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Missing: National Security

The Nation's post-election forum is an excellent example of my new hobbyhorse -- liberals just not caring much one way or the other about national security. If it were really the case that there was some militantly dovish leftwing base out there preventing Democrats from adopting a better line on foreign policy, it would be represented here. And, indeed, just as a leftwing base should, various contributors advise the Democrats to hold the line -- or move further left -- on this or that topic. But even though several contributors note that national security played a key role in John Kerry's defeat, only one contributor has anything to say at all about how to deal with that, a joking suggestion that Kerry should have promised to kill terrorists with his bare hands.

But if there's anything that left-of-center people of different stripes ought to be able to agree on it's that this won't do as a political strategy. Even if you don't think the "war on terror" should be a big deal, there's no denying that, in the eyes of the voters, it is a big deal, so Democrats need to say something about it. A lot of people on the left seem to have decided that the Cold War was exceptional and that the elections of 1992-2000 represent the norm and, therefore, national security will drop off the agenda soon enough. This seems clearly wrong. National security was a key campaign issue from 1988 all the way back to 1936, at least. The elections of 1916 and 1920 turned largely on foreign policy, and the question of imperialism factored heavily in the William Jennings Bryan campaigns around the turn of the century. As America has emerged throughout the 20th century as a major world power, the question of what to do with that power has usually been on the agenda and will pop up frequently as a voting issue for the foreseeable future.

December 5, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

Reading your post alone, I would think that Kerry had said that National Security was not a big deal and that Kerry had discussed National Security at all. However, I know this was just the reverse.

Therefore, either you have drunk some kool-aid, or your post was weak, or you have fallen for the logical fallacy that (as others have pointed out), just because someone says 2+2=6, the fair and balanced and strategic argument must therefore be 2+2=5.

It just may be the case that Dems are strong on defense but weak on how to deal with smears and media bias. That's not a case for getting even stronger on defense, that's not a case for claiming Dems said nothing about defense. That's a case for getting better about smears and media bias.

Posted by: jerry | Dec 5, 2004 12:15:37 PM

(I posted this on the wrong entry)

Matthew,

I read through these pithy essays and was reminded of www.sorryeverybody.com. The first instinct after Bush won reelection, was for many Kerry supporters to apologize to Europe. Seriously, these people at the nation, Chomsky, Rorty, Medea Benjamin etc.. begin with the presumption that American hegemony must be challenged and ends up as a rationalized solidarity with the most regressive political currents on the planet. Naomi Klein wanted to bring Najaf to New York, the beheaders of Fallujah are a "resistance" or no different than the Iraqi people. The most important goal for the left should be to end the occupation. Who can or should take any of this seriously? The main reason I voted for Bush was because these people were the vaunted base that Mary Beth Cahill and the other softies sought to energize on November 2. Let them vote for Nader, attend conferences on Cuban socialism in Havana, but just make sure the campaign manager for the Democratic candidate in 2008 does not answer their phone calls. Like the wire analysis too.

Posted by: Eli Lake | Dec 5, 2004 12:17:11 PM

The Nation's post-election forum is an excellent example of my new hobbyhorse -- liberals just not caring much one way or the other about national security.

Quick, Matt--what was the last war we fought to keep America safe?

When you say 'national security,' you're using the American jingoist euphemism for 'ass-kicking.' So yes, many of us lefties have little patience for expansionism. Don't expect us to buy into your abuse of the term 'security,' though.

Posted by: bobo brooks | Dec 5, 2004 12:25:28 PM

bobo brooks,

For those who think the toppling of America's former client in Iraq is American jingoism or expansionism, please leave the democratic party. I eagerly await a civil war between real progressives and the apologists for authoritarians and am hoping the Hitchensians win. ANSWER, Ramsey Clark, Medea Benjamin, Chomsky, Michael Moore, no war for oil bumper stickers, sorryeverybody.com have no place in a serious national party. Leave now.

Posted by: Eli Lake | Dec 5, 2004 12:32:41 PM

Wow, Eli Lake of Campus Watch fame enters the fray. Just a pity that he's just a sore looser.
He and is alter alias on this blog.

Remember, most democrats, including MY here, supported the Iraq war. And the Democrats lost the elections. Next time choose right, instead of making your misstakes worse.

