December 31, 2002

NEGOTIATION OR APPEASEMENT?....OR IS THERE A DIFFERENCE?....Josh Marshall wrote a piece yesterday that's gotten a bunch of blogospheric attention:

This entire crisis [in North Korea] -- and it's foolish to pretend it's not a crisis -- is an administration screw-up of mammoth proportions. The administration is trying to portray this as just another crisis that happened on their watch. But that woefully understates its own responsibility for the situation we're now in.

I think he's right. Every administration comes into office claiming that the previous administration had a terrible foreign policy: there was no overarching vision, they merely reacted to events as they happened, and the end result was a huge mess.

But as Harold Macmillan famously pointed out, the greatest challenge of any administration is "events, dear boy, events," and smart politicians leave themselves as much room as they can to respond when events overtake them. Bush's needless tough talking for the past two years has done just the opposite, narrowing his options to the point that he has almost none left.

So now we're left in the worst possible situation. We can't negotiate with North Korea because Bush has repeatedly stated that he wouldn't do it. Military action has no support either. So what's left? We'll "privately" negotiate with the Koreans through third parties, which provides the maximum possible scope for misinterpretation and error, all the time pretending that we're doing no such thing. This is just dumb.

I wish all the "tough minded realists" out there could get one thing through their heads: negotiation is not appeasement. It's just negotiation. It's only appeasement if you negotiate badly and cave in on things you shouldn't.

So let's get ourselves back to the table and start negotiating. After all, what other options are there?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

ANALOGIES....Atrios makes the following observation today:

If there's one thing I've learned about arguing with conservative assholes - never use analogies. never use comparisons.

Well, I don't know for sure if this is something that's unique to conservatives — or to assholes — but it definitely rings true. I've noticed that whenever I write something using an analogy, I get a bunch of mail arguing that the analogy isn't perfect and that therefore my entire argument fails.

Note to the world: analogies are never perfect, they're just meant to be, well, analogies. If used well, they can help you understand an argument better, but it's the argument itself you should pay attention to.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

PUBLIC WATERS....The California Coastal Commission is one of the most hated government bodies in the state. Hated, that is, if you're a property owner, because it enforces coastal protection provisions enacted by California voters in 1972.

Approval from the commission is required by anyone making a change to their property, and usually it takes the form of some kind of deal: the commission approves the change but only if the property owner installs a walkway from the road to the beach, for example. These deals are despised by property owners because California law says all beaches are public property, while property owners do everything they can to keep the hoi polloi far, far away.

There have been innumerable well-financed court challenges to the commission, and now one of them has finally succeeded. A state appeals court ruled yesterday that the commission is unconstitutional because a majority of its members are appointed by the legislature and can be fired at any time. The reasoning goes that commission members don't want to get fired, so they are essentially under the thumb of the legislature, and this violates separation of powers provisions of the state constitution.

In a practical sense the whole thing is ridiculous, because far from being under anybody's thumb, the commission has a reputation as one of the most maddeningly independent bodies around. In fact, it's this very independence that drive property owners nuts.

And in a theoretical sense, it also doesn't matter. If the ruling is upheld, then the legislature changes the law to provide for fixed terms and life goes on. Big deal.

So any way you cut it, this suit accomplishes nothing and the ruling is meaningless. I don't get it.

Ann, am I missing something here?

UPDATE: Well, Justene Adamec doesn't think I'm missing anything. Whew.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

MORE ON FOREIGN POLICY....OxBlog also has several posts today on the subject of rhetoric and unilateralism:

Anyway, the real issue here is how supporters of American foreign policy can address the perennial argument that America's record of immoral actions in the Cold War invalidates any aggressive initiatives the United States plans today....I think the proper response is to admit what the US did wrong and shift the discussion to the merits of its current policy. As Ken Pollack tells the WaPo, what we did in the 1980s "was a horrible mistake then, but we have got it right now." The worst thing to do is come up with defensive justifications of immoral acts.

If only life were so easy. "Yes, we had it totally wrong in the 80s in the Middle East, and we were totally wrong about our frequent invasions of Latin America too. Appalling bad judgment, that. But we've got it right now."

When a person shows bad judgment about something, we watch them carefully and demand consistent evidence that they have reformed before we trust them again. The same is true of countries. It may be that we have it right now, but we should hardly be surprised that the rest of the world does not simply take our word for it.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

BUSH AND UNILATERALISM....A BOGUS CHARGE?....I got an email the other day telling me I should lighten up on Bush: judge him by his deeds, not his words, it said. Today, Dan Drezner says essentially the same thing:

In its first six months, the administration committed the cardinal sin of assuming that it should reflexively oppose any policy initiative supported by the Clinton administration. No doubt, this led to some process-oriented mistakes, such as pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol. However, both domestic and foreign critics need to get over their first impression on this score.

