Tuesday, January 29, 2008

McCain's trades straight talk for forked tongue re: Romney timetables...

John McCain has decided that he must destroy his candidacy in order to save it... Trading straight talk for a forked tongue may be beneath him. It may be insulting to the intelligence of the considerate voter. It may be the wrong way to conduct politics. However, when one considers the short memory of the electorate, it may be a smart strategic move.

Once upon a time, Mitt Romney said that he thought it would probably make sense if Iraqi and US leaders discussed various objectives and set timetables for those goals. He seemed to think that was a good way of measuring the success of our military adventures in Iraq and believed that a goal-oriented approach involving both parties was logical.

He also mentioned that those discussions should be kept between the US and Iraq. He made it clear that kind of high-level planning wasn't something to share with the rest of the world.

If you revisit Romney's comments, it's not really 100% clear if he thought the goals established via consultation should serve as a litmus test for continued US involvement or not. One might infer that a complete inability on the part of the Iraq to meat objectives could lead to a US pullout, I suppose. In other words, you could argue that Romney was saying that there could be circumstances that might justify a US withdrawal under fairly extreme conditions.

That doesn't sound too crazy to me. "If things turn out to be an utter failure and we're dealing with complete incompetents, we might want to cut our losses" seems like a fairly reasonable argument. The idea of trying to set mutual goals and a schedule for them seems less than zany, too.

The engineer of the Straight Talk Express says, "Bullshit".

Romney used the word "timetable". Thus, according to John McCain, he is clearly of one mind with those on the left who would've started pulling out troops right as GWB and Patreus initiated the surge. The idea of having a schedule and the possibility of a troop withdrawal, regardless of circumstances, is tantamount to abandoning our troops. The very idea of ANYTHING leading the US to walk away from Iraq emboldens our enemies.

According to McCain, Mitt Romney is--and remember, this is the ultimate insult in R-Primaryland--LIBERAL.

A few observations...

John McCain is completely full of shit. Romney may have stopped short of McCain's apparent belief that US troops will forever wander the streets of Baghdad, but MR obviously hasn't embraced the position of those who really oppose the war. Even Rudy911 understood that Romney wasn't waving a white flag.

John McCain is lying about being a straight shooter. He's spinning Romney's comments as ferociously as possible in order to take care of business in Florida. It isn't straight talk, it's straight crap. What makes it worse? He knows it.

McCain is the closest thing the Republicans have to a "change" candidate. He's shown a willingness to cross party lines when he thinks it's the right thing to do, at least occasionally. He's carefully cultivated a "maverick" persona which helps him with independent voters. He's got that whole "straight talk" thing that creates an aura of honesty and integrity around him.

I disagree with McCain on many things, but I'm willing to admit he has his strong points. Much of the McCain attraction for many voters is his apparent willingness to be honest and direct--even when it isn't necessarily convenient. If he has an ace in the hole, that's it.

He pisses on that strength when he does things like this. He decreases his credibility among the people he's going to need in his corner if he should ever get to the general election.

McCain has decided that his Straight Talk Express must take a detour into the bullshit land of proving you've earned ultra-conservative stripes if you want to make it past primary season. He might be right. He might not stand a chance of being the R nominee if he doesn't tone down the "straight talk" in favor of a slightly more true-to-the-base tone. He probably feels as if he has to do something to combat the "liberal" albatross Romney's trying to hang on his neck.

John McCain has decided that he must destroy his candidacy in order to save it.

It might be working Florida. As I write this (results have just started rolling in), he has a 2% lead over Romney.

Trading straight talk for a forked tongue may be beneath him. It may be insulting to the intelligence of the considerate voter. It may be the wrong way to conduct politics. However, when one considers the short memory of the electorate, it may be a smart strategic move.


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  1. I think that's the best and most reasonable argument for timetables I've ever read, John.

    Generally, I imagine McCain has opposed timetables for the same reason I have opposed timetables: because they were coupled and often used as a means of pressuring the Iraqi government, and in a direction that, for McCain and for me, meant validating liberal notions that Vietnam was a bad war, Iraq was a war like Vietnam, and that Democrats were looking for a way to pressure our way out.

