Friday, January 3 2003
LIBERAL V. CONSERVATIVE: As promised, here's a quick follow up to yesterday's discussion about liberals, conservatives and the Axis of Evil.

In the aftermath of September 11 the Bush administration made a decision to publicly recognize nation-states that pose the greatest potential harm to the United States and the world. In the ensuing year, we've moved closer to conflict with Iraq, been alerted to Iran's large nuclear complexes, and entered into a confrontation with North Korea over the restarting of their nuclear programs.

To a conservative like Hugh Hewitt these are the difficult but logical results of the President Bush's effort break with some of the failed foreign policy decisions of the past decade and provide a forthright assessment of the threats posed by the various regimes in Baghdad, Tehran, and Pyongyang.

To a liberal like Josh Marshall the problem is not the policies of the past - regardless of the final outcome the ideas of "containment" and "engagement" are immutable truths of any foreign policy - but rather that Bush's Axis of Evil is a self fulfilling prophecy. North Korea, despite its deceptions and provocative past behavior is merely responding to the Bush administration's label. It's why Marshall can describe the President's foreign policy as "mixing think-tank braggadocio with feckless inconstancy." It's also how Marshall can turn the North Korean situation on its head by asking, "why in the hell did they (the Bush administration) provoke this situation in the first place?"

Bush's use of such forthrightness in foreign policy makes liberals recoil in horror - just as it did with Reagan in 1983 - primarily because such honesty can often lead to confrontation and conflict. Liberals abhor conflict and seek to avoid it through constant negotiations, even if this means continued compromise and tolerating years of defiance and deception.

Conservatives, on the other hand, readily accept Bush's proposition that taking a candid approach to foreign policy is both prudent and principled - even if it leads to conflict in the end. As Dinesh D'Souza succinctly puts it in his new book, Letters to a Young Conservative:

"Conservatives insist that because there are evil regimes and destructive forces in the world that cannot be talked out of their nefarious objectives, force is an indispensable element of international relations."

D'Souza also points out another profound difference between liberals and conservatives that contributes to the opposing views on foreign policy:

"Conservatives like to proclaim their love of country, while liberals like to proclaim their love of humanity."

Thus you find liberals voting without reservations to drop bombs in Kosovo for "humanitarian" reasons in 1998 but deploring the use of force in Iraq, both in 1991 and today, to eliminate threats to U.S. national security and our allies abroad. - T. Bevan 9:49 am

THE TRIAL LAWYER: A little filler on the "Edwards for Prez" campaign. TNR says Edwards has no choice but to "sell high," that is, to run for higher office before he's tossed out of the Senate and reduced to a one-term wonder with no political future. Will Saletan says that while Edwards may lack the experience and knowledge of his rivals, he's way ahead of them in crafting a message for his candidacy. Both points are valid.

Even more interesting is the strategy Edwards seems to be taking: to make himself a virtual Democrat carbon-copy of Bush. The platform he laid out yesterday focused on 1) homeland security 2) economic recovery and 3) education (primarily access to college). Sound familiar?

Edwards did turn to some traditional populist/class-warfare rhetoric while trying to spin his background as a trial lawyer (he's a "regular guy fighting for regular people against the powerful"), but he also said that he hoped to convince the American people he had "good judgment" that is "grounded in North Carolina values" and he wanted to "earn the trust" of the public. This pretty much describes the current occupant of the White House.

It's a viable route for the general election. The only way Bush is going to lose is if the economy is in the tank or the War on Terror is going badly. In either case, Edwards will stand as someone enough like Bush (a Southerner with common sense values, etc) to make conservative Democrats, Independents and even some moderate Republicans comfortable voting for a change.

The real question is whether Edwards can make it out of the primaries using such a strategy. Some, like Rich Galen, have speculated that Edwards will run well to the left of the field. This may still be true, though Edwards fully realizes the further left he goes the more distance he'll have to travel to get back to the center by November 2004. But Edwards is slick and remarkably amorphous, and the planks of the platform he outlined above should be malleable enough to give him a fighting chance to work his way through the obstacle course of the Democratic primaries.

