January 28, 2006

Remember North Korea?

Jeffrey Stacey asks a good question - "Why is the U.S. devoting so much time to an Iran that is ten years away from producing nuclear weapons compared with a rocket-proliferating regime that is now actively producing nuclear bombs?"

You should read his whole take on this, and let's keep this issue at the forefront of US foreign policy. I mean what should be a bigger priority than a member of the "Axis of Evil" that's currently building nuclear weapon after nuclear weapon?

Posted by armand at January 28, 2006 04:13 PM | TrackBack | Posted to International Affairs


The author of that piece seems to prefer the words "economic aid" to "blackmail," but doesn't seem to get that they mean the same thing.

Posted by: Morris at January 28, 2006 07:02 PM | PERMALINK

1) They are not the same thing & 2) even if they were, so what? Do you have a point?

Posted by: Armand at January 28, 2006 11:28 PM | PERMALINK

It's called a protection racket. If you give me stuff (fuel and lightwater reactors in 1994 or economic aid), I won't do things that hurt you. It's appeasement. And what's to stop every other country in the world, every one that wants more stuff, from threatening to build a nuke just so that they can get it on the game, then use the money they would have used to pay for that stuff to finance a nuclear weapons program once we've paid for enough of their stuff that they can afford it?

And I'd think you'd be happy that the 1994 framework is not still in place, what with your great concern for abuse of Presidential powers, emperor-type behavior, what with the fact that it looked like a treaty and sounded like a treaty, but wasn't sent to the Senate for two thirds of their approval like a treaty.

Posted by: Morris at January 29, 2006 07:41 AM | PERMALINK

Morris you're back in the old land of sovereignty again. Because of the sovereign rights of states to do what they want, regardless of what they have signed, there are really only three (grossly over generalized) options: do nothing, go to war, negotiate. The middle category has myriad possibilities, but all of them, at some level, involve two (or more) parties promising to do something they don't really like in return for something they do like. And in many cases, "promising to do something they don't really like" means giving up on a chance to increase their power (broadly construed) while receiving "something they do like" is an incentive from the other side.

And from both sides of the agreement, states have to decide if they believe the other, because there is no enforcement mechanism. There just isn't. Doesn't exist. There are threats, incentives, asking nicely, limited use of air strikes, but when it comes down to it, you can't force a state to do something, and sometimes they will (their leaders will) cut off their own noses to spits their faces (and the United States, a la Fidel). The only thing you have is the state's commitment, and other states have to decide whether they believe them - or in certain circumstances, decide they have to act whether they believe them or not.

One of the hardest things to know is when states have really commited, and when they are engaging in "cheap talk." This is why states need information, to know other states' capbilities, as well as to know their "game." There are circumstances where if there is a chance that the talk is not cheap, the operating assumption is to behave as if the commitment is real and others where a certain amount of "forgiveness" is part of the game (see for example, the iteration of tit for tat versus modified tit for tat). It's not exactly like the presumption of innocence, but more like a deliberate turn of the cheek.

And that, among many other reasons, is why I am not a diplomat.

Posted by: binky at January 29, 2006 08:34 AM | PERMALINK

Mo: 1) See Binky; 2) Your 1st paragraph is written in a style that suggests such action is unusual - and while the building nukes part might be, the basics of pressure and deals is anything but; and 3) ever heard of executive agreements? They are far and away the norm in foreign policy these days (something like 95% of US international agreements) and have been for a long, long time. Whether or not I like them (there are points both for and against them) the president having vast powers in that arena is a ship that sailed decades ago.

Posted by: Armand at January 29, 2006 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

All the bartering in the world can take place, but there is a difference when it's a demand backed with the threat of violence. Considering we have arguably the most effective war fighting machine in the world (our first batch of raptors which have knocked out multiple F-15 opponents in wargames without a problem became ready "operation capable" a couple weeks ago), it doesn't make much sense for us to pay other countries not to attack us, when that money may be used eventually to finance just that kind of attack against us. I understand the Clinton administration's thinking, that their leader won't last long, so let's just keep them from having nukes until that happens. But that's not a realistic frame of mind now.
You say: "Whether or not I like them (there are points both for and against them) the president having vast powers in that arena is a ship that sailed decades ago."
What about the President having vast powers when this country has been attacked? Didn't that one sail over a century ago?

Posted by: Morris at January 30, 2006 08:29 AM | PERMALINK

Morris: As to your latter point - I believe the term is "puh-leeze". You don't think there is a difference between the president having the power to 1) violate US law and violate the rights of American citizens and, for example, 2) agree to changes in the environmental-related side-agreements of a trade deal opening up Japan's economy to more US chicken and pork products? I think there is, and since you so often care about the opinions of the 50% + 1, I bet most Americans think there is. The president having vast powers in what policy realm doesn't mean he should have them in all policy realms.

And you continually misread Lincoln's abrogation of during civil rights during the Civil War. I don't plan on defending him on that point, but the idea that Bush's actions now are in any way legitimized by Lincoln's actions during the US CIVIL WAR is preposterous. Neither the crimes nor the times are similar.

That said - if you are going to continually bring up the Lincoln example where it doesn't belong, at learn how to use it more aptly. Read "Lincoln's Example: Executive Power and the Survival of Constitutionalism" by Benjamin A. Kleinerman in the December 2005 issue of Perspectives on Politics (Vol. 3, No. 4). It's an excellent, up-to-date piece on this topic. You'll like it.

