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November 09, 2003

A PROFILE OF DICK CHENEY....Newsweek's cover story this week is "How Dick Cheney Sold the War." As Josh Marshall points out, "The meme at last seems to be taking flight," and the only surprise is that it's taken so long. The fact that Cheney has been the primary architect of our Iraq strategy seems like it's been obvious for nearly a year now.

However, there's an interesting aspect to this aside from stock Cheney bashing. As the Newseek profile says:

Cheney, say those who know him, is in no way cynically manipulative. By all accounts, he is genuinely convinced that the threat is imminent and menacing. Professional intelligence analysts can offer measured, nuanced opinions, but policymakers, Cheney likes to say, have to decide.

In the same vein, I want to reprint something I came across earlier this year: a profile of Cheney from the unlikely source of John Perry Barlow, better known as a former Grateful Dead lyricist and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

It turns out that Barlow grew up in Cheney's home state of Wyoming, and that back in the 80s he knew Cheney pretty well. The essay below is his attempt to figure out what Cheney is up to, and while I don't especially endorse or reject any of it, I did find it provocative and intriguing — even though we now know that the invasion of Iraq was no bluff at all. It's an interesting read.

Sympathy For The Devil
By John Perry Barlow

I remember a time years ago when I was as convinced that Dick Cheney was obscenely wrong about something as I am now. Subsequent events raised the possibility that he might not have been so wrong after all. With this in mind, I've given some thought lately to how all this might look to the Vice President (who is, I remain convinced, as much the real architect of American policy as he was while Gerald Ford's Chief of Staff or George the First's Secretary of Defense).

As I've mentioned, I once knew Cheney pretty well. I helped him get elected to his first public office as Wyoming's lone congressman. I conspired with him on the right side of environmental issues. Working closely together, we were instrumental in closing down a copper smelter in Douglas, Arizona the grandfathered effluents of which were causing acid rain in Wyoming's Wind River mountains. We were densely interactive allies in creating the Wyoming Wilderness Act. He used to go fishing on my ranch. We were friends.

With the possible exception of Bill Gates, Dick Cheney is the smartest man I've ever met. If you get into a dispute with him, he will take you on a devastatingly brief tour of all the weak points in your argument. But he is a careful listener and not at all the ideologue he appears at this distance. I believe he is personally indifferent to greed. In the final analysis, this may simply be about oil, but I doubt that Dick sees it that way. I am relatively certain that he is acting in the service of principles to which he has devoted megawatts of a kind of thought that is unimpeded by sentiment or other emotional overhead.

Here is the problem I think Dick Cheney is trying to address at the moment: How does one assure global stability in a world where there is only one strong power? This is a question that his opposition, myself included, has not asked out loud. It's not an easy question to answer, but neither is it a question to ignore.

Historically, there have only been two methods by which nations have prevented the catastrophic conflict which seems to be their deepest habit.

The more common of these has been symmetrical balance of power. This is what kept another world war from breaking out between 1945 and 1990. The Cold War was the ultimate Mexican stand-off, and though many died around its hot edges - in Vietnam, Korea, and countless more obscure venues - it was a comparatively peaceful period. Certainly, the global body count was much lower in the second half of the twentieth century than it was in the first half. Unthinkable calamity threatened throughout, but it did not occur.

The other means by which long terms of peace — or, more accurately, non-war — have been achieved is the unequivocal domination by a single ruthless power. The best example of this is, of course, the Pax Romana, a "world" peace which lasted from about 27 BCE until 180 AD. I grant that the Romans were not the most benign of rulers. They crucified dissidents for decoration, fed lesser humans to their pets, and generally scared the bejesus out of everyone, including Jesus Himself. But war, of the sort that racked the Greeks, Persians, Babylonians, and indeed, just about everyone prior to Julius Caesar, did not occur. The Romans had decided it was bad for business. They were in a military position to make that opinion stick.

(There was a minority view of the Pax Romanum, well stated at its height by Tacitus: "To plunder, to slaughter, to steal, these things they misname empire; and where they make a wilderness, they call it peace." It would be well to keep that admonition in mind now.)

There are other, more benign, examples of lengthily imposed peace. One could argue that the near absence of major international wars in the Western Hemisphere results from the overwhelming presence of the United States which, while hardly a dream neighbor, has at least stopped most of the New World wars that it didn't start. The Ottoman Empire had a pretty good run, about 700 years, after drawing its borders in blood. The Pharoahs kept the peace, at least along the Nile, for over 2800 years until Alexander the Great showed up.

If one takes the view that war is worse than tyranny and that the latter doesn't necessarily beget the former, there is a case to be made for global despotism. That case is unfortunately stronger, in the light of history, than the proposition that nations will coexist peacefully if we all try really, really hard to be nice to each other.

It is certainly unlikely at the moment that geopolitical stability can be achieved by the formation of some new detente like the one that terrified us into peace during the Cold War. Europe, old and new, is furious with the United States at the moment (if my unscientific polls while there in January are at all accurate), but they are a very long way from confronting us with any military threat we'd find credible.

I'm pretty sure that, soon enough, hatred of our Great Satanic selves will provide the Islamic World with a unity they have lacked since the Prophet's son-in-law twisted off and started Shi'ism. But beyond their demonstrated capacity to turn us into a nation of chickenshits and control freaks, I can't imagine them erecting a pacifying balance force against our appalling might.

I believe that Dick Cheney has thought all these considerations through in vastly greater detail than I'm providing here and has reached these following conclusions: first, that it is in the best interests of humanity that the United States impose a fearful peace upon the world and, second, that the best way to begin that epoch would be to establish dominion over the Middle East through the American Protectorate of Iraq. In other words, it's not about oil, it's about power and peace.