THE LABOR LEADER: Gephardt is in as well. His strong support of President Bush since 9/11 has strained relations with the liberal base, but you still have to consider him one of the early favorites. He still has good relations with organized labor and is the only contender who has the previous experience of running for president. These are both valuable assets and Gephardt will need them both to score a win in either Iowa or New Hampshire - something he has to have for a realistic shot at the nomination. - T. Bevan 8:49 am

Thursday, January 2, 2002
EDWARDS IS IN: Senator Edwards officially announced he's running for president. If Bob Graham stays out, Edwards will be the only Southerner in the race and could use a primary win in South Carolina as a springboard to the nomination.

INSIDE N. KOREA BASEBALL: Earlier this week Josh Marshall posted an email from one of his readers and agreed with with the idea that the Bush administration's handling of the North Korea situation was analogous to the FBI's handling of Ruby Ridge and Waco. Glenn Reynolds called this a "bit of dubious moral equivalence." It was actually quite a bit worse than that.

Today Hugh Hewitt's column analyzes Marshall's ongoing effort to both attack President Bush over North Korea and to defend the Clinton administration's record. Josh wasted no time in responding.

Josh's response, however, is fraught with inconsistencies. Here's the biggest one:

You only get credit for pointing out what everyone already knew -- that the 1994 agreement was an imperfect one and perhaps only a stopgap -- if you've got something better. If you don't, you just look like a fool.

The 1994 agreement with North Korea was hailed as a monumental achievement by liberals at the time. In fact, we just endured another celebration of it as such a few months ago when Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Prize for his involvement. The idea that "everyone already knew" the agreement was "imperfect" or a "stopgap" is patently absurd and revisionist. Furthermore, confronting someone with evidence they are breaking an agreement with you is not foolish, allowing them to continue to lie to your face is what makes you look like a fool.

In a larger context, the argument between Hugh and Josh highlights the important difference of how conservatives and liberals view the world and the concept of the Axis of Evil. It's a discussion we'll take up in more detail tomorrow. - T. Bevan 10:26 am

Tuesday, December 31, 2002
"SHIPS OF CONCERN": John Mintz of the Washington Post reports al-Qaeda has a fleet of approximately 15 cargo ships it uses to move weapons and terrorists around the globe. This is another one of those stories highlighting US vulnerabilities that makes your hair stand on end.

We already know our ports are still very vulnerable - only about 2% of shipping containers are searched upon entry. Add to this the striking description of the maritime industry provided by one US government official in the article:

"This industry is a shadowy underworld. After 9/11, we suddenly learned how little we understood about commercial shipping. You can't swing a dead cat in the shipping business without hitting somebody with phony papers."

As we watch the government go through the Herculean task of strengthening national security across the board, it's amazing to realize how utterly vulnerable America has been to attack.

NORTH KOREA AND THREE OPTIONS: In a not so shocking new development, North Korea is blaming the US for its decision to break the 1994 framework. Now that international monitors have been expelled, their nuclear program is totally unsupervised. Meanwhile, South Korea criticizes US efforts to pressure Pyongyang into giving up it's nuclear program.

Let's try a lighthearted analogy. Say you're sitting in a big round room with 200 other people of all colors, shapes and sizes. All of the sudden a person on the other side of the room stands up, pulls out a gun and aims it directly at you. This person, somebody who has already broken their promise not to build or buy a gun, now says they want you to come over and talk to them about making a deal. They'll trade you the gun for your watch and the money in your wallet - or something like that.

At this point you have three options. Since you are a much bigger person, you could walk across the room and singlehandly kick the other person's ass. This could be termed "aggressive non-negotiation." Sure, you'd get shot and it might hurt and be a little bloody, but you're not going to die and the problem will be solved - even if the other people in the room aren't very happy about watching it happen.

Option two would be to walk across the room and, in front of all of the other people in the room, enter into a direct dialogue with the person holding the gun to your head and work out some compromise you can both live with: the gun for the watch and $20 bucks out of your wallet, etc. This is known as "appeasement."

