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August 29, 2006

Why The Continuing, Inexplicable Disagreement With My Diktats?

In response to the below post comparing statements by Madeleine Albright and Saddam Hussein, Saheli writes:

Let me risk opproprium and mockery by pointing out that those are not exactly parallel bold statements. The first is

This has been answered elsewhere, and in about 50 minutes--which we do not have right now and right here---I could walk you through it.

the second is

It is effectively impossible to answer this question because it would require *volumes* books.

I don't know how fast you read, but to me volumes of books is not remotely the same thing as "50 minutes which I don't have right now."

The first is condescending in tone, and the latter is gruesomely useless rhetoric. If she were slightly less self-important and slightly more web saavy she might have better answered, "please see www." and I daresay whitepapers of hers and her colleagues on the matter do exist. You may not agree with them, but they are probably there.

It does go to the heart of the matter though. Our foreign policy is going to suck as long as we don't take a frequent and direct interest in it. "Any form of sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" is something that's been used to on political science (!) to confuse us.

I respond:

No, no, there will be no opproprium and mockery. Just gentle disgreement, followed perhaps by SEVEN DECADES IN A REEDUCATION CAMP HIGH IN THE ROCKIES.

Whoops—sorry. I meant to just say gentle disagreement. Forget the reeducation part. (FOR NOW!!!)

Anyway, I maintain these are almost exact parallels. Here's why:

1. They're both saying "oh, sure I *could* explain it, but it's really, really complicated."

2. Where we differ is that you believe Albright (or the State Department) does in fact or would answer these questions somewhere, while Saddam never would. I maintain that the State Department has no more intention of answering the questions than Saddam did.

For instance, Albright said she would be happy to meet with the questioners for 50 minutes to discuss those issues. Did she? Of course not. That was just something for her to say to avoid answering an awkward question.

And are there State Department white papers? Sure. But there are also volumes of Saddam's speeches. The white papers answer these questions to just about the same degree as Saddam's speeches answer the question he was asked.

Generally speaking, this a trap into which nice liberals often fall. Sure, the world is complicated. But these people aren't interested in a far reaching discussion of the world in all its complexity. When they say "it's complicated" it's just because they're cornered and need to buy time before they can be helicoptered off to their mountain redoubt. When it serves their purposes the world will somehow become extremely simple. Just look at the rest of the transcript of that event—things only get complicated when U.S. foreign policy is questioned. When it comes to the need for America to bomb stuff, everything is straightforward.

SEE ALSO: This article by one of the people who asked Albright these questions.

Posted at August 29, 2006 07:19 AM | TrackBack

"We left the Town Hall Meeting convinced that our protests had been a
success. The immediate effect we had on the national debate was evident in
the national nightly news, and in newspapers around the world the
following day."

Actually not a single bloody thing has changed since the dawn of civilization in Sumer.

Three years after the town hall meeting the newspapers and national leaders were lying through their teeth about WMD in Iraq and before you knew it there we were in our advanced civilized state invading Iraq murdering, plundering, raping the whole nine yards. The only difference between us and the Sumerians is not even worth mentioning.

The truth is that nothing has changed nor will it.

Posted by: rob payne at August 29, 2006 08:01 AM

my my , aren't we cheerful, rob!

don't worry. what with global warming and various microbial diseases, not to mention a crazed loon waiting for his chance to press THE BUTTON, this can't go on for too long

Posted by: almostinfamous at August 29, 2006 08:41 AM

OK, so the meeting was set up jointly by the most influential news network
in the world and the most powerful government ever to ignore the rights of
independent nations around the globe. Did that mean we were going to be
intimidated by their size and power, and timidly let this dog-and-pony
show be broadcast around the world? No

where are these people now?

actually, i think i know. it starts with G, ends with O and is located on a particular caribbean island that must not be named

Posted by: almostinfamous at August 29, 2006 08:49 AM

*sigh* I remember being young enough to not know the reason in "for some reason, they let us get away with all of this." Does this strategy (channeling dissent into outlets that seem spontaneous and productive but which are actually carefully controlled) have a consensus name in poli sci? What do ATR readers call it?