Well, alright. It is about oil, I guess, but only in the sense that the primary goal of the American Peace is to guarantee the Global Corporations reliable access to all natural resources, wherever they may lie. The multinationals are Cheney's real constituents, regardless of their stock in trade or their putative country of origin. He knows, as the Romans did, that war is bad for business.

But what's more important is that he also knows that business is bad for war. He knows, for example, there there has never been a war between two countries that harbored McDonald's franchises. I actually think it's possible that, however counter-intuitive and risky his methods for getting it, what Dick Cheney really wants is peace. Though much has been made of his connection to Halliburton and the rest of the Ol Bidness, he is not acting in the service of personal greed. He is a man of principle. He is acting in the service of intentions that are to him as noble as mine are to me — and not entirely different.

How can this be? Return with me now to the last time I was convinced he was insanely endangering life on earth. This was back in the early 1983 when Dick Cheney was, at least by appearances, a mere congressman. He was also Congressional point man for the deployment of the MX missile system in our mutual home state of Wyoming. (The MX was also called the "Peacemaker," a moniker I took at the time to be the darkest of ironies.)

The MX was, and indeed still is, a Very Scary Thing. A single MX missile could hit each of 10 different targets, hundreds of miles apart, with about 600 kilotons of explosive force. For purposes of comparison, Hiroshima was flattened by a 17 kiloton nuclear blast. Thus, each of the MX's warheads could glaze over an area 35 times larger than the original Ground Zero. Furthermore, 100 MX missiles were to lie beneath the Wyoming plains, Doomsday on the Range.

Any one of the 6000 MX warheads would probably incinerate just about every living thing in Moscow. But Cheney's plan — cooked up with Brent Scowcroft, Don Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, and other familiar suspects — was not about targeting cities, as had been the accepted practice of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). The MX was to be aimed instead at the other side's missile emplacements.

The problem with this "counter-force strategy," as it was called, was that it was essentially a first-strike policy. The MX was to be placed in highly vulnerable Minuteman silos. In the event of a Soviet first strike, all of the Peacemakers would have been easily wiped out. Thus, they were either to be launched preemptively or they were set to "launch on warning." The MX was to be either an offensive weapon or the automated hair-trigger was to be pulled on all hundred of them within a very few minutes after the first Soviet missile broke our radar horizon .

In either case, the logic behind it appeared to call for fighting and winning a nuclear war. Meanwhile, President Reagan was bellowing about "the Evil Empire" and issuing many statements that seemed to consider Armageddon a plausible option.

I spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill during the winter of 1981-82. I lobbied over a hundred Congressmen and Senators against a policy that seemed to me the craziest thing that human beings had ever proposed. The only member of Congress who knew more about it than I did was Dick Cheney.

Veteran Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory accompanied me on one of my futile visits to his office, where she spent better than an hour listening to us argue about "circular errors probable" and "MIRV decoys" and the other niceties of nuclear nightmare. When we were leaving, she, who had seen a lot of politicians in her long day, turned to me and said, "I think your guy Cheney is the most dangerous person I've ever seen up here." At that point, I agreed with her.

What I was not thinking about, however, was the technique I once used to avoid being run off the road by Mexican bus drivers, back when their roads were narrower and their bus drivers even more macho. Whenever I saw a bus barrelling down the centerline at me, I would start driving unpredictably, weaving from shoulder to shoulder as though muy borracho. As soon as I started to radiate dangerously low regard for my own preservation, the bus would slow down and move over.

As it turned out, this is more or less what Cheney and his phalanx of Big Stategic Thinkers were doing, if one imagined the Soviet Union as a speeding Mexican bus. They were determined to project such a vision of implacable, irrational, lethality that the Soviet leaders would decide to capitulate rather than risk universal annihilation.

It worked. While I think that rock 'n' roll and the systemic failures of central planning had as much to do with the collapse of communism as did Dick's mad gamble, I have to confess that, by 1990, he didn't look quite so nuts to me after all. The MX, along with Star Wars and Reagan's terrifying rhetoric, had been all along a weapon for waging psychological rather than nuclear warfare.

I'm starting to wonder if we aren't watching something like the same strategy again. In other words, it's possible Cheney and company are actually bluffing.This time, instead of trying to terrify the Soviets into collapse, the objective is even grander. If I'm right about this, they have two goals. Neither involves actual war, any more than the MX missile did.

First, they seek to scare Saddam Hussein into voluntarily turning his country over to the U.S. and choosing safe exile or, failing that, they want to convince the Iraqi people that it's safer to attempt his overthrow or assassination than to endure an invasion by American ground troops.

Second, they are trying to convince every other nation on the planet that the United States is the Mother of All Rogue States, run by mad thugs in possession of 15,000 nuclear warheads they are willing to use and spending, as they already are, more on death-making capacity than all the other countries on the planet combined. In other words, they want the rest of the world to think that we are the ultimate weaving driver. Not to be trusted, but certainly not to be messed with either.

By these terrible means, they will create a world where war conducted by any country but the United States will seem simply too risky and the Great American Peace will begin. Unregulated Global Corporatism will be the only permissible ideology, every human will have access to McDonald's and the Home Shopping Network, all "news" will come through some variant of AOLTimeWarnerCNN, the Internet will be run by Microsoft, and so it will remain for a long time. Peace. On Prozac.

If I were in charge, this is neither the flavor of peace I would prefer nor the way I would achieve it. But if I'd been in charge back in 1983, there might still be a Soviet Union and we might all still be waiting for the world to end in fifteen nuclear minutes.

Of course, I could be completely wrong about this. Maybe they actually are possessed of a madness to which there is no method. Maybe they really do intend to invade Iraq and for no more noble reason than giving American SUVs another 50 years of cheap gas. We'll probably know which it's going to be sometime in the next fortnight.

By then, I expect to be dancing in Brazil, far from this heart of darkness and closer to the heart itself.

