Daiblog A Fair and Balanced daily discussion of Democratic politics, ideas, strategy, and news
Friday, March 21, 2003
Following up on my post about the incestuous relationship between the Pentagon and defense contractors, this story was in today's Times about Richard Perle's dual role in the Pentagon and as an advisor to Global Crossing. Apparently, he's trying to get the Pentagon to approve the sale of Global Crossing to a Chinese company over opposition to foreign ownership of critical infrastructure (Global Crossing owns parts of the US fiber optic network). He claims that there is no conflict of interest here as his role on the advisory board has nothing to do with his lobbying efforts for Global Crossing. That seems dubious. In fact, Perle admits in an affidavit that he was hired particularly for his access and connections, though he is rescinding the affidavit and claiming it was a lawyer's fault. What's scary is that this story is probably business as usual--> even if there is no direct connection, all of these guys are going back into private practice at these firms and they know it.
On CNN a few weeks back, Wolf Blitzer asked Perle about Seymour Hersh's article that broke this story. Perle's response was to say that Sy Hersh (who broke the My Lai Massacre story, I believe) is as close to a terrorist as we have in American journalism. Wolf Blitzer was already on to his next question when he paused and said, "A terrorist?" I thought he would choke. Perle's casual accusations of terrorism (like DeLay and Hastert's casual accusations of treason) are the intimidation tactics employed by the thug architects of our foreign policy.
posted by Jeremy
Did anybody read Herbert's column today in the Times? I haven't seen this story verified anywhere yet (except for one another op/ed column), but it seems that the administration has already put out bids for government contractors to come in and divvy up the spoils of post-war Iraq. By invoking an emergency clause, they have circumvented the fed's competetive bid requirements for contracts, and sent out bid proposals to only a handful of companies, including Dick Cheney's Halliburton! I'm sure they were all big GOP donors. Can you believe Clinton had to defend Whitewater for 8 years?! That was nothing compared to the completely rigged system the Repubs have going for them right now. Then they'll call me a traitor for even questioning the President, allowing them to funnel billions to their buddies on the backs of American soldiers below the radar.
These are the dangers inherent in the arrogant dismissal of any dissenting voices. The rich get richer all for the small price of a campaign donation and nobody (besides Herbert, I guess) is even talking about it.
posted by Jeremy
One addendum to my previous post, in keeping with our overarching theme of transforming ideas into policy. Do you think any of the Dem candidates is brave enough to make a speech defending vigorous debate--> a modern update of the "Have you no shame?" speech that finally slayed McCarthyism. Obviously, in a time of war, our concern has to be a) American success and b) the safety of our troops. However, isn't the right to vigorous debate and dissent one of the thinsg we're fighting wars about--the rights necessary to a free, pluralistic society? Further, doesn't vigorous debate help prevent the reckless use of our troops by ensuring that military action only follows serious thought and reflects some consensus as to the wisdom of the action taken?
posted by Jeremy
Digression If I may digress (not too far) from the discussion of public opinion, I wanted to express my deep concern at the degree to which dissent is being stifled in this country. It is shameful that Tom DeLay and Denny Hastert would call Daschle's criticism of Bush's "failed" diplomacy traitorous. Since 9/11, this has been the new McCarthyism. We, and our leaders, do not merely have the right to principled dissent, they have the patriotic duty to dissent! A robust polity relies on vigorous debate as its lifeblood. This isn't crazy talk, here, and it's not crazy to suggest that, whatever one's views on the merits of the war, Bush's failed diplomacy means that the war comes at a great cost to our foreign relations (aside from the obvous and horrific cost to lives).
The U.S. depends more than any other nation on respect for rule of law and on relative international order, so that we can live in security and our markets can thrive. With the diplomatic path taken the administration (and the cowardly silence of Congress), we now find ourselves relatively alone and shunned by much of the world, not just the ridiculous French. Instead of dependening on the worldwide adherence to the rule of law (in addition to respect for our military superiority), we now stand on our military might alone. Can we protect ourselves with only our military? Can we fight all the wars that need to be fought-- most critically the homeland defense against terrorism? Certainly, we are the strongest nation in the world, but is it strength, or strength AND collective security that have safeguarded our shores (and our freedom) for the last 1/2 century?