John Sayles is (IMO) a really great writer. If you like his movies you might try his books too...

Posted by: radish at August 29, 2006 10:54 AM


I would call it "Paradigm Control": it's all about keeping people acceptant of something as the norm, and not making them think about it.

Posted by: En Ming Hee at August 29, 2006 11:30 AM


Speaking of global warming.

Global warming, of course, is a serious economic problem. According to a new report released today by the World Bank, it's also a problem that threatens economic growth worldwide.
The range of economic impacts of global warming is astounding. From the World Bank summary:

The report says that the consequences of such changes include decreased water availability and water quality in many arid and semiarid regions; an increased risk of floods and droughts in many regions; reduction in water regulation by snow and glaciers in mountain habitats; decreases in reliability of hydropower and biomass production in some regions; increased incidence of vector- and waterborne diseases such as malaria, dengue, and cholera; increased heat stress mortality; increased damages and deaths caused by extreme weather events; decreased agricultural productivity with almost any warming in the tropics and subtropics; adverse impacts on fisheries; and adverse effects on many ecological systems.

This is why I am so cheerful as once global warming kicks in the wealthy will become worthless because there will be no one left to screw and their wealth will become meaningless.

It is the silver lining in the clouds.

Posted by: rob payne at August 29, 2006 04:56 PM

Footnote: Jon Strange (the questioner in question) did write a letter to Albright asking for that 50 mins. And, yes of course she never replied. I had him on a news release when they did bomb Iraq without any public discussion later that year:

Posted by: sam -- err -- osama at August 29, 2006 05:08 PM

A matter of priorities maybe?

"Woof Blitzem here for CNN with my story about radical anarchists who criticize the media for not providing what they consider to be honest coverage especially regarding previous foreign policy, and now their ridiculous complaints about the lack of coverage in this current war. Their most recent outrageous claims accuse the mainstream media of a complete lack in our coverage of so-called atrocities allegedly committed by our own troops, including multiple rape/murders of Iraqi girls. My pre-recorded 30-second byte will air at 2 AM, but first we go to East Bumphuque for much more important news regarding the most recent confessor to the Jon Benet Ramsey murder. He's being shipped back to the US because he needs a free ride home as well as lots of media attention to boost his self-esteem and our sagging ratings. Take it away, Christine!"

Posted by: JLaR at August 30, 2006 12:11 AM

-things only get complicated when U.S. foreign policy is questioned. When it comes to the need for America to bomb stuff, everything is straightforward.

How true and the proof is in the pudding.

Fascism Is New Buzz Word Among GOP

President Bush in recent days has recast the global war on terror into a "war against Islamic fascism." Fascism, in fact, seems to be the new buzz word for Republicans in an election season dominated by an unpopular war in Iraq.

Bush used the term earlier this month in talking about the arrest of suspected terrorists in Britain, and spoke of "Islamic fascists" in a later speech in Green Bay, Wis. Spokesman Tony Snow has used variations on the phrase at White House press briefings.

Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., in a tough re-election fight, drew parallels on Monday between World War II and the current war against "Islamic fascism," saying they both require fighting a common foe in multiple countries. It's a phrase Santorum has been using for months.

And Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday took it a step further in a speech to an American Legion convention in Salt Lake City, accusing critics of the administration's Iraq and anti-terrorism policies of trying to appease "a new type of fascism."

White House a
ides and outside Republican strategists said the new description is an attempt to more clearly identify the ideology that motivates many organized terrorist groups, representing a shift in emphasis from the general to the specific.

Well a great big thank you to republican strategists for more clearly identifying their belly buttons.

Since Fascism had its origins in Italy as a movement to counter communism I can clearly see the connection between fascism and terrorists in their never ending fight to end communism. What we can conclude from this important shift from general to specific is that Ronald Reagan was an Islamic fascist.

