The Election and SSM

November 3, 2004 | 44 comments
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I have generally avoided posting on same-sex marriage, and I am not attempting to initiate another debate on the merits. But I believe that one of the huge stories of the presidential election will be the importance of this issue. While most people I know thought this election would be a referendum on the war in Iraq, it now appears that the tipping issue may have been same-sex marriage. More on my other blog.

44 Responses to The Election and SSM

  1. [...] ent and triumphalism. Still, the results must be encouraging. (Note: T&S was on the cutting edge of identifying this political trend!) Supporters of traditional marriage, howev [...]

  2. lyle on November 3, 2004 at 4:17 am

    I hope it is a permanent electoral move; i.e. that voters start thinking with their values & morals; and not just their pocketbooks/political correct meters.

  3. Russell Arben Fox on November 3, 2004 at 9:06 am

    “I hope it is a permanent electoral move; i.e. that voters start thinking with their values & morals; and not just their pocketbooks/political correct meters.”

    I’d like to believe that the Democratic party, which remains the only realistic advocate for the poor in America, will quit forcing the people to choose between their social conservatism and their obvious, desperate, economic needs. But I have little hope in that.

    Grumpy.

  4. Gordon Smith on November 3, 2004 at 9:25 am

    Russell, I don’t think I have ever felt the need for a multi-party system more than I did last night. Cramming all of the people of this country into two categories is horribly uncomfortable. While I recognize that multiple parties have costs, I am beginning to think that I could really get behind this idea. I assume you have thought about this … are the prospects of such a development really zero?

  5. diogenes on November 3, 2004 at 9:33 am

    I hope it is a permanent electoral move; i.e. that voters start thinking with their values & morals

    Pew exit poll data indicated that “moral values” was among the top issues for voters in the election.

    So, let’s see — as between a candidate who favors civil unions of same-sex couples, and a candidate who favors unprovoked attacks on sovereign nations, as well as detention without trial and torture of prisoners, the country apparently has a slight preference for the latter.

    We seem to have developed a very odd and disturbing concept of “moral values” in this country.

    Yes, I’m feeling moderately grumpy, too.

  6. Matt Evans on November 3, 2004 at 10:41 am

    Diogenes,

    I don’t want to threadjack this into a discussion of the Iraq war, but everytime I hear the argument you just used, I want to ask this question: why does morality require that we respect sovereignty? For example, it seems to me that if there were a hundred families on an island, and one of the fathers was killing some of his kids, that it would not be immoral for other fathers to disregard family sovereignty and stop the killer. There might be pragmatic grounds against the fathers getting involved, but I don’t see any moral basis for an objection.

  7. Rosalynde Welch on November 3, 2004 at 10:48 am

    I’m hopelessly indecisive on this issue (as on politics generally)–but I couldn’t help feeling annoyed at all the pundits analyzing the democrats’ loss as a tactical matter. Nobody even suggested that many Americans may simply *not support* liberal social planks, rather than simply being distracted by other issues, or not hearing Kerry’s message, or too dull to see through Bush’s political ploys, or etc etc.

  8. greenfrog on November 3, 2004 at 10:49 am

    Matt,

    I agree with the beginning of your analysis, but I think the end needs to be completed:

    There might be pragmatic grounds against the fathers getting involved, but I don’t see any moral basis for an objection.

    The moral objection would arise if intervening required me to kill more of the beleaguered family members to address the situation than the evildoer was killing himself. Also, a moral objection could be raised to spending $120 billion to accomplish that effort through battle when offering the evildoer $10 billion and free passage to elsewhere might have accomplished it without bloodshed of any kind. Also a moral objection could be raised to launching an attack without thinking about how to address the damage to the physical and political infrastructure following the attack.

    I agree that the sovereignty of nations is a poor reason to withhold good when we can accomplish it. The moral objections I see are all in the implementation.

    On the main point, I agree with Gordon — I think that the deciding element of the election has been the American voters’ perception that their moral values are represented by the Republican party. I am not at all sure, however, that a multi-party system solves more problems than it creates.

  9. D. Fletcher on November 3, 2004 at 10:56 am

    Agreed. Moral values are determining government in our country, even those that really play a small, small part in most people’s lives, like the legal union of two people of the same-sex who wish to be joined.

    I’m grumpy too. Is this our nation now? So every vote will have to be hand-counted again and again, and someone will win by a margin of a few thousand? Though I voted for Kerry, I was never very happy with him. When I told my Dad that I found his positions incoherent (JWL called the election “incompetent” vs. “incoherent”) my Dad said, “nothing new. Every election for the last 50 years has been a sad choice.”

  10. danithew on November 3, 2004 at 11:10 am

    Diogenes, I’m with Matt on that one. The more I knew about Saddam, the more contempt I had for his “sovereignty.” He was a serial-killer, whose own hands were drenched in blood that he himself shed. For a time I wondered how a man like that didn’t end up in prison, how he managed to take such a grasp of a nation-state and all its resources. After doing research and writing a paper about it, I realized that it was his ambition and cruelty that got him there (as well as his willingness to constantly work eighteen-hour days). He simply worked harder than anyone else around him. And he was open (even before he assumed power) about the fact that he wanted to follow the Stalinist state model. As he attained greater and greater responsibilities and powers, he was able to push everyone else out and assume the presidency of Iraq. And ever since that time Iraq has been a bloodbath.