Posted by: Duh | Dec 5, 2004 12:42:59 PM

It's certainly a dilemma. Based on current Bush/Repug policies and rhetoric,
we have these two major issues:

"National security" = killing and torturing Arabs, insulting other
foreigners = xenophobia

"Moral values" = theocracy and homophobia

The difficulty for Democrats seems to
be that a very large portion of the
electorate is actually in favor of
torturing Arabs and bashing gays; and
when Bush says "national security" and
"moral values", they know that's what
he means.

Maybe we can come up with some rhetoric
about "American values" = no torture,
"Life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness" = let gays be gays,
"Speak softly and carry a big stick".
This might move a few percent at the
margin, but the masses who approve of
torture just can't be reached.

Posted by: Richard Cownie | Dec 5, 2004 12:46:33 PM

Seriously, these people at the nation, Chomsky, Rorty, Medea Benjamin etc.. begin with the presumption that American hegemony must be challenged and ends up as a rationalized solidarity with the most regressive political currents on the planet.

But the Bushies are one of the most regressive political currents on the planet. And the most powerful one by far. And you end up 'as a rationalized solidarity' with it.

So, what's your point? Or is this just rhetoric with no meaning whatsoever?

Posted by: abb1 | Dec 5, 2004 12:56:54 PM

Support out troops!

Or something.

Posted by: Sven | Dec 5, 2004 1:02:32 PM

For those who think the toppling of America's former client in Iraq is American jingoism or expansionism, please leave the democratic party.

Uh-huh.

Look, ass-kicking is going to happen whether I think it's right or wrong. I would really, really like it, though, if people would call it 'ass-kicking' or 'domination' instead of national security. These wars--every single one since probably WWII--are perhaps in our national interest, but not about actually protecting us. (Except Afghanistan.)

MY is asserting the commonly-held American doctrine that it's okay for us to decide how the world should look, and to apply as much force as we want in order to make it so. He is also calling it national security, which it is not.

We've fought a shitload of wars over the last few decades; I don't feel particularly safer.

So say what you mean, Matt--you hate liberals who aren't cool and macho about blowing shit up, like you are. It's a perfectly defensible position without calling it a phony name.

Posted by: bobo brooks | Dec 5, 2004 1:07:26 PM

So say what you mean, Matt--you hate liberals who aren't cool and macho about blowing shit up, like you are. It's a perfectly defensible position without calling it a phony name.

He won't. Phoniness is the main feature of a 'liberal hawk'. They are cool and macho about blowing shit up, but the words 'freedom' and 'democracy' have to appear in every paragraph, otherwise they lose their appetite and may even become sick and have to take aspirin and warm chicken broth for a while. Fortunately it's not life-threatening.

Posted by: abb1 | Dec 5, 2004 1:30:10 PM

I am what might be considered a liberal hawk. I don't think it's "cool and macho," just a recognition that there is an appropriate time and place to use force. It is not the case that I therefore think every use of force is justified or useful.

Consider Iraq. We now know that we were misled about its capabilities and therefore the level of threat that it posed. But we also know that one reason Saddam did not simply come clean about his WMD was that he didn't believe that we would actually use force. Our threat of force was not credible, in his eyes, which paradoxically made the use of force necessary.

But. As a liberal hawk, I disagree with the invasion of Iraq as an exercise in "fostering democracy," not because I am against democracy, but because it leaves us strategically exposed.

I am none too pleased with the incompetence of those running the war, either.

My main objection is not the use of force, but that the injudicious way force has been used has made us less safe and militarily weaker in fundamental ways, as well as the diminishment of our moral authority (yes, we did have that) that has accompanied it.

Posted by: Kiril | Dec 5, 2004 2:32:22 PM

"So say what you mean, Matt--you hate liberals who aren't cool and macho about blowing shit up, like you are."

So lets hypothetically assume that Democrats will remain powerless domestically if we do not satisfy the atavistic urges of Matthew and the Red State Cro-Magnons to blow shit up. You won't accept that hypothetical, but the evidence is against you.

I would cheerfully sacrifice x American lives and 100x non-American lives, in pure cynicism, to ensure that SS survives and gays are treated as human beings. I can come up with acceptable wag-the-dog targets, and believe the liberal agenda is worth the cost.

Libs are looking at a lousy 2% swing in Ohio, and thinking that gets them anything. It gets them nothing. They need 10-20%, and only blood and iron will get them there.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 5, 2004 2:39:46 PM

So lets hypothetically assume that Democrats will remain powerless domestically if we do not satisfy the atavistic urges of Matthew and the Red State Cro-Magnons to blow shit up. You won't accept that hypothetical, but the evidence is against you.

