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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Quia peccavi nimis cogitatione, verbo et opere

by digby

Oh fewgawd's sake. Last week Joe Klein said:

Klein: And, by the way, we're very much well liked among the young, educated Iranians. But this is not Iraq we're dealing with here. This is an ancient country, a very strong country, and a very proud country. And so, yeah, by all means, we should talk to them, but, on the other hand, we should not take any option, including the use of nuclea-....tactical nuclear weapons off the table.

Stephanopoulos: Keep that on the table?

Klein: It's absolutely stupid not to.

Stephanopoulos: That's insane.

Klein: Well I don't think we should ever use tac-...I think that...

Stephanopoulos: Well, then why should they be on the table?

Klein: Why?

Stephanopoulos: Why do we want that specter of crossing that line?

Klein: Because we don't know what the options on the other side...what their options are on the table.

Stephanopoulos: Well we know that they've got 40,000 possible suicide bombers but I also think that line is one that we have to be very, very careful to cross.

Klein: Listen. I don't think. I think the use of force here would be counterproductive. But I think that when you're dealing in a negotiation you can't take stuff off the table before it starts.

In this week's TIME magazine Klein writes A Mea Culpa, Sorta:

A few weeks ago, I made a mistake while bloviating on the Sunday morning television program This Week With George Stephanopoulos. I said that all military options, including the use of tactical nuclear weapons, should remain on the table in our future dealings with Iran. I was wrong on three counts.

First, my words were a technical violation of a long-standing protocol: A diplomat friend tells me that while it is appropriate to say, "All options should remain on the table," the direct mention of nukes — especially any hint of the first use of nukes — is, as Stephanopoulos correctly said, "crossing a line." If George had asked, "What about nukes?" the diplomatic protocol would have been to tapdance: "I can't imagine ever having to use nuclear weapons," or some such, leaving the nuclear door open, but never saying so specifically.

In truth, I was trying to make the same point, undiplomatically — which comes easy for me: If the Iranians persist in crazy talk about wiping Israel, or New York, off the face of the earth, it isn't a bad idea if we hint that we can get crazy, too.

One can easily imagine the unthinkable: a suitcase nuclear weapon, acquired from the former Soviet Union by Iranian agents, detonated in New York, London or Tel Aviv. A nuclear response certainly would have to be on the table then — and the military would be negligent if it weren't studying all possible nuclear scenarios.

No, he was not making the same point as his diplomat friend, undiplomatically or otherwise. The friend said that one should say "I can't imagine ever having to use nuclear weapons." That is the oppsite of hinting that we are going to "act crazy."

Now, not explicitly ruling out nuclear retaliation against a nuclear attack is not "crazy." It's called "deterrence." It's worked for decades.

But Klein is still talking about a tactical nuclear first strike:

But I can't imagine a first use of nukes, and certainly not the unilateral use of nuclear weapons — or military force of any kind — against Iran by the Bush administration now. This was the second level on which I was mistaken: I failed to give the proper context for my remarks. I should have said, "Look, I believe the President has squandered our credibility in the world, and it would be disastrous for us to act unilaterally, given our unwarranted — and tragically incompetent — invasion of Iraq." (I did get around to saying something like that a few sentences later.)

One can only assume by this statement that he believes that a more credible president could launch a first strike with tactical nuclear weapons. But then, doing that would actually be crazy, so that makes no sense either. That would make the invasion of Iraq look like child's play.

(He does go on to write, "As a general principle, I'm opposed to the unilateral first use of U.S. force in all but the most extraordinary circumstances." That's reassuring.)

Here comes the "sorta":

Let me give credit where it's due: I probably would not be writing this were it not for all the left-wing screeching. The Stephanopoulos moment came and went ephemerally, as TV moments do, leaving a slight, queasy residue — I knew that I hadn't explained myself adequately, but that happens a lot on television. So thanks, frothing bloggers, for calling me on my mistake. You can, at times, be a valuable corrective.

How touching. And a nice place to end this. But no:

At other times, though, your vitriol just seems uninformed, malicious and disproportionate. You seem to believe that since I'm not a lock-step liberal — and we can talk about what a liberal actually is some other time — I'm some sort of creepy, covert conservative. Of course, most conservatives consider me a liberal. I call myself a moderate — a radical or flaming moderate, take your pick — because in this witlessly overheated political environment, you've got to call yourself something. But the conservatives do have a point: I disagree with Ronald Reagan's famous formulation, "Government is part of the problem, not part of the solution." I believe that government action can, when judiciously applied, make life better for people — and that we, as a society, have a responsibility to provide equal opportunity for all. I've had some problems with the methods liberals use to accomplish those goals, especially when they do not recognize the corrosive effects of entrenched bureaucracies and special interests, like the public employees unions, on the lives of the poor. I've also had problems with the reflexive tendency of Democrats to oppose the use of U.S. military power, even when that power has been sanctioned by the UN or NATO; I have absolutely no patience for those who believe the United States is a malignant or immoral force in the world.

Ok. Let's take this one step at a time.

Creepy, covert conservative? Why ever would we think that:

Hugh Hewitt: Joe, as I was reading the credits, because I love credits, and it seems that you don't know any Republicans, but I love the credits anyway. You single out as your pals...