    It’s odd (yet logical) how sometimes the worst characteristics can propel a person to power. I perceive Saddam as a modern-day Amalickiah. In light of some of the commentary we get about what has happened in Iraq, I have to wonder how many of the Nephites in that day objected to Amalickiah’s assassination, complaining that it was un-Christian or unseemly to use that kind of a tactic.

    Sometimes we have a little bit too much respect and too much reverence for sovereignty. All I can say is that it was a pleasure to see Saddam go down and I’ve never been able to understand how anyone could be wringing their hands and feeling anguish over the demise of that regime.

    Doctrine and Covenants 134:2
    We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.

  11. danithew on November 3, 2004 at 11:14 am

    Mosiah 29:21
    And behold, now I say unto you, ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention, and the shedding of much blood.

  12. Matt Evans on November 3, 2004 at 11:19 am

    Hi Greenfrog,

    I agree that stopping brutes might cause more problems than it solves, but that’s true whether or not they provoke us. Many Iraq critics say the war would have been justified if the Baathists had killed thousands of Americans, but is not justified because they only killed thousands of Kurds and Shiites. It is therefore immoral for us to violate their sovereignty and involve ourselves in their business — if the Kurds and Shiites want to live under a tyrannical sovereign, that’s their choice. My point was to show that the morality of disregarding the Baathists’ sovereignty doesn’t turn on their killing us; it is sufficient that they kill others.

    I see no moral reason for recognizing sovereignty, thought I agree that sovereignty is in no way the only argument against removing despots and abusive fathers.

  13. Matt Evans on November 3, 2004 at 12:03 pm

    Russell: I’d like to believe that the Democratic party . . . will quit forcing the people to choose between their social conservatism and their obvious, desperate, economic needs. But I have little hope in that.

    I’ve been up all night following the election on internet and TV, and was shocked to hear so many expressions of grave concern with the Democrats “Values Gap,” as one pundit called it. Tim Russert, Tom Brokaw, George Stephenopulos, Cokie Roberts, Howard Fineman, Bob Scheifert — practically everyone — expressed a need for Democrats to soften their stance toward religious values. Several of them even said that trying to change the values debate the way Edwards does — to speak of social justice, tolerance, equality — is not enough. It’s hard to imagine the Democratic base of NARAL / PFAW / ACLU going along, but here’s to hoping.

  14. danithew on November 3, 2004 at 12:19 pm

    I’m assuming that this talk about values-based politics is a nod towards the southern Christian voters that used to be described as Reagan Democrats. I heard a catchy comment yesterday that “Reagan Democrats are now simply referred to as Republicans.”

    It seems the Democratic party is hard split between its desire to serve the interests of north-easterners and southerners. Or perhaps its a split between the people on the coasts and the southerners.

  15. Jack on November 3, 2004 at 12:42 pm

    Yes, the pro-SSM folks shot themselves in the foot. No doubt their ardent campaign served to sway conservatives from both parties to vote for Bush who may have otherwise voted for Kerry.

  16. Gordon Smith on November 3, 2004 at 12:44 pm

    Rosalynde, ” I couldn’t help feeling annoyed at all the pundits analyzing the democrats’ loss as a tactical matter.”

    Like Matt, I was up all night watching this, and I saw the same thing he saw. Lots of pundits were talking about an identity crisis among the Democrats. Several (David Gergen especially) suggested that Democrats were inherently incapable of attracting a majority of the country. Although this hasn’t happened since 1976, the point seems a bit strained given the fact that Kerry received 48% of the popular vote. Nevertheless, the pundits seem to perceive the same problem that you and Russell perceive.

    This is especially important during this election because President Bush was not a popular president. I think they were all really shocked that a president who consistently polled at less than 50% in terms of approval could pull off a majority win. In my view, this happened primarily because Bush was able to marshal the voters over moral issues. But here is the rub: many Republicans who voted for Bush are not on board with those moral issues and voted for him despite those issues, not because of them. In short, Republicans and Democrats have the same basic problem of lumping too many disparate issues together into a single candidate.

  17. Jack on November 3, 2004 at 12:50 pm

    I’m with danithew (who’s with Matt) on the issue of sovereignty. And, I would add that terrorists have no feeling for sovereignty whatsoever. Indeed, the war on terror is a war against a “supra-nation” or religious state that knows no conventional boundries.

  18. Bill on November 3, 2004 at 1:02 pm

    Re: comment 14

    Exit polling would indicate that if anything can be described as an “ardent campaign” it would be the efforts of cultural conservatives to get all these measures on the ballot. There seemed to be a lot more single issue voters among the supporters of these measures than among those who didn’t support them, likely having weighter matters on their minds.

