Recently a friend of mine suggested a book to me because he knows I'm interested in foreign policy issues. This is Defending the Bush Doctrine. Sounds kind of impressive from the review. My friend hadn't read it but figured I might benefit from a right wing perspective.
Getting different perspectives is key to having a proper understanding of the issues. On the other hand you do have to ask yourself if you really expect to learn from a source. With limited time everyone has to pick and choose. For instance John Piippo, my parents pastor, recently blogged about women at the tomb of Jesus. I recommended to him an article from DagoodS that I think offers some interesting insights. John basically dismissed it without looking at it, saying in effect he doesn't think he'd learn anything from it.
And as a side note I think he's actually right. I don't think he would learn anything from it. Not because it's not insightful and doesn't offer information that John has never heard. I just happen to think that John's mind is not at a place where he could consider such a perspective. I don't mean that as a put down, but more as an observation about human nature. If your mind isn't there you won't see. I similarly have blind spots. But I do try very hard to avoid them. This is why I do want to consider the arguments of right wingers.
But I've heard the arguments for war of a lot of right wingers and I think their arguments are terrible, so when someone suggests I invest time reading things like this I'm going to hesitate. But Robert Kaufman is a professor at Pepperdine. You'd think he'd be reasonably intelligent. This means the book is perhaps a good candidate for an evaluation. I want reasoned critiques of my own views and I already know Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck can't offer me much. But can Kaufman? I want to know the basic argument first to see if it's worth the time to evaluate further.
As luck would have it I found an hour long interview with him. I figure listen to the interview and see if it contains anything challenging. If so then the time invested in reading his book would be worth it.
But it's not challenging at all. Basic errors in fact and in his underlying assumptions. Having invested an hour listening to him I want to take a moment to document my own evaluation. I'm going to offer summaries of some of the statements he made in this interview and my own response.
1-The tyranny of our adversaries is the root cause of the war against us, so our war is one of democratic goals. This kind of policy is nothing new as far as American presidents so shouldn't be regarded as unusual.
My response: Tyranny is a root cause of the wars against us in that the U.S. imposes tyrannies on unwilling populations in the Middle East and this enrages the population. Kaufman would have us believe that by smashing and bombing a country we can bring about democracy. Why don't we instead withdraw military support from the dictatorial regimes and allow the populations to replace their governments with representative governments?
Saddam Hussein was authorized by George Bush to crush the Shiite rebellion that probably would have overthrown him in 1991. He filled mass graves, crushing the rebellion brutally, and this was perfectly acceptable to the U.S. establishment because he was regarded as preferred to a democratic Iraq. If our goal was truly to reduce tyranny in the Middle East we'd stop imposing dictators in the Middle East. The fact is we love dictators when they are beholden to U.S. interests and loath them and call for "democracy" when a dictator is not beholden to the U.S. Does the U.S. oppose dictators in Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, etc? This is such a disingenuous claim as to be absurd.
And by the way the U.S. opposed elections in Iraq after the invasion every step of the way, but finally relented due to mass non-violent resistance by the Iraqi people. Subsequent to the elections the U.S. did everything it could to undermine the government there, all the while taking credit for the elections themselves. The U.S. opposes democracy all over the world except in the rare cases where democratic action is aligned with U.S. interests. Meaning the U.S. is usually in the business of undermining democracy.
2-Saddam was a symbol of defiance in a region of defiance. We left Saddam in power after 1991. This showed us to be a paper tiger in the eyes of OBL.
My response: Once again, total nonsense. Saddam was left in power because the United States feared a democratic Iraq that with a large Shiite population would probably mend fences with Iran. Saddam was installed and supported by the U.S. in the early days and his very presence in Iraq after 1991 was made possible by critical U.S. action. The whole premise is absurd.
3-Look at Saddam. War against Iran. Scuds against Israel. Poison gas against his own people. Paying "homicide bombers" to blow up Jews. Saddam with nuclear weapons is not something we can risk in the wake of 9/11.
My response: Saddam's war against Iran was enabled and supported by the US. Saddam was given key logistics and weapons support. He gassed Iranians with US bombs and US targeting. The war finally ended when the United States bombed an Iranian civilian airliner. His gassing of the Kurds was with U.S. weaponry and fully supported by the U.S. It is so staggeringly ridiculous to point to Saddam for these scary incidents and not notice the 4 fingers pointing straight back at us. If this makes him dangerous and worthy of violent overthrow, what of the U.S. government? The people in Bush's government were the same ones involved in Saddam's violence. And the US provides far more support for the enabling of Israel to blow up Palestinians than Saddam provided to Hezbollah. Once again this is the making of a stronger case against the U.S. government than it is against Saddam.
3-"Moral democratic realism" says yes, we live in a dangerous world and must seek practical solutions. Stable liberal democracies don't fight and should be propagated. The US needs to use it's power to expand democratization even if UN won't go along.
