Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Opinionator

August 23, 2007, 1:25 pm
That Vietnam Analogy: Reactions
By Tobin Harshaw
Tags: , ,

As he promised, President Bush’s speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday contained a number of comparisons between Iraq and the Vietnam war: “Then as now, people argued the real problem was America’s presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end … The world would learn just how costly these misimpressions would be.”

The Times’s Thom Shanker has a fine roundup of historians’ reaction to the analogy, but of course the blogosphere has plenty of less-academic responses.

“Whatever one thinks of the stunning cynicism and immorality of the Nixon/Kissinger strategy, the American people at least understood and I suspect strongly approved of an agreement that allowed America to extract itself from a terrible and bloody quagmire that had killed over 58,000 US troops and millions of Vietnamese,” writes Scarecrow at the liberal blog Firedoglake.

“I’m not sure Americans cared what happened next; they just wanted out, and the agreement got them out, slowly, late, after too many deaths, but eventually out. Looking back, I doubt there are many Americans who think we should have followed the advice Bush is now offering; do they really believe we should have heeded the warnings of dire consequences of withdrawal from a country that had no real strategic interests for the US and is now a friendly trading partner?”

Bob Franken at The Hill feels that the president is “ignoring perhaps the most important similarity. The major U.S. military commitment in both conflicts came as the result of U.S. government deception: the Gulf of Tonkin in Vietnam and Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.”

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner finds such views shortsighted: “The mainstream media and a lot of liberal-leaning analysts seem to think it’s politically foolish or reckless for Bush to compare Vietnam to Iraq because they have one very specific narrative in mind when it comes to that war: America shouldn’t have gotten in, couldn’t have won, and then lost. What they have long failed to grasp is that’s not the moral of the story in the hearts of millions of Americans who believe that we could have won if wanted to and it was a disaster for American prestige and honor that we lost (whether we should have gone in is a murkier question for many, I think).

This is a point the Democrats fail to grasp: being on the side of surrender in a war is popular enough during the war, but if you succeed lots of Americans will later get buyer’s remorse and feel like it was a mistake and the next generation will see things very differently than their anti-war activist parents.”

To which P. O’Neill at Best of Both Worlds responds directly: “What else could America have done to have ‘won’ in Vietnam? Nuclear weapons? Incidentally, those against the Vietnam war weren’t for American ‘surrender.’ They were for letting Vietnam sort out its own problems.”

The president’s reply to that, one supposes, would be that Vietnam did an unacceptable job of sorting out those problems. The bigger question, presumably, is whether the Iraqis can do any better.


August 23, 2007, 10:13 am
Sporting Steroids: Ban the Ban?
By Tobin Harshaw

Should we just relax about sports and steroids? The controversial Princeton philosopher Peter Singer, writing in The Japan Times, thinks so. He approvingly cites the work of the Oxford medical ethicist Julian Savulescu, who feels sports “should drop the ban on performance-enhancing drugs, and allow athletes to take whatever they want, as long as it is safe for them to do so.” Singer writes:
Savulescu proposes that instead of trying to detect whether an athlete has taken drugs, we should focus on measurable indications of whether an athlete is risking his or her health. So, if an athlete has a dangerously high level of red blood cells as a result of taking erythropoietin (EPO), he or she should not be allowed to compete. The issue is the red blood cell count, not the means used to elevate it.

To those who say that this will give drug users an unfair advantage, Savulescu replies that now, without drugs, those with the best genes have an unfair advantage. They must still train, of course, but if their genes produce more EPO than ours, they are going to beat us in the Tour de France, no matter how hard we train. Unless, that is, we take EPO to make up for our genetic deficiency. Setting a maximum level of red blood cells actually levels the playing field by reducing the impact of the genetic lottery. Effort then becomes more important than having the right genes.

Some argue that taking drugs is “against the spirit of sport.” But it is difficult to defend the current line between what athletes can and cannot do in order to enhance their performance …

Moreover, I would argue that sport has no single “spirit.” People play sports to socialize, for exercise, to keep fit, to earn money, to become famous, to prevent boredom, to find love, and for the sheer fun of it. They may strive to improve their performance, but often they do so for its own sake, for the sense of achievement. Popular participation in sport should be encouraged. Physical exercise makes people not only healthier, but also happier. To take drugs will usually be self-defeating.
“Usually” self-defeating, I guess — but can we also assume there are plenty out there who would be made “happier” by an Olympic gold, no matter how it was achieved?


