I’ve always kind of liked Jonathan Chait. I haven’t read much of his stuff for the past few years, but he certainly had some good thinking, by TNR standards anyway. I don’t know went wrong with him, though I suspect he’s spent too much time debating with the fantasyland neo-cons at TNR and has done too much to adjust his arguments to account for their absurdist arguments. That happens. I myself feel I abandoned Clinton too much during the last few years of his presidency, simply to adjust my arguments to the Republicans I was constantly debating against; and I’ve regretted that ever since. I still supported him, but I ceded much too much ground…not that it made any real difference. But I think I hurt my argument in the process.
And so I just finished reading a decent takedown of Chait by the illustrious Digby. But fortunately for me, he left one of his arguments incomplete, so I thought I’d step in and finish it.
Speaking of sanctions against Saddam, Chait writes:
But the years that followed that war made it clear just how impotent that tool was. Saddam Hussein endured more than a decade of sanctions rather than give up a weapons of mass destruction program that turned out to be nonexistent.
First off, as I’ve stated before, I do not usually support broad economic sanctions. Not against dictators like Saddam and Castro, anyway. I don’t think they were good against the Soviets either. It makes sense against a nation that wants economic freedom and strength, but evil leaders will gladly accept the economic controls over their citizens. Not only does it give them a justification for why their economy sucks, but it helps tighten their grip over the country. Plus, it gives them a universal enemy for their citizens to hate more than the dictator. And that’s certainly how Saddam used them, who was able to milk the sanctions for billions of dollars, because he controlled the black market.
Beyond that, I think it’s a much better idea to allow oppressed to enjoy our freedoms and see how great things are elsewhere. Not only does it make us look like good guys, but it will help them build a middle class, and thus build a power base within the country that is independent of the dictator. So rather than sanctions acting to end totalitarian regimes, they serve to help further them.
So I’m not big into sanctions. But I’ve got to protest Chait’s description about Saddam’s nonexistent programs. Because he seems to be forgetting the real reasons why Saddam opposed the inspections teams. It wasn’t because he wanted to hide something, though he might have. And he probably didn’t like the imposition against his authority, which he saw as being absolute; at least within his own borders. But it was primarily because we were using our access of Iraq to spy on non-WMD programs, as well aiding a coup movement.
Those were the reasons Saddam gave for opposing the inspectors, and as we now know, he was right. We were spying where we shouldn’t have been. We were trying to overthrow Saddam. And most of all, we were doing all these things so that Saddam would eventually throw-out the inspectors, and thus try to force President Clinton to invade the country. Because that’s all it was really about. The neo-cons were upset after the first Gulf war that we didn’t remove Saddam, and they were trying like crazy to make it happen afterwards. Even the Kurdish no-fly zone over northern Iraq was a part of this plot.
So none of this was about stopping Saddam’s WMD programs, or Saddam protecting programs that didn’t exist. It was about trying to provoke a war that the leader of neither country wanted. But the neo-cons used Clinton’s obvious weakness (created by his Republican opponents) to force his hand to be tougher than he wanted to be. Fortunately, Clinton was strong enough to avoid being forced into war. Unfortunately, they played right into Bush’s weaknesses.
Now, I don’t know why Chait doesn’t know this. All the facts are known. But again, I strongly suspect that Chait has fallen victim to the TNR’s neo-cons, who were the same people trying to force Clinton to invade against his will. Far from him being able to make these points, he’s stuck on the other end, defending against why we shouldn’t have invaded sooner. And the neo-cons were so good at planting the liberal position with rhetorical mines that he couldn’t survey the landscape properly.
Even now, a strategic withdrawal is seen as “losing”, and so Chait isn’t allowed to consider the possibility. Sure, “winning” might be impossible and staying might make things worse, but Chait isn’t allowed to go there. There’s too much rhetorical turf for him to cover before he can even begin to make that argument to his neo-con buddies, so he’s ceded that territory completely.
And that’s really the problem with everyone considered mainstream, reasonable, and serious. That they ceded too much of the playing field to the conservative position, and they’re not even allowed to call anyone who supports the liberal position reasonable or serious. That’s what they agreed to several years ago, and even now, after the disaster in Iraq has become undeniable and the election totally went against them; they’re still stuck with these decisions. The anti-war position is still considered off-limits, and even reasonably intelligent people like Jonathan Chait still aren’t allowed to consider that it was the right position. Not because it’s what they really believe, but because there were never enough truly liberal voices in their political circles to defend those positions. You can be a liberal in Washington, but you can’t be anti-war. It was Chait’s TNR buddies who closed-off that option.
But that doesn’t mean we should write-off guys like Chait. As I said earlier, I myself used to badmouth Clinton in ways that I’m ashamed to admit to now. I never said anything too bad, and I’m not sure how much I really meant it. But I found it necessary in order to be considered reasonable in the circles I was debating in, so I did it. And I didn’t even like those people. But I sure liked to beat them in debates, and they wouldn’t even consider my arguments unless I first established my credentials as a non-Clintonite.
It’s the same thing many “independent” conservatives do, by distancing themselves from Bush before denouncing all liberals. The only difference was that I never fully distanced myself from Clinton, nor claim that I wasn’t a Democrat. But I came pretty close. And if anything, I denounced Clinton so that I could support him. That sounds stupid, but if you saw my arguments, you’d know what I was talking about.
And I’ve been saved and now realize how stupid it was to give as much ground as I did. I suspect Chait can still be saved too, and I hope he is. He’s not a dumb man. He just needs to stop hanging around with the wrong people. And the more things get worse in Iraq, the less he’ll find any reason to be around those people. With any luck, it will be his TNR friends who will be distancing themselves from the pro-war position, and not him from ours. But I don’t have strong hope in that happening. Because for many of them, they are the pro-war position.
Oh, and while there is definitely documentation to back my claims about the weapons teams being used improperly, I can’t find any in my quickie search. I can’t even find my own writings about this, though I’m sure I have. So I’m not linking to anything. But I’ll find them if anyone’s interested. But I’d just rather post this immediately and assume that no one is doubting me.