Finally I find this phrase hilarious - "there is a difference when it's a demand backed with the threat of violence". You do realize that the US threatens violence against people and states we don't like on a regular basis, right? So ... they should never cower to our threats? They should always fight us b/c it would somehow be demeaning to cower in the threat of physical force? Uh-huh.

I think North Korea's nukes are one of the biggest threats we face, and I'd like us to do something about them. Just refusing to act b/c they are making some threats ... what's that phrase about biting one's nose to spite one's face? Or the one about the ostrich's head in the sand?

Posted by: Armand at January 30, 2006 09:58 AM | PERMALINK

there is a difference when it's a demand backed with the threat of violence

The only differences are the costs and benefits. You're thinking like an individual, not like a state.

Posted by: binky at January 30, 2006 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

I read the article, and I can't believe you were taken in by such sophistry. Lincoln's actions are different because they were necessary to preserve the Constitution (and the nation), is the author's point, if I understand it correctly. But think of what the underlying logic is. It's only okay to harm the Constitution in the name of protecting the Constitution (and the nation). Think of that in terms of, say, domestic violence: "It's only okay to beat up my wife (or kid) when I'm doing it for her own good." The fact that someone bothers to utter these words does not as the author suggests change the character of their actions.

According to the article, Lincoln said: “certain proceedings are constitutional when, in cases of rebellion or Invasion, the public safety requires them, which would not be constitutional when, in absence of rebellion or invasion, the public safety does not require them.”
Is what happened on September 11th anything but an invasion? Enemies of our nation came into our country and killed thousands of people, because they hate America. These wiretaps are themselves specifically focused according to Bush on calls from terrorists to people in the United States; these wiretaps are specifically meant to discover our nation's enemies who have already invaded our country.

Lincoln goes on: “[T]he constitution is not its application in all respects the same.” It is different “in cases of Rebellion or invasion, involving the public safety” than it is “in times
of profound peace and public security.”
Are you honestly going to make the argument we're living in a time of profound peace and public security in the aftermath of September 11th and subsequent attempts to attack our nation?

As to his last argument: "Third, a line must
separate the executive’s personal feeling and his official duty. He should take only those actions that fulfill his official duty, the preservation of the Constitution, even, or especially, if the people want him to go further." I disagree, because as Binky says I think like an individual, not like a state, because there is nothing within the nature of something being a state that I find inviolate or sacred. And that this author would actually advocate that Americans should have been kept in chains for their color just because the law did not support their freedom is a little disgusting. I find it difficult to believe that thousands in slavery for nothing more than what continent their parents came from is not so extraordinary a state, deserving of remedy, as invasion or rebellion.

As much as you may want to color Clinton's executive power play as insignificant, I hope you are reminded that every time we reward someone for these kinds of threats, every time we negotiate with terrorists, we give these others around the world, whether it be rogue states or terrorists, reason to believe they may be rewarded for that sort of behavior.

Posted by: Morris at January 30, 2006 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

I don't have time to deal with this immediately but:

1) why are you calling Lincoln's principles guiding his actions "sophistry"? - i'd call it a basic belief set for guiding his actions. and your supposed analogy is off target and offensive. and while it might not change the "character" of his actions in terms of exactly what those actiions are - it sure as hell does in terms of understanding why they were undertaken and predicting patterns in their behavior.

2) what Clintonian executive "power play" are you talking about? [I think we need to consider the creation of a new version of Godwin's law applying to Clinton - why the hell what that guy did is relevant to evaluating what Bush is doing, or not doing, NOW doesn't strike me as remotely relevant] and wow, they have reason to think they might be rewarded - duh. so what? again, North Korea wants something, so they pursue the best avenue open to them to get what they want. we don't want them doing that. we should really take all our best options off the table because it's somehow rewarding bad behavior? we're talking about international politics Morris - it's ALL ABOUT BAD BEHAVIOR!

Posted by: Armand at January 30, 2006 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Eh, you've got me started, so I'll continue -

You write: Lincoln goes on: “[T]he constitution is not its application in all respects the same.” It is different “in cases of Rebellion or invasion, involving the public safety” than it is “in times of profound peace and public security.”
Are you honestly going to make the argument we're living in a time of profound peace and public security in the aftermath of September 11th and subsequent attempts to attack our nation?

Huh - I thought that was an argument that you and the president made - that all is well and one of the big reasons to vote to reelect his ineptness was that there hadn't been an attack in the US since 9/11.

And, no, current events are clearly not an invasion (the 9/11 hijackers were already here - and besides, it's not like the French are invading) and it's not a rebellion in anything like the sense that the Civil War was a rebellion. There you had MILLIONS of AMERICANS turning against the government and seceding from the union - any assertion that today is like that is absurd.

Posted by: Armand at January 30, 2006 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

And btw, you are insulting an author who has done vastly more intensive research on Lincoln than you have.

And the assertion that HE likes slavery is malicious, nasty, and shows you don't have the slightest clue how to read historical analysis (or implies that anyway). The author isn't saying anything of the sort - he's noting Lincoln's opinions. Opinions that were widely held by most Americans before the Civil War - a key reason why a lot of people are queasy about calls to read the US Constitution from an 18th century perspective.

