Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Drum Beat

Kevin Drum, with a can of snark frothing in his hand, asks "conservative bloggers" a few questions "— numbered for easy reference." Never met a "stupid Red Stater" joke he didn't like. I don't call myself a conservative, so maybe I shouldn't answer this. But other people sometimes call me that, so maybe I should. At least, I'll honor the effort at dialogue:

Considering how Iraq has gone so far, do you still think that American military power is a good way to promote tolerance and democracy in the Middle East? Has your position on this changed in any way over the past two years?

My position hasn't changed. On the point of a bayonet is a lousy way to receive tolerance and democracy; and any gift from America is going to be greeted with suspicion in the Middle East -- but in this case I don't see a better alternative. Leaving things alone was not a better alternative. The U.S. went into Iraq with a mix of motives, among which the fostering of tolerance and democracy were essential, but not first in chronological order. American military power isn't the direct source of any of these civic virtues, ideally. It clears out the monsters and sets up a protective cover for the people in a certain place to take the freedom in their own hands. Sort of like the French fleet did for us in 1783.

Shortly after 9/11, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson said publicly that they thought the attacks were well-deserved retribution from God in response to moral decay — as personified by gays, feminists, the ACLU, and NOW. Do you worry that Falwell and Robertson are identified by many as the face of the Republican party? Do you think President Bush has sufficiently distanced himself from them and their followers?

I think Robertson and Falwell are contemptible but only mildly dangerous. I'm worried that the perception of their power and influence, on your side, is so exaggerated. I think that exaggeration makes dialogue more difficult for us. Especially since you lump together the televangelists "and their followers," as though everyone who voted the way Fallwell voted is part of his army of zealot zombies. Not everyone who saw "Fahrenheit 9/11" is a Michael Moore "follower," either.

Frankly, Fallwell and his like are more of a danger at the local school board level than at the White House level. And that's where I continue to fight against them. I'd like to see Bush take a public step away from them, but I'd also like for it to happen at a moment like the one you describe, where they say something particularly odious. I don't think it's possible for a reasonable person to read Bush's comments on Sept. 11 and think he actually agrees with them about this.

Is democracy promotion really one of your core concerns? Just how far are you willing to go to demonstrate your credibility on this subject? Note: President Bush's policy toward either Pakistan or Saudi Arabia would be excellent case studies to bring this question to life.

I've written about this. Democracy promotion is one of my core concerns, but I'm not pollyannaish about it. Democracy is a potent force, and it needs firm walls around it -- a media, an independent judiciary, an uncorrupted police and military, a general respect for and commitment to rule of law, a class of public servants who will work within the rules. I think these things can be accomplished in Arab and Islamic countries as well as anywhere. I would like to see all the countries from Morocco to Pakistan enjoy these things.

But I know that if you hold open elections in all these places today, you'd get a chorus line of Osama look-alikes in power. With nukes. So I think the right approach is to start with one country and let the democracy grow there. Graft it, water it, let the people learn how to use it, and then watch it spread. That's why Iran and Syria are so intent on seeing Iraq fail, and Saudi Arabia is not far behind them.

Why Iraq and not Pakistan or Saudi? In part, Iraq was a choice forced on us by circumstances. It was the problem that had to be dealt with (many of us believe). So it becomes the Arab/Islamic country where we're on the ground, with a chance to help people take control of their government. But Iraq also has some unique qualities that make it suited to this type of experiment. The balance of ethnicities and religious factions in the country makes promising raw material for federalism and compromise. In addition, the political ideology of Shi'ism (the majority in Iraq) is more hospitable to secular democratic state government than much of the rest of Islam.

On a related note, which do you think is more important to the Bush administration in the short term: preservation of a stable oil supply from the Middle East or spreading freedom and liberty throughout the region? Would you be interested in seeing the records of Dick Cheney's 2001 energy task force to verify this? Please be extra honest with this question.

A stable oil supply from the Middle East to the whole world -- including China, India, Europe, and Japan -- certainly is an important goal for an American president, and a duty that devolves upon the sole superpower, just as the British fleet once kept the sea lanes free of pirates so that all nations could trade. It is not a purely selfish goal, and I would hope it is important to Bush.

I'd definitely like the records of Cheney's task force to be made public, not for any particular suspicion I harbor about them, but because I think that's the way a democracy ought to operate, no matter who's at the helm.

A substantial part of the Christian right opposes any compromise with Palestinians because they believe that Jewish domination of the region west of the Jordan River is a precondition for the Second Coming. Is this a reasonable belief? Or do you think these people qualify as loons who should be purged from the Republican party?

They qualify as loons. I'm not big on purges, though. I'll leave those to the left. On the other hand, even a broken clock is right twice a day. I don't think Israel can, or should, keep the West Bank, but not everyone who prefers a free, secure Israel to the full litany of Hamas demands is a Bible thumper. Hell, I'm a pagan. What's with you and the Christians, anyhow? Were you frightened by a dashboard Jesus as a child?

Yes or no: do you think we should invade Iran if it becomes clear — despite our best efforts — that they are continuing to build nuclear weapons? If this requires a military draft, would you be in favor?

Invade? There are other military solutions to the problem of a few nuclear sites than invading a country bigger than New England full of mountains and desert. I'm not convinced it would require a draft.

If President Bush decides to substantially draw down our troop presence in Iraq after the January 30 elections, will you support that decision? Please answer this question prior to January 30.

It would depend on the security situation at that time. Sorry, can't give you a blind answer on that one, even if you want it. I actually read a comment today on one of the Iraqi blogger sites, a "Bring the troops home now, don't kill any more babies" comment. The woman who posted it seemed to have no notion that, if she got what she wanted, the blogger whose site she posted on would certainly be killed, along with his family, within a week. If she didn't think of that, she was a fool. If she did, she was something much worse.

Would you agree that people who accept Laurie Mylroie's crackpot theories about Saddam Hussein's involvement in 9/11 might be taking the threat of terrorism a little too seriously? What do you think should be done with them?

Never heard of her, sorry. Perhaps she's one of those bogiemen of the left that really don't matter over here on this side of the aisle. I don't have much time for crackpots, if that's what she is. As far as Saddam and terrorism, I think the danger was more potential than actual, but more imminent than people on the left acknowledge. And certainly the U.N. sanctions against Iraq, and the consequent suffering of Iraqis cheated by Saddam and his friends on the Security Council, ranked high on Osama's list of grievances before Sept. 11.

Hey, what do you know? The sanctions are lifted now!