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What Realist Where?

David Adesnik is but the latest in a long string of hawks to slam me for my belief that promoting democracy in Lebanon doesn't have much to do with American interests. Allegedly this makes me "stuck in some sort of Kissingerian realist mode." But no! Suppose I believed that promoting democracy in Lebanon didn't have much to do with American interests and therfore we shouldn't do it. That, I think, would be a Kissingerian line. Alternatively, suppose I believed that promoting democracy in Lebanon would be great for American interests and therefore we should do it. That would be consistent with Kissingerism (or whatever), along with all kinds of other views.

Now what I've been saying about Lebanon, however, is that since the means the Bush administration has been using to promote democracy in Lebanon are of very little cost to the United States, they're well-worth using even though it doesn't have much to do with American interests. That's closer to the reverse of a Kissinger-style view. Since the rest of the post is about 75 percent tired slurs and cheap, ill-informed psychoanalysis of myself and others, I won't try to rebut the rest (maybe Kevin hasn't written much about Lebanon because he doesn't do much foreign policy commentary? maybe Josh has been busy following some other story involving retirement security? who knows?) but I've seen this confusion about a billion times, I thought I would clear it up.

March 6, 2005 | Permalink

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Matthew Yglesias attempts to unconfuse Oxblog: Matthew Yglesias: What Realist Where?: David Adesnik is but the latest in a long string of hawks to slam me for my belief that promoting democracy in Lebanon doesn't have much to do with American interests... [Read More]

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David Adesnik, in a silly post, is attacking Matt Yglesias and other prominent left-of-center bloggers over their lack of coverage on the protests in Lebanon. [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 6, 2005 12:41:58 PM

Comments

Remember how John Kerry voted against a funding bill for the occupation (after he voted for it)?

Ah. Right.

Note to self: Never read anything by David Adesnik ever again.

Posted by: Anon | Mar 6, 2005 3:58:17 AM

Note to self: Never read anything by David Adesnik ever again.

That's been my policy for years - never could understand what people found in that site. But I foolishly took a look at this post. What a dick:

Instead, Josh has focused his habitual monomania on the Social Security
debate. That's a good and important subject, but it really does beg the
question of whether Josh can only get interested in a story if it
reinforces his perception of George Bush as evil, stupid or both.

You know, maybe Social Security means a bit more to Josh because, as he's posted before, he received SS survivor benefits as a kid. Maybe, just maybe, it doesn't have anything to do with Bush as a person at all - except to the extent that he's trying to ruin a program that means a lot to people.

I do hate to bring this up, as Marshall seems to have decided not to emphasis the personal angle in his SS coverage lately. But it's out there, and given the total dickishness of Adesnick's remark, it shouldn't be forgotten.

Posted by: Miguel Sánchez | Mar 6, 2005 6:13:52 AM

Dear Matthew,

I have been reading these chuckle- er, guys off and on, (lately more off) since you recommended them/linked to them. And I'm really quite tired of it. If it were merely disagreement, it would be one thing. I READ people I respect but disagree with quite avidly. But all these guys really offer is another retread of whatever neocon memo (whine) came down the pike last. If I want to read the latest moderated/toned-down version of the meme emanating from neocon world headquarters, I'll read Friedman, who can also manage to be thematically coherent.

I note that the whining about Josh comes right at the point that Josh's efforts have seriously contributed to derailing G. Bush's current monomania. And it is whining:

That's a good and important subject, but it really does beg the question of whether Josh can only get interested in a story if it reinforces his perception of George Bush as evil, stupid or both.

I mean, that is twelve-year-old girlspeak for 'let me get my bellybutton pierced or I'll hold my breath til I turn blue!!!!!'.

I could continue, but screw it, why bother? Clearly these guys strongly suggest that a Harvard degree in and of itself is no indication of brains or sense. (You don't have to worry about the degree means, do you, dude?) (Granted, I think one of them didn't go to Harvard (or maybe none of them), but they have no personalities, so I can't really tell them apart. Seriously. Sorry.)

Well, one thing: But if you still think that rhetoric doesn't matter,

Reading these people, you'd almost think that all these hawk guys were doing the Really Important Work of Leading The US To Victory In The War Of Words, Which Is The Only War That Counts. So much for all those grunts Bleeding for Democracy. Hah! Any Harvard man could do the job of five Marines, but these utterly essential personnel are needed on the front lines of the Real War!