There is something to this: in the high-profile case of Iraq, Bush eventually chose to work through the UN and so far has taken no unilateral military action. However, there's more to it, and Drezner tackles that too:

A few weeks ago, a high-ranking White House official gave a talk on homeland security at a University of Chicago workshop on security....The talk didn't go well. The presenter's cocksure demeanor and refusal to recognize the valid questions from the audience led me -- an administration supporter -- to find the administration's arrogance insufferable. It's this arrogance, this refusal to even consider the value of alternative viewpoints, that causes so many within the chattering classes to label it tone-deaf.

This boils down to the following criticism: this administration doesn't take the time to listen carefully to an alternative position and then delineate in full why that position is wrong -- it just says so at the outset. In diplomacy, such things matter.

Yes, these things do matter, but for more than just for rhetorical reasons:

  • The administration is full of people who know very well what the conventions of diplomacy are. The fact that they choose to deliberately ignore them suggests that they also have contempt for the underlying multilateral processes themselves.

  • Drezner suggests that there's a good reason for the arrogance: they really know what they're doing. But I thought that "trust me, I'm from the government" was a conservative joke, not a liberal one?

  • There's a big difference between truly working with allies and simply threatening them if they don't go along. Sure, most of them will go along eventually. After all, what choice do they have? But this bears the same relationship to "consultation" that assault does to negotiation.

Words matter, as conservatives are so fond of telling us, and when Bush warns the UN that if it doesn't back us in Iraq we will do the job ourselves, his message could hardly be clearer or more unilateral. Intentions are often revealed simply through emphasis, and the Bush administration has consistently emphasized military action and talked very little about what happens after the tanks have done their job. In Iraq, the aftermath of war is far more important than the war itself, and the fact that Bush seemingly doesn't care much about it is extremely troubling.

We should be putting as much energy into seeking and reducing the root causes of terrorism as we are into destroying the proximate causes. Unfortunately, that seems to violate some sacred conservative principle that I'm not privy to, and we are all going to pay the price for this. Like a medieval doctor making a problem worse because he doesn't understand anything about physiology, we will flail around the globe fighting fires, but the problem itself will never go away. That is a high price to pay for the temporary warm feeling we get when we give those effete Europeans the rhetorical finger and tell them to get the hell out of the way and let the Americans solve all the world's problems.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 30, 2002

AN END-OF-THE-YEAR HEINLEIN FEST!....I don't smoke, or drink, or gamble, or use drugs. I'm faithful to my wife, I pay my taxes, and I pull over when I'm caught speeding. But I do have one vice: I am a lifelong fan of Robert Heinlein.

I kept my first weblog in 1997, but of course it wasn't called a weblog then, it was just a daily diary that I kept online as part of a personal website that I created in order to teach myself HTML (which, for some

reason, seemed like a good idea at the time). On August 2nd I published a personal ranking of all of Heinlein's fiction, which, as you can see from the picture of the CalPundit fiction library on the right, was not hard to do: I have the books in my "Heinlein" section sorted not by title, but by how much I like each one.

Blog readers tend to be both technophiles and science fiction fans, so as my substitute for an end-of-year top ten list, I'm going to reprint my Heinlein rankings. Here's the key:

  • #1-15: Good books, definitely worth reading

  • #16-27: OK books, worth reading if you're bored

  • #28-36: Bad books, should be resolutely avoided at all costs

And here are the official rankings:

1. Time Enough For Love
This would not be most people's choice for #1, but I've always enjoyed it more than any of his other books. It's talky and preachy, sure, but Lazarus Long is the perfect vehicle for Heinlein's particular brand of crankiness and is certainly one of his finest fictional creations. I could do without the lengthy Boondock scene about halfway through the book, but the reminiscences are all wonderful, from first to last, and the cutesy talk is kept just enough under control that it doesn't intrude the way it does in his 80s works. Nominated for a Hugo (1974) and a Nebula (1973).

2. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
This is a book with few faults and would be in nearly anyone's top five. Unlike most Heinlein novels, it has a strong, well defined plot, and also has his usual collection of strong, opinionated characters. Mike, the computer hero of the story, is one of Heinlein's greatest protagonists, and the social commentary is actually done with a deft touch. It was nominated for a Nebula in 1966 and won a Hugo in 1967, the last of Heinlein's four Hugos for novels, still a record (although Lois McMaster Bujold, of all people, is closing in with three).

3. Stranger in a Strange Land
Heinlein's most famous work, and the one that truly launched the "adult" phase of his career. Stranger is a good book, despite the mystical aspects that made it so popular with the 60s hippie crowd, and it was tremendously liberating for science fiction in at least two ways: it was the first long sf novel to be commercially successful, and it was the first sf novel by a mainstream author to use sex as a central topic. After Heinlein's death, Virginia Heinlein republished the uncut version of Stranger, and it turns out that it's hard to tell the difference. It's a close call, but I'd say the original 1961 version is probably better. Won a Hugo in 1962.

4. Starman Jones
This doesn't show up on many Heinlein top ten lists, but I think it's vastly underappreciated. It's a nearly perfect juvenile, with great characters and a story as briskly told and a world as richly drawn as that of Star Wars. I've read it many times, and unlike his other juveniles, even good ones like Citizen of the Galaxy, it never gets old. Plus, if anyone's listening, it would make a great movie.

5. The Past Through Tomorrow
Heinlein's "Future History," a collection of pre-war short stories that takes place in a fairly coherent future. This is one of the great achievements of science fiction, and Heinlein (I think) is one of the few sf writers who was equally a master of the short story and the novel. It includes Heinlein's first published work, "Life-Line," as well as several outstanding novellas: "The Man Who Sold the Moon," "Logic of Empire," "If This Goes On--," "Misfit," and "Methuselah's Children," the original Lazarus Long story.

6. Citizen of the Galaxy
The next-to-last of Heinlein's juveniles, and considered by many to be his best. I'd agree, I think, if it weren't for the storytelling technique. Citizen of the Galaxy is broken up into four distinct parts and reads more like a series of novelettes than a true novel, and this hurts it a bit. However, it is also a tour de force of invention, with Heinlein painting the book's four different cultures (Sargon, the People, the Hegemonic Guard, and Earth) in vivid colors and with an effortlessness that's truly astonishing.

7. Starship Troopers
One of Heinlein's most controversial books. It started out life as his annual juvenile but was rejected by his editor at Scribner's, thus spelling the end of his career as a writer of juveniles. Heinlein published it anyway as an adult novel, and talky, philosophizing books became his staple from then on. Starship Troopers hangs together pretty well as a novel, with only occasional spots of boredom during the battle scenes, and lots of vivid recreations of what it's really like to be grunt in an infantry unit. It's always been hugely controversial thanks to its alleged "fascist" principles, but I can't say that I've ever found it fascist in any sense of the word that I can think of. However, it does glorify war, or seems to anyway. Heinlein's comment about this was that Starship Troopers didn't glorify war, but it did glorify the military, and this actually seems like a fair comment to me. Won a Hugo in 1960.

8. Time for the Stars
I'm not sure why I like this one so much. The story concept is beautifully simple, and I like the character of Tom a lot, the put-upon twin who finally figures things out. Second only to Starman Jones, this is probably the juvenile that would most appeal to kids.

9. Double Star
A nicely done story, mature and readable. The story is not all that interesting, but Heinlein draws the characters well and even makes the whole premise believable, quite a feat considering how ridiculous it really is. Won a Hugo in 1956, his first.

10. The Star Beast
A very enjoyable juvenile. The story is good, the teenage characters are wonderfully charming, and the ending is a surprise, which is very rare in Heinlein novels. It also contains what might be Heinlein's only positive characterization of a government bureaucrat, the efficient and likable Mr. Kiku. And the Star Beast itself, the lovable Lummox, is one of Heinlein's best aliens.

11. JOB: A Comedy of Justice
This is one of Heinlein's few enjoyable books written after 1980. The cutesy talk is there, as well as the usual clumsy handling of sex, but it doesn't overwhelm a story that's both interesting and well presented. I suspect Heinlein got the idea for JOB from a 1982 book by Jeremy Leven called Satan: His Psychotherapy and Cure by the Unfortunate Dr. Kassler, J.S.P.S. (a pretty good book on its own, by the way). Heinlein commented favorably on Leven's book and then published JOB two years later. It's a fun book if the religious stuff doesn't offend you. Nominated for a Hugo (1985) and a Nebula (1984).

