October 26, 2004

Kerry's UN Lies, 380 tons of explosives, and the decline of Tacitus

Yeah, that's a hell of title, but I'll try to live up to it. The two competing news stories that seem to be resonating around the blogosphere are the "Kerry lied about meeting the UN" revelation (broken first by the Washington Times, then jumped all over by Redstate (1), Redstate (2), and Powerline (whatever that is; links to other comments there), and Tacitus; rebuttles by Pandagon, and Kos). Meanwhile the left end of the spectrum went nuts over the revelation that 380 tons of very efficient high explosives went missing from a huge arms depot that the IAEA was pointing to back in the spring of 2003 (Bloodless, of course, has already jumped all over this, but other commentary from Phil Carter/Inteldump, Obsidian Wings, and Talking Points Memo/Josh Marshall).

What seems more interesting than re-hashing the facts (my take: yes, Kerry likely exaggerated but did meet with some of the members of the Security Council, and yes, the explosives likely were there after major combat, but were taken quite a while ago), is the left/right debate over which issue is more important. Both sides have taken up arms and have commenced hostilities (the Redstate (2) post above, the Pandagon post above, the Tacitus post above, and this ObWi post, and I'm sure I'm missing a few).

This debate seems fundamentally flawed. I mean, what; Kerry might not have met with all 15 members of the Security Council before the second Iraq war started is somehow worthy of more consideration than 380 tons of explosives (that could be used to set of nuclear bombs) that are likely being used right now to blow yet more things up in Iraq? (And, have you seen the spike in violence since Ramadan started?) I don't dismiss the relevance of the Kerry story to the election - it does speak at least to some degree to his governance (though, I would argue, not much). But can we focus on the bigger picture here? I grant that 380 tons of explosives likely disappeared months ago. There is nothing we can do about it now. But doesn't the fact that it did disappear speak volumes about the way the war and occupation were conducted? If we didn't guard this site (and, because of the IAEA connection, this site made the news - which sites didn't?), what else got out into the hands of the insurgents? Or, by extension, outside of Iraq (did Al Qaeda take this opportunity to replenish some stocks?)?

If we can't agree that a missing 380 tons of explosives is at least more worthy of debate and discussion than potentially missing meetings between a single US Senator and members of the UNSC over two years ago, then how can we have rational debate?

Which leads me to Tacitus (the man, not the blog). Tacitus was the motive force for one of the first blogs I encountered a year or so ago, when blogs made it onto my personal radar screen. I read his blog fairly regularly for a long time, and admired the ability of a right-of-center person to intelligently debate issues in a reasonably civil manner. I liked that he gave posting rights to people from both sides of the isle for the sole purpose of generating intelligent discourse about politics. I followed his links out to find the sites I (still today) most commonly read. Obsidian Wings calls Tacitus their "blogfather", and I suppose that to the degree that BloodlessCoup is anything (at least for me), it looks to the Tacitus/Obsidian Wings family-of-posters-who-can-argue-both-sides-well camp of blogs (versus, say, InstaPundit or Atrios) as what sort of place we are (other members of bloodless may disagree; I'll not speak for them).

Tactitus does not seem to be Tacitus anymore. Both the site and the individual have changed. This is not a new complaint, though I think that most complainers miss their mark. Tacitus, both at his own site and at Redstate, isn't worse, but is different. The Tacitus of old would have been far more willing to engage the debate over the explosives (though likely to argue that it isn't as relevant and have good arguments why) rather than push the "Kerry lies" theme. The explosives story (and what it represents in a larger discussion of the pros and cons of the policies in Iraq) is just far more important and interesting than a silly debate about the precise number of UN representatives Kerry met with, and how many times Kerry has told this story. Instead, Tactitus (over at the already cited Redstate) argues that the Kerry lies story is clearly important because it changed one vote in Ohio.

There is an old Washington Monthly piece that argues that the political world is filled with "Wonks and Hacks", and the two never get along. Wonks want to argue policy and policy analysis, and hacks just want to win the political/bureaucratic fights. Hacks need wonks to justify their ideas, and wonks need hacks in order to actually pass legislation and win elections. It's a trite little "the world can be divided into two types of people" sort of article, but I think it has some essential truths. And I think that Tacitus has moved in the last few months over the the hack side. I originally came to him because of his wonk side. I am a wonk, and while I suppose I can accept the need for hacks, they just don't speak to me. So Tacitus just doesn't do it for me any more, and the people who complain about how much worse he is are missing this key change. If the wonk comes back, that's great, but there are plenty of others out there (look on our blogroll) who can take up the slack. This isn't really a complaint about Tacitus (it is, but only from a "wonkish" perspective) - I'm not saying "Because I disagree with Tacitus more often, he has gotten worse"; I'm saying that what he writes about seems less important to me, so I pay less attention. If he's happy doing what he's doing, then good on him. I'll miss his insights, but people change, and life goes on.

Now, can we go back to arguing about who will best fix the mess in Iraq and how to go about doing it?

Posted by baltar at October 26, 2004 01:07 PM | TrackBack | Posted to Politics


I think the wonk/hack point is very well taken. But something else gets at me too. I don't understand why some of the wonks on multiple sides of the political spectrum don't engage each other more. Well, I kind of understand it - I just find it disappointing. I suppose part of it has to do with what they each want their blogs to be. And there's the issue of which sources you trust and want to rely on. But all to often you don't see what could be useful dialogue among a variety of wonks.

Posted by: Armand at October 26, 2004 02:23 PM | PERMALINK

Which raises the question of why there is so little dialog. Or, perhaps, a better question: can you cite for me some "wonkish" right-wing sites. ObWi has von and Sebastian, Drezner has a blog, and Tacitus used to be good for right-of-center foreign policy analysis. I'm not counting InstaPundit or Little Green Footballs as "wonkish" debate sites. I'd love some others, so I'm open to suggestions.

Posted by: baltar at October 26, 2004 04:11 PM | PERMALINK

Well, the Volokh Conspiracy is generally wonkish - but the only people there who write much on foreign policy are their most stridently partisan conspirators. I'd say OxBlog is the best for what you are looking for. Not that Josh Chafetz is really right-wing, or that David A. is open to new ideas, but considering the options ... Maybe Belgravia Dispatch? I haven't looked at that much, but a couple of things I've seen linked to seem serious. That's what comes to the top of my head. Oh, and if you're looking for libertarianish stuff there's Hit and Run - but that's not really a place for long serious thoughts - more quick impressions and comments.

Posted by: Armand at October 26, 2004 10:06 PM | PERMALINK

Belgravia is one that I read. It's generally pretty thorough.

Posted by: binky at October 27, 2004 09:51 AM | PERMALINK
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