  19. Bill on November 3, 2004 at 1:04 pm

    Sorry, weightier matters

  20. diogenes on November 3, 2004 at 1:45 pm

    I don’t want to threadjack this into a discussion of the Iraq war, but everytime I hear the argument you just used, I want to ask this question: why does morality require that we respect sovereignty?

    I think Matt is clearly threadjacking, but suppose I need to answer anyway.

    I specified “sovereign nation” specifically in order to make the distinction that Jack fails to make in comment 16: we were not attacked or provoked by Iraq, but by an international terrorist organization. These are entirely different and unrelated entities, no matter how much the Bush campaign tried to conflate them. 9/11 may provide a moral case for attacking Afghanistan, but that case does not hold for attacking Iraq.

  21. Jack on November 3, 2004 at 2:05 pm

    Diogenes, then why do terrorists from other Arab nations come to Iraq to help in the cause? Surely that could be an indication that invading Iraq is equivalent to driving a stake through the heart of the terrorist supra-nation.

  22. Bryce I on November 3, 2004 at 2:24 pm

    Regarding the Democrat’s identity crisis, and Gordon’s comment #15, had Kerry won (not an unimaginable outcome), the story today would be the recriminations from the traditional conservative wing of the party that really doesn’t like Bush’s faith-based presidency. George Will has been a little grumpy lately, for one. Also, thinking about 2008 (it’s never too early — the race starts today, after all), who is likely to contend for the Republican nomination? John McCain? Rudy Giuliani? Arnold? All of the star power is mcuh more centrist, especially on the moral issues.

  23. obi-wan on November 3, 2004 at 2:37 pm

    This probably does deserve its own thread, but I really can’t let it pass withoug comment.

    All I can say is that it was a pleasure to see Saddam go down and I’ve never been able to understand how anyone could be wringing their hands and feeling anguish over the demise of that regime.

    While I share the sentiment, it is, unfortunately, irrelevent to the reasons for our attack on Iraq. I have no doubt that if Saddam had agreed to support U.S. interests in the region, we would have not only turned a blind eye to his atrocities, but supplied him with loans, military aid, and pretty much anything else on his wish list.

    I am quite certain of this because there was a very long time when we did precisely that, while Saddam tortured and murdered and gassed whomever he liked. Rumsfeld and Cheney were not only active participants in, but key architects of, that policy.

    I am also quite certain because we continue this policy elsewhere in the world. The only reason that Saddam — like the long and wretched list of Pinochets and Pahlavis and Karimovs whom we have not only winked at, but actively supported — is not still happily engaging in unspeakable horrors without any intervention by the United States, is that he foolishly decided not to play our game any more.

    Several of the comments following danithew’s observation seem willing to accept the Administration’s rather lame, after-the-fact justification that we invaded Iraq in order to “free the Iraqi people.” In the face of the overwhelming contemporary and historical evidence, including our active support of Saddam while he was butchering the Iraqi people, I cannot understand how anyone in their right mind can buy this claim. It is very clear that the United States overthrows megalomaniacs when it is in our national interests to do so, and supports the same megalomaniacs, committing precisely the same atrocities, when that is in our interests.

    Any claim that we invaded Iraq for some high moral purpose doesn’t even pass the giggle test in light of our past and present policies for supporting bloodthirsty depraved dictators (for a really horrendous ongoing example, take Uzbekistan).

    Again, sorry for the threadjack, but I suppose it is relevant to the kinds of “morality” that Americans seem to think are important or unimportant.

  24. Mark B on November 3, 2004 at 2:37 pm

    The discussion regarding the morality of invading another nation suggests again that the proper and only appropriate standard for international behavior is national self interest, not some notion about whether other governments are “moral” or not. Since “all have sinned” the morality argument is simply a convenient cover for international adventurism.

  25. Matt Evans on November 3, 2004 at 4:34 pm

    Several of the comments … seem willing to accept the Administration’s rather lame, after-the-fact justification that we invaded Iraq in order to “free the Iraqi people.â€?

    Saddam’s brutal oppression of the Iraqi people was always included in the administration’s list of reasons for removing him from power. I used that particular justification in response to the suggestion that we must respect a country’s sovereignty unless the regime attacks and kills our people. My point has been to show that there’s no moral obligation to countenance the brutal treatment of innocents out of respect for national or familial sovereignty.

  26. danithew on November 3, 2004 at 5:26 pm

    Without a doubt we supported Saddam for many years, even decades. As the famous line goes: “Yes he’s an S.O.B, but he’s our S.O.B.” (that line by the way has been attributed to a wide range of U.S. officials and has also been used to describe Somoza, Trujillo, Saddam and perhaps others).

    I’m not a huge fan of flip-flopping … but I’m not sure that our government should feel its hands are tied in opposing a tyranny or a tyrant, just because that tyranny/tyrant received U.S. aid in the past. If we were foolish or cynical enough in the past to support Saddam, and then we decide to overthrow hiim, then what’s the problem? Better late than never. At the very least we owed it to the Kurds for betraying them (thanks Kissinger, thanks George Bush the First) so many times in the past.