So I'm not reading these dudes, bah, girlymen, anymore, it's a fucking waste of my time. Figured I'd mention it.

ash
['If I have dinged ye with any friendly fire, sir, I apologize.']

Posted by: ash | Mar 6, 2005 6:33:15 AM

How do you promote democracy in a country that has been a democracy for as long as people remember? Imperfect, like ours, but this talk of bringing democracy to Lebanon is just ridiculous.

Posted by: Bob H | Mar 6, 2005 7:32:58 AM

Same is true about Palestine: they had perfectly valid democratic elections (moitored by the UN and various international organizations) in 1996. Since 2001 and till the Arafat's death their attempts to organize another election had been blocked by Israel. And now it's suddenly a sensation and Bushies' accomplishment. Oy vey...

Posted by: abb1 | Mar 6, 2005 8:20:45 AM

I've long wondered why MY links to or comments on posts by Adesnik. It's fairly clear that Adesnik is an idiotic twit. Does Adesnik pay MY to link to his blog?

Posted by: raj | Mar 6, 2005 8:37:05 AM

Well, I don't think *I* was mentioned in that little post, but maybe I missed it as I was scrolling throuhg.

BUt, for the record I almost never post on Middle East stuff because I don't know shit about it.

Posted by: Atrios | Mar 6, 2005 8:45:40 AM

Wow, everyone's piling on Adesnik. How brave and original.

Here's a thought: If you really don't believe democracy promotion is in our interest as a country, can you be relied upon to advocate for it with any consistency? When things get bad?

And if not, then doesn't that imply that you'll take it when it's easy or good and forget about it when things get dicey?

Just some questions.

Posted by: Jonathan Dworkin | Mar 6, 2005 9:28:47 AM

Johnathan, you must not have accurately digested Matt's response to Adesink. Surely there's a distinction to be draw between events that directly impact America's interests and events that do so more indirectly. By and large, democracy uprisings in the Middle East normally fall in the latter category, no? Making that point is not equivalent to claiming that democracy promotion is not in our national interest, is it?

Plus, you have to admit that Adesnik's breezy "let me suggest" tone is a bit annoying. What could Mr. Adesink possibly know about Matt's ability to get excited about foreign policy developments.

Posted by: fnook | Mar 6, 2005 9:44:46 AM

I understand that Reynolds didn't post on the final collapse of the WMD argument a few weeks ago. I would have taken that to have been a failure to file an after-action report by a soldier in the 101st Fighting Keyboard Regiment, for which he deserved to be skewered. I think that, raising a story, giving it a plot of one's blog real estate, a blogger should follow it as a matter of ethics. When Powerline employs the murder of four Egyptian Coptic Christians in New Jersey to validate Bush foreign policy and whip up a little batch of diluted xenophobia, the blog should follow-up a couple of months later when it turns out that the Coptics were killed by a couple of desperate non-Muslim drug dealers who lived downstairs from them and who were looking for cash.

Josh has sold his little piece of the Internets to the Social Security issue so admirably that his his site has become a necessary stop for anyone assessing the state of the Social Security debate, which is quite an accomplishment. If you want to find out something else, well, that's what the left mouse button is for. Kevin and Matt are a bit more eclectic, and if Josh is too absorbed, there is an ever-expanding universe of competitors.

Posted by: Brian C.B. | Mar 6, 2005 9:45:53 AM

Fnook,

Matt did not say that democracy is "indirectly" in our interests. He said "it doesn't have much to do" with our interests. If he had said what you claim he's saying, than I would agree that an important distinction should be made. But that's NOT what he's saying, and the implications of the actual statement are worth exploring.

Adesnik should have avoided the annoying psychoanalysis and the condescending tone. I'll gladly concede that.

But Matt's previous claim that what we're seeing is consistent with Kerry's foreign policy thinking is flatly ridiculous. Kerry made it very clear that he's a sunshine democracy-promoter; he quite explicitly avoided any rhetoric that might cool his welcome in European or Arab capitals.

As a liberal minded person, who feels a sense of solidarity with those people demonstrating, I found that stance deeply disappointing, and yes, reactionary.