Posted by: Armand at January 30, 2006 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

The author of your article finds some substantive difference between Lincoln actually uttering the words (after the fact, mind you) that he's taking away certain liberties in order to protect the Constitution via protecting the nation, rather than just taking away certain liberties to protect the nation, and not uttering those words that it's to protect the Constitution. My analogy is meant to expose the absurdity of a substantive difference being found in a few spoken words when such words are almost always for the benefit of the one speaking them, and often can be in spite of the actual facts and characteristics of an event. There is no more understanding of why Lincoln undertook to take away those liberties from his explanation because his explanation came after the fact, at a point in time when he was free to couch his actions in terms that might be most soothing to his historical critics.

Right, Godwin's law applies to Clinton, and I suppose to Janet Reno, to Waco, to Oklahoma City, and to all the embarassments of the Democratic party. For someone who supposedly takes such offense at the limiting of liberties with regard to the President's actions, you seem quite willing to limit the freedom of discourse when it comes to points that detract from your own. This is what this thread is about, North Korea, so of course Clinton's executive power play (a treaty without 2/3's vote approval as required by the Constitution) is relevant both here and within the scope of criticisms of Bush's acting without Senate approval because you choose to overlook the one and chastise the other.

If international relations is all about bad behavior, maybe it's time to ask (less important) how it got that way, and (more important) what keeps it that way. Rewarding bad behavior would seem to fit into the latter category.

You seem so interested in evaluating things by the numbers, how many attacks from within against our nation qualifies us as not being in a time of "profound safety?" How many people killed by agents of foreign powers during five years qualifies us as not being in such a time, how many in ten years? And do we actually have to peel back wiretaps every time we stop them from successfully attacking us for five years, so that they can successfully attack us and then we'll have another five years of peace after we put this program back in place, and then we take it away again after five years? What kind of game is this, where the stakes are so high, and do you really believe we should play it?

And, unfortunately, I have read my fair share of boring, academic articles, enough to know that it is the author who sides against freeing the slaves by equating such actions with "the end of consitutional government." There is no "Lincoln says," or "Lincoln believed:", there is only the author's interpretation, and considering his prescription for Presidential action in favor of constitutional government in his conclusion, he is obviously on the side of those who would not go beyond this blunt instrument to affect a nation worthy of a constitution.

Posted by: Morris at January 30, 2006 01:33 PM | PERMALINK

No, Morris you are wrong - Clinton's "power play" isn't remotely relevant. Why? B/c no president would have written a treaty in that case, not a President Clinton, nor, if he'd been reelected a President George H.W. Bush, nor a President Ross Perot. Wouldn't - have - happened?

And why would you have wanted a treaty anyway? Since when are you all pro-treaties?

Anyway - There would have been no variation there irrespective of who'd won the 1992 race - so the fact that it was Clinton dealing with it is indeed irrelevant.

Well, on that score at least. If North Korea had gone nuclear on his watch maybe Clinton would have started a war - but we'll never know. Instead George "I'm too busy clearing brush in rural Texas to stop North Korea from going nuclear" Bush was president when one of the Axis of Evil finally started building a string of nuclear bombs. Lucky us.

Posted by: Armand at January 30, 2006 02:27 PM | PERMALINK

Btw - As to -

There is no "Lincoln says," or "Lincoln believed:", there is only the author's interpretation, and considering his prescription for Presidential action in favor of constitutional government in his conclusion, he is obviously on the side of those who would not go beyond this blunt instrument to affect a nation worthy of a constitution.

Your simple-minded arrogance and blatant distortions in this sentence make me wonder why we even bother to take you seriously. 1) Just who the fuck are you to decide what kind of nation is worthy of a constitution? And why do you even care about them if you just consider them "blut instruments". If that's all they are, then who cares what Bill Clinton ever did, right? And 2) Did you even read the article that you are making all these ridiculous and off-base comments about? What the fuck are you talking about it just being the author's opinions and interpretations? The dude is going off Lincoln's writing, pronouncements, personal letters and the like - which presumably have a bit of veracity when it comes to what was in Lincoln's mind.

I'm so sorry that careful research "bores" you, and that you'd rather just make slanderous comments (as I'd say it's fair to say you are doing in making those slavery accusations - unless what you are commiting is libel, I get those confused). Next time I try to recommend something that's rigorously studied and examined I'll see if there's a coloring book version for you. Maybe one approved by Ann Coulter.

Posted by: Armand at January 30, 2006 02:41 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, and as to this (if you want a response):

"You seem so interested in evaluating things by the numbers, how many attacks from within against our nation qualifies us as not being in a time of "profound safety?" How many people killed by agents of foreign powers during five years qualifies us as not being in such a time, how many in ten years? And do we actually have to peel back wiretaps every time we stop them from successfully attacking us for five years, so that they can successfully attack us and then we'll have another five years of peace after we put this program back in place, and then we take it away again after five years? What kind of game is this, where the stakes are so high, and do you really believe we should play it?"

The stakes are always high - but we are no more "profoundly" threatened than we were 10 or 50 years ago. There have been and will be threats in the international system. Not every president is such a whiner and law-breaker though. Some presidents understand their job was to stand for something above what's in their own craven best interest, and that it's unseemly for the nation's chief executive to revel in breaking laws that it is, at least theoretically, his job to enforce.

