Political Animal

Civil Discourse

CIVIL DISCOURSE….The Bill O’Reilly-Al Franken smackdown on Saturday also had a third guest, Molly Ivins, who told a joke that David Frum thinks was pretty unfunny. Why, a conservative would never be allowed to tell such a nasty joke!

Yeah, yeah. Poor downtrodden conservatives aren’t even allowed to make jokes these days. Then he says this:

Let me venture instead this possibly slightly less obvious point – Molly Ivins went on to deliver a passionate little speech about her commitment to civilizing American discourse! Apparently, American discourse is being rendered viciously uncivil by Rush Limbaugh’s habit of explaining dynamic scoring over the airwaves – and the liberal way to elevate the vulgar tone of right-wing debate is to make jokes about killing people.

Aside from the laughable image of Professor Limbaugh carefully explaining the intricacies of economic modeling to his audience, Frum misses the point completely. The very last question from the audience during this session was about the increasing coarseness of political discourse. Did any of our panelists have any thoughts about how to make civil discourse a little more civil?

Answer: no. I expected a bit of PC handwaving, but in fact all three went out of their way to say that civil discourse wasn’t their job. Their job was to stir things up, to take a stand, to get people angry, etc. Even Ivins, who later said she was trying to tone down the male testosterone levels a bit, basically said the same thing.

Anyway, Ivins’ joke was this: “The price of gas is riz [Texas transliteration courtesy of Frum] so high that women who want to run over their husbands have to carpool.” Hell, that’s not even a very partisan joke. Frum needs to lighten up.

Winning the Peace, Part 2

WINNING THE PEACE, PART 2….Glenn Reynolds has a long post today about the need for patience in assessing how we’re doing in postwar Iraq:

I think it’s very important that we work at it, and I think it’s ironic that some of the people who were critics before the war saying “we’ll just put in a friendly dictator and leave” are now pushing arguments and criticisms that imply just such a course of action when the Administration is obviously committed to something more. We want a peaceful, free and prosperous Iraq. Claims that Arabs are somehow incapable of that sort of thing seem a bit dubious to me, especially when they come from people who call themselves “progressive” — and it’s especially unimpressive when those people say “Iraq is ungovernable” with ill-concealed glee at the prospect of what would be, in practice, a far bigger disaster for the Iraqi people than for George Bush. But they don’t care about the collateral damage if they can see Bush hurt.

The funny thing is that although I’m certainly one of those people who wish disaster on George Bush, I agree with this. Getting it right in postwar Iraq is going to be tough, and day-to-day news in the first couple of months ? whether good or bad ? doesn’t really mean that much.

Unfortunately, when Glenn says, “the Administration is obviously committed to something more,” that’s where he loses me. As I mentioned in the post below, I hope he’s right, since as much as I’d like to see Bush replaced in 2004, that’s not how I’d like to see it done. Unfortunately, I haven’t been impressed by Bush’s actions so far, and I suspect that his willingness to stick it out in Iraq is pretty limited.

UPDATE: This, by the way, is one place where I wish left and right could agree: we need to stay in Iraq in large numbers for a long time. Whether you supported or opposed the war, now that it’s over we have an obligation to do everything we possibly can to build a “peaceful, free and prosperous Iraq.”

Winning the Peace

WINNING THE PEACE….Jon Dworkin links today to Fareed Zakaria’s column in Newsweek asking “Why is an administration that was so bold, ambitious and clearheaded about waging war so hapless, diffident and error-prone when it comes to waging peace?” He points to Bosnia and Kosovo as partially successful nationbuilding efforts and then says:

In Afghanistan, we have just 5 percent as many troops, per capita, as we do in Kosovo?and it shows. In Iraq, if we were to put as many troops as there are in Bosnia, per capita, the stabilization force required would be more than 250,000, about the number cited by the Army Chief of Staff Gen. Erik K. Shinseki. In Germany and Japan, five years after World War II, we had hundreds of thousands of troops stationed in each of those countries.

Before the war, a number of people asked why I (and many liberals) kept harping on the UN and other multilateral institutions. Did we have some kind of naive faith that these organizations would magically make things better?

No. Speaking for myself, anyway, I wanted the UN involved because it seemed clear that the U.S. didn’t have the resources to handle the postwar occupation by itself. With other countries involved, we’d have more people, more money, and the help of organizations with a lot of specific expertise that we lack on our own.

Unfortunately, all the talk about “liberation” notwithstanding, I think a lot of people really don’t care much what happens next. Here is Walter Russell Mead in the LA Times today asking what will happen if disorder in Iraq continues to get worse:

The short answer is that if Iraqi violence continues to rise, at some point the administration would go to Plan B: Find a general, turn the place over to him and go home.

….Elites would wring their hands, but voters would just shrug their shoulders. Poll after poll shows that Americans want democracy and human rights to spread around the world ? but that they don’t want American combat troops to be caught in the crossfire. If Iraqis reject U.S. help to build a democracy, and Bush decides to bring the troops home, most voters will agree with his decision. They were willing to give this democracy-in-the-Middle-East idea a try ? and they genuinely do hope it will work ? but at the end of the day, they don’t want a war over it.

Sadly, Mead is probably right. But I hope he’s not.


ZIMBABWE….Thomas Nephew has a good post up about Robert Mugabe’s latest plans to silence the opposition in Zimbabwe. As he says, there isn’t that much that any of us can do about this, but we can let the government of Zimbabwe know that “the whole world is watching”:

To put this little action in the proper perspective: this may be just a thimbleful of prevention, and it’s almost certainly yet another case of too little, too late. If you send a message, it may get deleted or ignored. The MDC seems to be intent on a showdown with Mugabe, so violence is almost guaranteed next week. But it doesn’t seem utterly naive to hope that enough messages might help a bloody crackdown stop a little bit sooner.

Bottom line: if you send a message, you’ll probably never know just how ineffective it was. But you’ll know you’ve helped put Mugabe on notice that someone is watching.

Good idea. The last foreign journalist in Zimbabwe was kicked out last week, so this really is the the only way to send a message.

Here are the contacts for the Zimbabwean government if you want to send a message of your own:

Contact the Zimbabwe government:
Zimbabwe embassy to the US: web site, e-mail, contact web page.
Zimbabwe mission to the UN: Phone: (212) 980-9511/5084, Fax: (212) 308-6705
Zimbabwe embassy in Canada: web site, e-mail
Government of Zimbabwe: web site, contact web page.

Consider CC’ing these organizations:
US State Department, Human Rights: web site, contact web page
Human Rights Watch: web site, e-mail
UNHCHR: web site, e-mail

Here’s a handy-dandy multiple address e-mail link, modify as you wish, of course