Posted by: Jonathan Dworkin | Mar 6, 2005 11:04:36 AM

good grief, jonathan, i really wish i too could get on the official talking points distribution list! it would save me so much time....

what john kerry actually said is that democracy is a good thing but that the basis of our foreign policy needs to be what is in the national interests of america, not merely to execute good things or pursue utopian outcomes. do you have an actual critique of that?

if you think being concerned about america's national interests is "reactionary," then what exactly is it that you would regard as, oh, "progressive" and who actually is carrying that out? surely not the bush administration....

As for what matt actually said, if you don't want to scroll up, i'll quote it for you here: "Now what I've been saying about Lebanon, however, is that since the means the Bush administration has been using to promote democracy in Lebanon are of very little cost to the United States, they're well-worth using even though it doesn't have much to do with American interests." Would it be asking too much for you to explain how you translated that into this: "Matt did not say that democracy is 'indirectly' in our interests. He said 'it doesn't have much to do' with our interests." Normal reading comprehension would suggest that Matthew said nothing about democracy in general at all in that statement, he specifically referenced Lebanon, but i'm sure you'll make it clear how you turned that into a statement that democracy doesn't have much to do with our interests.

PS. i'd be happy to pile on adesnik, the living definition of a twit, but so many have already handled the heavy lifting....

Posted by: howard | Mar 6, 2005 11:23:49 AM

Much better to cite the thug lunacy, rebuff and move on. You must start tracking the meta movements behind the foreign policy "arguments" to win. Otherwise you will be shouted down ala Tom Tomorrow's "how to argue like a conservative". Logic and Reason very often does not win, against these people.

Map out the heirachy of ideas, the pyramid of "philsophers", the network of "gentelmen advocates" and dupes used for distribution, and the thugs used for intimidation. Then you can attack the roots of idea instead of fighting ineffective skirmishes against thugs and gentlemen, as you are currently doing. Also do not ascribe what you percieve as the "good" intentions behind these policies. There are no "good" intentions, the motivations of this administration and its policy wing are entirely personal and machiavellian. Therefore they will never do "the right thing" unless forced at gunpoint.

Take social security. The right thing is to stop the nonsense, admit defeat and move on. But this will not happen without lots of blood on the table, as Bush's latest double down with a newly minted Pentagon-style propaganda machine working in treasury and the SS dept. Further look for them to try to turn new incidents of law breaking required of the process into new executive privledges.

Posted by: patience | Mar 6, 2005 11:31:34 AM

Remember how John Kerry voted against a funding bill for the occupation (after he voted for it)?

The same bill the Bush Administration threatened to veto if it contained loan provisions instead of grants? This is old news, Mr. Adesnik.

If Kerry had won, and then spent November, December and January living up to his promise to start thinking about a withdrawal from Iraq, would the insurgents have had better luck in disrupting the election?

Living up to his promise to start thinking about it? You have to love that. The rightie caricature of JK couldn't have done better. Kerry consistently predicated troop withdrawal on success in getting allies to contribute troops and on stabilizing Iraq (see
here, here and here if memory fails).


Posted by: Sean Flaherty | Mar 6, 2005 11:33:26 AM

If you're into being a condescending asshole, it is generally more effective if you know what "begging the question" means...

Posted by: Scott Lemieux | Mar 6, 2005 11:51:50 AM

God, I am so tired of deranged democracy-worshiping useful idiots.

Posted by: abb1 | Mar 6, 2005 11:53:38 AM

As a liberal minded person, who feels a sense of solidarity with those people demonstrating, I found that stance deeply disappointing, and yes, reactionary.

Who are the people demonstrating, exactly? And why are they demonstrating? While it does appear some sort of power shift may be occuring in Lebanon, it is not immediately obvious that it the power is shifting to more "democratic" forces. Some, though not all, sectarian leaders in Lebanon seem to have tired of the Syrian presence, and are now banding together in an alliance of convenience. But what is to follow the Syrian presence?

Talk of US national interests in Lebanon is surely interesting. But what is in the interest of Lebanon itself? Lebanon has long been a target of foreign meddling and intervention by France, the US, Iran, Syria, Israel and others. The situation since the Syrian occupation does seem decidedly preferable to the nasty civil war which preceded Syrian occupation. Surely the claim that the time is now right for total Syrian withdrawl at least needs argumentation.