Posted by: Armand at January 30, 2006 03:00 PM | PERMALINK

You can insult my intelligence if it makes you feel better, but I know what treaty means.
treaty noun [C]
a written agreement between two or more countries that is formally approved and signed by their leaders.
Is this not what existed between Clinton and North Korea? Of course it is. They can call it whatever they want to call it, but it's an agreement between us and the North Koreans, so it should have been required to have a 2/3's vote according to the Constitution. If you want to take Clinton out of it, go ahead. But it's inconsistent that you should be so upset about Bush following precedent with regard to favoring security concerns over individual liberties at a time when we are far from profoundly safe, yet you don't care the Constitution was and continues to be violated with regard to treaties that don't get approval except for that imperial power of the executive branch, as you might call it. Why does it not concern you that the power of the executive has grossly expanded in this way according to you, but it's only other kinds of power expansion by the executive branch, namely those undertaken by Bush, that are so suddenly threatening to our way of life? If anything, the expansion of the President's powers with regard to treaties suggests that the executive branch may expand its power without dire consequences, because in your words this has been going on for decades.

You and the author you quote argue as though a constitution is in itself sacred, and that is absolutely not the case. As the Lincoln example shows, a constitution can be mere white washing of a society that endorses enslaving those who would be citizens but for the color of their skin. The quotation of the author listed above is not a quotation of Lincoln. Ergo, it is the author's opinion that we should value a constitution above the liberty of a country's citizens. You can call it slanderous and libelous, but it's right in the article if you'd bother to read it. The author backs up his assertion with the writings of Lincoln and reads into these tea leaves that Lincoln would not support the current wiretaps, but if you know anything about academic writing, the conclusion is where the author writes their own opinion, and does not if they are at all honest claim to be writing for the person about whom they are writing. I find it ironic that you accuse me of being arrogant, when I'm the one who realizes that only Lincoln would know what Lincoln would think, and interpretation is not anything so perfect or precise as you suggest. Think about people you've known all your life who occasionally surprise you, then tell me that this guy can know what Lincoln would think.

As to your assertion that we are no more threatened now than we were ten years ago, I disagree. 9/11 was a wake up call to us, a call made by the hordes of terrorists who want to destroy us. I don't expect to convince you they're out there, but I do hope that they don't call again, even if it means the NSA gets to listen to my phone calls.

Posted by: Morris at January 30, 2006 05:42 PM | PERMALINK

You know, whenever one of you says "bro" it makes me want to duck.

Posted by: binky at January 30, 2006 06:21 PM | PERMALINK

Uh, you deal realize that al Qaeda WAS trying to attack Americans in large-scale operations in 1996, right? Maybe you and the incompetent Bush crew weren't paying any attention to terrorism before 9/11 - and it's clear that the latter weren't - but anyone with a pulse and a real commitment to national security didn't need thousands of dead Americans to think that terrorism should be a national priority - sadly though, President Bush couldn't be bothered to stray from his vacation in Texas long-enough to defend American lives from a perfectly obvious threat that his own anti-terrorism chief kept trying (without success) to make the president prioritize.

And if al Qaeda is indeed a bigger threat you'd think the president would have prioritized taking out bin Laden - but last I heard, he remains at large, 4+ years after 9/11. Yep, that's George Bush for you - big talk, few results.

Your 1st paragraph is silly - that's NOT a definition in the US constitution, therefore, who the fuck cares? Our political processes have decided what are and aren't treaties, if you don't like the current definitions, change them. The government can do that. But as it currently stands, simply b/c there's an agreement between 2 world leaders - that's not necessarily a treaty.

Of course Congress has considered constraining the president's treaty-making powers. Look into the Bricker Amdt. It chose not to. If you are so blasted opposed to executive agreements, write your senator.

I am sill rather floored that you equate presidents engaging in legal executive agreements with presidents openly and happily flouting American law in order to violate the civil liberties of US citizens. Are both evidence of a strong presidency? Sure - but one's legal while one's not. I'm harping on the president breaking the law b/c that seems a bigger deal to me than the president not breaking the law. I find it odd you find that odd.

And true, the author doesn't know what Lincoln would have thought - but if there are longstanding, repeated patterns in his preferences - to me those are a sign of what Lincoln likely would have thought. But hey, you're right - tomorrow George Bush could go off to Canada to marry Dick Cheney. I mean people do surprise you.

And I still think it's a nasty thing to say that author is defending slavery - that's a distortion of his intent, and you know that.

Posted by: Armand at January 30, 2006 06:37 PM | PERMALINK

mostly i'm with binky, and this dining room slugfest is too good to be interrupted by me.

but a couple of observations just to spice things up a bit:

first, the widespread plots posited in 1996 are nothing compared to the successful and lethal bombing of the WTC in 1993. we do remember that, right? i'm not even sure that was much less sophisticated than 9/11. time has removed us from the acknowledgment that it's unlikely anyone actually thought they'd bring down the towers with that attack; it was a serious, concerted, long-planned event, no doubt, but that the terrorists got very "lucky" in certain respects added a lot to the death toll (and conversely, that the towers stood as long after impact as they did took a lot away from the death toll; it's all relative).