Posted by Kevin Drum at November 9, 2003 02:07 PM | TrackBack


Comments

The you go again Kevin. We all know that he really didn't think it was imminent because he never said that specific word! I'll just hold my breath and think of you as a partisan liberal until you put up a disclaimer.

Posted by: Rob at November 9, 2003 02:20 PM | PERMALINK

Stay away from the brown acid...

Posted by: Scaramouche at November 9, 2003 02:21 PM | PERMALINK

Rob: what?

Posted by: Kevin Drum at November 9, 2003 02:32 PM | PERMALINK

I remember the first part of The Pentagon Papers mini-mini-series that appeared on Fox. Ellsberg getting all hot and bothered by the theory of credible irrationality.

Really, when will these Vietnam parallels stop being raised. This credible irrationality is nothing like the credible irrationality of by gone days.

Posted by: JC at November 9, 2003 02:34 PM | PERMALINK

OT: Why did you de-link Caruso?

Posted by: Thlayli at November 9, 2003 02:39 PM | PERMALINK

Great find on the Barlow article. An honest man looks backward. Always a good read.

Posted by: spc67 at November 9, 2003 02:41 PM | PERMALINK

Huh? Isn't genuinely believing that Saddam intended to attack us and/or had WMDs, despite a lack of convincing evidence, pretty cynical? Because to me it bespeaks a philosophy that you can't trust anyone, it's a dog-eat-dog world, and you better do unto others before they do unto you. That's pretty cynical.

Posted by: DanM at November 9, 2003 02:45 PM | PERMALINK

"Cheney, say those who know him, is in no way cynically manipulative. By all accounts, he is genuinely convinced that the threat is imminent and menacing."

And Shirley Maclaine is genuinely convinced that her dog was Queen of Egypt in another life.

Quite frankly I'd rather have her run U.S. foreign policy than Dick Cheney.

And I'm talking about the dog !

Posted by: David Ehrenstein at November 9, 2003 02:48 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone know of more recent comments by Barlow on this topic??

Posted by: bubba at November 9, 2003 02:50 PM | PERMALINK

Even if you believe this theory, we attacked the WRONG country! We should have attacked S.Arabia.

Furthermore, you can not scare stateless terrorists by attacking a state. They are like a microbe, they will simply move to another "host".

In my opinion, I do think commercial and geopolitical interests of the US were behind this war and the supposed War on Terra is just a convenient pretext. Controlling MidEast and Caspian Sea basin oil and pipeline routes would allow the US to remain the dominant power for at least another 50 years (until the oil runs out).

Thus it is "good for business".

Posted by: Young Turk at November 9, 2003 02:51 PM | PERMALINK

A small numerical error in the Barlow article:

" A single MX missile could hit each of 10 different targets, hundreds of miles apart, with about 600 kilotons of explosive force. For purposes of comparison, Hiroshima was flattened by a 17 kiloton nuclear blast. Thus, each of the MX's warheads could glaze over an area 35 times larger than the original Ground Zero."

Only about 10 times, actually. Blast damage radii scale like the cube root, and areas like the two-thirds power of yield.

Not that it makes much difference to the argument.

Posted by: Matt McIrvin at November 9, 2003 02:52 PM | PERMALINK

So, it's Peace the American Way, whether we like it or not?

Speaking as a non-American, I don't like it.

Posted by: Keith at November 9, 2003 02:52 PM | PERMALINK

i'm sick of the word "meme".

Posted by: floss at November 9, 2003 02:59 PM | PERMALINK

The Crazy Loon strategy is one that Nixon & Kissinger instituted at one time also. It didn't really work then either, but it scared the crap out of every one in the U.S. The MX was an insane idea and it really didn't have much to do with the fall of the USSR.
There is a consistency in his advocacy of a first strike, only now it's called pre-emption. If you think the rest of the world is comfortable with that doctrine, apply it to another major power like China. Would Americans feel safer with China adopted a pre-emptive, first strike doctrine? Not in your lifetime.

Posted by: Mike at November 9, 2003 03:07 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, and that's why Nixon bombed Cambodia.

Old wine, new bottle.

Posted by: julia at November 9, 2003 03:16 PM | PERMALINK

You know, I find this whole discussion very interesting.

When the war was seen as going well, Bush wanted very much to be associated with it. The aircraft carrier stunt never made any sense except in the context of a victorious military campaign.

Now that it's beginning to look like it may unravel, it was Cheney who "sold the war." Well, maybe he did. But it wasn't a hard sale, I suspect.

And if things really go south down there, it looks like Cheney is being admirably prepositioned to take the fall come convention time.

Posted by: Californian at November 9, 2003 03:20 PM | PERMALINK

Uh, this Newsweek story worries me a bit. So the war becomes a problem for Bush - pin responsibility for the war on Cheney and then get rid of him for the second term.

Posted by: cerebrocrat at November 9, 2003 03:22 PM | PERMALINK

So Barlow was wrong, and Cheney wasn't bluffing in Iraq. Maybe he wasn't ion 1983 either. He is, however, trying to establish an Pax Americana. But his desire to do so collided with Rumsfeld's desire to prove his theories of the lean, mean military, and so we got the worst of both worlds: we have decimated the army and we can't hold the country. And none of this, of course, was discussed with the American people before the war.
Cheney is a profoundly undemocratic person. He is deeply cynical about human beings, and he constantly imagines the worst. it is difficult to imagine him really believing in democracy as a form of government, as opposed to the sort of "enlightened" one-party despotism the GOP is busy establishing. He is a truly, truly dangerous person.

Posted by: Mimikatz at November 9, 2003 03:29 PM | PERMALINK

Newsweek should have use this image, though.

Posted by: Felix Deutsch at November 9, 2003 03:30 PM | PERMALINK

Barlow says that Cheney and Gates are the two smartest people he's ever met.

Barlow, however, has somehow confused extremely compulsive aggression with intelligence.