And while Bush is vacationing catching fish here is a brief glimpse of the current Islamic fascist war against communism.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- An explosives-rigged bicycle detonated near an army recruiting center in southern Iraq on Wednesday, killing at least 12 people and wounding 28, police said.

Elsewhere, an oil pipeline exploded in southern Iraq on Tuesday, sparking a massive fire and killing at least 36 people and injuring 45, the Interior Ministry said. Police also found more than two dozen bodies across Baghdad as violence surged in the capital despite promising signs that a U.S. crackdown is curbing sectarian killings.

The U.S. military said three American soldiers and one Marine were killed the day before -- two in combat in Anbar province and two from non-hostile causes. A fourth soldier died Tuesday in Baghdad. At least 13 American service members have died in Iraq since Sunday, the military said.
A man posing as a potential army recruit planted the bicycle bomb early Wednesday outside a recruiting center in downtown Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, said police Lt. Osama Ahmed. The bomb exploded as volunteers gathered to sign up for the army, Ahmed said.

Posted by: rob payne at August 30, 2006 03:24 AM

Yes, yes, yes.

Albright didn't order anyone killed.

She may have been in a position to do something about discouraging the continued US support of Iraqi sanctions, which undoubtedly killed many thousands of people;

she may have had something to do with America's lackadaisical response to the genocidal civil war in Rwanda in 1994;

she may have concurred with her boss regarding airstrikes on Kosovo;

(and I may be leaving an item or two out...)

but she never ordered anyone killed.

I think this line of reasoning may have something to do with why the democrats don't seem too concerned about impeaching Junior.

But I may be mistaken.

Posted by: Jonathan "italicizing guy" Versen at August 30, 2006 03:58 AM

Forgive me for not using italics, Mr. Versen, and I may also be mistaken, but Hitler never directly ordered anyone to be killed either, did he?

Posted by: JLaR at August 30, 2006 04:38 AM

Impeaching Junior would be a waste of time as Cheney would then be president, so why bother?

Posted by: rob payne at August 30, 2006 07:09 AM

let's face it Rob, if impeach we must, we'll have to have a regular impeach-O-rama, with a discount for each dozen or something. Maybe a matching pen and mechanical pencil set, awarded in a drawing to the congresspersons who do the most impeaching. Or maybe free HBO for a month.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at August 30, 2006 08:48 AM

Yes, if Bush is impeached you have to impeach Cheney at the same time. He's even more obviously guilty.

That would leave Hastert as the next president. How low we have sunk, when someone fat, drunk, and stupid seems like such an improvement.

Posted by: Ted at August 30, 2006 12:34 PM

Yes! An impeach-O-rama would be a good thing and in fact scrapping the Bush Scouts and most of congress would be a good start. I am sure Hastert could find another job.

Posted by: rob payne at August 30, 2006 02:29 PM

No, no, there will be no opproprium and mockery. Just gentle disgreement, followed perhaps by SEVEN DECADES IN A REEDUCATION CAMP HIGH IN THE ROCKIES. Whoops�sorry. I meant to just say gentle disagreement. Forget the reeducation part. (FOR NOW!!!)

Oh damn, I was looking forward to a camping trip. I will have to try harder next time.

Maybe you're right. I'm still unconvinced--though pondering--for the following reasons:

The differences in mood (declarative versus conditional), tense (past vs. future), context (joke of a town meeting vs. joke of a trial), and power-function of the speaker at the relevant time and place (longtime dicator vs. sometime chief bureaucrat) all serve to make me feel like these are similar but not parallel categories of response. Saddam's answer seems to imply, "no one can understand me," and Albright's seems to imply, "you dummies can't understand me, but the brilliant, important, educated elite that chose me and keeps me and learns from me, they, now they understand me."