second, morris, you refer to "Bush following precedent with regard to favoring security concerns over individual liberties at a time when we are far from profoundly safe," but you have yet successfully to analogize the current situation to any of the former situations you blithely identify as precedential; conversely everyone here has done a pretty solid job of distinguishing those occasions. furthermore, you've never addressed the fact that each of those has been widely disparaged with the benefit of hindsight. for once, wouldn't it be nice to learn from our past mistakes instead of later regretting our current ones? you continually cite the putative success of bush's actions, but you have no more to go on than his on assertions, which are supported, if at all, by the same faulty intelligence apparatus (where dissent of any sort gets you a pink slip, a ball gag, or both) that brought us the inimitable flop, WMD: The Search for Sarin, the same bodies staffed on the FEMA recruitment program, in which all you need is $100,000 in bundled donations and a dream.

my third point is the only one i can reasonably hope won't be wasted (the points above being the foci of the eccentric orbit we all keep turning and will continue to turn for as long as we assume our conclusions, either that bush is bad or bush is good). what use is talk of precedent when we still know virtually no technical details of the surveillance in question? bush himself has admitted that american citizens located within the united states have been subject to the surveillance program, so that's enough to send up the constitutional and FISA alarms regardless. which means we have a basic field of play, on which we've all been kicking the ball around for weeks now. but has everyone forgotten the intimations, printed in the Times and elsewhere, that bush may have avoided the heretofore rubberstamp FISA court not out of impetuousness, but because as willing as that body has been in the past to swear out even post hoc warrants pretty much at the White House's beckon call, the technical details of the supersecret surveillance in question took it beyond even what the FISA court would stand?

that is to say, has everyone forgotten the implications, derived from inside sources and Rockefeller's (i think) letter, that what likely was going on here was data mining on a massive scale? say what you want about that, but please o please don't pretend that that's apposite to interning japanese or suspending habeas corpus, because if ever there were an apple, and avocado, and a banana on the table for comparison, those three things would be they.

is there no level of data mining or interdiction(humor me morris; assume, for a moment, the worst (lord knows we've been given reason to deny the bush admin benefit of the doubt basically since the inception of his presidency)) that you would consider too intrusive, notwithstanding that, as armand has pointed out, neither our nation nor our way of being has hung in the balance at any point in all of this? and if not, doesn't that mean that our way of being, in fact, does hang in the balance, but not due to a heinous attack but rather due to one president's ham-handed and intemperate response to that attack?

morris, you write "9/11 was a wake up call to us, a call made by the hordes of terrorists who want to destroy us. I don't expect to convince you they're out there, but I do hope that they don't call again, even if it means the NSA gets to listen to my phone calls."

you don't have to convince me there are hordes of terrorists out there. i knew they were there long before 9/11, and i know they're there now -- their numbers constantly increasing, no less, due to the misguidedness and maladministration of our warmaking in the wake of that date. and i hope they don't call again, as well, it should go without saying. but you know what? in the civil war untold thousands died rather than appease the force the union deemed inimical to the american ideal. and even more died in WWII in service of those same ideals. i'd rather weather the storm, even to the extent of risking my lives and those of the people i love, than give up everything to protect something that, in its protection, ceases to exist. the ideals at stake are bigger than any number of people, and we insult the millions who have died by so easily trading in our values for the cheap buck of ephemeral safety.

you don't mind the NSA listening in, by hook or by crook? that's your prerogative. but the world already has countries where that's the norm, and i don't want to live in one of them. unfortunately, when the you's outnumber the me's, whatever their motives, i don't have much of a choice.

Posted by: moon at January 30, 2006 09:06 PM | PERMALINK

Not to mention that we should have woken up before 9/11 with the first WTC attacks, the USS Cole, OKC, the Unabomber...

Posted by: binky at January 30, 2006 09:28 PM | PERMALINK

What's a "horde"?

Seriously, how many terrorists are out there? I've heard estimates from 2,000 to 10,000. In any event, given that there are only a few thousand of them, why do we need to be fearful of them?

Look at it this way; we treated Al Qaeda as a "criminal" issue (domestically) and as a problem (not a primary one) in a foreign policy sense throughout the 1990s. Over that time frame, they made one (botched) attack on the WTC, an attack on a pair of embassies in Africa (their most successful), and a few attacks on American military and diplomatic targets. All over 10+ years, when there wasn't much domestic motivation to take them seriously. In other words, when we did a piss-poor job of anti-terrorism without all the Patriot-Act and NSA spying, we did a decent job of preventing them.

If we used the same-old pre-Sept 11th laws and procedures, but just applied them better, would we really be all that bad off? Why do we need to "change everything" when the past system (poorly applied) did a decent job of preventing it?

(What does this have to do with North Korea?)

Posted by: baltar at January 30, 2006 09:53 PM | PERMALINK

Um, osama's an asshole, and so is Kim Jong Il?

Posted by: binky at January 30, 2006 09:59 PM | PERMALINK

First of all, you seem to put stock into an estimate of how many terrorists are out there, as though they'll answer calls from Gallup and say, "Yep, I'm a terrorist, and I'm not terribly satisfied with Bush's job performance." Even if your estimates are accurate, let's say there's 10,000 terrorists as you suggest there may be. Considering their kill ratio on 9/11 (over 100 of us for every 1 of them), that means that if treated with all the respect and liberties they had before 9/11, they'd be capable of killing about one million Americans, assuming they maintained their use of suicide attacks and didn't begin to use attacks in which none of them died. This is where I'll agree with my brother, that times have changed. With Civil War technology and civilization, 20 terrorists attacking Americans could hope for maybe 200 American casualties before they were destroyed. But the degree to which we've collected human and other resources into single places has skyrocketed, as has the technology available to destroy us. Maybe you think a million Americans dead isn't something to be afraid of, it isn't worth the NSA listening in on your calls. I disagree.