When I think of truly great genius, I think of Einstein, who like most genuinely smart people, surely would have no use for the madman theory of government (or for Gates' predatory capitalism).

One more point.

It makes little difference if Cheney is cynical or sincere. Or really smart, for that matter. Because one thing is indisputable:

His worldview has little to do with a rational assessment of the threats and potentials in the world. His ideas and his behavior, therefore, are often wildly wrong and incompetent.

Therefore, it would be the height of stupidity to elect Cheney and Bush for another four years.

Posted by: tristero at November 9, 2003 03:31 PM | PERMALINK

If John Perry Barlow would read chapter 6 of Wes Clark's "Winning Modern Wars" (Chapter 6 is titled: Beyond Empire: A New America) -- he would be convinced again that Cheney is/was indeed obscenely wrong. The chapter is the last of the book and is 39 pages. Here's an excerpt:

"Much of America had been engaged in a long-running "culture war" to fight back. It began in the reaction against the violent, protest-marred 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. It gained strength in the resonance that greeted Vice President Spiro Agnew's 1970 attacks on the "nattering nabobs of negativism." This was the "Silent Majority" of 1972, and later the "Reagan Democrats." It was seen in the growing power of born-again Christianity, the right-to-life movement, home-schooling, and the rise of the National Rifle Association. Issues like abortion rights, gun control, gay marriage, and the marriage penalty became touchstones for a middle class under stress and seeking to defend itself.

The conflict also spilled over into foreign affairs and was fueled by shame at the withdrawal from Vietnam, controversy over the Panama Canal treaties, and anger at American impotence during the Iran hostage crisis. The culture war at home merged with a fierce nostalgia for visible battlefield success abroad. The American political system caught and reflected the public's views. Ronald Reagan called it "morning in America," a new hope--but it was expressed most effectively in a boldly assertive foreign policy and in unapologetically patriotic policies that challenged the Soviet "evil empire" with the 1983 Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars"), invaded the Caribbean island of Grenada, struck out in a 1986 bombing raid on Libya's terrorist-supporting leader Muammar Qaddafi, and called on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall" in Berlin. Taking over from Reagan, President George H. W. Bush then rode the same crest of patriotism in the 1991 Gulf War -- though severe economic distress, a third-party presidential candidate, and a charismatic young Democrat cost him a second term in office.

Transforming frustration at home into action abroad has emerged as a pattern in democracies under stress. It had happened in ancient Rome, in the Netherlands, and in Britain. And like most distractions, it provided false reassurance and was followed by damaging consequences. In Rome, a republic was transformed into an empire, the proud citizenry reduced to a landless plebian class. In the Netherlands and Britain, the "venting" led to jingoism and war, and war to greater financial burdens that essentially undercut the remaining foundations of prosperity. In the aftermath of 9/11, when the Bush administration abandoned its "more humble" foreign policy, it also tapped the same source of power as its predecessors--now reinforced by real fear and determination. But the administration's approach not only risked America's virtual empire abroad but also undercut America's hard power as well, for we can be no stronger abroad than we are at home. Pushing through substantial tax cuts -- costing hundreds of billions of dollars -- the administration converted a decade of hard work at restoring fiscal responsibility to ever deepening national..."

There is much, much more in the chapter that presents a different world view than the fear driven one that dominates today. It also provides a thorough rebuttal to current foreign policy. I liked this sample because Clark, like Barlow, uses historical analogies going back to ancient Rome, etc.

Posted by: Poputonian at November 9, 2003 03:35 PM | PERMALINK

I know from a personal source that economic policy is essentially run through Cheney as well.

In many respects he really does run the show.

Lerxst (An Economist for Dean)

Posted by: lerxst at November 9, 2003 03:37 PM | PERMALINK

i'm sick of the word "meme".

Me too... I hope we're not starting another meme by saying that :D

Posted by: spoon at November 9, 2003 03:45 PM | PERMALINK

Great post. Too bad Bush can't lay out the Cheney policy as clearly as Barlow. It requires too much nuance. Though Bush's speech the other day on Democracy in the mideast was good. Of course one can disagree, but I would like to know what the liberal policy to achieve world peace and prosperity is.

One thing though, I don't understand why a "corporate peace" would be so bad. Unless you have a instinctive revulsion to Big Macs, it sounds like the world would be better off than it would under any other possible scenario.

Posted by: Reg at November 9, 2003 03:46 PM | PERMALINK

Barlow's article sounds like some parable you would get from a business self-help guru. Old Free-thinking Hippy meets Serious Male. Serious Male impresses Hippy by being thoughtful and not a drag. Hippy learns how to be serious and pragmatic from Serious Male. Serious Male requires no thanks or reward--after all he's just doing his god-given duty. Hippy grows up and learns a lesson about How The World Works.

Posted by: Thomas at November 9, 2003 03:55 PM | PERMALINK

Gotta wonder to what extent the folks at ShrubCo considered economics in formulating their grand renovation of the Middle East? This is getting expensive, and there is no end in sight. The Federal government is swimming in red ink, and it's going to be increasingly difficult to sell an extended military operation to the electorate, especially with the '04 contest looming.

Posted by: peter jung at November 9, 2003 04:15 PM | PERMALINK

Can I just say...

"Roll away the dew"?

I don't even know if Barlow wrote that. I'm too lazy to look it up.

Posted by: Kevin K. at November 9, 2003 04:27 PM | PERMALINK

The Jefferson Airplane said it best in "Crown of Creation" -

"Soon you'll attain the stability you strive for
in the only way that it's granted
in a place among the fossils of our time."

Posted by: TR at November 9, 2003 04:29 PM | PERMALINK

Barlow sounded pretty good until the end, with this yawning mis-read of history:

If I were in charge, this is neither the flavor of peace I would prefer nor the way I would achieve it. But if I'd been in charge back in 1983, there might still be a Soviet Union and we might all still be waiting for the world to end in fifteen nuclear minutes.