  27. Bryce I on November 3, 2004 at 5:57 pm

    Matt Evans –

    I found my knee-jerk reaction to your repeated claims that morality need not respect sovereignty was to disagree. Thinking on it a bit more, I found that I couldn’t articulate a good reason why. It then occured to me that part of the problem is that your claim, while true, misses the larger point, which is that sovereignty of nation-states is a concept created at least in part to protect groups from claims of outsider moralities. That is, the only thing preventing my Christian nation from overrunning your heathen nation in the name of Christian morality is a mutually agreed-upon sovereignty.

    In recent times, this sovereignty has been generally recognized to be subject to outside claims of human rights violations, but that’s due to a recognition of a generally common set of morals among the more reputable nation-states of the world, not because morality always trumps sovereignty. So your point is true: there is no moral obligation to respect sovereignty in the face of brutality, but sovereignty exists precisely because your definition of brutality may not be the same as mine.

  28. obi-wan on November 3, 2004 at 6:04 pm

    If we were foolish or cynical enough in the past to support Saddam, and then we decide to overthrow hiim, then what’s the problem? Better late than never.

    Better not to have been in the business of underwriting atrocity in the first place.

    We can hardly claim any great moral standing by telling the Iraqis, “So sorry that we left you to be tortured and brutalized for decades — in fact, that we abetted your torture and brutalization — while it was in our self-interest to do so, but now that it’s finally in our self-interest to do something about it, don’t you admire us terribly for showing up at long last?”

    If we were, as you put it, foolish or cynical enough in the past to support Saddam, whatever makes you think that our reasons for overthrowing him had anything to do with a sudden awakening of conscience? Particularly when we continue to support the most despicable kind of despots, every bit as bad or worse than Saddam, even as I write this?

    The overthrow was just as foolish and cynical — and immoral — as the support was. Mark B. is dead on target observing that all the neo-conservative spin about high ideals is in fact just simple, self-serving adventurism — not to mention a horrible strategic blunder for which we’ll be paying in multiple ways years and years hence.

    We do a lot of things right in this country, for which we should be justifiably proud. We also do a lot of things horribly, horribly wrong, for which we should be abjectly ashamed. This is one of them. Trying to claim it as some principled display of nobility is the absolute height of hypocrisy and political deceit.

  29. David on November 3, 2004 at 6:33 pm

    Obi-wan,

    Amen and amen on your comments (22 & 27). Well said.

  30. danithew on November 3, 2004 at 6:49 pm

    Obi-wan,

    I’m conceding that we’ve been inconsistent and hypocritical in the past in our stances on Iraq. But this isn’t a case where consistency with the past is desirable — otherwise we’d be supporting Saddam still. At some point we have to look at what we’ve done wrong and alter our course. We had already had taken steps in that direction but we didn’t go far enough. The no-fly-zones, the international sanctions, etc. weren’t solving the problems created by Saddam’s regime. I’m also convinced that Bush and his administration truly believed (as had other administrations previous) that the Iraqi regime posed a serious WMD threat to the world. I’m still wondering why in the world Saddam went to such efforts to be evasive and problematic if he had nothing to conceal. Did he want to seem to be a WMD threat still, even if he wasn’t? If so, he was asking for trouble.

    As for the overthrow of Saddam’s regime being a blunder, only time will tell. If in fact Iraq becomes a model of democracy in the Middle East (even if that takes a decade or longer to accomplish) then in the long-term the entire project was worthwhile. We’ve seen that democracy simply wasn’t going to happen in an Arab country on its own (thus my use of the Mosiah verse in comment #10). This is a very messy experiment. Let me say again that this is a very messy experiment. But I’m hopeful that in time it will turn to some positive results.

  31. Aaron Brown on November 3, 2004 at 9:07 pm

    Apologies in advance for saying what may already have been said (I’ve only skimmed this thread) …

    “Any claim that we invaded Iraq for some high moral purpose doesn’t even pass the giggle test in light of our past and present policies for supporting bloodthirsty depraved dictators (for a really horrendous ongoing example, take Uzbekistan).�

    I must confess I’ve always found this type of comment completely unpersuasive, if not downright silly. To use a more common example: How many times do we hear about the alleged hypocrisy of not invading North Korea, or even China, because of the abuses committed by governments there? The apparent purpose in drawing these types of comparisons is to impress upon the listener the alleged hypocrisy of the United States in attacking Country A, but not Country B, when, based upon some alleged objective benchmark of “heinousness�, the behavior of the regime in Country B is at least as heinous, if not worse, than the behavior of Country A. I suppose it’s easy to point out all sorts of “hypocrisy� like this when you insist on analyzing international affairs in a vacuum. Unfortunately, the realities of international decision-making, even if informed by “high moral purpose,� aren’t amenable to this simplistic analysis. Any decision to invade a country is likely to be predicated on a multitude of factors, and not just one lone, moral calculation. That’s life. There are competing considerations. There are costs and benefits to attacking one country that aren’t the same for attaching another, even assuming that the “moral� argument, in isolation, would seem to mandate equal treatment of the two regimes. In any “moral� foreign policy, you would have to do what you can, all-the-while acknowledging that there are tradeoffs, choices are hard, and life is messy.