The advocates of democracy promotion are not arguing for a similarly immediate and total US withdrawl from Iraq. And perhaps they are right not to do so. But then, ideological commitment to the the cause of democracy promotion is apparently compatible with pragmatic commitment to military occupation for some unspecified interim period. Again, the claim that the long term well-being of Lebanon, and Lebanese democracy, is advanced by Syrian withdrawl needs argumentation - not just sentimental palpitations of democratic sympathy with every flag-waving crowd that happens to take to the streets in the latest demonstration, sponatneous or orchestrated, of "people power". What percentage of Lebanese are not in the streets? Are they entiled to no power?

Similarly, it is not obvious to me that the interests of peace and security in the region would be best served by the Syrians getting out of the Bekaa Valley. The valley is a predomiantly Sunni area, and in 1982 Israel launched an air war in the Bekaa Valley to prepare the way for a calamitous invasion of Lebanon. Is it really so wise to open up a military vaccum there, so close to the Syrian border and Damascus?

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Mar 6, 2005 12:37:16 PM

Howard, your response is simply dripping with condescension, which means there's probably little point in trying to reach any kind of sensible understanding with you. But once more, for old times sake...

We're not disagreeing over the factual content of Kerry's positions. We're simply coming to different conclusions about them. Kerry thinks that democracy is fine, so long as it supports some American interest (it's unclear, but I think it's safe to assume that the implication here is geopolitical interests, which tend to be short or medium term).

I happen to think that this is short-sited, and not particularly liberal minded. I would go even further and suggest that a display of solidarity with democratic opposition movements - even in places as tiny as Lebanon - serves our long-term interests. It should be encouraged even if John Kerry or another flavour of the month thinks it's not in our geopolitical interest.

There you have it. Crucify me.

Posted by: Jonathan Dworkin | Mar 6, 2005 12:42:56 PM

Dan,

There's been a good deal written about the composition of the Lebanese protest movement -
here's a TNR breakdown on the major players

http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=w050228&s=ciezadlo030305

The same thoughtful questions you raise were forwarded during the Ukrainian protests (many noted, for example, that Yuschenko's coalition included a pro-fascist party).

The details are always relevant. That does not mean, however, that the protesters are nothing more than another partisan faction demanding mafia rights. In a society that has had its corrupt leaders picked for it by a foreign regime, it's hardly surprising that nationalism, anti-corruption, and democratic reforms are being voiced as part of one agenda.

The left should not abandon these people in the name of a stable Bekaa Valley.

Posted by: Jonathan Dworkin | Mar 6, 2005 12:53:50 PM

"Same is true about Palestine: they had perfectly valid democratic elections (moitored by the UN and various international organizations) in 1996. Since 2001 and till the Arafat's death their attempts to organize another election had been blocked by Israel."

Right. It was Israel that decided that Arafat didn't have to stand for reelection when his term in office ended.

Aren't you ever embarassed to spout such nonsense?

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Mar 6, 2005 1:04:55 PM

It should be encouraged even if John Kerry or another flavour of the month thinks it's not in our geopolitical interest.


And who is arguing against that? Here are MY's words (again):

Now what I've been saying about Lebanon, however, is that since the means the Bush administration has been using to promote democracy in Lebanon are of very little cost to the United States, they're well-worth using even though it doesn't have much to do with American interests.

Is it so hard to admit that, as rational people, we might consider the cost and consequences of anything we choose to do? MY is saying, yes, it's worthwhile because it costs little, even if it isn't in our direct interests.

Posted by: ScrewyRabbit | Mar 6, 2005 1:05:15 PM

Rabbit,

Yes, we should think of consequences. For me to argue against that would be ridiculous, as well as hypocritical (you'll note I'm not keen on war with Pakistan, despite their clear lack of democratic process, though I think Bush has failed to push the point strongly enough).

What I'm saying is that it is in our interest to support democratic opposition movements, and we should see it as such. (i.e. not merely something inconvenient that we do when the cost is small and the weather warm).

That's the distinction I'm going for.