My response: It requires quite an education to not see the transparent hypocrisy evident here. It's hard to find a government more in opposition to democracy over the last 50 years than the US and this perhaps is as clearly true in the Middle East as could be anywhere else in the world. Who sustains the Egyptian tyranny? Who sustains the extremely Islamic fundamentalist tyrannical regime in Saudi Arabia. Who overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953? Moving outside the Middle East but still in Muslim countries, what about the fundamentalist regime in Indonesia? Who enabled and sustained the coup in Pakistan? Who brought in the crazy fundamentalists in Afghanistan? The U.S. needs to resist the U.N. and use it's power to support democracy? Up is down and black is white for Kaufman. I seriously don't know how he can make such statements without embarrassment.
4-The UN sucks. It doesn't have power, can't come to consensus about what aggression is, and lacks political will. The UN rarely does anything useful and has gridlock. Look to Serbia and Rwanda as examples.
Actually the UN often does offer consensus. There is consensus that US violence in Nicaragua was criminal and that the US should pay reparations. There is consensus on a two state solution in Palestine, which virtually the whole world supports except the US and Israel. There was consensus that force in Iraq should not have been used. Sometimes consensus isn't there but that is because sometimes issues are actually complicated. Issues in Serbia are complicated. Rwanda looks like failure to me. But why is this grounds to allow one country the right to rampage around without regard to treaties and agreements they have signed? To offer one country the right to ignore world opinion is to allow all. Should Iran just shoot off nuclear weapons as they decide is in their best interest and as they decide is best for the world? We have signed on to the UN Charter because we believe it is a better way, and the millions dead due to WWII could be just a starting point in this nuclear age. Abandoning these reasonable conclusions is foolish.
5-Critics of the war lack historical memories. On balance the war has been good. What would have happened had we left Saddam in power.
My response: Well, somebody lacks historical memory, but I don't think it is the war's critics. Removing a vicious dictator is great, but why not do it in a way that doesn't lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people? Why not allow the Shiite rebellion to move forward? Why impose sanctions on the Iraqi people which made them even more dependent on Saddam and less capable of overthrowing him?
The leader in N Korea may be a bad guy and we could remove him if we carpet bombed the whole country with nuclear weapons. Is that worth doing simply because we will have then removed a dictator? What are the consequences of our violence on the population? In the case of Iraq the consequences have been devastating.
6-Remember Kofi Annan's oil for food program where money being used to bribe French, Chinese, Russians to vote against us. Saddam had defied resolutions, thrown out inspectors. And it was Clinton that called for regime change. This is the situation prior to Saddam's overthrow. Don't forget that.
My response: I have serious doubts about these assertions. Take a look at some of my own comments here with regards to the so called "Oil for Food" scandal. Noam Chomsky covers these issues in some depth in his book Failed States, which I highly recommend.
7-The Iranian regime is an imminent danger to us. Here are Ahmadinejad's claims. 1-The holocaust didn't happen 2-we wish it would 3-we want to help it along 4-that's only the 1st step because Anglo American civilization is the problem so 5-we need to go back to 9th century caliphate style world. He should be taken seriously and therefore an attack on Iran makes sense. They've accelerated their nuclear program.
My response: Ugh. Now he wants pre-emptive war in Iran, a country that hasn't attacked anyone in hundreds of years (barring the US supported and installed Shah dictatorship). And where are these supposed threats from Ahmadinejad? I think that if you research this with an open mind (here's some decent information) you find that yes, Ahmadinejad would like to see Israel disappear, but you also find he has no intention of making that happen violently. And that's probably because he is not insane and likes the fact that he holds power. He knows that anything he tries against Israel would mean Iran's instant obliteration.
His assertions regarding Iran's nuclear program is nothing but a pile of absolute nonsense. In fairness this reporting on their lack of a nuclear program came out after this Kaufman interview, but still, what is he basing his claims on when shortly afterwards the intelligence flatly contradicts his claims?
Kaufman was asked by a caller about how the Israel Palestine issue motivates violence against us. This brings up my 8th statement from him.
8-The Palestinian issue is low on OBL's list of concerns (lower than military bases in Saudi Arabia). The root cause of the problem is a culture of tyranny and oppression in Middle East converging with weapons of mass destruction.
My response: I would seriously like to know the basis for this assertion. Given that it is issue #1 in OBL's Letter to America and repeated constantly by him how can Kaufman make such a statement? Our support of Israel's violent oppression of Palestinians puts Americans in danger. Some don't want to face that fact. Why?
The host played a clip from Ron Paul in his beautiful destruction of Rudy Guiliani at the South Carolina Republican Debate. Here Ron Paul offers a series of facts and arguments explaining the motivations of those that are violent towards us. Guiliani retaliates basically with "I'm outraged." Kaufman's reaction. "Bravo Mr. Guiliani." Are you serious? You don't even have to agree with Ron Paul to recognize that Paul utterly destroyed Guiliani in terms of substance. A sustained and reasoned argument "rebutted" with an "I'm offended" type statement. Kaufman finds Guiliani to be impressive? It's almost like he has lost his reasoning capacity. His own "rebuttal" to Paul during this radio interview was to say "He has a 19th century mentality." Please. That's about as substanceless as Guiliani's reply, which is perhaps why he finds it satisfying.
I'm going to pass on this book. I often ask people I disagree with to read material and I know it's a lot to ask, so I want to be willing to read their material as well. But in this case, and I hope my friend can agree, I'm really not going to get a lot out of it. This is a man that reasons poorly and does not grasp the basic facts.