It also seems much more likely that white papers would lay out (bad and disagreeable) policy notions more thoroughly than rhetorical speeches crafted for broadcast would address dictatorial whimsy. For all that Albright was pretty powerful for a short amount of time, she couldn't just bark and make people jump, and her opinions and priorities had to flow through a structure. Saddam was not so constrained. Moreover her power was fundamentally lent to her by the wider elite, while Saddam held his much more tightly in his hand. At any given moment there were more people Albright had to convince to do what she wanted than SH had to deal with at the peak of his actions. So yes, I still think reasons---bad reasons! quite possibly disagreeable reasons!--are more likely to have already been previously stated somewhere by Albright than SH.

And while your general tone and style is very funny, as always, I am unconvinced by this declaration:

"The white papers answer these questions to just about the same degree as Saddam's speeches answer the question he was asked."

where degree seems rather loosely thrown about, and without actual citation. To me, "same degree as" is an important phrase which takes me out of funnyland and into the important sense of regarding ethics and policy carefully, if sometimes algebraic, terms. And there is no mountain redoubt. The fact is there are people who can have a serious discussion with her about this that or the other, and who can demand her attention and explanation. They may not be you or me, but they do exist.

The problem of course is--who ARE they? how are they chosen? how does one get to be them? who SHOULD they be?.

And I think that by drawing an exact parallel instead of simply noting important similarites, we lose yet another opportunity to look at who "these people" really are, and how much we are they, and how much we are not they. It's fairly easy to throw our hands up in the air and insist that under the least hostile administration of my conscious lifetime we were still being shoved around by a handful of actors whose arbitrary power plays were conducted in exact parallel to Hussein's. Frankly, I think that's slightly disrespectful to Iraq. I feel much more confident that there are few people in Iraq as responsible for the crimes noted as SH is. I It also seems pretty likely that there are lots of people in the United States--unnamed, unknown--who are just as responsible for our 1990s foreign policy as Albright. Those people get explanations.. We remember they exist and keep an eye on who they are--and remember that in the great American system, "those people" are quite likely to be entwined with us--even be us, sometimes.

And even in an ideal system, we can't all be those people all the time. There does have to be some mechanism by which the administrators of a nation so large can, unsnobbily, tell some of the people,some of the time, "I'm sorry, but this is too complicated to explain to you right now." When it comes to foreign policy and defense, I think we have completely lost track of what that ideal might look like, even in our wildest idealized imaginations. We keep idealized versions of comment periods and domestic commitees and school board hearings in our heads, but even our imagined, idealized civic life has been bleached of any thought of overseeing either Defense or State.

So I don't like Albright's methods or tone in demarcating the line between "those people" to whom she owes a thorough, on-demand explanation and the random skeptical citizen. But in matters administratve, the line does exist somewhere. There is no such line in a murder trial.

I'm sorry this is so long and humorless, but I'm terribly tired. Thanks for noting my comment at all!

Posted by: Saheli at August 31, 2006 01:07 AM

Those people get explanations.
actually, "those people" would not need an explanation, for the obvious reason that they put her there to do their bidding.

Posted by: almostinfamous at August 31, 2006 07:48 AM

almostinfamous, my boss hired me to do his bidding, and I (try) to do it, but that doesn't mean I never have to explain mysef--and that's a much simpler phenomena. Have you ever worked in a lab? It's like when you have a lab meeting for the PI and you have to give the tacky power point presentation that lays out the whole case and motivation for the experiment from the beginning. It seems like a silly exercise when everyone in the room probably understands that motivation better than you do, but perhaps for some cultural reason we do that kind of regurgitation all the time.

And we're not talking small cabal of people connected by direct telephone to each other. IF only. We're talking about a fluid elite of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of people, who join the right clubs and commitees and sit on the right boards. That kind of fluidity also requires a little more explanation. This is an evolved system, not a designed one.

Posted by: Saheli at August 31, 2006 10:41 AM

well saddam had to answer to the same crowd, if indirectly through big poppa rumsfeld and puppetmaster cheney.

Posted by: almostinfamous at September 1, 2006 08:19 AM