I'm also a little confused as to how you think we did a "decent" job of preventing terrorism when were it not for a faulty device, they'd have spread nerve gas through the WTC back in 1993, and they killed over 200 people in the embassy bombings in Africa. The idea that we should just learn to accept these kinds of deaths as a sign of the times is disturbing. And it's contradictory to suggest that when it comes to terrorism, we should accept mass murder as a sign of changing times, but when it comes to the liberty to converse anonymously with terrorists, we can't accept a limitation on that liberty as a sign of the times, or else it will be the end of our ability to freely converse with terrorists for all time.

I can't honestly say that these wiretaps will stop terrorist attacks that wouldn't have otherwise been stopped with a 100% certainty. But what I am certain of is that losing the liberty to conspire with terrorists is worth less to me than protecting our country from another 9/11. It's like wearing your seat belt, you don't need it 999 times out of 1,000, but on that 1,000th time, it generally works out better to have it on, even if it means I have less liberty to grab something out of the back seat while I'm driving. It's a trade off I can live with.

FDR declared war against the Japanese and began limiting American liberties as a consequence of Pearl Harbor, an attack that killed 2,400 Americans. September 11th killed almost 3,000 Americans. Now, I expect you to say that the Japanese were a much greater threat, that they attacked us around the Pacific (remember the 2002 Bali bombing that killed 200 people and the 2005 bombing that killed 23), and we were also threatened by their allies attacking our allies around the globe (50 people in London subways in 2005, 26 in Riyadh, 22 in Al-Khobar, 220 in the embassies in 1998, 17 on the USS Cole, 21 in Tunisia, 27 in Istanbul, 191 in Madrid, 88 in Sharm el-Sheikh, 57 in Jordan). While we have been fortunate that they've botched several attacks as well (plots to blow up airliners in the middle of the pacific, the shoe bomber, cathedral plot in Germany, plots against embassies and against the USS the Sullivans), these numbers are significant, and while it's true they do not approach total losses in WWII or the US Civil War, why should we wait while they continue to develop the skill, numbers, and organization to accomplish such attacks? They invaded us on September 11th, they attacked us on our soil, they killed a couple thousand of our people, and their attacks haven't stopped, they've just been stopped here. The idea that the standard for limiting liberties should be the total number of Americans killed in the US Civil War or the total number of Americans killed in WWII is, forgive me, a little absurd. It wasn't the standard in WWII, we've far surpassed that standard. We suspended liberties and pursued those wars until we'd destroyed their will to attack us, and we're doing the same thing with the terrorists, but while the terrorists appear to be on the run (offering a truce), they have not surrendered. That was the standard for peace in the past, but liberals seem to have the idea that it's the terrorists birthright to be committed to our destruction, and we have no business asking them to surrender. I disagree.

And I'd agree that those limiting of liberties have been disparaged in hindsight, by elements of our modern culture, by people who don't remember the what "loose lips sink ships" means. We haven't kept a bunch of Americans in internment camps here based solely on their national origin, and we haven't started trying a bunch of Americans via military tribunals. But if you get captured on a foreign battlefield with people trying to destroy Americans, what do you expect to happen?

I've got things to do, I'll have to get back to this later.

Posted by: Morris at January 31, 2006 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

Piecemeal attacks by loosely confederated groups who simply cannot arm themselves as dangerously as one or more states could (even seventy years ago)* is simply incomparable to the threat posed by the Japanese and the Axis. Aside from which, when we responded to Pearl Harbor we weren't just responding to the Japanese, we were responding to that nation's forceful invitation to engage ourselves fully in a global war against a substantial alliance of tremendously dangerous states bent on what amounted to world domination.

You're selling the freedoms you pretend to care about so cheaply it's an embarrassment -- and this from the party of apple pie and i'll swing this flag as wildly as I want and if I poke your eye out doing so it's just because you got too f*&king close, motherf*&ker. Seriously, there's nothing American about sundering the rule of law to a C-student who can't be bothered to learn enough about the countries he's so blithely smithereening to war with them coherently or effectively after the carpet bombing is over.

Just out of curiosity, if the threat is so epic as to warrant a permanent war, the country so desperately in need of protection from a few thousand nutcases running around in the desert and lurking at the margins of american society hoping at best to maybe sneak a switchblade onto an airplane, shouldn't you have enlisted a while ago? I hear the army's hurting for soldiers.

Pssst, Morris. For as long as capitalism requires someone to exploit, there will be poor people in poor countries living miserable lives. For as long as there are poor people in poor countries living miserable lives, there will be others who can radicalize some substantial fraction of them into acting foolishly in short sighted attacks on oppressors real or imagined. And so long as a few radicals can lead us to maintain a state of war in which we sacrifice those things for which "they" supposedly hate us, they've beaten us. And under the circumstances, it emerges that the state of war really is permanent (no one with two brain cells to rub together can honestly maintain that capitalism will ever function, on whatever scale, without a pissed-upon five or ten percent at the bottom), and whatever sacrifices we are asked to make in its service (not of money or comfort, things we have historically sacrified in war efforts, but of privacy and our constitutional rights, the things to which we are supposedly entitled as a matter of natural law) will be ongoing for generations until people forget what it's like not to live under the watchful eyes of a power-grabbing government. 1984, anyone?