No, I accept the hypo. Americans like killing foreigners, no doubt about it; Democrats need to be able to pander to bloodlust. But let's not kid ourselves by pretending that we are actually being all principled and shit by "focusing on national security."

I am what might be considered a liberal hawk. I don't think it's "cool and macho," just a recognition that there is an appropriate time and place to use force.

Over the last forty years, we have fought in Grenada, Panama, Kosovo, Haiti, Lebanon, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and twice in Iraq. (And doubtless others that I've forgotten.)

Were ALL of those proper times and places? I think all but one or two of them shouldn't have been fought; does that mean that I don't think that there is EVER an appropriate time and place? No. However, I hold onto the crazy notion that the right time and place is a. when you're threatened, and b. where the threat comes from. It's not "where you could gain some cool stuff rather than go through difficult negotiations," and "wherever the hell you want."

Different people set their thresholds at different spots. The higher you set your threshold, the fewer wars you fight. How could that possibly mean that you are less serious about national security? It just means that your reaction, when pondering war, is less pro-war than somebody else.

Matt would know these things if he weren't being all macho and cool about blowing shit up.

Posted by: bobo brooks | Dec 5, 2004 3:12:45 PM

Kiril tells us "Saddam did not simply come clean about his WMD" because our threat wasn't convincing.

In reality, Saddam gave an inventory of his WMD. He invited inspectors in. He attempted to arrange meetings with the U.S. to make further concessions. The record is plain- the U.S. had an agenda for war and brushed aside efforts to prevent it.

I've lived with this militaristic "liberal" doubletalk for many years and I'm pretty sure it hasn't made me any safer.

As for Matt's idea that liberals don't care about national security, the major and basically only industries around me are the nuclear subbase, the shipyard, Fort Lewis, and McChord AFB. These people voted for Kerry and returned Norm Dicks (D) with 80% of the vote. I'm sure some of them would have creative ideas about where Matt could shove it.

It is common for an empire in decline to end up with a serious overstock of weaponry and soldiers who do nothing to increase their security. Why Matt thinks that couldn't happen to us, with our remaining inventory of 12,000 nuclear weapons, is a mystery.

Posted by: serial catowner | Dec 5, 2004 3:12:48 PM

I would cheerfully sacrifice x American lives and 100x non-American lives, in pure cynicism, to ensure that SS survives and gays are treated as human beings. I can come up with acceptable wag-the-dog targets, and believe the liberal agenda is worth the cost.

Lol, I like this one.

Posted by: abb1 | Dec 5, 2004 3:22:26 PM

"Lol, I like this one."

I was dead serious. After thirty years of Democrats not being able to perform as "Commander Codpiece"....Reagan and Bush are lousy warriors, but they can look the part....in order to get creds back on National Security, a bombing of Kosovo or action in Somalia ain't gonna hack it. We need a hard-core Democratic killing machine.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 5, 2004 3:30:03 PM

So, bob, which wag the dog targets come first? I think the best one would probably be Cuba.

The invasion would practically pay for itself from cigar revenues. And I'm sure that given the awesome potency of the American military, we could pull it off with, oh, 2,000 troops, tops. And the Cubans would be totally fucking stoked, too.

It's too bad Jorge Mas Canosa died; it would have been nice to have a prominent exile to put in charge once we took over.

Posted by: bobo brooks | Dec 5, 2004 3:38:38 PM

We need a hard-core Democratic killing machine.

Well, it's not so much the killings it's the attitude that counts, of course. Liberals can't compete in this; they just can't compete, period.

They'll drop the Big One and then spend years reflecting, apologizing and explaining how it was the right thing to do, and it'll look pathetic, because there is really nothing to reflect on.

Alan Dershowitz was the first one to propose legalizing torture, yet he looks like a goddamm wimp with his pathetic sterile needles under the fingernails, while the Republicans denying that sodomizing young boys with broom handles constitute torture look tough and strong.

You just can't fake it, no way jose.

Posted by: abb1 | Dec 5, 2004 3:55:19 PM

serial catowner - Mr. Blix disagrees with you about the level of Saddam's cooperation. This, of course, does not mean that simultaneously the Bush administration wasn't itching for war and doing everything in its power to convince us that it was necessary.