Joe Klein: (laughing) You think I don't know very many Republicans?

HH: (laughing) Well, we got Elaine Kamarck, William Galston, Mandy Grunwald, Adam Walinksy, Richard Holbrooke, Leslie Gelb. They get the first paragraph. I said wow, you run in that East side circle that you talk about in here.

JK: Well, you know, I also run in the kind of faith based circle. In fact, one of Bush's nicknames for me is Mr. Faith Based.

HH: Well, that's good.

JK: And at the very end of the book, I acknowledge Bill Bennett as giving the best advice on how to judge a presidential candidate.

HH: At a Christian Coalition meeting. Yeah, it's a great anecdote.

JK: And Bill's a good friend of mine. But I've kind of got to give these guys cover.

You don't want to be praised by what you call a traditional liberal, do you?

Traditional liberal? He writes in TIME:

I call myself a moderate — a radical or flaming moderate, take your pick — because in this witlessly overheated political environment, you've got to call yourself something.

"Radical" or "flaming" moderate is is a cute little appellation that means nothing. Moderate, by definition cannot be radical --- or flaming. It is a perfectly respectable political position, but Klein doesn't seem to be one. Moderates don't support privatising social security, as Klein does. Nor do they hate public employee unions. Social conservatives, which Klein calls himself, are certainly not moderates.

When people say they don't understand what Democrats stand for, it's Joe Klein they are thinking of. Sadly, he and others like him speak for us in the media. That's what's killing us.

And I don't actually see what Klein finds objectionable about Reagan's famous dictum of the government being the problem. It's boilerplate GOP bullshit and the same boilerplate GOP bullshit he spews all the time. For instance:

The Great Society was an utter failure because it helped to contribute to social irresponsibility at the very bottom.

Klein has "problems" with the methods liberals use to accomplish their goals, especially when "they do not recognize the corrosive effects of entrenched bureaucracies and special interests, like the public employees unions, on the lives of the poor." Yet, the Great Society which lifted vast numbers of Americans out of poverty was a failure. (But hey, it makes for great cocktail party chatter by a "liberal" doesn't it?)

I don't know what this pernicious effect the public employee unions are having on the poor is, but I've read his critique of bureaucracies and it's completely incomprehensible. He wrote:

In the Information Age, Clinton knew that the paradigm was the computer, that the government had to be more decentralized, that bureaucracies had to become more flexible, and that our social safety net had to reflect that--the fact that people had more information and have to have more choices about where they get their health care, where their money for their retirement is held, and so on.

Klein has never explained why the social safety net has to reflect the fact that people have "more information and more choices" about where their money is held for retirement or where they get their health care. You can use medicare anywhere, and most people are very happy to have part of their retirment income secured by the full faith and credit of the US treasury. It gives them some ability to take some chances with the rest of their money. Klein simply makes assertions that he seems to have formulated sometime around 1994 and never revisited after the tech bubble burst.

I have absolutely no patience for those who believe the United States is a malignant or immoral force in the world

I have to say that when the US starts "acting crazy" and torturing people and threatening to launch a nuclear first strike it is very hard to argue that it's not becoming a malignant force.

Civilized people don't talk about torture and nuclear war like they're just another form of muscle flexing. That's Dr Strangelove shit and the fact that gasbags like Klein throw this stuff around like it's yesterday's news is a big fat clue that this country has taken a wrong turn somewhere.

Are we a malignant force? Sometimes. Nobody's perfect, not even the great USA. It's not unpatriotic to admit that. Indeed, it's necessary if we aren't to be taken in by hucksters and despots like the Bush administration and their enablers in the press.

Klein winds up with a typical mushy centrist's arrogant assertion that his politics are the only way anything ever gets done, which is total nonsense.

George W. Bush has proven that governing from the right can't work; but governing from the left won't work either. The only way that real change — a universal health-care system (along the lines enacted by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts), a real alternative energy plan, progressivity in taxation and entitlement reform, a cooperative non-toxic foreign policy—will come is through coalitions built from the center out.

Here's the "real change" that Klein envisions:

You know, I'm pretty much a social conservative on a lot of stuff. I'm certainly opposed to late term abortion, and I think the deal to be made is morning after pill is legal, anything after that probably shouldn't be...in the past year, I've stood for the following things. I've taken the following positions. I agreed with the President on social security reform. I supported his two Supreme Court nominees, and I support, even though I opposed this war, I support staying the course in Iraq, and doing whatever we have to do in order to stabilize the region.

Klein and his ilk have been hanging around the far right so long that it looks like the center to them now.

"one of the problems that I have with being called a liberal by someone like you is that there are all these people on the left in the Democratic Party who are claiming to be liberals, and I don't want to be associated with them."

That goes both ways. Guys like Klein give liberalism a bad name in my mind --- meaningless, mushy, split-the-baby dreck with no intellectual consistency except an arrogant belief that those who muddy their hands in the daily dog-eat-dog of a partisan era we didn't create are uncouth for fighting to survive. Klein's ineffectual political style hasn't been relevant for quite some time; it's just that nobody's called him on it until now.