    There are consequences from manipulative and dishonest political discussions, and this is one of them.

    If people would have been and still would commit to being genuinely on the same page, genuinely committed to the security of Iraqis, engaged in honest, sincere discussions about the war that assumes good faith and not looking to self-righteously posture or pressure their way into the oblivion that we currently find ourselves in (last I saw, pressuring the Iraqis didn't yield any results; in fact, as with Iran, it seemed to create more problems than outcomes - if I'm proven wrong on that one, so be it, but there's nothing that convinces me to the contrary yet)...

    If all of that happens, then a timetable makes sense. It's a simple way to keep track of how much of a commitment we're making and how much confidence we can have that such a commitment is worth our time, money, energy, American lives, etc.

    If a timetable is a political trick to see if Americans can make the Iraqis do in their parliament what Americans are not able to do in their own Congress - come to quick agreements that require broad consensus on difficult issues - then it, like every other effort by liberal activist groups and the Democratic party - looks like manipulation to prove just how "right" liberals were that we shouldn't be fighting this war anyway and to bring the troops home.

    That is the problem with all of the bullshit around this debate rather than just engaging in honest discussion. And the problem with communication lines shut down by fear, generally. People don't know what each other are thinking and if someone is in good faith, it's pretty hard to accept that when you got a literal or proverbial gun in your face.

    McCain, I think, like me, does not want to see Americans abandon Iraqi security forces the way they abandoned the South Vietnamese to slaughter because of domestic politics that could never quite gets its collective head wrapped around it's own arrogant notion that - absent a broader, more good faith discussion - that someone or some party or some group really "knew" what problem was in Vietnam.

    There's lots of debate about both of these wars. I think there are some pretty decent empirical arguments that can be made about both wars that demonstrate parallels and problems, but not reasons to give up when and if a population will support your efforts.

    In both wars, you have domestic populations that have not consented to an invasion, even on their behalf. So they perceive the invaders as foreign oppressors with big guns instead of the liberators that America was genuinely trying to be in both wars. That fact splits the population politically and makes it difficult to liberate people who have not given consent to you to liberate them and are fighting you, despite your good intentions.

    In both cases, you have split populations, and some of both populations - I think a majority in Iraq, I don't know what proportion in Vietnam - who need your help to have any kind of adequate security and to avoid the bloodshed of the mightier victors dominating those who may be fighting for loftier goals (democracy, freedom, etc.). In Vietnam, that fact led to the deaths of many South Vietnamese looking for a self-determined and democratic future. R.J. Rummel, in his book, Statistics of Democide, writes that the number of dead post-Vietnam War were "346,000 to 2,438,000 Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians, probably about 1,040,000." And that doesn't account for people who died by sea, people in forced labor camps, and the many various attrocities at the end of that war.

    America provides that overwhelming force to avoid such a fate, but they have both splits in the populations they are fighting amongst and splits in their own domestic opinion about those wars.

    That doesn't have to be the case. And there is very little doubt in my mind that democratic arrangements would be better conditions for those people, especially those who are killed and enslaved by the victors, but I think democratic principles of self-determination need to be taken seriously to make those wars more effective.

    Given that, I, personally, am not willing to sacrafice all those lives in the name of some abstraction about a perfect war. Especially since as I, and I imagine John McCain, would bet that much of the domestic opposition has not nearly enough to do with a serious practical effort to do well by the Iraqis and an awful lot about trying to prove that conservatives never do anything right and liberals have superior wisdom, if they could ever get the assholes on the right to see just how much smarter they are.

    That's why the whole thing looks so tragically and comically foolish to me, John.

    Do any of these people really have superior and infallible wisdom about any of this, John? Given all of the tragedy and failure, only someone really arrogant in the face of their failed efforts could think that.

    Democrats may well have their shot at this after November. But I won't count on them acknowledging error if things don't go well. I foresee much blame shifted to the Bush Adminstration and noone taking responsibility.

    It's a beautiful game, isn't it?

    A game where lots of people lose their lives so everyone can pretend they have more answers than they really do.