* And you throwing around seven-digit numbers is a pathetic rhetorical feint that betrays how insupportable your position really is. A dirty bomb detonated in Times Square is anticipated to kill in the tens of thousands, not the millions, and in any event al Qaeda's going to have a lot of trouble coming up with a nuke in the tribal highlands of Pakistan, where they fled from our just war in Afghanistan and have been eating popcorn ever since while we incinerate people in Iraq they neither know nor care about nor share much in the way of ideological goals with.

Posted by: moon at January 31, 2006 10:45 AM | PERMALINK


You are fundamentally missing my point. I'm arguing that the US did a decent (of course, not perfect) job of defending against terrorism with an old set of laws/policies and lackluster enforcement/use of them. Why do we need a whole new set of laws (Patriot Act/NSA wiretapping) when we could first try just using the "old" laws/procedures with more vigourous enforcement/use?

What, exactly, has "changed"? Why do we need new laws? What is so wrong with the old ones?

Posted by: baltar at January 31, 2006 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

My dear Baltar, you of course know the answer to that: we don't. We got them because post-emergency pressures to Do Something provide an excellent opportunity for bureaucrats and busybodies to get wish lists implemented. Slap enough of those wish lists together, create a crude package and storyline around 'em, and boom, you've got an Act.

Posted by: jacflash at January 31, 2006 04:53 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, I'll agree with that. My point was that we can resist the new ones by claiming the old ones (laws/policies/etc.) work reasonably well. I understand that that's a difficult claim to make as it requires distinction between the old laws/policies and their poor execution. It doesn't mean I can't try.

That being said, I recognize the futility of this. I don't think the Patriot Act will disappear anytime soon, and give the lack of public outcry, I don't think the NSA wiretapping will go away either.

Posted by: baltar at January 31, 2006 07:12 PM | PERMALINK

Don't you two remember that the Awful Flip-Flopper, John Kerry, was slammed in the campaign for referring to terrorism as merely a criminal justice problem? Tsk tsk. I expected you to take America's Security more seriously.

Posted by: binky at January 31, 2006 08:15 PM | PERMALINK

I guess we just have different definitions of what a "decent" job of protecting Americans, and as long as these wiretapped conversations can only be used to prosecute people for terrorism related offenses, what's the harm in that compared to thousands of Americans dying? What's changed is that 9/11 happened, and everybody got to see on live TV the horror of terrorism. If you give me the choice between waking up in the morning and seeing something like that again, or having people listen to me talk on the phone, it's an easy call for me. Poor execution of well-conceived plans is an inevitable consequence of our human nature, so I'd rather the NSA have another tools, so that if one person falls asleep on the watch, someone else might not.

I'd agree that the act was based upon "post-emergency pressures," but I disagree that those pressures were anything but appropriate to the change in times we had just witnessed. We had plenty of chances to change our direction in the years before 9/11, plenty of chances to focus more funds on human intelligence after the American embassy bombings in Africa and plenty of time to give these tools to listen to calls from foreign terrorists after WTC in 1993. We didn't act rashly, and the consequence which was understandable given our anti-government culture leftover from the 60's and 70's, was that we were wide open for another attack. Now we can call them "post-emergency pressures" and use that as a way to let these tools be taken away from people protecting our nation, or we can recognize that given changes in technology and civilization and the tremendous appetite for our suffering displayed by terrorists, that these measures are appropriate at the current time.

Let's see, I guess I should mention that I did talk to a recruiter about joining the army a week ago because that is how much I believe that what we're doing is right. Unfortunately, they have a rule about not taking people unless they have a spleen, though I'm sure you'll protest that I've vented mine on you many a time. I certainly hope that someday we may go back to a time when the terrorists are no more a threat than you describe, but the fact is that right now they are a threat because they sneak onto airplanes with switchblades, because they use those airplanes to kill thousands of people. Seriously, that analogy is like saying the Japanese were dangerous because they flew around with a rising sun on their planes, it's insulting, because almost 3,000 people didn't die on 9/11 because of switchblades. If you'll remember, in our war against people bent on global domination decades ago, we didn't stop fighting until they had surrendered. Doolittle didn't get above Japan and say, "Hey, what am I doing, this isn't necessary." It was necessary. If there were a cult in our country that was preaching hatred and destruction of America, bringing in children and sending them out as martyrs bent on our destruction, are you saying we should just let it be? You're the local expert on law, what happens if I know someone's going to kill someone? I can be held responsible if it happens, right? So Johnny Law runs me down. And if we as a nation know that other people halfway around the globe are doing the same thing, what makes it different for them? Why aren't we as a nation responsible when we don't do everything we can to stop it? We may not know all the names, the specifics, but I think we are responsible if we know it's happening and don't do what we can to find out, so it won't happen again.
This attitude that a million people dead from terrorists is unthinkable is exactly what got us to 9/11. Foreign terrorists will never hit us hard on our own soil, and then 9/11 happened. And now you're saying terrorists will never get a nuke. As a response, how about an old Reaganism, "trust but verify."

Posted by: Morris at February 1, 2006 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

Morris - You write, "Poor execution of well-conceived plans is an inevitable consequence of our human nature". Uh - no. It's nothing of the sort. It's often the consequence of incompetence and also often the consequence of a culture and environment that accepts incomepetence instead of demanding better results.