Posted by: Jonathan Dworkin | Mar 6, 2005 1:34:46 PM

Brett,
no, I am not embarassed and it's not nonsense. I can't find the proper link at the moment, but I found this quote at antiwar.com:

The real reason why the Israeli authorities, with the support of the United States, will not permit Palestinian elections is that they do not want Arafat to be reelected....So the PA can go on making all the preparations and its senior officials can talk as much as they wish about democratic processes and procedures, but as long as it's clear that Arafat will win, elections are not likely to take place.

-- Danny Rubinstein, The Other Elections; (Ha'aretz, 16 Nov 2002).


I don't know whether this is a correct quote, but this is pretty obvious anyway to anyone who is familiar with the situation there; this doesn't really require a proof.

Posted by: abb1 | Mar 6, 2005 1:34:51 PM

If you really don't believe democracy promotion is in our interest as a country, can you be relied upon to advocate for it with any consistency? When things get bad?

This is a problem only if you're unwilling to advocate for things that are morally right but against your interests.

As a white male who favours affirmative action, an MBA who favours more progressive taxation on income, and a young person who favours higher payroll taxes for retirement security, I, at least, am comfortable that I would favour democracy promotion with or against my interests.

Would you, Jonathan? And if not, what right do you have to chastize anyone here?

Posted by: Andrew Edwards | Mar 6, 2005 1:38:19 PM

Jonathan,

What I would like to know is who exactly the people in the streets are - the protestors handing out roses in the "red rose revolution" or "cedar revolution" or whatever we are calling it this week. When you say "the left should not abandon these people in the name of a stable Bekaa Valley", who are you talking about? Who are "these people?"

The TNR article you cite tells us instead something about five sectarian kingpins who will play a role in whatever government comes next, but tells us nothing about the constititution of the Lebanese "protest movement". And it does nothing to reassure me that these latest developments in Lebanon are anything other than more of the same ebbing and flowing of power blocs, and the shifting sands of economic and military interests, internal and external, that have marked much of Lebanese history.

I read many media reports that purport to tell us about what "many Lebanese" think, but most of these reports seem to be the impressionistic comments of reporters based in Beirut, who speak mainly to youngish, English-speaking, cosmopolitan liberals and activists in the capital.

The TNR article touches on traces of a familiar story. There is always someone who is seen as a "hero" by the young, urban idealists who are romantically and incongruously identified by westerners as the "people". And these same "people" always seem to become disillusioned when it turns out that their hero has to live in the real world and make deals to solidify alliances and prevent chaos. So then some opportunist like Mr. Jumblatt comes along to try to grab the crowd's accalim as the new hero.

The "details" you mention in passing are not just important; they are all-important. We're talking about a country that has suffered tremendously from civil war and sectarian violence, corruption and foreign kibbitzing. What makes you so confident that the latest round of kibbitzing will be any less self-interested, and any more beneficial than past meddling? I have no confidence in the ability of earnest American journalists, bloggers and politicos, most of whom seem little better informed about the region than myself, to socially engineer a new Lebanon based on their latest weekly reading in the new York Times or the New Republic, as they attempt to master the history of a country in a few hours, and discern good guys from bad guys.

By the way, the TNR article gives a rather mixed picture of the latest "oppressor", Emile Lahoud, and the latest "martyr" Rafiq Hariri:

When he took office as president in 1998, Lahoud launched an aggressive anti-corruption campaign. He fought bitterly with Hariri, head of Beirut's reconstruction and a shareholder in several large companies with government contracts. But Lahoud's strategic alliance with Berri hurt his credibility: Because he attacked the Sunni Hariri's corrupt deals, and not the Shia Berri's, many Lebanese saw Lahoud's crusade for reform as hypocritical and fueling sectarian rivalries. His popularity suffered a near-fatal blow when Syria extended his term, but Lahoud will continue to be influential because the new government will require his approval.

You speak of stability in the Bekaa Valley as though it were a piddling thing, compared to the stirring street protests of rose-dispensing reformists. But surely the strategic factors that will determine whether Lebanon escapes being the scene of another war in the coming decade, and which will thus have a significant impact on issues of life and death, are just as important as which factions are up or down in Lebanese domestic politics.

And why the sudden focus on one of the few countries in the region that actually has some measure of functioning democracy? Is this really about Lebanon?

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Mar 6, 2005 2:47:59 PM

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