    That's why I can't subscribe to a party anymore. Because I can't, in good faith, affiliate with people who could be so arrogant and never, ever see the error in such clearly bullshit ways.

    Those timetables being suggested, John, are not such a bad idea in a room full of people who are really on the same page and really trying to get things figured out in the spirit of shared responsibility.

    But that's not happening. And what they become, in the meantime, is a way to beat your opponents over the head.

    And why in the world would anyone give someone else that lever?

    The truth is that we have fucked up this process in a very serious way, John. And it has real consequences that our political leaders and most of us are too cowardly to admit.

    That's the irony, isn't it? It's very much like Protestants and Catholics in 17th century Britain. Everyone fights in the name of honor, but, in the end, there doesn't seem to be much real honor taking place. Lots of honest belief. But honest belief with foolish and tragic consequences that noone has the courage to take responsibility for.

    Why would anyone, nevertheless people from countries not our own, trust such people? Why would anyone trust us for anything when we can't even be honest about our own contradictions and their consequences in the world?

    If force is so blanketly effective, rather than something that is effective in limited situations when other no other options exist and the stakes are too high to warrant not using it, why would either of these invasions - Vietnam or Iraq - have failed. If force accomplishes what we said that it does, why would we be fighting about this war, at all, given the clear overwhelming force that is being exercised in both cases?

    The reason, it is plain to me, and why we are always bumping up what we think we need in terms of overwhelming force, is because, no matter how tough we act, the truth is that we are too cowardly to admit the limitations of this thinking and the consequences it has reaped.

    I think I'll write one book on this subject and then go work at making my fortune with investing, because I am about ready to give up on the idea that we will ever change our ways on this matter.

    And the larger matter, I think, is just our inability to have a reasonable, empirical, pragmatic conversation about what challenges we face and what options will help us solve them.

    If force and leverage really were the answers, there would be no reason for anyone to be on different pages, because they would all agree. But they don't, obviously, because everyone only talks about leveraging when it involves someone else and noone likes to be leveraged.

    And that is what has fucked up what, I agree - given a good faith discussion where everyone is on the same page - and otherwise reasonable proposal.

    And that will always be true as long as politics operates this way and noone imagines anything different.

    That's what I like about Hobbes, for all of my disagreements with him. At a time when noone could see past their rosaries or crucifixes, he imagined a world that didn't hinge on rosaries and crucifixes to determine what made for good governance. And we are largely the benefactors of that vision.

    I never thought I would hear myself say this, but I don't know if I have Hobbes' faith in humanity. They're too goddamn stubborn to ever consider they are wrong, I'm becoming concerned. And it makes for too much tragedy with noone with the courage to take responsibility for it. I think I just want to write a book so I can I did my bit, leave teaching, and go make my fortune and leave humanity to fuck itself up for as long as they decide that they need to.

    I've experienced plenty of pride in my own life, so I understand the way it fucks up your outlook. But I'm tired of sacraficing my life and opportunities if people are never going to rethink this one.

    Maybe they will. I hope they will. For all of our sake. Or make the argument clearer to me for why I'm wrong on this one.

    Either way, maybe it's better if I just made my way into the market and let wiser people handle such matters. That's definitely the route I'm thinking seriously about, right now. That and I wouldn't mind having plenty of money around when I need/want it.

    And teach my children that a lot of well-intentioned people get lost in their own demonizations of one another, in politics, and lose track of what everyone knows would be a more thoughtful discussion, if they'd just stop making excuses for both what a shitty process and discussion we have right now and the failures of their various policies.

    Fat chance of that until God knows when.

  2. As I reread that comment, I guess maybe I'm just fed up with the process and with cynical politics, generally, overwhelming what everyone knows would be more honest discussion, if we weren't all so fuckin' full of ourselves.

    We will change this discussion, eventually. Because eventually, as with every other stupid, foolish habit of thought humanity has harbored, we'll get tired of the foolish consequences that come with foolish strategy.

    Surely some people will want things to work the way we need them to.

    Wiser heads eventually prevail. Because everyone gets tired of failure eventually.