    Also, consider this oft-repeated claim that the United States, in the past, has supported “bloodthirsty depraved dictators.� Let us grant the truth of this, and further, let’s assume for the sake of argument that there were no legitimate factors that morally justified such support in light of some greater good. If I’m an American voter who believes that that my country’s past actions were reprehensible, or that my country has propped up a bloodthirsty depraved dictator in the past, then that observation, it seems to me, becomes an argument in favor of a war for regime change, not against it. I truly don’t get how this “America is hypocritical, ergo it has no business engaging in military action� argument is supposed to work. Those who bemoan America’s past bad acts often bolster the case for military intervention, all other things being equal.

    Finally, I think that arguments about “hypocrisyâ€? in America’s international affairs are problematic for a rather obvious reason: We live in a democracy where we elect a different leader every four years who may or may not retain the foreign policy philosophy of his predecessor. This may be unfortunate at times (surely there is an argument to be made for foreign policy continuity, for the sake of stability and predictability), but there it is. As a result, I don’t think observations about the hypocrisy of the United States — as if American presidents are personally responsible for the sins of their predecessors – are as compelling as they would be if, say, George Bush had been President for the past 50 years.

    Aaron B

  32. Aaron Brown on November 3, 2004 at 9:07 pm

    Apologies in advance for saying what may already have been said …

    “Any claim that we invaded Iraq for some high moral purpose doesn’t even pass the giggle test in light of our past and present policies for supporting bloodthirsty depraved dictators (for a really horrendous ongoing example, take Uzbekistan).�

    I must confess I’ve always found this type of comment completely unpersuasive, if not downright silly. To use a more common example: How many times do we hear about the alleged hypocrisy of not invading North Korea, or even China, because of the abuses committed by governments there? The apparent purpose in drawing these types of comparisons is to impress upon the listener the alleged hypocrisy of the United States in attacking Country A, but not Country B, when, based upon some alleged objective benchmark of “heinousness�, the behavior of the regime in Country B is at least as heinous, if not worse, than the behavior of Country A. I suppose it’s easy to point out all sorts of “hypocrisy� like this when you insist on analyzing international affairs in a vacuum. Unfortunately, the realities of international decision-making, even if informed by “high moral purpose,� aren’t amenable to this simplistic analysis. Any decision to invade a country is likely to be predicated on a multitude of factors, and not just one lone, moral calculation. That’s life. There are competing considerations. There are costs and benefits to attacking one country that aren’t the same for attaching another, even assuming that the “moral� argument, in isolation, would seem to mandate equal treatment of the two regimes. In any “moral� foreign policy, you would have to do what you can, all-the-while acknowledging that there are tradeoffs, choices are hard, and life is messy.

    Also, consider this oft-repeated claim that the United States, in the past, has supported “bloodthirsty depraved dictators.� Let us grant the truth of this, and further, let’s assume for the sake of argument that there were no legitimate factors that morally justified such support in light of some greater good. If I’m an American voter who believes that that my country’s past actions were reprehensible, or that my country has propped up a bloodthirsty depraved dictator in the past, then that observation, it seems to me, becomes an argument in favor of a war for regime change, not against it. I truly don’t get how this “America is hypocritical, ergo it has no business engaging in military action� argument is supposed to work. Those who bemoan America’s past bad acts often bolster the case for military intervention, all other things being equal.

    Finally, I think that arguments about “hypocrisyâ€? in America’s international affairs are problematic for a rather obvious reason: We live in a democracy where we elect a different leader every four years who may or may not retain the foreign policy philosophy of his predecessor. This may be unfortunate at times (surely there is an argument to be made for foreign policy continuity, for the sake of stability and predictability), but there it is. As a result, I don’t think observations about the hypocrisy of the United States — as if American presidents are personally responsible for the sins of their predecessors – are as compelling as they would be if, say, George Bush had been President for the past 50 years.

    Aaron B

  33. Aaron Brown on November 3, 2004 at 10:38 pm

    Apologies in advance for saying what may already have been said (I’ve only skimmed this thread) …

    “Any claim that we invaded Iraq for some high moral purpose doesn’t even pass the giggle test in light of our past and present policies for supporting bloodthirsty depraved dictators (for a really horrendous ongoing example, take Uzbekistan).�

    I must confess I’ve always found this type of comment completely unpersuasive, if not downright silly. To use a more common example: How many times do we hear about the alleged hypocrisy of not invading North Korea, or even China, because of the abuses committed by governments there? The apparent purpose in drawing these types of comparisons is to impress upon the listener the alleged hypocrisy of the United States in attacking Country A, but not Country B, when, based upon some alleged objective benchmark of “heinousness�, the behavior of the regime in Country B is at least as heinous, if not worse, than the behavior of Country A. I suppose it’s easy to point out all sorts of “hypocrisy� like this when you insist on analyzing international affairs in a vacuum. Unfortunately, the realities of international decision-making, even if informed by “high moral purpose,� aren’t amenable to this simplistic analysis. Any decision to invade a country is likely to be predicated on a multitude of factors, and not just one lone, moral calculation. That’s life. There are competing considerations. There are costs and benefits to attacking one country that aren’t the same for attaching another, even assuming that the “moral� argument, in isolation, would seem to mandate equal treatment of the two regimes. In any “moral� foreign policy, you would have to do what you can, all-the-while acknowledging that there are tradeoffs, choices are hard, and life is messy.

