reflecting their honest, heartfelt beliefs. Thus, everyone agrees the batshit insane person is entitled to their opinion.

This is what comes from allowing batshit insane people a platform, you end up with people making arguments like Michael's above. He heard and read some batshit insane arguments for war, the people seemed like they really meant it so voila the "argument for war".

What is the remedy? Censorship? Probably not, but at least the people who espoused these views shouldn't get the platform and the people who were right should get a chance on the platform.

John Fowler, your point is well taken, but honestly how could you have read my piece and concluded that "your line seemed like just another clearly nonsense, unsupported, insane argument of the hawkish variety that passed so easily as reasonable discourse during the run-up to the Iraq war, and for so long after the invasion happened and turned sour."

I'm sorry, but that is crazy. I wrote that line about good arguments as an example of why NOT to go to war. In other words a good argument does not equal an impetus for action.

I have admitted that the use of the word "good" was wrong; but my critics could frankly also admit that they have taken my words horribly out of context and completely misconstrued my argument.

As for moral validation, guys I agree with you. People who supported the war should be held accountable. They were wrong and they merit criticism. I said that in my posting. However, what I also said was they shouldn't be "morally" invalidated, which basically means they shouldn't have their image spit on. Let's differentiate between policy critiques and personal attacks.

Let's differentiate between policy critiques and personal attacks.

Michael, you still don't get it. Elective war is not a valid, defensible policy option. War is organized state murder of innocents abroad and advocates of such murder, since our laws don't allow legal prosecution, should at least expect to be open to personal attack. You claim that people who advocated the actions that have killed a million Iraqis "merit criticism" but shouldn't be "morally invalidated"? I guess that this is another sign of the moral decay that people speak of.

Don Bacon, you are a demagogue. Only 600,000 Iraqis were killed, not "one million".
There is an old saying:
I am a friend of Plato, but I am even more a friend of truth.
Cohen on the other hand dislikes the death of Iraqis, but he abhors incivility about war supporters even more.

That's an excellent correction. :-)

There are, indeed, arguments to be made for many things. There is an argument to be made that George W. Bush is actually a robot from outer space, and Dick Cheney is possessed by a demon from the seventh dimension.

The confusion was caused entirely by your reference to "*good*" arguments. Thanks very much for clearing that up!

What happened to the (apparently) old notion that war should be avoided at all costs?

What happened to the (apparently) old notion that war should be avoided at all costs?

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