12. Orphans of the Sky
This is actually a collection of two novelettes, "Universe" and "Common Sense," and the whole thing is barely more than a hundred pages long. This must have been one of the very first stories about an interstellar "generation" ship that got lost and had its crew descend back into savagery (the two stories were originally published in 1941) and I think it's still one of his best.

13. Tunnel in the Sky
Another pretty good juvenile. Not really science fiction per se, since the bulk of the book (about 90% of it) could just as easily be about a band of kids lost in the wilds of Africa. This might have been Heinlein's answer to Lord of the Flies, which was published a year earlier and would have been bound to raise his hackles.

14. Waldo & Magic, Inc.
This is a pair of unrelated novellas, both of them pretty good. "Waldo" is straightforward science fiction, the story of a surly inventor who learns that life can be good, while "Magic, Inc." is a pure fantasy about a guy who defeats the devil. They're both good stories. "Waldo" is notable because it introduces the idea of mechanical hands that amplify the strength of a human operator, and these devices are called waldoes to this day.

15. The Door Into Summer
Who could resist a story about a guy who's so devoted to his cat? The Door Into Summer is a great little time travel story, and it's the kind of book that might have been outstanding if Heinlein had written it ten years later when sf authors were allowed to write novels longer than 200 pages. As it is, it's pleasant but a little too short to really be great.

16. The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag
An interesting collection of short stories, notable mainly for the title story. However, it also contains "They," a wonderful story of paranoid solipsism, and the classic story "And He Built a Crooked House."

17. Assignment in Eternity
This is an unusual book, a collection of four short stories that all deal with the paranormal. The best of them is "Gulf," which forms the background for Friday, published 40 years later. "Lost Legacy" is also a winner, a bizarre story about some people who rediscover man's innate psi abilities and then team up with a hidden group of fellow supermen hidden on Mt. Shasta, among them the long lost Ambrose Bierce. It's all pretty bizarre, but somehow so strange and unexpected (especially from Heinlein) that it's fun. Apparently Heinlein had an ambivalent attitude about psi abilities, and these stories show off his less skeptical side.

18. Glory Road
Heinlein's only true fantasy, though it's cloaked in an sf motif. Glory Road is a lot of fun and a very fast read, but it suffers from a shallowness that it never overcomes. The main story only occupies about half the book, but Heinlein keeps writing sort of aimlessly after that until he finally gets bored and calls it quits. A good book for the beach, but it feels a little like cotton candy after you're done.

19. Friday
A decent book, but it suffers too much from the cutesy sex talk that runs through all of Heinlein's books in the 80s. Heinlein always had a habit of painting his characters as black or white, and that's nowhere so evident as it is here. Friday's adopted family turn out to be thoroughly bad hats, and the Canadian family she accidentally meets up with halfway through the book are simply too good to be true. Still, despite everything, it moves along decently. Nominated for a Hugo (1983) and a Nebula (1982).

20. Podkayne of Mars
A cross between a juvenile and an adult story, it's hard to figure out where to place it. Podkayne is a rambling story, with even less plot than usual in Heinlein's books, and it never really seems to have a point to make. It's almost impossible for a Heinlein story to be dull, and Podkayne isn't, but it doesn't have much going for it either.

21. Beyond This Horizon
Beyond This Horizon probably doesn't belong even this high, but I have a personal fondness for the gun-toting, brassard-wearing society that Heinlein created here. It's also an interesting look at the early, liberal-minded Heinlein. Those who are only familiar with his later books will be shocked to see him write so approvingly of a centrally managed economy in which money is merely blips in a computer. Quite a change from the conservative gold bug Heinlein of the 70s and 80s.

22. The Puppet Masters
An ordinary book, neither dull nor interesting. The plot is man vs. the parasites, and Heinlein doesn't really bring anything new to the table. It was made into a pretty poor film in 1995.

23. Sixth Column (aka The Day After Tomorrow)
Not much to recommend here. Six men defeat the PanAsian hordes thanks to a weapon that only kills Asians. There are some good sequences in this book, especially the one in which the good guys set up their first temple, but otherwise it doesn't have much to say and the eventual American victory is pretty predicatable.

24. The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones is little more than a pastiche of scenes glued together into an unfinished novel. It's inoffensive but not very absorbing, and notable mainly because Grandmother Stone shows up again as a young girl in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and then yet again in Heinlein's last few novels.

25. The Menace From Earth
A mediocre collection of short stories, saved only by the fact that it contains "By His Bootstraps," perhaps the most perfect little time travel paradox story in all of science fiction. It's worth buying just to read this story, but the rest can be skipped without missing much.