The fate of the USSR was not in the Reagan administration's control. The economic collapse was not ours, the collapse of Polish control of Solidarity was not ours, and selection of Gorbachev was not under our control. A Polish Pope was not under our selection.

Cheney might have imagined he was in control, but as we have recently seen, sometimes "control" only makes things worse.

Posted by: Pacific John at November 9, 2003 04:37 PM | PERMALINK

Barlow's Mexican bus analogy needs a bit of tweaking to make it apply to the Cheney method. In the Cheney method, you counter the dangerously-driven Mexican by driving a convoy of tanks --erratically and at maximum speed. Already it's no contest, but just to make sure, because you think it's possible the bus company may have a driver who might want to drive your tank convoy off a road, you fire a couple of rockets into the bus and blow it, it's driver, and the passengers to the promised land (or what would be the promised land if they'd had the foresight to worship a proper god like you do).

Posted by: QrazyQat at November 9, 2003 04:43 PM | PERMALINK

In other words, they want the rest of the world to think that we are the ultimate weaving driver. Not to be trusted, but certainly not to be messed with either.

By these terrible means, they will create a world where war conducted by any country but the United States will seem simply too risky and the Great American Peace will begin. ---oh MOMMA

Sorry, I have to tell you this Kevin but John Perry Barlow has more than a few screws lose bud.

"The Great American Peace will begin," yeah--right--I think Glen Reynolds belongs that religion too.

But who knew that Kevin Drum was devote follower too.

As for myself- I think I'd like to get off Cheney's scary "Not to be trusted, but certainly not to be messed with either" drive.

If fact I would hazard to guess that most the world's population including that of the 1/2 the US citizens do not like Cheney's wild ride. --This guy John Perry Barlow believes that the US is some kind of omnipotent power but than Hitler believe Germany was an omnipotent power too. He was wrong, VERY wrong.

Posted by: Cheryl at November 9, 2003 04:50 PM | PERMALINK

Dear Reg,

It's sometime difficult to see where somebody is coming from on these dammned boards (nuance and all that), so I give you the benefit of the doubt and assume your question re "what the liberal position to achieve world peace and prosperity is" is not the usual conservative sniviling attempt to derail a debate about this administration's current policies. After all, this is what the debate comes down to: are the policies adopted effective, or are they not? Are the goals stated the correct ones? Are the means to acheive these goals demonstrably effective? This is the debate.

If you want to know what "the liberal" position is, I suggest you bone up on some campaign literature, review academic articles (say in Foreign Affairs), read some political commentary (there's plenty of it)or just revisit your American history from, say 1938-1968, to get a feel for the "liberal" position. Otherwise, you are just posing rhetorical questions. They deserve no answer at all.

On the other hand, what, exactly, constitutes a "strong" foreign policy beyond the conscious adoption of this emotionally laden term? Why are conservative's repeated calls for a shoot first, ask questions later, response to foreign policy issues deemed in any meaningful sense a "policy"? Demonstrate to me that Cheney's foreign policy "framework" is no more nuanced than one can reasonably expect from somebody from his corporate background--that is to say, no nuance at all beyond that of naked corporate self-interest.

Don't be shy. Spill your guts.

Posted by: bobbyp at November 9, 2003 04:51 PM | PERMALINK

Let's also remember that the commies, while a zealous ideological bunch, were not convinced that virgins awaited them in the next life. They didn't want to die. It's a little harder to deter folks whose primary weapon is suicide bombings.

Posted by: Realish at November 9, 2003 05:18 PM | PERMALINK

Read the article. Not buying. Sorry, bring out another article.

Posted by: John Isbell at November 9, 2003 05:20 PM | PERMALINK

NB I refer to the Barlow piece, which has an odd smell when I read it, not the Newsweek piece.

Posted by: John Isbell at November 9, 2003 05:21 PM | PERMALINK

"GOP vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney declared during the campaign that "people ought to have the right to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into," that we "ought to do everything we can" to "accommodate" as well as tolerate such relationships, and that it's "perfectly acceptable" for Vermont and other states to reach different conclusions from each other on whether to recognize same-sex relationships. As the Religious Right immediately recognized with howls of displeasure, these statements add up to the most gay-friendly position yet staked out by a leading Republican."

http://www.indegayforum.org/authors/miller/miller27.html

It's hard not to give a man like that some serious listening to (though please don't construe that as a sign of support).

Posted by: dorsano at November 9, 2003 05:33 PM | PERMALINK

I'll add my own favorite Jefferson Airplane lyric:

"Life is change. How it differs from the rocks."

now that's deep.

Posted by: hip E. mann at November 9, 2003 06:27 PM | PERMALINK

bobbyp, I think you were too nice to Reg. My answer to him, and to all the other people who say "Well, if you don't have a better idea, you're not entitled to tell us we're doing it wrong", is a lot like this Usenet post from 1996, in which Dave Scocca replies to Elliot McGucken from the perspective of a fellow UNC Chapel Hill-er:

I go to the Dean Dome for a game... I say to myself, "that Antawn Jamison, he certainly does know how to do amazing things with a basketball without having to have his feet on the ground." I say to myself, "why does Shammond Williams keep bouncing the ball off his foot?"

Now--are these valid judgments? Should I have to work on my offensive rebounding and on breaking the press before I can judge the basketball capabilities of Antawn and Shammond?

No, I don't have a full solution. But if Dubya would stop bouncing the military ball off his foot, that would at least constitute a start in my eyes.

Posted by: Tuxedo Slack at November 9, 2003 06:50 PM | PERMALINK

"It's hard not to give a man like that some serious listening to (though please don't construe that as a sign of support)."

His lesbian daughter, Mary, was a shill for "Coors" -- put in place in the hopes of winning back the gay and lesbian bar trade lost in one of the most successful commercial boycotts in U.S. history.

