March 24, 2004

Civility in the World and the Blogosphere

Concerning accusations of name-calling by both the Foreign Minister and the Minister of Agriculture: in both cases, I felt my response mirrored the tone set by their original posts. If they felt attacked, that was exactly my point. The 'bare-knuckled roundhouse fight that is blog politics' seems to allow for a general tone of disdain for contrary opinion and dismissive generalizations of one's opponents. Starting from the assumption that everyone on the left is a 'whiner' (as did the Foreign Minister) or that the Spanish voters are 'nimrods' (as did the Minister of Agriculture, thereby initiating the current round of name-calling) does not particularly convince anyone but the already converted to support one's views. When discussing the situation in Iraq, to dismiss the U.N. and the French out of hand is not constructive. That's how a good portion of the world is starting to treat the U.S., in response to Bush's heavy-handed and U.S.-centric foreign policy. I'll agree that there are legitimate and serious critiques to be made of French foreign policy, and I think the Minister of Agriculture's suggestion that those hypocrises be brought to light is a good one. However, I think reacting to French foreign policy with solutions like 'Freedom Fries' and 'Freedom Toast' reveals the absurdity of the discourse. Additionally, we should proceed cautiously into the finger-pointing arena, as I think our own efforts in rebuilding Iraq (economically and politically) have hardly passed the 'enlightened global leadership' test.

It's true that I've only recently joined the Maximum Leader's cabinet, and perhaps general agreement amongst the bloggers allowed the disdainful tone I'm critiquing to go unchallenged in the past. However, I should also point out that Maximum Leader himself seems to maintain a much more consistent tone of civility in discussion, and I think all Ministers should look to his example. Although I'm not sure how 'sleeping with my mother,' as his recent page header proclaimed, fits with that.

The difference between Smallholder beginning a discussion by calling my friend a 'moron' and me opening an argument with 'Smallholder is a nimrod' is twofold: one, my use of 'nimrod' was intended as a mirror to his dismissal of the Spanish, whereas his use of 'moron' had no precedent in our discussion; and two, Smallholder and I have a shared history that allows for ocassionally 'bare-knuckled' teasing between us, whereas he shares no such familiarity with my friend. Contrary to Smallholder's suggestion in a previous post, I think my position on this matter is consistent. I am wryly suggesting that Smallholder consider himself chastised and end this aspect of the discussion. Ha.

Concerning the Spanish election and the situation in Iraq, I refer interested readers to this article, which states, as I predicted, that Zapatero, the PM-elect, has pledged to send additional troops to Afghanistan and, if the U.S. transfers power in Iraq to the U.N., the Spanish troops could stay in place. The Spanish have hardly given up the fight against al Qaeda: if they had, they would also be withdrawing from Afghanistan. The decision not to fight in Iraq under the U.S. umbrella is a tactical decision in the war on terror, not a strategic one. Regarding charges of appeasement: would al Qaeda's behavior be motivated any differently if the Spanish had re-elected the old government and stayed in Iraq? I say no. Al Qaeda's objective in attacking Madrid was not military, it was political. There is no military advantage to the Spanish withdrawal, and al Qaeda knows it: the U.S. has practically unlimited military resources and can compensate for any tactical gap on the ground in Iraq. True, the perception that al Qaeda changed the government of Spain serves the objectives of the terrorists and should be considered a victory for them. But Spain, with 90% of the population opposing the war, was a politically vulnerable target, and al Qaeda chose well.

Other Minister's are more adept at the historical analogies than I, but if we're looking for lessons in WWII, I wouldn't reference the Munich Pact of 1938. I would instead compare it to the Soviet response in the face of Germany's 1941 invasion. Sure, the Germans took the Soviets by surprise and might have thought they were on a roll at the time, but the Soviets conceded the loss of the western territory, dug in for the winter, and didn't surrender the war. No one is suggesting we accomodate al Qaeda -- that would indeed be appeasement. But if we're going to win the war, we've got to look past being simply reactive and consider the full strategy. Spain is still with us in the greater fight.

For our own involvement, it's obviously silly to suggest a full and immediate withdrawal (in the case of the Spanish, we're only talking about 1,200 troops). I agree with most of the suggestions made by the Minister of Agriculture. We should plan on being their for the long haul -- a decade or more. However, I additionally think we should give up civil control of the country and allow the U.N. to have full responsibility (I can already hear the collective scoffing of the blogosphere). The U.N. has a much more successful track record with nation-building than we do, and is currently in the lead in both Afghanistan and Bosnia. We should stick to what our military does best, which is find and kill people, and leave the civil government in hands that are more acceptible to both the Iraqis and the world at large. We should also give up this business of economically punishing France and Germany by restricting contract bids, particularly when we're busy awarding no-bid contracts to Halliburton and other Bush campaign contributors. Basically, I think we should continue to shoulder the military burden in Iraq but we should stop trying to recoup our losses economically. Re-building Iraq in our image undermines our efforts to keep and hold any moral highground. We don't have to agree with it, but we should at least acknowledge that the world's image of the U.S. is not a positive one right now. As a country, I think we should stop being so defensive on the world stage and give some equal time to our critics. We remain the world's only superpower: we are the only nation on the planet with global power and global reach. A little introspection and humility isn't going to change that, and it might actually do us some good.

I'm going out of town for a few days of rest and relaxation; try to remain civil while I'm away.


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