January 24, 2007
State Of The Union
I was fairly unimpressed by Bush's State of the Union speech last night. The tone was better (more engaged, more animated) than the dreary "library speech" of 10ish days ago, but the content hasn't really changed much.
On domestic policy, Bush took some very tentative steps towards admiting to global warming (but didn't do anything), argued for the US to import less oil (but only after he leaves office, and he didn't really present any concrete plan for achieving this), and proposed some moderate health care initatives (which don't seem so good in the light of day; see Drum and hilzoy). None of this matters: his political standing is lower than whale shit at this point, and he could have proposed a full government take-over of all of healthcare and it wouldn't get a hearing. He's a lame-duck, and he's unpopular. Congress will do what it wants.
On foreign policy, he once again proved he really doesn't know much about the Middle East. He lumped both Shiite and Sunni extremists in the same bag (when they clearly aren't), and (once again) argued that the terrorists attack us because they "hate freedom." Uh, no, they don't. There is not one single terrorist organization anywhere in the world who wish to attack us because of how "free" we are (they wouldn't define us as "free", in any event). They hate us because of our policies, our culture, our actions, and our attempts to get their societies to change (in directions that we think are good: capitalism and democracy). They don't however, hate us because we are "free." If Bush has done nothing else wrong (and he's done plenty), his repetition of this meme has clearly hindered any sort of realistic national dialog about causes, effects and solutions (to terrorism, to Middle East authoritarianism, to poverty in the Middle East, etc.).
As for this surge in Iraq, I think its useless. I'm certainly in favor of "winning" (whatever that means at this point), but an additional 20,000 troops isn't going to accomplish victory. Perhaps an additional 200,000 troops might (an American platoon on every streetcorner in Baghdad would reduce the violence, though it would also increase American casualties), but we don't have an additional 200,000. And even if we did, I think Iraq has decended so far into civil war that no political process can bring the sides back together again. Iraq is dead; now, the question is, what do we do with the body?
I'm also frustrated that everyone calls this surge "bold." No, extending tours for troops in Iraq (keeping them longer) and hurrying other already scheduled in sooner (to "surge" 20,000) troops isn't bold. That's just book-keeping. Bold is stripping all of our combat troops from Japan, South Korea, Europe, and a few of the good National Guard units and running them all into Iraq (and surging something like an additional 75,000 troops). Sure, we'd be up shits creek if North Korea tried anything (but if we parked most of the US Air Force, and all of our aircraft carriers in the area, that might dissuade them, or at least slow them down), and I still don't think it would work, but it is bold, and has a better chance than 20,000. It's also likely to destabilize other parts of the world (move that many soldiers around, and someone, somewhere is likely to react somehow), but its certainly bold.
Of course, bold shouldn't be expected from this guy.
Posted by baltar at January 24, 2007 05:49 PM
| Posted to International Affairs
They don't however, hate us because we are "free."
Sorta depends on how you look at it. At bottom, to the extent that we can capture the feelings of a movement with a gross generalization, "they" hate us because we're secular and modern and our women run around uncovered and stuff. And because we're sort of exuberantly exporting all that at 'em. And because they're poor and have shitty oppressive kleptocratic governments and are full of resentments that have been all fired up by blowhard imams, of course.
Yep. Those are all actual, positive reasons to hate us (from their perspectives). None of those, however, has to do with "freedom" per se (though, of course, our freedom has allowed us to choose to be those things).
Or, to put it another way, we're about as free as Canada, Britain, and France (in a general sense), and yet the terrorists don't hate (or attack) those states (except as they see them as associated with us) in the same way.
My point was that being secular and modern and running around uncovered is certainly about "freedom", particularly when the proposed alternative is "sharia".
The US is certainly the biggest, loudest, most unruly and obnoxious representative of that sort of freedom, and of course that makes it the fattest target -- wholly apart from exceptionalism and interventionism and worldpolicemanism and manifestfuckingdestinyism and whatnot.
It certainly is where I am.
Yeah I don't think being secular has much to do with it. I mean it's not like these groups (or some of them - discussing them like they are a cohesive "they" is highly problematic) haven't targeted the Saudis too. That's hardly a bastion of the secular (well, from our perspective or that of many Saudis).
You guys really don't believe the fact that we're not Islamic doesn't have something to do with it?
We're getting off-track: my point was that all these different terrorist groups (as armand noted: they have different goals) are not focused on the US because of our "freedom." They attack us because our policies interfere with their goals and strategies. We can debate whether we should interfere, and how to interfere, but lets at least put to bed the idea that they want to kill us because we are "free."
That may fit your preferred theoretical framework, but it ignores reality. To consider these groups as just another set of geopoliticial actors and ignore the radical religious motivation is ridiculous.
amplifying baltar's: "They attack us because our policies interfere with their goals and strategies" --
isn't it also fair to say that "they" attack us because it's good for business? not in the american sense -- shareholders, if i don't make 14% on my money somebody's getting fired, that sort of thing -- but in the sense that people want something to do, something to live for, a raison d'etre of whatever sort, and demonizing this country provides that, by offering the poor, dispossessed, and oppressed an effigy to gambol about other than the injustices they themselves suffer (ever so much harder to face).
and it's not as though that's not broadly analogous to what the bush admin (and others before it with other enemies) has been doing for 6 years -- with iraq, if not all global terrorists.
maybe this is inappropriately nihilistic or cynical of me, or too nebulous in any event, but it just strikes me that a cynic might opine that, especially in authoritarian regimes of one sort or another, the demons hardly matter -- what matters, is that there are demons. because of our broadly secular character, we fill that purpose nicely as a photonegative of sharia law, but it is a purpose, and we are a convenience, a chisel people (imams, would-be terrorist leaders) can use to break themselves off a little power. call it the gangster or bully theory of IR.
in this sense you can call it freedom or pumpernickel -- they hate us because they're told to, and they're told to becausse doing so makes certain people powerful and influential and wealthy by whatever measure pleases them.
wow, i've a) got no idea what i'm talking about and b) i'm depressing myself rather severely.
we're not Islamic
That's not the same thing as being free. FOr that, the would be attacking Japan, which is free and not islamic either.
Yeah, I don't think that "we're not Islamic" has much to do with it. There are lots and lots of places that aren't Islamic, and Al Qaeda (and all the offshoots) aren't much planning on killing them. The only non-American targets they tend to go after are ones associated with American policy (Britain, Spain, etc.) Thus, I conclude, it isn't the "non-islamic" part that angers them, but something about what we do that angers them. Likely, I argue, our policies (or, to be more accurate, their interpretation of what our policies are).