By the way, did anyone hear Byrd's floor speech yesterday? Who would have imagined that Byrd would become so inspiring in his old age? Sorry I don't have a link to the speech handy.
Anyways, sorry for the digression and back to the interesting discussion on public opinion and war.
posted by Jeremy
1. Obviously, unless he is in his second term, the President faces re-election, and thus must consider how his foreign policy is received by the public. It would be a rare politician indeed who sacrificies his second term to do the right thing (i.e. by going against public opinion). Nevertheless, wouldn't it have been better for Roosevelt to have bucked public opinion and entered WWII in 1939? Maybe not, if he would have been beaten in 1940 by an isolationist. Or maybe yes, if the war could have been over by November, 1940. This is a fact-specific question to which there is no firm answer, but certainly circumstances may exist where a President is judged by history to have done the right thing even though that decision cost him re-election.
2. Whether or not the United States' military effort requires a draft is another factor to consider. Both WWII and Vietnam did, the Gulf War did not. If the current military action eventually requires a draft, then the President is likely to become significantly more attuned to public opinion.
posted by Adam
There are two primary reasons for the anti-democratic notion that a President should not slavishly follow public opinion with regards to initiating military action. The first (as pointed out by Amanda) is that the the President has access to far more information than the general public, and thus he may better perceive threats to America or American interests than does the public. (Compare this to domestic policy, where the general public has a pretty good idea of what makes good or bad policy). The second is that events these days just move too quickly for public opinion to keep up. A President who waits for consensus support from the electorate before committing American forces may not be able to act in time. This is particularly so when American interests are implicated in far-flung regions of the world or where American interests are not clear. The Gulf of Tonkin resolution may have been a product of something more nefarious than these two factors, but that horse ain't getting back in the barn.
Sometimes there are emergenices, and the President has to act. Imagine if President Bush had been presented with concrete information regarding the 9/11 attacks in June or July of 2001 (as opposed to the bits and pieces he did see). Suppose that he decided to attack Afghanistan and maybe Saudi Arabia in August of 2001 to break up the Taliban, Al Quaeda, and to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden. Who knows where U.S. public opinion would have been regarding such a war? Bush was not very popular in the summer of 2001. The U.S. public could have been against a war that would have been justified.
World War II and the Vietnam War are also worth examining. U.S. public opinion ran against intervening in World War II until Pearl Harbor, more than two years after Germany invaded Poland. There is evidence that Roosevelt wished to intervene earlier, principally to aid Britain, but would not do so overtly without public support. From September 1, 1939 to December 7, 1941, the United States did not act as Germany invaded France, bombed Britain, and dug in its Atlantic Wall. The United States did not act as Germany built and utilized the machinery of the Holocaust. If Japan hadn't bombed Pearl Harbor, would the United States have ever intervened in Europe?
I hope so. The cardinal American value is democracy, and Germany's aggression in Europe threatened democracy. Germany invaded, destroyed, and murdered on a mass scale. America was in a position to stop Germany (although, admittedly this was not so obvious in 1939, when America's military was small), and so it should have. As a Jew, I heard the story of Roosevelt turning around a ship of Jewish refugees in 1939 in Sunday School. He refused to grant them asylum, and they were forced to return to Europe, where many were murdered in the Holocaust. This story was presented to me by a Sunday School teacher, but I'm not sure any of us knew what lesson we were supposed to take from it. I took it that sometimes the public opinion of my country, a country I love, is wrong. Sometimes good people make wrong choices, and all the people on the boat could hope for was that the President of the United States acted contrary to the wishes of his employers. That he didn't cost many of them their lives. The right decision for Roosevelt would have been to go against public opinion.