Option three is to not speak directly with the person holding the gun, but to ask those standing in close contact with him (or her, if you prefer the PC version) to 1) tell the gun holder what a stupid idea they've got going and 2) convince them it's in their best interest to put the gun down. Part of this convincing might involve some inducements, like some rice for the person's starving family, and these inducements may or may not be supported in part by the person being threatened. This is what one could accurately call "engagement" under the circumstances. This is what the Bush administration is doing with North Korea, and it's the right thing to do - at least for now.

PUTIN'S STAR FALLING?: I found this interesting assessment of Vladimir Putin and his relationship to the Russian military in the Moscow Times. Here is the author's conclusion:

Putin mostly tends to tell people what they want to hear: While meeting Western leaders he talks of partnership and liberal reforms, and in Beijing he repeats anti-Western "multipolar world" slogans. What Putin says and what he does are often wide apart.

This tactic has made Putin everybody's darling for the time being, but the cloak of professional deceptiveness is visibly beginning to wear thin, internationally and internally.

This sounds like a description befitting a certain former American president. But whether you trust Putin or not, there is no question he will play a vital role in American efforts to prosecute the War on Terror and to help manage the situation in North Korea.

PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT: A reader emailed yesterday bringing this story to our attention. When Boston was chosen as the site of the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Boston Mayor Tom Menino saw it as a huge opportunity to boost the city's ailing economy.

Now Menino is seeking written assurances that the DNC will spend $50 million contracting out with local businesses to prepare for the convention. Alas, it looks like the DNC is unwilling to commit to quotas for local business owners. So far, the best Menino has been able to negotiate is a "verbal agreement" to hire a Boston-based company to construct the $4 million convention stage and the promise that local companies will be given "due consideration" in the awarding of contracts.

Our reader sums up the situation nicely: "It's the same old story -- liberals want to impose quotas on everyone else, not on themselves."

WHEN BEING NUMBER 2 IS GOOD NEWS: Unless there is a horrific tragedy today, Chicago will relinquish its title of Murder Capital of America to Los Angeles - even though it remains the most deadly city in America on a per capita basis.

The big news remains New York, which continues its remarkable drop in violent crime and will post fewer than 600 homicides for the first time since 1963. Thanks Rudy. No wonder Mexico City is going to pay a gazillion dollars for his advice.

CHOICES, CHOICES: Thank goodness this election isn't taking place in Palm Beach, Florida. - T. Bevan 9:28 am

Monday, December 30, 2002
AXIS OF EVIL, JR.: Is it too late to revise the AoE list to include Yemen? Pound-for-pound it could be the most dangerous terrorist haven on the planet. Here's a quick review of what's happened there just in the past three weeks:

These can be added to the attack of the USS Cole in October 2000 and the recent CIA assassination of a top al-Qaeda lieutenant.

It's no coincidence Yemen is both Osama bin Laden's ancestral homeland and a country run by Islamic militants that shares a 906 mile border with Saudi Arabia. It's the rug the Saudis have been sweeping their dirt under for a long time.

THE MYTH: Speaking of Saudi Arabia, Presidential hopeful Joe Lieberman's recent warning to the Saudis about fully supporting US troops in the coming war with Iraq repeated a now common myth:

On Sunday, Lieberman warned that Saudi Arabia is the ultimate target of al-Qaida terror.

"Even though they have attacked the U.S. ruthlessly, the goal must be Saudi Arabia," he told reporters in Tel Aviv. "They are clearly not intending to conquer the United States of America, but they all have in mind overthrowing the regime in Saudi Arabia."

We've heard this "al-Qaeda is a threat to Saudi Arabia" line so many times it's now taken as a fact. But where is there any shred of evidence to support the idea that Osama's henchmen are actively working to topple the House of Saud? Al-Qaeda isn't setting off bombs in Riyadh or assassinating members of the Saudi government.

In truth, the two seem to have reached a nifty homeostatic relationship where al-Qaeda runs around terrorizing the rest of the world's infidels while the Saudi government holds them at arms length - far enough away to satisfy the US and the rest of the international community but close enough to win the tacit approval of the vaunted "Arab street."

Lieberman's rhetoric (as well as that of many other US officials) only serves to propagate the myth of the Saudi government as some sort of potential victim in the war on terror instead of what it really is: a regime that for decades has presided over the world's primary source of terrorist funding and radical Islamic ideology. - T. Bevan 9:05 am

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