That he "supports" her in this fashion (rather than sending her into de-lesbianization,/i> programming at your local Fundie center is. . . of only passing interest.

Posted by: David Ehrenstein at November 9, 2003 07:23 PM | PERMALINK

Bob McNamara was really good at punching holes in peoples arguments too.

Posted by: davids at November 9, 2003 07:36 PM | PERMALINK

dorsano

Cheney's daughter is gay. Pure self-interest, or at best a ploy to avoid uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinners.

Posted by: dirk strom at November 9, 2003 07:43 PM | PERMALINK

"Cheney's daughter is gay. Pure self-interest, or at best a ploy to avoid uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinners."

I'm sorry guys - we're talking about a man and his daughter - I'm not that cynical.

I don't approve of a foreign policy based on the neo-fascist agressiveness that PNAC advocates - but neither am I willing to disregard everything that Cheney et. al. have to say.

Posted by: dorsano at November 9, 2003 08:16 PM | PERMALINK

No, cynical is "supporting" your gay daughter, going to work running the seriously gay-unfriendly Bush administration and thinking the first weighs more.

Posted by: julia at November 9, 2003 08:27 PM | PERMALINK

The Newsweek article is a pathetic attempt at a hit piece that in parts reads more like The Onion. The parts that don't read like Onion-style satire about the "liberal" news media read like a high-schooler's attempts at smearing. Witness the unflattering pictures and the choice of adjectives.

For one small example, they fault Cheney for looking on the dark side of things, instead of paying more attention to neutral or happy reports. When we're dealing with WMD, I think I'll take Cheney's viewpoint.

And, consider the unnamed terrorism center: "like one alleging that Saddam was running a terrorist-training camp, complete with a plane fuselage in which to practice hijackings." Now, read this NBC report which, quite coincidentally, appeared at MSNBC. They probably didn't name the terrorist center because they were afraid people would google it. Since they didn't give its name, I will: Salman Pak.

I think Newsweek should hire better yellow journalists.

Posted by: Lonewacko: I'm Still Blogging Across America at November 9, 2003 08:28 PM | PERMALINK

"No, cynical is "supporting" your gay daughter, going to work running the seriously gay-unfriendly Bush administration and thinking the first weighs more."

Was Oscar Schindler cynical?

Granted, that's an extreme example but things in life aren't always either good or evil (unless you're Bush jr.).

Posted by: dorsano at November 9, 2003 08:34 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, Lonewacko, didn't they get the memo that the media isn't allowed to criticize the administration anymore? We all know that unflattering portrayals of Republicans are inherently illegitimate. If they don't have anything supportive to say for our guy, they should just shut up because we're not gonna listen.

Posted by: JP at November 9, 2003 08:51 PM | PERMALINK

I agree that the collapse of the Soviet Union was less about the Nuke Race and more about the Human Race. It was social chaos that brought it down. This whole piece seems to teeter on so many unsubstantiated assumptions that I can't give it serious points for making sense. He opines that Cheney was bluffing. He was wrong.... way wrong. Cheney is not an independent thinker. He is a policy driven political power broker. He runs with whatever conservative momentum he can utilize to remain in power. He's not smart, but he is very intuitive about who to hang with in the power circles.

Posted by: Poncho & Lefty at November 9, 2003 11:26 PM | PERMALINK

Funny that the Lech Walesa, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Václav Havel all disagree with the "US had little to do with the collapse of the USSR" idea that you guys express above. But what the hell do they know about the collapse of Communism anyway?

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw at November 9, 2003 11:45 PM | PERMALINK

Napoleon was one of the greatest geniuses of his time too. Doesn't mean he was right.

Posted by: Carbo at November 10, 2003 12:31 AM | PERMALINK

From the Newsweek article:


"Cheney has long been regarded as a Washington wise man."

More like "wise guy".

Posted by: Felix Deutsch at November 10, 2003 01:26 AM | PERMALINK

Is this what having your own blog does to you Sebastian? Quick hits here and there, consisting of over-simplification and mischaracterization? At least before if someone had mistook what you said, it was because of too nuanced a post.

Posted by: mattH at November 10, 2003 02:52 AM | PERMALINK

Classic straw man.

People say that the part in the nuclear arms race played by the US had little to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Sebastian, for some reason, reads this as "... the US had little to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union". Pouncing on this softball he knocks a spectacular home run!!

Perhaps he can point us to a quote by Solzhenitsyn and company that shows us how vast US defence spending on nukes and strategic defence brought down the Soviet Union.

Posted by: Thomas Dent at November 10, 2003 03:13 AM | PERMALINK

Anything Cheney seems to get a hold of ends up being a real screwup.

Posted by: Chad Peterson at November 10, 2003 05:33 AM | PERMALINK

---and while I don't especially endorse or reject any of it

You know Kevin, you really need to wean yourself off those right-wing blogs....

It's really messing with your Bush shit-o-meter if you're buy any of that garbage from John Perry Barlow--it has Glen Reynolds written all over it but really YOU. I guy like you that reads so much Si-Fi should know science fiction when you're reading it.

I noticed that poor ole Matthew Yglesias was also headed south until Tapped rescued him.

You shouldn't try to understand the far-right conservative mind to much since it's written into to much Jerry Fallwellian philosophies.

I mean really, what would Carl Sagan say?

Posted by: Cheryl at November 10, 2003 06:42 AM | PERMALINK

Several ideas in the Barlow piece bother me.

The Mexican bus driver analogy is deeply flawed, or, perhaps more directly, total bullshit. In world politics, it isn't a case of a single occupant auto against a bus. Everybody's driving a bus, a great big bus. And those buses are careening around in a crowded marketplace. Erratic driving by anyone creates fear, confusion, and danger for everyone.