August 22, 2007, 2:18 pm
Spinning the Surge
By Tobin Harshaw
Tags: ,

It’s as close to an admission of fallibility as you’re likely to hear from a prominent political correspondent: “I predicted here that the August congressional recess would be a difficult time for Republicans, because they would be returning to their districts to face voters who were furious over the Iraq war,” writes Karen Tumulty at Time’s Swampland. “But if this morning’s Washington Post is right, the exact opposite has happened: It’s the Democrats who are being put on the defensive over the war.”

So, what did the Post’s Jonathan Weisman and Anne E. Kornblut report? “Democratic leaders in Congress had planned to use August recess to raise the heat on Republicans to break with President Bush on the Iraq war. Instead, Democrats have been forced to recalibrate their own message in the face of recent positive signs on the security front, increasingly focusing their criticisms on what those military gains have not achieved: reconciliation among Iraq’s diverse political factions.”

Cue the grumbling from the left. “With all this undisciplined, rambling ‘the surge is working’ talk and a Republican ad blitz coming around the corner to bolster Bush’s White House Report, it’s clear the Democrats have strayed so dangerously off message as to threaten what we’ve worked for all this time,” writes the liberal radio host Taylor Marsh. “Bush got his surge, with an escalation on top. The political movement in Iraq is non-existent, but yet the Democrats are about to be pressured that ‘the surge is working’ through a political ad blitz right before Petreaus delivers the White House Report on — wait for it — 9/11/07.”

Then the triumphalism from the right: “The Democrats have already admitted that good new in Iraq is bad new for Democrats,” writes Paul at the conservative collective Wizbang. “So now they have to change the message and whine about the supposed lack of political progress. It’s not surprising they continue to use Iraq as a political football. They have a long history of it.”
Michael van der Galien at The Moderate Voice, however, keeps his reflexes in check:

Where the strategy was first to argue that the military surge would not work, the Democrats seem to be ready to acknowledge — behind closed doors that is — that they were wrong. Instead of admitting that publicly, though, they choose to focus on something else: the main message is and remains the same — Iraq is lost. There is no hope. Now, I am a critic of the surge — I supported the war for a long time until I believed that Bush et al. messed it up beyond repair. I criticized the surge because, to me, it seemed as if it was too little and especially too late. However, now I see that there might be something good happening in Iraq I — and other critics — have to be so honest to acknowledge the progress made. This does not mean that we should suddenly embrace the surge, but it does mean that we should try to keep an open mind about it. As I said, basically, when the surge started: I hope Bush proves me wrong. He just might.

“Just might”? Well, that’s an assessment that lives up the blog’s name.


August 22, 2007, 10:12 am
Remembrance of Fries Past
By Tobin Harshaw
Tags: , ,

August has traditionally been considered a slow news month (as a newspaper employee who long lacked the seniority for late-summer vacation, I’d beg to differ — remember Boris Yeltsin on that tank?), so the press tends to draw up a lot of coverage of anniversaries — get ready for Katrina redux. Laura Rozen at Mother Jones’s MoJoBlog brings up the fourth anniversary of something a great proportion of Americans have likely forgotten, or at least tried to erase from their memories: “It was only four years ago that Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Walter Jones (R-NC) announced the official name change in Congressional cafeterias from French fries and French toast to Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast.”

“My, how les temps have changed!” she adds. “Now ex-Rep Ney is serving 30 months jail time, Jones has become a fierce war critic, and lo and behold, the French may be coming to the rescue in Iraq.” To back up that last claim, she cites a Washington Post report that “French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner used a surprise trip to Baghdad to call on European countries to help the United States repair Iraq.”

Rozen’s take: “Kouchner’s humanitarian background as co-founder of the medical relief group Medecins Sans Frontieres may begin to explain the willingness to overlook the anti French GOP posturing of the not so distant past and to let bygones be bygones.”


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