    Also, consider this oft-repeated claim that the United States, in the past, has supported “bloodthirsty depraved dictators.� Let us grant the truth of this, and further, let’s assume for the sake of argument that there were no legitimate factors that morally justified such support in light of some greater good. If I’m an American voter who believes that that my country’s past actions were reprehensible, or that my country has propped up a bloodthirsty depraved dictator in the past, then that observation, it seems to me, becomes an argument in favor of a war for regime change, not against it. I truly don’t get how this “America is hypocritical, ergo it has no business engaging in military action� argument is supposed to work. Those who bemoan America’s past bad acts often bolster the case for military intervention, all other things being equal.

    Finally, I think that arguments about “hypocrisyâ€? in America’s international affairs are problematic for a rather obvious reason: We live in a democracy where we elect a different leader every four years who may or may not retain the foreign policy philosophy of his predecessor. This may be unfortunate at times (surely there is an argument to be made for foreign policy continuity, for the sake of stability and predictability), but there it is. As a result, I don’t think observations about the hypocrisy of the United States — as if American presidents are personally responsible for the sins of their predecessors – are as compelling as they would be if, say, George Bush had been President for the past 50 years.

    Aaron B

  34. Aaron Brown on November 3, 2004 at 10:41 pm

    Apologies in advance for saying what may already have been said (I’ve only skimmed this thread) …

    “Any claim that we invaded Iraq for some high moral purpose doesn’t even pass the giggle test in light of our past and present policies for supporting bloodthirsty depraved dictators (for a really horrendous ongoing example, take Uzbekistan).�

    I must confess I’ve always found this type of comment completely unpersuasive, if not downright silly. To use a more common example: How many times do we hear about the alleged hypocrisy of not invading North Korea, or even China, because of the abuses committed by governments there? The apparent purpose in drawing these types of comparisons is to impress upon the listener the alleged hypocrisy of the United States in attacking Country A, but not Country B, when, based upon some alleged objective benchmark of “heinousness�, the behavior of the regime in Country B is at least as heinous, if not worse, than the behavior of Country A. I suppose it’s easy to point out all sorts of “hypocrisy� like this when you insist on analyzing international affairs in a vacuum. Unfortunately, the realities of international decision-making, even if informed by “high moral purpose,� aren’t amenable to this simplistic analysis. Any decision to invade a country is likely to be predicated on a multitude of factors, and not just one lone, moral calculation. That’s life. There are competing considerations. There are costs and benefits to attacking one country that aren’t the same for attaching another, even assuming that the “moral� argument, in isolation, would seem to mandate equal treatment of the two regimes. In any “moral� foreign policy, you would have to do what you can, all-the-while acknowledging that there are tradeoffs, choices are hard, and life is messy.

    Also, consider this oft-repeated claim that the United States, in the past, has supported “bloodthirsty depraved dictators.� Let us grant the truth of this, and further, let’s assume for the sake of argument that there were no legitimate factors that morally justified such support in light of some greater good. If I’m an American voter who believes that that my country’s past actions were reprehensible, or that my country has propped up a bloodthirsty depraved dictator in the past, then that observation, it seems to me, becomes an argument in favor of a war for regime change, not against it. I truly don’t get how this “America is hypocritical, ergo it has no business engaging in military action� argument is supposed to work. Those who bemoan America’s past bad acts often bolster the case for military intervention, all other things being equal.

    Finally, I think that arguments about “hypocrisyâ€? in America’s international affairs are problematic for a rather obvious reason: We live in a democracy where we elect a different leader every four years who may or may not retain the foreign policy philosophy of his predecessor. This may be unfortunate at times (surely there is an argument to be made for foreign policy continuity, for the sake of stability and predictability), but there it is. As a result, I don’t think observations about the hypocrisy of the United States — as if American presidents are personally responsible for the sins of their predecessors – are as compelling as they would be if, say, George Bush had been President for the past 50 years.

