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May 16, 2008

Because It Feels Good
Posted by David Shorr

We have an obligation to call it what is: political hedonism. How else can we explain slamming a position that no serious political figure stakes or even entertains? So much chest thumping and sound and fury can only be for the indulgent pleasure of it. Moral clarity is so self-satisfying, but it doesn't actually help solve anything. And in this case, it runs headlong into a couple of lessons that we supposedly learned from recent years' experience.

First, if you take the president's position, we'll opt out of the hearts and minds battle. According to President Bush, the only question is the willingness of the terrorists to commit unspeakable acts. Any struggle for the high ground and public sympathy only distracts us from their evil. Or, as Vice President Cheney put it, "We don't negotiate with evil; we defeat it." And how exactly do we do that? I guess they dismiss Mao Zedong's idea that insurgents are like fish who need the sea of a friendly public in which to swim. This gives me another opportunity to plug the excellent Winning the Right War by Brookings' Philip Gordon, which argues that we will win the war precisely by discrediting terrorists, exposing their grisly hollowness, and draining their public sympathy.

I also thought we had learned that you don't actually get potential nuclear proliferators to relent by simply making demands and waiting for them to capitulate. Because they don't, actually. Do we remember what happened with North Korea? While we were calling them evil, they were building nuclear weapons. So how's about we stop fulminating for our own gratification and start working on the world's problems; there are plenty of them to work on.


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Concerning your last sentence: the correct answer was given by no less than Richard Nixon: "That would be easy, but that would be wrong."

Not too many months left; maybe we'll stagger through with no new disasters (read, war with Iran) created.