And Barlow seems to be implying that our options for achieving world peace are limited to what worked for the ancients and the more recent Ottoman Empire. How about trying another way? What if the U.S. had become not a mighty and merciless ruler but benign and benevolent giant? After all, we have tools the ancients didn't have. We have medicine and the ability to help peoples build the infrastructure of civil society. The surplus W. squandered on tax cuts for the least needy could have immunized children, helped limit AIDS in Africa and Asia, built schools and hospitals. Where would the mideast peace process be if we had paid for jobs for young Palestinians building housing and factories in Palestinian-controlled areas? Hopelessness is the most efficient recruiter for suicide bombers, and we could have funded hope. Yeah, there will always be crazy people who now have access to powerful weapons, but the more people throughout the world we have who think the U.S. is a force for good, the more people there are to be the open link in the chain of terrorism.

Okay, maybe trying to be the worldwide good guy wouldn't have worked, but right now it doesn't look like crazy driving in Iraq is working too well either. I think we should give my way a try.

Oh, and even if Dick Cheney is one of the two smartest people Barlow has ever met (and perhaps Barlow should get out more,) smart does not equal wise, and it's wisdom that is in markedly short supply.

Posted by: Carol Ann at November 10, 2003 07:06 AM | PERMALINK

The fawning Reaganite view of the collapse of the Soviet Union has always stuck me as bizarre.

Conventional wisdom, and indeed the overwhelming majority of empirical reseach, says that democracy and capitalism are the best political and economic systems.

In other words, it was inevitable that the USSR would not succeed, because its systems were flawed.

Gorbachev has said that he never heard Reagan's "tear down that wall" speech. That, to me, speaks volumes about what effect Reagan had on internal Soviet politics. As for massive military spending hastening the USSR's collapse, it's possible, but I have yet to read any historical accounts saying that this was part of Reagan's explicit strategy and not just a happy byproduct.

Now, to repond to the Barlow article.

We just can't "scare" terrorists, because they have nothing to lose. They strongly believe that their actions will lead to eternal rewards, and that's why so many of them are willing to die as "martyrs."

Posted by: praktike at November 10, 2003 07:07 AM | PERMALINK

Anybody who doesn't understand the part in the collapse of the Soviet Union that the Human Rights campaign had, doesn't understand what happened. Yes, Reagan's nukes were the focusing issue--combined with the inability of the USSR to produce the goods--was important. Remember, though, almost every Soviet citizen had by then had lost relatives and friends to the system. The Human Rights campaign undercut the Soviet Union's legitimacy, so when it was pressed, it collapsed.

Posted by: Jon Stopa at November 10, 2003 08:57 AM | PERMALINK

The Mexican bus driver analogy is deeply flawed, or, perhaps more directly, total bullshit.

Flawed but not bullshit. Look at some of the standard books on negotiating theory. There is a definite payoff for irrational behavior. But it leads to distrust, and that's bad if you have to negotiate with the same party repeatedly.

Nixon is the classic example of a guy who projected a somewhat nutty impulsiveness, so that people tended to be wary of him. But he didn't have many friends when he got in trouble.

Posted by: Roger Bigod at November 10, 2003 09:11 AM | PERMALINK

Barlow is a genius songwriter but a complete idiot when it comes to politics.

You're a lost sailor John. Your compass readings are way off. I hope you learn a good lesson.

Posted by: The Fool at November 10, 2003 09:52 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, cruel memories ... given that Shammond is still in the NBA firing away at will, I blame Coach Guthridge for _ever_ putting him at the point.

Good analogy Tuxedo Slack ...

Posted by: Bill Skeels at November 10, 2003 09:56 AM | PERMALINK

The fact that our Vice President and the major policy author of this administration thinks that it is a good idea for us to appear to be radically, unstable, militant ideaologues is very disturbing. What if China decided to nuke us simply because we "might" pose some threat to them in the future?

Barlow seems like an idiot, easily cowed by a guy that can quote Nero.

Posted by: Scott Fanetti at November 10, 2003 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

"In other words, it was inevitable that the USSR would not succeed, because its systems were flawed.

Gorbachev has said that he never heard Reagan's "tear down that wall" speech. That, to me, speaks volumes about what effect Reagan had on internal Soviet politics. As for massive military spending hastening the USSR's collapse, it's possible, but I have yet to read any historical accounts saying that this was part of Reagan's explicit strategy and not just a happy byproduct.

The recently released Reagan letters show that the arms race was an intentional economic strategy as early as 1982: "I want more than anything to bring them into realistic arms reduction talks. To do this they must be convinced that the alternative is a buildup militarily by us. They have stretched their economy to the limit to maintain their arms program. They know they cannot match us in an arms race if we are determined to catch up. Our true ultimate purpose is arms reduction."

Inevitable is a very strong word considering how many non-capitalist and non-democratic states have successfully existed in the world, but even if I give you 'very probable' failure, there is no guarantee that failure would arrive before destroying the West if we had not fought militarily against Communism in Korea, Vietnam, Chile, various Central American countries, and Afghanistan while resisting its intellectual rise in England, West Germany and the rest of the West. I have never heard that Gorbachev claims not to have heard of Reagan's speech. Considering the public consternation that speech caused in Europe I would find it difficult to believe. (Perhaps he is claiming he never heard an audio tape of the speech?)

The three anti-Communist leaders Lech Walesa, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Václav Havel, all agree that Reagan's resolve was a crucial contribution to the destruction of the USSR. His resolve was shown mainly in weapons spending, helping countries resist Communist takeover, and in "Tear this Wall Down" types of speeches. (All of which were strongly resisted by Democrats and leftists of the day). Some of you may call that straw man argumentation, but I think you willfully resist connecting the dots. In the writings of the three of them I think the only time you will see them saying that the arms race doesn't help is in Walesa's 1983 Peace Prize speech, long before the tactic bore fruit. BTW, if you read all the comments above my statement there are at least two which suggest that Reagan had little to do with it.