    Aaron B

  35. Aaron Brown on November 4, 2004 at 2:43 am

    test

  36. Aaron Brown on November 4, 2004 at 2:46 am

    Apologies in advance for saying what may already have been said (I have only skimmed this post) …

    “Any claim that we invaded Iraq for some high moral purpose doesn’t even pass the giggle test in light of our past and present policies for supporting bloodthirsty depraved dictators (for a really horrendous ongoing example, take Uzbekistan).�

    I must confess I’ve always found this type of comment completely unpersuasive, if not downright silly. To use a more common example: How many times do we hear about the alleged hypocrisy of not invading North Korea, or even China, because of the abuses committed by governments there? The apparent purpose in drawing these types of comparisons is to impress upon the listener the alleged hypocrisy of the United States in attacking Country A, but not Country B, when, based upon some alleged objective benchmark of “heinousness�, the behavior of the regime in Country B is at least as heinous, if not worse, than the behavior of Country A. I suppose it’s easy to point out all sorts of “hypocrisy� like this when you insist on analyzing international affairs in a vacuum. Unfortunately, the realities of international decision-making, even if informed by “high moral purpose,� aren’t amenable to this simplistic analysis. Any decision to invade a country is likely to be predicated on a multitude of factors, and not just one lone, moral calculation. That’s life. There are competing considerations. There are costs and benefits to attacking one country that aren’t the same for attaching another, even assuming that the “moral� argument, in isolation, would seem to mandate equal treatment of the two regimes. In any “moral� foreign policy, you would have to do what you can, all-the-while acknowledging that there are tradeoffs, choices are hard, and life is messy.

    Also, consider this oft-repeated claim that the United States, in the past, has supported “bloodthirsty depraved dictators.� Let us grant the truth of this, and further, let’s assume for the sake of argument that there were no legitimate factors that morally justified such support in light of some greater good. If I’m an American voter who believes that that my country’s past actions were reprehensible, or that my country has propped up a bloodthirsty depraved dictator in the past, then that observation, it seems to me, becomes an argument in favor of a war for regime change, not against it. I truly don’t get how this “America is hypocritical, ergo it has no business engaging in military action� argument is supposed to work. Those who bemoan America’s past bad acts often bolster the case for military intervention, all other things being equal.

    Finally, I think that arguments about “hypocrisyâ€? in America’s international affairs are problematic for a rather obvious reason: We live in a democracy where we elect a different leader every four years who may or may not retain the foreign policy philosophy of his predecessor. This may be unfortunate at times (surely there is an argument to be made for foreign policy continuity, for the sake of stability and predictability), but there it is. As a result, I don’t think observations about the hypocrisy of the United States — as if American presidents are personally responsible for the sins of their predecessors – are as compelling as they would be if, say, George Bush had been President for the past 50 years.

    Aaron B

  37. Aaron Brown on November 4, 2004 at 2:47 am

    So I can post a word or short sentence, but not a longer comment. What’s up with this?

  38. Kristine on November 4, 2004 at 10:00 am

    I have nothing substantive to say, just want to observe a T&S first: a thread that starts off being (vaguely) about gay marriage and gets threadjacked and ends up being about something else. The course of history has been reversed here, folks!

  39. Mark B on November 4, 2004 at 10:18 am

    All the comments about previous support of Saddam or being blind to the atrocities his regime committed against the Iraqi people ignore the context in which the US was then acting.

    The Khomeini revolution had removed a friendly (to the US) regime in Iran, and Iran had invaded Iraq. The overt antagonism of the Iranian leaders (remember the hostages?) and the concerns about the spread of fundamentalist Shiism from Iran to other parts of the Middle East led to US support of secular Iraq against the Shiite Iran.

    We can argue now about the wisdom of opposing the Iranians, or the seriousness of the threat they posed to the Middle East or to the important sources of petroleum there, but any aid to Iraq must be viewed in the context of that conflict. If we aided Iraq, it was because, in our view, Iran posed a greater threat to us than the internal repression of the Iraqis by Saddam Hussein.

  40. danithew on November 4, 2004 at 10:56 am

    Mark B.,

    I like your approach in general … that our support of the Iraqis had some legitimate place in the context of the times. I can still remember how angry the United States was at Iran, even though I was a just a kid at the time. For years, as a result of the news coverage I subconsciously associated Islam with Ayatollah Khomenei’s austere bearded visage.

    Let me quibble a tiny bit over one little idea you present though.

    My understanding has been that Iraq invaded Iran (rather than the other way around), that Iraq was attempting to take advantage of the societal confusion and the military purges that followed the Iranian revolution. From Saddam’s perspective, these events weakened Iran militarily and made it ripe for the picking. I believe Saddam was also encouraged to do this by Iranian military leader refugees who were understandbly upset at having lost their positions in the Shah’s government.

    Also, there had been previous agreements with Iran (regarding the Shatt al-Arab waterways — a contested border with Iran) that Saddam signed under some duress. And so Saddam had a personal grudge that he felt needed to be avenged.

    Of course, I don’t doubt that (as is often the case in conflicts) it is disputed as to who started the fighting, or who invaded who. But I don’t think Iran was the original aggressor on this one, as Iran was too busy at the time trying to put its own house in order.

    Unfortunately for Saddam, starting this war created a rallying cry for the new Iranian religious government and united the Iranians in a common cause. If there’s anything Iranians are ultra-sensitive to, it is the intervention or interference of outside powers.