Vietnam offers the same lesson from the opposite perspective. Where World War II was one where our President rightly wished to fight, the Vietnam war was the product of Presidents who wrongly wished to fight. In World War II, public opinion turned pro-war after Pearl Harbor. In Vietnam, public opinion turned increasingly anti-war as the conflict escaladed without success. However, in the mid-60's, Vietnam seemed to many smart people to be similar to World War II: it was a war for democracy, a war of liberation. These smart people turned out to be wrong. They involved the United States in a meaningless conflict which resulted in over 58,000 American dead, over a million Vietnamese dead, and not much else. While public opinion was not as anti-war as portrayed in popular culture (Nixon, after all, did win in 1968), public opinion did turn against the Vietnam War, and Nixon implemented Vietnamization, which began the end of the war. The right decision for Johnson and Nixon would have been to follow public opinion.
So, if our Presidents went one-for-two on WWII and Vietnam, so did the American public (counting WWII from 1939-1941). In one instance, the public was "right," and in the other it was "wrong." By "right" and "wrong," I mean that the public supported the public policy choice which had (or would have had) the best results. More lives could have been saved, and democracy more quickly restored in Europe had the United States intervened with its allies after September 1, 1939. Conversely, America was highly unlikely to ever establish democracy in Vietnam, and its nonaction would have saved more lives than did its war.
Which brings us to public opinion and Iraq. Both sides have long argued that American public opinion supports their policy choice. Both sides should give it a rest. Whether or not the American public supports war in Iraq matters politically, but not absolutely. President Bush and his advisors know more about Iraq's true military capabilities than we do. They should acknowledge public opinion, but they are not bound by it. It is unfortunate, and may perhaps be tragic, that people will likely die as a result of the President's actions before the rest of us will know whether he's right. Nevertheless, that's the situation.
I don't mean to serenely dismiss public opinion as irrelevant to a President's decision to wage war. A President must decide for himself how much he values public opinion, especially when public opinion runs contrary to doing the right thing. The President must balance innumerable factors and consequences before arriving at his decision. I would like to believe that in a democracy, a good President would consider public opinion before acting, but that he would also recognize that there might be times where he has to go against public opinion and simply try to persuade the voters that he's right. In other words, he might have to lead. Since so much power is vested in one person, that person's character, values, and judgment are crucially important. Maybe that's why, although I am not opposed to military action Iraq, I'm pessimistic that such action will be carried out to produce positive results.
So, if you support the war or oppose the war or aren't sure, find support for your position in the available information, in your trust in President Bush (or the lack thereof), and in your own sense of right and wrong. Just don't look for support in the latest poll.
My friend Josh suggests reading this article in today's LA Times, which is sad but worthwhile reading for anyone who believes that global coalitions/organizations are an important part of foreign policy.
posted by Amanda
To follow on Adam's point, there is also a fundamental disparity in the information that the government can practically share with the public in the international v. the domestic sphere. For example, the public should, with minimal difficulty, be able to ascertain how much each school district spends per student or how much the federal government spends per child on Head Start. The public should not be able to ascertain, with any level of difficulty, everything the government knows about Iraq's spending on weapons of mass destruction. As a result, the populace cedes most of the democratic controls that it employs on domestic policy to its leaders, which is what makes it so frustrating that the administration seems to be hogging the information even within the government.
No headlines today- they were all about today being some sort of moment of truth. Which would be a first for the Bush Administration (ba-da-bing).
Anyway, a bit of stream of consciousness here:
There's a bunch of back and forth in newpapers and the blogosphere about where public opinion in the United States is on the eve of war. Putting aside the statistical fuzziness and the strangely worded questions (Do you support war? Do you support war from afar? Do you support war in a car? Do you support war in a bar?), I'd like to make a serious point.
Using public opinion as a determining factor in whether the United States goes to war is fundamentally different than using public opinion to mold domestic policy. In deciding whether to go to war, public opinion matters primarily as it affects the efficacy of the war. In the domestic realm, converesly, public opinion has a much more direct effect on government decision-making. Put differently, with regards to war, public opinion is wholly political. In the domestic realm, however, it is political, but it has policy and moral components to it, too. Representative democracies are supposed to give the people the domestic policies they desire. They are not always able to go to war only when the people desire. Modern democratic republics invest their executives with the power to wage war without regard to public opinion.