Posted by: Armand at February 1, 2006 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

"This attitude that a million people dead from terrorists is unthinkable is exactly what got us to 9/11. Foreign terrorists will never hit us hard on our own soil, and then 9/11 happened. And now you're saying terrorists will never get a nuke."

But foreign terrorists already had hit us on our soil, and contra Bush, who couldn't be bothered until 9/11, the president at that time was doing something about it without shredding the constitution. Bear in mind, if you're going to cite the lack of attack since Bush started treating this country like East Germany as evidence of the success of his tactics, then we have every right to trumpet the lack of attack when Clinton wasn't treating this country like East Germany as the success of his tactics, and insofar as your pseudo-empirical justification for looking over my shoulder every time I make a call or send an email has nothing more to recommend it than the more constitutional conduct of a President who actually behaved like he loved freedom for us today, not at some unnamed (and utterly unattainable) future time when no one resents American hegemony, I'm just not seeing it. The current President's indifference to dissent, competing points of view, and any sort of looking back (to like say evaluate our f*&k-ups rather than blithely ignoring and thus perpetuating them) were already in play when we were attacked on 9/11; I view the absence of attack since as a product of two things -- the war on the Taliban and Bush's dumb luck. The problem with your rationale, which is about as hollow as his own, is that if / when we're attacked again, he won't consider the possibility that it reflects a failed policy, he'll instead opine that he needs to take even more of our freedoms away. Go ahead and show me one shred of evidence that he won't. When in five years has Bush restored any sort of freedom (to information, to privacy, to open government) to the people? The answer, of course, is never, and he never will. He may not be a despot, and even as cheapened by his blithe mistreatment of it I suspect the system will prevent this from happening (if only in virtue of term limits), but in this way he reflects a singularly despotic tendency.

I'm impressed that you considered enlisting, I take you at your word, and I withdraw my comment. Now how about you write a Republican Senator and the inner circle at the White House and ask them or their children to enlist. Good luck with that.

Posted by: moon at February 1, 2006 12:21 PM | PERMALINK


1. "as long as these wiretapped conversations can only be used to prosecute people for terrorism related offenses, what's the harm in that" This is not true. The information gained through those wiretaps may or may not be useable in criminal trials (or terrorism or other mundane criminal acts). That is still very up in the air.

2. "If you give me the choice between waking up in the morning and seeing something like that again, or having people listen to me talk on the phone, it's an easy call for me." I'm glad that's an easy call for you. You do realize that if we had random drug tests every month for every citizen, we could very quickly end the problem of drug abuse in this country, right? However, that program is illegal. There is a right to privacy in this country, that needs to be balanced against the need for (physical) security. The larger question is whether the NSA program is illegal, not whether it makes us safer. Remember: Congress (run by Republicans) could have passed a law to allow Bush to have this NSA program be legal. He choose not to. Thus, this is a debate about legal issues, not security ones (though they influence the debate).

3. I'm glad you feel safer with the NSA program. Do you have any evidence that we have been made safer as a result of this (likely illegal) program? Can you share any of this evidence with us?

Posted by: baltar at February 1, 2006 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

morris, to save your trouble in wasting time with the brooklyn bridge attack meme, it's been pretty clear for a while that working within the parameters of existing law (a la clinton) would not have in any way hampered the truck driver who allegedly considered dropping the brooklyn bridge with a blowtorch. that is to say, the illegal wiretapping in no way contributed to the government's interference with this plot (which was almost certainly, to be fair, doomed by its very nature by the mere presence of the NYPD and tens of thousands of daily commuters anyway).

don't believe me? check this out, a post better researched than anything you or i has ever posted here. and is it the leftcoaster? you betcha, but it's mostly just an aggregation of administration info and the reporting of the Times and the Newsweek, so it's pretty hard to discredit it on ideology alone. indeed, to discredit it, i submit you're going to have to do some pretty serious research and reading of your own. good luck with that.

Posted by: moon at February 1, 2006 01:24 PM | PERMALINK

Abuse of executive powers says what? Why is it that the current President actually respects the Constitution enough not to use "executive agreement" regarding sharing nuclear technology with another nation (India) if he's an emperor and a king? Why would he do that, if he doesn't care about the Constitution? This is more evidence of a double standard when liberals are in the White House, that abuses of executive power are routinely tolerated, because you think they have their heart in the right place.

Posted by: Morris at March 2, 2006 09:49 AM | PERMALINK

Morris - You know how we love it when you insult us, but could you be a doll and let us know exactly what you are insulting us for?

Yes, yes, yes, double standards I realize - of course, of course, of course - we have those ALL the time. But see the problem here is that I'm unclear on why we have the double standards in this instance given that I don't know what you are talking about. Care to update us on our latest heresy?

Posted by: Armand at March 2, 2006 09:31 PM | PERMALINK

i'm not sure whether there's a basis for what you're saying; in fact, i'm not really sure what you're saying.

but just for argument's sake, let's assume that what you're saying is bush doesn't have imperial ideas of his presidency because he did something laudable in india (who knows what; it all looked pretty symbolic to me and doesn't appear to have changed the status quo; but just as a heuristic). even if that were the case, one swallow does not make spring, and if bush were to behave perfectly in office from now until the end of his term he'd still be a scoundrel if he didn't explain and hold himself and his staff accountable for the serial abuses of the constitution and the public trust he's visited upon the country in the last five years.

Posted by: moon at March 3, 2006 10:28 AM | PERMALINK
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