Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Power of Words

Hilzoy has a quote from McCain on what we should do about Iran:
Well, we lead; we condemn the sham, corrupt election. We do what we have done throughout the Cold War and afterwards, we speak up for the people of Tehran and Iran and all the cities all over that country who have been deprived of one of their fundamental rights. We speak out forcefully, and we make sure that the world knows that America leads -- and including increased funding for part of the Farda, Iranian free radio.

Wow, that'll really show them. I'm sure Ahmadinejad is praising Allah right now that he helped install his buddy Obama in the Whitehouse, so he can avoid the wrathful words of a President McCain.

Seriously, though. What good would these words do, beyond make the Iranian protesters look like they're on Team America? Would the Mullahs start shaking in their sandals? Would more Iranians risk their lives if they knew the American president backed them with tough talk? And if they did, wouldn't that add legitimacy to the idea that these protesters were on Team America?

Stupid Is as Stupid Says

I am continually amazed at how simple-minded conservatives are. It's as if all the problems in the world would go away if we resolve to be tough and adopt a tough posture. And underlying that is a basic level of fear; as if all we have to fear is our own fear, which can be overcome with tough talk and empty posturing.

But tough talk is meaningless. It literally achieves nothing. And if anything, it can backfire if our enemies take our tough talk too seriously and resolve to take actions against our talk (e.g. North Korean nukes). Or conversely, the rest of the world will realize that our tough talk is empty bluster and ignore everything we say; thus diminishing our power.

And as others have said, this isn't about us. We don't need to take a position on this, beyond a basic statement that we support democracy. Were this coming from an ally like England, perhaps some tough words might make them think twice about stifling democracy. But we've already gone about as far with Iran as we can without actually declaring war and bombing them. That's been our standard position for several decades now. And that's part of the problem: We've got nothing left to threaten them with beyond words and bombs, and I don't see how bombing the shit out of them would help anything right now.

This is a domestic dispute within Iran, and the more we try to insert ourselves into this, the worse it'll be. And as I've always said, I don't believe in meddling with the internal politics of any country, and think the best solution to tyranny is to keep selling our shit to them. That's how you have real influence in the modern world. Not with bombs, and definitely not with tough talk. And as Hilzoy suggested, we should consider ourselves lucky that we didn't get stuck with another president who didn't understand this.


Mike Goldman said...

It was FDR who said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. The conservatives have filled themselves with fear and hatred of anything they do not understand, which means they fear and hate everything, because they understand nothing.

As for selling our shit to tyrants, depends on the situation really. No simple solution to all tyrants, each one requires the kind of nuanced approach that depends on the specific circumstances which conservatives don't recognize, so don't fall into that trap yourself.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Regarding tyrants, while I suppose we need to be careful about anything that can be used directly as a weapon, I have no problem selling them clothes, music, movies, cars, TV's and all that other material crap that everyone keeps bitching about. The more of that stuff they buy, the more they'll need to hire people to sell it, manage it, and account for it. And before they know it, they'll have money grubbing owners vying for power and a thick middle class with too much money and not enough problems to worry about; just like us. Bye bye tyrant.

I've never understood why anyone imagines it hurts a tyrant when we stifle our ability to sell crap to their people. All it does is give the tyrant a villain to blame for his people's woes, while hurting their own ability to use capitalism to rise above their tyrant. After all, it's widely acknowledged in our own country that material possessions shackle us into obedience; why not use that as a force for good too? Economic embargoes are a tyrant's best friend. Blue jeans are the way to freedom; not bullets.

Mike Goldman said...

I'm just not seeing the blue jean liberation of North Korea, but you aren't wrong that this is a good approach when it works, which is to say, it's a pragmatic solution sometimes.

Doctor Biobrain said...

But the problem with North Korea is that they don't want our stuff; not that they'd benefit if we sold them our stuff. But we should be all for them taking our stuff once they'll allow it in, as my theory holds up completely. I see no downside to this whatsoever. And the alternative has NEVER worked for us. I mean, if economic sanctions aren't helping to topple Castro, they'll never work against anyone.

For your point to be correct, you'd need to show a country in which our goods were allowed and they HELPED the dictator. I can't imagine it. Now, we could debate places like apartheid-era South Africa, but that involved a country that wanted to be a part of the economic world and was only oppressing part of their population. And the point is that we can punish our friends with economic sanctions, but not our enemies. Because our enemies can do without our stuff, but our friends never will. Saddam became more powerful due to the economic sanctions, because he controlled the black market. We can deprive riches to the people, but the leaders remain rich.

I should mention that my pro-capitalist approach isn't a specific tactic to be used at will, but rather an overall policy that should always be in place. Sell our shit to everyone, always. It won't always work, but it works better than the alternative. Military strength is soooooo 19th Century. Economic power is where it's at. And yeah, I'm very pro-globalization and find the alternative to be absurdly unthinkable. Some day, it'll be considered silly that we ever had seperate nations, just as we think of city-states as being quaint artifacts of an earlier age.

Mike Goldman said...

Your mentioning and dismissing South Africa kind of makes my point, though. Again, there is no argument with your suggestion, sometimes. If you're going to insist on rigid solutions prefabricated for every situation, then we don't even need diplomacy at all. Of course that is silly. Sometimes you take the carrot away, and it's still better than using the stick.

Doctor Biobrain said...

First off, I fully understand that South Africa helped make your case, as I was being intellectually honest and didn't want to overstate my case. But all the same, that was a special circumstance that almost never applies; ie, an ally who is continuing a specific egregious practice that needed to be stopped. And South Africa wasn't a dictatorship and it wasn't their leadership we were trying to hurt, but their business interests; knowing that those interests would push the government. That's not how it works in dictatorships, as the dictator benefits when his country's businesses fail. And of course, apartheid was effectively dismantled starting in 1990 and I can't think of any similar instances when such an embargo would work. Yet, the embargo of Cuba continues, after fifty years of total failure.

I guess what I was trying to say is that economic embargoes should be the exception, not the rule. And when used, they should be for specific purposes with reachable goals, which is a circumstance that doesn't apply anywhere in the world right now. I mean, our embargo of Cuba is absurd, as it essentially amounts to us continuing the embargo until Castro voluntarily steps down and replaces it with democracy. And that has about as much chance for success as me singlehandedly conquering the country and doing the same. And this is widely acknowledged. The reason we continue our embargo of Cuba is for political reasons, not diplomatic. It's a dumb policy that gets dumber every year.

And the overall rule should be that we sell to everyone, even communists and tyrants. Not as a form of diplomacy, but as a sensible policy.

Mike Goldman said...

Well I do believe that the embargo of Cuba is stupid and counterproductive. Let's agree on that and move on. :)

I do appreciate your intellectual honesty, by the way.