    Which reminds me of a rather caustic joke. Supposedly when he was asked what he though about the Iran-Iraq war, Menachem Begin (prime minister of Israel) said: “Good luck to both sides.” I think in its own way, the United States was playing that joke out. Let me tell you, Saddam was the person in the world who was most displeased with the news of the Iran-Contra scandal.

  41. obi-wan on November 4, 2004 at 1:52 pm

    But this isn’t a case where consistency with the past is desirable – otherwise we’d be supporting Saddam still.

    Sorry that I’m apparently being unclear. My assertion is that we are being entirely consistent with the past, and would be supporting Saddam and his atrocities still, just as we are now supporting Karimov and his atrocities, if we thought it were in our interests to do so. Our invasion of Iraq has nothing to do with correcting past mistakes, only with present opportunism. We haven’t learned a thing and our hands are just as bloodstained as ever.

  42. obi-wan on November 4, 2004 at 2:10 pm

    All the comments about previous support of Saddam or being blind to the atrocities his regime committed against the Iraqi people ignore the context in which the US was then acting. The Khomeini revolution had removed a friendly (to the US) regime in Iran, and Iran had invaded Iraq.

    Which is to say, that the Iranian Islamic revolution had removed a very, very nasty and bloody despot that the United States had installed and supported — and that we had installed by overthrowing a democratically elected government, BTW — so, having lost our favorite dictator in the region, we just switched tyrants and started supporting Saddam.

    (remember the hostages?)

    But of course. The hostage-taking by the students in the U.S. embassy was primarily motivated by the fear that we would install another dictator the way we had when we deposed Mossadeq in 1953, the first time the Iranians tried to get rid of Pahlavi.

    Far from ignoring the context, I think this pretty well underscores my overall point that we don’t have much claim to any high-falutin’ moral standing. Our methods have been, and continue to be, rather despicable.

  43. Larry on November 4, 2004 at 4:31 pm

    Does anyone recall the Clark doctrine which prevented the U.S. from going into Mexico to protect the Saints there. That was, as I recall, done to prevent interference in the internal problems of a sovereign nation.
    If, however, that nation became a threat to it’s neighbours and became aggressive against them, then different rules applied.
    When we look at the U.N., all those who are condemning the U.S. for invading Iraq and not waiting for the U.N.approval, are bigger hypocrites than those who supported the move, because there are far more brutal dictatorships in the U.N. that you are not willing to deal with, and you want them to call the shots.
    So obi-wan whose methods are really dispicable?

  44. Aaron Brown on November 4, 2004 at 7:31 pm

    Apologies in advance for saying what may already have been said (I have only skimmed this post) …

    “Any claim that we invaded Iraq for some high moral purpose doesn’t even pass the giggle test in light of our past and present policies for supporting bloodthirsty depraved dictators (for a really horrendous ongoing example, take Uzbekistan).�

    I must confess I’ve always found this type of comment completely unpersuasive, if not downright silly. To use a more common example: How many times do we hear about the alleged hypocrisy of not invading North Korea, or even China, because of the abuses committed by governments there? The apparent purpose in drawing these types of comparisons is to impress upon the listener the alleged hypocrisy of the United States in attacking Country A, but not Country B, when, based upon some alleged objective benchmark of “heinousness�, the behavior of the regime in Country B is at least as heinous, if not worse, than the behavior of Country A. I suppose it’s easy to point out all sorts of “hypocrisy� like this when you insist on analyzing international affairs in a vacuum. Unfortunately, the realities of international decision-making, even if informed by “high moral purpose,� aren’t amenable to this simplistic analysis. Any decision to invade a country is likely to be predicated on a multitude of factors, and not just one lone, moral calculation. That’s life. There are competing considerations. There are costs and benefits to attacking one country that aren’t the same for attaching another, even assuming that the “moral� argument, in isolation, would seem to mandate equal treatment of the two regimes. In any “moral� foreign policy, you would have to do what you can, all-the-while acknowledging that there are tradeoffs, choices are hard, and life is messy.

    Also, consider this oft-repeated claim that the United States, in the past, has supported “bloodthirsty depraved dictators.� Let us grant the truth of this, and further, let’s assume for the sake of argument that there were no legitimate factors that morally justified such support in light of some greater good. If I’m an American voter who believes that that my country’s past actions were reprehensible, or that my country has propped up a bloodthirsty depraved dictator in the past, then that observation, it seems to me, becomes an argument in favor of a war for regime change, not against it. I truly don’t get how this “America is hypocritical, ergo it has no business engaging in military action� argument is supposed to work. Those who bemoan America’s past bad acts often bolster the case for military intervention, all other things being equal.

    Finally, I think that arguments about “hypocrisyâ€? in America’s international affairs are problematic for a rather obvious reason: We live in a democracy where we elect a different leader every four years who may or may not retain the foreign policy philosophy of his predecessor. This may be unfortunate at times (surely there is an argument to be made for foreign policy continuity, for the sake of stability and predictability), but there it is. As a result, I don’t think observations about the hypocrisy of the United States — as if American presidents are personally responsible for the sins of their predecessors – are as compelling as they would be if, say, George Bush had been President for the past 50 years.

    Aaron B