26. Have Space Suit--Will Travel
The last of Heinlein's juveniles, it's admired by many and would probably be a great favorite among young readers. However, I've always found it too formulaic and too unbelievable to ever really get into. After all, it starts out with a guy standing in a field in a space suit and suddenly being scooped up by evil aliens for no reason, and it goes downhill from there. Heinlein frequently takes staple ideas of science fiction and builds classic versions of them (Time for the Stars and "By His Bootstraps" are good examples), but he falters here. The final scene in which the teenage hero makes a last ditch plea for the survival of the human race in front of a galactic tribunal is poorly done and merely trite. Nominated for a Hugo in 1959.

27. Between Planets
An early juvenile that shows some of the promise to come but doesn't quite deliver the goods. The presentation of Venusian culture is good, but the story just isn't all that interesting.

28. The Number of the Beast
This was Heinlein's first novel after he recovered from a long illness that lasted from 1975-80. It's got a lot of his worst qualities, including too much talkiness, cute bantering about sex, superheroes for characters, and pretty much no plot to speak of. The last chapter, in which he gathers up characters from all his previous novels, is a lot of fun for Heinlein fans, however, and the basic premise of being able to visit fictional universes is interesting too. If you're interested in identifying all the characters in the book (especially those in the last chapter), check out Simon Slavin's exhaustive list.

29. Red Planet
An early juvenile, and it shows. Interestingly, Heinlein's worst books are his very first juveniles and his very last adult novels. Red Planet is notable mainly because it provides the backdrop that Heinlein used for the Mars of Stranger in a Strange Land. The story itself is only mildly interesting, even for youngsters.

30. Farnham's Freehold
This is an odd book, unlike any of Heinlein's other novels, and is disliked by many people for many different reasons. The cannibalism turns a lot of people off, and the implied racism turns even more people off. I have to believe that Heinlein had some point to make when he introduced the reverse racism in the book, for he never in any other book gives the slightest indication of being racist, and I don't know of anyone who believes he was. However, whatever the point was, it got lost in the clutter and the book quickly turns into a long and dreary mishmash. It's hard to believe that this book was produced by the same author in nearly the same year as Glory Road and Podkayne of Mars.

31. Farmer in the Sky
Another early juvenile. Not horrible, but not very good either.

32. Space Cadet
Heinlein's second juvenile. It just doesn't measure up to his later work, and it's interesting mainly in comparison to Starship Troopers as a study of what a space navy might look like in the future. Space Cadet is light and optimistic, Starship Troopers is dark and brutal. It makes you wonder what happened to him during the 50s to change his world view so dramatically.

33. Rocket Ship Galileo
Heinlein's first juvenile, it's a crude and unsatisfying attempt to make a credible story out of an attempt by a mad professor and three teenagers to fly to the moon. To make it worse, they find Nazis there. Perhaps this seemed like a reasonable plot in 1947, but it doesn't hold up well.

34. The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
Heinlein's second-to-last book. It's long, talky, cutesy, plotless, and pointless. The kitten, Pixel, is cute, but otherwise this book has few redeeming qualities.

35. To Sail Beyond the Sunset
Heinlein's last book. It's just a horrible mushpot of unlikely dialog, embarrassingly bad sex scenes, and complex references to other books and events. You should stay very far away from this book.

36. I Will Fear No Evil
It's a tough call, but I reread I Will Fear No Evil a few years ago thinking that it couldn't really be as bad as I remembered it, and I was wrong. It's every bit that bad and is perhaps the only book he ever wrote that is genuinely boring, a remarkable thing for a man that one critic said could make even a shopping list seem interesting. There is one extenuating circumstance, however: Heinlein became quite ill after he wrote the first draft of I Will Fear No Evil and Virginia Heinlein made the decision to publish the book as it stood since it didn't look like Heinlein would recover and be able to edit the work. Perhaps if she had held off and Heinlein had done a rewrite, it would have been better. Maybe.

As a reward for those who have made it this far, here's one more recommendation: Tramp Royale, a nonfiction travelogue based on a round-the-world trip that Robert and Virginia Heinlein took in 1954. This year was about the midpoint of Heinlein's conversion from FDR liberal to libertarian conservative, so even his political observations are interesting, especially his comment at the end of the book about the Army-McCarthy hearings. It's not a great book, but it's surprisingly interesting both for Heinlein fans as well as anyone who is just interested in a look at what travel was like 50 years ago. A longer review is here.