As for:"Where would the mideast peace process be if we had paid for jobs for young Palestinians building housing and factories in Palestinian-controlled areas?" We would be right where we are now. The EU and UN have in fact paid for such things, but the money went to enrich Arafat instead.

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw at November 10, 2003 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

I lived in Germany with my Czech wife from 1983 to 1998. German TV and consumer goods had more to do with the fall of communism than Reagan ever did.

If Cheney and his ilk are so smart, they would recognize that a realist approach to international relations helped none of the states Barlow cites build a lasting civilization.

And it's not McDonald's that keep states from fighting...it's the institutions that make corporations like mickey-d's possible.

If we really want a lasting peace, we must build international institutions--and we are in a unique position now to make them the way we want them.

Sooner or later, other states will join together to fight us if we scare them enough. Anyone out there care to take on China?

Posted by: R. Stanton Scott at November 10, 2003 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Caruso called Kevin a "democratic hack" a couple days ago. Maybe that's why.

Why did he ever link him? That's the question.

Posted by: Zizka at November 10, 2003 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

R. Stanton Scott: And why did (West) German TV and consumer culture exist deep in the heart of the East? Because of the U.S. 45-year committment to defending West Germany, from the Marshall Plan to the Berlin Arlift to Helsinki to Reagan's speeches. History doesn't stop in 1980.

Posted by: Daniel Calto at November 10, 2003 01:44 PM | PERMALINK

Because of the U.S. 45-year committment to defending West Germany, from the Marshall Plan to the Berlin Arlift to Helsinki to Reagan's speeches. History doesn't stop in 1980.

That commitment reflected the containment policy, which was based on an unemotional assessment of the Soviet threat and was adopted after open discussion and rational consideration of the alternatives. There is a glaring contrast with the PNAC program, which rationalizes aggressive war, depends on lies by public officials and has little realistic relationship to the threat of terrorism.

Posted by: Roger Bigod at November 10, 2003 02:04 PM | PERMALINK

The principal problem with the mexican bus scenario is that you will eventually meet a busdriver that will call your bluff. Then what will you do? Hit him? Back down and be a "whimp"?

Posted by: j at November 10, 2003 02:32 PM | PERMALINK

"Cheney...is in no way cynically manipulative." Right, the guy who on Sept 11 instructed staff to gather everything they could blaming Iraq, is not cynically manipulative.

(Excuse me while I put on high top boots...it's getting a little deep in here. And I don't mean "deep" as in "deep thinker".)

As for Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, and A Solzhenitsyn....all rejected by the people who have to live with them at close range. Heros to people who think Reagan's a god, rejected by the people close enough to see them without the SCLM filter.

The Romans had a Pantheon where they stored everyone's gods. We should build one too, so Walesa and Solzenitsyn can get together with Nader and Ross Perot and talk about what asses the people are.

Posted by: serial catowner at November 10, 2003 03:09 PM | PERMALINK

Dick Cheney: powerful hack.

Mickey Kaus: feeble, inconsequential hack.

Posted by: hackticus at November 10, 2003 04:22 PM | PERMALINK

Okay, here's something I don't think you guys are getting from the article. I don't think that Barlow, and I certainly don't think that Kevin, agrees with Cheney's methodology, any more than one would agree with the methodology of the 9-11 terrorists. But does it follow that we must therefore totally eschew any thoughtful analysis of what might be going on in the man's brain? Talking about his lunacy by seeking to try to figure out what makes him tick isn't at all the same thing as supporting his policies!!

Oh, and "meme" isn't nearly done yet; I haven't heard it uttered at all in real-world circles, just in the blogosphere. It's still as valid a word as, well, blogosphere. At least until Matt Groening puts it on his Forbidden Words of 20-- list...

Posted by: Elayne Riggs at November 10, 2003 07:09 PM | PERMALINK

"No, cynical is "supporting" your gay daughter, going to work running the seriously gay-unfriendly Bush administration and thinking the first weighs more."

Was Oscar Schindler cynical?

Actually, yes, according to his survivors he was.

It's not a terrific analogy, though, since Oskar Schindler was not making policy for the nazi regime, and Dick Cheney decidedly is making policy for the current administration.

Posted by: julia at November 10, 2003 07:43 PM | PERMALINK

Here is the problem I think Dick Cheney is trying to address at the moment: How does one assure global stability in a world where there is only one strong power?

Simple: In the casket. You want guaranteed stability? It doesn't exist in life.

The Cold War was the ultimate Mexican stand-off, and though many died around its hot edges - in Vietnam, Korea, and countless more obscure venues - it was a comparatively peaceful period. Certainly, the global body count was much lower in the second half of the twentieth century than it was in the first half. Unthinkable calamity threatened throughout, but it did not occur.

I'd like to see the stats that back that up. Battlefield deaths went down because of better medical treatment, but count up the deaths of the Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Latin Americans, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshi, Africans, etc, and I doubt the body count differs all that much.

What went down is Western deaths. Western stability may be Cheney's aim, but global stability isn't. No matter how smart he is.

Barlow is thinking wishfully.

Posted by: Kevin Hayden at November 10, 2003 08:37 PM | PERMALINK

I find it interesting that some people are suggesting that democracy and cynicism are somehow antonyms.

It seems to me that democracy is fundamentally cynical: its base concept is the idea that no human is good enough, or wise enough, or smart enough, to be trusted with unlimited power over other human beings.

Posted by: Tony Zbaraschuk at November 10, 2003 09:27 PM | PERMALINK

Really? it worked? Or perhaps the VCR is what really did in the Soviet Union. The fall of the Soviet Union does not validate every hair brained scheme that people claimed would keep the Soviet Union in check.

Posted by: John Eaton at April 27, 2004 03:58 PM | PERMALINK
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