Posted by: Kiril | Dec 5, 2004 4:03:41 PM

I agree with you Matt, but you're probably wasting your breath (see previous threads on this subject for more about that.) A majority of liberals today a) simply don't believe that Islamist terrorism is a serious threat to America and b) would rather piss away the new deal, great society, and cultural liberalization of the 1960s than support the promotion of democracy in the Arab world, which is to say that a majority of liberals today are morally, strategically, and politically wrong.

What's truly grotesque is that more than a few of these folks would rather throw women and gays an free speech over the side in a vain attempt to court "values" voters rather than vigorously oppose religious tyranny in the Arab and broader Muslim world, and court the broad middle of the electorate. Apart from the moral bankruptcy of selling out the Democratic Party to American theocrats and appeasing Islamo-fascists, one wonders if these genuises have thought through even the political implications of their favored policies...Who would vote for a culturally conservative liberal internationalist Democratic Party? All those fundies down in Alabama still pissed off that Bush didn't get UN approval before invading Iraq? Please.

Posted by: Scoop Democrat | Dec 5, 2004 5:48:10 PM

PS There was a time when the Nation magazine referred to Senator Taft as an "appeaser of Stalin" for not supporting a vigorous policy of containment against the Soviet Empire. Those days are long, long gone.

Posted by: Scoop Democrat | Dec 5, 2004 5:54:15 PM

I don't know anybody who says terrorism is "no big deal". That sounds like a hatchet job engineered to characterize opponents of the Iraq War as negligent.

Where the democrats have fallen down is in not pressing harder on the fundamental assumption that the Iraq War has nothing -- and I mean nothing -- to do with the war on terror. The democrats need to re-frame the issue. What's needed is a smart approach based on accurate intelligence, good espionage, forceful diplomacy, and alliances, with reduced reliance on military occupations and the US Army in general.

Posted by: ScrewyRabbit | Dec 5, 2004 7:34:15 PM

"What's needed is a smart approach based on accurate intelligence, good espionage, forceful diplomacy, and alliances, with reduced reliance on military occupations and the US Army in general."

Does this include alliances with the House of Saud, Egypt, and Pakistan? As long as America continues to enable the repressive status quo in the Arab and Muslim world, everytime the Saudi or Egyptian security services with the aid of the CIA apprehends or kills some terrorist on Saudi or Egyptian soil the people of the Arab world hate us just a little bit more. We would have far more latitude with the people of Saudi Arabia to engage in these types of actions if America was engaged in a Manhattan Project on energy independence, and was actively pressuring the House of Saud into political, educational and economic reform. We would have far more latitude with the people of Egypt to engage in these types of actions if America was actively seeking a fair and equitable peace between Israel and Palestine and pressuring Mubarak into political, educational, and economic reforms. In general we would have far more latitude with the people of the Muslim to engage in these types of operations if we were atively and publically pressuring every dictator from Libya to Uzbekistan into political, economic, and educational reforms.

Posted by: Scoop Democrat | Dec 5, 2004 8:08:35 PM

In general we would have far more latitude with the people of the Muslim to engage in these types of operations if we were atively and publically pressuring every dictator from Libya to Uzbekistan into political, economic, and educational reforms.

Scoop, surprisingly I find I'm with you on every point you make about reforming our alliances. We've made progress!

Unfortunately, just about every diplomatic, intelligence, foreign aid, and (certainly) military resource at our disposal is busy fighting a heavily-armed resistance in Iraq, one that has nothing to do with apprehending international terrorists intent on doing us harm outside the borders of Iraq. And please do not revive some kind of flypaper theory about fighting them there rather than the streets of NYC -- I reject that argument out of hand.

Posted by: ScrewyRabbit | Dec 5, 2004 8:18:02 PM

"Unfortunately, just about every diplomatic, intelligence, foreign aid, and (certainly) military resource at our disposal is busy fighting a heavily-armed resistance in Iraq, one that has nothing to do with apprehending international terrorists intent on doing us harm outside the borders of Iraq."

Progress, indeed. I differ only to the extent that democracy simply could not take root anywhere in the Arab mideast until Saddam was gone, and one suspects that democracy cannot take root in the Arab mideast until the situation is at least stabilized in Iraq.

Posted by: Scoop Democrat | Dec 5, 2004 8:37:32 PM

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