And for those interested purely in Heinlein-ania, check out James Gifford's Robert Heinlein: A Reader's Companion, available from Nitrosyncretic Press. It has an exhaustive bibliography of everything Heinlein ever wrote along with brief commentary about each piece.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 29, 2002

WARS AND ALLIES....One of the worst aspects of the Bush administration's first two years in office has been its gratuitously insulting attitude toward our allies. It's not just that the Bushies disagree with them about almost everything, but that they seemingly feel the need to do so as brusquely and cavalierly as possible in order to prove....what? Their tough-minded conservative bona fides? I'm not sure, but the message is that we don't need allies, we don't want allies, and, let's face it, allies just slow us down.

In today's geopolitical environment, where we are fighting a widely dispersed enemy and desperately need friendly help from around the globe, this approach is so myopic and self-defeating as to be nearly incomprehensible. Josh Marshall writes about the consequences of this here, and as he does so often, hits the nail on the head.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

CODED ANTI SEMITISM....There's been a lot of talk recently about "coded" appeals to racist sentiment: "states rights," the confederate flag, speaking at Bob Jones University, etc. Yesterday Atrios upped the ante by talking about coded appeals to anti-semitism:

The [John Birch Society] was instrumental in helping get Reagan elected Governor of California, though he did later distance himself from them. From that time, words and phrases like "Hollywood elite" and "New York Liberals" and others were all code words for "Jews."

Now that would never have occurred to me, but I'm a white boy from Orange County, so that's not surprising, is it? After all, that's the whole point of a coded message.

But this morning I had breakfast with a Jewish family, so I asked them: do you think of these phrases as synonyms for "Jew"? Answer: 2 out of 5 said yes, but only if the word "New York" is included. Thus, "East coast intellectual" is not necessarily code, but "New York liberal" is.

So there you go. If you want scientific evidence, go somewhere else. But if you want breakfast table conversation, come to CalPundit.

POSTSCRIPT: In the same post Atrios writes:

I'm flabbergasted that anyone can defend Reagan's trip to Bitburg as a simple "PR blunder." To ascribe it any other motive than putting a stick in the eye of Jews everywhere baffles me, frankly, and if not anti-Semitism then what?

I agree with the "then what?" part of this, since I've never understood Reagan's actions. But anti-semitism somehow doesn't seem right either. Frankly, Reagan didn't strike me as anti-semitic and I don't think he needed to waste time appealing to anti-semites given his overwhelming popularity at the time. On the other hand, only an idiot would fail to realize that it was bound to stir up a huge storm among Jews, so how to explain it? I'm at a loss.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

WORLD SAFETY IN THE AGE OF WMDs....OK, gang, how about a few questions about North Korea (and the world)? Here goes:

  • Does the United States have the right — in fact, the duty — to attack any country that we think might pose a threat to us at some point?

  • How about countries like Syria or Libya, which pose no special threat to us, but may pose a threat to our allies?

  • Will frequent military attacks on other countries make the world a generally safer place?

  • Will they succeed in stopping the spread of WMDs?

I believe the answers to these questions are no, no, no, and no. Military force is something to be used very sparingly for both moral and practical reasons, and it is almost certainly not a workable solution in the case of North Korea.

Shortly after 9/11, before he became quite such a captive of the warblogger community and its us-against-the-world mentality, Glenn Reynolds was fond of quoting the maxim "He who defends everything, defends nothing." The same is true of offense. It's not possible to defend everything, and it's not possible to wage continuous war on every threat either. There are too many and failure is inevitable.

But if you listen to the warhawk crowd, we should be planning military operations against Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and maybe Libya while we're at it. At the same time, since no one — with the possible exception of Great Britain — is trustworthy, we should be prepared to do this all by ourselves. And that's just this year.

This is both naive and unworkable. There is little doubt that WMDs are a genuine threat in the hands of rogue nations, and proving that we will defend ourselves as a last resort sends a salutary lesson to those who might think about using them. But if we're interested in actually achieving genuine security, the United States must use military force very sparingly and expend most of its energy on diplomacy and negotiation, including the long-term "hearts and minds" diplomacy so hated by the neocon crowd that — for reasons that simply escape me — starts foaming at the mouth at the very mention of "root causes."

A foreign policy built on the premise of showing that we're the toughest kid on the block will not work in the long run. In fact, it is probably the most dangerous possible path for ourselves and our children that we could follow: it won't reduce the threat but it will make us a bigger target. It's time to tone down the rhetoric.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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